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03 Apr

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

 

English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.

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Legislative pushes to shift health and pension costs on to individual teachers leave many with less take-home pay than five years ago

Teachers hold a rally in West Virginia on 5 March. After a nine-day wildcat strike, teachers earned a 5% raise.

Teachers hold a rally in West Virginia on 5 March. After a nine-day wildcat strike, teachers earned a 5% raise. Photograph: Tyler Evert/AP

A new wave of teacher strikes has highlighted a growing problem for all US workers – growing health costs which have become a “hungry tapeworm” on Americans’ wages.

In the most expensive health system in the world and the only industrialized nation without universal healthcare, more than 177 million Americans get health insurance through an employer. But insurance is rarely free.

“They’ve shifted the healthcare costs and the pension costs on to employees, so employees are making less and they’re spending less,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.7 million members. “It’s a double whammy.”

Conservative legislatures’ push to shift health and pension costs on to individual teachers means in some states, teachers take home less pay than they did five years ago.

The most high-profile example is West Virginia, where teachers earned a 5% raise after a nine-day wildcat strike. Before that, they earned less take-home pay than in 2012 because of soaring health costs.

Over the last decade, private insurance companies have increasingly demanded more “cost-sharing” from patients, a euphemism for more money out of people’s pockets. This week teachers in Oklahoma became the latest to take industrial action.

In 10 years, out-of-pocket costs have increased dramatically for all Americans. From 2005 to 2015, the average amount of money people have to pay themselves before insurance cover kicks in grew from $303 to $1,505. Once insurance starts paying, people are liable for another cost, called “coinsurance”. That grew from $134 to $253, on average. Overall, cost-sharing rose 66% in 10 years, according to Kaiser Family Foundation.

In the last decade, workers’ contract negotiations have orbited around health costs. What will an employer pay? Can the employee take on more?

“They are center stage in every contract negotiation,” said Weingarten. “I don’t know a contract negotiation where they haven’t been center stage.”

So extreme is the situation that a group of billionaires have set out “disrupt” health insurance because it would help their bottom line. Among them was investor Warren Buffett, who called health costs a “a hungry tapeworm on the American economy”.

Increasing health costs are not unique to teachers – Americans across the labor spectrum have paid more out-of-pocket for healthcare. However, conservative policies have inadvertently made them the most visible victims.

In states such as Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wisconsin, conservative legislatures pushed for all teacher pay raises to go through the statehouse. Now, with mounting labor actions, it’s those same statehouses that face pitched battles to improve teacher benefits.

“The right wing thought if this would happen we would be less politically engaged,” said Weingarten. “But this requires you to be more politically engaged.”

In Jersey City, New Jersey, teachers cited the burden of health costs when they went on strike in mid-March. It was the first strike in 20 years.

“We want nothing more than to get back to work under a contract that respects the expertise of our members and the need for affordable healthcare,” said the teacher union president, Ronald Greco, according to NJ.com. Teachers are required to pay between 3% and 35% of their pay to health insurance, thanks to a recent state law.

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The base of the ice around the south pole shrank by 1,463 square kilometres between 2010 and 2016

An Adelie penguin standing on a block of melting ice in East Antarctica.

An Adelie penguin standing on a block of melting ice in East Antarctica. Photograph: Reuters

Hidden underwater melt-off in the Antarctic is doubling every 20 years and could soon overtake Greenland to become the biggest source of sea-level rise, according to the first complete underwater map of the world’s largest body of ice.

Warming waters have caused the base of ice near the ocean floor around the south pole to shrink by 1,463 square kilometres – an area the size of Greater London – between 2010 and 2016, according to the new study published in Nature Geoscience.

The research by the UK Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds suggests climate change is affecting the Antarctic more than previously believed and is likely to prompt global projections of sea-level rise to be revised upward.

Until recently, the Antarctic was seen as relatively stable. Viewed from above, the extent of land and sea ice in the far south has not changed as dramatically as in the far north.

But the new study found even a small increase in temperature has been enough to cause a loss of five metres every year from the bottom edge of the ice sheet, some of which is more than 2km underwater.

“What’s happening is that Antarctica is being melted away at its base. We can’t see it, because it’s happening below the sea surface,” said Professor Andrew Shepherd, one of the authors of the paper. “The changes mean that very soon the sea-level contribution from Antarctica could outstrip that from Greenland.”

The study measures the Antarctic’s “grounding line” – the bottommost edge of the ice sheet across 16,000km of coastline. This is done by using elevation data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 and applying Archimedes’s principle of buoyancy, which relates the thickness of floating ice to the height of its surface.

The greatest declines were seen in west Antarctica. At eight of the ice sheet’s 65 biggest glaciers, the speed of retreat was more than five times the rate of deglaciation since the last ice age. Even in east Antarctica, where some scientists – and many climate deniers – had previously believed ice might be increasing based on surface area, glaciers were at best stable and at worst in retreat when underwater ice was taken into account.

“It should give people more cause for concern,” said Shepherd. “Now that we have mapped the whole edge of the ice sheet, it rules out any chance that parts of Antarctica are advancing. We see retreat in more places and stasis elsewhere. The net effect is that the ice sheet overall is retreating. People can’t say ‘you’ve left a stone unturned’. We’ve looked everywhere now.”

The results could prompt an upward revision of sea-level rise projections. 10 years ago, the main driver was Greenland. More recently, the Antarctic’s estimated contribution has been raised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But its forecasts were based on measurements from the two main west Antarctic glaciers – Thwaites and Pine Island – a sample that provides an overly narrow and conservative view of what is happening when compared with the new research.

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World Politics

United States

Chris Riddell on academy trusts

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