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House Passes Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana at Federal Level in Historic Vote

In a vote rich with historic importance, the House of Representatives has just voted to decriminalize cannabis.

Elias Marat

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In a vote rich with historic importance, the House of Representatives has just voted to decriminalize marijuana, finally siding with most Americans who have rejected prohibitionist policies and approve of the legalization of the plant.

On Friday, the House voted by 228-164 to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019, marking the first time that either chamber of the bicameral Congress has put decriminalization to the vote.

The bipartisan bill sponsored by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has been touted as the most comprehensive federal cannabis reform legislation ever introduced and comes after over half a century of a failed “war on drugs” that fueled mass incarceration and other collateral damage for poor communities.

However, the approval of the bill is largely a symbolic victory for marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform advocates, with Senate Republicans appearing firm in their stance that they won’t approve of the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blasted the bill on Twitter, remarking earlier this year on a study about diversity within the cannabis industry:  “This is their effort at coronavirus relief?”

Democrats, on the other hand, have said that the move to legalize weed will be a boon for local budgets and will end the historic injustice of the so-called “war on drugs,” which has negatively impacted poor communities of color in a disproportionate manner. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in  a September statement that “The MORE Act remains a critical component of House Democrats’ plan for addressing systemic racism and advancing criminal justice reform.”

Voters in various states have also largely approved the legalization of medical or recreational marijuana across the country, with voters in four states – Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota – voting to legalize in the 2020 election. 15 states now allow the recreational use of the plant, while 38 states allow medical marijuana.

study by Pew in late 2019 found that two-thirds of respondents across the country support the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana.

The MORE Act had the support of both liberals and libertarian-leaning conservatives in the House who see the responsible use of cannabis as a personal right, as well as other Republicans who believe that it should be up to the states to regulate the dispensation of the plant without the interference or control of federal authorities.

“We’re not rushing to legalize marijuana. The American people have already done that,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-D), one of the chief architects of the bill, prior to the House floor vote on Friday morning. “We’re here because Congress has failed to deal with a disastrous war on drugs and do its part for the over 15 million marijuana users in every one of your districts … It’s time for Congress to step up and do its part. We need to catch up with the rest of the American people.”

A vote on the MORE Act had initially been set for September, but the vote was delayed as Congress wrangled over the passage of a coronavirus aid bill before moving on to addressing legalization.

“Times have changed — marijuana should not be a crime,” Vice President-elect Harris said in a 2019 press release. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives. As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone — especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry.”

The MORE Act would comprehensively decriminalize cannabis on a federal level by de-scheduling it from the Controlled Substances Act – where it is absurdly classified as a Schedule 1 drug “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” alongside heroin – and opens the door to states setting their own policies regulating the commerce and consumption of the plant.

A major highlight of the bill includes expungements of federal convictions for a range of low-level cannabis offenders, removing a barrier that bars access to voting, employment, professional licenses, housing, and even the ability to adopt a child. States would be incentivized to also follow suit.

The legislation would also provide for re-sentencing and block federal agencies from denying public benefits and security clearances over past cannabis convictions, while immigrants would no longer be denied citizenship over marijuana.

The MORE Act would also levy a 5% sales tax on commercial cannabis, and investing in grant programs addressing the needs of communities who have suffered serious negative impacts from the “War on Drugs,” especially those communities of color that have suffered disproportionate over-policing and mass incarceration.

Other provisions of the MORE Act include providing opportunities for cannabis businesses and expanding medical cannabis programs within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The passage of the MORE Act could also be a boon for cash-strapped budgets across the country, which have seen tax revenue dry up amid the economic devastation wrought by the ongoing pandemic. The creation of a state-regulated cannabis market across the country is expected to create an up to $37 billion business within five years.

The vote comes after the United Nations, for the first time, recognized the medicinal value of cannabis, voting Wednesday to remove the plant from a list of dangerous drugs and clearing the way for the widespread research and medical use of marijuana and medications based on the plant.

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CIA Drops ‘Black Vault’ Trove Containing ‘All’ Government Documents on UFOs

Elias Marat

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The CIA has released all publicly available U.S. government documents collected on unidentified flying objects (UFO) over the course of three decades that can now be downloaded by any curious users.

According to reports, the massive trove of data on UFOs includes over 2,700 pages of information collected and recorded by government agencies over the course of decades, with some declassified documents dating back as far as the 1980s.

The information was released thanks to numerous requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) over the past 25 years.

The downloadable archives are available on the website The Black Vault, which has collected every piece of data recording sightings of UFOs. The site’s founder, John Greenewald Jr., purchased a disc which the CIA claims contains the entirety of its archives, but Greenewald notes that “there may be no way to entirely verify that.”

“Research by The Black Vault will continue to see if there are additional documents still uncovered within the CIA’s holdings,” Greenewald added.

The U.S. government has been increasingly open in its discussions of UFOs since September 2019, when the U.S. Navy admitted that widely-circulated video footage captured by Navy pilots purportedly showing UFOs flying through the skies did depict actual “unknown” objects that flew into U.S. airspace.

While officials admitted that they have been baffled by the unknown flying objects, they also admit that past encounters with them have been frequent. They also said that rather than calling them “UFOs,” they prefer the term unidentified aerial phenomena or UAPs.

The Guardian reports that a range of bizarre incidents are recorded in the documents, some of which are hard to decipher and are extremely disorganized.

One document reports a series of inexplicable explosions in a Russian town, while another reports a first-hand account of a sighting of an unidentified aerial phenomenon near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

LiveScience has also reviewed the files, and reports that the documents cover a range of other incidents such as a “1976 account of the government’s then-Assistant Deputy Director for Science and Technology being hand-delivered a mysterious piece of intelligence on a UFO.”

However, Greenewald has expressed annoyance over the manner in which the agency packaged the documents, including the fact that they were burned onto CD-ROM, a medium that he called “outdated.”

“The CIA has made it INCREDIBLY difficult to use their records in a reasonable manner,” he wrote to Vice’s Motherboard. “This outdated format makes it very difficult for people to see the documents, and use them, for any research purpose.”

The arrival of the dump comes as UFOlogists and alien aficionados eagerly anticipate hearings before Congress where Pentagon and intelligence agency officials will report all of their findings on UAPs, according to the New York Post.

A provision tucked into the roughly 5,600-page coronavirus relief bill passed in December requires that government agencies “submit a report within 180 days … to the congressional intelligence and armed services committees on unidentified aerial phenomena.”

Also last June, outgoing President Trump told his son Don Trump Jr. that he had heard some “interesting” things about supposed UFOs and the secretive Area 51 base near Roswell, New Mexico, that some theorists claim was a crash site for a UFO.

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Betty White Turns 99, and Her Tips on Living a Long and Happy Life Are More Valuable Than Ever

Elias Marat

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Betty White, the original golden girl beloved by people of all ages, celebrated her 99th birthday on Sunday.

The spry granny, born Betty Marion White on Jan. 17, 1922, has managed to live a long, healthy, happy life and this can likely be chalked up to her unconventional approach.

The Emmy award-winning veteran actress once joked that her secret to longevity consisted of three simple ingredients: vodka, hot dogs, and her love of pets.

However, her tongue-in-cheek advice is getting new attention, especially given that too many of us have been forced to stay at home over much of the past year.

In 2011, during a Late Show interview with David Letterman, White gave 10 sagely tips on how she’s managed to maintain her verb and energy for so long. With White reaching one year short of a century, the advice is worth revisiting.

Her first bit of advice was to “get at least eight hours of beauty sleep, nine if you’re ugly.” Next, she advised that one should “Exercise. Or don’t. What the hell do I care?”

Third, she opined that one should “never apologize. It shows weakness.”

Her fourth tip shouldn’t give anyone any adventurous ideas, but it’s helpful nonetheless: “The best way to earn a quick buck is a slip and fall lawsuit.”

She then gave the priceless tip that one should “avoid tweeting any photos of your private parts” while also making sure to “schedule nightly appointment with Dr. Johnnie Walker.”

Some of the healthy eaters in our audience may take exception to White’s seventh tip, which is to: “Take some wheatgrass, soy paste and carob, toss it in the garbage and cook yourself a big-*ss piece of pork.”

Her next bit of adice was to “try not to die” and “never dwell on past mistakes,” which may both be easier said than done. Lastly, she recommended that you “don’t waste your time watching this crap.”

Sound advice that we can all relate to, Mrs. White!

White is reportedly spending her 99th birthday simply relaxing, she told Entertainment Tonight.

“You probably didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway. … What am I doing for my birthday? Running a mile each morning has been curtailed by [coronavirus], so I am working on getting ‘The Pet Set’ re-released, and feeding the two ducks who come to visit me every day,” she explained, referencing a 1971 show she starred in that featured celebrities appearing alongside their pets.

Her birthday was also marked by various celebrities, who tweeted out birthday greetings to the TV icon.

“Happy birthday, @BettyMWhite! You’re a miracle in every way,”  wrote Ellen DeGeneres.

“I still get warm when I see this look. Happy 99 baby. You are a testament to living life on your own terms. Sending you a great big socially distanced kiss. I love you @BettyMWhite,” Ed Asner tweeted.

“Betty White bloopers are the best bloopers #HappyBirthdayBettyWhite,” Valerie Bertinelli tweeted alongside a video of hilarious mistakes made on the set of their former show, Hot in Cleveland.

“Wishing the incomparable Betty White a very happy 99th birthday! What’s your favorite Betty White role, friends?” wrote Star Trek star George Takei.

White, who is best known for her role as Rose Nylund in the classic sitcom The Golden Girls (1985-92), has over 75 years in show business under her belt. The comedian became a staple of U.S. television in such shows as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Hot in Cleveland along with memorable appearances in shows like Mama’s Family and That ‘70s Show.

She catapulted to fame with her first sitcom, Life with Elizabeth, where White played the titular role and became the first woman to have creative control of a program as both a producer and the star.

White earned no less than 24 Emmy nominations and won eight in the span of her career.

When she reached the age of 90 it didn’t slow her down one bit. Not only did White become the oldest host in the history of Saturday Night Live but she also made dozens of cameos. White also starred in a memorable 2010 Super Bowl commercial for Snickers where she got tackled to the ground, football-style.

In an email to the Associated Press, White shared an especially enjoyable perk of old age: “Since I am turning 99, I can stay up as late as I want without asking permission!”

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Animals

Surfing Sea Lions Have a Blast as They Ride and Flip Through Gnarly California Waves in Video

Elias Marat

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Surfers know that in terms of the best places to catch the best breaks and surf zones, few regions can compete with California’s central coast. From Malibu through Ventura to Santa Barbara County, up through SLO to the Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz, the Gold Coast arguably has no rivals in the U.S. in terms of its natural beauty and spectacular waves.

But while California’s beaches have long been synonymous with the surfing world, it would appear that actual sea lions from the regional are also enjoying the gnarly wakesurfs and sick swells on offer throughout the central coast.

In brilliant video captured last week off Santa Barbara Island, within the Channel Islands National Park just west of Los Angeles, sea lions can be seen surfing the massive waves with the sort of natural skill that only evolutionary forces can mold.

In the footage, the nimble pinnipeds can be seen riding and flipping about while taking huge leaps through the giant swells. The video was captured via high-speed photography, far too fast for sound to be recorded.

So Ryan Lawler, who runs Pacific Offshore Expeditions, paired the footage to the iconic hit from the Surfaris, “Wipeout.”

The energetic footage was captured by a documentary crew that included a National Geographic cameraman during a Jan. 7 outing with Pacific Offshore Expeditions.

 “Our trip to Santa Barbara Island was bumpy and dive conditions questionable,” the company wrote on its Instagram post of the video. “But what we found in light of this was a wonderful surprise: surfing sea lions! None of us had ever seen such sustained and enthusiastic wave riding from pinnipeds before. It was a joy to watch!”

The scene was so remarkable that the crew eagerly returned to Santa Barbara Island for more footage after checking out the footage that they shot.

“On the exposed side of the island the swell was huge but we found some sun,” Lawler told For The Win Outdoors. “As we rounded the southern portion of the island, which has an islet called Sutil Island, we noticed sea lions flying out of the back of the waves. It was an awesome moment.”

Like most priceless moments in the majestic Channel Islands, however, the session was all too brief – and was totally skunked by the thick, foggy marine layer of an unseasonably hot January.

“I had never seen that before at this island, which is well known for its sea lions,” Lawler continued. “So we stayed there for 20 minutes, observing and waiting for the sun to break up the fog. Then we dove for about 90 minutes and came back, but all the sea lions had disappeared.”

Sea lions have long been known to be powerful and agile swimmers who are even known to body surf on occasion, but scenes such as these are very difficult to capture.

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