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Why was a private security firm given control of a jail in Hardin, Montana, before a lease agreement with the town was finalized?

Hardin officials, who yesterday put a deal with American Private Police Force on hold, are having a hard time answering the question.

A bank that is trustee on bonds used by Hardin to build the Two Rivers Detention Facility -- now in default -- never signed off on the APPF deal, which was first announced in early September.

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With a 60-seat majority in the Senate, Democrats are poised, theoretically, to prevent Republicans from filibustering key agenda items. Liberals and health care reformers see that as a potential bulwark against Republican obstruction and are pressuring party leaders to enforce unanimity on key cloture votes, so that nominations and major bills (like health care) can be decided by a simple majority. And just how are they doing on that score?

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), one of the Senate's most visible centrists, tells me leadership hasn't said anything about it to him.

I asked, "Has leadership been in discussions with you and other moderates about voting with the party on procedural votes?"

In a statement that will bedevil liberals, he responded, "I don't know about others, but not with me."

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Let this be an object lesson that if you want to mobilize against somebody, having a real opponent for them to face is a good thing.

In the wake of Rep. Alan Grayson's (D-FL) attacks against the Republicans, money began flowing in from liberals who appreciated his no-holds-barred tirades against the opposition. The Republicans, however, didn't have a candidate yet, but instead set up a special fund to benefit the eventual nominee.

As of Friday, Grayson's campaign Grayson's campaign had amassed over $125,000. The campaign has not returned our further requests for latest numbers, but as of right now his ActBlue page alone is at over $132,000.

By comparison, when we asked NRCC spokesman John Randall for comment about their special anti-Grayson fund, which will benefit the eventual nominee, we got a rather low-key response: "Money is not going to determine the outcome of this race. There is a reason that even without a clear opponent Grayson's seat was moved to toss-up after his outrageous and distasteful outburst." That said, things should probably get better for them once they have a real challenger.

During this afternoon's press briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tried to deflect criticism surrounding President Obama's postponed meeting with the Dalai Lama -- which was seen by some as an attempt to curry favor with China. The Washington Post reported that Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama was specifically postponed until after Obama's meeting next month with China's Hu Jintao.

Gibbs took issue with that casting today, implying that the later meeting with the Dalai Lama had been the plan all along.

"There was an agreement to do this later in the year and that's what's going to happen," Gibbs said, adding that "this was mutually agreed upon."

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How did American Private Police Force convince the town of Hardin to put it in charge of a 464-bed prison, despite having essentially no proven track record with such projects? The complete answer isn't yet clear. But could the mysterious private contractor have dangled a job for the wife of a top city official to seal the deal?

Let's lay out the evidence...

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The White House announced today that Vice President Joe Biden will make trips to fellow NATO countries Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic to meet with heads of state and government, as well as other political and civil leaders. His trip begins Oct. 20. Topics of discussion include trade and investment expansion, strengthening democracy, and cooperation on common security issues.

Be on the lookout for Biden to also address the new U.S. missile defense plan -- controversial in some right-wing circles -- during his visit.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) appeared on Morning Joe today and added his voice to a growing chorus of lawmakers and other officials critiquing Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's public statements about his assessment of the war in Afghanistan and recommendations for strategy and troop levels there -- particularly at a speech in London last week.

"I think Gen. McChrystal's actions have been a little bit confusing quite frankly," Webb said.

At a time when the national security people were meeting in the White House, he was off giving a speech in London. I thought that was pretty odd. He should have been one of two places. He either should have been in that meeting sharing his views in a collaborative process, or he should have been back in Afghanistan running the war.

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