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REFORMER IN THE DELLS

Milwaukee

A postscript to Frances
Fox Piven's excellent "Thompson's Easy Ride" [Feb. 26], on the
elevation of Wisconsin Governor (and die-hard welfare reformer) Tommy
Thompson to Health and Human Services Secretary: Wisconsin's
independent Legislative Audit Bureau recently released a report
showing that Employment Solutions, one of the "nonprofit" private
agencies running the Milwaukee welfare program, spent more than
$370,000 of Wisconsin's TANF [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families]
money on things like staff time and expenses trying to get welfare
contracts in Arizona, and legal fees to determine whether its
lobbying would jeopardize its nonprofit status and staff
parties.

Employment Solutions also made "incentive
payments" averaging more than $9,600 each to eighty-four staff
members in 1999 (a total of more than $800,000). Its director, a
former Thompson aide, got bonuses of nearly $100,000 from 1997 to
'99. As has been its pattern, the state never bothered to set
standards for private contractors' use of incentives--even though the
bonuses came out of welfare funds, not the contractors'
multimillion-dollar profits.

The response of Wisconsin's
Department of Workforce Development? No further investigation
necessary. Meanwhile, Employment Solutions claims to be out of money
to fund portions of the current TANF system, like a loan program for
families in crisis situations. The state itself is running out of
money to fund its childcare subsidy program. It's clear who's
benefited from Thompson's welfare reform.

KARYN ROTKER


Madison, Wisc.

I must respond to
Frances Fox Piven's inaccuracies and bold misinterpretations of the
Wisconsin Works (W-2) program. There is a reason former Wisconsin
Governor Tommy Thompson was easily confirmed as HHS Secretary with no
opposition by Republicans or Democrats. He has made the necessary
investments in people who are making the transition from welfare to
work.

Piven makes a big mistake saying benefits were cut
under the W-2 program, when in fact they have increased dramatically.
In 1996 the state spent $141 million on childcare, transportation and
other employment services for people participating in work programs
under AFDC. In 2001 the state is budgeted to spend well over $350
million.

Is it true that the amount spent on cash benefits
has been reduced? Certainly. That is the whole premise behind W-2, to
help people make the transition from cash assistance to independence
while providing them with the necessary supportive services to make
that change. These investments in supportive services have paid off.
A recent study indicates that 76 percent of people who left welfare
since the inception of W-2 did so because they got a job or had other
income that allowed them to leave public assistance. The department
was also able to obtain the earnings for just over 13,000 of those
22,000 families and determined that 69 percent were receiving between
$34,000 and $38,000 in income and benefits, based on monthly,
annualized earnings.

All indications are that children in
Wisconsin are better off since W-2 began. Infant mortality rates have
dropped and the rate of child abuse and neglect has decreased, along
with juvenile crime rates and domestic abuse incidents. And in
contrast to Piven's statement, foster care placements have remained
stable since W-2 was implemented. She also fails to point out that
Wisconsin consistently ranks among the top ten states for having the
lowest number of children living in poverty.

W-2 is all
about hope--hope for the future and hope for a better life. And it
has succeeded beyond even the most optimistic expectations.

JENNIFER REINERT
Wisconsin Department of
Workforce Development


PIVEN REPLIES

New York City

Fuzzy math and funny numbers. Jennifer
Reinert, secretary of the Wisconsin department that runs TANF, claims
that families formerly on welfare in that state now earn $34,000 to
$38,000 a year. What planet is she living on? Indeed, if we pause
over Reinert's misleading sentences, we can figure out that her
numbers apply to less than one-fourth of these families. Even for
this minority, she appears to be adding in the cash value of such
benefits as Medicaid, which certainly can't buy food or pay the rent
(and maybe adding in their share of missile defense too). More
soberly, we know from other studies, and in particular a study
undertaken by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, that on
average families lose income when they leave welfare, even without
taking into account their added costs in work-related
expenses.

As for all that money spent on work-related
services for welfare recipients, only a fraction of eligible families
are actually receiving help for childcare, for example, and much of
the money is soaked up by the private companies Wisconsin is relying
on to administer its programs.

The bad news about
Wisconsin, and similar "welfare reform" programs elsewhere, is only
beginning to trickle in. The deluge of supplicants for help from food
pantries and shelters is part of the bad news. And in Wisconsin,
there is the alarming reversal in black and Hispanic infant mortality
trends. The state has gone from having one of the best records in the
country to one of the worst. And since Wisconsin was a pioneer of the
new welfare regime, these statistics should be taken as a grim
warning for other states.

I thank Karyn Rotker for the added information in her letter.

FRANCES FOX PIVEN



PORN TO BE MILD?

Chatsworth, Calif.

A significant
part of Mark Cromer's "Porn's Compassionate Conservatism" [Feb. 26]
is based on incorrect information. While the industry list of no-no's
Cromer refers to does exist, its contents were never meant as a basis
for self-censorship of adult videos. As one prominent producer
(Christian Mann of Video Team) explained to me for my article in the
March Adult Video News, the list came about after a group of
XXX producers asked their attorney what sort of material on video
box covers
had caused legal problems in the past, and the list
was the result.

Mann told me (since confirmed by several
other producers) that most of what is on the list will continue to
appear in the videos--including the much-discussed "no black men,
white women"--and most consider the idea that such material would
disappear to be ludicrous. The logic behind the list was that police
rarely bring VCRs when they raid adult video stores; they look at the
box covers before seizing the tape(s) and preparing a
prosecution.

The reason for not censoring the videos
themselves is simple: Just about every item on the list has appeared
in videos from every company for the past twenty years, and
they make much of their income by selling those "catalogue" videos.
While one or two companies have announced plans to recall and edit
certain titles, the vast majority have no plans to do so. However,
when the government comes after the companies with obscenity charges,
it is by no means limited to seizing new releases. As long as a video
is still being sold, it is ripe to be busted. Whether it's a 2001
release or a 1981 release, it can be the subject of
prosecution.

Mann pointed out that the list, by its very
nature, cannot be enforced. Video companies are free to ignore it,
and several have announced plans to do so, while others plan to
follow some of it. My sources within the Larry Flynt organization
tell me that Flynt intends to follow the list's recommendations with
some of his magazines and videos but not others, which my source
assumed would then become test cases for the new enforcement
measures.

There is little consensus among producers on what
to do to protect themselves from possible federal prosecutions, just
as thevideo stores have no strategies for the much more common
prosecutions at the local level. They simply rely on their attorneys
and all too often fail to take the attorney's advice. Sorry to throw
a wet blanket on what seems a very juicy story--Porn Censors
Itself--but the facts simply don't fit the theory.

MARK KERNES, senior editor
Adult Video News--AVN Publications


CROMER REPLIES

Los Angeles

To state, as AVN's
Mark Kernes does, that the production guidelines recently issued by
some of the biggest porn companies in the nation "were never meant as
a basis for self-censorship of adult videos" is both illogical and
simply wrong. The fact is, producers from a variety of major
companies (myself included) were instructed specifically to stop
shooting various sex acts and were provided with guidelines to use
when making adult videos. I don't know what Kernes calls that, but it
smacks of self-censorship to me.

Kernes claims that self-censoring videos is pointless because of the huge number of
older videos already on the market, many of which feature the same
acts now being cut. The fact is, some companies have been butchering
their old, classic titles for years now, in a sad effort to ward off
prosecutions, well before Bush/Ashcroft. A concrete example of this
would be the films Honeypie and Vanessa: Maid in
Manhattan
, both re-edited and released back into the market with
entire "offending" dialogue tracks cut out--thus in some scenes the
performer's mouth is moving in eerie (and pathetic)
silence.

Porn has indeed been censoring itself for years, particularly after the Meese Commission opened fire and highlighted
some of its more fringe elements. Thus, scenes depicting adult-age
incest, rape scenes and other fantasy fare have all been wiped from
the adult filmmaker's palette. One major company--as the election
began to shape up for Bush--cut a scene featuring a pregnant white
female and a black male out of a tape altogether. That's
self-censorship, a pure reaction to fear of being
busted.

The president of another major video company known
for its softer, more mainstream fare openly speculated that he may
fold his firm's line of explicit videos rather than risk legal
problems. That's extreme self-censorship. Kernes is correct when he
notes that some companies will not follow the guidelines and that the
guidelines themselves are being revised even now. That doesn't change
the cold, hard fact--which my article detailed--that the industry has
recoiled with the swearing-in of Bush and the confirmation of
Ashcroft and is scrambling to avoid prosecution. Artistic and sexual
freedom are clearly taking a back seat to financial
considerations.

While Kernes may feel he has thrown a wet
blanket on a juicy story--he has not. He does, however, seem to have
that blanket draped rather snugly over his head, blinding him to the
facts.

MARK CROMER

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