Newsweek’s Monday headline blared out, MELANIA TRUMP ORDERS REMOVAL OF NEAR-200-YEAR-OLD TREE FROM WHITE HOUSE.

Not just any old tree, but the tree that Andrew Jackson brought some 200 years ago from Tennessee for his wife.

Notice Melania’s sideways glance,

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Oh the humanity! She looks askance and down comes Jackson’s magnificent tree!

But, as Ace puts it, CNN, for once, has the real story, rather than Newsweek’s fake news.

Short story: The tree is in danger of falling unexpectedly. It is currently only being held up by artificial support (cables, etc.), but those cables aren’t enough to keep the thing from crashing to the ground and maybe killing someone or damaging the White House.

I admit it, I’m worse than Melania:

My Princeton house had two dozen trees on a half acre. The prior owners thought any tree was a good tree, so there were saplings sprouting off the ground all over the place, and those had to go as soon as we moved in.

Then there was the female gingko that had been (unsuccessfully) semi-chopped down sometime in its past, and periodically covered a large expanse of the front lawn with gummy, stinking, rot.

And let’s not forget the large cedar leaning over the neighbor’s little house, a.k.a. a lawsuit in the making.

Last, but not least, the 50′ tall elm that rotted from the inside, leaving a huge, HOLLOW diseased carcass still standing.

Melania wisely reviewed the information from the specialists at the United States National Arboretum and decided the tree had to come down. I don’t have that kind of resources, so we got rid of the saplings and the gingko without asking anyone else.

I did consult with the local arborist who did our tree maintenance (yes, Virginia, trees need regular maintenance) regarding the cedar and the elm.

The cedar was healthy, so it was turned into mulch for the other trees. The mulching was done after the chipper had been sanitized to avoid possible contagion from trees that had been put through that chipper.

The elm was dead and came down, much to my elderly neighbor’s dismay, as he could not understand that it was a hazard.

So Melania has a ways to go before her total of felled trees nears mine.

The moral of this story is, trees are living things, and, as such, have life spans. Chop responsibly.

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

The photo above of the front yard is four years old. No trees were harmed during the writing of this post.

On Sunday, Guatemala’s President announced plans to move its embassy to Jerusalem.

Guatemala follows US in planning Israel embassy move

Guatemala, along with 12 other countries, had their embassies in Jerusalem until 1980, when they moved them to Tel Aviv after Israel annexed East Jerusalem, in a move not recognised internationally. All other countries still have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

Guatemala and Israel have a long history of political, economic and military ties.

Guatemala is the first country after the U.S. to announce this decision.

The facile answer to “Why Guatemala?” is, of course,

The Central American country is also a major recipient of US aid – something which Donald Trump threatened to cut to states that voted in favour of the UN resolution.

But Raphael Ahren looked into historical reasons:

Guatemala played a key role in the Jewish state’s creation and has enjoyed Israeli security assistance ever since. It doesn’t hurt that its leader is deeply religious.
. . .
There are several reasons for Guatemala’s dramatic step. The country’s well-established historic friendship with Israel and ongoing deep security and trade ties are one key part of the story. The personal character of the country’s current leader is the other.

Specifically,

Seventy years ago, Guatemala’s ambassador to the UN, Dr. Jorge Garcia Granados, a member of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, played a crucial role in convincing Latin American countries to vote in favor of General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for the partition of Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state.
. . .
Guatemala was one of the first countries to recognize the nascent State of Israel in 1948, and the friendship has remained strong ever since.

Ahren lists intelligence teams, security and communications specialists and military training, along with civilian technology – including agriculture – and tourism among the ties between the two countries.

The BBC reports that Israel is in talks with more than 10 countries — including some in Europe — about potentially moving their respective embassies to Jerusalem, according to officials.

Guatemala’s announcement beat them to it.

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

Happy Christmas weekend!

I want to write about the Obama administration alleged cover up for Hezbollah in Latin America story, since I’ve been blogging about Hezbollah‘s (Hizballah Hizbollah) inroads in our hemisphere for the last decade. It’s 8:30 in the morning and this post is due at noon, so I’m doing a bit of research while having breakfast, and will remain in pajamas until I’m finished with this post.

A story from the NY Post related to the Obama-Iran deal popped up in my Facebook feed, so I go to the NYPost, and find the op-ed by David Harsanyi, A deafening media silence on the Obama-Hezbollah scandal,

Even when outlets did decide to cover the story, they typically framed it as a he-said/she-said. “Politico Reporter Says Obama Administration ‘Derailed’ Hezbollah Investigation,” reads the NPR headline. Did Josh Meyer of Politico say something about Obama or did he publish a 14,000-word, diligently sourced, document-heavy investigative piece? If you get your news from NPR, you’d never know.

The investigative story Politico published has two on-the-record sources, and myriad well-sourced details.

I have been blogging on Hezbollah and Iran in Latin America for well over ten years. Before I did yesterday’s post at my blog, I printed out and carefully studied Mayer’s long article.

I could not find one thing that contradicted what information I have read on Hezbollah and Iranian presence in Latin America during the past decade. As far as I could see, his information on the drug trade is rock-solid.

More importantly, the revelation that the Obama administration not only threw obstructions in front of investigators but failed to prosecute major players in the enterprise is a Very Big Deal, a bigger deal than Iran-Contra, where

The Reagan administration was forced to admit that it had covertly continued to fund the [Nicaraguan] Contras by means of arms sales to Iran which were themselves illegal and in breach of a trade embargo against that country.

Indeed, with billions of drug trade money funding terrorists, and tens of thousands of lives ruined, The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook makes Iran-Contra look like pikers.

But, as Harsanyi puts it,

The preponderance of editors, journalists, pundits and bookers, on the other hand, still coddle Democrats. They may do it on purpose or unconsciously, but it’s destroying their credibility. Because as David Burge once noted, “Journalism is about covering important stories. With a pillow, until they stop moving.”

On the other hand,
I am elated that Meyer’s thoroughly researched piece came out. He deserves accolades for this.

Little bloggers like myself come across information – such as Hezbollah’s inroads in our hemisphere – that makes us wonder why none of the big fish ever write about. It really is a big deal when one does.

Will the story, having come out during the holiday season, continue to be ignored?
That remains to be seen. It may be up to alternative media to keep it in the limelight, but, no matter what, The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook warrants a most rigorous congressional investigation.

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

The Senate passed the Trump tax reform bill last night. The House has to vote on it again due to some changes in the bill.

Nancy Pelosi calls it “Armageddon,” and Libs are breaking into hives over newly-found concerns over budget deficits.

Paul Ryan says Tax Reform Means Your Paycheck Will Grow. I’m all for that.

Conservatives realize that the U.S. has the very uncompetitive highest corporate taxes in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

Out of the 34 countries in the OECD, America ranks first with a 39.1 percent corporate tax rate, compared to an OECD average of 24.1 percent. The OECD figure is what’s called the statutory rate, meaning the base rate applied to corporate profits.

Drudge has a 

Followed by a less exultant side bar,

Christmas Comes Early for Trump With Tax Win…

Biggest overhaul in 30 years…

After elation, hangover may loom…

At the WSJ,
GOP Nears Tax Victory as Bill Passes in Senate. Measure will return to the House for a final vote Wednesday

Real Clear Markets has,

The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly of the Trump Tax Bill

The WaPo goes Interactive: Will your taxes go up or down under the GOP bill? Had I stayed in New Jersey, they would have gone up.

Stuart Varney praises it as “a return to politics of growth.”

The NYPost had one small headline halfway down the page.

The BBC asks,

Elsewhere (h/t Instapundit),

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Hardly “Armageddon.” But if it is, at least I’ll get some reading done.

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After all,
Wasn’t the world supposed to end last week because of net neutrality?

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

If you decide to join the jerks who visit cool countries and travel to the island-prison, there are a couple of things you may want to keep in mind.

First, there are the weird symptoms: On Sept. 29, the State Department recalled 21 employees of the American Embassy in Havana, Cuba.

The group (along with three Canadians) were all suffering from an odd combination of symptoms: “hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ticked off in an official statement.

On Wednesday, an upcoming report to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by doctors at the University of Miami, the University of Pennsylvania, and government medical experts was reported by the AP to include evidence that the 24 victims showed clear patterns of brain abnormalities.

Whether they were due to sonic attacks or poisoning remains to be determined.

Two: Reuters reports (emphasis added),

American tourists strolling the ample squares and narrow streets of colonial Havana may not know it, but from novelist Ernest Hemingway’s famed Floridita bar to Sloppy Joe’s eatery, they are probably patronizing businesses owned by Cuba’s military.

Three: Big brother will be watching you.

Including that quaint house at El Vedado you saw at Airbnb,

Airbnb over the last week has suspended or banned hosts—both in Europe and the United States—for violating a strict Airbnb prohibition on undisclosed cameras on the properties.

However, the company has not responded to several Washington Free Beacon inquiries about whether it warns U.S. or other tourists traveling to Cuba about the potential for Cuban government’s electronic surveillance of guest quarters and long history of the Castro regime’s security police gaining access to rented rooms.
. . .
The government can easily track foreign guests because it requires Airbnb hosts to report their passport numbers to Cuban immigration authorities, according to a report last year in the Miami Herald.

The latter article has more information on the dismal financial arrangements the oppressive communist regime imposes on its people.

And last,
If you insist on spending a winter holiday in the island prison, remember the old phrase, forewarned is foretold.

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

I’m not in Alabama, I don’t read tea leaves, and I can’t tell apart the My Pillow guy from Larry Sabato.

However, I’ve been reading enough social media and news editorializing that I can observe the following, Roy Moore or no Roy Moore:

One: American politics is clearly a bare-fisted blood sport. Mitt Romney-like gentlemen are not going to win against full-Alinsky “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

The only difference between Fight Club and present-day politics is the first rule of Fight Club; we must talk of politics because it affects us.

Two: I have to agree with Andrew Klavan, all the news is one big scam:

From the sex scandals to Russian collusion to climate change, we are being distracted from the great moral question of the age

And what is the great moral question of the age? FREEDOM.

Klavan explains it in his podcast, and asks, among other things, which candidate would restrain the growth of all-intrusive government?

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Three: Like Klavan, I’m done with the sex scandals

prosecute, eject or slap. Otherwise, I’ll take each case in context as it comes.

The more you focus on this, the less attention you pay to the issues.

Four: Moore’s looss may end up becoming a net-positive for the GOP, but, as a Facebook friend put it, “If you’re a Republican who isn’t worried about the 2018 midterms yet, you’re a Republican who isn’t paying attention.”

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

Mueller:
First,
Last Wednesday I posted that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had spent $3.2 million in his first four months investigating Russian meddling in last year election and any links between President Trump and Russia.

But that’s not the real number: the Department of Justice spent $6.7 million, saying it’s not “legally required to figure out this total”(emphasis added),

according to a report released Tuesday.

Of the total, only $3.2 million was spent directly by Mueller on salaries, travel, rent and equipment through September.

The other $3.5 million was spent on DOJ operations and would have been spent on its own pre-existing Russia investigations if Mueller hadn’t been tapped to take over in mid-May. DOJ said it wasn’t legally required to figure out this total, and past special counsels didn’t tabulate it.

Second,
Peter StrzokAndrew Weissmann, and now Jeannie Rhee,

. . . this week, details of Rhee’s client relationships emerged, revealing that she representedObama Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes during the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s investigation of the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack.
. . .

Also this week, it was reported that Rhee represented the Clinton Foundation in 2015 against a racketeering lawsuit brought by conservative legal activist group Freedom Watch in 2015. Rhee also represented former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a lawsuit seeking access to her private emails.

You read that right: The Clinton Foundation was her client, and Rhee represented Hillary in a lawsuit involving the missing emails. As if that were not enough, her husband served as special assistant to then-Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder.

You can’t make this up.

Hey, when you’re hiring Dem buddies from WilmerHale, they don’t come cheap. No wonder Mueller’s spending big bucks.

Conflict of interest, your name is Mueller.

UPDATE
MUELLER’S “RIGHT HAND MAN” IS THE GUUY WHO TOOK A HAMMER TO HILLARY’S BLACKBERRIES:
Debra Heine finds yet another Dem defender on Mueller’s team,

Aaron Zebley served previously as Mueller’s chief of staff at the FBI and as a senior counselor in the National Security Division at the Department of Justice.

. . . in 2015 when he was a lawyer, he represented Justin Cooper, the IT staffer who personally set up Hillary Clinton’s unsecure server in her Chappaqua home

Zebley went the whole nine yards, and, are you sitting down?

is also the aide who destroyed Clinton’s old BlackBerries with a hammer.

CORRECTION WITH APOLOGY: ZEBLEY WAS THE LAWYER FOR COOPER, THE AIDE WHO HAMMERED THE BLACKBERRIES.

Deb points out that he is often referred to in the media as Mueller’s “right-hand man.”

John Le Carré could not make this up.


The economy: Three headlines, 1 news (emphasis added)

WaPo neutral: The U.S. economy added 228,000 jobs in November, showing strong growth amid historically low unemployment

WSJ stats: U.S. employers hired workers at a strong rate in November and the unemployment rate held at a 17-year low, signs the economy is on its firmest footing in at least a decade.

NYT nostalgic: The U.S. economy added 228,000 jobs in November, a sign that hiring remains strong eight years into the current recovery.


Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who spent $3.2 million in his first four months investigating Russian meddling in last year election and any links between President Trump and Russia, fired an interesting character in his staff, FBI agent Peter Strzok (pronounced “struck” as far as I can tell).

Strzok was senior supervisor on the Clinton private email server investigation,

he was in charge of running the probe, reviewing evidence and making recommendations to higher-ups, including then-FBI Director James Comey.

Strzok is the guy who decided Hillary was careless but not criminal, and Comey went along with it.

Ben Shapiro listed,

Strzok wasn’t just any agent. Here are some of the events in which he was involved.

He Interviewed Hillary Clinton And Helped Exonerate Her.
. . .
He Was Involved In The Investigation Into The So-Called Russian Dossier.
. . .
He Interviewed Mike Flynn.

He also interviewed Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills.

Apparently Mueller fired Strzok for texting anti-Trump messages to his (Strzok’s) mistress. Ben concludes,

It’s not clear whether Mueller fired Strzok upon finding out about his anti-Trump text messages; if so, that would actually boost Mueller’s credibility. And it’s also true that Strzok was a top agent, and would have been tasked by Comey to let Hillary off the hook. However, Strzok’s involvement in every area touching the collusion and Hillary investigations, and his known bias, throws the entire investigation into chaos.

This is a strange case, and Scott Johnson adds his own list; here are the last three items (emphasis added),

10. None of the stories pause to ask why the Inspector General have sought Strzok’s text messages in the first place. What is going on here? As the Times notes, FBI regulations allow an agent to express his opinions “as an individual privately and publicly on political subjects and candidates.”

11. A law enforcement source writes to observe that the Inspector General would not be able to access the private text message communications of an FBI official as senior and prominent as Strzok unless he had good cause to do so. What was this cause?

12. He adds: “Reviewing an agent’s private text messages is not an investigative action which is entered into lightly unless the situation is serious. I cannot think of a situation where you would find the IG’s office looking at your private text messages unless you, or someone you were communicating with, is in big, big trouble. There is something very, very shady going on here with the IG’s investigation of Strzok….why the IG was investigating him in the first place is much more interesting.”

Strzok is not the only member of Mueller’s million-dollar gang who is clearly biased. Andrew Weissmann, one of Robert Mueller’s top prosecutors and formerly the Obama-era Chief of the Justice Department’s Criminal Fraud Section, congratulated former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to enforce President Trump’s Middle East travel ban executive order. He wrote:

“I am so proud. And in awe. Thank you so much. All my deepest respects.”…

The Wall Street Journal is questioning Mueller’s credibility, and wants him to step down. Mueller remains undaunted: Yesterday the Journal reported Mueller Subpoenas Deutsche Bank Records Related to Trump.

Hugh Hewitt: A special counsel needs to investigate the FBI and Justice Department. Now.

As Drudge says, developing . . .

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

I spend most Saturdays (weather allowing) at my screened porch, when I’m not doing chores. I was reading Robert Bidinotto’s latest thriller, Winner Takes All, when Juliette asked if I could fill in for her today, so here I am, posting from the porch.

It’s a beautiful, quiet, warm (80F, 49% humidity) and sunny day in Central Florida.

And I am thankful.

[I’ve been thinking a lot about thankfulness recently, not only because of Thanksgiving Day, but also because I’ve come across a person or two who spend every waking moment – they really work hard at it – in a purposeful bad mood. Lest you think I’m charitably inclined, my reaction is that of mild annoyance alternating with feigned indifference, since, to paraphrase Dean Wormer, “fat, ornery and stupid is no way to go through life.” But I digress.]

Good reads are one of the things I’m thankful for.

I highly recommend Winner Takes All. I met Robert Bidinotto years ago at CPAC, before he started writing thrillers. He was already known for his article “Getting Away with Murder” in the July 1988 issue of the Reader’s Digest, but I didn’t match the article with the face until later. The article,

stirred a national controversy about crime and prison furlough programs during the 1988 presidential election campaign, and it’s widely credited with having affected the outcome of the election.

It was about Willie Horton.

Robert brings his reporter experiences and his writing skills to his novels (in order): Hunter, Bad Deeds, and Winner Takes All starring Dylan Hunter.

You’ll enjoy them for the quality of the writing, the action, the nice details (Robert incorporates the family of foxes from his real-life back yard in Winner Takes All), and the well-developed characters.

The only warning (and you may – or not – be thankful to hear this in advance) is that the three novels are highly addictive and you will not want to put them down.

Unless, of course, you have a chance to fill in for Juliette. You can help her out with the laptop repair bills.

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

Yesterday Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was found not guilty of the 2015 murder of Kate Steinle.

My initial reaction was that of outrage, since Garcia, previously deported five times, had been released from a San Francisco jail despite a standing federal deportation order (yes, one more deportation order) and San Francisco is a sanctuary city.

Patterico, who is a prosecutor, posted,

I didn’t see the trial, so I don’t know if the verdict was rational or irrational. However, only in the last few days did I learn some facts that made it sound like a tough case. It was a single ricochet shot off pavement. The interview was poorly conducted and failed to clearly establish that he pulled the trigger, due to a translation issue. I am not shocked by the verdict and it may be right.

Why did the jury reach this decision?

Sarah Rumpf looks at the case:

These two facts are undisputed by the prosecution and defense:

  1. On July 1, 2015, Kate Steinle was fatally struck in the back by a single bullet as she walked on Pier 14 with her father to view the San Francisco Bay. 
  2. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexican citizen illegally in the United States, fired the gun that killed Steinle. 

The complicated part is pretty much everything else.

The defense presented a credible case that the death was an accident, while the prosecution pressed for a first degree murder conviction (which would have meant that Garcia premeditated killing Steinle).

The jury convicted Garcia Zarate of a lesser charge of being a felon in possession of a gun, and is pending sentencing:

there is an outstanding U.S. Marshals Service warrant against him, and despite the sanctuary cities policy, San Francisco apparently does turn over undocumented immigrants to the feds when they have a warrant.

I urge you to read Rumpf’s lengthy post.

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog