News Briefs of the past week:

Millions Of California Workers Are About To Get Paid Sick Days
ARTICLE SOURCE: Huffington Post
Sep. 09, 2014
In the largest expansion of its kind to date, the state of California on Wednesday extended paid sick leave to millions of workers who would otherwise have to choose between a day's pay and working while ill.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) signed a bill making California the only state other than Connecticut to have a sick-leave mandate on its books. Under the law, employers will have to let workers accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours they work, to be capped at three days per year at employers' discretion.

"Whether you're a dishwasher in San Diego or a store clerk in Oakland, this bill frees you of having to choose between your family's health and your job," Brown said in a statement.

Brown's office estimates that the mandate will bring paid sick leave to 6.5 million Californians who currently don't have it. The bill passed both chambers of the statehouse by wide margins late last month, sending the legislation to Brown's desk. The law goes into effect next July.

Unlike many other countries in the developed world, the United States has no federal law guaranteeing paid sick leave for workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that about four out of 10 workers in the U.S. are not covered by a sick leave plan.

U.S. Threatened to Fine Yahoo $250,000 Per Day for Guarding User Data
Sep. 12, 2014
Newly unsealed documents have revealed how much pressure the U.S. government exerted on Yahoo after the tech company opposed its demands for user communications. In 2008, the government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 per day if it did not comply with a secret court order which Yahoo believed was unconstitutional. Yahoo ultimately lost its legal battle and ended up providing user communications to the National Security Agency under the secret PRISM program, as did other tech companies.

Study: Residents Near Fracking Sites More Likely to Become Ill
Sep. 12, 2014
A new study has found people living near fracking wells are more than twice as likely to report certain health issues. A former Yale University School of Medicine professor surveyed residents in southwestern Pennsylvania. He found 39 percent of people living within about half a mile of gas wells reported upper respiratory health problems, compared to 18 percent for those who lived more than 1.2 miles away from wells.

U.N.: Ozone Layer Recovering; New Steps Needed to End HFCs
Sep. 11, 2014
New figures show the ozone layer is restoring after years of depletion. The United Nations says stratospheric ozone is on pace to fully recover by the middle of the century. Achim Steiner of the United Nations Environment Programme credited the banning of certain chemicals from aerosol and refrigerants under the 1987 Montreal Protocol.

Achim Steiner: "The world avoided a major problem by getting rid of ozone-depleting substances by the Montreal Protocol. Indeed, without this protocol and all the actions that we have taken across the globe, we would be seeing a very substantial global ozone depletion today. We’ve seen evidence of a decline in ozone-depleting substances over the past decade. Now we are starting to see increasingly encouraging signs from ozone measurements that the ozone layer is on track to recovery by the middle of this century."

Without the Montreal Protocol, the United Nations says two million extra cases of skin cancer would have occurred each year by 2030. But this rare bit of environmental news has also come at a cost. Many companies have replaced ozone-depleting chemicals with hydrofluorocarbons, HFCs, which worsen global warming.

Achim Steiner: "We are at a critical point. Where HFCs were introduced in order to address the issue of ozone depletion, what we did not anticipate at the time or what was not foreseen is that if the use of HFCs continues to increase at the rate that we now envisage, which is roughly increasing at a rate of 7 percent a year, and you begin to extrapolate that, then by the year 2050 you could have a major negative issue and challenge in terms of global warming."

U.N.: Greenhouse Gas Levels Reach Record High
Sep. 9, 2014
The United Nations says levels of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming have reached a record high. According to the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose by nearly three parts per million from 2012 to 2013, the largest single-year increase since detailed records began three decades ago. Last year, concentrations of carbon dioxide reached nearly 400 parts per million, the highest level in at least 800,000 years. As oceans absorb the increased carbon, ocean acidification has reached a rate that is "unprecedented at least over the last 300 million years." In a press release, WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud called the data a "scientific base" for global action on climate change. "We are running out of time," he said. The report comes ahead of the U.N. climate summit and the People’s Climate March in New York City [and in San Diego] on Sep. 21.

Report: Southwestern U.S. at Higher Risk of "Megadrought"
Sep. 09, 2014

A study on climate change has warned the southwestern United States is at an increased risk of devastating drought. Cornell University professor Toby Ault discussed the results on Monday.

Toby Ault: "The risk of a decade-long drought is normally about 50 percent, but with climate change it goes up to about 80 or 90 percent, according to our results. And for a multiple-decade-long drought, a megadrought, the risk is normally in the order of 5 to 15 percent, but with climate change it goes up to between 20 and 50 percent for a lot of the Southwest."

California is in the midst of an epic three-year drought with more than 58 percent of the state deemed to be in "exceptional drought," the most severe category possible.

Obama Extends Embargo on Cuba Despite Global Condemnation
Sep. 9, 2014

President Obama has extended the more than 50-year-old embargo on trade to Cuba for another year. In a statement, Obama said the embargo is "in the national interest of the United States." Each year for more than two decades, the United Nations General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba. The most recent vote was 188 to 2, with only the United States and Israel supporting the embargo.

Documents Show Secret U.S. Plans to Spy for the Benefit of Corporations
Sep. 9, 2014

Documents from Edward Snowden have revealed details about the U.S. government’s secret plans to conduct economic espionage for the benefit of U.S. corporations. The Obama administration has acknowledged conducting economic spying, but denies it does so to help U.S. companies. However, a 2009 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published by The Intercept news site reveals concern about potential challenges to U.S. corporations from foreign multinationals. It suggests using "cyber operations" against "research facilities" in foreign countries and then assessing "whether and how [the] findings would be useful to U.S. industry."

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