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The 2016 spending bill just passed. Good news: Funding for NASA. Bad news: CISA.

The must-pass piece of legislation has some tricks up its sleeve.

The 2016 spending bill just passed. Good news: Funding for NASA. Bad news: CISA.

Congress passed House Speaker Paul Ryan's $1.1 trillion government spending bill on Friday.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.


The 2,000 page bill, known as "the omnibus," was a massive undertaking that will fund the government through most of 2016, and it comes just in time to prevent a government shutdown. It took a lot of work and a lot of compromise to pull together, and the good news is, there's actually some pretty cool stuff in there.

Like, NASA getting more funding, for one.

After NASA's funding was famously slashed to a paltry $17 billion in 2013, this time around, the government has set aside over $19 billion for the organization to further develop its exploration programs.

The omnibus also includes new, extended health care coverage guarantees for 9/11 first responders, which former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart has been campaigning for.

There's also some money for the upcoming census and the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, aka CISA, which is ... wait, what's that?

Oh that's right.

The controversial government surveillance bill known as CISA has been tactfully snuck in.

Those congressional rascals.

The full text of the CISA, which passed the Senate in October, apparently appears 1,729 pages into the omnibus spending bill. Meaning it is now one giant step closer to the president's desk.

So what exactly is CISA?

Officially, it aims to "improve cybersecurity in the United States through enhanced sharing of information about cybersecurity threats, and for other purposes."

Essentially, it would allow the government to access Internet traffic information from companies without a warrant.

It's been hugely controversial since it was first introduced in 2014. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) called it "a surveillance bill by another name," and many others have touted it as a bill that invades the privacy of Americans for somewhat vague security reasons.

Sen. Ron Wyden, a notable CISA critic. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

The version in the omnibus is even worse than the original.

Key provisions that prevented direct information sharing with the National Security Agency have been stripped out, and limitations that say the information can only be used for cybersecurity purposes have been removed.

As Evan Greer, director of the activist group Fight for the Future said, "It's clear now that this bill was never intended to prevent cyber attacks."

Due to controversy and criticism, the bill has had a pretty hard time moving ahead so far. Despite passing the Senate earlier this year, tech firms like Apple, Twitter, and Reddit and organizations like The Business Software Alliance and the Computer and Communications Industry Association have all openly opposed it.

Even the Department of Homeland Security, aka the government agency that'd actually be the ones receiving all that Internet data stated in July that CISA could overwhelm the agency with data of "dubious value" while also sweeping away privacy protections.

So how could something like CISA become law?

Good question, me.

The answer is pretty simple. The omnibus spending bill was a must-pass piece of legislation.

It covers almost the entire 2016 spending plan for the federal government and needed to be passed to prevent a government shutdown. Which no one wanted right before the end of the year.


Rep. Paul Ryan (center) with President Obama and Sen. Mitch McConnell. Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images.

So by tucking CISA into the end of the omnibus, lawmakers were able to push it through with little chance of debate. It's pretty darn sneaky. Especially since the bill comes packed with other, positive funding decisions that will get held up or even lost if the spending bill continued to be delayed.

Congress has done this before; it's actually a disturbingly common practice.

Only a year ago, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas) quietly attached a provision to the 2015 funding law that would allow U.S. taxpayers to fund bailouts for banks that trade risky derivatives. You know, the kind that crashed the economy in 2008.

That bill was also passed to prevent a government shutdown.

Rep. Kevin Yoder (center) in Washington. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

There are countless other examples, and if this sounds to you like it should be illegal, well, you're not alone. Unfortunately, the bill to make it illegal would probably have a "Punch Orphans in the Face Act" or something equally horrible attached to it.

The good news is, now that the bill has passed Congress — and was signed by President Obama — NASA will be getting the best funding it's had in years. There's even $175 million set for NASA researches to explore Jupiter's moon Europa. Which, if you haven't heard, is REALLY COOL.

And, hey, since the government is going to be surveilling your Internet, why not encourage them to keep funding the cool stuff? Google the phrase "NASA is awesome" as many times as you can. They'll get the message, I'm sure.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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