BEYOND BIG BIRD: PBS was one of only two programs Mitt Romney mentioned by name when he vowed to slash the federal budget during the first presidential debate. Romney has called for eliminating PBS before, describing it as a “major” potential savings. The network’s $445 million annual subsidy might seem to support this—until you realize that it represents about 1/100th of 1 percent of the federal budget. It’s also less than half of what the Senate spends to administer itself, or 17 percent more than the military spends on marching bands. For the cost of just the AIG portion of the bailout, Congress could subsidize PBS at current levels without another cent until 2416.

So why did Romney pretend Big Bird is a top obstacle to national solvency? Simple: by highlighting a small but divisive issue, he hoped to score easy political points. Taking on PBS might please radical conservatives, but tens of millions of Americans will lose out—especially poor children struggling for access to education. PBS isn’t just The NewsHour and Antiques Roadshow: 95 percent of PBS stations provide educational programming to communities across the country. Identified for years by the Roper poll as the most trusted institution in America, PBS ranked second only to the military as the “best value for the American tax dollar.” In 2011, a Hart Research/American Viewpoint poll found that 69 percent of Americans opposed cutting federal funds for PBS.

Families like Romney’s may be wealthy enough to have secure access to culture and education, but for millions of others, PBS’s small price tag provides priceless returns. The choice isn’t between Big Bird and economic ruin, but between a political debate over real issues and one that seeks to distort and divide.   BILL BAKER and EVAN LEATHERWOOD

PUNISHING KIDS: “Jordan E” was 15 when he was sent to an adult prison in Colorado. Over three years, he would spend a cumulative 365 days alone in a tiny cell, for offenses as small as not making his bed.

Jordan’s is one of 127 testimonials published by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch in a new report, “Growing Up Locked Down,” which sheds light on the use of solitary confinement on juvenile prisoners. “It’s not surprising that this practice has increased, [as] youth in adult facilities have increased,” says author Ian Kysel. Though in theory kids are sometimes segregated for their own protection, in reality it’s harshly punitive. In 2009, the Justice Department found that 62 percent of youths who committed suicide in detention had experienced some kind of enforced isolation.

Despite research showing the trauma of long-term isolation, nearly one in six youths reported being in solitary for more than two months. As one described it, “The only thing left to do is go crazy…. Sometimes I feel like, why am I even living?” To read the report, visit   CHRISTIE THOMPSON

In the August 7 issue, Matt Stroud and Liliana Segura reported on “The Uncertain Fate of Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Lifers.”