Bear Stearns. Lehman Brothers. Fannie Mae (NYSE:FNM). Freddie Mac (NYSE:FRE). AIG (NYSE:AIG). Merrill Lynch (NYSE:MER).

These companies have contributed to a financial system chaos like the United States hasn't seen in years. Last week, world markets plunged. The Dow and S&P 500 followed suit. Trillions of dollars of paper losses wreaked havoc upon retail investors.

And now the prospect of increased governmental intervention has calmed collective nerves -- the Dow gained 11% yesterday, its biggest one-day gain since 1933. Overnight, Japan's Nikkei posted its single-biggest gain ever.

Today we have news that the U.S. government will take direct stakes in major banks, including Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC).

What's going on? What are the long-term ramifications? What does all of this activity mean for your portfolio?

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