Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Encroachment of the Gun Nuts

A loyal reader informed The Curmudgeon recently that Groupon had made her a very special offer:  a one-year subscription to the magazine Garden & Gun for the low, low price of $10 a year.

At first The Curmudgeon thought nothing of it, but then – he can be a bit slow at times – the light bulb flickered into the “on” position:  Garden & Gun magazine?

Garden & Gun magazine?

GARDEN & GUN MAGAZINE?

The Curmudgeon laughed; this had to be spoof, he told himself.  Surely someone is making this up; there can’t possibly be a Garden & Gun magazine.

But Google does not lie.  It tracks your every move, it stalks your browsing, it wants to drag you into a dark room and abuse you in unspeakable ways, but it does not lie, and a quick search revealed that there is, in fact, a magazine called Garden & Gun that describes itself as “a celebration of southern lifestyle at its best, featuring the great outdoors, food, style, history, & travel.”

Seriously.

Articles in the April/May issue include “The Man Who Changed Fly Fishing Forever,” “Ted Turner:  Going Native,” “Sissy Spacek Opens Up,” and “Southern Butchers Have Serious Chops.”  And of course, the heart-warming “A Taste for the Hunt,” which is described as “A boy acquires a profound appreciation for the hunt” and features a photo of a lad about eleven or twelve years old holding a shotgun.

How touching.

You can’t make up stuff like this.  Who knows, maybe there’ll be a spin-off magazine:  Churches & Guns.  Or maybe Babies & Guns.  Or perhaps, for those who prefer their magazines with rhyming titles, Nuns & Guns.

Meanwhile, any beetles out there better be careful to stay out of southerners’ gardens, because if they threaten the spring planting, they could be on the receiving end of…

BOOM!

Garden & Gun magazine:  probably not at a newsstand near you.

 

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Behind the Scenes at a Romney Strategy Session

A Sketch in One Act

(A small conference room.  Two men are seated.  One is Fred Hamilton, who has been on Mitt Romney’s campaign staff since 2006.  Before that, he worked for Romney in Massachusetts, on the Salt Lake City Olympic committee, and at Bain.  The other man is Jerry Wrightman, founder of the Tea Party organization in Ohio and its current leader.  They are chatting quietly but awkwardly when a third man arrives:  Carl Lemon, one of the Republican Party’s top political strategists.)

HAMILTON:  Gentlemen, thank you for joining me this morning.  As you know, we’re faced with the very challenging task of trying to improve our standing with both the Tea Party and Republicans who are more centrist and voted for Obama four years ago.  We need your help with the Tea Party people.

WRIGHTMAN (grimacing):  Well, your boy’s practically a socialist, what with his health care plan in Massachusetts and his past support of abortion and gun control and the stimulus.  You’re gonna need to show us that he’s different from Obama, because right now, the only difference we see between the two of them is that my people would cross the street if the guy they saw walking toward them looked more like Obama.

LEMON (shaking his head from side to side):  That’s right, Jerry, get it all out of your system now so we can get down to the business at hand.

WRIGHTMAN:  Am I wrong, Carl?

LEMON:  Whether you’re right or wrong doesn’t matter anymore.  We now have two candidates, Romney and the Kenyan.  It’s one or the other.  If you don’t see any difference, feel free to go back to your people and tell them it doesn’t matter who they vote for.  If you don’t really feel that way, though, kindly extract your head from your ass and cut the crap.

WRIGHTMAN:  I’m just saying, Carl.  Yeesh, don’t be so serious.

LEMON:  This is serious business, Jerry.  The future of the republic is hanging in the balance.

WRIGHTMAN:  If you’re not happy with your boy either, we could always put up our own candidate and take our chances with that.

HAMILTON:  Please, gentlemen!  Let’s get back to the business at hand.

LEMON:  No, Fred, hold on a minute, I need to make a point here.  (turns to Wrightman)  Who’s your candidate, Jerry?  Who do you have who wasn’t already rejected in the primaries by your own people?

WRIGHTMAN:  Well, there’s Jeb.

LEMON:  He’s not even one of yours.  Who else?

WRIGHTMAN:  One of our spiritual founders, Jim DeMint.

LEMON:  Really?  Five months before the election and you want to go with somebody no one’s ever even heard of?

WRIGHTMAN:  Chris Christie.  People certainly have heard of him.

LEMON:  No guts, pardon the pun.  Next?

WRIGHTMAN:  Well, there’s…Sarah.

LEMON:  Okay, now you’re just wasting our time.  She’s too busy trying to get rich.  Four years in the White House would hurt her cash flow.  Besides, as a candidate, she couldn’t find that fine ass of hers with both hands.  Even if you had a candidate, it would only take votes away from Romney and ensure that the Kenyan wins.  Is that what you want?

WRIGHTMAN:  No, but…

LEMON:  The primaries are over, Jerry, and the time for buts is over, too.  Romney’s the guy, whether you like it or not, so let’s get back to the problem at hand.

HAMILTON:  Yes, let’s.  Does either one of you have any ideas for something we can do that’ll get the far right enthusiastically behind us in November?

WRIGHTMAN (excitedly):  Social Security.  It’s pure socialism, and Mitt should say that if he’s elected, he’ll dismantle Social Security and let people make their own retirement investment decisions without government interference.

HAMILTON:  Jerry, that’s not quite what we had in mind for…

LEMON (turning toward Wrightman):  Hey, shit-for-brains, do you just want to concede the election to the Kenyan right now?

WRIGHTMAN:  Okay, smart guy, what do you have?

LEMON (smiling):  Actually, I do have something.  We need to create our own issue, like Willie Horton in ’88 or those swift boat loons we ginned up to sell their souls to the devil back in 2004.  We need to pay a lot of attention to something that most people don’t care about and use it to take over a few news cycles and score cheap ideological points that rally people – in this case, the screwy people.

WRIGHTMAN:  You establishment Republicans have no respect for us, and it’s going to hurt you.

LEMON:  I’m scared, Jerry, I’m scared.

HAMILTON (ignoring the last exchange):  What do you have in mind, Carl?

LEMON (sitting forward):  Student loans.  We hit them on student loans.

WRIGHTMAN (laughing):  That’s your big idea?  Student loans?

LEMON:  It’s perfect.  There’s a big fuss going on in Congress over student loans.  The interest rates are scheduled to rise and Democrats are falling all over themselves trying to prevent that.  Republicans are saying they’ll go along in exchange for spending cuts, but that makes them look like they’re just getting in the way for the sake of getting in the way.  In other words, politics as usual.  The way to score points is to take a stand, regardless of what that stand is.  In this case, they should refuse even to consider preventing the interest rate increase and start talking instead about de-funding the entire federal student loan program.

HAMILTON:  What?  You have to be out of your mind.

LEMON:  Great – a strategy critique from a guy whose next successful political strategy will be his first.  Not only should we do it, but your boy should lead the way.

HAMILTON:  Seriously, Carl, that’s a terrible idea.

LEMON:  No, it’s a perfect idea.  Look, long-time Republicans – real Republicans, not your Tea Party wing-nuts…

WRIGHTMAN (interrupting):  Hey!

LEMON:  Real Republicans have their own money.  They don’t need student loans to put their kids through school.  Well, in this campaign, they’re no longer student loans:  they’re government handouts.  They’re unfunded mandates.  They’re entitlement spending we can no longer afford.  Real Republicans don’t need student loans and don’t want to give other people handouts to put their kids through college when they’re putting their own kids through school without the government’s help.

HAMILTON:  Technically, it’s not an entitlement.

LEMON:  It will be when we talk about it.

HAMILTON:  What about the middle class?

LEMON:  Polling shows the middle class doesn’t make voting decisions on issues like this, so there’s no risk of alienating them.

HAMILTON:  What about the poor and minorities?

LEMON:  Fuck the poor and minorities.  Why should you care about the poor and minorities?  There’s not a chance in hell they’ll vote for your guy, so why should you care about them?

WRIGHTMAN:  So how does this help win over my people – assuming you’re even serious about trying to win us over?

LEMON:  Quit the posturing, tea-boy.  Do you remember during the primaries, when the Kenyan said that every kid should go to college and…

HAMILTON (interrupting):  No, that’s not what the president said.  He said that every kid who wants to go to college should be able to go to college.

LEMON:  Let’s not let this strategy get bogged down by the facts, Fred.  Remember swift boat.  Do you remember what happened?  Santorum called the Kenyan an elitist and said that not everyone needs to go to college and that saying so was an insult to honest working people everywhere.  He got tremendous traction on that, especially among your tea-baggers.

WRIGHTMAN:  That’s Tea Party, Carl.  Tea-baggers are a totally different thing.

LEMON:  Whatever.  Your people ate it up because so many of them didn’t go to college and have never understood all the fuss about college.  Going all the way back to Nixon in ’68, Republicans have always scored huge political points taking shots at all those liberal college-boy eastern elitists in politics and the media.  Your people didn’t go to college, Jerry, and they don’t particularly care whether their kids go to college, either.  So then tell me, who are student loans for?  (momentary silence)  I’ll tell you who they’re for:  they’re for eastern elitists and big-city liberals.  Why should Tea Party Republicans – your people – turn over their hard-earned money to subsidize college for those people ?

HAMILTON:  So you want to make fun of educated people?

WRIGHTMAN:  I think I’m starting to like this.

LEMON:  You see, Fred?  The uneducated guy like this.  Our target here isn’t just the Tea Party, either:  this’ll also resonate with working-class conservatives, Republicans, and even blue-collar Democrats.  These people didn’t go to college, never wanted to go to college, don’t care if their kids go to college, and don’t want to subsidize people who do go to college.  This issue is just ripe for us to pull out our tried and true strategy that when we propose something that we know will be unpopular with some people, we just insist that we should let the market decide without government interference or intervention.  No one knows what that actually means, but our base eats it up and it scares the crap out of the liberals.

WRIGHTMAN (smiling):  I think I like it.

HAMILTON:  Wait a minute.  Are you forgetting that Mitt has a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young and both an MBA and a law degree from Harvard?  And that Bush senior had a degree from Yale and Bush junior had a bachelor’s degree from Yale and an MBA from Harvard?

LEMON:  That’s the beauty of it.  You respect the Bushes and I respect the Bushes, but the Tea Party people can’t stand them.  To a member of the Tea Party, the only difference between W and Teddy Kennedy is a dead party girl in the river.

HAMILTON:  You’re kidding.

LEMON:  No, I’m not.  Believe me – I’ve polled on it.  Look, Mitt went into Philadelphia a few weeks ago and said that the whole education establishment’s mystique about small class size is a crock, remember?  And has he gotten any meaningful pushback from that?  No – barely a peep.  Don’t you see?  This also gives us an opportunity to take a few shots at overpaid public school teachers and their unions if they try to fight back.  Tea Party people hate public employees and their unions with a passion.  If you walk through a Tea Party crowd when Mitt gets on a stage and starts talking about overpaid teachers and their unions, the men will practically have hard-ons they’ll be so excited.

WRIGHTMAN:  I can sell this to my people.

LEMON:  But we can take it even further.  We can take shots at all those elitist, liberal-run universities that claim they’re non-profit organizations so they can evade taxes.  We can talk about the huge salaries they pay their administrators and professors and their astronomical tuition, too.  We can compare their tuition to that of legitimate internet universities and ask what in the world they’re doing with all that tuition money.  And the best part of this angle, just a little cherry on top, is that the high and mighty Washington Post will have to sit out the whole thing because it owns one of those internet colleges and would go belly-up tomorrow without it.  We’ll have that bitch Katherine Graham’s tit in a wringer.

HAMILTON:  Carl, you realize Katherine Graham’s been dead for more than ten years, don’t you?

LEMON:  Who cares?  You get my drift.

HAMILTON:  So you’re saying you want Mitt to be the anti-education candidate?  Are you serious?

LEMON:  Serious as a heart attack.

HAMILTON:  The governor’ll never go for it.  He values education and respects educated people.  Look at him, his family, his kids, the people around him.  He’s never going to question the value of higher education.  He may question its cost, he may question some of the things being taught, but question the value of higher education?  It’s not going to happen.  He’s just not going to go there, Carl.

LEMON:  Oh, he’ll go there.

HAMILTON:  What makes you think that?

LEMON:  Because not believing it won’t stop him from saying it.

HAMILTON:  What?

LEMON:  Oh, come on, Fred, he does it every day.  Health care, abortion, the stimulus, stem cell research, the minimum wage, amnesty for illegals, gun control, bailing out banks – do you want me to go on?  He’s constantly saying things he doesn’t believe so people will like him and vote for him.

HAMILTON:  That’s not true.  People change over time, their views evolve.

LEMON:  Save it for your book, son.  This is politics.  People say things they don’t believe to get elected.

HAMILTON:  Not the governor.

LEMON:  Yes, the governor.  Take it to him, let him decide.  You can keep your hands clean and tell him it’s my idea and you’re only being an honest broker.

WRIGHTMAN:  You guys realize I’m sitting here, right?

LEMON:  Some things are unavoidable.

WRIGHTMAN:  The Tea Party wants action, not just talk.  Even if you get him to say it, what good does it do us if it helps him get elected and then he doesn’t do it?

LEMON:  Good lord, are you people stupid.

WRIGHTMAN:  Excuse me?

LEMON:  It’s about the table, nimrod.

WRIGHTMAN (Looks for a moment at the conference room table): What?

LEMON:  The table.  What you guys want is a seat at the table in a Romney administration.  Romney says things like this, he gets elected with your help, and you and your cult get a seat at the table where they decide real things, not nonsense like student loans.

HAMILTON:  He’ll never go for it.

LEMON:  Does he want to be president?

HAMILTON:  Of course he wants to be president.

LEMON:  Then he’ll go for it.

HAMILTON:  No he won’t.  He’s a man of principle.

LEMON:  John McCain had principles.  He wouldn’t talk about Reverend Wright, wouldn’t talk about this guy being born in Kenya, wouldn’t talk about him being a Muslim, wouldn’t talk about his wife being ashamed of being an American, and where did it get him?  Now he’s just an old, cranky, bitter guy, just like Bob Dole before him.  Principles are for losers.  If your guy wants to be president badly enough, he knows what he has to do to get there.  Say what you want about Mitt, but he’s a focused and disciplined guy who knows how to keep his eye on the prize.  He’s not gonna go soft now, not when it’s closer than ever.  Six years, more rubber chicken that the colonel could possibly imagine, there’s no turning back now.

(There’s a knock on the door.  Without waiting for an invitation, Mitt Romney enters.)

ROMNEY:  How’s it going, fellas?

HAMILTON (looking up and forcing an unconvincing smile):  This is a sticky challenge, governor.  We’re tossing around a few ideas but haven’t yet come up with anything solid.

LEMON:  I’m not sure I agree with that.  I have something for you, governor.

ROMNEY (looking to Hamilton):  Fred?

LEMON:  Fred doesn’t like it, governor, but I think it’s worth sharing.

(Hamilton tilts back in his chair, visibly unhappy.  Romney notices and nods at him.)

ROMNEY:  Let’s hear it and I’ll decide for myself.

HAMILTON:  Well, governor, it’s like this…

THE END

Pity the Poor Realtor

With the possible exception of utility infielders and actors who play very minor but regular roles on a television series, is anyone as overpaid as realtors?

Think about what realtors do.  Mostly, they don’t do much.

If you’re selling your house, you hire a realtor.  Maybe you know someone, or know someone who knows someone; whomever that someone happens to be, the last thing you probably know about them is whether they’re actually any good at their job.  Typical endorsements tend to be along the lines of “She sold my house” or “he’s really nice” or “my boss’s cousin twice-removed said he did a good job selling her former neighbor’s aunt’s house.”  Or maybe you hire to sell your house the same person who helped you find it ten years ago.  Or someone whose name is on a lot of “for sale” signs in your neighborhood – although if you think about it, if that realtor was any good, she would probably have more “sold” signs than “sale” signs.

Or there’s always a cousin.

If you’re a buyer, the decision-making process is usually no more discerning:  the person who helped your brother find a house; the person who sold your parents’ house; the person who helped your next-door neighbor find their house.

Or there’s always a cousin.

So when a realtor secures a contract to sell a house, she arranges for it to be listed on a local multiple listing service.  If she does nothing else, never lifts a finger again, she makes one-half of a six percent commission on the house’s eventual sale.  A $200,000 house?  That’s $6000 in the bank for signing a contract and uploading information through a computer.

Nice work if you can get it.

On the other hand, if you’re in the market for a house and engage a realtor to help you find one, you tell the realtor what you’re looking for and that realtor goes back to her office, checks out what’s on the market, and starts driving you around to houses.  Maybe one, maybe two, maybe three, maybe a dozen houses.  An enormous and burdensome investment of time – maybe fifteen or twenty hours of work for, on the sale of another $200,000 house, one-half of a six percent commission, or another cool $6000.  Let’s see:  $6000 for twenty hours of work, or $300 an hour.  Lawyers make that much money.  People who in many cases have no education beyond high school?  Not so often.

(And never forget: when you’re a buyer, the realtor you hire doesn’t even work for you and has no real loyalty to you.  She gets paid based on the price of the house you buy.  Think she’s going to negotiate to get you the lowest possible price?  Think again.)

And nowadays, realtors don’t need to do even this much work.  Back in 1990 when The Curmudgeon purchased his first home – a row house in a working-class community in Philadelphia – his realtor showed him six or eight houses in which he had no interest whatsoever.  Faced with all that failure, The Curmudgeon got in his little Dodge Charger, started driving up and down the streets in the neighborhood he liked, found two houses with “for sale” signs in front of them that his realtor hasn’t shown him, and four days later, he had a deal to buy a house.

And his realtor did what, exactly?

Thirteen years later, when he decided to sell, The Curmudgeon – not having any cousins in the business – turned to the same realtor to sell his house.  She showed up to make a sales pitch, The Curmudgeon signed a contract – and he never saw her again.  A week later she put his house on the market and within twenty-four hours, twelve parties came through the house – not a single one of them accompanied by the listing realtor.  The realtors who did come hadn’t done any homework and therefore didn’t know a single thing about the house, forcing The Curmudgeon – who has all the personality of a glass of warm milk and is decidedly not a people person – into playing the role of the lovely Carol Merrill to show his house (bonus points to readers who know who the lovely Carol Merrill is).  Three of the twelve parties made offers the following day, and on settlement day, his realtor again was nowhere to be found; she sent her husband, another realtor, to do the dirty work of collecting the commission check.

With his house now sold, The Curmudgeon then turned to the challenge of finding a new home in an entirely different area (and different state, for that matter).  This time a different realtor did the heavy lifting of turning on his computer, finding some places for sale, and driving his client around to show him new homes.  Once again The Curmudgeon liked nothing, went to a web site himself, and then received a call from his brother telling him where to look.  A week later The Curmudgeon had signed a contract to purchase his new home.

Two realtors, a home sold and another purchased, $14,000 in realtor commissions, and no one had performed any actual work.

But this isn’t a complaint about the service The Curmudgeon received; it’s a case study of the work realtors actually do – which is to say, very, very little in many cases.

During the real estate boom from between around 1990 through 2007, realtors made money hand over fist.  They couldn’t rake it in fast enough, “earning” huge commissions “selling” houses that sold themselves, processing a few papers – or, more likely, having a clerk process the papers for them – and then heading out to buy their own vacation homes at the beach, in the mountains, or near the lake.  Other than Wall Street criminals, there was no better way to make a living without the use of live ammunition.

Now that the economy and the real estate markets have gone south, high-end homes have flooded the market, people are afraid to buy, and prices for homes have deflated, realtors complain bitterly about their lot.  They are angry:  angry at the economy, angry at buyers, angry at sellers, angry at the government for interrupting their gravy train.  It’s all so unfair, they insist; in “this market” (it’s always “this market” and “in this economy” for people complaining about either) it’s almost impossible for a realtor to earn a living.

Let’s not be drama queens about it.  Realtors can and do earn a living even in “this market.”  They earn a damn good living, too.  Some of them, instead of making $400,000 a year, are making $250,000 a year.  Some, instead of making $150,000 a year, are making $90,000 a year.  They are all making a good living, even if it’s not as good as it was before, and they continue to earn far, far more than the average working person for doing far, far less than the average working person.

No matter how hard or how pathetically they whine – and make no mistake, we’re talking about full-throated, woe-is-me-how-am-I-going-to-get-through-this whining – it’s hard to feel sorry for them.  Considering how little they do and how much they’re paid to do it, it almost feels like justice has been served, that they’re finally getting theirs.  Maybe we should even be happy it happened to them.

Unless one of them is your cousin.