Halfway down Silper Street, between the advancing lines of riot police, in the full gasmask and riot outfit — ah pigs, now I get it — the trailing ranks of anarchist protestors, and the stray wisps of gas, I paused outside a cafe with MSNBC playing on a TV set, and the subtitles switched on. Ah, sweet luxury of press credentials! Like the gift of the fermata, I could slip back and forth between the lines unmolested, quelle luxe!

It was noon, and the major protest rally, ten thousand strong, was just starting to move from the park spread beneath the gold-tipped Capitol dome. But the black bloc, the armed vegan bloc, and the general mayhem bloc had broken off early, and were playing cat and mouse with the cops, trying to scatter and re-form close to the Excel centre for a front-on assault.

They never really got there — the Minnesota burglary rate will spike this week given the sheer number of out of town cops in situ — and the only really fun stuff was a couple of police cars set on fire, and a half dozen windows of Macy’s broken, but they gebinerally outperformed the lumbering midwestern-beefy cops, who failed repeatedly to learn that if you face an entire riotsquad column in one direction, the protestors will — anyone anyone Bueller Bueller — yes, go in the other. At Harriet Island on the St Paul riverbank, Billy Bragg was opening a “reclaim Labor Day” openair concert, and a rocked up version of Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land blasted through the lower blocks of the city. And, oh, according to the TV, Hurricane Gustav was a bust.

“Hurricane Gustav has not picked up the energy expected, and has been downgraded to level three, and may be downgraded further to a tropical storm”

— Weather USA, earlier today.

Wow, these Republicans just cannot take a trick. Having turned the whole convention into some sort of ghastly telethon in a half-empty stadium in the hope that the debacle of the Convention could be turned into a moment of patriotic rallying during a national emergency, the damn emergency is petering out into a mere storm. No spectacular death tolls, house blown to matchsticks etc, just lots of sogginess. God is clearly dicking with these people — he’s having a larf, playing with the weather controls to keep everyone wrong-footed.

Whatever happens with Gustav, it is too late to put the Republican convention back on a firm footing. Today’s sessions were taken up almost entirely with pious appeals to send money, blankets, mail tins of sardines etc etc, pull together as Americans and so on. With the centre half empty, the whole thing had the feel of one of those old 48 hour telethons of yore — Cure Dropsy Now, etc — which you could tune into at 2am to see Bobby Limb weeping into button on collar while singing My Favourite Things.

Bobby would that you were here at this hour. A couple of stooges also spoke, but I would be lying if I said I remembered their names.

It was never going to be a great day, but even before things had really got going it got much much worse, with a double-whammy on Sarah Palin hitting like, well, two tropical storms. First came the news that her 17-year-old unwed daughter was pregnant, a fact apparently released to deal with rumours that Governor Palin’s most recent baby was actually her daughter, Bristol’s (soon to be a tropical storm). Nothing per se wrong there for most of us, except for the fact that the GOP has been hammering everyone for years on the values question, importance of marriage, terrible effect of absent fathers blah blah BLAH.

These things ain’t meant to happen. Doubtless we will find that Bristol was in one of those terrible “true love waits’ teen virgin programmes — the full title being “true love waits until three malibu shooters at a postprom party have gone to work on teens whose s-x education comes from the Book of Joshua“.

Palin was forced to make some statement about families being out of bounds for politics — which is hilarious because part of her appeal was as a fecund mother who took a Downs syndrome foetus to term, and of course the chaotic life of the Clintons was used as an anti-standard, though I don’t remember Chelsea shopping for mittens.

But hey that was just the curtain-raiser. By lunchtime we heard that Palin had retained counsel in a long running and incredibly complex story about whether she tried to improperly interfere in an ongoing investigation into some corrupt thing or other… forget it mac, it’s Alaska.

It’s a pretty heavy hit for a candidate who was always a risky proposition, and who even some conservative commentators are saying was a poor choice. John McCain says he knew about both issues. Cue Mandy Rice Davies. But the example that people are beginning to mention is that of Thomas Eagleton, the hapless first VP pick of the hapless George McGovern, who concealed from the candidate his history of clinical depression and electro-shock therapy, and who was subsequently replaced by the hapless Sargent Shriver. Bizarrely, Geraldine Ferraro is another example — the lustre was taken off Walter Mondale’s bold 1984 pick by revelations about loose tax arrangements, unfiled returns, etc, most of it the fault of her sleazy husband.

For all the spinning, no-one retains counsel in these circumstances unless actual prosecution or impeachment is on the table — and if it were to get to that stage, well it may be all over red rover. McCain ran on the issue of experience, and the clarity of that message has been smudged somewhat by Palin’s sudden proximity to the nuclear button. But he’s also run on the idea of judgement, and if it turns out that he blew this one, well, what does he have?

Having met Palin only once or twice, for less than an hour total, legal problems for her would focus attention on just exactly how he does make decisions, and whether he was being insouciant or cynical about the choice of whoever would take over after one double dose of Cialis too many, and the subsequent customary Republican keel-over at the fifteenth hole.

Barack Obama has made a short announcement to the press, saying it’s all a matter for the Palin family — Sarah, Bristol and Michael, former Python, who in fact fathered Sarah during the filming of Pole to Pole — and, well, cue Mandy Rice-Davies. Someone would have to be combing through the acres of Coulter, Hannity, Novak etc thundering about how teen pregnanacy has nothing to do with society, and it’s the family stupid and so on. Neither of the official Democratic candidates will stoop to it, but there has to be a few attack dogs out there somewhere.

With nothing officially announced for tomorrow, the Convention planners, are presumably, even as I write, working out whether to get back as much of the extravaganza as they can, or continue with the appeal for mittens (not Romney, woollen gloves). They will have their work cut out, as significant numbers haven’t bothered to show up. This evening’s party for the American Conservative Union — the ol granddaddy of conservative ginger groups — looked, this evening, like a trainspotters’ mixer, until bizzarely a large Asian delegation turned up to swell the numbers. It appears to be like that all over the joint.

The anarchists meanwhile have reformed their convergence centre twice after police raids, and are promising a rematch tomorrow, their floating re-arrangement of meetings, press conferences and decision-making managed through a bewildering network of legal, medical and affinity groups. The irony is that amidst the whiff of tear gas, and the charging of police phalanxes, the anarchists seem better organised, more onto it than the Republicans.