The tens of thousands of Americans who signed on for adjustable-rate mortgages, agreeing to deals their budgets can no longer cover, are hardly sympathetic figures.

It's tempting, in fact, to brand them as greedy, stupid and deserving of whatever financial disaster awaits them.

Don't they know what andquot;adjustableandquot; means?

Some critics contend that no matter the root cause whether the mortgage-holder is merely naive or just hoped to turn a below-market introductory interest rate into a quick profit the government should not use taxpayers' dollars to save these people's credit ratings and keep their loans afloat.

Except the situation is not so simple, and the people who bought more than they could afford aren't the only potential victims of the mortgage crisis.

That crisis could represent the tip of a financial iceberg, and the U.S. economy could be the Titanic.

If the federal government does nothing, and a couple of million people lose their valuable homes, the recent plunges in stock values might seem in retrospect like minor dips.

andquot;So what,andquot; you say, andquot;I don't own stocks.andquot; But your company's pension plan probably does.

The government is obligated to protect Americans who didn't gamble on too-good-to-be-true mortgages. It's distasteful, sure, but sometimes, to spare people who deserve help, the government has to bail out some other people who don't.