NYT: Trump brags to Russians about firing ‘nut job’ Comey

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN AND THE NEW YORK TIMES)

NYT: Trump brags to Russians about firing ‘nut job’ Comey

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to the Times. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak came one day after Comey was fired.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not refute the Times story but said it was Comey’s “grandstanding and politicizing” of the Russia investigation that put pressure on the administration’s ability to engage Moscow.
“The President has always emphasized the importance of making deals with Russia as it relates to Syria, Ukraine, defeating ISIS and other key issues for the benefit and safety of the American people,” Spicer said in a statement to CNN. “By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.”
He added, “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”
Trump’s dismissal of Comey was met with bipartisan derision. The move, which came after Trump asked Comey for his loyalty and, according to memos written by the former FBI director, requested he kill an investigation into Trump’s top national security adviser, was seen as a clear violation of protocol and had some Democrats calling for impeachment.
The President maintains he was surprised by the response to Comey’s firing.
“Director Comey was very unpopular with most people,” he said Thursday at a news conference. “When I made that decision, I actually thought that it would be a bipartisan decision. Because you look at all of the people on the Democratic side, not only the Republican side, that were saying such terrible things about Director Comey.”
The news broke shortly after Trump took off for his critically important five-country, eight-day foreign trip, the first of his presidency.
Even before Friday’s report, news about Comey and the newly named special counsel for the Russia investigation has threatened to overshadow Trump’s trip.
Trump’s meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak was controversial before news of talk about Comey ever came out. No United States media were invited in for the meeting, but a photographer from TASS, the Russian state media organization, was in the room for at least part of the gathering. The meeting was also personal request from Vladimir Putin. The Russian President asked that they meet when he spoke with Trump earlier this month.

What a new report reveals about white economic hardship and Trump’s big win

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

What a new report reveals about white economic hardship and Trump’s big win

May 10 at 6:30 PM

Roughly a third of white working-class Americans said that they have cut back on food or meals in the past year to save money. A similar share it would be difficult — if not impossible — for them to cover an emergency expense of $400. And among those who live in the same town where they grew up, only 17 percent say the quality of life there has improved.

Those are a few of the results of a detailed new survey by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic magazine. The report reveals the economic and material hardships afflicting the white working class, one of the report’s authors says, lending insight into why so many people in this group were willing to gamble on Donald Trump, a candidate with no governing experience.

As many of these voters felt they had little to lose, they were undeterred by the President’s failure to spell out — with any degree of detail — how he would deliver on promises that experts repeatedly cautioned were unrealistic, said PRRI’s Dan Cox, one of the authors of the report.

“Many folks — they can’t wait for a white paper, or a 12-point plan. They need help immediately,” Cox said. There was, he said, “a recognition that there was some danger with it too, but that it was, sort of, worth the risk.”

Indeed, when it comes to policy details, the white working class supports many economic proposals associated with Democrats, not Republicans. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed supported increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and 58 percent said the rich should pay more in taxes. (Those figures are similar to the results for the general population.)

Global trade was one specific issue on which Trump may have appealed to many of his voters by deviating from GOP orthodoxy, and by distancing himself from Hillary Clinton, who during the campaign turned against a prominent free trade agreement that she had previously supported. Among the white working class, 60 percent said that free trade agreements were mostly harmful.

Following Trump’s surprise victory, many observers continue to debate whether economic distress or anxiety about race, immigration and cultural change motivated his supporters. The survey suggests that all of these were important to Trump’s success, but also that a sense of cultural displacement has been an especially powerful of the president’s appeal among the white working class, Cox said.

Those who agreed that they sometimes felt like a stranger in their own country, or that U.S. culture had to be protected from foreign influences, were much more likely to support Trump, the survey found. “The cultural touchstones were really salient in the election,” Cox said.

At the same time, he added, it is difficult to distinguish among the many motivations of Trump’s supporters, Cox said.

“You can’t completely divorce it from the economic experience of these folks — the fears of economic insecurity,” he said. “That’s certainly in the mix.”

On the whole, about as many white-working class people say they are worse off financially today than they were as children as say they are better off, according to the survey.

The analysis defines as those without a four-year college degree and who are paid by the hour or by the job, a definition that excludes many white-collar employees in salaried positions regardless of their education. Retirees were included based on the work they did before they retired, and students were excluded unless they explicitly described themselves as working or lower class in the survey.

The stress of making ends meet from day to day contributes to elevated rates of depression and addiction in white working-class families, Cox said: “It’s really tragic and heartbreaking that that kind of insecurity and stability causes all sorts of problems downstream.”

Among the white working class, 38 percent said that they or someone in their household had suffered from depression, compared to 26 percent of white college graduates. Eight percent of white working-class respondents said the same about drug addiction, while the figure for white college graduates was just 3 percent. Alcoholism also appears to be somewhat more prevalent in white working-class households than among white college graduates (12 percent vs. 9 percent).

The white working class seems to be giving up on the kinds of institutions that have traditionally provided a measure of stability and economic opportunity to American life, particularly colleges and universities. Among white Americans with college degrees, 63 percent said getting a degree was “a smart investment in the future,” but among the white working class, that figure was just 44 percent. In this group, a majority (54 percent) described it as a risky decision “that may not pay off in the end.”

This group’s skepticism about higher education parallels their detachment from other prominent institutions, including churches. Aside from weddings and funerals, just 58 percent of the white working class goes to church even once a year, the survey shows. Among white college graduates, that figure is 66 percent.

The white working class is less involved in their communities outside of religion as well. Thirty-six percent said they never participated in secular organizations such as book clubs, sports teams, neighborhood associations or parent-teacher associations. Just 16 percent of white college graduates said they never took part in these groups.

“It’s, sort of, been part of the American Dream, that you work hard, you get an education, you can get ahead,” Cox said. “The fact that white working-class Americans are less likely to believe that I think really shows the dire situation that they believe themselves to be in.”

Fewer than half of the white working class believes that people who work hard can still get ahead, the survey found, while 61 percent say America’s best days are in the past.

That pessimism contrasts with white college graduates — just 43 percent of whom say the country’s best days are behind it — and with people of color. Although black and Hispanic Americans are often worse off economically than those in the white working class, they have found reasons to be optimistic about the future, Cox explained. For instance, 56 percent of black respondents in the survey and 68 percent of Hispanic participants viewed a college degree as a way to get ahead.

If their bet on Trump doesn’t pay off, Cox warned, the president might find the white working class abandoning him. Asked how well they felt Trump understood their communities’ problems, a majority of the white working class — 51 percent — answered “not too well” or “not well at all.” Those figures suggest Trump might not have long to deliver.

“It’s unclear how loyal this group will be to him,” Cox said.

How Reading Aloud to Therapy Dogs Can Help Struggling Kids

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘KQED’ AND ‘MIND/SHIFT’)

How Reading Aloud to Therapy Dogs Can Help Struggling Kids

Norman West Therapy Dogs at Pioneer Library System
Norman West Therapy Dogs at Pioneer Library System (Flickr/Pioneer Library System)

By Juli Fraga

Two years ago, principal Diane Lau-Yee grew concerned when she saw how family tragedies were impacting her students at Gordon J. Lau Elementary School in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

“Some of the students were acting out their feelings of confusion and anger by starting fights with their peers, while other children shut down and stopped participating in class,” says Lau-Yee.

When children are struggling at home, it’s often harder for them to concentrate in school. And if kids experience trauma — such as the death of a family member, divorce or witnessing family or community violence — research shows that kids will have more difficulty tolerating frustration, controlling their impulses and managing their aggression.

Lau-Yee wanted to equip her students with emotional tools that could help them manage these overwhelming feelings. So, she decided to enlist the help of a furry friend named Stanley, a therapeutic dog who is beloved by many children in the community. She hoped that Stanley could teach the kids about empathy, as well as nourish a deeper love of literacy among the students, too.

While many people are familiar with therapeutic pets and how they can help lift up people’s spirits, bringing them into the classroom might sound far-fetched. How can a therapy pet possibly teach children the life lessons of kindness and empathy? Can a pet really alter the way that students feel about learning?

Educational therapist Rebecca Barker Bridges believed that a dog could help students feel more confident about learning, and so she adopted Stanley, a golden retriever.

Stanley
Stanley (Courtesy of Golden Gate Publishing)

“I learned about therapy dogs from a colleague, and I knew that Stanley could help these children,” says Bridges.

She also says that research on pet therapy shows that animals connect people to each other and that this bond strengthens their ability to work together.

“Pets are very nonjudgmental, and their calming presence distills stressful situations,” Bridges says. “For children who feel insecure about their capacity to do things like reading, therapy pets bolster their self-confidence, which reduces their anxiety.”

“Students feel self-conscious about reading because they’re afraid of being judged by students and teachers if they don’t do a ‘good job.’ But Stanley dismantles this fear for them. He makes learning joyful,” says Bridges.

Lau-Yee had learned about Stanley through a colleague, and she invited Bridges and the dog to visit her pre-K, kindergarten and first-grade students during a school assembly.

Meet Stanley“I introduced Stanley to the students, and I read them a book that I wrote about his work as a therapy dog,” says Bridges, whose book is titled “Meet Stanley: The Reading Dog.” The book tells the story of Stanley’s job as a reading dog and how he’s trained to listen to children read. The book also shares that Stanley is an expert listener who is always encouraging, supportive and patient with all children who interact with him.

After the presentation, the students were invited to meet Stanley. Bridges says that Stanley’s presence sparked the children’s curiosity and that they asked him a lot of questions.

“Stanley, what do you like to eat?” asked one student.

“What’s it like to be a therapy dog, do you get paid for your work?” asked another.

“Stanley, do you get a summer vacation from your job?”

A THERAPEUTIC LESSON

Bridges says that therapy pets allow children to focus on the animal instead of feeling self-conscious themselves. She says that this is a therapeutic distraction technique that relieves children of their worries, which helps their performance when reading.

“Children love interacting with Stanley, and this connection also teaches them about kindness and empathy,” she says.

Lau-Yee used Stanley’s visit as a way to create a social and emotional lesson for the students.

“After Stanley’s visit, I told the students that Stanley is a helper who never judges others but offers them a lot of support merely by listening,” she said. “I also explained how people need different forms of support to help them do things like reading, sort through their feelings and solve problems. I encouraged the students to help each other out, too.”

Lau-Yee says that the teachers also used Stanley’s visit to teach the students that there are many unconventional ways to learn things and that his visit also helped foster a love of literacy among the children.

FINDING A READING BUDDY

While Lau-Yee’s students were fortunate to meet Stanley in person, she says that he doesn’t need to make a physical appearance for students to benefit from his services.

“Educators can read Stanley’s book and talk about the ways that we can incorporate service into our learning with trusted friends, such as big buddies, peers and older siblings.”

Bridges, who also visits libraries, says that educators can also reach out to their local SPCA to inquire if they have therapy dogs available. She also says that teachers can use a class pet as a “Stanley substitute.”

Several programs nationwide offer training and canines to help kids with reading, such as Intermountain Therapy Animals’ Reading Education Assistance Dogs program. There are also some organizations like Therapy Dogs International that have community programs called Tail Waggin’ Tutors. They provide therapy dogs that can help children learn how to read, too.

Some schools have a no-pet policy, and in those cases, Bridges recommends using a stuffed animal instead.

“You can apply the same principles to a stuffed animal. The most important thing is to give the child some space so that they can read to their pet (even if it isn’t a real one) in privacy, which helps them to feel safe,” she says.

Juli Fraga is a psychologist and writer in San Francisco. You can find her on Twitter @dr_fraga

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Role-Making

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Role-Making

When the Saudi King receives the Egyptian president, the Arab role in the region will prevail over talks between the two leaders. This goes without saying, as Saudi Arabia and Egypt constitute the pillars of any effective Arab role. Any strategic gathering between the two countries would be regarded as a dynamic drive for common Arab work. Such joint collaboration is very much similar to the German-French joint cooperation in Europe, despite the different circumstances and characteristics. The relationship between Berlin and Paris does not require total conformity but is based on a common vision of basic challenges in the fields of security, politics, and economy.

The list of challenges on the Saudi-Egyptian negotiations table is clearly known: terrorism, represented by the forces of darkness, mainly ISIS; instability, which was caused by the big uprising launched by Iran’s revolution policies, apart from a president smiling and another flexing his muscles, and the deadlock resulting from Israel’s continuous settlements.

Other factors, which have belittled the Arab role in the region, cannot be ignored, such as fruitless policies that have fueled poverty, desperation, failure and backsliding.

The two leaders had to take into consideration a significant and decisive development when assessing challenges ahead. Before reaching its 100-day threshold, Donald Trump’s Administration has introduced a major change in the United States’ international image and rhetoric. It succeeded in restoring its prestige after it regained the ability to make decisions and placed the tremendous US force at the disposal of diplomacy to stop those who distort the balance of powers and violate borders and the requirements of world peace and security.

Statements made by the members of the new Administration have shown that the current US perception of the big chaos in the Middle East is completely different from that of Barack Obama’s Administration, in particular with regards to the Iranian upheaval in the region.

On the other hand, visits conducted by Saudi and Egyptian officials to Washington have reflected the two countries’ belief that Trump is the “president who will put the United States back on the right track”. The US president has also reestablished all alliances between the US and its traditional allies, as stated by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his interview with The Washington Post.

We are witnessing, therefore, a US Administration, which blames Iran for destabilizing the region and does not hide its intention to work closely with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Arab moderate countries to fight terrorism and suppress regional fires. It is clear that Trump’s Administration has listened with interest to the opinion of its Arab visitors on Syria, Yemen, settlements and other issues.

There is no doubt that the Middle East is currently an arena for raging conflicts, which will shape the region for many decades. Those wishing to sit around the negotiations table must prepare their working papers. Roles are built and made. They require continuous maintenance in light of internal and world developments.

A country’s demographic and military weight does no longer define its role. In the new world, roles have new prerequisites: the well-being of national economy, growth development, social cohesion, and youth engagement in shaping the future. Other prerequisites include institutions that are managed with integrity, competence and accountability.

One can say that Saudi Arabia is getting ready for the central role projected to it. Over the past two years, it has become obvious that the Kingdom has set a vision for what it wants to become in the future, in particular with regards to its economy, in light of changes in the world’s economies. It has proven that it can establish relationships on the basis of mutual interests and partnerships. The Kingdom has a program aimed at engaging the youth in the march towards growth and community-based rehabilitation to face new challenges. Royal decrees issued on the eve of the summit were very evident in this regard.

Egypt, for its part, is trying to get ready for the coming phase. Its war against terrorism, which targets its stability, unity, and role, did not lead it to neglect the difficult economic situation. The country is taking painful measures to reduce poverty and unemployment rates and revive its economy. Egypt’s economic battle is not separate from the fight against ideologies threatening its cities. Soldiers are needed to combat terrorism, growth is necessary to ease desperation, universities are indispensable to engage students in the wave of successive technological revolutions, and institutions are required to guarantee the rule of law and the protection of all citizens without any form of discrimination.

Role-making begins with education, openness to the world, planning and monitored execution.

Arab countries will not regain their natural presence in the region unless they take back their active role. They cannot take back that role unless they decide to move out of the long-standing stalemate and overcome regrets and melancholy. Roles are made with effort and knowledge. Future is built with numbers, not with illusions. Establishing Saudi Arabia and Egypt’s roles on solid and modern bases and forging firm cooperation mechanisms represent the means to restore balance in the region and shrink the power of non-Arab states to its normal size.

Ghassan Charbel

Ghassan Charbel

Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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West Virginia Becomes the 29th Medical Marijuana State

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE MPP WEBSITE)

West Virginia Becomes the 29th Medical Marijuana State

Apr 19, 2017 , , , , , , , ,, ,


Today, West Virginia officially became the 29th state to pass medical marijuana legislation!

Gov. Jim Justice signed the law today after the bipartisan bill passed both the Senate and House earlier this month.

While the law isn’t perfect, it’s a great start toward providing safe and legal access to medical marijuana for qualifying patients. A summary is available here.

This achievement didn’t happen overnight. In fact, MPP, along with many other advocates, has been working tirelessly to get a medical marijuana bill passed for years.

MPP released the following in a press release:

“This legislation is going to benefit countless West Virginia patients and families for years to come,” said Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project, who is a West Virginia native and graduate of West Virginia University. “Medical marijuana can be effective in treating a variety of debilitating conditions and symptoms. It is a proven pain reliever, and it is far less toxic and less addictive than a lot of prescription drugs. Providing patients with a safer alternative to opioids could turn out to be a godsend for this state.”

Six states have adopted comprehensive medical marijuana laws in the past 12 months. Three of those laws, including West Virginia’s, passed through Republican-controlled legislatures. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Ohio approved them last April and June, respectively. The other three were approved by voters in November in states won by Donald Trump — Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota.

“Intensifying public support and a growing body of evidence are driving the rapid growth in the number of states adopting medical marijuana laws,” Simon said. “Lawmakers are also learning about marijuana’s medical benefits from friends, family members, and constituents who have experienced them firsthand in other states. More than nine out of 10 American voters think marijuana should be legal for medical purposes. In light of this near universal support, it is shocking that some legislatures still have not adopted effective medical marijuana laws.”

Apr 19, 2017 , , , , , , , ,, ,


Today, West Virginia officially became the 29th state to pass medical marijuana legislation!

Gov. Jim Justice signed the law today after the bipartisan bill passed both the Senate and House earlier this month.

While the law isn’t perfect, it’s a great start toward providing safe and legal access to medical marijuana for qualifying patients. A summary is available here.

This achievement didn’t happen overnight. In fact, MPP, along with many other advocates, has been working tirelessly to get a medical marijuana bill passed for years.

MPP released the following in a press release:

“This legislation is going to benefit countless West Virginia patients and families for years to come,” said Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project, who is a West Virginia native and graduate of West Virginia University. “Medical marijuana can be effective in treating a variety of debilitating conditions and symptoms. It is a proven pain reliever, and it is far less toxic and less addictive than a lot of prescription drugs. Providing patients with a safer alternative to opioids could turn out to be a godsend for this state.”

Six states have adopted comprehensive medical marijuana laws in the past 12 months. Three of those laws, including West Virginia’s, passed through Republican-controlled legislatures. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Ohio approved them last April and June, respectively. The other three were approved by voters in November in states won by Donald Trump — Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota.

“Intensifying public support and a growing body of evidence are driving the rapid growth in the number of states adopting medical marijuana laws,” Simon said. “Lawmakers are also learning about marijuana’s medical benefits from friends, family members, and constituents who have experienced them firsthand in other states. More than nine out of 10 American voters think marijuana should be legal for medical purposes. In light of this near universal support, it is shocking that some legislatures still have not adopted effective medical marijuana laws.”

The University Of California Berkeley: Will Not Tolerate ‘Free Speech’ If You Don’t Agree With Their Views?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Photo

Ann Coulter in February. After the cancellation was announced on Wednesday, Ms. Coulter posted a Twitter message that “no school accepting public funds can ban free speech.” CreditChip Somodevilla/Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO — The University of California, Berkeley, on Wednesday canceled a scheduled speech by the conservative author Ann Coulter, in the latest blow to the institution’s legacy and reputation as a promoter and bastion of free speech.

University administrators said in a statement that they could not allow Ms. Coulter to speak because of active security threats. In a letter to the Berkeley College Republicans, which was sponsoring the speech, two university vice chancellors said the university had been “unable to find a safe and suitable venue for your planned April 27 event featuring Ann Coulter.”

The letter, written by Scott Biddy, the vice chancellor, and Stephen Sutton, the vice chancellor for student affairs, said it was “not possible to assure that the event could be held successfully — or that the safety of Ms. Coulter, the event sponsors, audience and bystanders could be adequately protected.”

After the cancellation was announced on Wednesday, Ms. Coulter posted on Twitter that “no school accepting public funds can ban free speech.”

With its reputation as one of the country’s most liberal universities, the campus and surrounding areas have become a target for small, militant and shadowy right-wing groups who in recent months have clashed with equally militant and shadowy anarchist groups based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On Saturday, at the latest of these violent encounters, the police arrested more than 20 people. One video that went viral on social media showed a man identified as a member of a white supremacist group sucker-punching a woman who identified herself as an anarchist. These fight-club-type episodes, which have occurred both on campus and in the city of Berkeley, have escalated since the election of President Trump.

In February, a speech by the incendiary right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos, also sponsored by the College Republicans, was canceled after masked protesters smashed windows, set fires and pelted the police with rocks.

Photo

Trump supporters clashed with protesters at a free speech rally in Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday.CreditElijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Dan Mogulof, a spokesman for the university, said the college regretted that it had become a magnet for militant groups. “It’s become an O.K. Corral of sorts for activists across the political spectrum,” Mr. Mogulof said.

The university, he said, was committed to having a diversity of voices on campus and was working with the police to reschedule Ms. Coulter’s appearance. “We are going to do whatever we can to make that happen at a time and a place when police can provide safety and security,” he said.

At a time of heightened polarization, Berkeley is not the only university struggling to balance free speech and security concerns. The police clashed with protesters on Tuesday outside an auditorium at Auburn University where the white nationalist leader Richard Spencer was speaking. The university had canceled the event on the grounds that it could turn violent, but a federal judge in Mongtomery, Ala., ruled that the speech should proceed because there was no evidence that Mr. Spencer advocated violence.

The episodes have become fodder for conservative critics. In February, after the cancellation of the event with Mr. Yiannopoulos, Mr. Trump posted on Twitter: “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

Both Ms. Coulter and the Young America’s Foundation, which books her college speeches, said they expected the event to proceed as planned. Spencer Brown, a spokesman for the Young America’s Foundation, which promotes conservative ideals, said in an email that Ms. Coulter’s lecture would proceed next week “whether Berkeley likes it or not.”

The violent clashes in Berkeley have presented a dilemma for the police, who say intervening has its own risks. Anarchist groups have for years appeared at protests in neighboring Oakland, punctuating peaceful demonstrations by smashing shop windows and attacking public buildings.

The Oakland police came under heavy criticism in 2011 after a protester, a former Army Ranger, was severely injured during a demonstration. The protester, Kayvan Sabeghi, said the police beat him with batons. He sued, and the City of Oakland agreed to pay $645,000 as part of a settlement.

The Berkeley campus gained national attention in 1964 as the center of a movement to expand political expression, which became known as the Free Speech Movement.

Jewish Passover: 4 Steps To Breaking Bad Habits

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CHADBAD.ORG)

Passover’s 4 Steps to Breaking Bad Habits

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During the Passover Seder we recount in detail the plight of the Israelites as slaves in ancient Egypt, and we celebrate their eventual salvation. However, the Seder is not just about commemorating past events.

The Talmudic sage Rabban Gamaliel II called upon us to include a personal element in the rituals of the Seder. “In every generation, a person must see themselves as if they personally left Egypt,”1 he instructed, leaving it to us to figure out how to make this ancient tale of redemption relevant to us today.

One suggestion was offered by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of Lubavitch, the third Rebbe of Chabad, also known as the Tzemach Tzedek. He viewed the rabbinic instruction to drink four cups of wine (or grape juice for those who avoid alcohol) during the Seder as a framework for achieving personal freedom.2

Each cup was instituted to reflect another expression G‑d used to promise the Jews that they would be rescued from Egypt and become a nation with the power to determine their own destiny.3 If we follow this path, the Tzemach Tzedek writes, it can lead us on a personal journey towards freedom from any negative practices that hold us back.

Here is my personal understanding of those four 4 steps to breaking bad habits, based on G‑d’s 4 promises:

1. Stop

G‑d’s first expression of redemption to the Israelites was, “I will take you out” of Egypt. Before you get clean, you must get out of the mud. The first step to breaking free from a habit is to simply stop doing it. Medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides says, “A sinner should abandon his sins,” and suggests that you control your thoughts before they trigger a repeat offence.4 Immediately stop, even if you have already gone at it again.

2. Adopt

After the Israelites left Egypt, they were ill at ease with their new identity. G‑d promised: “I will save you,” and supplied them with protective clouds of glory and manna from the sky. The second step on the path to breaking free is to immerse yourself in an alternative, positive reality. When dropping an old habit, adopt a new one to take its place and fill the void. Happiness researcher Gretchen Rubin says that it is much easier to form new habits after a change in life. Adopt your new activity steadily and continuously so it becomes the new you.

3. Rationalize

G‑d gave the Israelites the holy Torah on Mount Sinai as a roadmap to living a meaningful life. The expression, “I will deliver you,” alludes to the study of Torah, which spiritually and intellectually transforms you. The third step on this journey is to establish the ethical reasoning of your decision and an understanding of the new person you are trying to become. As the Israelites said after receiving the Torah, naaseh v’nishma (“we will do and we will understand”). After you “do” by adopting a positive activity, the next step on the journey to change is learning and understanding.

4. Internalize

As the Israelites wandered through the desert, G‑d promised them that He would bring them to the Promised Land. Knowing that they would have a place to call their own allowed them to establish an emotional connection with their new selves. This positive emotional bond is reflected in the expression, “I will take you as a nation.” The fourth step on this path is to not only rationalize and understand the person you want to become, but to also fully internalize the change within you, because emotion plays a big part in influencing the decisions we make.

“Through the story we are redeemed from Egypt,”5 the Tzemach Tzedek once commented. You have the power to make the Passover narrative your own success story.

FOOTNOTES

1.

Pesachim 116b.

2.

Ohr HaTorah, Shemot, vol. 1, p. 185.

4.

Mishneh Torah, Laws of Teshuvah, 2:2.

5.

Rebbe Rayatz, eve of 20 Kislev 5692; Sefer Hamaamarim 5710, p. 197.

Rabbi Yehuda L. Ceitlin is the outreach director of Chabad Tucson, and associate rabbi of Cong. Young Israel of Tucson. He coordinates the annual Yarchei Kallah summit of Chabad scholars, and was on the editorial staff at Chabad.org.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org’s copyright policy.

If The Haggadah Has Got It Correct Then Western Education Has It All Wrong

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CHABAD.ORG)

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What’s So Wise About the Wise Child?

They say the Haggadah never ends. That makes sense, because the Haggadah is the classic Jewish guide to education, and education never ends.

So now that we’ve done our Seder for the 3,329th year, and while it’s still Passover, I’d like to open a discussion on how we educate our kids. And I’d like to start by listening to what the Haggadah is telling us.

It seems it’s telling us we’re doing it all wrong.

Here’s evidence: How do we test, monitor and measure the success of our students? By asking questions, right? (Like I just did.)

And indeed, the average middle-grade teacher asks around 400 questions a day. That’s about two per minute. After 15 years, a teacher has asked at least one million questions. The student has asked if he can go to the bathroom.After 14 and a half years, that’s a million questions. The average student, however, generally only asks two or three questions a week—most commonly, “Can I go to the bathroom?” In high school, not much better, with about ten questions a day. Compare that to preschool kids, who ask an average of 100 questions a day.

Some will tell you that’s the Socratic method. We’re attempting to elicit intelligence from students by battering them with questions they never thought of asking.

But the Haggadah does the opposite. Rather than evaluating children by their ability to answer, it identifies them in four categories by their ability to ask.

Questions Are Rich

That turns everything around.

For one thing, from a child’s correct answers, you often know very little. Maybe he simply has a good memory. Maybe he’s good at guessing what you want to hear. At very best, a child’s answers only tell us what that child knows.

But theA child’s answers tells us what he knows. A child’s questions tell us who he is. child’s questions provide a window into the child’s mind and soul. A child’s questions tell us who that child is.

Every child is on a critical mission to make sense of things, to find the meaning behind everything, to put the pieces together. But each child sees a different world, through different eyes. So each child discovers that meaning in his or her particular way.

So that only once we know what this child is looking for, and how he is looking for it, only then we can assist him to find it. And that is education—assisting the child on his or her particular journey of discovering meaning.

Ask! Please Ask!

Let’s start from the beginning: The Haggadah is designed to incite questions.The Haggadah is designed to incite questions. How does it do that? By breaking the routine.

Generally, a festive Jewish meal begins with a blessing on the wine. We then all proceed to wash our hands, return to the table, and say a blessing on the bread.

On the Seder night, we also start with the wine. And then the hand-washing. And we return to the table. And then we take small vegetable and dip it in some sort of liquid, and eat it.

Why the change?

You’ll hear all sorts of reasons, but there’s one definitive answer cited in the Code of Jewish Law: We do it so that someone will ask a question.

And if they ask, what do we answer? We answer that they got it right. They asked a question.

Which means that the question is of prime value, even when there is no answer. As the ancient rabbis said, “Even though we have no answer for this question, once the child is asking, he will ask more questions.”

And why is that important? Because, to those ancient rabbis, it’s obvious that you can’t teach a child a thing until the child has a question.

Passing by a ninth grade classroom in a yeshiva, I hear the teacher lecturing: “Okay, so the ultimate reason for the creation of all things is…”

The diligent students take notes. The rest stare into empty space. The teacher may as well be speaking about the average rainfall in Indonesia.

You can’t teach a thing until you have first awakened a question.

A question creates a vacuum, a space in the brain to fit new knowledge. Just like a car is useless if you live in a big city where there’s no place to park it, and a meal goes in the trash if there’s no one to eat it, so the most satisfying answer in the world is meaningless to the child who never had the question. He has no place in his skull to store it. It’s just a distraction and confusion for his mind from its true quest—to find meaning.

Yes, in case the child has no questions, we provide some, in the form of the Ma Nishtana—”Why is this night different from all other nights?”

But that’s Plan B. Plan A is that the children will ask questions of their own. And you, the parent, will wrack your brains finding answers for them.

Answering the Children

That brings us to another vital lesson from the Haggadah: We don’t answer the question.Don’t answer the question. Answer the child. We answer the child.

“The wise child—what does he say?” Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitchwould point out that in Hebrew, with just a slight change in punctuation, those words can read quite differently: “The wise child—what is he? He says…”

Through the question, we see the child. And that is who we answer.

The wise child articulates his question. He’s obviously thought it through well and knows exactly what he’s looking for.

If he’s wise, why does he ask? Why doesn’t he just have faith, like a good religious boy, and accept all his parents and teachers tell him?

He asks because he has faith. Like a scientist who believes that there will always be an explanation if we will just dig a little further, he believes that there will always be meaning, and deeper meaning, and yet deeper. His mind is not fettered by faith, but driven by it. And his faith, in turn, is enriched by his questions.

Something neat Rabbi Avraham Altein just pointed out: If there are no children to ask, no guests, nobody, the halacha is that you have to ask the question to yourself. According to Maimonides, even if the children have asked the questions, the parents must also ask.

Get that? You know the answer, but you have to ask again. Really ask. Revisit the darkness of “I don’t know”—as though you never knew. Because last year’s answer no longer satisfies you. That’s how you get to a new light. And that’s what it means to be wise.

All the Children

Which all explains why the Wise Child often ends up getting all the attention, while the others are left out.

But no, there are three more children in the room.There are three more children in the room. They are also our children. They are also our children.

Like the Wicked Child. He’s next in line in expertise at asking questions. After all, he has identified exactly what it is that is bothering him. Problem is, he’s not interested in an answer.

But he’s still number two, because something bothers him. The whole Seder bothers him. Which means he’s alive and kicking. Which means there’s something there to work with.

The Simple Child asks, but he’s not sure what he’s asking. He’s the one that is too often ignored. Since you don’t really get his question (because neither does he), he never gets an answer. In the times we live in, that’s a precarious situation. Because that may one day mean to him that there is no answer. And if so, he will have a different question: “Why am I doing all this if there is no answer?”

So the Haggadah instructs you to tell him stories of wonders and miracles. That is his world, that is what he sees. He is in wonderment. Go with it—take that wonderment and nurture it, all the way. Don’t give him any less than the Wise Child, or the Wicked One. And don’t demand that he become the Wise Child—lest you push him towards his cynical brother.

As for The Child Who Doesn’t Know How To Ask—In illustrated Haggadahs, he’s always a baby with a pacifier in his mouth. But that’s nonsense.The Inquisitively Challenged Child got 100% on his Haggadah test. I’ll bet he got 100/100 on his Passover Haggadah finals.

You know why I think that? Look at the answer we give him: “For the sake of this, G‑d did what He did for me when I left Egypt.” That’s a deep answer to an intelligent person.

So what does it mean that “he doesn’t know how to ask”?

Many of the ideas I’m writing here were sparked years ago by a conversation with an Israeli researcher, a student of renowned educational psychologist, Benjamin Bloom, who visited our school along with many high schools across North America. At each school, the researcher would ask the principal, “Give me your best students, one by one, in a private room.”

When the student would enter, she would just sit there for a minute or two. Then she would ask, “Do you have any questions?”

Silence.

Then: “I’m visiting from Israel.”

More silence.

“I’m doing research.”

You get the gist of it.

But then, she would ask the principal to bring in the troublemakers, one-by-one. They would enter, and immediately break into, “Why am I here? Who are you? What is this all about? Israel? What’s that like?”

Open For This Child

So this child #4, a bright child who excels in school, why does this child not ask? Why is he not in search of understanding and meaning? What went wrong?

My guess? He went to school. There he was rewarded for answering questions just the way the teacher likes. But he was never rewarded for asking the really good ones that might disrupt the class, or the questions that the teacher might not have the answers to.

So Teach him, by example, that it’s even ok to question the most basic assumptions.for this child, “You must open for him.” Open his mouth. Teach him to ask. Teach him that it’s ok to ask. Teach him that it’s even ok to question the most basic assumptions. How? By example. By showing him how you yourself question assumptions.

That could explain another one of those Seder tidbits that should spark a thousand questions—or at least some annoyance. Immediately after the episode of the four children, a heavy chunk of Talmudic exegesis plops down upon us, seemingly telling us nothing of the Exodus narrative or the people sitting here.

Here’s the classic translation:

One may think that [the discussion of the exodus] must be from the first of the month. The Torah therefore says, “On that day.” “On that day,” however, could mean while it is yet daytime; the Torah therefore says, “It is because of this.” The expression “because of this” can only be said when matzah and maror are placed before you.

But Rabbi Don Yitzchak Abravanel (15th century) tells us it’s actually as relevant as you can get. It’s a response to that Inquisitively Challenged Child. It’s about opening his mind with a question that challenges the most unquestioned assumption of the entire ritual: Who says it’s Passover tonight?

Try reading it like this:

You: Hold on, maybe we were supposed to do this Seder on Rosh Chodesh—15 days ago on the first day of the month!

Child: Umm. Why then?

You: Because that’s when God told Moses about the mitzvah of Pesach.

Child: Okay, so we messed up.

You: Nope, it says on that day.

Child: Okay, so let’s get on. What do we say next?

You: Not so simple. Because then we should be doing it during the day. Now it’s night already.

Child: So it’s over. Let’s eat.

You: Not so fast. You see, it says, for the sake of this stuff. Meaning this matzah and bitter herbs that we eat on the night of Pesach. So we have to wait until we’re supposed to eat that stuff—and that’s tonight.

Child: Why on earth do we have to tell a story to food?

See? It worked!


So here’s what I’m taking from my Seder into the coming year:

Torah comes to us in a beautiful package, wrapped and tied. The only way to untie those knots and open up its treasures is by asking the right questions whenever and wherever they come to mind, and asking them without fear or shame.

How do we get ourselves,How can we teach the faith and courage it takes not to fear a good question? our children, other Jews, and everyone else who can benefit, to ask? How can we teach the faith and courage it takes not to fear a good question?

If we can find answers to those questions, we will have half of education nailed.

What’s So Wise About the Wise Child?

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman’s writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org’s copyright policy.

Where Marijuana Is Legal: Opioid Deaths And Alcohol Sales Are Way Down

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF HIGH TIMES MAGAZINE)

For many years, the biggest threat to marijuana legalization and fledgling legal cannabis businesses was the police.

Fears of DEA agents breaking down the front door at dawn, prosecutions in federal court with its accompanying mandatory minimums or warrantless visits from helicopter-riding police who merely cut down plant and leave—such things happen and are legal—was what kept people involved in cannabis up at night.

But now, with legalization sweeping the country and a vast majority of Americans in support of medical marijuana, the real enemy is revealing itself.

And as recent events in Arizona demonstrated, it’s Big Pharma.

In 2015, U.S.-based companies made up 40 percent of the global pharmaceutical trade, a market share worth $413 billion. These companies are well aware that cannabis is becoming an accepted treatment for chronic pain and many of the other lifelong afflictions now treated by highly profitable trademarked drugs—and some have proven willing and able to take steps to make sure marijuana stays out of the hands of law-abiding Americans in order to protect that enormous bottom line.

“Pharmaceuticals are going to run me down,” Dr. Gina Berman, medical director of the Giving Tree Wellness Center, a Phoenix, Arizona-based cannabis dispensary, told the Guardian. “We have a small business, and we can’t afford to fight Big Pharma.”

The most egregious case to date is Insys Therapeutics. Insys, is an Arizona-based drug manufacturer of pain drugs that contain fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid that’s been fingered in many fatal opiate overdoses (including the death of Prince).

Arizona was the lone state where a marijuana legalization initiative failed at the ballot in November—and one of the leading donors to the anti-legalization campaign, with a $500,000 check, was Insys. (Another was Trump-supporting casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. Here are the Vegas nightlife spots to boycott, forever.)

As the Intercept reported this fall, Insys executives openly recognized the threat to its market posed by marijuana. And in a devious twist, Insys identified marijuana as an existential threat and moved to keep it illegal, while developing a new drug based on synthetic THC.

On March 23, the DEA ruled that Insys’s new drug, called “Syndros,” could be marketed and sold as a Schedule II drug—meaning it could be prescribed to patients as soon as this fall.

So far, the FDA has approved Syndros for AIDS-related weight loss and vomiting and nausea associated with chemotherapy—two of the original applications for medical marijuana.

“It’s pretty absurd that federal law considers marijuana to have no medical value, but allows for the development of synthetic versions of the same substance,” Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which sponsored Arizona’s legalization measure, told the Guardian.

But what about Insys Therapeutics? It’s a company straight out of a Superman comic. 

In December, Justice Department prosecutors took the “unusual” step of charging six former Insys executives, including former CEO Michael L. Babich, with racketeering for its “aggressive” marketing of a fentanyl-based pain drug called Subsys, the New York Times reported. Prosecutors alleged that in order to sell more Subsys, the company arranged lavish dinners and other events for doctors who prescribed “lots of” the drug, and when that didn’t work, the company resorted to kickbacks. 

One Connecticut nurse pleaded guilty in 2015 to accepting $83,000 in kickbacks from the company. Families of dead patients, prescribed Subsys despite prescriptions for other drugs that are fatal when combined, and despite no cancer diagnosis—the drug is only FDA-approved from cancer-related pain—have also sued the company.

In a statement, Carmen Ortiz, the-then U.S. attorney for Massachusetts (before she and many others were summarily fired by Trump administration officials earlier this year), pinned part of the blame for the country’s opiate epidemic squarely on “corporate greed.”

In January, Insys founder John Kapoor stepped down as chairman, a role he took over from the indicted Babich in late 2015. Kapoor’s exit came after Insys’s sales plummeted 40 percent, as Forbes reported. (Wonder if the alleged kickbacks had anything to do with the inflated numbers?)

It’s all very ominous, but in a real way, marijuana activists should let Insys try—and then fail, spectacularly, as they are primed to do.

Insys’s proposed product, called Syndros, is a solution of “oral dronabinol.” Dronabinol is the generic name for another synthetic version of THC that’s been on the market for quite some time, called Marinol—and if you know anyone who has used Marinol, you know what they think of it. Namely, it kind of sucks.

For many patients, fake weed simply doesn’t work. As one patient prescribed Marinol told CBS News, “It might as well have been M&M’s.”

This is almost certainly because as synthetic THC only, Marinol and Syndros both lack cannabidiol, or CBD, as well as dozens of others cannabinoids. And as per the “entourage effect” theory, proffered by luminaries like CNN’s Sanjay Gupta and many more, your body and brain need all of cannabis’s component parts in order for its medical “magic” to work.

But let’s say Insys strikes out with Subsys. It won’t end there.

This is a company accused, with enough evidence to indict in a federal court, of being willing to see people die in order to sell more drugs. And it won’t end with this company.

Big Pharma is scared of weed—terrified—and as any animal scientist will tell you, a cornered and frightened animal is the most dangerous. And that applies to humans.

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

India: Cops Halt Church Prayer Because Hindu Group Alleges Conversion: Democracy, Really?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

In Uttar Pradesh, cops halt church prayer after Hindu group alleges conversion

INDIA Updated: Apr 08, 2017 07:49 IST

Abdul Jadid
Abdul Jadid
Gorakhpur, New Delhi
Yogi Adityanath

People inside the church on Friday. Eleven US nationals were also present in the church. (HT Photo)

Police stopped a prayer attended by more than 150 people, including 11 American tourists, at an Uttar Pradesh church on Friday after the right-wing Hindu Yuva Vahini complained that the event was a cover for religious conversion.The youth group, set up by chief minister Yogi Adityanath in 2002, filed a complaint against Yohannan Adam, the pastor of the church at Dathauli of Maharajganj district.

The organisation accused him of converting Hindus to Christianity, a charge the pastor denied.

“No prior permission was taken before the meeting. We stopped the meet after a complaint was registered. A probe is underway and appropriate action will be taken if the charges are correct,” said police officer Anand Kumar Gupta.

The US tourists were let off after police checked their visas and relevant documents.

“The presence of US nationals indicates that innocent and illiterate Hindus were being converted by the missionaries, who lured them with money to change their religion,” said Krishna Nandan, a Hindu Yuva Vahini leader who surrounded the church with his supporters in the afternoon.

They dispersed after police promised a probe and adequate action, though Nandan was not happy that the Americans were cleared.

The church authorities dismissed the conversion allegations.

“The charges are absolutely baseless. The people were attending a prayer meeting voluntarily. We prayed. Nothing else was done,” pastor Adam said.

The Hindu right wing has been at loggerheads with Christian missionaries, accusing them of converting people through coercion and allurement to their faith.

Several Hindu organisations have conducted ghar wapsi or homecoming of such people, which minority groups say is a couched term for re-conversion.

Earlier this year, Hindu Yuva Vahini activists attacked the Full Gospel Church in Gorakhpur, accusing it of religious conversion.

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