Plenty of "180s" in the News This Week

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ANCHOR LEAD: President Bush, who long opposed the idea of a homeland security department, now says that's the best way to prevent terrorism. If that seems like an unusual one-eighty, WNYC's Brian Lehrer says it was actually typical of this week's news.

BRIAN: remember the Woody Allen movie sleeper? In that film, when the future arrives, it turns out that everything medical science thought it knew was wrong. Milkshakes turn out to be the healthiest food, vegetables the most likely to kill you off young.

That's kind of what the news this week has been like.

Let's start with welfare reform. One of the goals of the Clinton Gingrich reforms of 1996 was to increase marriage rates among poor single mothers. The theory was, if they couldn't laze around all day sponging off us taxpayers and watching soap operas, they'd have to find jobs and husbands to support their kids. But studies in Connecticut and Iowa - described by the New York Times as rigorous - have found as welfare recipients entered the workforce their marriage rates actually went down. The best speculation why is that as these women, like other working women, became more financially independent, they were less likely to settle for the wrong man. And, like other working moms, they had less time and energy for relationships. The big shock here for the marriage movement: poor people actually are like the rest of us, not a species apart.

Or take longer and tougher prison sentences. The theory was that locking up criminals longer - and depriving them of luxuries like job training and drug rehab - would make them suffer so much in the joint, they wouldn't dare commit crime again when they got out. But a justice department report released this week finds the recidivism rate among felons who completed their sentences has actually gone up during the get-tough years. Speculation about THIS now is that no job training left people less prepared for honest work, and no drug rehab left them more likely to do drugs. Who would have thought?

Then, there's the notion that everyone made more money in the 1990s. While the media obsessed over the NASDAQ, bill gates, and rising beamer sales, census figures released this week show that the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line was essentially unchanged from 1990-2000. In New York and California, the percentage of poor people actually went up. And marriage advocates take note: the census also shows that the median income for men actually went down in the 90s in most states... while women made more money almost everywhere. Those women are going to be picky picky picky. Better get them back on welfare, and fast.

Finally, did you see who was out at the rally for New York City education funding this week? Rap music icons like Russell Simmons, Alicia keys and Wyclef Jean - not to mention thousands of their fans. Now, hadn't we already decided that hip-hop culture was anti-education, and just wants kids to become gangstas? Oh well, pass the milkshakes.

ANCHOR: WNYC's Brian Lehrer. You can hear his call-in show weekday mornings at 10 on 93.9 and am820 WNYC.