Government

Law, power and political participation

RECENT POSTS

A Brief History of BART (And How We’ve Come To So Depend On It)

Includes video
Some original BART employees, circa early 1970s (courtesy of bart.gov)

No, not the original Star Trek cast: BART employees, circa early 1970s (courtesy of BART.gov)


Bay Area traffic might suck, but Bay Area traffic without BART sucks a whole lot more.

It’s a fact that was made painfully clear in early July to the hundreds of thousands of Bay Area workers who were subjected to cruel and unusual commute conditions created by a strike and system-wide shutdown of the 104-mile regional transit system.

And now, as another BART strike looms, Bay Area commuters are again faced with the prospect of horrendous traffic conditions on the horizon.

Love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny the essential role BART plays in moving the Bay Area.  Continue reading

Infographic: What Does it Mean to Be Poor in America?

Includes cartoon infographic

By Andy Warner

Poverty_Trend_SliceintroEarlier this month — back in the good ole’ days when our government was actually functioning (sort of) — the U.S. Census Bureau released a series of 2012 income data for American households (and no, I can’t provide the link, because the Census site is still closed for business). The figures shows that despite the nation’s supposed economic recovery, average American household incomes didn’t really budge from where they were the year before. Meanwhile, the poverty rate remained at roughly the same level as it was in 2011 as well. The data underscore a growing gap in wealth inequality in America, with the incomes of lower and middle class households stagnating, while those among the wealthiest continue to rise at a rapid clip. In this comic infographic, graphic journalist Andy Warner breaks down these figures and what they mean for the millions of average American families still just scraping by. To view it as a slideshow in individual segments, click the thumbnail below.
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Closed for Business: 7 Great Resources Explaining the Government Shutdown

Includes links to multimedia resources
Wikipedia

Wikipedia

Remember when you were a kid fighting with your siblings at the dinner table and your mom warned that if you couldn’t get along then no one got dessert?

That, in a nutshell, is essentially what’s going on with the federal government shutdown — the first in 17 years — that began October 1. Only instead of a bunch of whiny little kids kicking each other under the table, insert a gaggle of squabbling elected officials arguing about Obamacare, and replace chocolate cake with — oh I don’t know — little treats like national parks and NASA, and you’ve pretty much nailed down the current meltdown in Washington. Continue reading

Explaining Insurance Exchanges and Other Sexy Healthcare Lingo

Includes video animations

I’m going to go out on a limb here in suggesting that the nitty gritty of the Affordable Care Act may not be the most exciting topic of conversation. But now, even as the government settles into shutdown mode, state insurance exchanges across the country are opening their virtual doors for business, offering a healthcare marketplace to the million of uninsured Americans. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation produced this series of short animated explainers on some of the central components of the law and the programs it establishes. These are concepts that get thrown around a lot in the news but are pretty hard to grasp. So take a look (and just maybe, you’ll be the hit of the cocktail party). Also, check out KQED’s comprehensive interactive Obamacare guide to explore the topic in greater depth.

Health Insurance Exchanges

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Them’s Fighting Words: 70 Years of Presidents Making the Case for War

Includes videos
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declares war on Japan, 1941. (AP photo)

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declares war on Japan, 1941. (AP photo)

When President Obama recently made his case for military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, it was a sober reminder of the Commander-in-chief’s authority to send America’s armed forces into battle.

While it’s still unclear whether the United States will bomb Syria, Obama’s speech was the latest in a long history of solemn national presidential declarations of war, or authorizations of similar military action. Since World War II, America’s increasingly powerful military has had a consistent involvement in conflicts around the world. In little over half-a-century, we’ve fought five all-out wars (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq part 2) and been involved in many more smaller military invasions. Continue reading

Animated Explainer: What’s All The Fuss About Fracking in California?

Includes animations and map

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation to create California’s first set of regulations on hydraulic fracturing. The controversial extraction technique, commonly known as fracking, involves the high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals into deep shale formations in order to create fractures that release reserves of oil or natural gas.

While fracking operations in the Northeast generally extract natural gas, in California, oil is the big prize. Continue reading

Timeline: A Robust History of Recent U.S. Military Invasions

Includes interactive timeline
Ahmad Mansur/Wikimedia Commons

Ahmad Mansur/Wikimedia Commons

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military has had its hands full. Starting in 1990, we’ve fought three official wars, and been involved in no less than seven additional military interventions.

It is still unclear whether the U.S. will engage in a bombing campaign against Syria as punishment for that government’s supposed use of chemical weapons against its people. Until the announcement last week of a tentative deal between the U.S. and Russia (Syria’s most powerful ally) requiring the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to destroy its entire chemical weapons arsenal within a specific time-frame, a U.S. military intervention seemed imminent.

Although far from a guarantee against the a U.S. bombing campaign, the agreement — if adhered to by all parties– has the promise of preventing U.S. military involvement. If, however, the deal is broken, intervention is all but assured, making Syria the 11th large-scale military action the U.S. has taken in less than 25 years.

Scroll through this interactive timeline — produced by Al Jazeera — to learn about the history, causes, and outcomes of each military conflict that the United States has gotten itself involved in. Click here to view the full-size version.

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 7.44.52 PM


“Yet Another Mass Shooting” in America

Includes video

Note: The original version of this post stated that there have been 43 mass shootings in 25 states since 2009. These numbers have been updated to reflect a revised version of the study referred to below.

The massacre of 12 people Monday morning at a navy yard in the nation’s capital was exceedingly tragic but also alarmingly familiar.

“We are confronting yet another mass shooting,” President Obama said wearily in a briefing later that day.

A study published in January by the gun control advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns*  found that more than 50 mass shootings in 30 states have occurred since Obama took office in January 2009. A sizable uptick from previous years, that’s a rate of more than one per month with an average of six fatalities per incident  (in which a “mass shooting” is defined as an incident where four or more people are killed). And even since that report was published, several lesser-covered mass shootings have occurred n 2013.  Continue reading

For Minimum Wage Earners in California, the Promise of a Pay Raise

Includes interactive charts
Wikimedia

Wikimedia

California’s lowest-paid workers received some much welcomed news this week when state lawmakers approved a hotly contested bill to gradually bump up the minimum wage to $10 an hour.

The legislation, which Governor Jerry Brown has already promised to sign, will hike the state’s minimum wage to $9 by next July and $10 by January 2016, an increase of 25 percent. It’s the first statewide increase in six years, and will give California the highest minimum wage in the nation. Currently, Washington State leads the way, with a minimum wage of $9.19 an hour. California also trails Vermont and Oregon. Continue reading

Fast-Food Workers Fight for A Living Wage

Includes infographic and video

Steve Rhodes/Flickr

As it turns out, a lot of the workers who make Happy Meals aren’t actually all that happy about it.

It was a sentiment made abundantly clear in late August during a wave of one-day walkouts, in which thousands of fast-food workers around the country took to the streets to demand higher wages and the opportunity to join a union. Spurred by protests in New York that began last November, and supported by the Service Employees International Union, the demonstrations took place in front of about 1,000 restaurants – from McDonald’s and Burger King to Kentucky Fried Chicken and Subway — in 60 cities throughout the country. Continue reading