Archive for October, 2008

Sarah Palin And The Crunch: Both Will Pass…Eventually

We seem to have been living with them for ages already: the Alaska governess who, like a modern Mary Poppins, parachuted down on an unprepared nation to introduce madness and mayhem into the presidential campaign and the entirely man-made financial crisis which, although it began in the USA, is now engulfing most of the western world. Both are essentially American phenomena. Mrs. Palin is the rootin-tootin rifle-toting, moose hunting frontier girl who knows you can’t get a man with a gun, but it’s fun to try. The credit crunch likewise is pure Americana. It is the direct result of rampant capitalism in its purest form; the kind of captalism in which the nation’s riches -the wealth produced by its workers, the tax paid by its taxpayers- are played around with by a bunch of greedy gamblers who might as well be sitting around a Mississippi river boat poker table. Billions are gained and billions are lost in a merry-go-round that will only keep turning so long as everybody is prepared to believe, naively, that today’s setback will inevitably be followed by tomorrow’s stunning success. But if only a few people take fright and stop believing, the bubble bursts; everybody holds on to what he’s got and those who’ve gambled too much and lost go under. Unless, of course, the taxpayer is willing to bail them out.

Were this exclusively America’s problem then it would be easy for me to sympathize. A few words of consolation, some good advice and best wishes for the future: they’d flow out of my keyboard like honey. But I can’t. Thanks to that modern evil known as globalization the world of banking and lending is now spread across so many countries and its workings so obtuse and impenetrable that no ordinary person can ever know what’s going on. Americans can’t afford to keep up their mortgage payments and, somehow related, a European bank goes down the pan. Washington votes to spend billions of tax dollars to keep banks from going under -dollars that won’t now be spent on public health, education, crime-fighting and anti-poverty programmes- while at the same time the entire economy of Iceland lies in ruins. Go figure. I have nearly paid off my mortgage, have no further debts, keep some modest savings in a bank account and can generally be said to be a model of financial prudence. None of the current problems is my fault in any way, but if my bank turns out to have bought up a lot of uncollectable overseas debt and given mortgages to people who’ve no hope of meeting the monthly payments (they wouldn’t tell me, of course!) I could lose my savings overnight, unless the government steps in. In any case, there are not one but TWO ways to lose your savings. They could just disappear without trace or else inflation could reduce their value to diddly-squat over a period of time. Take your pick and, er, thanks Fanny and Freddie.

Nor, I must say, is Sarah Palin merely America’s problem. If US voters do the sensible thing and elect Obama in November (did I just write that? the words are dancing on the page) disaster will be averted and the world can heave a sigh of relief. Sarah can go back to Anchorage for some more moose-killing and gay-bashing. But if they elect John McCain and put young Sarah into the Naval Observatory -the official residence of the vice-president- the nightmarish vision of an old and frail McCain either dying or having to step down for health reasons unfolds. A champion of preemptive military action in the face of a perceived threat against the US, Mrs. Palin could, practically overnight, become Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Yippee!

Over the past four years I’ve had occasion to be grateful, if not for George W. Bush’s feeble intellect then at least for his robust constitution. Barring accidents or assassination there was little risk of the presidency being handed over to Dick Cheney who, in my book at least, is the baddest man on the planet. Believe me, Mike Tyson smells of roses when compared to the warmongering profiteer from Lincoln, Nebraska. Whatever motivated Bush Jr. to deal death and destruction in Afghanistan and Iraq is lost in the fog of the man’s own thought, but with Cheney we know: it’s greed, pure and simple. Whether personal gain is a part of Sarah Palin’s make-up I cannot say, but there’s plenty of other stuff there to scare me to death. Her pro-life fanaticism may extend to the unborn child, but it signally leaves the moose, the polar bear, the beluga whale and the rest of humanity unprotected. Her analysis of global affairs rivals that of George W. Bush for incoherence and uninformed naivete. The best you can say for her is that she is a bit of a looker.  She hides it behind a silly hairdo and owlish glasses, but I’m sure there lurks a bit of a vamp underneath the schoolmarm exterior.  Still, much as I’m convinced that Washington could do with an injection of female beauty (it’s been slim pickings with Hillary after all) there is no way we can countenance the dangers of, one day soon, John McCain slipping in the bathroom or choking on a jellybean. McCain himself doesn’t fill me with a lot of confidence but Palin sends me into a panic.

Still, all this is just anxiety-ridden theory. I just know that, come November, Americans will show they have learned the lessons of eight years of disastrous foreign policy and economic mismanagement and elect Barack Obama as their next president. Then, and only then, is there a chance that the USA will transform itself from a cantankerous self-serving global bully into the powerful force for good, the reliable and generous friend it once was. When (not if) that happens, Sarah Palin will fade into a virtual -and hilarious- existence on YouTube, while a semblance of renewed confidence will invade the world’s money markets and restore normality. Normality, by the way, that demands dramatic changes in the way banks and lenders operate. Frankly, I can’t wait.

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