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Besides showering Democratic politicians with hundreds of thousands dollars -- probably several million in all -- what was Hassan Nemazee spending all that money on?

Unlike Bernie Madoff or 'Sir' Allen Stanford, Nemazee's alleged Ponzi scheme did not involve bilking individual investors. The Feds put the fraud at $292 million since 1998. Even taking into account that some of the money was allegedly borrowed to pay off other loans, a person would have to spend hard and often, on more than just political donations, to burn through that kind of cash.

And, the indictment suggests, Nemazee did just that.

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President Obama told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that they "must take risks for peace" in trilateral meetings, Middle East Envoy George Mitchell told ABC News.

Reading from notes taken during the meeting, Mitchell quoted the President as saying:

It's difficult to disentangle ourselves from history but we must do so. The only reason to hold public office is to get things done. We all must take risks for peace. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is critical to Israel's security and it's necessary for Palestinians to realize their aspirations.

A "senior U.S. official" also said Obama wanted to impart "a sense of his impatience and seriousness and his analysis that they need to get going." Peace talks "can't just be a perpetual kabuki," the official said, if Obama is "going to continue to invest his political capital."

Before the meeting, Obama called on the leaders to "find a way forward."

The Massachusetts state Senate has passed the bill to provide for a temporary appointment to Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, voting by a 24-16 margin. Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to name an appointee by the end of the week, putting Democrats back at 60 seats.

Until 2004, state law had provided for a gubernatorial appointee who would hold the office until the next regular Congressional election. State Democrats changed the process to a special election with no appointment in 2004, when John Kerry was running for president and Republican Mitt Romney was governor.

The new law, which was requested by Kennedy shortly before his death, will provide for an appointee of the same party as the departing Senator, who will be expected to not run in the expedited special election. Former Gov. Mike Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic nominee for president, is widely viewed as the favorite for the appointment.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), who is widely seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2012, has now formed his own federal political action committee, called "Freedom First," which will allow him to raise money for other Republicans and to travel around the country -- but Pawlenty is denying that this is a step towards laying groundwork for a presidential campaign.

As the Star Tribune reports:

Pawlenty, who ended his state fundraising committee earlier this month, said the new PAC should not be seen as confirmation of his interest in running for president.

"It is just the opposite," Pawlenty told the Star Tribune this morning. "This undertaking, as we plan it and envision it, would be to help other candidates on a federal level."

President Obama, speaking today after he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu separately and before he met with them together, described his message to the two leaders:

"Despite all the obstacles, despite all the history, despite all the mistrust, we have to find a way forward," Obama said. "We have to summon the will to break the deadlock that has trapped generations of Israelis and Palestinians in an endless cycle of conflict and suffering. ... Success depends on all sides acting with a sense of urgency."

The goal, he said, is a lasting peace with two states: Israel and Palestine.

"It is past time to talk about starting negotiations," he said. "It is time to show the flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that's necessary to achieve our goals. Permanent status negotiations must begin and begin soon."

Obama lauded progress made so far but insisted it's not enough.

"Palestinians have strengthened their efforts on security, but they need to do more to stop incitement and to move forward with negotiations," he said. "Israelis have facilitated greater freedom of movement for the Palestinians and have discussed important steps to restrain settlement activity. But they need to translate these discussions into real action on this and other issues."

He said Middle East Envoy George Mitchell will meet with negotiators from each side in Washington next week. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will report on the status of the talks in mid-October.

Video after the jump.

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The insurance industry has weighed in on Sen. Max Baucus' health care reform proposal, and (not surprisingly) the reviews are pretty positive. In a 13-page letter to Baucus, Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans--the industry's largest professional association--outlines "recommendations for strengthening" the bill and "concerns with key aspects of the proposal."

So what does she like and what doesn't she like? Well there's a lot in there, but two fairly unsurprising objections stand out.

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A big story this week has been the report that President Obama, through the intermediary of Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), asked Gov. David Paterson (D-NY) to not run for re-election in light of his bad poll numbers and the potential danger to the Dem ticket in a big state.

Meeks appeared today on Bloomberg TV and soft-pedaled what happened -- saying that he didn't directly ask Paterson not to run. Meeks said something should be corrected: "And that is that the administration never said, 'Go tell Gov. Paterson he should step down, he should not run for re-election,' or anything of that nature."

"The administration had indicated that they had some troubles -- you know, looking at what the solution is, and we're getting close to 2010, and they wanted to make sure that we go into 2010 as strong as possible," Meeks explained. "And so there were some issues, and so basically I was just telling the governor, that there are some issues that the administration has, and that he needs to try to talk to some folks in the administration, and see if they can be resolved."

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John Ensign (R-NV), a member of the Senate Finance Committee and recent scandal-maker, has submitted 30 amendments for the committee's version of the health care reform bill, the Las Vegas Sun reports.

Most of these changes, which will be voted on in hearings that began this morning, are plays to the conservative base. One would guarantee that seniors wouldn't be dropped from Medicare Advantage and be forced to go on a different government plan. Another would replace the word "fee" with the word "tax" in the bill. One would prohibit funding to ACORN; another would require new health czars be confirmed by the Senate. One would require Social Security cards to be shown in order to get subsidies to buy insurance, in order to prevent illegal immigrants from getting such subsidies.

Ensign seems to be trying to rebuild the support of conservative voters, support that took a beating in Ensign's highly publicized love triangle in which he slept with a staffer, fired her, and then had his wealthy parents pay off both her and her husband, also a former staffer.

He also may be trying to re-assert himself legislatively after laying low after the scandal and resigning as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.

Hassan Nemazee may not be a household name. But as Democrats returned to power over the last few election cycles, the New York financier -- who yesterday was charged with running a $292 million Ponzi scheme -- has been among the most important players in drumming up the campaign funds that have enabled that success.

Let's start with the 2004 cycle. Nemazee had been a top fundraiser for the Clintons in the 1990s, but he appears to have courted John Kerry since at least 2002. By January 2004, he was described in news reports (via Nexis) as "one of Kerry's chief fundraisers." Subsequent reports from that year describe him as Kerry's "New York City finance chair."

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Remember the strange case of Norman Hsu that roiled the Hillary Clinton campaign during the Democratic primary back in 2007?

Hsu was a top bundler for the campaign who was found to have hidden his past as a crook and Hillary was forced to return over $800,000 in donations. He later plead guilty to a Ponzi scheme and was convicted on campaign finance charges.

Hsu, who currently resides in federal prison, reimbursed so-called "straw donors" drawn from his fraudulent business to get around contribution limits.

At the time of the crisis, Hassan Nemazee, indicted yesterday in his own alleged Ponzi scheme -- considerably larger than Hsu's $20 million operation -- was a national finance chair for the Hillary campaign.

And guess who the campaign dispatched to talk to reporters to tamp down the Hsu story? One Hassan Nemazee.

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