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An American dad in Sweden now has plenty of family time

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The sea change has helped them grow as a couple, Asplund said.

“It puts more strain on the family as a whole when you’re not able to share the responsibility of everything,” she says. “Now, we both work, we both take care of the kids, we both take care of the house, there’s not that rift or division. It was just a lot better.”

Children spending more quality time with their fathers has a cascade of social benefits, according to the Swedish government, but it also allows women to pursue their careers and become more active members of the workforce.

In this sense, gender equality is a dispassionate economic goal; right now half of the population is unable to contribute as much as the other because of traditional family commitments.

Some conservative critics say this focus on dads means moms are pressured to abandon their children too soon. The Swedish government disagrees.

“One of the main discussions now is how do we make dads stay at home more,” says Harju, the health ministry spokesman. “We are in firm belief that children have the right to spend time with both their parents, and we have to ensure that the system also covers that and pushes society toward that direction.”

Another American father with experience in both worlds is Michael Wells, a Minnesota native and an expert on parental leave.

He moved to Sweden to study the country’s unique parenting model but ended up meeting a Swedish woman, getting married and having a son.

 Michael Wells with his son. Vladimir Banic / for NBC News

“When I originally came, I came to study it, not to live it,” says Wells, who works as a researcher at the Karolinska Institute, a medical university in Stockholm.

For Wells, it’s not just the family leave that sets Sweden apart but the raft of other social welfare benefits.

For example, parents don’t have to take all of their 480 days at once. Some of that time can be deferred up until the child is 12 years old. In addition, the government pays every couple — whether they are janitors or CEOs — an allowance that equates to around $130 per child per month.

Swedes also get a whopping 120 days of “child sick leave” per year, when they can stay home if a child is ill without eating into their own already generous allowance.

“I think Americans would be really surprised by the system here,” Wells says. “And the U.S. system would be unfathomable to a Swede.”

How does Sweden pay for this? Part of the answer, very broadly, is that Swedes are prepared to pay more in taxes than Americans — much more.

If Sweden’s tax system was applied in the U.S., everyone earning more than $75,000 would have to pay the top marginal tax rate of around 61 percent — one of the highest in the world. Currently, only Americans earning around $400,000 hit the top tax bracket of around 46 percent, according to the Tax Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Many in the U.S. might argue this goes against the American spirit distilled by President Ronald Reagan’s farewell address in 1989: “We the people tell the government what to do; it doesn’t tell us.”

 At 61 percent, Sweden has one of the highest top marginal tax rates in the world. Bing Maps

But like many in Sweden, Wells says he is happy to pay extra because of the parental leave, subsidized health care, subsidized preschools and a slew of other benefits he gets in return.

“I get a lot from my taxes. I see what they provide,” he says. “And as soon as you start having kids, you see all these other benefits that you get out of your taxes that I know I would have to pay for out of my own pocket in the U.S. That’s a huge burden off my shoulders.”

The Swedish government is now trying to modernize its family leave and update a policy that was devised in the 1970s so it better suits life in 2018.

“For instance, in the LGBT community, where two lesbians or gay people have kids together, how are they able to use the insurance in a sensible way so it’s adjusted to different families?” says Harju at the health ministry.

Reid and Wells say they’ve already encountered an array of reactions from people in the U.S.

“We have a lot of friends who have kids and they all are pretty much asking: ‘How do we get to Sweden? How do we live there?'” Reid says.

Asplund has had a different experience. “Yeah, they think it’s all communist,” she laughs.

Others might argue that the Swedish model — catering to a far more homogeneous population of 10 million than America’s 326 million — could never work in the U.S.

Wells disagrees.

“If every other industrialized country in the world can have parental leave,” he says, “I’m pretty sure the U.S. can manage to do it, too.”

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Ireland’s health service shuts down IT systems over ‘significant ransomware attack’ | World News

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Ireland’s health service has closed down its computer systems after what it described as a “significant ransomware attack”.

The Republic’s Health Service Executive (HSE) said it had shut down its entire IT network as a “precaution.”

It said COVID-19 vaccinations were not affected by the attack.

“There is a significant ransomware attack on the HSE IT systems,” the HSE said on Twitter.

“We have taken the precaution of shutting down all our IT systems in order to protect them from this attack and to allow us fully assess the situation with our own security partners.”

It added: “We apologise for inconvenience caused to patients and to the public and will give further information as it becomes available.

“Vaccinations not affected are going ahead as planned.”

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Israeli ground forces launch attacks on Gaza as fighting worsens | World News

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Israeli ground forces began launching attacks on Gaza in a widening of hostilities as Israel braced for more internal strife between its Arab and Jewish citizens following Friday prayers.

The Israeli military said air and ground forces were firing at the Hamas-run enclave, though it does not appear to mean the start of a ground invasion, with Sky News witnessing troops launching artillery and tank rounds from Israel’s side of the border.

“I said we would extract a very heavy price from Hamas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a videotaped statement. “We are doing that, and we will continue to do that with heavy force.”

Streaks of light are seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel May 12, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
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Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system has intercepted many of the rockets launched from the Gaza Strip

Thousands of Israeli forces along with tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery are massing along the frontier with Gaza, preparing to push inside if given the order, in what would be a hugely significant escalation.

Unperturbed, Palestinian militants continued to launch rockets from the strip towards Israel into Friday morning.

At least 109 Palestinians have died since the exchanges began on Monday, including 28 children and 15 women, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Palestinian militants have said 20 of their fighters are among the dead, though Israeli officials said this figure is much higher.

Almost half of the deaths happened on Thursday – the deadliest day so far.

On the Israeli side, seven people have been killed, including two children and a soldier.

But this is a crisis on many fronts, as decades of Israeli-Palestinian trauma erupt into clashes on the streets of many towns and cities inside Israel – with Arabs and Jews, who had lived together peacefully, turning on each other, prompting warnings of a risk of civil war.

Synagogues have been attacked, cars torched and individuals beaten up by mobs in the worst internal violence in decades.

New protests could erupt following Friday prayers, with al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City a potential flashpoint.

It was at this walled compound – one of the most sacred sites in Islam, which is also revered by Jews and Christians – that violence between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters on Monday sparked the first volley of rockets from Gaza into Israel that ignited the wider crisis.

A Palestinian boy looks at ruins of buildings which were destroyed in Israeli air strikes in the northern Gaza Strip. Pic:  Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Shutterstock
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The blockaded strip is home to some two million Palestinians who have no means to flee. Pic: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

There is of course a regional dimension as well.

On Thursday night, three rockets were fired towards Israel from Lebanon. They landed harmlessly in the Mediterranean Sea in what appears to have been a show of solidarity with Gaza by Palestinian groups in Lebanon rather than the start of a separate offensive.

With so much at stake, frantic diplomatic efforts are underway to try to broker a ceasefire.

Egyptian officials have been speaking with both sides as have officials from the United Nations. The US has dispatched a senior diplomat to the region and Russian President Vladimir Putin has added his voice to those calling for both sides to de-escalate.

In Washington, President Joe Biden said he spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu about calming the fighting but also backed the Israeli leader by saying “there has not been a significant overreaction”.

He said the goal is to “get to a point where there is a significant reduction in attacks, particularly rocket attacks that are indiscriminately fired into population centres”, and called the effort “a work in progress”.

The UN Security Council is due to hold its first public session on the situation on Sunday after the US objected to an open session on Friday, apparently wanting to give diplomacy a little longer to have an effect.

However, with bombardments between the two sides – unprecedented in their intensity – entering their fifth day, there is no obvious sign that diplomacy is cooling heads.

The Israel Defence Forces has hit close to 1,000 targets in Gaza, including multi-storey buildings, rocket launch sites and individual Hamas military commanders. But this blockaded strip of territory is also home to some two million Palestinians who have no means to flee.

Overnight, masses of red flames illuminated the skies as deafening blasts from the outskirts of Gaza City jolted people awake.

The strikes were so strong that people inside the city, several miles away, could be heard screaming in fear, according to the AP news agency.

At the same time, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a fellow Palestinian militant group, have fired close to 2,000 rockets towards Israel. Many were shot down by the country’s air defence system but some have penetrated deep into Israeli territory, including the commercial capital of Tel Aviv, sending families racing into shelters.

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Fresh uncertainty for UK tourists as Portugal extends ‘state of calamity’ until 30 May | UK News

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Britons hoping for a holiday in Portugal when travel restrictions lift next week are facing fresh uncertainty after the country extended its “state of calamity”.

The second-highest level of alert is going to remain in place until 30 May at the earliest, almost two weeks after the country is added to a “green list” of destinations where holidaymakers can go without having to isolate on their return.

Portugal would have been one of the few options for travellers seeking a quick sunny break, as many of the other countries on the “green list” are either closed to tourists, too cold, or too remote.

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Portugal would have been one of the few options for sun-seeking British tourists

Other popular hotspots such as Greece, Italy, Spain and France are on the amber list, requiring 10 days of isolation and two COVID-19 tests on return to the UK.

The new restrictions cast a shadow over the Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea that is due to take place in Porto on 29 May – an event that has already been moved from Turkey, which is on the red list.

When asked whether restrictions on travel from the UK would be lifted, Portuguese Cabinet office minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said she had “no information to give yet”.

In comments reported by the BBC, she said: “Work is going on and as soon as there is a decision it will be announced, but no decision was taken in this cabinet meeting.”

She said British fans could still come to see the football game but they would need to fly on charter planes, arriving and leaving on the same day.

On Thursday, the world’s largest travel firm warned it may be forced to cancel holiday flights to Portugal, just as the UK allows them again, because of a continuing EU ban on non-essential travel from countries outside the bloc.

TUI, which told Sky News earlier this week that people were giving up on booking a break abroad because of a lack of clarity on the rules, said holidays could not happen unless “borders are open”.

The “state of calamity” means non-residents of Portugal can only enter if their travel is essential, a COVID test is required within 72 hours of departure, and even those with a negative result can still be refused permission to board a flight or be made to quarantine in government-approved accommodation on arrival.

It is understood the UK government has been speaking with Portuguese representatives this week about unlocking travel between the two countries.

The government is also talking to the European Commission about how to safely reopen travel on the continent, the PA news agency understands.

Portugal has reported 840,929 cases of COVID-19, with 16,999 deaths.

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