Monthly Archives: October 2012

How Does California’s Tax System Work?

Includes our first original animation on California's tax system!

Taxes. Not too many folks like paying ‘em, and even fewer understand what they’re actually paying for. In November, California voters will decide on two major competing tax measures – Proposition 30 and 38. The initiatives are both intended to shield public schools from devastating budget cuts, although they each propose to do so in pretty different ways. Deciding which path makes the most sense requires first understanding the basics of California’s tax system. Pretty enticing, huh? Well, before we lose your attention to the latest gripping cat flick on YouTube, at least take a quick look at this animation produced by freelancer Josh Kurz. It’s a surprisingly digestible primer on a topic that’s admittedly pretty freakin’ dry … but one that’s also got some pretty huge real life consequences for almost all of us.
(Scroll down to see another KQED video and detailed summaries on both propositions)

Continue reading

What Do Young Voters Care About?

Includes audio files

Roughly 46 million eligible voters this election are between 18 and 29 years old. That’s a pretty serious voting block.

So, what issues do young people care about? What are their ideas about government and the role it should play in our lives?

Well, rather than blindly hypothesizing, KQED decided to (gasp) actually ask them. Directly.

In partnership with three other public media organizations on the West Coast, we launched a series called “Voices of Young Voters”. This fall, we spent a bunch of time on college campuses around the Bay Area, asking young voters to weigh in on the issues they care most about in this election. Listen to to some of the responses below, and find many more here.

How Come No One’s Talking About Gun Control This Election?

Includes interactive map

Wikimedia Commons

When asked, during the second presidential debate, about their respective positions on assault weapons, both candidates gave only vague responses. Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney offered any indication that they would would push for stronger gun control laws.

In case you haven’t been paying attention for the last, say, 40 years, gun control has long been a thorny issue in American politics, partly because of the ongoing heated debate over how the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted, and partly because of the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobbying group that has successfully dissuaded ranks of political leaders from pushing for more restrictive firearms legislation. Continue reading

What Is The Safety Net (and who uses it)?

Includes original animation

What’s the deal with “the safety net”? The presidential candidates spend a lot of time talking and arguing about it, and the Democratic and Republican party platforms both seem to have pretty different perspectives on the role it should play in our lives.

So what is it? And who needs it? And why’s it gotta be such an issue?

In short, the safety net is a general term for the many government-funded social welfare programs intended to keep lower-income citizens from falling through the cracks – things like food stamps and subsidized health care. But the thing is, these programs aren’t cheap, and deciding how much of our tax revenue should go to pay for them is always a major point of contention – especially in hard economic times. Liberals often argue that providing necessary public services to society’s lower classes is not only the moral path, it’s actually good economic policy, in that it helps lift folks out of poverty and into more economically productive roles. Conservatives, though, often contend that the safety net is another example of big government reaching too far into our private lives. It’s and inefficient and financially irresponsible system that makes poor use of our hard-earned tax dollars, and creates a cycle of dependency, not independence.

So who’s right?

Check out the video, produced for The Lowdown by the folks at Explainer Music.

To Kill or not to Kill? California’s Death Penalty Debacle

Original video on California's death penalty

For the first time in nearly 35 years, California voters will decide on the fate of the state’s death penalty law. Proposition 34, on this November’s ballot, proposes a full repeal of the law, prohibiting the use of capital punishment. If passed, the measure would convert the sentences of all current death row inmates to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Not surprisingly, Prop 34 is among the most emotionally-charged issues on this year’s ballot, marking yet another chapter in California’s ongoing, soul-searching debate on justice and punishment. Filmmaker Jazmin Jones examines the emotional complexity and widely conflicting political views of an issue that has long divided Californians.

Continue reading

Following the Money: Who’s Paying for the Propositions?

Includes interactive funding chart
Individuals and organizations are spending millions in this election to win support for, or to defeat, a variety of propositions on California’s ballot. Anyone who’s watched even a smidgen of TV in the last two months can attest to the inundation of prop commercials out there. Often times, the names, affiliations, and locations of the big funders (who are oftentimes out-of-state groups) are left intentionally vague – organizations like Americans for Responsible Leadership, a conservative Arizona-based group that’s donated $11 million in favor of Prop 32. Such opaqueness makes it nearly impossible, from the ads alone, to decipher a funder’s political affiliation or long-term agenda. So, a little sleuthing can go a long way to find out who’s behind what. Bottom line: you always gotta follow the money! And the Vote’s Edge project at MapLight – a nonpartisan, nonprofit research firm – makes it pretty easy to do just that. Check out their cash flow tracking app.

A Brief History of Arguing: The Greatest Hits (and misses) of Presidential Debates

Includes a NY Times video history of presidential debates

The first ever televised presidential debate didn't happen until 1960. Candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy squared off – just once – in front of the camera, an event that proved extremely beneficial to the smoother and more youthful Kennedy, who went on to win the election against his stodgier opponent. The next presidential debate wouldn't happen for another 16 years, when President Gerald Ford – who made a notorious factual gaffe – fared poorly against his Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter.

Ever since, presidential debates have become a fixture of our electoral system. It's now standard protocol for candidates to face off three times in the grueling weeks leading up to election day. The impressions they try to make, as they appear live before millions of viewers, can significantly influence the outcome of the election.

The first debate, which was on October 3 at the University of Denver, focused on domestic policy and followed a traditional debate format, in which moderator Jim Lehrer of the PBS NewsHour asked questions, and the candidates took 2-minutes to respond. Mitt Romney, who delivered a much stronger performance, was widely considered the winner of this match-up. Following the debate, poll numbers – which had previously favored Obama – shifted slightly to put the candidates in a near dead heat.

So a lot is riding on debate number two, which takes place Tuesday, Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. Moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley,  for CNN takes the format of a town hall meeting, in which undecided voters in the audience have an opportunity to directly ask the candidates questions on both foreign and domestic issues. Candidates each will have two minutes to respond, and an additional minute for the moderator to facilitate a discussion.

The third and final face-off in the trilogy happens the following week, on Oct. 22 at Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL. It's hosted by Bob Schieffer of CBS. The format will be identical to the first debate, with a focus on foreign policy.

For more on the debate system and full-length videos and transcripts of past debates, visit Commission on Presidential Debates.

 

Leaders of the (super) PAC: This Election, Who Are the Heavy Hitters?

Includes interactive maps and charts

Source: Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org)

The 2012 presidential and congressional elections will cost roughly $5.8 billion, making it the most expensive in U.S. history. That’s according to estimates by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which predicts about a 7 percent increase from 2008′s $5.4 billion price tag. The presidential race, alone, CRP estimates, will cost about $2.5 billion.

$5.8 billion! That’s nearly twice the state of Wyoming’s entire 2012 budget!

The biggest difference in this year’s election is the sharp rise in contributions – and influence – from outside groups, namely Super PACs. Remember that the current races – both presidential and congressional – are the first in which the new, post-Citizens United rules will be in effect. While outside spending groups did exist in previous presidential election cycles, significant legal developments, including the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision – which determined that political spending is a form of protected speech and lifted spending limitations for corporations and unions – have led to a rapid rise in super PACs and other outside spending groups that don’t have to disclose their donors. And that means a deluge of negative campaign ads paid for by organization’s you’ve probably never heard of. Continue reading

Ten of the Most Effective Presidential Campaign Commercials Ever Made

Includes many videos

There once was a time not so very long ago when people actually functioned without television (gasp). And then, just like that, it arrived … and spread like wildfire.

In 1948 less than one percent of American homes had TVs. By 1954 – a mere six years later -  more than half of all American’s had a boob-tube in the house. By 1958, that rate had soared to over 80 percent,  and today hovers at about 97 percent.

Continue reading