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The Math of Trash: A Music Video

Includes animated video

How much trash do you produce in a day? How about a year?

It adds up a lot faster than you might  think — especially in the United States, which collectively generates more garbage — or municipal waste — than any other nation on earth. With only five percent of the world’s population, America creates roughly 25 percent of the planet’s waste. On average, each American produces more than seven pounds of trash a day (or 2,555 pounds a year) according to a recent Columbia University survey. That’s a big pile of garbage, and it’s the cause of some unsettling consequences. But it’s also great fodder for a catchy animated music video, composed by the folks at Explainer Music for The Lowdown.
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In One-Day Strike, Fast-Food Workers Demand A Living Wage

Includes video
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Workers and advocates demonstrate outside of a McDonald’s in Oakland last summer. (Flickr/Steve Rhodes)

Fast-food workers at restaurants in more than 100 cities across the country, including Oakland and other East Bay cities, are walking off the the job today in a push for a major wage hike.

Backed by organized labor, the one-day actions are part of a year-old campaign to highlight the difficulties low-wage workers face in paying for basic living costs.

Following on the heels of similar protests last summer, demonstrators are demanding a wage of $15 an hour, a significant — though unlikely — raise from the current average fast-food industry wage of less than $9 an hour. Continue reading

Six Good Resources to Help Make Some Sense of Iran’s Nuclear Agreement

Includes resource roundup

Secretary of State John Kerry and leaders from five other world powers reached a temporary agreement early Sunday with Iran on its controversial nuclear program. The deal, good for six months while a more conclusive arrangement is negotiated, is intended to curb the development of Iran’s nuclear program. In exchange, there will be an easing of international sanctions against Iran, that have long crippled its economy. Although criticized by Israel and a host other nations that remain highly skeptical of Iran’s intentions, the deal has been hailed as a historic diplomatic breakthrough, a step forward after roughly a decade of failed negotiations. Continue reading

The Debt Ceiling: What Is it, Why Do We Have It and What Do We Owe?

Includes images, video and charts
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This is what U.S. federal debt looks like in physical dollars (and bear in mind that today’s debt has grown to more than $17 tirllion). Image by demonocracy.info

And here I was just starting to get my government shutdown groove on.

I mean, without the thrill of waking up every morning to the debt default doomsday machine ticking down to the brink of economic catastrophe, life honestly seems a bit mundane. At least Congress didn’t go too nuts and actually resolve the issue;  they just went ahead and did what any rational group of people do when confronted with a difficult situation: they put it off for another day — you know, kicked the can down the road. Anyone smell a sequel? (And yes, I’ve already reserved front row tickets for Round 2 in January. I hear it’s gonna be awesome. My sources tell me that before the final death match, John Boehner reveals himself as President Obama’s real father).

But seriously … With the stroke of a pen, the government sputtered back to life last Thursday morning after Obama and Congress ended a 16-day political standoff that had left large swaths of the federal government shuttered and put the U.S. at risk of losing it’s ability to borrow money. The compromise allows federal agencies to resume operations, reopen public facilities and abruptly end the unpaid staycations of hundreds of thousands of furloughed employees. 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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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

“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

Fast-Food Workers Fight for A Living Wage

Includes infographic and video

Steve Rhodes/Flickr

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

Bradley Manning Verdict Explained

Includes video
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted by military police as he leaves the first day of closing arguments in his military trial July 25, 2013, in Fort Meade, Md. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted by military police as he leaves the first day of closing arguments in his military trial July 25, 2013, in Fort Meade, Md. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Note: Some of the following information is based on Associated Press coverage

Bradley Manning was acquitted, but he’s still guilty. What gives?

Army Pfc. Manningan intelligence analyst working in Iraq, beat the most serious charge against him: on Tuesday, a military judge acquitted him of aiding the enemy. This was the gravest of the 22 counts he faced, and the one that would have carried a possible life sentence without parole.

Government prosecutors attempted, and ultimately failed, to convince the judge that Manning clearly knew  the information he leaked would likely reach operatives in Al-Qaeda.

But (and it’s a big but), the judge ruled that Manning had reason to believe the leaks would harm the U.S., even if that was not his intention, and convicted him of 19 of 22 charges. Manning now faces up to about 126 years in prison (although it’s likely to be much less). Sentencing takes place today (Wednesday). Continue reading