Christmas Eve Alone with Friends & Foes

(Photo Credit Mario Tama | Getty Images)

Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago, the French army was barracked in Providence, Rhode Island. On Christmas Eve 1780, the people of Providence celebrated with the Catholic French-speaking soldiers bunking at University Hall at Brown University, singing carols and lighting candles.

One hundred and four years ago, enemy soldiers stared across the cold battlefield of northern France and, out of respect for each other, a Christmas truce sporadically broke out along the Western Front… French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another…

In World War II, specifically, on December 24, 1941, at precisely 4:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, as dusk gathered and the temperature dropped, the red-coated Marine Band on the White House lawn struck up “Joy to the World,” accompanying choirs from area churches. Thousands had gathered in the fading light. After some further carols, the band began “Hail to the Chief.” As the sunset gun at nearby Fort Myer boomed, the president and Mrs. Roosevelt appeared on the South Portico with a group of guests, the Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

These days, instead of honoring allies like playing “Joy to the World” to the Prime Minister of Britain, or singing carols to French soldiers away from home to help America, no, instead of celebrating friends or even seeking a temporary white-flag with enemies like the 1914 Christmas Truce, as I’m recording this right now at approximately 6pm Eastern, the President of the United States has spent Christmas Eve 2018 sending out more than 10 tweets already today attacking Democrats, Republican Senator Bob Corker, Trump’s own former anti-terrorism envoy Brett McGurk… and complaining about US allies overseas… that’s right, rather than support foreign allies or seek a detente to the domestic tensions at home, President Trump shows he’s more Grinch than Gingrich, forcing a government shutdown for the holidays after the House and Senate had already passed a bi-partisan bill to avoid this, the third shutdown of the year. Oh, you know, the shutdown that, on December 11, 2018, Trump proudly declared I’ll tell you what: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. I will take the mantle… I will be the one to shut it down — I’m not going to blame you for it.”

Weird how now Trump and his few allies left, like Mark Meadows are trying to blame the Democrats in the Senate for blocking the appropriations bill. Apparently, the approximately 3 million Federal civil servants aren’t as important to the Republicans as Neil Gorsuch was, otherwise the filibuster rule would be removed entirely, right?

So here we are. The second year of the Trump Administration. The filibuster rule that was in place for 100 years has been removed by Republican Senators to seat a conservative justice. The US has broken its treaty responsibility under the Paris Agreement. The US has threatened its own allies in NATO. The US was withdrawn from the Iran Framework. The US has announced its withdrawal from NAFTA and renegotiated the agreement. The US has withdrawn from a nuclear weapons deal with Russia negotiated by Ronald Reagan. And, this fall, the US has done nothing as a Saudi resident-alien living in the United States is murdered on diplomatic grounds by the goons of Mohammed bin Salaman. Most recently, Trump talks with Turkish dictator Erdogan and then announces the withdrawal of US forces from Syria. Cui bono? Who benefits? Dictator Erdogan, Dictator Al-Assad, Dictator Putin, and -ironically- even the Iranian backed terrorist group Hezbollah… and who suffers? The stateless Kurds. The same Kurds that were betrayed by the US in ‘91, the same Kurds not given enough support in IS’ Northern Iraq offensive in 6/2014 & now Trump’s betrayal in 12/2018…

Why does Trump coordinate more with Dictator Orban, Dictator Duarte, Dictator Putin, Dictator MBS, and Dictator Erdogan than Angela Merkel, Theresa May,  Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, or Shinzō Abe?

Why does Trump exude admiration for Dictator Xi when he removes term limits, builts re-education camps for the Uighers? Is it because Xi has recognized more than 125 trademarks for Trump and his families businesses in just these last two years?

So this Christmas Eve? December 24, 2018, when President Trump just tweeted out “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House”?

I truly believe this is a man who has built his own prison. Attacking the Bush Family, attacking John McCain, attacking the Federal Judiciary, attacking Jeff Sessions, the DOJ and the FBI, pretending George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, and Paul Manafort are nobodies, attacking Michael Cohen, building an administration with the likes of Sean Spicer, Michael Flynn, Tom Price, Steve Bannon, Anthony Scaramucci, Omarosa Newman, Gary Cohn, Ronny Jackson, Ryan Zilke,

Forcing out HR MacMaster, Rex Tillerson, David Shulkin, and firing Jim Mathis for announcing his retirement….

And let’s not forget that Trump now has had three chiefs of staff in less than 2 years…

And this is the guy who complains, on Christmas Eve, that he’s all alone….




Who Wrote the Anonymous Op-Ed?

(Photo: Daniel Schwen)

Who’s the anonymous Op-Ed writer? Like FBI Agent Jack Baer looking for Keyser Söze in The Usual Suspects (1995), the first question is, does the anonymous writer exist? If only President Trump had Jack Bauer to figure it all out in 24 hours, instead of Jack Baer looking in all the wrong places with all the usual suspects.

Does the Op-Ed writer exist? Yes, more than likely the writer exists. The New York Times is not going to publish a fake Opinion Editorial. But there are other possibilities as well. First, is the author a singular writer, or an amalgamation of authors? People in the Executive Branch aren’t exactly standing up next to Kirk Douglas shouting, “I am Spartacus!” “No, I am Spartacus!” (By the way, Senator Orrin Hatch’s tweet yesterday was perhaps the funniest tweet by any politician in the social media era, just sayin’.) No, instead, we’re meant to believe that there an Illuminati-like club inside the Trump Administration whose members banally walk the halls of the White House with facades of loyalty while hiding their true intentions like armies of Londoners wearing Guy Fawkes masks in V is for Vendetta (2005).

So, did one person write the Op-Ed, or was one person chosen to write for the group, or did the group of White House officials who are concerned write the Op-Ed together? After all, if there are “many of the senior officials in his [Trump’s] own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations,” then my question is, do these senior officials met together? Do these senior officials coordinate with each other? Because, if there is a ‘Resistance’ in the White House working together, then why would a singular member write an Op-Ed to the New York Times?

Which brings me to the next question, why was the Op-Ed written? What was the point of the Op-Ed? It seems to me that the author could idyllically-speaking be genuinely seeking to force a conversation about the 25th Amendment. Ulteriorly-speaking, however, the author or authors may be simply trying to inoculate themselves from a future fallout. Because, the writer’s career in this Administration is over, and probably any career in public office. When the identity is ultimately revealed, the best financial hope for the writer is a book deal, compensation for TV appearances, and the long-term goal of resurrecting one’s reputation in 20 years like Watergate’s John Dean. In international relations, there is something called Rational Actor Theory, in which we assume that people make decisions rationally in their own best interests and/or the best interests of their country. Presumably, then, the author wrote the Op-Ed for a rational reason, whether we agree with the decision to write or not.

So, why now? First of all, why September 5, 2018? Is it a coincidence that the Op-Ed was published the day after parts of Bob Woodward’s new book Fear was released? The only person that I can think of who is that calculating in the release of information is Bob Mueller. And, for the record, I don’t think Mueller is the writer. I do think it’s a fascinating coincidence. Because the Woodward book was released by CNN, whereas the Op-Ed was published by the New York Times. It is also worth pointing out that, if the Times published on September 5th, the Op-Ed was written several days earlier, before the Woodward scoop by CNN.

To discuss the why now? returns us to the question of why? again as well. I’ve already discussed the personal interests of the author(s), but are their other considerations? Strategically-speaking, who benefits from the publication of the Opinion-Editorial? At face value, the biggest winners from the publication of the Op-Ed are the New York Times, as well as the partisan media from both sides of the political spectrum, Democratic candidates for Congress in 2018, and Trump himself. Yes, Trump benefits from the Op-Ed. The Op-Ed reinforces partisanship of both those who loathe, as well as those who love, President Donald J. Trump.

As far as I can tell, the losers in this situation are the White House senior officials, whether the staffers are the author of the Op-Ed or not. Because, if the author(s) are real, there must be a rational impetus to write the Op-Ed now, because it’s the “senior officials in his [Trump’s] own administration [who] are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations” who now have a harder job.

While Dick Armitage et al. may have outed Valarie Plame to deflect criticism of the Bush Administration, in this situation the covert operatives have outed himself, herself, or themselves. Because of the publication of the Op-Ed, senior officials may now be required to take polygraphs, sign affidavits, live under a cloud of suspicion, work in a more chaotic work environment, all the while helping to run the government of the United States and clandestinely “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his [Trump’s] agenda and his worst inclinations.” Why would someone(s) risk exposure?

And, after all, what does the word senior mean anyway? There is always the possibility that the author of the Op-Ed has an overly self-indulgent sense of his/her own importance. But, if it was not a recognizable senior official, why would the New York Times not only go to lengths to hide the identity, I’m more interested in how the New York Times would even know the person in the first place? Imagine how many letters-to-the-editor and opinion editorials each and every day; How and why did this Op-Ed get noticed? Because the author is recognizable and/or a verifiably senior official. And that official’s (or officials’) own job(s) just got harder. Inevitably, the senior official(s) who wrote the supposedly anonymous Op-Ed will be identified. The senior official will be fired. Perhaps the author cares not about being fired; the writer is so angry or so concerned, that rational thought has exited the building and the senior official (Kevin Hassett or Kirstjen Nielsen) will ride into martyrdom like the Charge of the Light Brigade.  But, rationally-speaking and according to Rational Actor Theory, the senior official would only take that risk if the official was already leaving (Don McGahn and Jeff Sessions), an official with enormous stature who has already retired once (Dan Coats), or one of the only two senior officials in the White House who cannot be fired: President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Michael Richard Pence.

Yes, Trump benefits from the publication of the Times’ Op-Ed, but I’m not sure Trump has the strategic calculation skills to plant an anonymous Op-Ed like a Straw Soldier (the Times certainly would not publish an anonymous Op-Ed that the editorial staff knew to be President Trump). And then there is Mike Pence, who increasingly reminds me of the fictitious Vice President Ted Matthews in the (1996) film My Fellow Americans. The only senior official in the administration who cannot be fired and who also has a penchant for using the word lodestar. Which raises the question, why would an anonymous writer use a word that could so easily be tied back to the senior official? The anonymous author is also a little too happy to use the word resistance for me to believe Sessions is the Op-Ed writer, though he certainly has become a significant roadblock to Trump’s impulsiveness.

I suspect that a lawyer who has no interest in running for political office or being in the public spotlight, who already met with Bob Mueller’s team for 30 hours, and who has already announced his departure from the White House might be well considered one of the usual suspects. After all, it is already well-known that McGahn blurred the truth to prevent Trump from firing Mueller in December 2017. But why would McGahn write an anonymous opinion editorial to the New York Times now, at this juncture in time? Quit now and write it with a byline or wait until the announced departure in December 2018 to write an opinion editorial.

I can, however, envision a scenario in which the Director of National Intelligence is cognizant enough to intentionally use lodestar as a red herring, and use the word resistance too without too much discomfort. There is little question that the former U.S. Senator, who served with John McCain, would always choose country over party and, frankly, maybe be inspired to write an anonymous Op-Ed to the New York Times as he watched two memorial services and watch non-stop praise for McCain’s patriotic independence. I suspect Dan Coats would be aware of “many of the senior officials in his [Trump’s] own administration [who] are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations” whether those officials are cooperating with each other or operating as patriotic lone wolves. Dan Coats, former Representative of IN-4 and former U.S. Senator from Indiana, also knows both Vice President Dan Quayle of Indiana and Vice President Mike Pence of Indiana quite well. He knows Mike Pence, the only senior official who cannot be fired and is the beneficiary of any impeachment proceedings or invocation of the 25th Amendment.

John McCain, Martyr

Martyr. Yes, that’s what I said. John McCain was a martyr. Often defined as “a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs,” John McCain was a martyr. McCain died for America, representing nearly all Americans, and inviting us all to be Americans. As Jake Tapper said today, “Washington needs McCain more than ever.” Indeed, McCain (August 29, 1936 – August 25, 2018) is what America needs at this point in time.

In death, we are often absolved of our sins. Was John McCain perfect, no. Certainly not. And neither am I. McCain’s own epitaph about himself was: “He served his country. And not always right, made a lot of mistakes, made a lot of errors. But served his country. And I hope, could add, honorably.”

McCain, well-known as a prisoner-of-war during the Vietnam Conflict, dated while married to another woman. Later, McCain became embroiled in the Keating Five scandal. I mention this not as a mark against his integrity, but as an acknowledgment of his humanity. What good is a perfect man in this world of imperfection? The world needs real role models, not characters of fantastical storyland.

McCain resurrected himself as “The Maverick” of the Straight Talk Express in the 2000 Election. Losing to George W. Bush in the Republican primary for President of the United States, McCain returned to the U.S. Senate as an elder statesman of the party, and of the Senate. In 2008, the loyal party member tried again for the presidency.

McCain was magnanimous. He was the definition of magnanimous. Yes, as Carla Herreria pointed out, the campaign offered mixed signals and, ultimately, that is the responsibility of the top-of-the-ticket. But, in light of the partisan maelstrom since 1988, McCain’s campaign stands out as different. On October 10, 2008, McCain defended, not Barrack Obama, but America. Herreria correctly points out McCain could have done more, but he did more than any other candidate did. We can all do more. Always.

My own John McCain story is that he almost knocked me over in a narrow hallway beneath the capital. It was 1994, and I was an intern for Jack Reed in the House of Representatives. I was taking a shortcut by going down into the deep basements with no tourists to then get to the other side of the capital and up the staircase to the Senate. There was a filing cabinet in the hallway as maintenance was cleaning out one of the small offices. Senator McCain and I were the same distance from the gap and walking about at the same pace. Neither one of us slowed down so we hit the gap at the same time and then banged shoulders without saying a word to each other.

I’m pretty sure that I could have done more. I’m pretty sure I could have stepped out of the way of a Vietnam war veteran, former Prisoner-of-War, and Member of Congress.

There is a reason that U.S. Senator John Sidney McCain (R-AZ) has asked U.S. President George W. Bush and U.S. President Barrack H. Obama to eulogize him. McCain gracefully lost elections to both men, yet served loyally despite his personal defeat. McCain put country over politics.

When Max Boot, Jake Tapper, and others across the political spectrum too eulogize McCain, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that McCain is remembered in the vacuum of history. No, we all know that McCain is being remembered within the context of Donald J. Trump. Lloyd Benson may have been speaking to Dan Quayle, but the words are just as applicable to President Trump: “I knew John McCain. John McCain was my friend. Mr. President, you’re no John McCain.”

Few of us will ever be a John McCain.

As diehard supporters of Donald Trump have echoed about McCain, McCain was just a P.O.W.; Trump likes “people who weren’t captured” (July 18, 2015). On Obamacare, McCain will always be remembered, derisively or heroically, as the vote that saved the Affordable Care Act. The Maverick had struck again.

But he wasn’t finished. In his autobiography, McCain lamented choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate. McCain was always better than the low-brow, crowd-pleasing photogenic Governor of Alaska. The Maverick had struck again.

And, none of that matters.

What matters is that Cindy McCain has lost a husband. Douglas McCain, Andrew McCain, Sidney McCain, Meghan McCain, John Sidney McCain IV, James McCain, and Bridget McCain have lost a father. That’s what matters. Our country lost a leader, a rare independent voice these days, but who are we to steal a parent from his children.

McCain matters. He will be missed as Max Boot, and so many others have mentioned. But when we remember McCain, I think it is more a rejection of Trumpism, than an embracement of the senior U.S. Senator from Arizona.

Country first.

Rest in Peace, Senator McCain.


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On the Alleged Equivalency of Benghazi and Niger



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As partisans begin to ‘circle the wagons’ around Trump one again, let me continue the Wild West metaphor by cutting the partisan interpretation ‘off at the pass.’ Niger and Benghazi are not synonymous. U.S. Senator Jack Reed’s criticism is about the release of information surrounding the attack on American soldiers. Reed’s criticism is bipartisan; it has been echoed by US Senator John McCain as well. Reed was on All Things Considered (10/20/17) and reiterated, this is about the Executive Branch’s responsibility to inform the Legislative Branch, even if it is behind closed doors. Furthermore, Reed said, this lack of communication has not been an issue before in his almost 20 years in the US Senate serving under other Administrations of both parties. I recently heard an attempted rebuttal of Reed’s criticism by a partisan who dismissed Reed because “where was he in Benghazi?” Let’s remember that the Senate is the grown-up half of the Congress… In 2012, Reed was not on the Senate Intelligence Committee which handled the Benghazi investigation in a bipartisan manner in one investigation, as opposed to the numerous and partisan House investigations. Furthermore, Jack Reed is one of the most honorable public servants I have met. The reason he didn’t way in as much on Benghazi was probably that he wasn’t assigned to the committee investigating. Today, however, Reed is the Ranking Member of the US Senate Armed Services Committee which *is* in charge of the situation in Niger. Instead of attacking bipartisan legislative criticism, perhaps our energy would be better spend on asking why there is so little Constitutionally-mandated communication from this Executive to the US Congress?