You ask, "How can we cover this story to give you the facts you need?" My family is a very low income family. We rent our home, and our credit is so horrible we would never even think to try for a loan of any kind, for anything. We have no credit cards, no loans, no retirement plan, no savings, no investments. We live literally day to day with my husband's income and government assistance in the form of health insurance for our four children and food stamps. I know there must be millions of families in the country just like us. I want to know if, how, and when all this financial mess might affect us. Should I be worried about more than how much gas I can get this week or if we'll be able to get enough food this month?
D. Hardin of New Albany , Ind.
Frustration is hardly the word, so I'll cut to the chase. I'm angry that my hard-earned taxes are being abused by Congress! I know we had to rescue Wall Street, as disgusting as that is, but AIG? Why, because it was too big to fail? Little guys, no problem, but the big boys can plunder and gouge, then get in trouble, and we have to come to their rescue. Just after our $85 billion was deposited into AIG's bank account, its top executives went on vacation to a luxury California resort and spent close to $500,000, of which $23,000 was spent at the spa to relieve the tension from lobbying Congress! After the fact, a hearing was held by Congressman Henry Waxman's oversight committee questioning the expenditure, and the AIG spokesperson said it had been planned a year in advance as a "performance reward." Performance reward on the road to bankruptcy? How stupid are we to allow this utter disregard for the use of our money? It is disgusting, deplorable, and despicable, and the bailout should be rescinded!
Saul P. Heller of Salem , Mass.
The U.S. Congress is singularly responsible for setting in motion the current fiscal crisis. It started during the Clinton administration when laws were passed directing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to provide below-market interest on loans that required no down payment and minimal interest initially. It was an attempt at socialism that would permit the "poor" people to own their own homes. This mess is not going to be fixed by our current congressmen: It's just business as usual for them. I'm 73 years old, have lived quite frugally, and saved 10 percent of my gross each year for retirement. Since the implosion, I now have less than $200,000 to pay the bills—especially medical—for the next 25 years. I'm outraged by being punished for doing what is right and not demanding my "fair share" at the welfare trough. If the congressmen wanted to shoot the persons responsible for setting this in motion, there would be bullet holes in the mirror.
Jim Vance of Claflin , Kan.
I believed that there was a housing bubble, but I did not understand the huge impact credit default swaps would have on the market. It did not occur to me that nobody would be able to properly price these securities, so investors would stop buying them at any price. With the price effectively at zero, banks would be undercapitalized and credit would grind to a halt. I think most people still don't get it. They do understand that they have to pay down debt to get out of trouble and that they have to spend less. They do not understand that there are millions like them who will be spending less, which will reduce business profits, which will drive down the stock market and result in job losses, which will reduce spending further, which will mean a long recession to come. While you tried to warn us, we did not want to hear your warning. We were having too much fun buying new toys and houses and spending like drunken sailors!
Don Caisley of Shorewood , Ill.
My complaint is that you do not do enough investigative reporting. Your annual college and hospital rankings have a great deal of thought and investigation behind them. Not surprisingly, these are the lists that make your magazine famous and make these institutions better. So in answer to your question, "What comes next?" the answer is obvious. Expand your rankings to include more economic and political institutions. Rank our presidents, governors, senators, and congressmen. Rank our banks. Rank our lobbyists. Rank our law firms, accounting firms, financial planners, financial traders, news media, mortgage companies, and whatever else needs to be improved. All Americans understand the concept of "being No. 1," and all institutions understand the importance of "being No. 1." You can create a better America.
Jeff Knopp, via E-mail