Jimmy Hoffa FBI files should be released now

The nation's most notorious missing person's case, the disappearance of Teamsters Labor leader Jimmy Hoffa in 1975, can be solved by the stroke of a pen. The U.S. government should order the immediate release – un-redacted and in full – of the FBI's secret files that the bureau has compiled on the Hoffa's case, and also … Continue reading “Jimmy Hoffa FBI files should be released now”

The nation's most notorious missing person's case, the disappearance of Teamsters Labor leader Jimmy Hoffa in 1975, can be solved by the stroke of a pen.

The U.S. government should order the immediate release – un-redacted and in full – of the FBI's secret files that the bureau has compiled on the Hoffa's case, and also order the re-testing of the blood evidence that Fox News found on the floorboards of the Detroit house where a major suspect told me that he murdered Hoffa. The FBI informant interviews, known as 302's, and other documents such surveillance reports and wiretap transcripts have been blocked by the bureau from complete public release for decades.

"I don't see any reason to keep it secret," says Keith Corbett, the former chief of the organized crime section at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, who was the top federal prosecutor in charge of the Hoffa case for years. "Investigative efforts are paid for by the taxpayers, and if there is no threat to somebody, I would be in favor of dispersing the information."

Even a former United States Attorney General, who as a federal judge presided over mob cases among others, is calling for transparency.

"There is no harm to law enforcement from releasing it, and there has been substantial public interest in this case for decades," declares Michael Mukasey, who served as Attorney General under President George W. Bush.

"Unless someone in law enforcement can say, with a straight face and back it up with facts that this is an active investigation that could result in bringing a prosecution, the information should be released."

Those who have investigated the case for years are demanding the same.

"The FBI files on the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa should be released," said former Detroit Free Press Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Ashenfelter, who reported on the case for decades.

"Virtually all of the key players in Hoffa’s disappearance have died and for the FBI to presume that the case will ever result in an arrest is far-fetched. It’s time for the files – unredacted files – to be released so the public can find out what the FBI knew and when it knew it."

Dan Moldea, a Washington journalist and long-time Hoffa investigator, said full disclosure is key. He wrote the landmark book, "The Hoffa Wars, Teamsters, Rebels, Politicians and the Mob," in 1978 and even interviewed the main suspects.

"Without full disclosure, you have the conspiracy theories," Moldea said.

The bureau was sued and released about 17,000 Hoffa case documents almost 30 years ago, but Moldea said that the government redacted, or blacked out, the vast majority – about 12,000 of them. He said there is no longer any valid reason for the government to hide anything.

"We have a famous American…who vanished from a public place in broad daylight. We need to know what happened. This cannot happen in America," Moldea insists.

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It was a hot afternoon on July 30th, 1975, nearly 92 degrees, when the labor icon is said to have opened the door of a 1975 maroon Mercury in the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox restaurant, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and climbed in. It is believed that Hoffa thought he was going to a sit-down with Detroit Mob Boss Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone and reputed New Jersey mobster and Teamster Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano, to settle along-standing dispute with "Tony Pro" and discuss Hoffa’s efforts to regain the union presidency.

He was never seen again.

One of the FBI's suspects in the disappearance, Frank Sheeran, was then a 43-year-old Delaware Teamsters president and admitted mob hitman for Pennsylvania’s Bufalino crime family, who took the Fifth when called before the grand jury probing the case in Detroit. His crime family was said to be close to New York's Genovese family, in which “Tony Pro” had long been identified as a powerful capo.

In the spring of 2001, an 80-year-old Sheeran opened up to me.

I met Frank to start preparing an in-depth investigation, interview and news story about his claims. He was accompanied by his former lawyer, Charles Brandt, the author of Frank's then-proposed biography. Brandt had been able to spring Frank from a mafia-related federal racketeering prison sentence, and for that reason he was taken into Frank's confidence.

Frank, over a period of years, slowly confessed to Brandt that he was in on the plot to kill Hoffa and that he, in fact, pulled the trigger. The basis of his claims became Brandt’s best-selling book, "I Heard You Paint Houses, Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa," as well as my Fox News reporting and current Fox Nation news special, "Riddle: The Search for James R. Hoffa."

"Frank shoots him twice behind the right ear," said Charlie. "The blood pattern matches where the body went."

Francis Joseph "Frank" Sheeran, a Delaware labor leader and mob associated known as "The Irishman," told Fox News Channel’s Eric Shawn he pumped two bullets into the back of Hoffa’s head in a Detroit-area house. (Courtesy: Chip Fleischer, Steerforth Press)

At our meeting, I asked Frank for the directions to the house where he says he shot Hoffa. He rattled off the route from the nearby restaurant to the house, and described its interior layout to a tee.

Three years after our meeting, in 2004, I went to that house on Beaverland Street in Detroit with Fox News producer Ed Barnes. We took up the linoleum tiles that had been placed over the hardwood floor in front foyer and hallway, and hired a forensic team of retired Michigan state police investigators to try to find any blood evidence. They sprayed the chemical luminol on the floors, which homicide detectives routinely use to discover the presence of blood.

We found it.

The testing revealed a specific pattern of potential blood evidence, laid out like a map of clues to the nation's most infamous unsolved murder. Little yellow numbered tags were placed throughout foyer and hallway floor, to mark each spot where the testing yielded positive results.

"What you found is all that's left of the body of Jimmy Hoffa," Brandt told us. "It is the indications of blood, in a pattern that fits exactly what Sheeran described happened in that house. You found a pattern, that fits perfectly, fits perfectly, what Sheeran had told you. Fox News had the answers. The FBI would not have known the location of that house."

The greatest amount of positive hits was found right next to the front closet door, where Sheeran said Hoffa's bleeding head hit the floor. Seven more tags lined the narrow hallway toward the rear kitchen, marking the spots that perfectly mimic Frank's story of Hoffa's lifeless body being dragged to the kitchen by two waiting accomplices, who then stuffed him into a body bag and carried Hoffa out the back door to be cremated.

The FBI tested the floorboards at its lab in Quantico, Va., and said that of 50 specimens recovered; 28 tested positive for the possible presence of blood. DNA was only able to be extracted from two of those samples. One blood drop was "of male origin," and the other was deemed "largely inconclusive."

Labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, who was 62 at the time, disappeared in July 1975. He was declared legally dead in 1982. (AP)

It is time to retest that blood evidence again, using the latest DNA technology not available 16 years ago.

In addition, there have long been reports that informants knew how the hit went down. It is past time to reveal who those credible informants fingered.

The conventional wisdom for years was that Hoffa was murdered on orders of the mafia because he wanted to regain the Teamsters' presidency. Prosecutors have long pointed to various mob suspects, such as Sheeran and his boss, Russell Bufalino, one-time head of the Bufalino crime family, as well as Giacalone and “Tony Pro.”

The FBI's landmark HOFFEX memo, written in January of 1976, six months after Hoffa disappeared, names 12 suspects. Sheeran is one of them.

The last two major surviving suspects who are on that FBI list are Charles "Chuckie" O'Brien and Thomas Andretta.

The FBI report described O'Brien as being "raised by the Hoffa family, and brought into the Teamsters by JRH" (James Riddle Hoffa.) It said O'Brien was "well known by Teamsters officials and Detroit La Cosa Nostra,"  and that "he is known as a habitual liar," and  "a pathological liar who borders on being totally incompetent."

When James P. Hoffa (above) first ran for the presidency of the Teamsters in 1995, he had no doubt about who was responsible. "I believe the mob killed my father. The mob will never come back in the Teamsters Union as long as I’m around," he declared. (Reuters)

The FBI said O'Brien was near the restaurant on the day Hoffa disappeared and an eyewitness identified him sitting in a car similar to the one that Hoffa allegedly got into. The FBI also said "it is possible he had no prior knowledge of an abduction when he picked JRH (James Riddle Hoffa) up, but certainly has detailed knowledge of later events."

O'Brien, who called himself a "foster son" of the Hoffas, was, at least until the day Hoffa disappeared, very close to Hoffa and his family.

"The only thing I say about Charles O'Brien is, we were so close at one time, we grew up together, and the fact that he never came to me and looked at me and said, 'how can you think that I did that?' He has not spoken to me," Hoffa's daughter, former Judge Barbara Crancer, said of O'Brien in 1995.

Crancer's brother, James P. Hoffa, who currently sits behind his father's old desk in Washington, D.C. as president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, echoed that sentiment.

"You can only hope that someday he will come forth and tell what he knows about the disappearance. I have not talked to Chuckie O'Brien since that day and I don't intend to ever talk to him," Hoffa bluntly said.

At a 2001 news conference Hoffa clearly harbored his own suspicions about O'Brien stemming from the day his father vanished.

Members of an FBI evidence response team look over an area being cleared in Oakland Township, Mich., Tuesday, June 18, 2013 where officials continue the search for the remains of Teamsters union president Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared from a Detroit-area restaurant in 1975. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

"His actions were so suspicious on this day. He couldn't account for where he was on this important day. Obviously, it brought suspicions on him, this on the very day my father disappeared or the next day, and I had a major confrontation to him to say, “Where were you? And explain yourself, and his reaction was to run out of the room and I haven't seen him since."

When questioned by the FBI, the HOFFEX report indicates that O'Brien changed the timeline of his activities on the day Hoffa disappeared six times. Like the other named suspects, he also took the Fifth before the Detroit Grand Jury.

"I have a very hard time thinking that he knew anything about it," his former lawyer, James Burdick, told Fox News. "He was not that bright guy and his story never changed."

O'Brien has refuted any allegations that he was involved. He is now in his 80's and living in a gated community in Florida. He was interviewed by the Associated Press in 2006 and said that he played no part in the disappearance.

O'Brien "adamantly denies having any role in whatever happened to Hoffa or knowing anyone who did. He keeps a photograph on his desk of Hoffa and his wife during one of their visits to Florida in the early 1970s.

“It’s very frustrating. I have so much inside, my love for him and his family,' O’Brien said. 'How long can you keep talking to people and being honest with people?'”

Sources close to O'Brien told Fox News that he does not want to comment about the case to us now.

Jimmy Hoffa, shown here in speaking to Robert F. Kennedy, was one of the most powerful men in America when he disappeared. (Courtesy: Chip Fleischer, Steerforth Press)

Thomas Andretta and his brother Stephen, who reportedly died of cancer in 2000, were also named by the FBI as suspects. Both were New Jersey Teamsters and reputed Genovese crime family mob associates. The FBI called Thomas Andretta a "trusted associate of 'Tony Pro,' reported by Newark source to be involved in the actual disappearance of JRH."

Andretta, who is now 80 years old and living in Las Vegas, served federal prison time for racketeering. He did not respond to Fox News' request for comment.

Another suspect, Genovese crime family hit-man and business agent for Provenzano's New Jersey Teamsters Local 560, Sal Briguglio, was shot to death on Mulberry Street in New York City's Little Italy in 1978, three years after Hoffa vanished. The FBI reports say a witness saw him at the Machus Red Fox restaurant on the day Hoffa disappeared.

"Briguglio was cooperating with the FBI to nail Provenzano," Ashenfelter said. His murder was never solved.

Another reported FBI source was New Jersey inmate Ralph Picardo, who was serving time for the murder of a loan-shark in 1975. The FBI said that Picardo started informing about what happened to Hoffa just over three months after he vanished.

Picardo told agents that Provenzano hatched two previous plots to kill Hoffa, and that a few days after Hoffa disappeared, Stephen Andretta visited him in prison and told him that "Provenzano's group was involved."

"Steve apparently starts giving things up. So, Picardo eventually decides, what am I doing? I have some great information here, and I'm going to use this to get my ass out of jail," Moldea said.

Moldea interviewed the group of suspects in October 1976 in New Jersey. He talked with Sal Briguglio, Thomas and Steve Andretta and Salvatore "Tony Pro" Provenzano. He said that both Briguglio and the Andretta brothers denied being involved in the murder.

"I think Sal Briguglio is the killer," said Moldea, though he does believe Sheeran was involved in the plot.

Brandt, who insists Sheeran was telling the truth, is demanding release of what he says is a much more recent FBI report.

James R. Hoffa (left) with his son, James P. Hoffa, at a testimonial dinner in 1965. (Library of Congress)

"I think we want all 302's of the FBI's debriefing of former Bufalino Family boss "Big" Billy D'Elia, who had become a cooperating FBI witness," he said. "The first question Detroit FBI agent Andy Sluss asked D'Elia, was what happened to Hoffa. D'Elia told Sluss to read (my) book."

Brandt also said FBI surveillance tapes and reports of Sheeran meeting about the murder with his fellow mobsters in a New York Italian restaurant right after Hoffa's disappearance should be made public as well.

D'Elia has not responded to multiple attempts by Fox News for comment on the case.

The Detroit FBI would not comment about Mr. Brandt's assertions.

Law enforcement sources do confirm that while we were conducting our investigation in 2004 in Detroit, the FBI tried to find the house even before we aired our first story.

"There's nobody to charge now with the murder because Sheeran's dead," said former Fox News producer Ed Barnes, who investigated the case with me in 2004. He also said it is time that the Hoffa information is released.

"It should be public. It was the biggest murder case that the United States had ever run across, and of one of its most important men. This was a direct challenge to the federal government” he notes. “This was, 'screw you, we can kill one of the most important men in the United States and get away with it.' And they did."

When James P. Hoffa first ran for the presidency of the Teamsters in 1995, he had no doubt about who was responsible.

"I believe the mob killed my father. The mob will never come back in the Teamsters Union as long as I'm around," he declared.

As for the possibility of releasing the Hoffa files, the FBI directed Fox News to file a Freedom of Information Act request and had "no comment" on the possibility of retesting the blood evidence that we found in the house.

In 1990 and 2000, The Detroit Free Press filed Freedom of Information Act lawsuits for the files. The result was the release in 2002 of the heavily redacted material that remains to this day the only glimpse available to the public.

In 1989, Hoffa's son and his daughter filed their own FOIA lawsuit against the Justice Department seeking the files. In response, prosecutors said public release of the material would harm the case and endanger informants.

But former investigators tell Fox News that now most, if not all, of the informants are presumed dead and the remaining two living suspects have already been publicly named in the FBI HOFFEX memo, and elsewhere.

"Release the files, test the blood. I want to see this case end. This case has to be solved," said Moldea.

Watch "Riddle: The Search for James R. Hoffa" on Fox Nation

Listen to the 8-part series: "Riddle: The Podcast,” behind the scenes conversations with those involved in our investigation.

Follow Eric Shawn on Twitter: @EricShawnTV

Media use coverage of Bush funeral to criticize Trump

Many journalists used their reporting and commentary on the death of President George H.W. Bush as an opportunity to attack President Trump. Columbia Journalism Review’s daily newsletter stated: “In Bush’s case, that coverage has been dominated by favorable comparisons to President Trump.”

That was an understatement.

CNN turned to reliably liberal Patti Davis, President Reagan’s daughter, to criticize President Trump. She predictably complained about “the loss of dignity associated with the presidency under President Trump.” CBS reported the pivotal news that “the Trumps and Clintons did not shake hands.”

Please stop the presses.

ABC decided to turn the coverage of President Bush’s death into a depraved liberal fantasy and tried to envision what Trump’s funeral would be like. "It will be the best presidential funeral ever. No one will ever have seen anything like that funeral," ABC News correspondent Terry Moran said, mocking President Trump.

NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell said it was “extraordinary” seeing President Trump “sitting with the former presidents paying tribute to a leader whose humility and decency is different from today's politics.”

Journalists all wanted in on the action. The Washington Post needled Trump for not reciting a prayer and used it as a chance to make fun of the “faith and values of Trump.” The story included a 46-word attack sentence that said “many religious conservatives embraced him, despite what critics say is his dishonesty, philandering, crudeness and policies many see as anti-Christian.”

The Post also made fun of the president for using a limousine to go a short distance to visit the Bush family, though the article later noted the Obamas did the same thing for security reasons. Still we got this gem: “President Trump traveled 250 yards to greet George W. Bush. He used a stretch limo and an eight-vehicle motorcade to make the trip.”

Neutral journalism.

After the funeral, CNN waited just six minutes and 34 seconds to return to its regularly scheduled anti-Trump barrage. And CNN Senior Political Analyst John Avlon didn’t even give Trump credit for keeping a low profile during the event. "I don't think you want to give out too many medals for not screwing up a presidential funeral. The president was on best behavior this week, but that's a fairly low bar," Avlon said.

In one notable exchange, CNN anchors Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon were debating how President Obama should have reacted when President Trump tried to shake his hand.

Lemon, ever taking the low road, told viewers: “I don't think I would shake hands with him. I don't know. I would just … nope, couldn't do it. I'm not that big a person.” Lemon even re-enacted how he would have dissed the president.

Amazingly, Cuomo shamed him, saying it was all about "Me, me, I, I." He concluded: “You're petty and small.”

It was an impressive moment.

2. They also attacked Bush 41: Many journalists didn’t react with the same class that Cuomo chose to exhibit. The media went after the late President George H.W. Bush, just as they had during his life. They also attacked former Vice President Dan Quayle, former Vice President Dick Cheney and the late President Reagan.

Slate even devoted an entire article to kicking President George H.W. Bush’s service dog, Sully. Slate staff writer and curmudgeon Ruth Graham was apparently appalled at the kind words that were tied to a photo of the dog laying in front of the president’s casket. Among the many memorably stupid things Graham said was that it was “a bit demented to project soul-wrenching grief onto a dog’s decision to lie down in front of a casket.”

“This is simply a photograph of a dog doing something dogs love to do: Lie down,” Graham wrote. And this is just what journalists do, attack anything and everything on the right. Even service dogs.

HuffPost claimed that Bush had caused “Catastrophic Harm To LGBTQ People.” Several outlets accused Bush of being “racist” for running the infamous Willie Horton ad, which was actually run by a third-party group.

MSNBC tried to get both Bush and Trump by comparing ads and talking about how the “dog whistle politics” had gotten worse under the current administration.

Former conservative turned MSNBC host Joe Scarborough complained that conservatives dared to remember how much the media hated Bush. Morning Joe himself tried to rewrite the history: “It was like Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill had a deal that they fought like hell every day. And then at 6, they put it to the side.”

Hardly. The press attacked Bush, tried to destroy Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and did destroy Quayle … over a typo.

The only difference from then to now is that the press is far worse now.

3. Another bad week for media: The story about former CBS CEO Les Moonves continues to get more horrifying. The New York Times reported new details about the network investigation. “Investigators wrote that they had received ‘multiple reports’ about a network employee who was ‘on call’ to perform oral sex on Mr. Moonves.”

Moonves was one of the most powerful men in TV before his fall. The question now is whether the investigation will end other careers, too.

That wasn’t all of the bad news for the news media. Journalism took it on the chin this week. Mic was sold for a pittance, the right-leaning Weekly Standard appeared it may close its doors and Bloomberg might be laying off all of its political staff.

Mic, one of the popular web start-ups, collapsed from a peak valuation of $100 million to selling for just $5 million. The Weekly Standard, popular with right-leaning anti-Trump readers, was trying to stay alive despite reports of its demise.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who spends tens of millions of dollars to fund anti-gun groups, is prepping for a possible presidential run. He expressed possible interest in having his massive media enterprise “not cover politics at all.” “Quite honestly,” reported Buzzfeed, “I don’t want all the reporters I’m paying to write a bad story about me,” he said in a radio interview.

Then there was a huge error at NPR involving the First Son. The public radio network falsely reported testimony that Donald Trump Jr. gave to the Senate. The NPR correction said, in part, an “earlier version of this report mischaracterized an answer Donald Trump Jr. gave to Senate investigators in 2017.” That’s a nifty way to say the reporter screwed up big time.

Dan Gainor is the Media Research Center’s Vice President for Business and Culture. He writes frequently about media for Fox News Opinion. He can also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter as dangainor.

Newt Gingrich: A huge week for the future of the commercial space economy, the US and more than 200 kids

This week, a group of more than 200 middle and high school students got to see what they can achieve when they work hard and dream big in America.

Students at The Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and students from six public high schools in Irvine, California, gathered around their respective computer monitors Monday to watch their hard work blastoff into space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Along with 62 other commercial and government satellites from 17 countries, the rocket carried WeissSat-1 and IRVINE02 – two small satellites that the student groups had separately conceptualized, designed, built, programmed, and rigorously tested for three years. Both successfully deployed from the rocket’s second stage and are now orbiting our planet.

These join a growing number of satellites built by young Americans (the first elementary school-built satellite launched into space in December 2015).

Stop for a moment to consider just how remarkable these achievements really are – and what they mean for the future of our country and humanity.

I remember science projects in middle and high school. They were miniature volcanoes that belched steam from dry ice – or in my case, assortments of fossils that I had meticulously collected and identified. Despite my enthrallment with space – and the many issues of Missiles and Rockets magazine I read as a young person – I never had the technical expertise, resources, or opportunity to actually design and build a satellite that could be put into orbit.

This achievement becomes even more amazing when you learn what these CubeSats will do. The Weiss School satellite is studying how and whether bacteria trapped in ice could potentially transfer to other planetary environments. The IRVINE02 CubeSat will capture images with a wide-field macro lens and beam data back to Earth via an optical laser downlink– which can send information much faster than traditional radio communications.

Not only have these projects pushed these students to learn things they never could have in a traditional classroom setting – their projects will no doubt provide the scientific community with very useful data. This project, which is a part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, is the perfect example of a new way to approach education (so that it incentivizes learning and doing things rather than passing tests) and the way in which we can introduce and develop the people who will lead in the growing space economy.

As the mother of one of the students at The Weiss School told me, “it was a good day for our future.” She also correctly remarked that these are “exactly the kind of students who will be leading President Trump's Space Force someday.”

In addition to these amazing accomplishments by the young rocket scientists of the future, the rocket scientists of today also had a tremendous achievement. SpaceX (working with a company called Spaceflight Industries that bought and organized the launch) broke four records on Monday.

SpaceX broke an American record for the number of satellites carried and deployed into space at one time. Elon Musk’s rocket company also surpassed its previous record for the number of launches in one year.

So far in 2018, the company successfully completed the inaugural launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket and completed 18 Falcon 9 missions. Importantly, the company also successfully launched and returned the same booster rocket for the third time – and that booster became the first to fly from Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and Vandenberg Air Force Base.

These records are important. As Vice President Mike Pence told Robert Costa at The Washington Post Space Summit on October 23, there is an “American aspiration that we are in a very real sense, a nation of pioneers. We’ve always, throughout our history been pushing the outer envelope.  We’ve been pushing into the undiscovered country.  I think the American people are excited to see us do that again.”

Monday was a tremendously important day for the students in Florida and California, the future of the commercial space economy, and our country. These students – and the teachers, scientists, and companies that enabled them to do this remarkable work – deserve tremendous congratulations.

Newt Gingrich is a Fox News contributor. A Republican, he was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. Follow him on Twitter @NewtGingrich. His latest book is “Trump’s America: The Truth About Our Nation’s Great Comeback.”

Peggy Noonan: History finally gives George Bush his due

I feel it needs to be said again: George Herbert Walker Bush should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership during the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was an epic moment in modern world history, and a close-run thing. “One mishap and much could unravel,” former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said, in his eulogy, of those days when the wall was falling, the Warsaw Pact countries rising and the Soviet Union trying to keep its footing as it came to terms with its inevitable end. Patience and shrewdness were needed from the leader of the West, a sensitive, knowing hand.

In “A World Transformed” (1998), Bush described his public approach as being marked by “gentle encouragement.” It caused him some trouble: “I had been under constant criticism for being too cautious, perhaps because I was subdued in my reaction to events. This was deliberate.” He didn’t want to embarrass or provoke. He reminded Mikhail Gorbachev, at the December 1989 Malta summit, that “I have not jumped up and down on the Berlin Wall.”

It was Bush’s gift to be sensitive even to Soviet generals who were seeing their world collapse around them. He knew a humiliated foe is a dangerous foe—and this foe had a nuclear arsenal. He slowly, carefully helped ease Russia out of its old ways and structures, helped it stand as its ground firmed up, and helped divided Germany blend together peacefully, fruitfully.

You’d think the world would have been at his feet, and the prizes flying in from Oslo. It didn’t happen. Why?

Keep reading Peggy Noonan's column in the Wall Street Journal. 

France protests and the ‘yellow vests’ deep anger reveal the hypocrisy at the heart of the green agenda

The European elites can’t be happy with what is happening in France.

Over the last month, hundreds of thousands of angry French citizens have joined in “yellow vest” protests, initially sparked by proposed carbon taxes on fuel. This weekend, protester turnout was down, but the violence was up.

While the destructive rioting should be deplored, the underlying problems that led to this moment should not be ignored.

French President Emmanuel Macron once heralded as a visionary “centrist” leader who would pull France and the world into glorious modernity, now finds himself in hot water.

Macron once mused that France may need a king, and others compared him to Napoleon.

But as Abraham Lincoln once said to bumbling Union Gen. Joseph Hooker, who incautiously spoke about setting up an American dictatorship: “Only those generals who gain successes can set up dictators.”

The praise of Macron as a transformative leader now seems premature.

Just last year, President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, saying that he would put “no other consideration before the well-being of American citizens.” He also vowed to reject an agreement that would force taxpayers to “absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.”

The media blasted Trump for his decision while praising Macron, who enthusiastically endorsed the climate pact. Rubbing his thumb in Trump’s eye, Macron went on to campaign on the pledge of “Make Our Planet Great Again.”

It didn’t work out well for Macron or his country. His approval rating has plunged to 23 percent—less than half that of Trump. And Paris is literally burning

As for the climate agenda Macron so warmly embraced: it is turning to ashes as well.

The green agenda bills itself as a movement to save the planet and fight inequality. But in truth, its anti-carbon policies fall hardest on middle class and working class people who can’t afford sky high energy costs and may lose their jobs in industries that the Greens want to put out of business.

Increasingly, however, those hit hard by these policies are realizing that the environmentalist piety projects of the well-to-do also just so happen to make them even more well-to-do in the process.

Revenues from France’s carbon tax were set to subsidize green industries like wind and solar, even as Macron began shuttering 14 nuclear of the nation’s 58 power plants.  The Green God of Paris also aims to shut all French coal plants by 2022.

Climate crusaders like Macron may say it’s all about saving the world and stopping climate change, but the process always involves funneling tons of money from constituencies they don’t like to ones they do.

In other words: Crony capitalism.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of people who want to import this disastrous agenda to the United States, even as it immolates Europe. It’s already on its way in California and perhaps in Congress through the so-called Green New Deal proposed by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

The events in France should serve as an early warning for Americans about the costs of ignoring the forgotten man.

The yellow jacket protests are over more than just a single, obnoxious tax. They arise from the failure of Western leaders, like Macron, to look out for the interests of their people as a whole instead of just their favored classes.

The enraged, resentful citizens in the streets of Paris and rural roads of the countryside have no interest in crowning a new king. But they are fed up with paying ever-rising climate taxes so their “betters” in the drawing rooms of Paris and Brussels can feel good about themselves and pad the wallets of their business cronies.

America has fortunately set another course—one toward prosperity and away from the stifling, job-killing energy policies that have left Paris with boarded up shop windows and tear gas wafting down the Champs-Elysées.

Jarrett Stepman is an editor and commentary writer for The Daily Signal and co-host of “The Right Side of History” podcast.

Rep. Andy Biggs: I heard from Comey on Friday — Here are the three most important takeaways

As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, I was among those who interviewed fired FBI Director James Comey on Friday about Hillary’s Clinton’s email scandal and about the initial stages of the FBI investigation of allegations that the Trump presidential campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.

Comey said after the closed-door interview that it was pretty boring. I agree with him on that. It was boring because FBI and Justice Department lawyers told him not to answer questions dealing with the Russia probe and he responded to dozens of other questions saying “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.”

A transcript of the interview was released Saturday.

Democrats in the interview didn’t get their smoking gun about the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia – something they are desperately seeking in order to explain Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump two years ago in an election most people expected the former first lady, senator and secretary of state to win.

But Republicans didn’t get Comey to directly corroborate corruption in Clinton’s effort to hide her emails from public scrutiny by using her own private email address and server rather than her State Department email account to conduct government business.

Nevertheless, there are several important takeaways from the session with Comey.

One is that when he was FBI director, Comey believed he was prescient and had incredibly broad power.

Another is that Comey can’t recall very much of the specific facts of high-profile investigations into a former secretary of state and a seemingly unprecedented investigation into workers of a presidential campaign.

And yet another was Comey’s surprising claim that even though he was the FBI director, he was unaware of much of what was going on in his own agency.

One of the few mistakes Comey made Friday – as he ducked and dodged our questions most artfully and articulately – was that he claimed he somehow figured out that when then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., was nominated to be attorney general, Sessions was “on the cusp of recusing” himself from supervising the Russia investigation. At that point, Sessions had not announced he was even considering recusal.

Comey has claimed that President Trump suggested that the FBI director go easy on Michael Flynn, the retired Army lieutenant general who served for 24 days as the president’s national security adviser. Comey was so distraught about President Trump’s alleged suggestion that the FBI director informed his senior aides and wrote a memo purporting to detail the conversation with the president.

But when we pressed Comey as to why he did not refer his conversation with President Trump to Sessions, Comey asserted some kind of special knowledge about Session’s then-future recusal.

That mystical ability to forecast that Sessions was “on the cusp” of doing something indicates that Comey believed he may have known more about Sessions than Sessions knew about himself.

In addition, Comey’s seeming belief that he could predict the future in this instance was not unlike his rationale for making the ultimate decision to take over the prosecutorial decision from then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the Clinton mishandling of classified documents on her private email.

Comey’s foresight in these instances is particularly curious when juxtaposed against the many things he didn’t know were happening in his own agency while he was FBI director.

For instance, he did not know that Justice Department official Bruce Ohr was effectively the handler of former British spy Christopher Steele, the infamous author of what became known as the Steele dossier.

The dossier is a collection of memos making unproven allegations of misconduct and collusion involving the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. Hillary Clinton’s campaign helped fund compilation of the document.

Comey apparently was unaware that Ohr was receiving what Comey would later describe as “unverified and salacious” information from Steele and then passing it on to agents in the FBI, one of whom was Peter Strzok.

This is particularly problematic because other witnesses have testified suggesting that it would have been unlikely that Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants to spy on Americans would be granted without the information that was passed from Steele to Ohr to the FBI.

And yet, even though he was receiving weekly briefings, Comey wasn’t aware of this tawdry chain of “evidence?” It seems unlikely that Comey was that inattentive or incompetent.

One thing demonstrated by Comey’s verbal hairsplitting in his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee was that he pays attention to detail. So if Comey didn’t know these things surrounding the Steele dossier, Bruce Ohr and the use of the dossier to obtain a FISA warrant, were the weekly briefings deficient?

A more troubling question is whether subordinates, such as Peter Strzok, were running a rogue operation under the director’s nose for political purposes.

On Friday we saw that the Justice Department continues to run interference for witnesses who come before the House Judiciary Committee, with lawyers telling Comey to not answer many of our questions for him. This obstruction impedes the oversight authority of our committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which also participated in the interview of Comey.

Puzzling as well is that Comey can remember enough to write a book and tour the nation to sell his book, but can’t remember many of the events he was asked about in the hearing.

While the pace of the hearing might have drawn a yawn from Comey, it nonetheless left us with conclusions to be drawn, not all of which are favorable to Comey or the 10 people who were terminated, demoted, or voluntarily left under a cloud of misconduct from the highest levels of the Justice Department and the FBI.

Comey is scheduled to come back for further questioning. There is so much more that he can tell us – if only he will answer our questions.

Republican Andy Biggs represents the 5th Congressional District of Arizona.

Ex-FBI Assistant Director: Comey is a disgrace to the FBI, won’t answer key questions on Clinton email scandal

The appearance of fired and disgraced FBI Director James Comey before two congressional committees Friday is a reminder of his brief but profoundly disappointing tenure leading the FBI – the outstanding law enforcement agency where I served for 24 years.

Unfortunately, members of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee were unable to get satisfactory answers from Comey regarding his illegal actions and violations of longstanding FBI and Justice Department regulations and procedures.

The chairmen of the two committees released a 235-page transcript Saturday of their interview with Comey.

According to a statement issued by the office of Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., Comey said “I don’t remember” 71 times, “I don’t know” 166 times, and “I don’t recall” eight times during his interview.

Comey flat-out refused to answer some questions dealing with the investigation now led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“To the extent, I recall facts developed during our investigation of Russian interference and the potential connection of Americans, I think that's a question that the FBI doesn't want me answering,” Comey said in response to a question.

Comey’s record of lawbreaking and violations dealt with prosecution judgments, media leaks, the theft of government records and the conduct of objective investigations.

It’s a tragedy is that Comey and his former inner circle – the now infamous troika of fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, fired FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page – have attempted to cloak themselves in the FBI’s rich tradition of fidelity, bravery, and integrity.

In reality, these four former FBI officials have done more to hinder the daily work of the 35,000 selfless and hardworking men and women of the FBI than anyone in the storied agency’s history.

As a proud veteran of the FBI, it pains me to hear from friends, associates and colleagues who now question the FBI’s impartiality and motives in conducting sensitive investigations.

Unfortunately, no one can blame people for being skeptical of the FBI in light of the excruciating, Trump-hating texts during the 2016 presidential election campaign between Strzok and Page (who were engaged in an extramarital affair at the time), and following Comey’s well-publicized anti-Trump comments.

The former FBI director has written a book, given numerous media interviews, and used social media to bash President Trump, and urged Americans to “vote Democrat” before the midterm elections in November.

On top of this, there have been stark revelations in the Justice Department inspector general’s reports concerning former Deputy Director McCabe’s lies and leaks under the direct tutelage of Comey, who tried to make his own lies and leaks seem virtuous.

When FBI agents hit the street to conduct an investigation – and especially when trying to persuade people to provide needed information – their greatest asset is the respect and credibility of the FBI as an institution and the reputation of FBI agents for fairness and impartiality.

Juries that base their verdicts on FBI evidence and testimony trust that the scales were not tipped by the personal biases or political considerations of FBI agents and officials.

Unfortunately, the actions of Comey and his inner circle caused too many Americans to question the core values of the FBI as an institution.

It is out of total respect for the finest law enforcement and intelligence organization in the world and outstanding professionals that many former FBI executives – including me – have broken tradition and publicly criticized Comey and his troika for their misconduct, which can’t be disputed.

First, as the Justice Department inspector general found, Comey was insubordinate and violated department rules in playing the role of investigator, prosecutor, and judge in publicly exonerating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her email scandal.

Clinton – who used a private email account and server rather than the State Department email system she was required to use – was the subject of one of the most sensitive FBI investigations in history when she was running for president.

It is fundamental to our justice system that investigators do not also play the role of prosecutor. Yet instead of reporting the findings of the FBI investigation of Clinton to then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch so Lynch could decide what action to take, Comey staged a news conference to announce that he had concluded Clinton should not be prosecuted.

If I had pulled the same stunt when I was head of FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division under then-Deputy Attorney General Comey, I would have – and should have – been suspended and fired. So much for the value of fidelity.

Second, Comey illegally removed his notes and memos describing details of his meetings with President Trump that were conducted as part of his official duties as FBI director. These records belonged to the FBI – not Comey.

Comey then indirectly leaked his memos and notes to the media by laundering them through a university professor. If the FBI director acts as if he is not subject to the well-established rules of the Justice Department and is above the law, it is easy to understand why his deputy director felt justified in doing the same.

In fact, leaking stolen FBI documents is illegal – regardless of how virtuous you view your actions. Scratch the integrity core value.

Third, the extensive personal and political bias that prevailed within Comey’s inner circle is beyond unacceptable. Strozk and Page’s texts denouncing then-presidential candidate Trump speak for themselves.

It is amazing that neither Comey nor McCabe saw any problems with McCabe personally initiating and supervising the investigation of whether the Trump campaign and Russia worked together to get Trump elected president.

McCabe should have recused himself from any involvement in the “Russia collusion” investigation because his wife was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the state Senate in Virginia when she accepted over $1 million in political campaign donations. The donations were bundled together by Clinton loyalist and then-Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

McCabe was also known to freely and openly express his disdain for Trump in meetings with other FBI executives.

Fourth, under Comey’s leadership, his inner circle used an unreliable opposition research “dossier” financed in part by Hillary Clinton’s campaign when she was running for president against Trump in 2016. The dossier was used to support a series of electronic surveillance warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to intercept communications of Trump campaign operatives.

Had the FISA judge been informed of the true origins of the information it is highly unlikely that the judge would have issued the requisite orders. The Justice Department inspector general is investigating this alleged abuse of FISA and his findings will be far more credible that any partisan congressional committee.

Fourth, Comey’s courage failed him when it was most needed. When Attorney General Lynch instructed him to refer to the Clinton investigation as a “matter” and severely restricted the scope of the Clinton email and Clinton Foundation investigations, Comey went along.

When President Trump allegedly demanded Comey’s loyalty and asked for leniency for former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Comey scurried back to the office and prepared memos. Clearly, Comey placed his job security over pushing back forcefully on the use of the FBI to achieve political ends. Scratch the bravery element.

Finally, anyone who questions the appointment of Special Counsel Mueller to conduct an independent investigation of the Russia case can thank Comey and McCabe.

In the words of ex-FBI Assistant Director Kevin Brock, my former colleague: “Comey personally fast-tracked McCabe’s career into the deputy director position. McCabe was not happy that the president fired his boss and that (Deputy Attorney General Rod) Rosenstein provided the ammo.”

Rosenstein was faced with a tough decision. He could leave the Russia investigation in the hands of the angry and hopelessly biased team of Acting FBI Director McCabe, Deputy Assistant Director Strzok and attorney Page. Or, he could appoint a special counsel with integrity and a reputation for impartiality. He wisely chose the latter, appointing Mueller.

From the cradle of the FBI Academy, FBI agents are taught to always maintain the confidentiality of investigations, sources and methods. Keeping a low profile goes with the job, so it’s unusual to see former FBI agents criticize FBI leadership.

Those of us who are speaking out now believe deeply that the agency where we served honorably should never become a tool to promote political agendas.

This separation of law enforcement from politics is what separates America from Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Nor should operatives of the nation’s primary law enforcement and intelligence agency allow themselves to succumb to a temptation to impose their notions of morality on the electorate. That is the slipperiest of slopes.

The American public deserves to know the full scope and extent of the actions and roles of the Comey inner circle in order to prevent future abuses. Let’s hope the ongoing Justice Department inspector general’s investigation will ultimately hold the right people accountable.

It is obvious that toothless and bloviating congressional committees will never get to the truth.

A thousand congressional hearings will never get Comey to admit what we all suspect: his personal hubris and feelings of moral superiority allowed him to believe the normal rules established by the American people through duly enacted laws, regulations and procedures did not apply to him.

We need to draw a clear distinction between the FBI as an institution of 35,000 dedicated professionals and Comey – a brief aberration in the bureau’s distinguished 110-year history.

Comey’s name should be forever removed from the roster of FBI employees who have embraced the core values of the FBI and who have wielded the enormous power of the justice system with impartiality and integrity.​​​​​

Chris E. Swecker served 24 years in FBI as Special Agent. He retired from the Bureau as Assistant Director with responsibility over all FBI Criminal Investigations. He currently practices law in Charlotte, N.C.

Andrew C. McCarthy: Why Trump is likely to be indicted by Manhattan US Attorney

The major takeaway from the 40-page sentencing memorandum filed by federal prosecutors Friday for Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, is this: The president is very likely to be indicted on a charge of violating federal campaign finance laws.

It has been obvious for some time that President Trump is the principal subject of the investigation still being conducted by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Cohen earlier pleaded guilty to multiple counts of business and tax fraud, violating campaign finance law, and making false statements to Congress regarding unsuccessful efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Yes, Cohen has stated he did the hands-on work in orchestrating hush-money payments to two women who claim to have had sexual liaisons with Trump many years ago (liaisons Trump denies).

But when Cohen pleaded guilty in August, prosecutors induced him to make an extraordinary statement in open court: the payments to the women were made “in coordination with and at the direction of” the candidate for federal office – Donald Trump.

Prosecutors would not have done this if the president was not on their radar screen. Indeed, if the president was not implicated, I suspect they would not have prosecuted Cohen for campaign finance violations at all. Those charges had a negligible impact on the jail time Cohen faces, which is driven by the more serious offenses of tax and financial institution fraud, involving millions of dollars.

Moreover, campaign finance infractions are often settled by payment of an administrative fine, not turned into felony prosecutions. To be sure, federal prosecutors in New York City have charged them as felonies before – most notably in 2014 against Dinesh D’Souza, whom Trump later pardoned.

In marked contrast, though, when it was discovered that Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was guilty of violations involving nearly $2 million – an amount that dwarfs the $280,000 in Cohen’s case – the Obama Justice Department decided not to prosecute. Instead, the matter was quietly disposed of by a $375,000 fine by the Federal Election Commission.

Nevertheless, the sentencing memo in Cohen’s case reads like an ode to campaign finance laws. Unlike other types of pleadings, which can be dry and legalistic, sentencing memoranda are meant to persuade the sentencing judge, and they often read like dramatic jury arguments.

This one is no exception, urging that campaign finance laws are vital to election integrity – “painstakingly” designed by Congress “to promote transparency and prevent wealthy individuals” from fueling the “public cynicism” that “the political process belongs to the rich and powerful.”

In the four corners of this case, these words apply to Cohen. But President Trump cannot feel too comfortable upon reading them.

Nor can the Trump legal team take solace when the campaign finance charges to which Cohen pleaded guilty are scrutinized. Thus far, the team has been dismissive, noting that campaign finance law has different standards for a candidate than for other donors.

Contributors such as Cohen made were limited in 2016 to a $2,700 donation, but there is no limit on a candidate’s spending. Thus, the argument goes, even if the hush-money payments vastly exceeded Cohen’s legal ceiling, Trump himself could have made them legally.

There are flaws in this theory.

To begin with, the campaign finance laws do not just prescribe limits on spending; they mandate disclosure. This is a leitmotif of the sentencing memo: Congress demanded transparency. A candidate may spend unlimited amounts on the campaign, but the amounts spent must be reported to the Federal Election Commission.

The sentencing memo for Cohen argues that the hush money payments were not merely unreported. It states that Cohen and the Trump organization – the president’s company – went to great lengths to conceal them by fraudulent bookkeeping.

Equally significantly, Cohen was not charged with merely making illegal donations. He was charged in the first campaign finance count with causing a company to make illegal donations.

This was the offense centering on Playboy model Karen McDougal. It involves David Pecker, a longtime friend of the president and of Cohen. Pecker runs American Media, Inc., which controls the National Enquirer.

According to prosecutors, Pecker arranged with Cohen that the Enquirer would buy McDougal’s story for $150,000 and bury it. Although it was contemplated that Cohen would reimburse Pecker (and then be reimbursed by Trump), the reimbursement did not happen.

Cohen, therefore, pleaded guilty not to making his own excessive contribution but to causing a third party to make an illegal contribution.

Cohen says he was operating at Trump’s direction. Logically, then, if this is true and Cohen caused the third-party illegal contribution, so did the president.

Notably: prosecutors have given Pecker and another American Media executive, Dylan Howard, immunity from prosecution. Do you think prosecutors did that to tighten up the case against Cohen? I don’t.

As for the second campaign finance charge, that involves an illegal payment by Cohen – the $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford (who goes by the stage name “Stormy Daniels”). There are two things to bear in mind about it.

First, as we’ve just seen, it is a felony to cause another person to make an illegal contribution. Since, under the claim by prosecutors Trump was directing Cohen, Trump could be accused of having caused Cohen to make an illegal payment.

The fact that Trump could have made the payment himself without violating the law does not excuse allegedly causing Cohen to violate the law.

Trump’s point that he had no personal limit on spending is also undermined by the facts that (a) the payment was not reported, and (b) the purpose of the transaction was to distance him from the payment (which is why the non-disclosure agreement employs pseudonyms rather than referring to Trump and Clifford by name).

Second, the violation to which Cohen pleaded guilty is not merely making illegal expenditures; it also includes making such expenditures “in cooperation, consultation, or concert, with or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate.” (Section 30116(a)(7)(A) of the election laws).

Again, this is why Cohen was pushed at his guilty plea proceeding to state that he acted “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump. It is an assertion the prosecutors emphasize in the sentencing memo. The thrust of their allegation is that Cohen and Trump are confederates in an illegal contribution that Cohen made only because Trump directed him to do so.

This is not to suggest that the president is without cards to play. Campaign finance violations have a high proof threshold for intent. President Trump could argue that because there was no spending limit on his contributions, he did not think about the campaign-finance implications, much less willfully violate them.

There is, furthermore, a significant legal question about whether the hush-money payments here qualify as “in-kind” campaign contributions. There is nothing illegal per se in making a non-disclosure agreement; they are quite common. The criminal law comes into play only if the non-disclosure payment is deemed a donation for purposes of influencing a political campaign.

Arguably, the payment is not a donation if it was made for an expense that was independent of the campaign – that is, money that would have had to be paid even if there were no campaign.

Cohen chose to plead guilty and forfeited the right to contest this point. That concession is not binding on Trump. If the president is charged, I expect he would vigorously argue that the payment was not a campaign contribution.

There are other salient issues to consider. Justice Department guidance holds that a sitting president may not be indicted. If prosecutors in the Southern District of New York believe they have a case against the president, must they hold off until after he is out of office?

If President Trump were to win re-election, he would not be out of office until 2024, when the five-year statute of limitations on a 2016 offense would have lapsed.

More importantly, do campaign finance violations qualify as “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which is the constitutional standard for impeachment? It is hard to imagine an infraction that the Justice Department often elects not to prosecute is sufficiently egregious to rise to that level, but the debate on this point between partisans would be intense.

Those are all questions for another day. The point for this day is that the Cohen case in New York City is not about Cohen. The president is in peril of being charged.

Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review. @andrewcmccarthy

Here’s how to overcome holiday anxiety and stress

“You get gas and I’ll run in for the fruit chews.”

Costco on a Sunday afternoon can be dicey. We only needed one thing – fruit chews, since a kid has apparently been trading them at lunch for a piece of pizza. Why not get gas at the same time? I could Costco-quick-grab and be done by the time they were.

At least that’s what I thought until I raced in and turned the corner. Christmas lights, trees, wreathes and section upon section of well-placed toys filled the up-front aisles normally and formerly filled with snacky items.

(Wait a minute. Why is Christmas up front? What happened to Fall? Have we forgotten Thanksgiving? Did November get lost in the mix? Moved to the back of the store with the fruit chews?)

Retail-ambush ushers in an assortment of holiday have-to’s that easily overwhelm. The purchases, the décor, the pictures and parties that bring along other issues – like money for must-have’s. And other issues tend to bubble up around the holidays like relationships or circumstances that don’t quite match Norman Rockwell or a well-crafted and captioned Instagram pic.

But of all the year's holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas are two that at their core center on abundance and life, not overload. There’s no better time than now to get our eyes focused on Truth and grab a little soul-hydration for the Holidays. Because the key to hydration is hitting it before you’re thirsty.

Here are a few soul-hydration tips to practice today, so that when holiday intensity flairs our tanks are already filled. Then we can be free to do what the season celebrates: care for and love others.

Practice Kindness: In every situation, especially those laced with unnecessary rudeness – exemplified as if on cue when a driver laid on their horn at me walking in the parking lot – remember that there’s a person on the other side, a person who is likely dealing with tough situations. So, regardless of what someone dishes out, return a gentle response.

Forget FOMO: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) invites anxious thoughts to worry us into a race to keep up. Just say no. Kick comparison to the curb. And remember the person walking alongside could use a boost of loved-in since they likely feel left out.

Practice thankfulness TODAY: There’s probably a reason Thanksgiving is before Christmas – to help us focus (with gratitude) on all we already have rather than on what we could, would or should have. Then, when we’re tempted by all the holiday stuff, maybe we will be quick to reach for Truth rather than be duped by do-all, be-all and have-all pressures.

Get Perspective: In the midst of holiday (every day!) mad-dash, recognize that there is sacred in the ordinary. Relish regular so we don’t forget to live today’s day. We might miss something wonderful in the rush for tomorrow.

Practice Joy: Practicing joy that is established in provision (un-ending, exceedingly abundant, ultimate provision – the actual reason for the Christmas season) and that is anchored by faith, experienced through trust, can help us to see above the world’s chaos and quite possibly spot pockets of hope and peace.

Why not grab hold of some soul-hydration today – in the midst of information overload, unfettered discourse, expectations, heartache – so we can sing along tomorrow with honest hearts and true goodwill toward those traveling alongside, and maybe even ourselves.

Kay Wyma is a mom of five, blogger, vodcaster and author. Her latest book Not the Boss of Us: Putting Overwhelmed in its Place (Revell Books, 2018) contemplates being overwhelmed by Truth with all its hope and peace and joy rather than life’s pressures, stress & circumstances. Join the conversation at kaywyma.com.

This Christmas let’s remember love has the power to change the world

If you ever want to know the true meaning of Christmas, go spend some time with people who have forgiven the murderer of their loved ones.

I recently had the opportunity – in reality, the privilege – of doing so when I was recently invited by the South Carolina Baptist Convention to speak at a special service held at Mother Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston.

As I’m sure most Americans remember, three and a half years ago a young man named Dylann Roof walked into Mother Emanuel on the pretense of attending a Wednesday night Bible study. When the study’s prayer time came, he pulled out a gun and started firing. He killed nine people, including the pastor, Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, a father of two young girls.

After his arrest, Roof, who self-identifies as a white supremacist, confessed his motive for carrying out the shooting was to start a “race war.” He was charged with 33 counts of federal hate crimes and was sentenced to death. He is currently in an Indiana penitentiary, awaiting execution.

Roof’s heinous hate crime shocked the nation, but it was the response from the victims’ families that left us truly speechless.

At a bond hearing two days after the massacre, one family member after another – a daughter, then a mother, granddaughter and sister – told Roof they forgave him.

Nadine Collier, daughter of Ethel Lace, who died at the shooting, said to Roof, “You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you … If God forgives you, I forgive you.”

“I acknowledge that I am very angry,” said the sister of DePayne Middleton Doctor, another one of Roof’s victims. “But one thing that DePayne … taught me [is] that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.”

You cannot read those words and not be overcome with emotion. That kind of forgiveness can only come out of a heart that believes love is greater than hate. It can only come out of a heart that knows Jesus.

Christmas is the season when we remember the story of the birth of Jesus – the angels appearing to the awestruck shepherds, the magi following the star across the desert to worship the newborn child, young Mary and Joseph marveling at God’s favor on them, baby Jesus swaddled in a manger. His birth heralded the coming of the Messiah promised of long-ago who would save the world. No other person like Jesus has ever been born or will ever be born on earth.

Yet, as Christians across the world remember the night when Jesus took his first breath, my visit to Mother Emanuel has left me thinking about the afternoon he took his last.

On that day, instead of lying swaddled in a manger, the 33-year-old Jesus hung on a cross for all to see. There were no magi to bring him gifts, only Roman soldiers who spit on him, mocked him and cast lots over his garment. Angels did not appear to announce his coming, but a crude sign was hung over his head, ironically deriding him as “The King of the Jews.”

But as he hung there on that cross, dying for a crime he did not commit on behalf of a people undeserving, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

This is the Christmas story the family members of the Charleston shooting victims had in mind when they looked at Dylann Roof and said to him, We forgive you.

God’s love can give people the superhuman strength to love and forgive those who have hurt them beyond words. His love can change the world.

Dr. Ronnie Floyd is senior pastor at Cross Church and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. His latest book is, “Living Fit: Make Your Life Count by Pursuing a Healthy You” (B&H Books). Follow him on Twitter @ronniefloyd.