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Kai Ryssdal: Our letters segment this week begins with cash. We did a story a couple of weeks ago about how more Americans are using actual money this year instead of plastic for their holiday purchases and how that might not be such a good thing for retailers on the theory that it's more painful when you spend actual cash.

Jonathan Lovelace from Milan, Mich., wrote in to say he can think of one up-side for sellers when shoppers stay within their means.

JONATHAN LOVELACE: Spending money that isn't being spent on credit-card interest can be spent at these retailers next year.

Brad McBride out of Freeport, Maine, took the longer view on that one: that cash purchases with the promise of future spending really isn't any good for retailers.

BRAD MCBRIDE: If you don't do something to increase earnings this quarter, right now, today, you're going to suffer the wrath of the market and could be out of business before any future benefit can be realized.

We got back into the minutia of the financial crisis the other day in a story about how regulators are taking a closer look at interest-rate swaps. They're a close cousin of the credit-default swaps that brought AIG so much grief. These swaps are supposed to protect against big changes in interest rates but municipal and non-profit investors, everybody from county governments to universities, continue to lose billions on them.

Lisa Burns is a commercial banker from Burlington, Vt. She says the fault, dear Brutus, lies in the humans, not in the swaps.

LISA BURNS: The same people who were considered smart for reducing interest costs when the market was in their favor are now complaining that they didn't know the risks now that interest rates move against them.

Staying with human behavior now, just before Thanksgiving we introduced you to the Slow Media movement. People deciding they're going live off the electronic grid: no iPods, no cell phones, no e-mail.

Merlyn Oliver from Gardnerville, Nev., says the key to the drive for simplicity could actually be pretty simple.

MERLYN OLIVER: Maybe its just the difference between extroversion and introversion.

The health care bill the Senate's debating has all kinds of things tucked inside its 2,000 pages, including a 5-percent tax on optional cosmetic surgery that we told you about.

Debra Johnson is a plastic surgeon in Sacramento, Calif. She votes no.

DEBRA JOHNSON: This is a tax that would unfairly target middle-class women. If we need additional money for government to function, we should tax our citizens equally.

A note about one other health care story. Monday we looked at proton therapy in cancer treatments. We were getting at how to figure the costs of newer treatments versus the benefits that they offer. We said there are six proton therapy centers in this country. There are actually seven.

Also, the numbers Bob Moon and I talked about last week on the rising federal debt didn't add up for many of you. A good part of the increase in how much we owe as a country now has been because of the bank bailout and economic stimulus package. But we should have talked about tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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