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Michael Hilton, the shadowy figure behind the unsuccessful attempt to take over a rural Montana prison, failed to show in a California court Thursday in an unrelated years-old case about duping investors in an elder care home that was never built. A bench warrant has been issued. This from the San Francisco Chronicle.

"Captain" Michael Hilton first appeared on our radar when his private security firm, American Police Force, struck a deal to turn a 464-bed jail in Hardin, Montana, into a law enforcement training facility for operations as elaborate as defending cruise ships. The contract has since been canceled but Hilton apparently is still on the lam.

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With polls showing moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava in third place in the NY-23 special election, behind Democrat Bill Owens and Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, she may have to deal with a label that is not often applied to major-party candidates -- that of the spoiler. But who, exactly, is she spoiling?

Prof. Larry Sabato from the University of Virginia posited an interesting hypothesis to me: That Scozzafava's remaining vote is not a conservative Republican base vote that would go to Hoffman, since voters on the right have already been coalescing around him, but she could actually be drawing more from the moderate Democrat Owens.

"Most people think of that as just a rock solid Republican vote, but who are those people?" Sabato said. "They're people who now know, for the most part, that Scozzafava is a liberal Republican. They get it. And a lot of them are really unhappy with Hoffman, so are they really gonna back Hoffman?"

As this idea goes -- and keep in mind that it's not a solid pronouncement, but simply an interpretation of the data as it stands now -- if the Republican continues to fall, it could end up helping the Democrat in a district that voted 52% for Barack Obama in 2008, and where a majority might find a Democrat preferable to the right-wing Conservative.

Could apparently false statements made by the head of a coal-industry lobby group before Congress this morning end up being referred to the Justice Department for a criminal perjury probe? Congressional investigators aren't ruling it out.

As we reported, Steve Miller, the director of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), appears to have twice misled Congress while under oath during his testimony this morning over those forged letters sent on the coal lobby's behalf by Bonner and Associates.

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The CBO has weighed in with a preliminary cost estimate of the House's health care bill--and there are almost certainly some very happy people in House leadership.

At $894 billion, the bill's 10 year cost comes in a hair under President Obama's $900 billion red line. But, more politically and substantively important, the bill is projected to reduce the deficit in both the first 10 years and the second 10 years after enactment, just as Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) told me earlier today.

Over the first 10 years, revenues and savings are projected to exceed new spending (aka it reduces the deficit) by $104 billion. Projections into the following decade are, as CBO chief Doug Elmendorf always notes, very dicey. But Elmendorf says that, from 2020-2029, "the added revenues and cost savings are projected to grow slightly more rapidly than the cost of the coverage expansions." In other words, though the government will pay more and more each year in subsidies and expanded entitlements, it will be realizing savings and collecting revenues at a greater rate.

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The new Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll of New Jersey gives Republican Chris Christie a one-point lead, in a race that has been on a knife's edge between him and Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.

The numbers: Christie 42%, Corzine 41%, and independent Chris Daggett with 14%, with a ±4% margin of error. Four weeks ago, Christie led by 46%-42%-7%.

Both major candidates are viewed negatively by voters. Corzine's favorable rating is only 38%, with 55% unfavorable, while Christie is at 43%-46%. Daggett is in positive territory, but only with 35%-16% and nearly half of voters having no opinion of him.

The Congressional Budget Office has just released its score of the House health care reform bill, which was unveiled this morning.

The bill will reduce the deficit by $104 billion over the first 10 years, according to the CBO. It will also cost $894 billion. (President Obama has said he won't sign a bill that costs more than $900 billion.)

Check out the full report, in PDF form, here.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was mum today about her level of confidence in the White House's commitment to the public option going forward.

On a conference call with reporters and bloggers this afternoon, I asked Pelosi whether, given recent reports about the President Obama's reluctance to push for a public option in the Senate, she was confident he'd be supportive of the measure going forward.

Pelosi said she's been too busy to gauge the White House's commitment to the public option, but suggested that Obama may need to be a bit more persuaded of its political viability if he's going to throw his weight behind it.

"I guess I'm just so busy with what I'm doing that I'm not worrying about what somebody else is doing, and I have confidence in the President of the United States. He wants the strongest best possible bill that will work for the American people. And we have to convince him that what will pass in the Congress is something similar to what we have in the House," Pelosi said

Pelosi acknowledged that a more robust public option--one with payment rates tied to Medicare--was always a long shot in Congress.

"We knew the Senate was not going to that place if even Senator Kennedy was not going in that place," Pelosi said, referring to the fact that an early version of Senate legislation contained a public option with negotiated rates similar to the one she unveiled today.

But that's about as low as she's willing to go. "I don't see any way to go less than that, as good as it is."

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After the Associated Press ran a story pointing out several errors in the administration's stimulus job numbers, the White House sent out a lengthy press release calling the story "misleading."

The AP's story, called "Stimulus jobs overstated by thousands," is a review of the stimulus's first progress report and shows errors in the numbers of jobs the government claims to have created. According to the AP, at least 5,000 of the claimed 30,000 jobs weren't real.

But the White House took immediate issue with the story, contacting the AP and shooting out a release to its entire press list just after midnight today. The administration also sent out Jared Bernstein, Vice President Biden's chief economist, on MSNBC to talk about the story.

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The Chamber of Commerce's lawsuit against the Yes Men is "a comedy and a travesty," according to one member of the prankster group and a target of the suit.

"All they care about is taking money out of ordinary people's pockets and putting it in the pockets of the super rich," Mike Bonanno told TPMmuckraker in an interview this afternoon.

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