Left Field

Dear New Hampshire Deep Pocket, Id Software, Paperboy Injured


The Bush UnCampaign for the Presidency recently sent a longer version of the following letter to prominent New Hampshire Republicans, inviting them to become Charter Members of George W.’s “leadership team.” (As a convenience for our readers only, much of the campaign boilerplate is omitted here.) If they fill out the attached Charter Member Acceptance Form (and attach a sizable check), they not only can join the Bush leadership team, but will meet him on his first trip to New Hampshire, and receive a “unique ‘George W. Bush for President Charter Leader’ pin.

What a deal. Left Field wasn’t invited, but we thought a few New Hampshire voters could use a little help in translating Dubya’s campaign rhetoric into plain English. In a spirit of bipartisan understanding, Left Field offers these corrective annotations.

April 6, 1999

Dear New Hampshire Deep Pocket:

Do you want there to be respect for the Presidency, at home and abroad? It is time to put strong leader in the White House who will serve with integrity, limit the intrusiveness of the federal government, and restore respect for America around the world. (Bush supports a constitutional amendment to ban abortion (“but America’s hearts aren’t yet right”), and supports legislation to forbid adoption by gay parents.)

We need someone committed to renewing the American spirit, who understands the core values that have made our country great — integrity, a belief in the energy of the individual, the need to keep the burden of the government low and the importance of a strong defense. (“Low taxes, strong defense” means billions for the state-subsidized defense industry, not one dime for social services. In Bush’s Texas, it means Cops, Prisons, and Highways First – everybody else get in line.)

Put simply, we need a President who believes in duty, honor and country. Fortunately, we believe we have such a candidate in Governor George W. Bush.

Consider his successful record in Texas: George W. Bush …

1) Pushed through the largest tax cut in Texas history — a $1 billion property tax cut. (Dubya’s Incredible Melting Property-tax Cut: the money dissolved the moment it hit the school districts, which had to raise rates to compensate for the loss in revenue. And it came from a supposed budget “surplus” in a state that is forty-seventh in the delivery of social services and thirty-eighth in teacher salaries.)

2) Reduced the growth of state government spending to its lowest rate in 25 years — less than inflation, population, or growth in personal income. (George Bush’s Texas is “lowest” or nearly lowest in a lot of things: forty-seventh in per capita state funding for public health; fifty-first (below D.C.) in the percentage of children without health insurance; fiftieth in the percentage of poor working parents without health insurance; fortieth in the percentage of workers covered by unions, forty-eighth in spending for parks and recreation; forty-ninth in spending for the arts.)

3) Completely overhauled the public schools by restoring local control, raising standards, returning to phonics and the basics, revamping the curriculum, and holding schools accountable for results. Now Texas schools are setting the standard for improvement for the rest of the country. (Bush supports school vouchers — i.e., taking money from public schools and handing it to private-school parents in a transparent giveaway.)

4) Rewrote the juvenile justice code to save a generation from lives of crime. By insisting on punishment, he cut violent juvenile crime by 30% and reduced overall juvenile crime for the first time in a decade. (The Death Penalty Capital of the nation, Texas has one answer to virtually every social problem: lock ’em up.)

5) Reduced the welfare rolls by 335,000 people — a 47% reduction. (If you make ’em disappear, the poor no longer exist. A half million Texans remain officially unemployed, and more than half of those kicked off the rolls have not been able to find work.)

This activist conservative Governor has proven our party’s principles can strengthen the GOP’s appeal when properly expressed. In the last election, George W.’s compassionate conservative message won 49% of Hispanic voters, 27% of the African-American vote, 65% of women, and 73% from Independents — without sacrificing principle. (Approximately 19 percent of eligible Texans voted for Bush.)

He understands that individuals, not government, create prosperity. (Bush’s current wealth is a windfall generated by government sweetheart deals for the benefit of the Texas Rangers.)

He is committed to free risk takers by reducing the interference of overly excessive regulatory government with too high a level of taxation. (At the moment, he’s blocking regulation of the state’s worst corporate polluters, asking them to “volunteer” to do better, after thirty years of doing nothing. That is, the public takes the risks, pays the bill, and gets the shaft. Meanwhile, he’s lowering taxes on owners of oil wells.)

We will help George W. Bush’s campaign in New Hampshire and ask you to join us as a Charter Member of his leadership team. By joining us today, you will be invited to be among the special group that welcomes him on his first trip to New Hampshire.


Five New Hampshire Republican Big Shots

The Id of the Suburbs

Id Software, a Mesquite computer game design company, first hit it big in 1992 with Wolfenstein 3D, a game in which an American soldier battles his way out of a Nazi prison. The game’s popularity marked a watershed not just for the company but for the gaming industry as a whole: while older games took place in the third person – the player would see his character onscreen – Wolfenstein adopted the point of view of the player moving through a castle, with a gun visible at the bottom of the picture. Since then, the gaming genre known as “First Person Shooter” has flourished, and id Software has continued to lead the way, releasing the enormously popular violent action games Doom and Quake.

These and other violent video games have come under plenty of criticism in the past – from folks like Senator Joseph Lieberman, who in 1994 successfully campaigned for a video game ratings system, and who linked gory games to schoolyard shootings in a speech last December. Questions about a possible connection between video violence and actual violence have received a bunch more attention lately, after it was reported that the Columbine High School gunmen were Doom and Doom II devotees.

Id Software itself has no-commented out of the debate, while gaming fans argue that since millions of people play these video games and don’t become violent, you can’t blame the games.

Meanwhile, game critics have suggested that even if the games don’t strictly cause violent behavior, they help desensitize players to killing, and even teach kids to kill. Dave Grossman, a former Army officer who has written a book called On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society calls the games “operant conditioning firing ranges with pop-up targets and immediate feedback, just like those used to train soldiers in modern armies.” (In fact, the Marine Corps uses a modified version of Doom to train its soldiers.) Michael Carneal, the fourteen-year-old who in 1997 killed three and wounded five in Paducah, Kentucky, had reportedly never used a gun before but was an avid player of Doom and other games; during the shooting he fired eight shots and hit eight people in either the head or the chest. Id Software has been named as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by Paducah parents against various entertainment companies.

Novelist and game designer Marc Laidlaw wrote a profile of id Software for Wired magazine in 1996, which – predictably enough – portrayed company leaders as “boy genius” workaholics, who listen to Nine Inch Nails and drive fast cars (“Sure, he’s got a couple Ferraris in his garage, but [id co-founder] John Carmack hardly has occasion to drive. He’s too busy working on his savage engines.”) In the article Laidlaw speculates that the game designers’ violent style is distinctly Texan: just as Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian pulp fictions were products of the West Texas town of Cross Plains, during the Great Depression, id’s gory games have emerged from the depths of a “black glass tower by the LBJ expressway, flanked by furniture outlets, condos, restaurants, and movie multiplexes.” What’s the connection? “Dull surroundings give rise to the wildest sort of escapism, and audiences seeking respite from grim realities may go for the stuff in a big way.”

Writers seeking respite from business-promotional journalism may start pulling theories out of their ass in a big way, yet Laidlaw does offer video game critics something to ponder: the alienating suburban world that both generates and consumes the games to begin with.

Breaking News

Last February, on his first evening on the job as a door-to-door salesman of subscriptions to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, fifteen-year-old Wade Womack was attacked by two people, and beaten so badly that he remained in a coma for two weeks. As reported in the April 15-22 Fort Worth Weekly, Womack suffered considerable brain damage. His parents, meanwhile, have been hit with huge medical bills: Womack may have been injured on the job, but the Star Telegram and its overseers at Knight Ridder insist he wasn’t working for them. “The Womack boy was not an employee of the newspaper,” a Knight Ridder vice president told the Weekly. Womack was officially employed by an “independent contractor” – a two-person San Antonio company called Bardin Circulation – so the Star-Telegram “has no liability,” said the spokesman.

This may sound like a little scam; actually it’s one offshoot of a pretty big scam. Avoiding liability through such arrangements is common practice in the newspaper industry, in particular when it comes to the people – just don’t call them employees – who deliver the papers.

In a 1994 nationwide industry survey, only 5.9 percent of an estimated 450,000 carriers were covered by workers’ comp. The uninsured, independent contractor status of the majority of carriers (or of “independent delivery agents” who in turn hire carriers) has been cemented through years of industry blood, sweat, and lobbying, as University of Iowa professor Marc Linder detailed in a 1997 Loyola Poverty Law Journal article called “What’s Black and White and Red All Over? The Blood Tax on Newspapers – or, How Publishers Exclude Newscarriers from Workers’ Compensation.”

Linder is a former Texas Rural Legal Aid attorney with a genius for exposing the rhetorical fictions that underlie bad policies; in his article he argues that the newspaper industry has successfully exploited the notion of the paperboy-as-young-entrepreneur, in effect “[sacrificing] the medical and vocational rehabilitation of occupationally injured children on the altar of the little merchant ideology.” Even though, as Linder points out, it’s hard to see how providing insurance to carriers would undermine the integrity of the job, defenders of the independent contractor relationship continue to raise the little merchant banner. (Meanwhile, they explain, the carriers are free to buy their own insurance.)

As daily papers have grown heftier and in many cases started requiring their carriers to drive cars, today’s little merchant is often as not an adult. But the entrepreneurial mantras live on. In a recent interview with Left Field, Mark Rome, an independent distributor for the Houston Chronicle who employs forty of the Chronicle’s 2,800 carriers (all of whom are adults), explained that “the newspaper carrier is one of the last places the small businessman exists – where he does his own thing, he can promote, get more subscriptions, and make more money.”

“One of my specialties is maintaining their independent contractor status,” said Rome. “It’s a cost control measure more than anything else. Probably it costs in the neighborhood of 30 percent of what you’re paying someone to have them as an employee – you know, for workers comp, accounting, matching social security….” A member of two distributors’ trade associations, Rome helped campaign for a 1996 amendment to the tax code ensuring that newspaper carriers were included under an older provision, dating back to the Reagan days, which permitted employers to treat direct sellers as non-employees. Congress in 1996 permitted papers to treat carriers as direct sellers – every paperboy a Wade Womack. “Phil Gramm had a lot to do with helping get it passed,” Rome said, adding that “it wasn’t cheap.” Dallas Morning News circulation manager Jeff Beckley affirmed that “it’s a big advantage – you don’t have to pay benefits, you’re not required to pay FICA.”

Linder, who recently co-authored the book Void Where Prohibited: Rest Breaks and the Right to Urinate on Company Time, sent copies of “What’s Black and White and Red…” to reporters around the country. Though some had covered his research in the past, apparently no big daily has picked up the story.