TPM News

For a convicted murderer, Humberto Leal Garcia seems to have plenty of powerful people in his corner. In the last few days appeals for delaying the execution of this death row inmate have come from the Mexican ambassador, various UN officials and even the Obama administration's Solicitor-General.

However, it's not really Mr. Leal they're defending, but a point of international law; a point that many say the US is obliged to uphold, and which Texas Governor Rick Perry will violate if he doesn't halt the killing.

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With state parks and rest stops shuttered, and the state lottery frozen, Minnesota's government shutdown is losing the state money.

But how much, exactly? Thursday marks the seventh day of Minnesota's deadlock over a projected $5 billion deficit. Because some of the people who would calculate those costs are currently laid off by the shutdown, Minnesota Management and Budget spokesman John Pollard told TPM it's difficult to come up with an exact number.

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Mitt Romney's camp is out with a statement flagging dozens of prominent Utah Republicans who stand publicly with Romney. Though they don't say it out right, Team Romney's statement is a veiled attack on the man many still think could be his biggest rival once things really get going on the presidential campaign trail: Jon Huntsman.

Huntsman's firmly entrenched in nowheresville in current polling, but the former Utah governor's polish and perceived general election saleability still put him in the top ranks of presidential chatter. As the other Mormon in the race -- and the other candidate with strong Utah connections -- Romney's folks seem to think doing well in Utah shows they've got the upper hand on Huntsman.

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As the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee drafts major legislation to overhaul government regulations on the transportation industry, railroad companies are speeding up their lobbying efforts to rollback regulations on the business.

Since 2007, railroads, affiliated companies and industry trade groups have spent more than $152 million on federal lobbying, according to a report to be released Thursday by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

CREW's report points to news reports that indicated Osama bin Laden thought trains made good targets for a possible terrorist attack and contrasts that with the railroad industry's efforts to reduce the frequency of locomotive inspections and place a cap on their liability when carrying substances labeled as Toxic Inhalation Hazard (TIH) materials.

The report finds that at least four former members of Congress -- two of whom have sons currently serving on the railroad subcommittee -- are lobbying on the legislation and that contributions from the railroad industry to current committee members jumped over 25 percent between 2008 and 2010.

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Michele Bachmann might want to double-check her lingo on foreign policy -- at least, according to the rules of politics in this country and the Republican presidential race.

Early Wednesday evening, Bachmann tweeted:

I'm proud to cosponsor HRes 268, coming to the Floor tonight. The resolution supports peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. #jcot

Technically, Bachmann has fouled up the nomenclature here.

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The era of epic manned space flight may be over, but the era of personal aircrafts may be just beginning.

Or so believe some Americans, and some officials in Europe, who have just sunk a little over $6 million dollars into a research project on "personal aerial vehicles."

The European Commission has established a project called "MyCopter" to investigate the feasibility of such personal aircraft.

"It is now a question of when we'll get personal aerial vehicles, not if we'll get them," project leader Heinrich Buelthoff of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics tells the New Scientist. The Institute is based in Tuebingen, Germany.

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Former President Bill Clinton weighed in on Republican efforts in several states to pass new restrictions on voting, comparing the measures to the Jim Crow laws of the past.

"There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today," Clinton said in a speech at a Campus Progress conference in Washington.

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During Wednesday's first Twitter town hall, President Barack Obama made his feelings about the debt ceiling situation pretty clear. Using charged language, he said it should not be "used as a gun against the heads of the American people to extract tax breaks for corporate jet owners, or oil and gas companies." However, the president sidestepped a question about whether it was a good idea to invoke the 14th Amendment to pay government obligations if Congress refuses to raise that debt ceiling -- but he didn't rule it out.

As the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling looms closer and closer, liberal academics -- and even some Democratic members of Congress -- have begun questioning whether the legislative branch actually has the power under the Constitution to force the federal government to default on its debts.

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday ordered the federal government to stop enforcing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the military's policy of discharging openly gay servicemen and women, citing the government's recent opposition to policies that discriminate based on sexuality.

A lower court judge had ruled in October that DADT is unconstitutional, but after the government appealed, the Ninth Circuit granted a stay of eliminating the policy until it could rule. On Wednesday the panel lifted the stay.

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