Raed Saleh is one of those heroes. In the early morning hours of June 9, 2011, Raed Saleh fled for his life. With his wife and two young children by his side, Saleh, then 30, estimates he was one of 2,200 Syrian refugees to cross into Turkey within a 72-hour period.



“We crossed the border at 3 a.m.,” Saleh said in an interview with The Huffington Post last week. He remembers the time for a reason: It was the moment he attained relative safety for himself and his family. Crossing into Turkey meant they had successfully outrun the Syrian army’s airstrikes. Saleh never imagined it would one day be his job to run back toward the bombing.

But three years after he escaped from Syria, that’s exactly what this former electronics merchant is doing. Saleh left his family in Turkey and returned to Syria to become a member of the White Helmets, a group of local volunteers who carry out search-and-rescue operations amid the country’s increasing violence and mounting destruction.

The White Helmets are apolitical, and Raed isn’t just a member. He’s the head of the organization. “We work with everybody to help everybody,” Saleh said. Not concerned with the allegiances of the bombers or of those bombed, their focus is saving lives — and they routinely put their own lives on the line to do it.

These are the guys who run toward death and destruction, not away from it.

Dozens of White Helmets have died in the effort of saving lives, and saving lives they’ve done. An estimated 40,000 lives have been saved by the White Helmets.

So when Raed was set to fly into Washington to receive a humanitarian award it should have been a no-brainer, right? But you would assume wrong.

But Saleh — who was nominated for the 2016 Humanitarian Award by the non-profit Relief International and addressed the UN Security Council just last year in New York about the White Helmets’ humanitarian work — said he was told by customs agents  to “go back where he came from” when he arrived in DC on Tuesday night.

“When I arrived in Washington, DC, they told me my visa had already been canceled so I should go back to Turkey ‘where I came from,'” Saleh told Business Insider in an email on Tuesday…

However, Saleh and his colleague Zouheir Albounni, who works for a USAID implementer that provides support to the White Helmets, told Business Insider that Saleh’s visa was not set to expire until September 2016. He also had not been notified by anyone prior to boarding his flight in Istanbul that his visa had been canceled or expired, they said.

Albounni, who was scheduled to be Saleh’s translator for Tuesday’s event at InterAction, said he “has no idea” why Saleh was denied entry.

Albounni may not have an idea why, but I have an idea.

white.jpg This is what heroes look like

“InterAction has continually warned of the consequences of policies that prevent humanitarian professionals from freely traveling, as any other modern global professional must to be effective,” InterAction CEO Sam Worthington said in a statement.

“If the US government won’t allow Raed to be honored in person by the humanitarian community in Washington then InterAction leaders will travel to Raed, on the border of Syria, to ensure his work is appropriately and personally acknowledged,” he continued.


This story first appeared in Daily Kos and is used with permission.


 seal-president-of-the-united-states-1163420_1280               Let’s suppose that Donald J. Trump, against the odds, becomes the next president of the United States.  He will not be the first businessman to arrive at the White House. Nor will he be the first to be totally out of his league.  Let me say at the outset, the United States of America will survive.  We have found ourselves under the leadership of incompetents in desperate times, and we have always made it through.  We are a nation of survivors!  With a nod to Dickens, interestingly, our “worst of times” are often followed by our “best of times.”A little history can help us better understand.

                In one of the most critical periods in our nation’s history, the years immediately preceding the Civil War (War Between the States) three of the most incompetent presidents, men who hadn’t the slightest notion of what to do to save the Union, were presidents of the United States–Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan.  Millard Fillmore (who?) filled the remainder of Zachary Taylor’s term.  Taylor, I must add, was equally incompetent! Fillmore was the last president not to be affiliated with either the Democrats or the Republicans, and he is undoubtedly the least remembered of the presidents.

                Franklin Pierce was a playboy and an alcoholic whose tragic life was encumbered with a miserable marriage and a political philosophy that was almost totally out-of-step with the times.  James Buchanan was a strange, complicated socialite with a shaded reputation (in Washington, D.C.) who had the dubious distinction of watching the nation fall apart without the slightest idea what to do about it.

               abraham-lincoln-60558_1280                 Along came Abraham Lincoln! And the Civil War. Followed by two other failures–Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant.

                But, we’ve had seriously flawed presidents in the modern era. Perhaps the worst was Warren G. Harding. He was the Ohio newspaper (business) man who followed Woodrow Wilson.  He looked like a president; he sounded somewhat like a solid, intelligent man, but he was a disaster in the White House.  His flaws would fill a book, and his lack of interest in his position lead to a corrupt administration that included leasing public lands for private gain. A gambler, tippler, and womanizer, Harding once gambled away a set of White House china!  His administration was cut short when he suddenly died in San Francisco, California following a presidential trip, for no apparent, good reason, to Alaska. He was popular with the people, but rumors were circulated that his wife had poisoned him to save his reputation, as some of the scandals of his administration were about to be exposed. He probably was not poisoned by his wife, but interestingly, Florence Kling Harding refused to allow an autopsy on the dead president.

                Harding was followed by Calvin Coolidge.  What can be said of “Silent Cal?” Not much. Equally incompetent; at best a reasonably successful local politician, Coolidge was neither prepared for the White House nor able to do anything substantial to enhance the office or overcome the entrenched bureaucracy.  Coolidge was essentially disempowered by depression when one of his sons died of blood poisoning in the White House.  It was the jazz age, the flapper era–a time when not much was to be done and nobody seemed to foresee the great depression looming.

                If Harding and Coolidge in succession were not enough, along came Herbert Hoover! Hoover, too, was an extremely wealthy businessman.  He acquired his fortune as an overseas mining engineer. No one could ever fault his good intentions, but he seemed absolutely powerless to deal with what was happening to the common man.  The Great Depression completely undid Hoover’s administration.  As a matter of fact, shacks housing the poorest, out-of-work and starving Americans were called “Hoovervilles.”

                Along came Franklin D. Roosevelt!  And World War II.patriotic-1345268_1280

                All of the aforementioned, less-than-stellar presidents were one-termers or less with the exception of Calvin Coolidge.

                I am not going to get into the politics of these presidents, except to say that most of them, including Abraham Lincoln, were Republicans.  Reason?  Because the Republicans of yesteryear bear little resemblance to today’s Republicans. We did reasonably well, until along came the latest disaster…George W. Bush.

                Since most readers should remember the George W. Bush years, I won’t take much space to go into detail.  I will simply refer to 9-11, a disastrous foray into Iraq that totally unsettled the Middle East, and a severe economic crisis that nearly pushed the nation into a second great depression.  Bush, like so many of the other failures, was a wealthy businessman (owner of a baseball team) and a not-so-accomplished governor (Texas) before going to the Oval Office, where he was a disaster!

                Along came Barack Obama.  You be the judge!

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

                All too often, history repeats itself because “those who cannot remember the past, as George Santayana said, “are condemned to repeat it.”  

L. Milton ("Milt") Hankins is an author, columnist and editor who lives in Ashland, Kentucky. He is a life-long student of the American presidency. His book manuscript "Our Unusual Presidents and Their Families" provides source material for part of this article.


The U. S. Constitution is justly revered as the greatest document ever conceived for the governing of a new nation. It has been in effect for over 200 years. It has endured (with numerous amendments) through the growth from thirteen small states to a nation of forty-nine contiguous states, plus Hawaii and Alaska. The Constitution is credited with guiding this nation over these many years with remarkable stability and justice.

Actually, the original Constitution was dedicated to promoting:  A More Perfect Union of 13 original states, Tranquility, Common Defense, and to promote the General Welfare and Secure the Blessings of Liberty for the people and their progeny!

That Constitution was written in 1786. People rode horses, wore wigs, crossed the ocean in sailing ships and wrote with quill pens. The principle author, Thomas Jefferson, said it should probably be updated in seventeen years. It was written by well-educated men, mostly Deists, but not Christian.

Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

As new states were to be added, the Ordinance of 1787 was written.  It said:  “Religion, morality and education being necessary to good government and happiness of mankind, schools, and means of education, shall forever be encouraged.”

Although education was prominent in the Ordinance of 1786 when the five states of the Northwest Territories were added, this ordinance was ignored. States were admitted under the Constitution which did not mention religion, morals, or education.

Settlers came to America to escape, to be free, and free to worship as they pleased, however, America was not established as a Christian nation. The Bible, being one of the only books available, was in evidence and was widely used as a textbook for teaching people how to read. Christianity, however, was not mandated by the government and this fact was strongly reiterated in the First Amendment:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Later, slogans were added such as, “One nation under God,” and “in God we trust.” Both are counter to the intent of the original document, and “under God” may have been added primarily to differentiate America from Russia.

U. S. Constitution

U. S. Constitution

Today we have an archaic document written over 200 years ago dealing with slaves, quartering of troops in people’s homes, and other things no longer applicable to society today. To the original Seven Articles have been added twenty-seven (27) amendments. Among them are three amendments which deal with voting, all of which can be replaced with one, “All citizens age eighteen and over can vote.” One amendment decrees prohibition of alcohol and another amendment repeals prohibition, so there are two unneeded amendments. The amendments that are of value can be fitted into the Constitution as it is edited and condensed.

In my opinion the greatest need is to abolish the Senate. All legislative activity can be handled by one body, a House of Representatives of reduced size. We should also add a new article on education, promoting better schools, and it should require schools to teach comparative religion. Citizens should know what at least three of the world’s predominant religions teach! Almost all human activity in the world today is engendered or promoted by religion. Nearly all wars over the world’s history have been instigated by religion! Religion is nothing but mythology.

This important opinion piece was written by David C. Williams. Mr. Williams is a learned and skilled writer who lives in Ashland, Kentucky. He has many published books and articles.


milt(ams)       In previous articles about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, I have used satire, light sarcasm and other literary styles because I, like many editorialists, have not taken Trump that seriously. Unless we scribes and pundits were being played like a fiddle, we were wrong!

        It’s a bit late to eat crow but, to admit the truth, I must.

        Donald Trump could, still against considerable odds, wind up as the Republican presidential nominee at this summer’s Cleveland convention.  Obviously the other GOP candidates did not take him seriously soon enough either. I do not know what this says about the eleven or so candidates who ran on the Republican side this time around.

        I’ll try not to repeat myself, but Trump is a narcissistic egomaniac who functions rather well in his element but who would be an utter disaster in an authoritarian, governmental position like the presidency of the United States. And, this is putting it mildly!

        Trump does not possess the most fundamental understanding of how our government works much less a modicum of understanding of the functions of the various branches and how they were meant to work together to make our system function like a well-oiled machine.  And it doesn’t appear to me, and many others, that he feels this basic knowledge is necessary.  His flippant, “I’ll need to know what I need to know when the time comes,” is sufficiently telling.

        With this said, my most elementary observation is that Donald Trump is, in every case, to me a thoroughly unlikeable blowhard who “struts and frets his hour upon the stage” (with apologies to Shakespeare), but with the availability of Twitter and other social media is never “heard no more!”Donald Trump

        I had no idea the sorts of people who are flocking to “The Donald” cared much for arrogant, self-indulgent and overconfident people.  And, when all is said and done, I still can’t believe they do.

        Recently, I have observed that Trump’s un-likeability factor is rising as fast as flash floodwaters.  And, interestingly, not many folks seem much happier with his chief opponent Ted Cruz, whose equally arrogant pronouncements are, more often than not, followed by snide grins or a sneer as if to suggest that he has for the first time just said something truly remarkable.

        We have no cause to think that Donald Trump would be any less than a disaster of earth-shattering proportions in the Oval Office. Already our European allies are horror-struck by Trump’s statements regarding longstanding treaties, i.e. NATO, and Great Britain, among our closest allies, has discussed banning Trump from their country for hate speech.

        In my way of thinking, anything that appears to be stable in our domestic and foreign relations would most likely be turned topsy-turvy in a Trump presidency, where momentous decisions would be made on a spur of the moment, as needed basis.

        Although I’ve recently suspected so, I desperately need to be reassured that the Republican Party has not sunk to this level of offensiveness!



 308083_259534974087419_983851575_nYears ago my maternal grandfather would preside over the Passover Seder. For hours and hours and hours he would intone the readings and prayers in Hebrew while my cousin Nancy and I would compare the levels in our glasses of diluted wine and water. It was all but a meaningless process and once Grandpa died and my father started to preside, I asked my mom if we could perhaps use another Haggadah.

“Oh no!” she replied with shock that I would suggest such blasphemy. “This is the ONLY one.”

(unsaid) Really, Mom? This wine-stained freebie from the liquor store where we buy the Manischewitz?

I tried again when Dan and Lisa were really young. “Mom,” I pleaded, ” Can I revise the Haggadah to reduce it to 20 minutes so the kids really understand and participate?”

“Oh no!”, she replied. (Repeat with me) “This is the ONLY one!” More wine stained than ever.

So, when Graham and I got married and we decided to host a Seder I told him a bit more emphatically than I needed to that I would be finding one that worked better for us. He didn’t care, of course. There are literally over 1000 versions of the Haggadah, each very much following the prescribed order, as Seder means “order”, and telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

That’s the first story. The second is next:

The story we share at the Seder is not simply what Cecile B. DeMille’s movie with Charlton Heston shows. We talk about what went on in the minds and hearts of the people affected there and then. And then we try to make it into something we can relate to.

IMG_1033I don’t know about you, but I can not relate to working my entire life building the pyramids or other structures.  I’ve done some physical work and I work pretty hard at the food processing business, even when my body hurts, but to FEEL like a slave takes a stretch of imagination. Growing up here in the United States in the 50s, 60s and 70s, my freedoms expanded and my opportunities were ahead, ready for the taking.

And yet, each of us are enslaved to something that we know we would be healthier without. Me, it is easily sugar. Someone else maybe their tobacco. Someone else their wine or beer or pot or whatever. We can identify people in public life enslaved to the concept of power and how that has warped their view of what is healthy.

Once we can recognize that item for ourselves we can begin to think about how it feels to get rid of it. And not by our own choice. That freedom from slavery in Egypt was not desired by many. Afterall, there is some peace found in a routine that is not desired but has no responsibility. To become free means to take on a huge change. And we know most people do not like change.

In the Seders I host I try to get the people attending to recognize their own enslavement and how they (and I) fight the change that provides freedom.

So that’s the second story. And now, to the concept I hope you will consider.

In the news today one of the issues is the brouhaha about transsexual individuals using the public restroom for the sex they feel is their identity. There is so much fear about perverts attacking children.  There is so much condemnation for the wrongness of these people. There is not the loving (supposedly Christian) acceptance that they have a difference we might not understand but can respect.

We also have grave concern, all of us, about ISIS and other terrorist groups and how they seem to be difficult to stop.  It is horrible how a few people continue to flow to those groups from western society here and in the UK. Why? But the more difficult concept for me is the hatred of ALL Muslims based on these extreme groups. The people I hear who are so afraid seem not to recognize that all fundamental ends of all religions have their extreme and narrow definition of what is acceptable and believe all others who profess to practice the same religion but in different ways are NOT that religion. And need to be changed. It is true in Islam. It is true in Judaism. It is true in Christianity. Meanwhile, it seems hate of the others is easier than acceptance of the other.

I wrote a blog a few months ago in answer to a friend about whether I would welcome a Syrian refugee family into my home. You can read it here.  That issue, as well as a myriad of others supporting people who have had incredibly horrible events occur simply because they were both where and how they were are not hard for me.

I merely remember that I was once a slave in Egypt and was delivered out of bondage. It is my modern role to help others who desire to, escape their slavery.freedom