Washington Monthly spreads blame for S&L crises

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September 14, 1990|By Michael Wentzel | Michael Wentzel,Special to The Evening Sun

THE WASHINGTON Monthly does not shy away fro infuriating articles.

In the September issue of the magazine ($3), James Bennet's report on the causes of the massive savings and loan crisis may be one of the most aggravating pieces ever run by The Washington Monthly, especially for those who see the Reagan Administration, corrupt officials or the greedy rich as the S&L devils.

Bennet, an editor of the magazine, presents a harsh alternative assessment: many of us are to blame.

"Did you take out a mortgage in the Fifties, Sixties or Seventies? Invest in a money market fund in the Seventies or early Eighties? Buy a certificate of deposit in the past 10 years?" he asks.

"If you answered yes to any of the above . . . you're at least a cause of the S&L crisis . . . In fact, aside from the not-insignificant question of intent, the main difference between you and the S&L crooks is that, collectively, you took a lot more money than they did. Oh, also: You've gotten clean away."

Bennet travels a precarious line in making his economic arguments. At times, his logic fails but he does not relent in heaping on the guilt.

He also has some especially critical things to say about Money magazine as both a promoter and symbol of the destructive paths that led to the crisis.

The Washington Monthly article has many sharp lines. This is one of Bennet's best and one to remember as the S&L mess percolates: "One defining characteristic of a capitalistic democracy is that a lousy deal for one guy is by definition an incredibly sweet deal for somebody else."

Newhallville is a working-class neighborhood in New Haven Conn., where few readers of The New Yorker have visited. In a two-part article ending in the Sept. 17 issue ($1.75), William Finnegan delivers a clear portrait of life in Newhallville to the reader.

He tells the story of a woman who, along with her husband, has lived and worked there for almost 40 years. She has five children. Four are unemployed. Two live with her and two live in apartments paid for by public assistance.

One daughter has two sons and Finnegan centers his story on one of those boys -- he calls him Terry Jackson -- who has discovered the life of a drug dealer who earns hundreds of dollars a day.

"The decision to get down -- to start dealing drugs -- is not, of course, simply economic," he writes. "It is also social, flowing in some (usually large) degree out of a background of family and friends, often opening up itself whole new vistas of friendship, and meanwhile shutting down others. In Terry's case, the fact that his mother, his uncle and his two aunts were all dope addicts made the drug trade a family tradition of sorts."

Finnegan likes to sit down at the kitchen table, drink coffee and eat meals with Terry and his family. He tells their story from that point of view. This creates a unique window to peer through.

Tim Appelo profiles the very hot actress, author and screenwriter Carrie Fisher in the September issue of Savvy Woman ($2.95) . . . The story of the Battle of Britain as remembered by the pilots who fought it makes lively reading in the September issue of Flying ($2.95) . . . It may not be subtle but the cover story in the Sept. 17 issue of Time -- New York City's plunge into violence, chaos and decline -- and the October issue of HG House & Garden ($4) -- the rewards of life in New York, Gloria Steinem hires a decorator and Tom Wolfe finds a wonderful townhouse -- make amazing comparative reading . . . Consumer activist Ralph Nader has threatened legal action over a Sept. 17 article in Forbes that describes him as the head of a network of organizations supported in part by wealthy lawyers. Nader, and the American Trial Lawyers Association, receive similar nasty treatment in The American Spectator ($2.75). A nicely-timed pair of attacks . . . For those who have a vital need to know about the upcoming television, the Sept. 14 issue of Entertainment Weekly ($1.95) may satisfy the craving.

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