Take your six-hundred bucks and shut the hell up

by Brian Clarey

It’s a buyout. A withered and brown banana thrown to a starving monkey. A check with “now shut the fuck up” written in the memo.

But I’m still anxiously awaiting my federal government tax rebate. If the early numbers add up right, I’m looking at like two grand.

God bless my little dependents… I love them all.

The “economic stimulus plan,” tentatively agreed upon last week by House leaders and the Bush camp, call for $600 bucks for every adult who earned between $3,000 and $75,000 last year, and up to $300 apiece for their children. It’s being marketed as a bail-out for the beleaguered middle class, but I like to think that most of us recognize it for what it is: a tiny piece of the money we who make a modest income have kicked in over the last seven years to pay for tax breaks for the richest in the nation.

After pissing all over us since virtually the moment he declared himself president, Bush now charges the middle class with recharging the American economy.

With six hundred bucks apiece.

The thing is, it may turn out to be a success… in the short term. All across the country, working families will use the money – which should average out to $1,950 – to erase some lifestyle debt or pay their mortgages or maybe get caught up on back taxes. Maybe they’ll fix their cars or make home repairs they’ve been saving up for or buy three months’ worth of gasoline.

Some will use it on their kids, for braces or tuition or glasses or sports equipment.

Families who are caught up on their bills – those who earn less than $150,000 a year, anyway – might use the money for the small bit of luxury a couple grand can bring: a big TV, a short vacation, 10 pair of decent shoes.

A small percentage, I imagine, will sock their windfalls away in banks or investments, which defies the point of the whole thing.

Others may be so far behind by June, when their checks are slated to arrive, that two grand will provide scant relief.

I mean, here in the Triad $2,000 is still $2,000, but in some parts of the country that doesn’t cover a reasonable mortgage payment.

I’m insulted by both the gesture and the amount. This is penance money, a bogus act of goodwill towards a middle class that the administration has done its best to manipulate from the beginning – with fear, with lies, with straw men, with false promises, with divisive campaign issues, with easy mortgages and subsequent economic oppression. These guys have a lot to be penitent about, and $2,000 does not cut it.

It’s not like anyone’s pretending this isn’t a Band-Aid designed to temporarily ease the symptoms of much larger problems: bank failures and stock market instability and a newly established class of the recently evicted who will have bankruptcies and foreclosures on their lease applications.

And still some insist that “some parts” of the economy are working just fine.

I have reason to believe that things are worse than the people who know about such things are letting on: When was the last time the US government handed out money – not incentives, not promises, not policies, but cold, hard cash? To people, I mean… not companies.

I’ll tell you: It was in 2001, before the Twin Towers crashed to the ground and the stock market went with it, before easy credit and ARM loan resets, before an incredibly expensive war in Iraq and before gas cost $100 a barrel. Prior to 2001, you’d have to go back to the New Deal to find this kind of government generosity. Again, for people, not companies.

The economic picture for my own family is not as bleak as some, not as rosy as others. Our mortgage is an unassuming one, and though we’ve struggled to live within our means the past few years, we have managed to pay off our IRS debt, which was nearly as suffocating as our credit card balance, which due to usurious interest charges was appreciating at an alarming rate before we managed to eliminate it, as well.

Still, and as I’ve said, I’m looking forward to my low-ball buyout. It’s doubtful that I’ll use it to beef up my savings account, and not because I’m a good American. It’s possible, I suppose, that my wife and I will pay off some more of our debt, a choice which would equally undermine this recovery effort.

But more likely we’ll pay off a few bills, go to the grocery store without doing math in our heads a time or two, gas up our cars and sock away a couple hundred as a cushion against the next month’s nut.

As for a vacation or a big-screen TV, we’ll have to wait until the next time our economy screws the pooch.

For questions or comments e-mail Brian Clarey at