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In Easygoing Seattle, A Grass-Roots Move Against S&L Fraud

JOHN HINTERBERGER, Seattle Times columnist, couldn't figure out why people weren't as mad as he was about having to pay the estimated $5,000 per person to bail out the savings and loans industry. ``I finally sat down and said, if I had my druthers, what would I like to see happen?'' he says. He wrote one column on June 24 that said that before a cent of taxes is paid, the assets of everyone who made fraudulent loans should be seized. And he called for a nationwide taxpayers' revolt.

The Not My Bucket Brigade, as he called it, stirred this normally easygoing town. The first two days 50 letters came in each day. Since then, he's been getting 25 to 30. ``And the letters were handwritten, which means people wanted to get their thoughts down immediately, without waiting to type,'' he says.

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So he wrote a second column on July 1, including some of those letters. Writes Gladys R. of Enumclaw: ``I have been following the news and I am horrified. I think you have the best idea since the Hula-Hoop. ... I know there are millions of Americans who will join the brigade to stop these hoodlums and make them pay their dues.''

And Gloria McFarland of Renton writes: ``I hope I am only one of thousands ready to join you. ... I hope it spreads like wildfire. I hope it frightens the Congress and the president. I hope and pray that the word ACCOUNTABILITY still has meaning.''

Over at KING radio, talk-show host Mike Siegel heard about the response and invited Mr. Hinterberger to be on his show. So many calls came in that they extended the show an extra half hour. Consumer activist Ralph Nader, who was on the show to provide a legal perspective, said that confiscation presented legal problems. But they agreed that ``intense prosecution of all involved'' was important, says Mr. Siegel.

Hinterberger and Siegel think they're on to something big. A printer has volunteered to print postcards with messages exhorting congressmen and senators to pursue getting the money back. And the two will hold a town meeting on July 25 at Scottish Rite Hall to discuss what people can do about the situation.

Frankly, says Hinterberger, he doesn't know what that is. ``We want to find something beyond anger, beyond the outrage,'' he says. ``What legally can we do? If we have to change laws to do something about this, what are those laws?''

His paper, the Seattle Times, is planning to mail out copies of his columns to every managing editor in the country, with a letter suggesting that columnists do something on the story.

And Siegel's got his own plans. As president of the National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts, he says, ``I have access through faxing to every talk show host in the country. If necessary I'd be prepared to get the hosts together collectively.''

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Siegel is getting experienced at starting citizens' revolts. He lead a nationwide boycott of Exxon where he delivered three bags of angry letters to President Bush. And he appeared on 40 to 50 talk shows to talk about the congressional pay-raise issue, he says.

``After doing these kinds of things over the years I hope I get a sense that an issue is getting a groundswell of interest,'' he says. ``This has really touched the nerve of the American people. There's no question that it's now ready for a national response.''

``It seems incomprehensible and wrong for every man woman and child in this country to pay what amounts to $20 a month for the next 30 years,'' says Hinterberger. ``That's the mortgage we've been handed. ... We're paying off what amounts to bad real estate gambling debts.''

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