Gordon Campbell on Palin’s bad week, and the bailout plan

Luckily for Sarah Palin, the focus on the presidential debates and the $700 million bailout plan helped to bury a horrific series of news events for her last week. First, Palin kept stonewalling her way through the investigation into her role in the attempted firing of trooper Mike Wooten, and in the actual firing of Alaska’ s former public safety commissioner.

Then came her appalling performance in an interview with Katie Couric of CBS News – which by week’s end had caused nationally syndicated conservative columnist Kathleen Parker to withdraw her support for Palin and call on her to resign as John McCain’s running mate.

To top things off, the New York Times then ran a demonstrably false story
alleging that when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Palin and her police chief required rape victims to pay for the cost of the evidence kits and forensic lab time needed to process their complaints. Shame on the New York Times. That urban myth had already been thoroughly debunked before : and has been further debunked here

Unfortunately for Palin though, much of her bad news last week was entirely genuine. She did give an awesomely terrible performance in her interview with Couric,. If you thought Palin’s first interview with Charlie Gibson was bad, then this was a train wreck. Watching Couric take Palin apart, over and over again is a bit like….well, seeing Palin shoot a baby moose, and it verges on cruelty The debacle can be watched here and here and for the final terrifying segment, of Palin on US foreign policy you can watch here Couric, by the way, is in quietly brilliant form throughout. She gives a lesson in interviewing skills.

While watching the Couric interview you can only wonder – how on earth can Palin survive the 90 minute ordeal of the vice=presidential debate scheduled for this Friday afternoon ( our time) against Democratic vice-presidential contender Joe Biden ? But then, the debates are structured to favour the kind of programmed soapbox sloganeering that is Palin’s only verbal skill. The remorseless follow up questions that Couric used to such deadly effect will not be possible on Friday.

The Bailout Plan for Wall St.

Meanwhile, the bailout plan tottered towards completion yesterday – despite an earlier rebellion by a conservative faction of House Republicans that had sunk the original Bush/Paulson plan, even as John McCain rushed to Washington to save it, and the nation. Bush at least, got to deliver the best soundbite of the entire week : “If money isn’t loosened up, this sucker could go down.”

The bailout plan still has very few friends. Wildly unpopular with the American public who will have to foot the bill, the plan has been denounced by conservative Republicans as a violation of free market capitalist principles, while liberal Democrats have slammed it as a reward for greed, and as a handout to Wall Street. McCain’s rush to Washington landed him squarely in the crossfire. From the outset, he looked like one of those cartoon lumberjacks with one foot on one log ( the Bush/Paulson plan) while the foot on the other log ( the House Republican plan) went off somewhere else entirely.

Late last night, a compromise was finally reached just in time before the markets re-opened. The plan should receive final Senate approval on Wednesday. The main details, with a list of the improvements to the original proposal can be found here

In essence, the plan halves the amount of money available, no questions asked, to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. He will now be required to seek Congressional approval for the rest. Also, taxpayers will gain some equity in the firms they assist, and will not simply own their toxic debt. As well as bailing out Wall St, the plan will also ‘encourage’ banks to re-structure the debts on family homes that are now facing foreclosure. In sum, the bailout plan :
— Cuts the payment of $700 billion in half and conditions future payments on Congressional review
— Gives taxpayers an ownership stake and profit-making opportunities with participating companies
— Puts taxpayers first in line to recover assets if participating company fails
— Guarantees taxpayers are repaid in full — if other protections have not actually produced a profit
— extends the support given, from Wall St onto Main St, USA. It allows the government to purchase troubled assets from pension plans, local governments, and small banks that serve low- and middle-income families

Supposedly, the cliché has been that the US financial collapse has launched us into uncharted waters, unknown territory etc etc. In fact, the current version of the bailout plan seems to have drawn heavily upon Sweden’s financial meltdown in 1992, and on that country’s subsequent recovery plan, The similarities are detailed here by the New York Times :
and check out also this comparison between the banking crises in Sweden and Japan :

The prime causes of the Swedish disaster were similar to the current meltdown on Wall Street : namely, a rash of prior de-regulation and the end of a property bubble triggered a credit crunch that left the banking system virtually insolvent. The Swedish solution though was quite different from the ‘name your price for the toxic financial waste and we’ll pay it, while expecting nothing in return’ response originally touted by Bush/Paulson.

First, the Swedes required the banks to take a write-down of the toxic debts and financial instruments at the heart of the crisis. Then, the infusion of taxpayer money bought a stake in the firms themselves – and these holdings were later re-sold at a price that earned back for taxpayers much of the original bailout money they had put in. The Swedish government for instance, still holds a 20% stake in the Nordea Bank. The focus in Sweden has been on taxpayer protection and on corporate responsibility – and not on the sort of Wall St welfarism that we’ve seen so far. Unfortunately though, the global economy is now facing a recession, not the boom times of the 1990s that quickly helped Sweden to get back onto the road to solvency.

Palin and women voters

McCain of course, will seek to take credit for the final bailout plan – even though many Republican candidates have said they will campaign against the bailout in the November elections. Currently, Palin is looming as a far more pressing liability for the Republicans, now that the initial gloss has faded from her sudden celebrity. Among women voters in particular, the McCain/Palin ticket looks to be in trouble.

The initial reactions for instance, to the presidential debate between McCain and Obama were sharply divided along gender lines – with CNN reporting that males narrowly gave McCain the edge, but women called Obama the winner by a whopping 59/41 per cent margin. Women also happen to be over-represented among the undecideds for the election, and can thus be expected to tilt the polls even further in Obama’s direction as election day nears.

Ironically in Friday’s debate Palin will be up against Biden, who actually drafted the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. This protective legislation was opposed by McCain, whose name has never appeared among the long list of co-sponsors for this law, when it has been up for renewal.

Leaving aside the bogus rape kits issue, there many gender issues on which the Republicans are vulnerable – so long as Biden takes a leaf from Couric’s book, and allows Palin to self destruct without appearing to bully her. As the actor and poverty activist Ashley Judd put it recently, any woman voting for the McCain/Palin ticket is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.