TPM News

The solar system's innermost planet got its first ever photo close up this week, as NASA's "Mercury Messenger" probe began broadcasting images back to Earth. The spacecraft entered Mercury's orbit on March 17th, where it will stay for at least the next year, snapping shots of the surface for study back home.

Check out some of the stunning photos in our slideshow.

Rep. Michele Bachmann raked in $2.2 million over the first three months of 2011 according to Fox News, giving her a huge war chest as she prepares to launch a rumored presidential bid.

Bachmann raised a staggering $1.7 million through her Congressional campaign committee, and an additional $500,000 through her political action committee, MichelePAC. The money raised through her reelection campaign fund can be transfered over to pay for a White House bid.

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In a CNN poll of American adults released Friday, the median guess on what percentage of the federal budget goes to public broadcasting was 5%. With a $3.55 trillion budget last year, that would put funding for the CBP at approximately $178 billion.

In reality though, that's not even close.

The CPB received about $420 million last year from the federal government, making it roughly one one-hundredth of one percent, of the overall budget. That means that the median response was about 424 times higher than the actual amount of federal funding that went to public broadcasting last year.

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Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) says shut 'er down. The one-time Republican conference chair, turned presidential footsie player, turned potential gubernatorial candidate, and always a tea party favorite told MSNBC on Friday that a looming spending cut deal is not worth it. He'd rather have a government shutdown.

"Well, look, I think that really is, Contessa -- I think that really is the important question. I think if liberals in the Senate are unwilling to embrace even this modest step toward fiscal discipline in Washington, D.C., then I say shut it down," Pence said. "You know, look, I think the American people sent this historic new majority to Congress to see the change in this direction."

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The University of Wisconsin-Madison has announced that it is legally complying with the state Republican Party's open-records request, which sought the e-mails of Professor William Cronon after he had written a blog post critical of Gov. Scott Walker's anti-public employee union bill. But there's a big catch.

Chancellor Biddy Martin announced in a statement posted online that the university will release some of Cronon's e-mails later on Friday. But first, they applied a "balancing test" to the e-mails, excluding those protected by various privacy laws and other key rules, and that they believe they are in compliance with the law:

We are excluding records involving students because they are protected under FERPA. We are excluding exchanges that fall outside the realm of the faculty member's job responsibilities and that could be considered personal pursuant to Wisconsin Supreme Court case law. We are also excluding what we consider to be the private email exchanges among scholars that fall within the orbit of academic freedom and all that is entailed by it. Academic freedom is the freedom to pursue knowledge and develop lines of argument without fear of reprisal for controversial findings and without the premature disclosure of those ideas.

Reading through that list, one gets the feeling that there would not be very much left. Martin also says that the university examined Cronon's university e-mails for any violations of the law, such as engaging in partisan political activity -- and there are none. And Martin also adds a vigorous defense of the principle of academic freedom.

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The House GOP weathered a number of defections to defeat attempts to remove anti-labor language from a bill reauthorizing the FAA on Friday.

An amendment to strip the bill of a provision requiring workers to be present for votes on union representation or be counted as a "no" vote failed 220-206, with 16 Republicans joining Democrats on the losing side of the ledger. Labor groups had been hoping a larger defection might materialize, allowing them to carry the vote.

Despite their success in preserving the measure, House Republicans still have to get past President Obama and the Democratic Senate. The White House has stated that it will veto any FAA bill that includes the provision.

A 26 year-old woman from Cross Plains, WI has been charged with two felonies for allegedly sending death-threat emails to Republican state Senators at the height of the dispute over Gov. Scott Walker's (R) collective bargaining law.

According to reports from the Dane County, WI district attorney's office, Katherine Windels of Cross Plains admitted to investigators she was behind the March 9 emails, which were sent to 15 Republican senators on the night the Senate passed the controversial collective bargaining restrictions for state workers favored by Walker.

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Newt Gingrich turned a few heads in February when he penned an op-ed pointing to the 1995-1996 government shutdown he presided over as Speaker as an instructive success for the current Congress. Gingrich's pro-shutdown view colored his remarks to freshmen House Republican Thursday at the Capitol, where he warned them not to be intimidated by the prospect of a similar scenario in facing off with Obama.

Gingrich's rah-rah appraisal of the 1995 shutdown is a recent development, however, completing a gradual journey from embracing the conventional view of the event as a disaster for Republicans to unabashedly defending it as a triumph today.

"In retrospect, if I were doing it all over again, we would consciously avoid the government shutdown,'' he told the Los Angeles Times in 1996. "It was clearly wrong.'' He added that "One of the lessons I've learned in the last two years is you go slower, you prepare the ground, you make sure people understand."

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You know Republican leaders are sincere about wanting to avoid a government shutdown when they talk about the harm it will do to big business interests. At a Capitol press conference Friday, House Speaker John Boehner said he's not making contingency preparations for a government shutdown, and hopes to avoid one altogether, in part because of the inherent cost.

"And frankly, let's all be honest, if you shut the government down, it'll end up costing more than you save, because you interrupt contracts," Boehner admitted. "There's a lot of problems with the idea of shutting the government down."

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For most of the last century, talk of secession, nullification and the rest of the extreme states-rights lexicon were relegated to the fringiest parts of the political fringe. But since Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2009, mainstream Republican rhetoric and proposed legislation at the state level have both warmed to the hoary idea that state governments can take their relationship with the federal government on what amounts to an a la carte basis or perhaps abandon it altogether.

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