BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL.
What a week. As the election gets closer, tempers are rising on all sides. And in all the heat, some important news is getting lost.
We'll get to that in just a moment, but first, many of you sounded off loud and clear after my interview last week with Mark Crispin Miller about allegations of voter fraud in this year's election.
MARK CRISPIN MILLER: What we have in this country, for voting purposes, is a system that is nothing short of scandalous.
BILL MOYERS: Many of you who wrote thought the interview was a conspiracy to mug Republicans. I can't repeat on air some of your language, but here are some comments that pass the test of family viewing:
VIEWER 1: "[Mark Crispin Miller] lies and spouts moonbat conspiracy theories that not even Mother Jones magazine will endorse." -Scott
VIEWER 2: "I was appalled at last night's program with 'Prof.' Miller. His views were so slanted and biased that I found myself totally turned off by him…If the Republicans are committing so much fraud then why did the Dems sweep in 2006?" -Lael
VIEWER 3: "Professor Miller states, 'Filling out voter registration forms dishonestly to pick up a couple of bucks, which is what the ACORN volunteers have done, is not voter fraud!' Oh, really? If that's not fraud, what is?" -Gary
BILL MOYERS: But hold on. In ACORN's case, the problem isn't fraud at the polls. It's that a number of hired helpers tried to pick up some extra pocket change by padding registration lists with fake names - names like Mickey Mouse, for one. There's no indication that Mickey - or Minnie - have ever actually voted. But if they did it's possible they could have a problem with those electronic voting machines - just like Homer Simpson.
HOMER SIMPSON: Oh, one of those electronic voting dealies.
MACHINE: One vote for McCain. Thank you.
HOMER SIMPSON: No, I want to vote for Obama.
MACHINE: Two votes for McCain.
HOMER SIMPSON: Come on, it's time for a change!
MACHINE: Three votes for McCain.
HOMER SIMPSON: No, no, no!
MACHINE: Six votes for President McCain.
HOMER SIMPSON: Hey, I only meant one of those votes for McCain. This machine is rigged!
VOTER: I voted for Barack Obama, and it came up John McCain.
BILL MOYERS: Reports from West Virginia say early voters are already sharing Homer's frustration for real. A handful of voters there insist that the touch screen voting machines changed their votes, just as Mark Crispin Miller warned last week. Election officials blamed poorly calibrated machines and voter error. But a similar problem has popped up in Tennessee - but there, McCain supporters claim their votes have gone to Obama. So wherever you vote, be vigilant.
Paranoia strikes deep. Here's what Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said on MSNBC's "Hardball".
CHRIS MATTHEWS: How many do you suspect of your colleagues as being anti-American?
REPRESENTATIVE MICHELE BACHMANN: What I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look. I wish they would. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would love to see an expose like that.
BILL MOYERS: That channeling of Joe McCarthy backfired big time. In the days following her remarks, way more than a million dollars flooded into her opponent's coffers from outraged voters; the National Republican Congressional Committee even pulled its advertising support; and now, in her Minnesota district, Ms. Bachmann is in a fight for her political life.
As gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson said, when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
Here where I live, Rupert Murdoch's NEW YORK POST had to take back a report it published last week. The paper claimed that while John McCain and Barack Obama were downstairs in the Waldorf Astoria ballroom swapping jokes at the Al Smith Dinner, Michelle Obama was upstairs, feasting on room service lobster and caviar.
Oops. Turns out there was no lobster and caviar. Turns out Michelle Obama wasn't even staying there. I say you can't make this stuff up, but someone is always trying. So let's get back to the real news.
There's nothing make-believe about this. Remember these scenes of mountain top mining in West Virginia? Companies blow those mountains sky-high to expose the coal, then haul away tons of rock and debris and dump the waste into valley areas. To protect the quality of the water, they're not supposed to pile the stuff within 100 feet of rivers and creeks.
But while we've all been obsessing over Sarah Palin's posh makeover and Joe Biden's latest gaffe, the coal companies have been lobbying the Bush administration to gut the rules even further, to allow them greater freedom to dump massive waste piles anywhere they want - including directly into the water.
Now, the Interior Department is one of those government agencies that's practically been turned over to the industries it's supposed to regulate. So as a parting gift, the President's appointees at Interior have now officially proposed granting the coal companies their wish - to dump at will.
There's a 30-day period for public comment and review before the proposal takes effect, so you can find out how to register your opinion - pro or con - at our site on PBS.org.
Now to the story on everyone's mind: just how do the Bush White House and our two presidential wannabes intend to pull us back from the economic abyss? And what don't we know about all those billions upon billions of our dollars being dispatched to banks and financial institutions in our name? Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson tried to assure us this week that, no fooling, there will be strings attached to the $700 billion dollars approved by Congress.
HENRY PAULSON: Institutions that sell shares to the government will accept restrictions on executive compensation, including a clawback provision and a ban on golden parachutes during the period the treasury holds equity issued through the program.
BILL MOYERS: Clawbacks stipulate the return of the more ill-gotten of executive gains, but, believe me, there are so many loopholes in the restrictions on compensation, you could fly a fleet of gulf stream corporate jets right through them. At least seven loopholes were identified by Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio.
REPRESENTATIVE PETER DEFAZIO: The golden parachutes, yeah, they were exchanged for camouflaged parachutes. The execs on Wall Street are still going to get millions. Look at the loopholes there.
BILL MOYERS: And take note: since the start of Fiscal 2004, the once mighty five of Wall Street - Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns - lost around $83 billion in stock market value. But they reported employee compensation of around $239 billion.
In other words, the financial engineers who dug this disastrous hole paid themselves almost three dollars for every dollar they lost.
And now this. The cost of all these bailouts to the taxpayer is more than two and half times what we forked over twenty years ago to pay for the Savings & Loan crisis - a whopping $8,750 per household. So while you may have seen your retirement savings or college tuition account destroyed or have been on of the 800,000 who have lost their jobs so far this year, the masters of the universe are doing just fine, thank you. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is looking out for them.
During his 32 years at Goldman Sachs, where he knew many of the players now floating to earth with taxpayer parachutes, Paulson accumulated $700 million. And now he says he's afraid that if he clamps down too harshly on compensation for his old friends, they might not be enthusiastic about participating in his plan to save our economy. I am not making this up.
Or this: the 30-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - or OECD - is out this week with a new report on global gaps between rich and poor. Guess which great industrial nation had the fourth highest inequality in incomes - behind Mexico, Turkey and Portugal? Right. Us.
Here's precisely what the report says: "Rich households in America have been leaving both middle and poorer income groups behind. This has happened in many countries but nowhere has this trend been so stark as in the United States." Now there's some real spreading around of the wealth - in one direction: up.