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5 important stories that have nothing to do with the White House

These days it can be hard to keep up with the stories in your newsfeed. We take a moment each week to look at what’s happening outside of the Capitol and the White House. Here’s what we’re reading now.

1. Native American women are going missing at alarming rates

(GERMANY OUT) west entrance of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana USA  (Photo by Braunger/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Native American women are going missing at alarming rates, according to an investigation by the Associated Press, which focuses in part on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, seen in this file photo. (Photo by Braunger/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Native American women are going missing at alarming rates, according to an investigation by the Associated Press.

Last year, Native American women made up more than 0.7 percent of missing cases in the U.S., even though the group represents only 0.4 percent of the population, the AP reported. They are also a group that faces high rates of murder, sexual violence and abuse. According to a 2016 study from the National Institute of Justice, 80 percent of indigenous women have experienced violence in their lifetime.

One of AP’s reports details the case of Ashley HeavyRunner Loring, a 20-year-old woman who disappeared last June inside the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. More than a year later, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the FBI, who have both led an investigation into her disappearance, are no closer to answering what happened. Loring’s older sister has organized dozens of searches in the mountains of the reservation. Missing posters continue to be displayed inside the reservation’s grocery stores.

Loring’s case is just one of many across the U.S., reports the Associated Press. [The Associated Press]

Why it matters: Much of the violence against Native women goes unreported. Missing person cases are not often filed, either, in part because of muddled jurisdiction and law enforcement protocols between agencies in and outside the reservations. When a person goes missing on tribal lands, which are considered sovereign nations, the case is referred to tribal police and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. FBI investigators step in in some cases, but when they don’t, tribal access to federal crime information databases is limited.

Federal and state lawmakers have put forward measures to address the problem, including a bill introduced last fall by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.,that would establish new protocols for the Department of Justice to respond to these cases and increase tribal access to crime databases. More than a year later, the bill is still in committee.

2. The murder trial for Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke begins

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke listens during his 2017 hearing in his shooting case of Laquan McDonald at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune via Reuters

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke listens during his 2017 hearing in the shooting case of Laquan McDonald at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune via Reuters

The murder trial for Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke started with jury selection on Monday. The 40-year-old officer faces six counts of first-degree murder, one count of official misconduct and 16 additional counts of aggravated battery — one for each of the 16 shots fired — in the October 2014 fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Police said McDonald was behaving erratically and holding a knife when he lunged at the officer, prompting the officer to shoot in self-defense. But video released a year later appears to show McDonald walking away from police, sparking widespread protests and ultimately Van Dyke’s trial.

Last week, prospective jurors were asked to fill out questionnaires that included about 125 questions. This week, attorney from both parties and prospective jurors will huddle in a small room next to the Judge Vincent Gaughan’s chambers for the process of jury selection.

The Chicago Tribune noted that this move is a departure from how juries are typically selected — inside a courtroom.

“[Judge Gaughan] believes the more intimate setting makes prospective jurors feel more comfortable answering sensitive questions,” the newspaper wrote, adding that the judge doesn’t want the jurors’ identities public, though attorneys, a small group of journalists and some members of the public will attend the proceedings. [The Chicago Tribune]

Why it matters: Four years after McDonald was shot, “trust in the police remains low, the homicide rate remains high, and new police shootings continue to bring tense protests,” the New York Times wrote this week.

Van Dyke spoke for the first time publicly about the shooting in recent weeks. After giving media interviews in the defense team’s offices, the judge issued Van Dyke a $200 fine, saying the interviews violated a court-imposed rule to not speak about the shooting publicly, the Associated Press reported. In those interviews, Van Dyke said the murder charge against him was political. The Tribune said Van Dyke lamented the “bandwagon of hated” on social media against him. Last week, the judge threatened to hold one of the defense team’s attorneys in contempt for “obstructing the administration of justice.”

After jury selection, the trial is expected to last for at least three weeks. How it plays out could have a notable impact on mistrust between local communities and the police.

3. Far-right party gains ground in Swedish elections

People walk past election posters near the Swedish parliament in Stockholm, Sweden on September 10, 2018. TT News Agency/Soren Andersson via REUTERS

Sweden’s growing far-right party, the Sweden Democrats, saw its biggest gains yet in the country’s general election on Sunday. The anti-immigrant party with neo-Nazi roots ended with 17.6 percent of the vote and 63 seats in Sweden’s 349-seat parliament, according to Sweden public Broadcaster STV. That’s up 12.9 percent from the party’s hold in parliament after the last election.

The new surge came at the expense of the country’s two leading blocs. The center-left coalition, led by the ruling Social Democrats, captured 40.6 percent of the vote, and the opposition center-right Alliance, which took 40.3 percent of the vote.

With the remaining votes going to the Sweden Democrats, the far-right party stands in the way for either mainstream coalition to form a majority.

As results rolled in, Jimmie Akesson, the Sweden Democrats’ leader, told supporters at a rally he was willing to negotiate with the parties. But they both have previously said they would be unwilling to engage in talks — painting an uncertain picture of how the parliament’s eight parties will build a working government. [CNN]

Why it matters: Nearly 1 in 5 Swedish voters backed the Sweden Democrats, a party that campaigned hard-line immigration views and crystallized concerns among Swedish voters about crime and economy.

Much like other European countries, frustrations about immigration policy — that in part allowed roughly 163,000 asylum seekers to enter the Sweden in 2015 — fueled the populist party’s rise. Along with reinforcing shift toward ani-immigrant and far-right postures, Sweden’s election also underscored a fragmentation in Europe’s political landscapes — as the Guardian puts it, a “decline of the main parties is making it harder to form coalitions and pursue policies.”

4. Kerala is recovering from a flooding crisis, but India is refusing foreign aid

Rescuers evacuate people from a flooded area to a safer place in Aluva

Rescuers evacuate people from a flooded area to a safer place in Aluva in the southern state of Kerala, India, August 18, 2018. Photo by Sivaram V/Reuters

A political battle has ensued over the funding for efforts to recover from historic flooding in India’s Kerala state. The Kerala government has wanted to accept offers of foreign aid, but India’s central government has rejected help from other countries.

The United Arab Emirates, a country with a large population of expatriate Indian workers from Kerala, offered $100 million for flood relief. The offer was (politely) declined.

India “is committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts,” foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a statement Wednesday night. “The government of India deeply appreciates offers from several countries, including from foreign governments, to assist in relief and rehabilitation efforts after the tragic floods in Kerala,” he continued.

Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinyari Vijayan said Wednesday that “it is only natural for nations to help each other.”

To this point, India’s central government has offered around $85 million in flood relief, about one-fourth of what Kerala has requested. Kerala’s finance minister argued that India’s government should compensate Kerala for the $100 million it rejected from UAE, the Associated Press reported.

Experts have said that the flooding could have been somewhat mitigated if dams were properly managed and began releasing water earlier, the BBC reported. It was only when flooding peaked that water from 80 plus dams was released, which may have actually worsened the flooding.

At least 50 high-power pumps have been deployed in affected areas, along with teams of plumbers and electricians working alongside 50,000 volunteers, the Times of India reported. [Associated Press and Times of India]

Why it matters: As of Aug. 22, the number of deaths caused by torrential rains surpassed 230, according to Reuters. More than 800,000 people were forced into relief shelters.

While floodwaters have slowed and begun receding, much of the state is still filled with slush, caked in mud and littered with debris. Many people in Kerala do not have clean drinking water, and the state is facing drug shortages to address a surge of waterborne diseases.

India has been refusing foreign aid since the 2004 tsunami struck and killed more than 12,000 people. The prime minister at the time set the policy that India would handle its own disasters and would only take aid if it reached out for it, according to The Indian Express.

If extreme weather patterns continue in Kerala, a southern state criss-crossed by a web of 44 rivers, and the Indian government continues to refuse foreign aid, it may complicate future flood relief efforts.

5. Engineers have deployed a plastic-collecting machine that, if successful, could help clear the world’s largest mass of ocean plastic

The Ocean Cleanup launched its first ocean trash collector from the San Francisco Bay on Saturday.
The Ocean Cleanup / Banjamin Von Wong

A plastic-collecting machine departed the San Francisco Bay on Saturday and will be towed along 1,000 nautical miles until it reaches the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a massive vortex of garbage collected by ocean currents between Hawaii and California.

The 2,000-foot long plastic-collecting system was developed by the Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit that estimates its machine will clear half of the vortex’s plastic in the next five years.

Once it reaches the garbage patch and undergoes two weeks of testing, the unit’s giant tubes will be assembled into a U-shape to sit on the surface of the water and redirect debris that passes underneath it. A ship will visit every six weeks, and scoop up the accumulated plastic. If successful, the unit will be a solution to the millions of metric tons that are dumped into the ocean every year. [Business Insider]

Why it matters The Great Pacific Garbage Patch alone holds at least 87,000 tons of plastic and is twice the size of Texas.

While the Ocean Clean Up has deployed a number of prototypes since 2016 to test its plastic-collecting model, the system will be getting its first real test once it reaches the garbage patch.

Some members of the scientific community warn that the system might not be effective at collecting microplastics that make up the majority of oceanic plastic and sink deeper into the water. Others voiced concerns that the unit will pose a risk to marine life, by attracting fish and larger animals that could become entangled.

A preliminary environmental impact assessment commissioned by the Ocean Cleanup found some risk might come to sea turtles genting entangled as they seek shelter under the collected debris. But the report found that generally no serious harm will come to marine life surrounding the contraption.

Other skeptics have simply raised the point that the hyped-up technology will be a distraction from efforts to reduce excessive plastic consumption in the first place.

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