Trick or Treat: Questions linger in last 4 days

While the kids are trick-or-treating for candy sometime today, the candidates will be trick-or-treating for votes. I will slip in delightful uses of the term “trick-or-treating” like five or six more times before we’re finished today.

Aside from the obvious stories of candidates now criss-crossing the country and deploying surrogates to all the swing states, many underlying stories have surfaced which beg further exploration.

First and foremost, I’ve been reading numerous items about McCain campaign bickering behinds the scenes concerning Gov. Palin’s role as the VP and whether she’s been helping or hurting the campaign. The Politico reports:

John McCain’s campaign is looking for a scapegoat. It is looking for someone to blame if McCain loses on Tuesday.

And it has decided on Sarah Palin.

In recent days, a McCain “adviser” told Dana Bash of CNN: “She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone.”

Imagine not taking advice from the geniuses at the McCain campaign. What could Palin be thinking?

Also, a “top McCain adviser” told Mike Allen of Politico that Palin is “a whack job.”

Maybe she is. But who chose to put this “whack job” on the ticket? Wasn’t it John McCain? And wasn’t it his first presidential-level decision?

And if you are a 72-year-old presidential candidate, wouldn’t you expect that your running mate’s fitness for high office would come under a little extra scrutiny? And, therefore, wouldn’t you make your selection with care? (To say nothing about caring about the future of the nation?)

McCain didn’t seem to care that much. McCain admitted recently on national TV that he “didn’t know her well at all” before he chose Palin.

But why not? Why didn’t he get to know her better before he made his choice?

It’s not like he was rushed. McCain wrapped up the Republican nomination in early March. He didn’t announce his choice for a running mate until late August.

Wasn’t that enough time for McCain to get to know Palin? Wasn’t that enough time for his crackerjack “vetters” to investigate Palin’s strengths and weaknesses, check through records and published accounts, talk to a few people, and learn that she was not only a diva but a whack job diva?

But McCain picked her anyway. He wanted to close the “enthusiasm gap” between himself and Barack Obama. He wanted to inject a little adrenaline into the Republican National Convention. He wanted to goose up the Republican base.

And so he chose Palin. Is she really a diva and a whack job? Could be. There are quite a few in politics. (And a few in journalism, too, though in journalism they are called “columnists.”)

As proof that she is, McCain aides now say Palin is “going rogue” and straying from their script. Wow. What a condemnation. McCain sticks to the script. How well is he doing?

It irks me since if I was part of the campaign, I’d be asking staffers and advisers to at least shut up until this whole thing was over with.

Either way, there clearly has been some disagreement within the campaign over how Palin has been delivering her talking points and whether she’s a “team player,” so to speak. I don’t know if this means all that much, though if McCain loses on Tuesday, it will be the continue story line about a campaign which wasn’t well-organized. Then again, if he wins, we’ll hear about how well his campaign started working in the remaining weeks of the campaign.

The other lingering issue in the McCain campaign has to do with claims by Obama surrogates, mostly, that as Governor, Sarah Palin believed in “spreading the wealth” with oil contract royalties. The report from Yahoo News:

Obama wants to raise taxes on families earning $250,000 to pay for cutting taxes for the 95 percent of workers and their families making less than $200,000. “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody,” he told Wurzelbacher.

McCain said that sounds “a lot like socialism” to many Americans. Palin has derided the Illinois senator as “Barack the Wealth Spreader.”

But in Alaska, Palin is the envy of governors nationwide for the annual checks the state doles out to nearly every resident, representing their share of the revenues from the state’s oil riches. She boosted those checks this year by raising taxes on oil.

McCain campaign spokesman Taylor Griffin said Thursday that spreading wealth through Obama’s tax plan and doing it through Alaska’s oil-profit distribution are not comparable because Alaska requires the state’s resource wealth to be shared with residents, but it’s not taxing personal income.

THE SPIN:

“Barack Obama calls it spreading the wealth. Joe Biden calls higher taxes patriotic,” Palin told a crowd in Roswell, N.M., and elsewhere. “But Joe the Plumber and Ed the Dairyman, I believe they think it sounds more like socialism.

“Friends, now is no time to experiment with socialism.”

In Ohio, she asked, “Are there any Joe the Plumbers in the house?” To cheers, she said, “It doesn’t sound like you’re supporting Barack the Wealth Spreader.”

McCain told a radio audience that Obama’s plan “would convert the IRS into a giant welfare agency, redistributing massive amounts of wealth at the direction of politicians in Washington.”

“Raising taxes on some in order to give checks to others is not a tax cut; it’s just another government giveaway.”

THE FACTS:

In Alaska, residents pay no income tax or state sales tax. They receive a yearly dividend check from a $30 billion state investment account built largely from royalties on its oil. When home fuel and gas costs soared last year, Palin raised taxes on big oil and used some of the money to boost residents’ checks by $1,200. Thus every eligible man, woman and child got a record $3,269 this fall.

She also suspended the 8-cent tax on gas.

“We can afford to share resource wealth with Alaskans and to temporarily suspend the state fuel tax,” she said at the time.

Much as Obama explains his tax hike on the rich as a way to help people who are struggling, Palin’s statement talked about the energy costs burdening Alaskans:

“While the unique fiscal circumstances the state finds itself in at the end of this fiscal year warrant a special one-time payment to share some of the state’s wealth, the payment comes at a time when Alaskans are facing rising energy prices. High prices for oil are a double-edged sword for Alaskans. While public coffers fill, prices for heating fuel and gasoline have skyrocketed over the last six months and are now running into the $5- to $9-a-gallon range for heating fuel and gasoline across several areas of the state.”

In an interview with The New Yorker last summer Palin explained that she would make demands of a new gas pipeline “to maximize benefits for Alaskans”:

“And Alaska we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.”

So is redistributing anything always considered socialism? You tell me. The only difference I do see, which needs to be recognized, is that Alaska is in a unique situation where a lot of things such as food and other necessities, cost much more because they need to be trucked in. However, could it be construed that some of what I pay at the pump here in Virginia gets “redistributed” to a household in Alaska? That, I suppose, is plausible. So this issue remains as a type of black eye on Palin’s claim about Obama the redistributionist. I guess the difference is that Palin taxed oil companies while Obama wants to tax individuals making over $200, according to Wednesday’s Obama-infomercial.

The McCain campaign isn’t the only side with unanswered questions or lingering criticism, the Obama campaign has a fair share as well, which I’ll delve into a bit right now.

First, the thing which has been all over the media, since the McCain campaign brought it up, is the video being held by the Los Angeles times allegedly showing Sen. Barack Obama attending a dinner and “toasting” Rashid Khalidi, the former spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, an anti-Israel terrorist group. The LA Times acknowledged they have a tape, though they refuse to release it.

The report on this one from none other than the LA Times:

John McCain and Sarah Palin sharply criticized the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday for refusing to make public a video of a 2003 event at which Barack Obama paid tribute to a Palestinian scholar.

The Republican presidential and vice presidential nominees accused the newspaper of trying to protect their Democratic rival in the final days before Tuesday’s election.

Editors at The Times and the reporter who wrote an article in April about Obama’s connection to the Palestinian scholar, Rashid Khalidi, said they were ethically bound to abide by a promise to a confidential source not to share the video.

McCain’s spokesman had raised the issue of the video a day earlier, saying it might confirm Obama’s ties to “radicals” and show that, as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, he condoned anti-Israel rhetoric at a party for Khalidi, a friend.

The Republicans increased the pressure Wednesday, when both McCain and his running mate took up the call for The Times to release the video.

“Maybe some politicians would love to have a pet newspaper of their very own,” Palin said at a rally in Bowling Green, Ohio. “In this case, we have a newspaper willing to throw aside even the public’s right to know in order to protect a candidate that its own editorial board has endorsed. And if there’s a Pulitzer Prize category for excelling in kowtowing, then the L.A. Times, you’re winning.”

McCain said in a pair of radio interviews in Miami that he believed the video would show William Ayers, the onetime Weather Underground radical who later came to know Obama, at the same 2003 party. “Now, why that should not be made public is beyond me,” he said.

Inspired by commentators on the Internet and cable television, thousands of people e-mailed and phoned The Times to demand the release of the tape. Hundreds of others expressed support for the paper’s decision.

The controversy stems from an article by Times staff writer Peter Wallsten that the newspaper published on April 10, exploring Obama’s relationships with Palestinian Americans and Jews in Chicago. The article explained how Obama had managed to be held in high esteem by both groups. It described a party in 2003 for Khalidi, a renowned scholar on the Palestinians who in the 1970s had acted as a spokesman for Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization.

Some participants at the event spoke sharply against Israel. One young woman accused the Israeli government of terrorism in its treatment of the Palestinians. Obama “adopted a different tone,” according to the article, “and called for finding common ground.”

The LA Times has cited the protection of it’s source, however, many have called on the Times to just release a transcript, if possible. Either way, it does not look like the Times is budging anytime before Election Day so this too will most likely go unanswered. If Sen. Obama is pictured praising Khalidi, especially considering the anti-Israeli statements being made, it could injure his campaign.

Another question surrounding the Obama campaign has to do with their abundant source of donations and where they’re coming from.

A report from Slate on why this remains an issue:

Barack Obama refuses to release the names of the 2 million-plus people who have given his campaign less than $200. According to campaign officials, it would be too difficult and time-consuming to extract this information from its database.

So how come we were able to do it in a couple hours? Not literally—we don’t have access to the campaign’s list of donors—but we created a database of similar size and format in a Web-ready file and posted it online.

But before we get into the technical details (though, if you’re with the Obama campaign and want to skip ahead, please do), it’s worth dwelling on the reasons for the Obama campaign’s reluctance to disclose this information. It can’t be legal: No law prevents Obama from releasing these names.

Politically, there would be several advantages in releasing the names. Obama has campaigned (effectively) on a platform of making government more transparent, citing his efforts to do so in Chicago and Washington as signature achievements. He has also disclosed the bundlers who raise large amounts of money for his campaign. Finally, making the list public would rebut McCain’s broad and unsubstantiated claims that the list (and the huge sums of money it represents) is shot through with fraud.

And from a purely logistical standpoint, we have a hard time believing the campaign lacks the expertise to do this. We know the information is already in a very sophisticated database—it has to be, because the Obama campaign has been manipulating the information for more than a year as it continues to raise money from these small-fry donors. It also uses the information to contact and track donors to make sure they get out and vote on Election Day.

So what gives? Why not release these lists of donors? Again, a lingering question which we actually might get an answer to eventually, however, if there is wrongdoing, it will be too late for voters to decide whether it matters to them.

In that same line, another fund raising question has arisen surrounding the Obama campaign’s acceptance of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fraudulent credit card transactions.

The New York Times Opinionator reports:

“Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is allowing donors to use largely untraceable prepaid credit cards that could potentially be used to evade limits on how much an individual is legally allowed to give or to mask a contributor’s identity, campaign officials confirmed,” reports the Washington Post’s Matthew Mosk. “Faced with a huge influx of donations over the Internet, the campaign has also chosen not to use basic security measures to prevent potentially illegal or anonymous contributions from flowing into its accounts, aides acknowledged. Instead, the campaign is scrutinizing its books for improper donations after the money has been deposited.”

Between the prepaid cards and The Times’s earlier disclosure of people donating to the Democratic candidate under fictitious names, conservatives are talking up campaign finance reform.

“Fully $100 million of the record-breaking $150 million that the Obama campaign collected in September alone came over the internet via credit card donations,” writes Bill Dyer at Hugh Hewitt’s blog. “The Obama campaign has deliberately turned off the anti-fraud mechanisms available for internet credit card transactions. They have no clue how many millions or tens of millions of dollars have been donated to them in violation of federal election law. And now it turns out that the Obama campaign cheerfully takes even contributions from untraceable pre-paid credit cards, a/k/a ‘the pseudo-credit cards you use when you want to conceal illegal activity.’ ”

The whole “back-end screening” farce is insulting to anyone with a second-grade education. The Obama campaign cannot possibly have any objective measurement to even roughly estimate how many mistakes and how many episodes of deliberate fraud they’re catching versus how many they’re simply missing, even if one is naive enough to presume their good-faith best efforts.

Moreover, everything the Obama campaign has yet said about this entire issue utterly ignores the key questions: (1) Who ordered the anti-fraud protections turned off? And (2) why hasn’t Barack Obama already fired every such person, and exposed them for criminal prosecution as aiders and abettors of national and international campaign contribution fraud?

This seems like a larger question since you have to ask who in the campaign decided not to do basic credit card authorization checks such as a billing address? Someone will have to answer for it eventually, but it too will go largely unchecked and unanswered prior to Election Day.

These are just a few I could find readily available, however, I’ve seen probably a half-dozen other questions about both campaigns still lingering.

Sound off below, what other questions do you want answers to from both campaigns?