These days, it’s hard to stop politics from flooding your news feed. We take a moment every week to bring you important stories beyond the White House and the Capitol. Here’s what we’re reading now.
1. Millions of records are missing from the federal gun database
Last week, a 26-year-old man killed 26 people and wounded 20 others when he opened fire on Sunday morning services at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The Air Force veteran should have never been able to buy a gun because he was charged with domestic violence while in the military. But while the Air Force and the Pentagon have launched investigations into how the military reports its domestic abuse convictions to civilian law enforcement, there are millions of other red flags — from mental illness, drug possession and other criminal convictions — missing from the FBI’s federal gun databases. One report indicates at least 25 percent of felony convictions have not been reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. [The Washington Post]
Why it matters: As the Washington Post writes: “what the FBI doesn’t know can get people killed.” In the days after Dylan Roof shot and killed nine black parishioners at a church in South Carolina in 2015, officials discovered he should have been blocked from buying firearms because he had recently confessed to drug possession. Officials detailed to the Post the challenges of coordinating information from multiple agencies at both the state and federal levels — the same kind of challenges that have dogged those pushing for a national database of fatal shootings by police. (No such database exists). So while there is new legislation in Congress to close the kind of domestic violence loophole that gave the Texas church shooter access to guns, the “shortcomings of the system” are already widely known, Louis Dekmar, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, told the Post. The real issue, Dekmar said: a “lack of will to address them.”
2. Tens of thousands of nationalist protesters interrupted Poland’s independence day celebrations
Nov. 11 marked the 99th anniversary of Poland’s independence. But Saturday’s celebrations in Warsaw were accompanied by a 60,000-person demonstration by nationalist groups shouting slogans like “Europe will be white or uninhabited” and “no to Islam.” [Politico].
Why it matters: Nationalist demonstrations have accompanied Poland’s independence day celebrations since at least 2009, the Associated Press reported — sometimes, as in 2014, turning violent. While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful in the past few years, they’ve also continued to draw larger crowds. It may be “the world’s biggest assembly of far-right extremists,” one sociologist told the AP. This year, protesters traveled from across Europe. Politico says the demonstrations are another sign of Poland’s long shift to the right. They also come amid a tense standoff between Poland and other European Union officials over “changes to Poland’s court system that the European Commission says undermine the rule of law.”
3. When he died at 27, former NFL player Aaron Hernandez had the most advanced form of CTE researchers have seen from a player his age
In April, former NFL player Aaron Hernandez hung himself in a jail cell in Massachusetts, where he was serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. He was 27. Researchers had already determined the New England Patriots player suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurological disorder caused by repeated blows to the head. But at a conference last week, they announced Hernandez had stage three CTE, the most advanced form of the disease they had ever seen in someone his age. It doesn’t explain why Hernandez killed Lloyd in 2013, or why he killed himself earlier this year, but “we can say collectively that individuals with CTE of this severity have difficulty with impulse control, decision-making, aggression, often emotional volatility, and rage behavior,” Boston University researcher Ann McKee said. [The Boston Globe].
Why it matters: At least 110 former NFL players have been diagnosed with CTE. Some of them have killed themselves. Researchers have linked traumatic brain injuries to a greater risk of suicide, but doctors have hesitated to make the same connection between suicide and NFL players, citing a need for more research. (Hernandez is the third former Patriot with CTE to kill himself, the Globe says). More research has been devoted to the disease in the last several years, and as concern over how the league handles concussions has grown, players have chosen to retire early — or to not enter the NFL at all — and some parents, worried about the impact the sport will have on their children later on, have decided not to enroll kids in youth leagues. But what doctors can learn has come slowly, and often comes after players have died, and are years removed from the day-to-day grind of the game. Thursday’s discovery underscores a concern “that we’re seeing accelerated disease in young athletes. Whether or not that’s because they’re playing more aggressively or if they’re starting at younger ages, we don’t know. But we are seeing ravages of this disease, in this specific example, of a young person,” McKee told the Washington Post.
4. Three months after Harvey, what’s happening in Texas?
Three months ago, Hurricane Harvey brought unprecedented damage to Houston and other areas of Texas. Now, roads are clear, school is in session and electricity is restored. But more than 50,000 residents are still living in hotel rooms. And while Congress has gotten $15 billion in recovery funds from Congress, and tens of millions in disaster relief from the state of Texas, the city’s mayor told the Washington Post that the region may actually need as much as $180 billion to completely recover. The Post looked this weekend at what Houston needs to recover and how long it will take. [The Washington Post].
Why it matters: Hurricane Harvey is only one of several major disasters for which Congress is trying to provide aid. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is asking for $94.4 billion to recover from Hurricane Maria (greater than the $61 billion that Texas requested, the Associated Press points out). And the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands is preparing to make a separate request later this week. (The New York Times documented how the islands are recovering here). It’s not clear how much assistance Congress will be able to provide, or when it can deliver it. In the meantime, here are some ways you can help.
5. Money can’t buy you happiness, but in Japan, it can buy you friends
They say friends are the family you choose. But in Japan, if you have enough money, you can just buy both. For eight years, the company Family Matters has rented out actors for pretty much any role imaginable — a father, a grandmother, a daughter, a long-lost lover, a boss or your college roommate. The demand is increasing, its founder told The Atlantic. “More people, for example, want help to appear popular on social media. We had one man recently who paid a huge sum just to fly with five employees to Las Vegas and take pictures for Facebook.” [The Atlantic]
Why it matters: On paper, this could solve so many holiday problems, from Aunt Sally’s questioning why you aren’t married (hire a fiancee!) to finding yourself alone on New Year’s Eve (hire a new friend or two!) You can even hire someone to play yourself, to deal with awkward apologies or unpleasant conversations. But when “the client always asks for the ideal husband, the ideal father. That’s a very difficult role to maintain,” the founder says. And there is, of course, the truth, which undoubtedly will come out at some point. “The happiness is not endless, but that doesn’t mean that it’s without value.”