March 29th, 2012
08:06 PM ET

Letters to the President #1165: 'In debt we trust'

Reporter's Note: President Obama has a whole team of economic advisors. I’m not one of them. Not even secretly.

Dear Mr. President,

It takes a good bit to surprise me these days. I’ve been in the news business so long, and I’ve seen so much shocking, irresponsible, unthinkable and/or illegal activity, that I hardly raise an eyebrow anymore. Public official nabbed ripping off taxpayers? Been there. Seen that. Researcher faking evidence in a study? Snoozeville. Member of Congress caught in a hotel room with a strange woman and an even stranger goat? Snore.

And yet today I saw an article that made me sit up a tad straighter. In a nutshell, it said we may have seen the last balanced federal budget of our lifetimes. At first, I assumed that I was misreading. Certainly, this could not be the case! Turns out, however, that I was not mistaken. We’ve apparently dug the hole so deep that we may never crawl out again. Now, all we can do, according to some economic types, is manage our debt, never escape it.

I find that startling and depressing. Have we really strayed so far from basic ideas of, oh say, buying only what we can afford, and spending only what we can earn? I’m not trying to beat some kind of partisan drum here. I’m not even hinting at blaming one party more than the other for this, although perhaps one deserves more blame in the big picture. All I’m saying is that it is astonishing to think that we have somehow wound up in a position where we have to simply abandon the idea of ever again being out of debt as a nation.

I interviewed a woman years ago who had made some disastrous mistakes with her personal finances. She’d been given a big promotion at work, so she bought a fancy car, a new house, lots of expensive clothing. Then she had some unexpected medical bills, and lost the big job. Her income and savings plummeted, but her tastes did not. She continued to take luxury vacations and buy things to keep up with her ritzy friends. Before she was thirty, she had a $30,000 debt on her credit card, and was well on her way to never recovering financially.

She met with a debt counselor her talked her through the tough steps she needed to take; telling her how she had to cut spending, sell off things she could not afford; start saving and steadily whittling down that debt no matter how much it hurt. When we met, she was several years into that process and thrilled to know that she was only a couple more years away from breaking even.

I don’t know if a nation can actually do such things to defeat its debt. My common sense says it ought to be possible, but when you start talking about hundreds of millions of people and trillions of dollars in taxing and spending, I’m pretty sure the rules start changing. I’ve also read that plenty of economic types have now reconciled themselves to the idea that we really don’t need to ever be debt free again. Honestly, I have a hard, hard time understanding how that will work. At best that seems to involve forever paying interest on money that we’ve borrowed, which just seems foolish.

Oh well. I suppose if I understood it all you’d be calling me every other day so I could help sort things out. But I don’t, so I certainly hope you do…or at least someone near you does…because the idea of being under that kind of debt for eternity seems daunting to say the least.


March 29th, 2012
06:19 PM ET

Tonight on AC360: Witness: George Zimmerman 'didn't appear hurt'

An eyewitness to the Trayvon Martin shooting says George Zimmerman didn't look injured after the incident. Watch the preview of Anderson's interview and hear the full account tonight on AC360° at 8 and 10 p.m. ET.

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Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Trayvon Martin
March 29th, 2012
02:04 PM ET

Tonight on AC360: Anti-gay marriage group's e-mails 'scary'

Dr. Julian Bond says it's "scary" the National Organization for Marriage thinks they can move black people like chess pieces. Watch a preview of Anderson's interview with Dr. Bond and see the entire conversation tonight on AC360° at 8 and 10 p.m. ET.

Filed under: 360° Radar
March 28th, 2012
11:24 PM ET

Zimmerman in handcuffs night of shooting

Police surveillance video shows George Zimmerman arriving at the police department in handcuffs the night he shot Trayvon Martin.

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Filed under: Trayvon Martin
March 28th, 2012
11:20 PM ET

Clark: Zimmerman injuries 'not apparent'

Anderson Cooper speaks with Marcia Clark, Jose Baez and Lou Palumbo about the video of George Zimmerman in police custody the night he shot Trayvon Martin.

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Filed under: Trayvon Martin
March 28th, 2012
10:48 PM ET

The RidicuList: Mega Millions

The giant mega-millions jackpot lands on the RidicuList. It has something to do with the AC360° staff not being millionaires tonight.

Filed under: The RidicuList
March 28th, 2012
10:45 PM ET

KTH: More Syrians killed after peace promise

The al-Assad regime agreed to a U.N. peace plan, but the deadly shelling in Syria continues. Anderson Cooper is Keeping Them Honest.

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Filed under: Keeping Them Honest • Syria
March 28th, 2012
10:43 PM ET

Ungodly Discipline: No state oversight at religious school

This week AC360° presents a three-part series investigating allegations of abuse at the Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch. The founder, Preacher Bob Larsson, asks new students to sign a document stating they understand the religious nature of the school and believe the bible to be the word of God. Because the Montana boarding school is a faith-based institution, the state has no authority to oversee or regulate it.

It’s an important factor to consider with former students and employees claiming abusive forms of punishment are common practice at the school. One former staff member told CNN’s Gary Tuchman, “... when I saw the kids they were wrenching and screaming because of the pain of what had happened.” Larsson believes Satan is behind that allegation and the others from more than a dozen people who told CNN they witnessed or experienced abuse.

Larsson, the owner for almost four decades, admits the school enforces a policy of “tough love.” House parent Ned Kent says he used pressure points on the children’s necks as a means to control their behavior. It’s a practice Pinehaven says is no longer permitted, but there is no government authority checking that claim. Teachers aren’t required to have certifications like instructors at public and private schools in Montana, and Pinehaven has free reign to employ anyone they choose regardless of qualifications or background.

In addition to the abuse allegations, at least one former student says he was raped by a peer. He began cutting himself as a way to cope with the pain. A former employee pleaded guilty to raping two students and subsequently went to prison. Larsson acknowledges past troubles, but he doesn’t welcome any changes to the law preventing state oversight of his school.

The Ungodly Discipline investigation continues tonight on AC360° at 8 and 10 p.m. ET.

Watch the first report in the series:

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Filed under: Ungodly Discipline
March 28th, 2012
10:02 PM ET

Sen. McCain: Syria not adhering to peace plan

Sen. John McCain speaks out about the Syrian regime breaking its promise of a cease-fire. He is asking the U.S. government to act in support of the Syrian opposition.

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Filed under: Senator John McCain • Syria
March 28th, 2012
09:43 PM ET

Woman on phone with Trayvon Martin says he ran away

ABC News Correspondent Matt Gutman spoke with the woman who was on the phone with Trayvon Martin before he died. Her account of that night differs greatly from what George Zimmerman told police.

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Filed under: Trayvon Martin
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