Two numbers stood out in the flood of news reports this week, both pointing to a serious cognitive dissonance inside the United States culture and body politic; they also point to a widening and potentially unsustainable crack between two tectonic plates in that culture.
The numbers dropped out of separate and completely disconnected reports, probably from different sources. (They have been so arresting that I literally cannot remember where I first heard them!)
Separately, and individually each number washed over this listener, probably with only a yawn about both of their respective sizes. And then it struck! These numbers are simply incompatible; they cannot and must not be permitted to dwell in the consciousness of any civilized society together at the same time, under the same collective "watch"....and certainly not under the watch of a single president.
First the number 470,000!
It represents the total number of young children who have been ripped out of the support of the Head Start program, through the impact of sequestration, that unwanted and unsustainable, politically designed and "unowned' any of the designers, measure that was never supposed to go into effect, if and only if a more mature, reasonable and sustainable budget-cutting approach could have been reached through mature compromise.
The Head Start Program is a program of the United States Department of Health and Human Services that provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. The program's services and resources are designed to foster stable family relationships, enhance children's physical and emotional well-being, and establish an environment to develop strong cognitive skills. The transition from preschool to kindergarten imposes diverse developmental challenges that include requiring the children to engage successfully with their peers outside of the family network, adjust to the space of a classroom, and meet the expectations the school setting provides.
Launched in 1965 by its creator and first director Jule Sugarman, Head Start was originally conceived as a catch-up summer school program that would teach low-income children in a few weeks what they needed to know to start kindergarten. Experience showed that six weeks of preschool couldn't make up for five years of poverty. The Head Start Act of 1981 expanded the program. The program was further revised when it was reauthorized in December, 2007. Head Start is one of the longest-running programs to address systemic poverty in the United States. As of late 2005[update], more than 22 million pre-school aged children had participated.
Without having to claim responsibility for such an overt measure inside the Congress, lawmakers can say they may never have intended for such an impact of their budget-cutting, and thereby claim their hands are clean of the inevitable impact of this cut-back. That is bad enough, that lawmakers do not have to defend the implications of their refusal to reach collaborative and mature compromises that would have left Head Start untouched, regardless of what other social programs were being cut. What is far worse is that those children so impacted by these cuts will, for the rest of their lives, wear the social, intellectual, emotional and even economic scars that their lack of access to the hand-up which Head Start would have, could have and should have provided. It is not their "fault" that their parent(s) life in poverty; struggle to find enough money to feed them healthy foods; struggle to find adequate health care, and then struggle eventually to cope with the potential impact of "second-class" labelling that eventually falls on the foreheads of such children. And those scars will come back to bite the United States' cities, towns, counties as well as state legislatures and hopefully the national government for its insouciant and irresponsible deprivation of these children.
Of course, those half-million children are scattered through all states and territories and their collective impact will forever lie hidden in the social-workers' notes, the court proceedings and the legal briefs emanating from their life stories, and will not ever reach the status of a 70-point headline in a major daily newspaper, calling for the kind of accountability, transparency and even political sanctions, including electoral defeat that needs to accompany this "default" result of sequestration.
And then there is a second number: $52 billion.
That is the figure released this week, allegedly from the Edward Snowden secreted files on U.S. over-commitment, (it could legitimately be called obsession, neurosis, or even psychosis) documenting the spending on national security only for the year 2013.
This latest monster, funded by the national government in Washington, out of the potential political impact of another "terrorist attack" at home or abroad on U.S. citizens, effectively means that all elected officials in Washington are holding the country, and the country's budget and the country's social programs, even the most needed and worthy, hostage to their political survival, indirectly through the "topsy-like" growth of the Homeland Security Department linked to the many other government agencies like the CIA and the FBI whose funding has been so dramatically increased, almost as surreptitiously as have the "intelligence gathering" approaches on U.S. citizens at home and around the world been conducted by those same agencies.
And so, even with such a mountain of cash being thrown at national security operations, in a government obsessed with its own fear, and the spill-off from another Benghazi, for example, or another "Twin Towers" attack, the country has to watch its own folding within its self, while at the same time attempting to maintain the global posture of international "enforcer" in Syria, with only the French government and the government of Turkey so far even expressing interest in supporting the U.S. should Obama decide on a military strike against Assad, to punish the Syrian dictator for his alleged use of chemical weapons.
"Follow the money" is an oft-used cliché for reporters to determine where a political agenda is pointing. In this case, such a cognitive dissonance in two seemingly unrelated budgetary "impacts" as the one between national security and Head Start cannot and must not be ignored. The freedom of those 470,000 children has been and will be forever negatively impacted by their exclusion from the Head Start program....there is no other opportunity to include them, once they have been excluded...it is not as if this fall can be recaptured next year, or the following year, in their individual lives. This is an opportunity, once lost, is gone forever. And there is literally no one in public office now or in the future on whose hands or shoulders to hang the loss.
And so the costs of terror continue to embed their way into the psyche, the agenda and the line items of the United States budget, just as have the two unfunded wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and possibly this weekend, even into Syria...and that half-million children will never know what supports they missed because of the irresponsible and even misguided decisions, both direct and indirect taken by adults who are supposed to be "minding the store" and that includes supporting and sustaining the next generation.