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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hillary’s New Math Problem

Tuesday's big wins? The delegate calculus just got worse.

Hillary Clinton won big victories Tuesday night in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island. But she's now even further behind in the race for the Democratic nomination. How could that be? Math. It's relentless.

To beat Barack Obama among pledged delegates, Clinton now needs even bigger margins in the 12 remaining primaries than she needed when I ran the numbers on Monday—an average of 23 points, which is more than double what she received in Ohio.

Superdelegates won't help Clinton if she cannot erase Obama's lead among pledged delegates, which now stands at roughly 134. Caucus results from Texas aren't complete, but Clinton will probably net about 10 delegates out of March 4. That's 10 down, 134 to go. Good luck.

I've asked several prominent uncommitted superdelegates if there's any chance they would reverse the will of Democratic voters. They all say no. It would shatter young people and destroy the party.

Clinton's only hope lies in the popular vote—a yardstick on which she now trails Obama by about 600,000 votes. Should she end the primary season in June with a lead in popular votes, she could get a hearing from uncommitted superdelegates for all the other arguments that she would make a stronger nominee (wins the big states, etc.). If she loses both the pledged delegate count and the popular vote, no argument will cause the superdelegates to disenfranchise millions of Democratic voters. It will be over.

Projecting popular votes precisely is impossible because there's no way to calculate turnout. But Clinton would likely need do-overs in Michigan and Florida (whose January primaries didn't count because they broke Democratic Party rules). But even this probably wouldn't give her the necessary popular-vote margins.

Remember, Obama's name wasn't even on the Michigan ballot when voters there went to the polls. Even if he's trounced there (and Michigan, won by Jesse Jackson in 1988, has a large African-American vote in its primary), Obama would still win hundreds of thousands of popular votes. This is also an argument for why Obama may end up preferring a primary to a caucus in Michigan. (Obama has done better in caucuses).

Florida, with its heavy population of elderly and Jewish voters, might be a better place for Clinton to close the popular vote gap. But even if you assume she does 5 points better than her double-digit win there in the meaningless February primary (where no one campaigned), she would still fall short.

I'm no good at math, but with the help of Slate’s Delegate Calculator, I've once again scoped out the rest of the primaries. In order to show how deep a hole she's in, I've given her the benefit of the doubt every week. That's 12 victories in a row, bigger in total than Obama's run of 11 straight. And this time I've assigned her even larger margins than I did before in Wyoming, North Carolina, Indiana and Kentucky.

So here we go again:

Let's assume that on Saturday in Wyoming, Clinton's March 4 momentum gives her an Ohio-style 10-point win, confounding every expectation. Next Tuesday in Mississippi, where African-Americans play a big role in the Democratic primary, she shocks the political world by again winning 55-45.

Then on April 22, the big one—Pennsylvania—and it's a Clinton blowout: 60-40, with Clinton picking up a whopping 32 delegates. She wins both of Guam's two delegates on May 3 and Indiana's proximity to Illinois does Obama no good on May 6. The Hoosiers go for Clinton 55-45 and the same day brings another huge upset in a heavily African-American state. Enough blacks desert Obama to give North Carolina to Hillary in another big win, 55-45, netting her seven more delegates.

May 13 in West Virginia is no kinder to Obama, and he loses by double digits, netting Clinton two delegates. Another 60-40 landslide on May 20 in Kentucky nets her 11 more. The same day brings Oregon, a classic Obama state. Ooops! He loses there 52-48. Clinton wins by 10 in Montana and South Dakota on June 3 and the scheduled primary season ends on June 7 in Puerto Rico with another big Viva Clinton! Clinton pulls off a 60-40 landslide, giving her another 11 delegates.

Given that I've put not a thumb but my whole fist on the scale, this fanciful calculation gives Hillary the lead, right? Actually, it makes the score 1,625 to 1,584 for Obama. A margin of 39 pledged delegates may not seem like much, but remember, the chances of Obama losing state after state by 20-point margins are slim to none.

So no matter how you cut it, Obama will almost certainly end the primaries with a pledged delegate lead, courtesy of all those landslides in February. What happens then? Will Democrats come together before the Denver Convention opens in late August?

We know that Clinton is unlikely to quit. This will leave it up to the superdelegates to figure out how to settle on a nominee. With 205 already committed to Obama, he would need another 200 uncommitted superdelegates to get to the magic number of 2025 delegates needed to nominate. But that's only under my crazy pro-Hillary projections. More likely, Obama would need about 50-100 of the approximately 500 uncommitted superdelegates, which shouldn't be too difficult.

But let's say all the weeks of negative feeling have taken a toll. Let's say that Clinton supporters are feeling embittered and inclined to sit on their hands. It's not too hard to imagine prominent superdelegates asking Obama to consider putting Hillary on the ticket.

This might be the wrong move for him. A national-security choice like Sen. Jim Webb, former senator Sam Nunn or retired general Anthony Zinni could make more sense. But if Obama did ask Clinton, don't assume she would say no just because she has, well, already served as de facto vice president for eight years under her husband. (Sorry, Al).

In fact, she would probably say yes. When there's a good chance to win, almost no one has ever said no. (Colin Powell is the exception). In 1960, when the vice presidency was worth a lot less, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson gave up his powerful position to run with John F. Kennedy.

How about Clinton-Obama? Nope. The Clintonites can spin to their heart's content about how big March 4 was for them. How close the race is. How they've got the Big Mo now.

Tell it to Slate's Delegate Calculator. Again.

Original here

Q&A: Barack Obama

Barack Obama wants to set the record straight. He is not a Muslim, as recent e-mails falsely claim.

The Democratic presidential candidate is fighting the e-mails that have been widely circulated. Obama has been continually speaking about the role of faith in politics since his Call to Renewal address in June 2006.

In the days before the South Carolina primary, he is driving efforts to speaking with media to emphasize his Christian beliefs. His campaign also sent out a recent mailer portraying the candidate with his head bowed in prayer and says that he will be guided by prayer when he is in office.

The senator from Illinois spoke with Sarah Pulliam and Ted Olsen today about his faith, abortion, and the evangelical vote.

What do you think your biggest obstacle will be in reaching evangelicals?

You know, I think that there's been a set of habits of thinking about the interaction between evangelicals and Democrats that we have to change. Democrats haven't shown up. Evangelicals have come to believe often times that Democrats are anti-faith. Part of my job in this campaign, something that I started doing well before this campaign, was to make sure I was showing up and reaching out and sharing my faith experience with people who share that faith. Hopefully we can build some bridges that can allow us to move the country forward.

What would you do in office differently than Hillary Clinton or John Edwards that would appeal to evangelicals?

I have not focused on all of their policies so I don't want to speak about what their positions will be. I know that as president, I want to celebrate the richness and diversity of our faith experience in this country. I think it is important for us to encourage churches and congregations all across the country to involve themselves in rebuilding communities. One of the things I have consistently argued is that we can structure faith-based programs that prove to be successful — like substance abuse or prison ministries — without violating church and state. We should make sure they are rebuilding the lives of people even if they're not members of a particular congregation. That's the kind of involvement that I think many churches are pursuing, including my own. It can make a real difference in the lives of people all across the country.

So would you keep the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives open or restructure it?

You know, what I'd like to do is I'd like to see how it's been operating. One of the things that I think churches have to be mindful of is that if the federal government starts paying the piper, then they get to call the tune. It can, over the long term, be an encroachment on religious freedom. So, I want to see how moneys have been allocated through that office before I make a firm commitment in terms of sustaining practices that may not have worked as well as they should have.

One of the critiques of the Bush office on faith-based initiatives — beyond the church and state question — is that while it opened up competition to religious organizations or church-based organizations to compete for some of these federal funds, there was no additional allocation; there was no change in the funding. Instead, there were more organizations competing for the same the slice of pie.

I think that's right. There's always a danger in those situations that money is being allocating based on politics, as opposed to merit and substance. That doesn't just compromise government. More importantly, it compromises potentially our religious institutions.

For many evangelicals, abortion is a key, if not the key factor in their vote. You voted against banning partial birth abortion and voted against notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions. What role do you think the President should play in creating national abortion policies?

I don't know anybody who is pro-abortion. I think it's very important to start with that premise. I think people recognize what a wrenching, difficult issue it is. I do think that those who diminish the moral elements of the decision aren't expressing the full reality of it. But what I believe is that women do not make these decisions casually, and that they struggle with it fervently with their pastors, with their spouses, with their doctors.

Our goal should be to make abortion less common, that we should be discouraging unwanted pregnancies, that we should encourage adoption wherever possible. There is a range of ways that we can educate our young people about the sacredness of sex and we should not be promoting the sort of casual activities that end up resulting in so many unwanted pregnancies.

Ultimately, women are in the best position to make a decision at the end of the day about these issues. With significant constraints. For example, I think we can legitimately say — the state can legitimately say — that we are prohibiting late-term abortions as long as there's an exception for the mother's health. Those provisions that I voted against typically didn't have those exceptions, which raises profound questions where you might have a mother at great risk. Those are issues that I don't think the government can unilaterally make a decision about. I think they need to be made in consultation with doctors, they have to be prayed upon, or people have to be consulting their conscience on it. I think we have to keep that decision-making with the person themselves.

You've talked about your experience walking down the aisle at Trinity United Church of Christ, and kneeling beneath the cross, having your sins redeemed, and submitting to God's will. Would you describe that as a conversion? Do you consider yourself born again?

I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful. I didn't 'fall out in church' as they say, but there was a very strong awakening in me of the importance of these issues in my life. I didn't want to walk alone on this journey. Accepting Jesus Christ in my life has been a powerful guide for my conduct and my values and my ideals.

There is one thing that I want to mention that I think is important. Part of what we've been seeing during the course this campaign is some scurrilous e-mails that have been sent out, denying my faith, talking about me being a Muslim, suggesting that I got sworn in the U.S. Senate with a Quran in my hand or that I don't pledge allegiance to the flag. I think it's really important for your readers to know that I have been a member of the same church for almost 20 years, and I have never practiced Islam. I am respectful of the religion, but it's not my own. One of the things that's very important in this day and age is that we don't use religion as a political tool and certainly that we don't lie about religion as a way to score political points. I just thought it was important to get that in there to dispel rumors that have been over the Internet. We've done so repeatedly, but obviously it's a political tactic of somebody to try to provide this misinformation.

Is there any sense of how wide this e-mail has been distributed?

This is similar to these smear tactics that were used against John McCain in 2000. We have to continually chase down this stuff. It's obviously being sent out in a systematic way. You guys really help by getting the story straight.

Original here

Clinton's "Big State" Myth: Why Barack Obama Remains the Most Electable Democrat This Fall

The Clinton Campaign's post March 4th message is to forget about the delegate count and nominate Hillary because she can win the big states Democrats need in November. That argument simply doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Here's why:

1) Most of the "Big States" she has won are not battleground states in the fall. New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and California are solid blue states where Obama would do as well or better than Clinton in a general election against McCain.

2) Of the states she's won so far, the big exception to this rule is Ohio. Ohio is in fact a critical battleground state where Hillary has demonstrated that she has a leg up among lower income whites and older voters. But the polling also shows that in a general election, Barack offsets this advantage in Ohio among young voters and college-educated independents. In a McCain-Clinton match up the later group could gravitate heavily to McCain in Ohio.

In an Ohio general election, Obama's ability to attract independents and mobilize young and minority voters will trump Clinton's advantages among non-college whites -- a group that will break heavily for either Barack or Hillary against the "free trade" McCain.

Just remember, in Ohio right now, "national security" is a job. The economy and trade -- not "national security" -- will almost certainly continue to be the overriding issues for non-college whites in Ohio this November.

3) Obama puts in play a panoply of states where Clinton would have a much tougher time. Obama could potentially win Virginia (13 electoral votes), Missouri (11 electoral votes) and even Mississippi (whose population is 40% African American -- 6 electoral votes). He would be considerably more competitive than Clinton in other battleground states like Colorado (9 electoral votes), Iowa (7 electoral votes), Wisconsin (10 electoral votes), Minnesota (10 electoral votes) and Michigan (17 electoral votes). The same goes for New Hampshire (4 electoral votes) -- a state where McCain will work hard to woo independents among whom Obama did much better than Clinton in this year's primary.

4) Even in states where Clinton could make a case for some advantages relative to Obama, these "advantages" are far from certain. Take Florida where she might assert an advantage among Latinos. Florida also has up to 500,000 newly enfranchised ex-felons -- many of whom are African American. The problem with these new voters is mobilization, not persuasion. Getting them registered and voting will be hard. Obama would obviously turn out many more African American mobilizable voters than Clinton. And when it comes to Latino voters, Obama's clear record on immigration contrasts well with McCain who has thrown Latino immigration reform aspirations under the bus in order to pander to his party's right wing.

5) Obama has the one quality that allows him to simultaneously motivate mobilizable base voters and appeal to persuadable independents -- the ability to inspire. This quality allows him to broaden the appeal of his candidacy to swing voters. At the same time it allows him to expand the electorate with new young and African American voters who otherwise simply wouldn't vote. Clinton is the anti-inspiration candidate. She will have a much harder time both expanding the electorate and appealing to swing voters. Obama's ability to inspire -- by itself -- makes him a much stronger general election candidate.

6) Finally, let's remember that the base of the Republican Party -- cultural conservatives -- is not so wild about McCain. They are accepting McCain with about as much enthusiasm as children take cough medicine. They know they need him, but they really aren't happy about it. The one thing that could energize the Republican base is their inveterate hatred for Hillary Clinton. Clinton would mobilize right-wing base voters the same way that hatred for Bush motivated Democrats in 2006. Why should we help galvanize the Republican base by nominating Hillary Clinton when we have another great choice?

All of these factors are born out in the consistent survey results that show Obama polls six to ten points better than Clinton against John McCain.

Clinton will have a difficult to impossible time winning the pledged delegate battle. Her only path to the nomination is convincing Super Delegates that she is the most electable. That dog won't hunt.

Robert Creamer is a long time political organizer and strategist and author of the new book Listen to Your Mother: Stand Up Straight. How Progressives Can Win. The book is available at Amazon.com.

Original here

Tangled Friggin' Web

Seems the NAFTAgate leak started with -- surprise, surprise -- the Chief of Staff to Canada's conservative PM Stephen Harper. Only the first hint wasn't about stuff the Canadians had heard from the Obama camp. It was about reassurances the Canadians got from the Clinton campaign. According to a reporter who heard the original conversation, Brodie said "someone from (Hillary) Clinton's campaign is telling the embassy to take it with a grain of salt. . . That someone called us and told us not to worry."

Only somehow this evolved into a story about the Obama campaign giving such reassurances.

The Globe and Mail has the latest details.

So was Hillary bashing Obama for what her own campaign had done? Did they both do it? Was it all a set up? I think the overarching story here is that friendly governments should not interfere in our elections.

Original here

'NAFTAgate' began with remark from Harper's chief of staff

OTTAWA — If the Prime Minister is seeking the first link in the chain of events that has rocked the U.S. presidential race, he need look no further than his chief of staff, Ian Brodie, The Canadian Press has learned.

A candid comment to journalists from CTV News by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's most senior political staffer during the hurly-burly of a budget lock-up provided the initial spark in what the American media are now calling NAFTAgate.

Mr. Harper announced Wednesday that he has asked an internal security team to begin finding the source of a document leak that he characterized as being "blatantly unfair" to Senator Barack Obama.

What is now a swirling Canada-U.S. controversy began on Feb. 26, when the usually circumspect Mr. Brodie was milling among droves of Canadian media on budget day in the stately old building that once housed Ottawa's train station.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff Ian Brodie watches from the back of the room during a photo op before the government caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Wednesday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff Ian Brodie watches from the back of the room during a photo op before the government caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Wednesday. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Reporters were locked up there all day, examining the federal budget until they were allowed to leave once it was tabled in the House of Commons at 4 p.m.

Since the budget contained little in the way of headline-grabbing surprises, some were left with enough free time to gather around a large-screen TV to watch the latest hockey news on NHL trade deadline day.

Mr. Brodie wandered over to speak to Finance Department officials and chatted amiably with journalists — who appreciated this rare moment of direct access to the top official in Mr. Harper's notoriously tight-lipped government.

The former university professor found himself in a room with CTV employees where he was quickly surrounded by a gaggle of reporters while other journalists were within earshot of other colleagues.

At the end of an extended conversation, Mr. Brodie was asked about remarks aimed by the Democratic candidates at Ohio's anti-NAFTA voters that carried serious economic implications for Canada.

Since 75 per cent of Canadian exports go to the U.S., Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton's musings about reopening the North American free-trade pact had caused some concern.

Mr. Brodie downplayed those concerns.

"Quite a few people heard it," said one source in the room.

"He said someone from (Hillary) Clinton's campaign is telling the embassy to take it with a grain of salt. . . That someone called us and told us not to worry."

Government officials did not deny the conversation took place.

They said that Mr. Brodie sought to allay concerns about the impact of Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton's assertion that they would re-negotiate NAFTA if elected. But they did say that Mr. Brodie had no recollection of discussing any specific candidate — either Ms. Clinton or Mr. Obama.

CTV News President Robert Hurst said he would not discuss his journalists' sources.

But others said the content of Mr. Brodie's remarks was passed on to CTV's Washington bureau and their White House correspondent set out the next day to pursue the story on Ms. Clinton's apparent hypocrisy on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Although CTV correspondent Tom Clark mentioned Ms. Clinton in passing, the focus of his story was on assurances from the Obama camp.

He went to air on Feb. 27 with a report that the Democratic front-runner had given advance notice to Canadian diplomats that he was about to engage in some anti-NAFTA rhetoric, but not to take it too seriously.

The report wound up on YouTube and caused an uproar in the U.S. race — influencing the final days of the critical Ohio primary, with every indication it will also play a role in the upcoming Pennsylvania vote.

Mr. Obama has been pilloried by his opponents and faced the most aggressive questioning of his heretofore smooth-sailing campaign.

Clinton used the story to cast him as a double-talking hypocrite — winking and nudging at Canadians while making contrary promises to American voters.

Republican nominee John McCain — who proudly dubs himself a straight-talker — has also seized on the incident to paint the Democratic front-runner as anything but.

When Mr. Obama's campaign and the Canadian government denied the allegation, a leaked document was obtained by The Associated Press written by a Canadian diplomat. It chronicled a conversation between Obama economic adviser Austan Goulsbee and diplomats at Canada's Chicago consulate.

The Obama aide has challenged the wording of the memo and says it characterized the conversation unfairly. A government official said that memo was initially e-mailed to over 120 government employees.

Mr. Harper has rebuffed opposition requests to call in the RCMP and also investigate the source of the original tip that led to the CTV report that triggered the diplomatic tempest. But a team of internal security agents has begun an investigation that will see dozens of bureaucrats and political staff questioned about their knowledge of the leak.

"This kind of leaking of information is completely unacceptable. In fact, it may well be illegal," Mr. Harper told the House of Commons.

"It is not useful, it is not in the interests of the government of Canada — and the way the leak was executed was blatantly unfair to Senator Obama and his campaign.

"Based on what (investigators) find, and based on legal advice, we will take any action that is necessary to get to the bottom of this matter."

NDP Leader Jack Layton is asking Mr. Harper to call on the Mounties to find out how the leaks occurred, and whether the Security of Information Act or any other privacy legislation was breached.

"There can be no doubt about it: the leak from within the Canadian government has had an impact now on the American elections," Mr. Layton said Wednesday.

"That is about the worst thing a country could do to another country — to have an effect on their democratic process. . . If Mr. Harper isn't willing to call in the RCMP that confirms our suspicion that this was intentional."

Mr. Layton said Canadians would never accept Americans interfering in our elections, and we shouldn't tamper with theirs.

He said the incident is far more serious than another one last year in which the government called in the RCMP.

A temporary employee at Environment Canada was arrested in his office and marched out in handcuffs for allegedly leaking details of a government climate-change plan to the media.

Mr. Layton said that's small potatoes compared with inflicting political damage on one of the three contenders to lead the world's biggest superpower, and Canada's neighbour and largest trading partner.

"He's unwilling to treat it with the level of serious attention that he did when there was a junior bureaucrat at environment. . . He called in the RCMP on that one."

Original here

In Fox interview, Clinton 'thanks' Rove

A jovial Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama took to FOX News early Monday to spin their respective performances in Tuesday’s pivotal Democratic primaries – and faced critiques from former Bush ‘architect’ Karl Rove.

Clinton parried a question about her “humanity,” wooing the network she had once decried.

“I have a little secret, which I will only tell Fox, if you promise not to tell anybody else,” she said. “You know what, I really am a human being. I know that’s hard to believe, but it happens to be true.”

Karl Rove “has handed me a note,” added Fox anchor Steve Doocy (the clip takes place at 2:51). “More US presidents have been born in the month of October than any other month. You were born in—?”

“October,” Clinton replied. “Thank you, Karl. I mean the omens are just stacking up. What can I say?”

Asked about a Rush Limbaugh effort to have Republicans vote for Clinton in Texas, Clinton said, “Be careful what you wish for, Rush.”

Obama, meanwhile, noted that he still held a sizable lead among Democratic delegates, despite Clinton’s Tuesday victories in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island.

“It’s going to be hard for her to close the delegate lead,” Obama said. “We expect that we’ll be vigorously contesting all of these states. We are in a very strong position to win the nomination… we’re anxious to pivot to November to have a debate about which direction we want to move the country.”

Rove complimented Clinton’s performance.

“I thought it was good, light—that’s the side of her Americans don’t see much,” he said.

Meanwhile, the onetime Bush adviser attacked Obama, saying he had failed in his three years in the Senate to “achieve big things.”

“He has not done that in his three years in the Senate,” Rove quipped.

The following videos are from Fox's Fox & Friends, broadcast March 5, 2008.

Hillary Clinton interview



Barack Obama interview



Original here

CLINTON: Energizing Victories, But Difficult Delegate Math

As Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton raced from border towns on the Rio Grande to farm communities in the Midwest trying to salvage her troubled presidential campaign in recent days, advisers at her Arlington headquarters were awash in mixed feelings about whether she should go on.

Decisive victories in both Ohio and Texas, they agreed, would justify staying in the race until the next big primary in Pennsylvania in seven weeks. Defeats in both of the big states would spell the end. But the prospect of a split decision or close results generated sharply different judgments from her strategists about her future.

Clinton wiped away the debate last night with a robust victory in Ohio and a narrow win in Texas. But as she vowed to keep campaigning, the tight vote in Texas signaled she may yet face a tough decision in coming weeks. The slim margin in the Texas popular vote and an additional caucus process in which she trailed made clear that she would not win enough delegates to put a major dent in Sen. Barack Obama's lead. And regardless of the results, she emerged from the crucible of Ohio and Texas with a campaign mired in debt and riven by dissension

Clinton plans to use her triumphs in Ohio and Texas, as well as in Rhode Island, to argue that she still has a credible claim to the Democratic nomination, despite the delegate math. Many in her circle believe she finally recaptured momentum on the campaign trail in recent days and managed to put Obama on the defensive by questioning his readiness to serve as commander in chief. If nothing else, they hope she has earned a new lease to make her case to the nation.

Appearing before jubilant supporters in Columbus last night, an energized Clinton seized on the Ohio victory and declared that she will go "all the way" to the White House. "Keep on watching," she said. "Together, we're going to make history."

As the results came in, aides reported that the dark mood that has clouded her campaign headquarters for weeks had finally lifted, and talk of dropping out was fading. "It means she goes on," a senior campaign strategist said on the condition of anonymity. "All the late-breaking voters went with her, and the next batch of states favor her. He is starting to get scrutiny like he has never seen before, and he is out of material to talk about on the trail."

Another Democrat who has advised her noted that Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, have made a career of refusing to give in when the establishment has counted them out. "She doesn't give up," the Democrat said. "He doesn't give up."

Critical to Clinton's prospect of victory are the superdelegates, the nearly 800 elected officials and party leaders who can vote any way they choose. Her campaign envisions what aides call a "buyer's remorse" strategy of raising enough doubts about the first-term senator from Illinois through increasingly vigorous attacks and tougher media scrutiny to convince the superdelegates that it would be too risky to nominate him.

That reflects the recognition that it would be enormously difficult for Clinton to overtake Obama in the pledged delegates chosen by voters in primaries and caucuses. By some calculations, Clinton would need to win more than 60 percent of the vote in the dozen contests remaining between now and June 7 to catch Obama in pledged delegates -- a steep challenge given that, so far, she has won that much in only one state, her onetime adopted home of Arkansas. Even in New York, where she is a sitting senator, she won 57 percent of the vote. She won 55 percent in Michigan, where Obama was not even on the ballot.

"Her durability is impressive if not astonishing, but she is still looking at some pretty cold, hard numbers in the race," said Jim Jordan, a Democratic strategist who initially ran the 2004 primary campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). "She's running out of time, she's running out of space." He described a Clinton nomination even with wins in Texas and Ohio as "impossible, really."

Steve McMahon, another Democratic strategist who is not working for either candidate, said the odds are long. "It's difficult to see how the math works for Senator Clinton," he said. "If you look at most models out there circulating, the one thing that's consistent is that she has to perform pretty strongly in order to have any hope of making up the deficit among elected delegates."

Still, Clinton supporters said yesterday's results suggested that Obama has not been able to close the deal, leaving her an opening. "She has lost 11 states in a row -- and the closest was Wisconsin, which she lost by 17" percentage points, said Paul Begala, who was a White House aide to her husband. "The theory of momentum suggested Obama should roll up equally large margins today, but voters seem to want to keep this race going. I suspect Senator Clinton agrees with them."

Indeed, Clinton had hinted Monday that she was ready to keep the race going. "I'm just getting warmed up," she said. She seemed to surge on the strength of attacks on Obama's leadership preparation, conflicting statements about the North American Free Trade Agreement and connections to fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, whose trial on unrelated extortion and money laundering charges opened Monday.

But candidates rarely admit they are considering dropping out until the moment they do. And Clinton, until the Ohio results came in, deflected questions about her plans yesterday, saying that she did not like to make predictions when asked repeatedly what she would do if she lost Texas, Ohio or both.

"No person has ever won the White House without winning the Ohio primary in either party, so I think Ohio is pretty important," Clinton said in an interview with the NBC affiliate in Columbus. "The voters are not ready for this to be over. They want to be sure they are picking the person who would be the strongest nominee against John McCain."

Clinton has been counting on Ohio and Texas to vault her back into contention after losing every contest since Super Tuesday on Feb. 5. Her strong showings in those states may now help curb what some Clinton strategists had expected to be escalating calls from senior Democrats to end her campaign in the interest of pulling the party together to face McCain, the Republican nominee. But Obama's allies said they would try to avoid piling on, recognizing that it might only prod her to stay in.

"I don't think anybody in the Obama campaign is going to tell her to get out," said former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), an Obama supporter. "Only Hillary can decide what's right and what her future course should be. It becomes increasingly difficult to see mathematically how she can do it, but there may be other reasons to stay involved other than winning the nomination."

Her organization, though, is drained of money and energy. Outgunned by Obama in the fundraising department, the Clinton campaign is carrying millions of dollars in debt, although officials would not say how much, and it threw everything it had into Texas and Ohio. Campaign aides expressed optimism that she will draw a new infusion of money after these primaries and have enough to go forward, although that remains unclear.

Perhaps just as significant, many on her team appear exhausted and dispirited. Advisers have not waited for Ohio and Texas to launch into a furious debate about whom to blame for her problems. Senior advisers described the infighting as debilitating and destructive, with some members of her inner circle barely speaking to one another. Many fault Mark Penn, the campaign's chief strategist, for crafting a message they said did not match the mood of the year. Penn's allies blame other advisers for mismanaging campaign finances and not putting organizations on the ground in many caucus states.

As recently as last week, there were divisions among top advisers over which advertisement to use against Obama -- one attacking his Iraq war position, or one featuring a "3 a.m. call" to the White House that describes Clinton as better prepared to be president. The latter advertisement won out. But Clinton advisers were infuriated about the original debate, blaming Penn for encouraging her to cling to an unsuccessful argument -- that Obama's deeds have not matched his stated opposition to the Iraq war.

And even though Penn claimed credit for the phone-call ad, senior Clinton advisers expressed confusion over whether Penn or Austin ad guru Roy Spence had made it. Penn's allies said he made the ad -- and insisted on airing it over the objections of other senior advisers, including Mandy Grunwald, who is technically in charge of ad making. Penn wrote the ad, his allies said, and Grunwald reluctantly made it, but then tried to get it spiked.

The sniping over the ad was the latest expression of divisions within a team that has never been cohesive. Advisers complained bitterly about one other, and stories in the media delineated their differences. Several people inside the campaign said earlier that if Clinton won last night, it would be despite her campaign, not because of it.

Moving forward, Clinton officials think she will probably lose the next two contests, in Wyoming on Saturday and Mississippi on Tuesday. Their firewall, they hope, is Pennsylvania on April 22, giving Clinton time to continue raising doubts about Obama's experience, questioning his sincerity about toughening trade laws and appealing to women in a state that mirrors Ohio's working-class demographics. Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a strong Clinton ally, believes he could engineer a victory for her.

"The streak of losses has been snapped," one adviser said last night. "I think we touched bottom a week ago, and we've been coming back up, and the question was: Did we have enough time? And so far, based on the results, we did."

Original here

Obama Memo on Clinton Tax Returns

The Clinton campaign today maintained that “the vetting of Barack Obama has just begun.” The truth is, more than a year into this campaign, some very simple vetting of Hillary Clinton has yet to start.

In the face of her unwillingness to release her tax returns, Hillary Clinton has made the false case in this campaign that she is more electable because she has been fully vetted. When it comes to her personal finances, Senator Clinton’s refusal to release her taxes returns denies the media and the American people the opportunity to even begin that process. Though her campaign has tried to kick the issue down the road, Democratic voters deserve to know, right now, why it is she is hiding the information in her tax returns from last year.

The Clinton campaign has said that they have released copious amounts of financial information but there are many questions about their private dealings that could be answered in their tax returns but not in the information that is currently available. For example, here are eight pieces of information that could be learned from her tax returns, the accompanying schedules, and attachments:

Effective tax rate – including whether or not any tax shelters were used to reduce it
Amount of income for spouses by source
Amount of stock gains and losses
Gross income for the couple
Amount earned from stock dividends
Amount of household employment taxes paid
Personal exemptions taken
Charitable contributions made

Senator Clinton has also claimed that she is too “busy” to release her tax returns. Given the fact she is able to loan her campaign $5 million, you would think the Clintons would be able to hire an accountant. The reality is that she wants to keep this information hidden from voters. The people of Wyoming, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and the rest of the country should wonder why.

The Clintons’ record on releasing tax returns:

FEBRUARY 2008: Clinton Reiterated That She Would Not Release Her Tax Records Until She Is The Nominee And Not Before Mid-April. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton says she won’t release her tax returns until she has the Democratic presidential nomination in hand, and not before tax filing time comes in mid-April. “I will release my tax returns,” Clinton said during the debate. “I have consistently said I will do that once I become the nominee, or even earlier.” Pressed about the timing of releasing her tax returns, campaign aides were more reticent Wednesday, indicating that Clinton would not release the sensitive financial data during a hotly contested primary, but only at tax filing time. [AP, 2/27/08 ]

JUNE 2007: Clinton Does Not Plan to Release Her Tax Returns Until Next Year. According to the Washington Post, Clinton said through a spokesman that, “like past presidential candidates,” she will “release tax information in the election year.” [Washington Post , 6/19/07]

APRIL 12, 1996: Clinton Released His Tax Returns. President Clinton and his wife earned $316,074 in 1995, including the president’s $200,000 salary, according to tax returns released Friday by the White House. The public release of the tax returns, three days before the April 15 filing deadline, shows that Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton are owed a refund of $5,656 on the $81,093 they paid in taxes, and will apply that refund to their 1996 income taxes. [UPI, 4/12/96]

April 15, 1992: Bill Clinton Made His Tax Returns Public. APRIL 15, 1992: Bill Clinton made his tax returns made public. [Los Angeles Times, 4/16/93]

Original here

5 Reasons to be Very Afraid of John McCain

Our little list of 5 Reasons to be Very Afraid of Mike Huckabee created quite the rift between readers: some thought that Huckabee is indeed a scary candidate; others insisted he wouldn’t stay in the race long enough to be a viable candidate anyway (we’ll try to resist saying “we told you so”). Lest we show a preference for the other guy, here are our top 5 reasons to be very afraid of John McCain.

5. He believes that presidents should be chosen based on their religious affiliation. It is, of course, to be expected that many voters will prefer a candidate who shares their own personal views on issues like religion. But McCain also believes that Christianity should be a prerequisite for holding the office of President - even though that is in direct conflict with the Constitution.

4. Actually, the man who places so much importance on religion isn’t even sure what denomination he is. When he’s in the North, he’s Episcopalian. When in South Carolina, he was somehow a Baptist.

3. It would be too difficult to choose just one McCain flip-flop to list here. Let’s just say that Sen. McCain is no stranger to changing his mind when it suits him and his campaign. The video at the top of this post shows just a few examples of why it’s difficult to believe anything McCain says.

2. In January of this year, Sen. McCain said that he would be fine with keeping American forces in Iraq for 100 more years. Now, just weeks later, he claims that “the war will be over soon.” He tries to make a distinction between fighting a war and fighting insurgents; however, he also says that the Iraqis will handle the insurgents themselves. Why do we need to be there for that? Good question.

1. Senator McCain isn’t quite sure where he stands on the issues of contraception and AIDS prevention. He has been one of the most energetic killers of women’s and children’s health programs, so apparently he knows where he stands on those issues. However, when he was asked whether he agrees with American funding for condom distribution in Africa to prevent AIDS, the Senator was speechless. He could not think of an answer, so he asked an aid to locate his position on contraception. He also deferred to Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Oklahoma) for his opinion on the issue of condom distribution - the same Coburn who supports the death penalty for abortion doctors.

Original here

Bush May Fire CentCom Chief Adm. Fallon, Replace With Commander More ‘Pliable’ To War With Iran

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called CENTCOM commander Adm. William Fallon “one of the best strategic thinkers in uniform today.” Fallon opposed the “surge” in Iraq and has consistently battled the Bush administration to avoid a confrontation with Iran, calling officials’ war-mongering “not helpful.” Privately, he has vowed that an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch.”

Unfortunately, this level-headed thinking and willingness to stand up to President Bush may cost him his job. According to a new article by Thomas P.M. Barnett in the April issue of Esquire magazine (on newsstands March 12), Fallon may be prematurely “relieved of his command” as soon as this summer:

[W]ell-placed observers now say that it will come as no surprise if Fallon is relieved of his command before his time is up next spring, maybe as early as this summer, in favor of a commander the White House considers to be more pliable. If that were to happen, it may well mean that the president and vice-president intend to take military action against Iran before the end of this year and don’t want a commander standing in their way.

In the Esquire article, Fallon also said that he was in “hot water” with the White House for meeting with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Fallon noted that such meetings are his job, and essential to making sure that regional leaders don’t get “too spun up” by the administration’s war rhetoric.

In today’s White House press briefing, a reporter asked spokeswoman Dana Perino about the Esquire piece. Perino refused to say whether Fallon’s position is secure until the end of his tenure, instead attacking “rumor mills that don’t turn out to be true.” Watch it:

According to Barnett’s piece, Fallon also denied ever calling Petraeus an “ass-kissing little chickenshit.” He called the allegations “[a]bsolute bullshit.”

Digg It!

Transcript:

QUESTION: Dana, I know you have (inaudible), but if you’ll trust me to quote from it, there’s an article in Esquire magazine about Admiral William Fallon that says this: Because of Fallon’s caution on Iran, Fallon may soon be unemployed because he is doing what a generation of young officers in the U.S. military are now openly complaining that their leadership didn’t do on their behalf in the run up to the war in Iraq. He’s standing up to the commander in chief and he thinks he’s contemplating a strategically unsound war.

Is that an accurate portrayal of their relationship?

PERINO: You’re right. But before I came here, I told you I haven’t seen the article. I don’t know who wrote it. I’ve never heard anything of that sort, except for in rumor mills that don’t turn out to be true.

So, I’ll check it out, but I don’t think…

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: … opposing views on Iran?

PERINO: I don’t know.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: … saying that he’s been in hot water with the White House because — even meeting with Mubarak.

PERINO: President Bush’s position on Iran is very clear. It doesn’t mean that other people can’t have other thoughts or positions, but I’m not going to characterize Admiral Fallon.

And let me take a look at the article and then we’ll try to get back to you.

Original here

So what's REALLY behind Hillary's "surge" of wins in TX, Ohio and Rhode Island

As we all know, Hillary Clinton won in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island.

How come these states voted for Clinton when virtually all other states voted for Obama? Is it Hillary's new strategy? Did a scandal I missed happen to Obama? Perhaps the democratic voters in those states are contrarians, and vote for Hillary for fun?

No.

It's much simpler.

The GOP primary is done, and McCain won the republican nomination for president.

Now, all the republicans that live in the states that did not get to vote yet... won't. Because McCain ALREADY WON the republican nomination. There is no point.

There's only one republican left in the race - John "bomb bomb bomb Iran" McCain.

What's a republican voter to do?
It's simple - the republican voter will vote in the democratic primary for his state, and vote for the WEAKEST democrat nominee, that McCain could beat, to help his republican party.

That would be you, Hillary.

Don't believe me?
Rush Limbaugh on FOX "news":

I don't know if the audience is mobilizing or not. I am urging people — I am using a phrase — the Republicans — our nominee is chosen. It's John McCain.

Texas is open. And I want Hillary to stay in this, Laura. This is too good a soap opera. We need Barack Obama bloodied up politically (...)

This is the presidency of the United States you're talking about. I want our party to win. I want the Democrats to lose. They're in the midst of tearing themselves apart right now. It is fascinating to watch, and it's all going to stop if Hillary loses.

So yes, I'm asking to cross over and, if they can stomach it — I know it's a difficult thing to do to vote for a Clinton — but it will sustain this soap opera, and it's something I think we need. It would be fun, too.

The Yoo Ess Ey election system is beyond broken - it truly is fucked up.

This would be all avoided of course if we as a nation had a one day national, direct vote (as in actual democracy) system to choose a president.

That way, the media won't be able to tell us that a candidate has no chance, because they wouldn't know it. We wouldn't need to worry about superdelegates, because one person = one vote eliminates this bullshit. You wouldn't worry if you are throwing your vote away voting for Kucinich, Ron Paul or Gravel... because as you cast your vote, no one will know who is winning and who is losing...

But we live in the Yoo Ess of Ey - and we get this farce shoved into our faces, and told it's a democracy...

Original here

A 10-Year Prison Sentence for Selling Light Bulbs

Steve Tucker served a 10-year prison sentence for selling light bulbs. Is America's drug war worth it?














A LIFE ON THE MEND: When Steve Tucker emerged from prison a year ago, he was a 50-year-old man starting over from scratch, as reflected by his modestly furnished apartment.

A year has passed since Steve Tucker made his unheralded return to Atlanta.

His one-bedroom flat, tucked into a sprawling Sandy Springs apartment complex, is furnished sparsely: a recliner, TV, computer and a small, picnic-style table that serves as both dining hutch and desk. The stark white static of the walls is interrupted only by three small, web-like dream catchers tacked to the Sheetrock.

It's the sort of Spartan minimalism one might expect of someone who, until recently, had to content himself with staring at bare cinderblock.

"Watch out, you're talking to a notorious ex-con." Wrapped in a sharp Middle Georgia twang, Tucker's voice betrays a suppressed smile. The slight, balding, 50-year-old Atlantan is hardly an intimidating figure.

But he's only half-kidding. Nearly a decade ago, he was sent to prison as a result of a once-infamous federal drug case that sparked national outrage for its rough interpretation of justice.

In the spring of 1994, the Tucker family received lengthy prison sentences -- 10 years for Steve, 16 years for his older brother Gary, and 10 years for his brother's wife, Joanne -- without possibility of parole, for the curiously worded federal crime of "conspiracy to manufacture marijuana."

Yet federal prosecutors never charged them with buying, selling, growing, transporting, smoking or even possessing marijuana. An 18-month DEA investigation had failed to turn up direct evidence connecting the Tuckers to even a single joint.

Instead, they were locked away for selling the lamps, fertilizer and gardening hardware from the small hydroponic supply shop Gary operated on Buford Highway that enabled their customers to grow pot.

In the mid-'90s, the Tucker case became a cause celebre among libertarian activists and other advocates of marijuana legalization. It served as an oft-cited, cautionary example of the runaway powers of the federal government and the worst excesses of the War on Drugs.

And yet, in the long years since, the Tucker case has faded from the radar. No TV cameras or microphones awaited Steve Tucker when he finally shed his prison uniform and came home.

His mother would rather it remain that way. "I'm just scared to death of the federal government," she says. At the same time, Doris Gore realizes her son has an important story to tell.

And he's determined to tell it. As he reads weekly accounts of federal agents in California arresting licensed medical-marijuana growers, he's convinced he must speak out.

"The feds don't like it when you buck them, but I'll be damned if they break me," Tucker says. "What kind of American would I be if I just kept my mouth shut?"

Steve Tucker's nightmare began with the American dream.

The funny thing is, the dream initially belonged to his older brother Gary, a balding Vietnam veteran with a house in the suburbs and a comfortable marriage. For nearly two decades, he and Steve had worked side-by-side, installing commercial fire-control systems for a Buckhead company. But by the fall of 1987, Gary was 40 and he yearned to be his own boss.

Gary's choice of businesses was pioneering: a store devoted to hydroponics, the technique of growing plants without soil or sunlight, using only powerful lamps, chemical nutrients and a self-contained irrigation system. It was, Gary decided after some research, the "wave of the future."

Whose future, however, was the question. While hydroponics is highly effective at boosting vegetable growth, the systems are so costly as to be of practical use only to orchid breeders. And, of course, to marijuana growers, who are lured by the promise of high yields that could be produced in basements and attics, away from the prying eyes of authorities.

Gary wasn't naive. He knew his customer base would include few deep-pocketed tomato enthusiasts. But just as Wal-Mart doesn't ask if the handgun ammunition it sells will be used for target practice or hold-ups, the Tuckers decided it was best to adopt a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

"Look, we weren't stupid," Steve says with a weary smile. "We figured a percentage of our customers were growing pot. But we had store rules that if anyone asked us about marijuana, we'd ask them to leave. What someone was planning to do with fertilizer or grow lights wasn't our concern. Most of the stuff we were selling, you could buy at Home Depot. We had a legitimate business."

To finance the start-up, Gary mortgaged his home in Gwinnett and, in the spring of 1988, his business opened in a small shopping center on the edge of Norcross. It was the first hydroponics store in Georgia.

The name Gary chose for his store -- Southern Lights And Hydroponics -- was a nod to a successful Mid-Atlantic chain called Northern Lights, which itself was named after a particularly potent strain of Alaskan weed.

Steve, who had begun making child-support payments after his 10-year marriage ended in divorce, kept his regular job, but helped out weekends in his brother's store. Joanne, who worked for an insurance company, kept her husband's books.

To compensate for hydroponics' somewhat questionable image, Gary wouldn't allow High Times, rolling papers or Mr. Natural posters to be sold in the store. Any product or packaging that arrived bearing the familiar hemp-leaf silhouette would promptly be shipped back. Adding to Southern Lights' air of respectability, the brothers were invited to install working hydroponic exhibits for the agriculture departments of Gwinnett Tech and a local high school.

That's not to say the Tucker brothers didn't enjoy a joint now and again. Gary had first smoked during his tour in Vietnam and Steve would get arrested in 1991 for growing his own stash at home. For that offense, he would serve six months in a county work-release program.

"Getting busted was just my dumb luck," Steve explains. "I used to smoke pot, but I wasn't dealing. I never claimed to be 100-percent innocent, but I never conspired with anybody to do anything illegal."

What the Tuckers didn't know while they were busy preparing to launch Southern Lights was that, in Washington, the DEA was grappling with how to go after the booming number of marijuana growers who were taking their crops indoors to avoid aerial detection.

A veteran agent had hit on the answer while flipping through an issue of High Times: Cut the burgeoning industry's supply lines by focusing the agency's attack on stores selling grow lights and hydroponic gear, dozens of which advertised in the pages of head-shop magazines.

Over the next two years, the DEA subpoenaed UPS shipping records for stores across the country. Agents went undercover to browse through hydroponic shops, follow up leads on pot farms and casually ask everyone with long hair where one could buy seeds.

The agency's aggressiveness showed how far the pendulum had swung since the heyday of the marijuana-reform movement, a decade earlier. At the close of the '70s, 11 states -- following the advice of the American Medical Association and even then-President Jimmy Carter -- had decriminalized simple possession. In 1981, the first bill to legalize medical-marijuana use was introduced in Congress. Its lead sponsor was a young, conservative Georgia lawmaker named Newt Gingrich.

Under Ronald Reagan, however, the tide swiftly turned. Even while the CIA was secretly helping Nicaraguan Contras smuggle vast amounts of cocaine into the president's home state of California, the administration was cracking down on domestic pot smokers, pushing for "zero tolerance" drug laws and scolding Americans to "Just Say No." By the end of the '80s, even socially progressive Oregon had again outlawed weed.

One month after the first President Bush pledged to escalate the War on Drugs in a Sept. 5, 1989, speech televised from the Oval Office, Operation Green Merchant went public. More than 200 indoor growing operations and 30 indoor-gardening shops and mail-order houses found themselves overrun with DEA agents.

One high-profile businessman caught in that first wave of busts was Tom Alexander, the owner of a small hydroponics store in Oregon and publisher of Sinsemilla Tips, considered by some marijuana advocates to be the thinking-man's High Times.

The DEA seized an estimated $55,000 in inventory from his store, but Alexander soon discovered it would be even more costly to fight the action in court. A few months later, he was forced to shutter his magazine as well.

Alexander had been financially ruined without ever being charged with a crime. It was an approach the feds would repeat with indoor-gardening stores from coast to coast, including all six locations of Northern Lights.

So perhaps Gary Tucker shouldn't have been surprised one day in the early weeks of 1992 when DEA Special Agent Kevin McLaughlin dropped by Southern Lights with an offer its owner wasn't expected to refuse. The feds would be much obliged, McLaughlin explained, if he'd let them install hidden cameras in the store so they could snoop on his customers. If he didn't, no effort would be spared in shutting down his 4-year-old business.

The conversation lasted probably all of five minutes, but its outcome would set into motion forces the Tuckers could scarcely imagine.

Gary would later tell his family that when he told McLaughlin to get lost, the agent "said they'd get him somehow," recalls his mother, Doris Gore.

Still disgusted by the idea of being pressured into being a government spy, Steve has never second-guessed his brother's response. "This isn't Nazi Germany," he says.

Sometime in late spring 1992, Gary Tucker realized his shop was being watched by a man sitting at a desk in an empty storefront across the street. Every time a car pulled into the Southern Lights parking lot, the mystery man would scribble something into a pad. From that point on, events unfolded quickly.

In May, Mike and Andrea Williams, customers who had become friends of Gary and Joanne, were busted by the DEA. The couple used a hydroponic system to grow marijuana for Mike, who was terminally ill and smoked to combat the pain and nausea.

One evening in July, the DEA's McLaughlin, accompanied by partner Mark Hadaway, paid a visit to Jorene Deakle, who worked with Gary as Southern Lights' store manager, and accused her and her husband of growing pot in their home.

Deakle testified two years later at the Tuckers' sentencing hearing that the agents had threatened to file charges and seize her house unless she agreed to spy on her employer for them. She said she was frightened into giving them names of Southern Lights customers she thought might be growing weed.

But the agents wouldn't let up, she testified, until she came with them to point out a house where she knew marijuana was being grown. As they were driving, Deakle told the judge, she picked a house at random so they finally would leave her alone.

The terrified Deakle called the agents several times a week to feed them tidbits of information; the investigation gained momentum. Agents followed customers home, pawed through their garbage, subpoenaed their utility bills and trained sophisticated infrared-imaging devices on their houses to look for concentrated heat sources.

Then the busts began in earnest, as one green thumb after another was caught red-handed. Don Switlick, a convicted drug trafficker, was found growing 114 plants with hydroponic equipment purchased at Southern Lights. Agents discovered a grow room in the Dawsonville home of Thomas Fordham, a high-school friend of Gary's. And, in September, Chuck Rothermel, who ran a car-customizing shop, was busted for a large crop of immature plants hidden in a nondescript warehouse he was renting in Forsyth County.

Of course, not every raid paid off. In one case, agents searched a startled family's home, only to discover that the husband was using the incriminating high-watt lamps in his tropical aquarium. In another, the suspect had never heard of the store; he'd been identified through his car, which his girlfriend had borrowed for the day.

Suffering from what Steve describes as a "nervous breakdown," Deakle mysteriously quit her job. The Tuckers would later find out she had also broken off contact with the DEA.

By October, Gary had adopted what could only be called an unusual business strategy, warning everyone who came into his store that they were being watched by federal agents. "We felt it was our obligation," Steve explains.

Gary even complained to the newspaper -- somewhat naively, in retrospect -- that the DEA was harassing customers buying legal products in an effort to drive him out of business.

McLaughlin responded by dropping by the store on occasion to remind the Tuckers of his promise to shut them down, Steve says. "He was always real cocky," he recalls. "Once, Joanne put him down, so he told her he'd killed her dog, just to upset her."

Their mother begged Gary to quit the hydroponics trade. "I wanted them to get rid of that store, but Gary said they weren't doing anything illegal," Doris Gore recalls. "He was adamant about keeping it open because he said it wasn't his business what other people did with the equipment he sold."

In December, Gary and Joanne went out to dinner and drinks with a friend, Mark Holmes, who kept steering the rambling, margarita-fueled conversation back to the subject of recreational marijuana use -- in large part because he was wearing a wire.

The DEA raided the Tuckers' home and store the following spring, carrying away boxes of business records, address books, photographs and various bric-a-brac. Southern Lights was padlocked, its entire inventory seized, and the agency began forfeiture proceedings against the couple's house, bank accounts, their new truck and a boat.

On June 18, 1993, nearly two years after Operation Green Merchant had arrived in Georgia, Gary, Steve and Joanne were arrested on federal drug conspiracy charges.

The Southern Lights investigation had uncovered, all told, more than 100 small, hemp-growing operations across north Georgia, and resulted in at least 30 arrests. Which meant at least 30 potential prosecution witnesses, who had already claimed many of the available drug-defense attorneys in Atlanta by the time the Tuckers went shopping for legal counsel.

Meeting by chance at a community gathering, Gary and Joanne were introduced to Nancy Lord, a trial lawyer and outspoken Libertarian activist who had been that party's 1992 vice-presidential candidate.

With only one major drug case on her resume, Lord had just moved to Atlanta to practice under the tutelage of prominent defense attorney Tony Axam. Lord and Axam signed on to separately represent Joanne and Gary, respectively. An acquaintance of Lord's was hired for Steve.

From the beginning, Lord was passionate about her assignment, appearing at press conferences and local forums to protest the Big Brother tactics of the federal drug war and attack the flimsiness of the government's case against the Tucker family.

Certainly, to the layperson, it would have appeared weak. Despite 18 months of constant surveillance, boxes of confiscated documents, dozens of confidential informants and the DEA's own terrified mole managing the store, the agency had failed to come up with any physical evidence linking Gary to his customers' crops.

No marijuana -- growing or dime-bagged -- was found in Southern Lights, Gary's house or Steve's apartment. No paper trail of drug deals. No incriminating messages. No videotaped handoffs of suspicious packages. No blurry photos of Gary inspecting a customer's harvest. No secretly recorded advice on the finer points of cultivating Maui Wowie.

After a $1 million investigation, the only tangible exhibits the feds had to show the jury were a set of precision scales that could have been used to weigh leafy contraband, and an old pipe that Gary and Joanne readily acknowledged they had used for smoking pot.

The government's sole weapon seemed to be a lengthy list of freshly indicted, former Southern Lights customers desperate to prove themselves useful enough on the witness stand for prosecutors to let them off lightly.

The Tuckers and Lord, however, failed to fully appreciate that federal conspiracy law is far less concerned with what you did than with what you knew.

"Conspiracy law has been the darling of federal prosecutors since the 1930s, because you don't need direct evidence to score a conviction," explains Axam, now recognized as one of Georgia's top death-penalty lawyers. "The reason they use it is because they may have no hard, physical evidence, but with conspiracy, they can bring in hearsay, rumor, innuendo."

Indeed, it's tough to imagine how anyone gets acquitted, considering the standard description of conspiracy law given to federal juries: "The fact that a defendant's acts appear not to be illegal when viewed in isolation does not bar his conviction. An act innocent in nature and of no danger to the victim or society suffices if it furthers the criminal venture."

Lord, who now specializes in patent law and FDA drug approval at her solo practice outside Las Vegas, admits she underestimated the far-reaching power of conspiracy law. "I was shocked that this little evidence could send someone up for 10 years," she says.

Still, why were prosecutors willing to let admitted pot-growers and convicted drug dealers off easy so they could nail a tax-paying businessman who hadn't been caught with any grass?

Doris Gore is convinced there was an element of vengeance in the DEA's pursuit of her sons because they had refused to roll over, to name names, to cop a plea. "They hated Gary because he wouldn't do what they said," she says.

She may be on to something. During the trial, Garfield Hammonds, then the Southeast's top DEA official, announced to the press that Gary was no mere entrepreneur: "He's a bum, he's a parasite, he's a master of deceit, he's a marijuana czar." Hammonds, who now sits on the state Board of Pardons and Parole, didn't return a CL phone call.

It didn't help that Joanne had followed Lord's lead in publicly baiting her accusers whenever the chance arose. "My husband is a political POW," she told one reporter. "We're fighting a political war, not a drug war."

Steve Tucker still believes he and Joanne were charged primarily as added leverage against Gary. When they wouldn't give him up, the government simply steamrolled over them as well.

Axam, who's since represented such high-profile defendants as Ray Lewis and Jamil Al-Amin, won't discuss the particulars of the Tuckers' defense, but he recalls vividly the feds' take-no-prisoners determination.

"The government had a clear policy that it didn't want hydroponics stores in business," he says. "If it looks long and hard enough at any industry it doesn't like, it can find those connections."

Scheduled to begin in federal court in November 1993, United States v. Gary Tucker et al got off to a spectacularly inauspicious start.

On the morning of jury selection, activists with the Fully Informed Jury Association -- a radical libertarian group that believes juries should be empowered to dismiss charges and reject unjust laws -- were handing out flyers to everyone entering the Russell Federal Building, effectively disqualifying an entire day's jury pool for the Northern District of Georgia.

When Chief Judge William O'Kelly, who was to preside over the trial, was told Lord had been seen outside exchanging pleasantries with one of the activists, he was livid. Their courtroom relationship went downhill from there.

Resuming the first week of January 1994, the trial lasted four days. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Harper oversaw a parade of a dozen or so nervous plea-bargain witnesses, some of whom testified that Gary, and to a lesser extent, Steve and Joanne, had given them hemp-growing tips. Several claimed Gary had bought pot from them or traded hydroponic equipment for high-end herb. One said he'd glimpsed a freezer crammed with weed in the couple's garage. Another said Gary offered to look after his buds while he was out of town. A couple said Gary had privately confirmed that the vast majority of his customers were breaking the law.

The defense, spearheaded by Lord, scored too few points to overcome the damage. One witness didn't believe the Tuckers had done anything illegal. Another recalled bragging about his hemp garden, only to have Gary tell him to get rid of it. Several acknowledged hoping their testimony would spare them prison time.

One former Southern Lights customer, a 66-year-old ex-con we'll call "Bob" (who spoke to CL on condition he not be named), now says DEA agents tried to coax him into claiming the Tuckers were growing pot at their house, but stopped short of asking him to lie.

"'You help us and we'll help you,' is how they put it," he explains.

When asked to wear a wire into the store, Bob agreed -- then fled the state rather than aid an investigation he believed was intent on "railroading" the business owners.

Even though he eventually testified after police tracked him down, Bob received a four-year sentence, rather than the 18-month stretch he'd initially been offered.

"I disappointed [prosecutors] because I didn't say what they wanted me to," he says. "To my knowledge, the Tuckers didn't do anything other than sell chemicals and lights -- except for indulging."

Steve's own years behind bars have taught him not to be shocked at what someone might say on the witness stand.

"I was in prison with people who'd swear their own mother was Hitler if it would help them," he says, shaking his head. "I'll never have another close friend. I'll never be able to trust anyone that way, now that I've seen what people will do to protect their freedom."

While he concedes that he can't speak for his brother's actions, Steve insists he never offered growing advice or swapped weed with customers -- although he shared a joint on occasion.

Plain-spoken to the point of abrasive, Nancy Lord continued to criticize the DEA, pointedly suggesting that witnesses had been coerced to lie.

When the judge warned her at one point that Agent McLaughlin wasn't the one on trial, she shot back: "He should be." O'Kelly fumed that he was citing her for contempt. "If I go to jail, I go to jail," she shrugged.

"Nancy had some balls," Steve recalls, laughing. "She stood up to that judge."

But Lord now reflects that her confrontational style didn't serve her clients well, a point made painfully clear when O'Kelly told her he believed Joanne likely would have been acquitted if she'd been defended in a more professional manner.

"My problem was, I was too angry," Lord says. "I wanted to make a political statement -- to argue against the drug war -- and I thought the jury would go along with me. Now, I'd probably urge the Tuckers to re-examine taking a plea agreement."

The trial's low point came when Joanne took the stand in her own defense. The same woman who'd given tough-talking speeches defending her family and denouncing government scare tactics suddenly sounded uncertain and evasive when confronted by prosecutors.

"Joanne fell apart on the stand," Lord says. "It really was sad to watch."

Despite widespread criticism of the nation's ongoing War on Drugs, there's at least one battle Uncle Sam has convincingly won, depending on your definition of victory.

First taking effect in 1989, mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines -- combined with the elimination of federal parole -- ensure that even the most casual, recreational drug-user can be kept off his subdivision streets for many long years while paying his debt to society -- and there's not a damn thing any bleeding-heart federal judge can do about it.

Supposedly intended to iron out the sentencing inconsistencies between various district courts, mandatory minimums instead have only magnified the racial disparity of the prison population. More than 43 percent of all U.S. prison inmates are black males, and blacks outnumber whites in prison by a margin of more than 5-to-4, according to Department of Justice statistics released in July.

Bruce Harvey, Georgia's leading drug defense attorney, considers mandatory-minimum sentencing to be part of a collection of immoral federal laws whose combined impact is "nothing more than political genocide on a whole group of people -- and it's getting worse."

Because a federal drug offender's punishment now is effectively determined by the charges rather than a judge's experienced sense of justice, sentencing power lies in the hands of prosecutor, where it's frequently wielded to compel a defendant to make some agent's job easier.

Before the trial began, says Steve: "I was offered 24 months instead of 10 years if I'd testify against Gary. When I said no, they asked me to testify against Joanne. I mean, my brother or my brother's wife, what's the difference?"

Even after the jury had returned guilty verdicts against all three Tuckers, the prosecutors offered Steve one last deal: Give up the names of any pot-growers who had escaped their dragnet and get off with only two years.

"I figure I'm a man, I make my own decisions, and I'm not going to tear someone else down to spare myself some time," he says. "I said, 'I'll do my 10 years.'"

The way the Tuckers arrived at that sentencing threshold, however, involved a stunning use of statutory sleight-of-hand.

When the DEA would bust a pot farm, each plant -- from the tiniest seedling up to mature bushes in full flower -- would count as one kilo of hemp. Then the agents would break out the calculators: Assume an annual yield of five crops, multiply by the projected time the suspect had been growing, add in the number of actual plants confiscated, convert to kilos and voila!, all equaling one serious prison sentence.

In the Southern Lights case, for instance, one customer was caught growing 80 actual plants, which, after a run-in with the DEA's conversion chart, had blossomed into an "estimated" 1,200 plants, speaking of manufacturing marijuana.

The Tuckers had been charged in relation to 1,000 kilos -- exactly the amount needed to trigger a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years -- which consisted mostly of theoretical weed. Gary received an additional six years for masterminding the criminal enterprise.

"To this day, we don't know whose plants we were charged with," Steve says. Not that it mattered. Whoever they belonged to, there were plenty where those came from.

As Agent McLaughlin explained to the judge: "I stopped computing at 16,000 plants."

The one bright spot in the trial seemed to be the jury's decision to deny the federal forfeiture of Gary and Joanne's house, presumably because of the absence of evidence that it was paid for with drug money.

Nancy Lord says the government's final dirty trick came when the DEA agreed to drop its claim to the property -- only to have the home seized by the state.

Steve and Gary's introduction to Club Fed was a temporary stay -- mingling with some of the same guys who'd snitched on them -- at the minimum-security prison camp next to the notorious Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.

"What you see in the movies about prisons is pretty much true about the Atlanta Pen," Steve says.

After a few months, they were transferred to Alabama, a trip Steve recalls with disbelief: "When I left the Atlanta Prison Camp, they gave me $75 and a set of street clothes. I took a cab, a bus and another cab, and reported to my new prison. If they could trust me to do that, obviously, I'm not the kind of guy who needs to be in prison."

Even as they settled into the cell they shared at Talladega Federal Correctional Institute, Gary and Steve's convictions were being condemned in newsletters and described in magazine articles, discussed at political forums and featured in a CNN special.

The family was the subject of a chapter in the 1998 book Shattered Lives: Portraits From America's Drug War. Co-author Mikki Norris of El Cerrito, Calif., says the Tuckers' case was one of the more disturbing she studied.

"It made me very paranoid to think that you could be convicted of completing a drug transaction without even knowing it," she says.

As the months and then years wore on, the media furor eventually died down and the brothers fell into the mind-numbing routine of prison life. To keep busy, Steve edited the inmate-produced newspaper, "Prose and Cons," and counted out his time: 54 days off each year automatically for good behavior, a year off for completing a voluntary drug-rehab course.

"You work, you eat, you read -- prison's a lot like a small town," he says. "I read over 600 novels, mostly psycho-thrillers, and I wrote a few, too."

But it wasn't all dull. In October 1995, much of the federal inmate population was following the progress of a congressional bill to reduce the penalties for crack possession -- retroactively, for many already serving time.

One morning, news came that the bill had failed; a foreboding silence fell over the prison the rest of the day, Steve recalls. That evening, he says, word spread throughout the cafeteria that a California prison was rioting in protest of the vote in Washington. A few minutes later, the whole place erupted.

"We feared for our lives that night," Steve says. "The inmates tore that prison to hell. It was really harrowing."

Later, they found out the rumor about the California prison had been a hoax. Instead, it was the Talladega riot -- which caused $3 million in damages and left several buildings burned -- that had touched off at least three similar episodes in other states.

That same year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission downgraded the conversion weight for a marijuana plant from 1 kilo to 100 grams. Gary petitioned to have his sentence reduced accordingly, but Steve didn't file his own request out of concern it might somehow hurt his brother's chances.

Finally, in 1998, Judge O'Kelly reduced Gary's sentence to 10 years. In the end, it didn't make any difference.

Last December, five days after Steve was released from the halfway house where he'd spent the last few months of his sentence, Gary died of cancer at Emory Hospital.

He had been sick for a nearly a year, but prison officials refused to take his illness seriously until it was too late, his mother says.

"They'd give him an aspirin and send him back to his cell until he'd pass out and then they'd take him to the hospital," Gore says.

Steve was able to see Gary toward the end, but Joanne -- who'd been transferred from a Connecticut woman's prison to a Macon halfway house -- wasn't allowed to visit her husband the week before he died.

The diagnosis was non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer closely associated with exposure to Agent Orange, the deadly herbicide used in Vietnam. It would seem Gary's government had succeeded in killing him after all.

Even though his prison sentence has been served and he's returned to his old job, Steve Tucker wouldn't call himself a free man. Not when he has to call in every morning for the next four years so a recorded message can tell him whether he's been randomly selected to pee in a cup that day. Not since he had to give up his lifelong pastime of hunting because he can never again hold a gun. Not after he's seen politicians get elected on the promise to pass more draconian drug laws, and knowing he's forever lost his right to vote.

For the first time in nearly a decade, Steve brought his son and daughter, in their mid-teens, to spend Thanksgiving with his mother in Cochran, a half-hour south of Macon. He was required to seek written approval from his probation officer weeks in advance of the visit.

"When I got out, I had to learn my way around Atlanta again, but I went back to work like I'd never left; there was no adjustment problem," he says. "The hardest part is the probation, because you have to get permission to do just about everything."

In prison, Steve met guys who told him they had violated their probation on purpose because another 16 months in the big house was better than three more years of having people always looking over your shoulder, waiting for you to fuck up.

The thing about federal prison that made the biggest impression on Steve was how many inmates were much like himself: small-time, non-violent offenders serving big-time sentences for reasons that made little sense.

"Even if I was guilty, 10 years seems excessive when there were bank robbers who were in there for two or three years, and I got 10 years for selling light bulbs," he says, his voice rising as if framing a question.

"This drug war forced two little kids to grow up without their dad and my ex-wife to go without child-support for eight years, and for what?" he continues. "I'm not saying I'm above the law, but I know in my heart I'm not the type of person who needed to be in prison."

And yet, once there, the outrageousness of his circumstances blended into a background of statistics: He simply became another of the anonymous drug offenders who make up 57 percent of all federal inmates.

If anything, the War on Drugs has only built momentum through the political backing of such powerful interest groups as prison guard unions; the billion-dollar drug-testing industry; private prison construction and management companies; and, of course, the DEA, which commands a $1.8-billion budget and has, in the past 30 years, more than tripled the number of special agents on its payroll.

Over the last decade, drug convictions have accounted for more than 80 percent of the growth of the federal prison population, so it's hardly surprising that, as the drug war swirled outside, amassing new victims, Steve Tucker was essentially forgotten.

His sister-in-law, Joanne, now remarried and relocated, wants to forget as well. Declining to be interviewed, she explains: "Digging up something from 10 years ago isn't going to help anything now."

Trying to piece together a ruined life takes time, but there's a freedom that comes with starting over, and Steve is hoping to write his own second act.

He's looking for a literary agent to publish one of the novels he wrote in prison, a mystery set in a town modeled loosely on Cochran. As they say, you write what you know.

"People ask me if I'm going to write about everything I've been through, but I don't think so," he says wistfully. "Who wants to read about some guy who got busted for pot?"

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