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Boston Marathon bombing survivor on hope, pain and pot



Boston Marathon bombing survivor on hope, pain and pot

Thousands of spectators will line Boylston Street in Boston on Monday for the running of the Boston Marathon, just like I did on a sunny afternoon in 2013.

On that fateful day, my arm and leg were ripped wide open from flying shrapnel from a pressure cooker bomb that was detonated by terrorists at the finish line.

I was a victim of terror that day, but I also became a survivor. I survive every day. I survive through painful surgeries and debilitating anxiety. I survive in an effort to help others; people who are suffering like me.

I’ve forged friendships that were born in blood and smoke on Boylston Street, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and at the Bataclan in Paris.

I’ve traveled to these places that have been turned into war zones. I’ve looked into the eyes of those who have lost loved ones and parts of themselves to senseless violence.

Since the Boston Marathon bombings, I’ve been on a mission to share my experiences with others around the world, especially those who have faced the worst of human nature to show them there is still light, there is still hope.

But each heart-wrenching conversation creates additional stress for me, as I am forced to relive those terrifying moments when I thought I was going to die.

I take those thoughts to bed with me and I cannot sleep. That’s when the nightmares take over. I was prescribed several medications, which did not work, or left me feeling groggy and not myself.

I explored cannabis and it’s been truly life changing for me. It has finally allowed me to rest my body and my mind. I don’t feel like I’m underwater anymore. I wake up each morning with the knowledge that I am healing myself so that I can help others through the process. With a clear mind, I can take a morning run and think about how I’m going to tackle the day.

Cannabis has offered me healthy relaxation so that I can then focus on my mission, which is to pay it forward.

When I was hurt in the bombing, I had to rely on strangers who created makeshift tourniquets to stop my bleeding. For them, it was an instantaneous and humanitarian mission to save my life and others. Without them, I would not be here right now. That’s why I felt compelled to travel to France after the deadly terror attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French newspaper in January 2015 and again months later after the Bataclan tragedy to offer whatever help I could.

I hate how we have all met, but the fellow survivors that I have spent time with on this long and painful journey have become family to me.

As survivors, we communicate in a way that only we can understand.

During the pandemic, I have continued my outreach remotely. Whether it’s a phone call, over Zoom, by text or a simple card, I want each of them to know that they are not alone.

Next week, when I see those runners headed toward the finish line on television, and I hear those cheering crowds, I will be reminded of the day that changed my life and the lives of hundreds more.

I will no longer reach for prescription pills to alleviate my anxiety. Instead, I will be comforted in knowing that cannabis will get me the sleep I need to get me through the day in a more healthy way, so I can continue to spread a message of hope and understanding to others who have endured so much.

Michelle L’Heureux is a Boston Marathon bombing survivor and a spokesperson for Curaleaf’s I Cannabis campaign.

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Congressional leaders reach deal to hike debt limit



Congressional leaders reach deal to hike debt limit

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders reached an elaborate deal Tuesday that will allow Democrats to lift the nation’s debt limit without any votes from Republicans, likely averting another last-minute rush to avoid a federal default. Hours later, the House passed legislation overwhelmingly along party lines that kicked off a multi-step process.

Congress approved a $480 billion increase in the nation’s debt limit in October. That’s enough for the Treasury to finance the government’s operations through Dec. 15, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s projection.

But Republicans have warned they won’t vote for any future debt ceiling increase to ensure the federal government can meet its financial obligations, and instead, the politically unpopular measure would have to be passed entirely by the Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress.

President Joe Biden had called on Republicans to “get out of the way” if they won’t help Democrats shoulder the debt responsibility. But rather than step aside and allow for a quick vote, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has helped engineer an unusual legislative process that will play out over the next several days. Donald Trump, the former president, ridiculed McConnell for allowing any action, showing just how politically toxic the routine act of paying the nation’s bills has become.

“I think this is in the best interest of the country,” said McConnell, R-Ky. “I think it is also in the best interest of Republicans, who feel very strongly that the previous debt ceilings we agreed to when President Trump was here carried us through August. And this current debt ceiling is indeed about the future and not about the past.”

The agreement spelled out in the House bill passed Tuesday establishes the days-long process ahead. In short, it would tuck a provision to fast-track the debt limit process into an unrelated Medicare bill that will prevent payment cuts to doctors and other health care providers. That measure passed the House by a vote of 222-212 with only Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, siding with Democrats in voting for the measure.

“House Republicans can’t support using patients and access to local doctors as leverage to increase the national debt on our children,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas.

The measure now goes to the Senate, and if the Medicare bill becomes law, it will open the process for the Senate to raise the debt ceiling through subsequent legislation with a Democrats’ only majority vote.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., struck an optimistic note that the debt ceiling plan will pass.

“This is a very good outcome for the American people. We will avoid default, which would have been disastrous. Democrats have always said that we were willing to shoulder the load at 50 votes to get this done as long it was not a convoluted or risky process, and Leader McConnell and I have achieved that.”

Key to the agreement is that Democrats will have to vote on a specific amount by which the debt ceiling would be lifted. The amount has not yet been disclosed, but it is sure to be a staggering sum. Republicans want to try to blame Democrats for the nation’s rising debt load and link it to Biden’s $1.85 trillion social and environmental bill.

“To have Democrats raise the debt ceiling and be held politically accountable for racking up more debt is my goal, and this helps us accomplish that,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

The increase in the debt ceiling, however, is needed to meet financial obligations accrued by both parties under past legislation. The vast majority of it predates Biden’s presidency.

“This is about meeting obligations that the government has already incurred, largely during the Trump Administration,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to Democratic colleagues. “Only three percent of the current debt has been accrued under President Biden.”

Pelosi said that addressing the debt limit will prevent a drastic increase in interest rates for car loans, student debt, mortgages and other types of borrowing for Americans.

The legislation before the House on Tuesday establishes a fast-track process for the days ahead. A subsequent vote will be needed to pass the debt ceiling increase itself. Once the Senate has done so, the House will take up the bill and send it to Biden to be signed into law.

At their private luncheon Thursday, Republican senators sounded off against the plan. Many of them will not support it.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of GOP leadership, said the lunch discussion went about as would be expected — though he said the plan at least allows Republicans to achieve their goal of forcing Democrats to vote on their own to raise the debt ceiling by a specific amount.

The parliamentary machinations struck some House lawmakers as an “absurd” but necessary way to deal with the Senate, where the filibuster rules allow the Republican minority to block action.

“We’re tying ourselves into parliamentary contortions to try to help the Senate deal with this straitjacket they have put themselves into,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said.

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Person of interest in Metro bus shooting charged with resisting arrest



Person of interest in Metro bus shooting charged with resisting arrest

ST. LOUIS — The person of interest in the shooting of a Metro bus driver has been charged following a brief police pursuit on Monday, the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis announced.

Isaiah Houston, 30, was charged with resisting arrest and unlawful possession of a firearm.

According to a probable cause statement, detectives noticed Houston holding an AR-15 style rifle in the front yard of his mother’s home Monday night.

Detectives in unmarked patrol vehicles attempted to stop him when he left the home in a red Chrysler PT Cruiser, which matched the description of the car that may be connected to the Metro bus shooting.

Police said at one point, Houston reversed his car and slammed into a patrol vehicle occupied by two detectives near Jennings Station Road and Greyling Drive. He allegedly tried to drive on the sidewalk to get away but failed. He was arrested while trying to go to the backseat, according to the probable cause statement. Detectives also found an AR-15 under a seat in the vehicle.

Houston is being held on a $60,000 bond. None of the charges he is currently facing stem from Friday night’s shooting. The Major Case Squad said it’s still investigating.

Metro bus driver Jonathan Cobb was shot around 7:10 p.m. Friday in the 3400 block of Lucas and Hunt Road. Passengers reported that a single gunshot from outside of the bus struck Cobb, causing him to crash.  

Cobb remains hospitalized in critical condition. Several passengers were on the bus, but none of them were injured from the gunshot.

Jonathan Cobb

More than 20 detectives with the Major Case Squad are working around the clock to solve the case.

“Get the public’s help in identifying the person responsible for this incident and help us locate the vehicle that may have information to this crime,” said Lt. Tim Burger with the Major Case Squad.

Investigators released a security camera photo of the PT Cruiser prior to stopping a similar vehicle Monday night. Police have yet to confirm if it’s the same vehicle captured in surveillance images from Friday’s shooting that left Cobb in critical condition.

Cobb is a popular musician known as J-Traxx in St. Louis music circles. His family is praying for his recovery and pleading for answers.

“I try to think of words that I can say, but the only thing I can do is ask you all — if you know something, please! Please say something! Please! We’re begging the community,” said Cobb’s sister, Charna Wooten, during a Monday afternoon press conference. “Jonathan needs justice!”

Bi-State Development, which runs the buses, is putting new security measures in place after the shooting.

“These are the front-line workers who are out there,” said Bi-State’s president and CEO Taulby Roach. “They are scared and intimidated. We will be putting additional security resources exclusively that will be dedicated to the bus line. They deserve the dedication. Please I urge you to help us bring some justice to the family.”

Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to contact CrimeStoppers at 1-866-371-8477.  Tipsters can remain anonymous and be eligible for up to a $10,000 reward.

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Illinois confirms state’s first case of Omicron COVID-19 variant



Illinois confirms state’s first case of Omicron COVID-19 variant

CHICAGO — The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced Tuesday that the state’s first known Omicron COVID-19 variant case is a Chicago resident.

Health officials add that the resident was fully vaccinated. As of Tuesday, the resident is in self-isolation, and contact tracing is being performed.

In a Tuesday question and answer seminar on Facebook, Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said she anticipated the omicron variant’s arrival in Illinois in the coming days.

“Absolutely, expect that it will be detected in Chicago or Illinois even in the next day or two,” Arwady said.

Arwady said Covid cases are now averaging more than 800 over the last week, meaning there’s a ‘very high risk’ of COVID-19 transmission — up more than 180% since Nov. 1, when fewer than 300 cases a day were reported. 

Chicago’s positivity rate is also up to 4.1%. At the beginning of November, it was just 1.6%.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city is working on action moving forward.

“The City and CDPH continue to closely monitor the Omicron variant and work with medical experts to better inform our residents,” Lightfoot said.

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