Brother, can you spare a dime? On second thought, could you make it $1.59?


In 1932, a dime was worth almost $1.60 in today's money. Today, $1.60 won't even buy you big coffee.

My old man was 7 years old in 1932, the year E.Y. Harburg and Jay Gorney composed the song that came to epitomize the Great Depression: "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" Following the current bloodletting on Wall Street, we may be looking for a new song to sing soon. But we aren't bumming for dimes anymore. We want your trillions, mister.

Out of range of a cash machine, I spent the weekend walking around with just two or three bucks in my pocket, which is how the Old Man said he grew up. Of course, I had plastic on me, so I was able to pull out a credit card for a movie and popcorn. The movie was "Burn After Reading," which is what I wanted to do after I saw the Sunday paper and learned that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was telling Congress that the only way to avoid another Depression was to make him king and give him $700 billion. From you. And me.

A few voices have been raised against the massive bailout. But only a few.

One, Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont, proposed that a tax surcharge of 10 percent -- the kind FDR called for during World War II -- be imposed on the wealthiest Americans (making more than $1 million per couple). Such a surcharge would raise $300 billion and take a little from those who have benefited the most from tax cuts that have widened the gap between rich and poor.

"If this bailout is necessary, it should not be middle income or working families who have to pay for it," Sanders said.

Sanders is right that the middle class is doing too much: Just as the housing bubble deflates the equity that represents the only savings plan for many families, Americans are being saddled with debts while Wall Street gets absolved of them.

If Washington approves Paulson's bailout, the nation's debt limit will climb to $11.3 trillion. And if you think that's a big number, you're right:

The Earth is 93 million miles from the sun. To travel 11.3 trillion miles, you would have to go from the Earth to the sun -- and back -- 62,000 times.

Bon voyage!

Take that $11.3 trillion and divide by 300 million -- the number of Americans -- and you get $37,666 per person. Multiply that by the size of your household and, voilà, you get your family's share of the new national debt, not counting your VISA card.

In my house, with five of us, our share of the debt, post-Wall Street collapse, will be about $190,000. And I'm not counting the kids who went off to college already, leaving $27,000 in college loans to remember them by. The little dears.

I am willing, of course, to support my children, but I can't afford to carry them and Wall Street, too. My bubble is bursting, baby. So I have decided to act like a Wall Street Genius:

I am throwing my loans on the Wall Street bailout pile.

Dear Secretary Paulson:

Please accept these $27,000 in loans incurred by me to defray the cost of higher education for a few of my brood. (Don't worry; I won't send any more kids to college; I will ship the remaining youngsters to off-shore oil fields as soon as they are able to lift a wrench. Drill, baby, drill! ) Sorry, but I have pulled a Fannie Mae: I am unable to continue carrying these toxic loans without considerable hardship to myself, and I know you wouldn't be any happier to see me suffer than you were to see the big rascals squirm on Wall Street. So, now that you have ministered tenderly to them, I feel confident you will do the same for the Colemans and eliminate my burden of college junk loans. My paltry $27K won't make a dent in your $700 billion bailout, but your acceptance of my debts will help ensure that my kids can eat while I am doing my patriotic part in helping rescue Wall Street by putting my taxes where your mouth is. Thanks for your kindness,

Nick C.

P.S. Country First!

Oh, I almost forgot something, Hank. I was thinking of a song from the Depression -- the original Depression. My daddy used to sing it:

"Once I built a tower, up to the sun,

"brick and rivet and lime.

"Once I built a tower, now it's done --

"Brother, can you spare a dime?"

Remember it, Mr. Secretary? Wow, I hope things don't get that bad again. But I'll tell you something; A dime was worth something back then: $1.59 in today's money. Almost a buck-sixty, Why don't we round up and call it two bucks? Can you lend me two bucks, Hank?

Or would a billion be easier? • 612-673-4400