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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

“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

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

Labor Day’s Violent Roots: The Hard Won Fight for Your Three-Day Weekend

Labor Day, workers rights


Labor Day wasn’t always about hot dogs and corn hole.

In fact, the holiday stemmed from a series of violent actions against workers in the late 19th century who were protesting miserable working conditions in an era where laborers were afforded few rights or protections. The hard fought struggles, which ultimately resulted in a marked improvement in labor conditions in many U.S. industries and helped spur an era of strong labor unions and expanded workers rights, is an essential part of American history but far too commonly overlooked.

These short videos provide a good overview on the history of Labor Day. Additionally, these articles from PBS and Scientific American give good background information, as does this Lowdown post on May Day and its relation to Labor Day.

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

Explaining the NSA Spy Plan: A Media Roundup

Includes video

For news hounds and conspiracy theorists alike, the past few days have been about as good as it gets.

A series of groundbreaking news stories, one published by the British paper The Guardian, the second by the The Guardian and the Washington Post, uncovered two top-secret U.S. government surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency, both aimed at collecting massive amounts of personal communications data. The findings have reignited the age-old debate over privacy and security. Civil libertarians – an interesting mix of key outspoken conservatives and liberals (yes, Rand Paul, Al Gore, and the ACLU are on the same page on this one) – expressed outrage over privacy invasions and government overreach, while President Barack Obama and a similarly unique blend of conservative and liberal government officials are defending the programs as a “critical tool” for rooting out potential terrorist activity and protecting American lives. Continue reading

Censorship, Creative Resistance and Giant Ducks Mark Tiananmen Square Anniversary

Includes video
Yellow-rubber-duck-008

Tanks are replaced by giant ducks in this photoshopped version of the iconic Tiananmen Square image. It was posted on a popular Chinese microblog before being removed by censors.


It’s probably the first time that any government has ever censored the term “Big Yellow Duck”.

But if you search for it (in Chinese) on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblog, a message tells you that results can’t be shown “according to relevant laws, statutes and policies.”

“Today”, “Tonight”,   “June 4″, and “Anniversary” are also among the many blocked words and terms on the Twitter-like site, which has more than half a billion registered users in China (Twitter is blocked there).

So what gives? Continue reading

Why America Stopped Making Its Own Clothes

Includes data visualization and video

Try this on for size:

In 1960, an average American household spent over 10 percent of its income on clothing and shoes – equivalent to roughly $4,000 today. The average person bought fewer than 25 garments each year. And about 95 percent of those clothes were made in the United States.

Fast forward half a century.

Today, the average American household spends less than 3.5 percent of its budget on clothing and shoes – under $1,800. Yet, we buy more clothing than ever before: nearly 20 billion garments a year, close to 70 pieces of clothing per person, or more than one clothing purchase per week.

Oh, and guess how much of that is made in the U.S.: about 2 percent.

Browse through the timeline below to see how dramatically the cost and origin of our clothing has changed. And then continue reading to find out why.

Continue reading

Who Made Your T-Shirt? The Hidden Cost of Cheap Fashion

Includes video/audio clips and infographics

(Photo by Art Cummings/Flickr)

 

Everyone likes a good deal.

And for that reason, most of us have flocked to clothing stores like H&M and Old Navy for the unbelievably cheap and expansive selection they offer.

T-shirts for five bucks; jeans and dresses for under $20. It’s almost like you can’t afford to not buy it.

Clothing is cheaper now than it’s ever been: today average Americans spend less than four percent of their total income on their wardrobes, about half what was spent 50 years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s almost cheaper today to buy a whole new wardrobe than to pay to wash your old one (a bit of an exaggeration, yes, but really not all that far off).

But you know the saying that there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Same thing goes with your $5 t-shirt – it comes with some steep hidden costs. There’s no possible way retailers like H&M could be making billions in profits selling clothing at such low prices without there being some catch.

So what are we, the consumers, not seeing?

Continue reading