By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

1. The nation that doesn't work

Merry Christmas Eve. Here's a special communication for my old friend, who I will refer to here as Amber Wave of Grain (AWG). This comes from Indiana, the State that Works, a phrase you might be familiar with. We're a state that balances budgets, passes a constitutional amendment to make sure we always do, orchestrates fully-funded road strategies, a state that filled the Union ranks in the Civil War with tall patriotic boys, and proved to be the major thrust of FDR's "Arsenal of Democracy." Hoosiers were instrumental in the rise of Lincoln, and played front line roles in the Reagan Revolution. We can spot a fraud, detect bovine scatology, and are wise enough to know that box turtles don't end up on fence posts by sheer will.

My message, AWG, on this Christmas Eve is that Washington is the antithesis of Indiana. It is amateur hour in the nation's capitol. We wonder who put the turtle atop of Armed Freedom in the building you once defended as rogue pilots closed in. The government is partially closed, and not for the holiday, but due to incompetence. We are betraying sturdy allies like the Kurds, have insulted our closest friends like the Brits and the Germans. We watch as the assault on the health market place continue, but the Gang that Can't Shoot Straight receding from the warrens of the capitol can't figure out the "replacement" part, can't get it together to fund the wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for, and boots away the patriots in your ranks like Gen. Mattis with scorn. The folks on the farms are patient, but there is considerable anxiety this Christmas. Many of these folks voted for President Trump because they found Hillary Clinton as utterly flawed. Their votes will not be there if Democrats get it right the next time around.

Hoosiers here in the State That Works continue to wonder why the nationals continually screw things up, and how you can sit there in a fog with a guy who can't tell the truth, doesn't know what he really wants, and doesn't know who to trust. And, AWG, we wonder if you're just along for the ride, or if there's a background role you're playing to keep disaster at bay. We can only speculate because you're so afraid of your boss that you won't talk. We'll eventually get the full story in the history books and we can only wonder if your revealed role is akin to James Buchanan or James Schlesinger. Merry Christmas, AWG.

2. Mnunchin startles jittery markets

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has startled financial analysts, bankers and economists when he made a series of phone calls on Sunday and issued a weird statement. Mnuchin tweeted, "Today I convened individual calls with the CEOs of the nation's six largest banks." The bank bosses “confirmed that they have ample liquidity available for lending to consumer, business markets, and other market operations,” according a Treasury Department statement published Sunday on Twitter. This comes after the stock market’s worst week since the 2008 financial crisis. Washington Post: "Panic feeds panic, and this looks like panic in the administration," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. "Suggesting you might know something that no one else is worried about creates more unease." The New York Times reported that President Trump wants to fire Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and is telling aides that Powell will "turn me into Hoover." At this writing, the markets were roiled and tumbling.

3. Government shutdown continues

The federal government has now been closed for two days and 11 hours at this writing. White House budget director and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney: “It’s very possible that this shutdown will go beyond the 28th  and into the new Congress. I think it’s a really good question here as to whether or not this deal can be cut before the new Congress comes in.” On Jan. 3, Democrats retake the U.S. House. Trump may not be angling for a deal, just a foil.

4. Mattis retirement fast tracked

President Trump is booting Defense Sec. Jim Mattis by the end of the year. Trump tweeted, "Gen. James Mattis will be stepping down as SecDef two months earlier than the February 28th date stated in his resignation letter. I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!" Except Shanahan has no military or government experience  other than as Mattis' deputy, and no foreign policy chops. 

5. Who's this McGurk guy?

Brett McGurk, was the U.S. envoy in charge of coordinating the war against ISIS. But with Sec. Mattis's resignation in protest last week, McGurk quit. President Trump didn't know who he was, tweeting, "Brett McGurk, who I do not know, was appointed by President Obama in 2015. Was supposed to leave in February but he just resigned prior to leaving. Grandstander? The Fake News is making such a big deal about this nothing event!" Washington Post's Aaron Blake: "Admitting you don’t know your own ISIS envoy pretty badly undermines your claims to credit for being the president who defeated ISIS." Gerald F. Seib observed in the WSJ's Capitol Journal: "It was, in short, the Trumpiest period of the Trump presidency. Nobody should be shocked. The week represented not just disruption, which is something Mr. Trump likes, but a pure distillation of his personal impulses."

Merry Christmas, everybody. It's The Atomic!