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Senate Democrats are perhaps set to start the ball rolling on repealing the ban on gays in the military, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announcing that hearings have been scheduled for the Armed Services Committee to examine the impact of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

"This policy is wrong for our national security and wrong for the moral foundation upon which our country was founded,'" Gillibrand said in a press release. "I thank Chairman Levin for agreeing to hold this important hearing. Numerous military leaders are telling us that the times have changed. 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is an unfair, outdated measure that violates the civil rights of some of our bravest, most heroic men and women. By repealing this policy, we will increase America's strength - both militarily and morally."

Some people might suspect that Gillibrand could have a political motivation. She is an appointed Senator facing a 2010 primary challenge in a liberal state -- with the polls putting her challenger, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, narrowly ahead -- and would have something to gain from taking the point position on this. A spokesman said this is not politically motivated, drawing attention to the fact that Gillibrand had already been on the record for repealing DADT when she was still in the House.

On Saturday, for about the third time since the health care debate really picked up steam on Capitol Hill, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis that triggered bad headlines for health care reformers and big head aches for the White House.

According to CBO Director Doug Elmendorf, a proposal widely touted by the White House to give an external panel the authority to reform Medicare and Medicaid would save a mere $2 billion over a 10 year time horizon--less than one percent of the overall cost of the legislation.

"CBO deals new blow to health plan" blared a headline at Politico--conventional wisdom that threatened to provide new momentum to reform opponents on the Hill and within the greater Republican machine.

There are a number of analytical problems with this framing--sort of what you'd expect when cool kids (like, ahem, the Politico team) stop tormenting their favorite dweebs and start trying to understand their science projects. But as if to underscore just how seriously the administration took the political threat, the White House quickly blasted out a response from Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, which called the CBO's work--and by proxy its director--into question.

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It control's about 50 percent of the state's health insurance market, so it's no real surprise that Anthem sells coverage to the Virginia Organizing Project--a activist group dedicated to, among other things, reforming the health care system.

But it's a bit ironic that Anthem would try to enlist VOP members to call on Congress to oppose a public health insurance option.

We strongly support reform that builds a strong, sustainable private-sector health care system - and strongly oppose creating a government-run health plan. We are urging our elected officials in Washington to take bipartisan action that will accomplish that. We are educating policymakers in Washington and working with our trade associations to encourage Congress to build on the current system and not disrupt the quality, affordable coverage on which our members depend....

As our elected officials debate health care, they need to hear directly from you.

You can imagine how well that went over. On Friday, VOP staged a protest at Anthem's Richmond headquarters, demanding that the company refund any money it spent on lobbying--and its executive director, Joe Szakos was arrested for trespassing. "The Virginia Organizing Project pays more than $300,000 per year in health insurance premiums. I walked into our health insurance company Friday to ask why they recently increased our premiums 14.1 percent and I walked out in handcuffs," Szakos said.
This is an excellent example of the relationship the health insurance industry has with its customers. They do not feel that have to explain or account for anything. Anthem has little competition and they know their customers have few choices. Anthem and other health insurance corporations are spending $1.4 million per day lobbying Congress to make sure that Americans do not have a choice.

You can read the entire Anthem solicitation below the fold. I'll try to get a few more details about the incident and pass them along to you. Whatever happened, though, and whether or not you agree with the tactics, the precipitating events--and the more general fact that insurers spend consumer health care dollars lobbying against efforts to decrease health care costs--bring to light just one of the many perverse aspects of the for-profit health insurance industry.

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MoveOn is up with a new week-long ad in DC and on national cable hitting Republicans for attempting to kill health care reform for political game.

Perhaps just as interesting, though, is this note from the accompanying press statement.

The ad kicks off a month of field campaigning and advertising in districts and states over the August Congressional recess. MoveOn will air ads in both Republican and Democratic districts while lawmakers are home, reminding them of the urgency of addressing our nation's health care crisis and the political and economic cost of inaction. The ads will be accompanied by a month-long grassroots offensive where MoveOn members will lobby their representatives and Senators and educate their communities about the urgency of passing strong health care reform, including a real public health insurance option.

Who said anything about summer doldrums?

The Feds may be circling uncomfortably close to Rep. John Murtha as they probe kickbacks to defense contractors and possible earmarks-for-campaign-cash deals. But the veteran Democratic power-broker doesn't seem to be sweating it. In fact, he's acting as defiant as ever.

A Murtha spokesman tells TPMmuckraker that the Pennsylvania congressman has not hired a lawyer in connection with the investigations.

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Check out this new video from Fire Dog Lake's Mike Stark, in which he asks multiple House Republicans -- including a high-ranking member of the GOP leadership -- whether they believe President Obama is a natural-born citizen.

The most interesting non-answer came from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who happens to be the Vice-Chair of the House Republican Conference -- the fourth-highest position in the leadership -- and also gave the Republican YouTube address this past weekend. "We're all going to find out," said McMorris Rodgers. When asked again, she said: "Oh, I'd like to see the documents."

And by the way, some thanks are due to Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Trent Franks (R-AZ) for affirming that they believe Obama is a natural-born citizen, ranging from Coffman's short and simple "Yeah" to Franks' detailed statement that his office researched the matter and concluded that the facts are clear.

We've asked McMorris Rodgers' office for further clarification, and are waiting for them to get back to us.

This is just part of the reason reformers wanted the House and Senate to wrap up their work on health care legislation before recess:

The Republican National Committee will spend nearly $1 million on campaign activities over the next month in an effort to cast doubt on President Obama's proposal to reform health care, a GOP official tells CNN.

The Republican campaign will include television commercials already running in Arkansas, Nevada and North Dakota and new radio ads announced Friday that will air in 33 states.

The RNC did not reveal Friday who the radio ads would target, but CNN has learned the 60 second commercials will run against 60 House Democrats.

The prevailing assumption at the RNC seems to be that the House--like the Senate--will adjourn without voting on legislation. But either way, with cheap media markets in these states, senators like Kent Conrad, Harry Reid, and Blanche Lincoln can look forward to a lot of jockeying along these lines.

Via CNN, you can read the entire list of targeted House Democrats below the fold.

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Check out Rush Limbaugh's latest dire warning about the state of America right now: That the people have been tricked into voting for torture, tyranny and dictatorship, and we can see it slowly encroaching upon us:

"And there are people in this country, who are Americans, and have the same view of totalitarianism that all the worst regimes in the world have had. They just are a minority -- or have been a minority," said Limbaugh. "And they have to be stealth to get anywhere, because who's gonna vote for torture, who's gonna vote for tyranny, who's gonna vote for dictatorship? But we did. We did, and you see it slowly encroaching. And if they could move faster on this, they would."

On the subject of torture, let's take a trip back in time to a little over five years ago, when Limbaugh said this in defense of Abu Ghraib: "I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?"

Former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio is having a rough time in his campaign for Senate, in which he's running as an insurgent conservative challenger against moderate Gov. Charlie Crist -- but he's claiming credit for pushing Crist to the right.

Crist recently came out against the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court -- putting himself to the right of retiring GOP Sen. Mel Martinez, the man that Crist and Rubio are aiming to succeed, who supports Sotomayor. Rubio sees this as a sign of Crist reaching out to conservatives.

"A few months ago he appointed a judge to the Florida Supreme Court that is much more liberal than (Sotomayor) is in terms of his views," Rubio said told Bay News 9. "We agree on it, but it's curious how he got there."

At a noon press conference today, Cambridge City Manager Robert Healy announced the formation of a committee to evaluate the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

"Today is the day to move forward," said Healy. "And the city has taken significant steps toward that end. Last Thursday, [it was] announced that a group of nationally recognized experts would be organized to help us determine what lessons could be learned from that incident."

Healy went into more detail on the committee, which "will not be conducting an internal investigation, nor will it make an official judgment on any of the conduct of the officers in the department...the mission of this committee is larger than a mere investigation into the events of July 16th. [Its purpose is] to develop recommendations that the department can use as guidance in the future."

Chuck Wexler, Executive Director of the D.C.-based Police Executive Research Forum and who Healy described as "no stranger to Cambridge," is going to chair the committee.

Healy also said that the city "can't move forward if there's any lingering doubt that anything is being hidden," giving the basis for releasing the 911 telephone call that sent the police to Gates' house as well as radio dispatches made during the event.

New information released today raises questions about whether the 911 call was racially motivated or not. The caller was a Portuguese woman who allegedly did not identify the race of the two men at Gates' house in her call. Her lawyer, Wendy Murphy, was asked by a Fox News anchor this morning if the client herself is white. "It depends on how you define white," Murphy responded. "Her skin is olive. She is of Portuguese descent."

Echoing Obama's remark that the episode could be a "teachable moment," Cambridge Mayor Denise Simmons said at the press conference that "this has been a trying time for hope and expectation is that these events will serve as a catalyst for important discussion." She went on to say that she has "sincere hope that the people of Cambridge will ultimately walk away from this experience healthier and more empathetic as a city."

Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas said that "this matter is not resolved. If you listen to the city manager, if you listen to the mayor, we have a long way to go."

"We always reassess what we did," said Haas. "And the first question I always ask myself is if I had to do it over again, what would I have done differently?" He did not give an indication whether this is one of those cases where he would have acted diffferently, however. In the past, he said that arresting officer Sergeant James Crowley acted in a manner "consistent" with his training and department rules.

As for the possible impending meeting of Obama, Crowley, and Gates at the White House, Healy said "I hope they enjoy their beer." When a reporter asked when that might happen, Healy responded, "I'm not involved in scheduling the President."