Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):
1. Hezbollah Smuggling Across U.S.-Mexican Border
2. Archbishop: Catholics for Obama ‘Cooperated’ With Evil
3. Specter Trails Badly in GOP Senate Race
4. CNBC’s Larry Kudlow Won’t Run for Senate
5. Obama, Israel Differ Sharply on Iran
6. Political Fundraising Hits Hard Times
7. We Heard: Chris Matthews, Tom Tancredo, Harry Reid
1. Hezbollah Smuggling Across U.S. - Mexican Border
America’s porous southern border is an entry point for more than Mexican cartels and their illegal drugs — the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah has been smuggling drugs and people into the U.S. as well.
Hezbollah has long been involved in narcotics and human trafficking in South America, and is now using the same routes into the U.S. that the Mexican cartels use for smuggling, according to an exclusive report in The Washington Times.
The group relies on “the same criminal weapons smugglers, document traffickers, and transportation experts as the drug cartels,” said Michael Braun, who recently retired as assistant administrator and chief of operations at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
“They work together. They rely on the same shadow facilitators. One way or another, they are all connected,” he said.
Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006, funds its operations in part from a large Lebanese Muslim diaspora, and some of that funding comes from criminal enterprises.
Salim Boughader Mucharrafille, a Mexican of Lebanese descent, was arrested in 2002 for smuggling 200 people, including Hezbollah supporters, into the U.S. He was sentenced last year to 60 years in a Mexican prison.
But the cross-border flow of drugs and people has intensified since the U.S. reduced access to the country by air and water following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And the drug wars between the cartels have claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people since January 2008, destabilizing Mexico along the border and prompting President Barack Obama to send additional agents there.
Adm. James Stavridis, commander of U.S. Southern Command, recently told a House committee that the connection between drug traffickers and “Islamic radical terrorism” is a growing threat to the U.S.
Braun said members of the Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have been operating in South America and “could be commanding and controlling Hezbollah’s criminal enterprises from there.”
And a senior U.S. defense official said that in addition to Hezbollah,
al-Qaida could also use the Mexican cartels’ trafficking routes to smuggle operatives into the U.S.
“The Mexican cartels have no loyalty to anyone,” another official told the Times. “They will willingly or unknowingly aid other nefarious groups’ [entry] into the U.S. through the routes they control. It has
already happened. That’s why the border is such a serious national security issue.”
2. Archbishop: Catholics for Obama ‘Cooperated’ with Evil
A prominent archbishop said that Catholics who voted for Barack Obama in the presidential election engaged in “a form of cooperation” with evil because of Obama’s pro-choice stand.
And politicians who support abortion should not receive Holy Communion, according to American-born Archbishop Raymond Burke, who as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura is the head of the paper courts at the Vatican.
During an interview in Rome with Burke, Catholic activist Randall Terry — founder of the pro-life group Operation Rescue — asked the archbishop if a vote for Obama was a “type of cooperation with moral evil.”
The archbishop responded: “Well, the fact of the matter is, it is a form of cooperation because by voting we put a person in office. And people say, ‘What does my vote matter?’ Well, your vote is either a vote to put someone in office who will do what is right and just, or someone who won’t.
“And so if you, knowing that abortion is a grave crime against human life — is killing an innocent, defenseless human life — and you vote for the candidate who says that he intends to make that more available, you bear a responsibility. That is, you have cooperated in the election of this person into office, there’s no question about it.”
Regarding pro-abortion Catholics who receive Communion, Archbishop Burke told Terry that it falls under Canon 915, the Cybercast News Service’s CNSNews Web site reported. Canon Law governs the administration of the Catholic Church.
“The Canon is completely clear. It is not subject in my judgment to any other interpretations,” he said.
“When someone is publicly and obstinately in grave sin, we may not administer Holy Communion to the person . . . for two reasons: Number one, to prevent the person himself or herself from committing a sacrilege, and secondly, to protect the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist.”
Terry, who now heads the Society for Truth and Justice, asked if that applies to politicians who support abortion rights.
“Yes, for someone who in any way contributes in an active way to the murder of innocent defenseless infants in the womb — children in the womb — from the very inception of human life, this is the greatest of sins,” said Burke.
“And such a person, until he or she has reformed his or her life, should not approach to receive Holy Communion.”
3. Specter Trails Badly in GOP Senate Race
Longtime Sen. Arlen Specter is facing a difficult challenge in his bid to win the Republican primary in 2010 — he trails former Congressman Pat Toomey by a significant margin, a new poll reveals.
A Quinnipiac University survey released on Wednesday shows Toomey with 41 percent of the vote and Specter with 27 percent, with the remainder undecided between the two.
Specter, who first took office in 1991 and is the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, beat Toomey by less than 2 percentage points in the 2004 GOP primary. But 73 percent of Republicans in the poll say they still don’t know enough about Toomey to form a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him.
They do, however, have strong opinions about Specter.
“Pennsylvania Republicans are so unhappy with Sen. Specter’s vote for President Barack Obama’s stimulus package and so-called pork barrel spending that they are voting for a former congressman they hardly know,” said Clay Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Only 25 percent of Republican respondents said they approve of Specter’s vote for the stimulus package, and 70 percent disapprove.
But voters by a 50 percent to 37 percent margin say that the $161 million included in the stimulus package for Pennsylvania projects is “critically needed” rather than pork barrel spending that could be eliminated.
Specter was joined by Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins in backing the stimulus bill, and their votes provided Democrats with sufficient support to pass the measure.
“The role I had was providing a critical vote, and I understand that,” Specter told The Hill newspaper.
“But is that the reason why the Quinnipiac poll is a big problem for me? I think so.”
Some observers believe the recent announcement by Specter, the only Republican to back the Democrat’s “card check” labor bill two years ago, that he would not support the bill in the new Congress is an attempt to mend fences with conservative Republicans.
If the 2010 election were held today, 31 percent of voters would cast their ballot for Specter while 33 percent would vote for a Democratic challenger, with 35 percent undecided, according to the poll, which was conducted shortly before Specter’s announcement about the card check bill.
Overall, 45 percent of Pennsylvania voters do have a favorable opinion of Specter, with 31 percent saying they have an unfavorable opinion. But 47 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable opinion.
“Toomey came close last time and has strong conservative backing, but his challenge could be fractured if more Republicans crowd into the primary and split the anti-Specter vote,” Richards added.
“If Specter can get past the primary, the controversial veteran has a lot going for him in his bid for re-election, especially without a strong Democratic candidate on the horizon.
4. CNBC’S Larry Kudlow Won’t Run for Senate
CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow has ended speculation that he would seek Sen. Christopher Dodd’s Senate seat in 2010 and announced that he will not run.
The host of “Kudlow & Company” told viewers on Tuesday: “Several weeks ago I was approached by the Republican Party to consider a run for the U.S. Senate in the great state of Connecticut. It was a flattering conversation and one that I thought about, but to me it was never really a serious proposition.
“This evening, I'm letting the world know that I am not running for the U.S. Senate, and here's why: In my heart I know that I belong right here at CNBC. This is my love."
Kudlow said he made his decision after reporters called CNBC and raised questions about conflicts that might arise if he was considering a campaign and remained on the air, according to The New York Times.
The liberal Web site Media Matters for America wrote to CNBC president Mark Hoffman questioning why he was permitted to comment on his show about Sen. Dodd.
Newsmax reported in early March that Kudlow had confirmed his interest in running as a Republican during an interview with Politico. He also met with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to National Review.
“I’m thinking about it, that’s all I can say,” Kudlow declared at the time.
“It’s the kind of thing where I’m talking to friends, talking to strategists, talking to my wife, and praying on it.”
Sen. Dodd trailed former Republican Rep. Rob Simmons by a margin of 43 percent to 42 percent in a recent Quinnipiac University poll.
5. Obama, Israel Differ Sharply on Iran
President Barack Obama’s recent overture to Iran constitutes a “sharp departure” from Israel’s position, the Jewish publication Forward observes.
On March 20, Obama issued a video greeting to the Iranian people and leadership stressing America’s commitment to resolve its differences with Iran through diplomacy.
“This process will not be advanced by threats,” he said. “We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.”
The overture “appeared to all but dismiss the possibility of military action,” and is contrary to the Israeli view that the threat of force should remain on the table when dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, according to Forward.
“This is a sharp departure from the Israeli position,” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council.
“The president’s approach is that diplomacy cannot work if there is a constant military threat.”
The publication cites Israeli sources and media reports who say that Jerusalem insists any American diplomatic engagement with Iran be limited in time and coupled with tougher sanctions, lest Iran use a prolonged series of negotiations to further advance its nuclear program.
Israel delivered that message to the Obama administration during recent discussions, including a March 16 meeting in Washington between Israel Defense Forces chief-of-staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Dennis Ross, the State Department special adviser expected to coordinate diplomatic efforts.
In any case, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for the most part dismissed Obama’s overture. Addressing a mass gathering, he responded to Obama: “Have you stopped your unconditional support for the Zionist regime? What has changed?”
He did add, however, “We shall see and judge. You change, and we shall change as well.”
His speech was punctuated by the crowd’s usual chants of “Death to America.”
6. Political Fundraising Hits Hard Times
Contributions to both the Democrats and Republicans have fallen sharply so far this year compared to previous post-election periods.
Democrats have suffered a decline in relatively small donations from the online donors who funded Barack Obama’s record-breaking $650 million fundraising effort, while Republicans are seeing a drop-off in contributions from big-ticket donors who backed Republicans during the George Bush presidency, The Washington Post reports.
Contributions from individuals to the six major party campaign committees — the Democratic and Republican national committees and the four congressional campaign committees — have fallen to $30.7 million in the first two months of this year. That’s a decline of nearly 40 percent from the almost $49 million in contributions in January and February of 2005, the most recent post-presidential-election period.
And campaign contributions have fallen by more than 26 percent from a similar period two years ago, Federal Election Commission filings show.
“Strategists cautioned that the drop-off may be only a temporary fundraising hiccup caused by ‘donor fatigue,’ but they worry that if the economy does not recover by early next year, their budgets for the 2010 campaign may have to be slashed,” The Post reported.
Republicans have been hit particularly hard following their defeat in November. The Republican National Committee has suffered a decline of about 50 percent in individual donations compared to early 2007, as has the National Republican Congressional Committee.
But Democrats have fared poorly as well. At the Democratic National Committee, contributions from individuals are down by a third this year compared to early 2007, and the party’s congressional committees have a combined debt of more than $26 million.
As the recession continues, “people who would traditionally write a larger check this early in the cycle aren’t feeling as flush as they were a year ago,” Democratic fundraiser Jay Dunn told The Post.
“People are helping, but not at the levels they have a year ago or two or four years ago.”
7. We Heard . . .
THAT “Hardball” host Chris Matthews has signed a new long-term contract with the MSNBC cable network.
The deal is for at least four years, according to The New York Times. Financial terms were not divulged, but previous reports put his salary at around $5 million a year.
MSNBC President Phil Griffin told the Times the deal would ensure that Matthews would “be around to cover the next presidential election.”
Newsmax reported in November that Matthews was making preliminary inquiries about running in 2010 for the seat held by Republican Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. And a Rasmussen poll in December showed Matthews in a virtual dead heat against the incumbent.
But on Jan. 7, the Times reported that Matthews told his staffers he would not run for the Senate.
THAT former Congressman Tom Tancredo has invited House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to a speaking engagement so she can explain why she called immigration enforcement raids “un-American.”
Tancredo, a Colorado Republican and outspoken critic of illegal immigration who did not run for re-election last year, said: “If she believes that enforcing our immigration laws is ‘un-American,’ that tells us that a new round of immigration reform is pointless. Why pass new laws if Speaker Pelosi can decide which ones are to be enforced and which ones ignored?”
Pelosi recently said: “Who in this country would not want to change a policy of kicking in doors in the middle of the night and sending a parent away from their families? . . . I think it’s un-American.”
Tancredo invited Pelosi to speak in May at an event in Greeley, Colo., the site of a December 2006 raid on a meatpacking plant that resulted in more than 100 illegal immigrants being deported, the Denver Daily News reported.
Tancredo said, “What better place than Greeley and what better time than an economic recession for Pelosi to tell American workers that their jobs really belong to illegal aliens.”
THAT Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is using talk radio host Rush Limbaugh in his efforts to raise campaign cash.
In an e-mail sent to supporters on Wednesday, the Nevada Democrat — who faces re-election in 2010 — said the “Limbaugh-led Republican Party” is trying to “take me out,” the San Jose Mercury News reported.
Reid also said he’s facing off against a party that “takes its cues from right-wing radio.”
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