Notice how it has shot up in the past few days relative to the rest of the year. If I had more time I would put in markers through the year so we could get a feel for how the market has responded to earlier events. But I don't, so I won't.
Now compare that to VIX over the past 10 years:
You can see that the last time the VIX index was as high as it is now (although it's down 12% today as of 11 AM as markets rebound a bit) was during the tech bust of the late 90's and the subsequent recession of 2000-2001. In an economy that seems to be driven by fickle investors who may or (most likely) may not have all relevant information (just see what happened with United)
3. Intrade Prediction Markets - Intrade is often cited for its political prediction markets which you'll see as soon as you click on the site but it's basically a place you can go to speculate on real events.
"We've created an exchange for you to trade (speculate on) events that directly affect your life, like politics, entertainment, financial indicators, weather, current events and legal affairs - these are our trading categories. Within each category we list a set of contracts, a contract is an event that will have an unambiguous result. For example, some of our political contracts are: "Will George Bush be re-elected in 2004" or "Will John Kerry win the Democratic Nomination". Each one is an event with an unambiguous result, either George Bush will be re-elected or he won't." - from intrade.comBelow is the history of "US Recession in 2008." US Recession in 2009 looks similar. You can see how the price of a "share" has an overall decreasing trend although just the tail end of it shows a small reversal. Intrade is by no means always right or reliable but it's another piece of information to put in your toolbox.
I'm torn on the bailout and luckily I'm not one of the people who have to make a decision on it. This is one of those things where we won't get a true sense of how bad it is until we're out of it and looking at it in 20/20. The prof did mention that it might be a good time to get in the markets while everything is low - buy low sell high, right? - but that's assuming we're not on the verge of a complete collapse.