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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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Former Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has a pretty sharp message for Democratic lawmakers who don't want to send more U.S. troops to an unpopular war in Afghanistan that seems to be getting worse.

"If you want another terrorist attack in the U.S., abandon Afghanistan," she said.

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Speaking to UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon's climate change summit this morning, President Obama spoke of the progress the U.S. has made on sustainable energy, but warned, "We did not come here to celebrate progress. We came because there's so much more progress to be made, so much more work to be done."

Speaking of the world as a whole, he said, "The hardest part of our journey is still ahead of us."

He pointed out American efforts to reign in greenhouse gases, including initiatives to capture carbon, build off-shore wind farms, phase out subsidies for fossil fuel and tracking, for the first time, how much greenhouse gas pollution the country is creating. He also urged fellow leaders of industrialized nations to help poorer countries fight climate change and create low-impact development.

"We understand the gravity of the climate threat," he said.

Obama looked forward to December's international climate change summit in Copenhagen. "We must seize the opportunity to make Copenhagen a significant step forward in the fight against climate change."

He lauded the energy bill currently in Congress, even though it won't be passed before Copenhagen, as his administration had previously hoped.

"We'll fight for every inch of progress, even when it comes in fits and starts. .. We resolve to work tirelessly in common effort," he said.

Is Humana just the tip of the iceberg?

Yesterday we reported on the campaign by health insurer Humana Inc. to enlist beneficiaries to lobby lawmakers against a key cost-saving measure in Sen. Max Baucus's health-reform bill. Humana's letters to its customers, urging them to contact their member of Congress, are currently being probed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which contracts with Humana, among other firms, to provide Medicare Advantage.

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