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A belated point coming out of last week's news...

Last month, when Leon Panetta provoked congressional outrage by revealing the existence of a secret CIA program to kill top al Qaeda leaders, we had the feeling that there was more to the story than we'd so far learned. After all, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration had openly and uncontroversially targeting Bin Laden and his top deputies.

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So RNC chairman Michael Steele took to the pages of the Washington Post to warn seniors, "we need to protect Medicare and not cut it in the name of 'health-insurance reform.'" A convenient refrain for the current political climate, but, in bad news for Michael Steele, a complete departure from GOP business as usual. Here, for instance, is an October, 2006 exchange on cutting Medicare between Tim Russert and--wait for it--Michael Steele.

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On a conference call with reporters just now, former U.S. Attorney and New Jersey Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie sought to open a new line of attack against Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine's ethics, hammering the incumbent as a Wall St. trader who has sold out the state -- and was then answered by a steady stream of reporters asking him about his own ethics.

Christie attacked Corzine by tying him to the Enron scandal, citing Wall Street Journal articles from 2002. Corzine, as CEO of Goldman Sachs in the late 1990s, signed a letter to the Clinton administration opposing efforts to crack down on financial instruments known as Monthly Income Preferred Securities, which effectively helped Enron to disguise debt as equity.

Christie likened Corzine's nefarious Wall St. dealings to his conduct as governor -- for example, Christie said the incumbent recently sold out the state's interests in a last-minute deal with the Communications Workers of America union, in the run-up to holding a rally with Vice President Biden. "Because all of this is a pattern, it's a pattern of conduct by Jon Corzine that shows what he is," said Christie. "He's a trader, and traders are only worried about getting the trade in front of them done so they can get that benefit in their pocket."

The question and answer session, however, did not focus on Corzine's record on Wall St. Instead, reporters went after Christie with questions about the recently-revealed $46,000 mortgage loan he'd made to a subordinate in the U.S. Attorney's office, Michele Brown, which he'd failed to report on his financial disclosure forms or on his taxes.

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About 50,000 insurance company employees have made phone calls, written letters or attended health care town halls, according to America's Health Insurance Plans, the major insurance industry association.

AHIP, which opposes the public option, sent a memo to employees earlier this month with a list of "town hall tips." The memo stresses that the employees stay calm and courteous, addressing members of Congress as "Congressman" or "Senator," and saying thank you.

The town halls are an opportunity "to strongly push back against charges that we have very high profits," Karen Ignagni, AHIP's president and chief executive officer, told the Wall Street Journal. "It's very important that our men and women...calmly provide the facts and for members of Congress to hear what these people do every day."

AHIP insists it supports some measure of health care reform, and has resisted being demonized by reform supporters, including Congressional Democrats.

A spokesman balked last week after Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bart Stupak (D-MI) sent letters to the heads of 52 insurance company, asking for detailed information about executive pay, retreats and profits. The spokesman called the letter a "politically motivated fishing expedition."

Democratic party leaders have a message for Republicans, who are crying foul over the news that they may get shut out of the health care debate: turnabout's fair play.

In a memo that was drafted and circulated on background in April, Senate Democrats made the case that using a budget reconciliation bill to pass health care reforms is perfectly within their rights, given the Republicans' promiscuous use of the same tactic when they were in power. Excerpts of the memo were published by various news outlets back in the spring, but the memo doesn't appear to have been previously published in its entirety until now. And now, with Democrats ramping up the threat that they'll invoke the process in the fall, they're rehashing those same arguments.

"[S]hould Republicans choose not to cooperate [on health care reform], the inclusion of reconciliation instructions [in the budget] provides a backup option which could be used to prevent a filibuster and approve legislation by a majority vote," the memo reads. "[T]here is nothing unprecedented or unusual about the use of reconciliation."

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As promised by chairman Michael Steele in a Washington Post op-ed today, the Republican National Committee has released a "seniors' health care bill of rights." The document calls for protecting Medicare from any cuts, and preventing government from "getting between seniors and their doctors," including providing incentives for doctors to speak with patients about end-of-life care.

Here's the full text, from the RNC web site:

America's senior citizens deserve access to quality health care and coverage that will not bankrupt them. Republicans believe that reforms to America's health care system are necessary, but that reform should first do no harm, especially to our seniors.

That's why Republicans are calling for a Seniors' Health Care Bill Of Rights that will:

* PROTECT MEDICARE AND NOT CUT IT IN THE NAME OF HEALTH CARE REFORM: President Obama and Congressional Democrats are promoting a government-run health care experiment that will cut over $500 billion from Medicare to be used to pay for their plan. Medicare should not be raided to pay for another entitlement.

* PROHIBIT GOVERNMENT FROM GETTING BETWEEN SENIORS AND THEIR DOCTORS: The Democrats' government-run health care experiment will give patients less power to control their own medical decisions, and create government boards that would decide what treatments would or wouldn't be funded. Republicans believe in patient-centered reforms that put the priorities of seniors before government.

* PROHIBIT EFFORTS TO RATION HEALTH CARE BASED ON AGE: The Democrats' government-run health care experiment would set up a "comparative effectiveness research commission" where health care treatment decisions could be limited based on a patient's age. Republicans believe that health care decisions are best left up to seniors and their doctors.

* PREVENT GOVERNMENT FROM INTERFERING WITH END-OF-LIFE CARE DISCUSSIONS: The Democrats' government-run health care experiment would have seniors meet with a doctor to discuss end-of-life care that could mean limiting treatment. Republicans believe that government should not interfere with end-of-life care discussions between a patient and a doctor.

* ENSURE SENIORS CAN KEEP THEIR CURRENT COVERAGE: As Democrats continue to propose steep cuts to Medicare in order to pay for their government-run health care experiment, these cuts threaten millions of seniors with being forced from their current Medicare Advantage plans. Republicans believe that seniors should not be targeted by a government-run health care bill and forced out of their current Medicare coverage.

* PROTECT VETERANS BY PRESERVING TRICARE AND OTHER BENEFIT PROGRAMS FOR MILITARY FAMILIES: Democrats recently proposed raising veterans' costs for the Tricare For Life program that many veterans rely on for treatment. Republicans oppose increasing the burden on our veterans and believe America should honor our promises to them.

A new Mason-Dixon poll suggests that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is in real danger for his own re-election battle in 2010, with him trailing two potential Republican nominees.

Against former UNLV basketball player Danny Tarkanian, who has previously lost races for state Senate and Secretary of State, Tarkanian has 49% to Reid's 38%. Against state GOP chair Sue Lowden, Reid trails with 40% to Lowden's 45%.

A Democratic source put a positive face on the numbers, but even then still acknowledged that Reid has a serious fight ahead: "Harry Reid has caught a few breaks since all of the A-list or even B-list candidates have declined to challenge him. That said, he's got a lot of work to do and must spend the next few months proving to Nevadans he is one of them."

Michael Steele has an interesting (and mostly bad) verbal habit of trying to defuse a situation by making bizarre and damaging statements: When someone vigorously insults him and the Republican Party, he agrees with the accusations, then tries to talk about what people can do together to fix the problems. And people remember the former rather than the latter. For example, he just said that Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the party's likely nominee for Senate in a top-tier 2010 Senate race, is like a clog in a toilet that needs to be cleaned out: "When stuff gets in the crapper, you gotta clean it out."

As first reported by FiredUpMissouri.com, Steele appeared this past Friday on the radio show of right-wing Missouri talker Vincent David Jericho, who had a lot to say about Roy Blunt and his son, former Gov. Matt Blunt:

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With the Obama administration set later today to release an internal CIA report on torture, director Leon Panetta is preemptively defending his agency, claiming that CIA personnel simply followed the legal guidelines they were given.

In a message to agency employees -- but in fact intended for the reporters to whom it was sent moments ago -- Panetta called the information contained in the 2004 report "old news." He pointed out that the CIA referred cases of abuse to DOJ for prosecution. And he noted: "The Agency sought and received multiple written assurances that its methods were lawful."

Panetta's preemptive message may signal that the report contains even more damaging information than anticipated about Bush-era abuses.

Meanwhile, ABCNews.com is reporting that Panetta last month was involved in a "profanity-laced screaming match" at the White House over DOJ plans to probe whether CIA officers broke the law in carrying out the harsh interrogation techniques.

[Late Update: Greg Sargent adds that in addition to the report itself...

The CIA today will release the two documents Dick Cheney requested this spring that he claims will prove torture worked.

I've also confirmed that the CIA will release a declassified version of the chapter in the CIA Inspector General's 2004 report that's widely expected to conclude that there's no proof torture foiled any attacks.


That jibes with Panetta's statement in his message that "the CIA materials include the 2004 report from our Office of Inspector General and two papers--one from 2004 and the other from 2005--that discuss the value of intelligence acquired from high-level detainees."]

The full message from Panetta follows...

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Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large of National Review Online, went on Fox News today to fan the flames of the latest fabricated "death panel" controversy.

Goldberg equated a Veterans Affairs pamphlet -- one that's reportedly no longer being used -- with Nazi eugenics, saying "death panels may not be too far off the horizon."

The pamphlet in question is one that, Fox reported this weekend, encourages disabled veterans to decide whether their lives are worth living. Tammy Duckworth, an assistant secretary of the VA, told Fox on Sunday that the department instructed VA doctors to stop using the pamphlet in 2007.

But Fox has ignored that insistence, saying soldiers returning from Iraq are given the pamphlet.

"This goes into the realm of valuing whether life is worthy of life, as the Germans used to say," Goldberg said today.

"This goes into the idea that somehow if you're in a wheelchair, if you're handicapped, if you're just too melancholy to contribute to society, well then maybe those are circumstances where you ... need to be culled from the tribe. That is the sort of thing that emanates up from this document," he said.

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