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