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Making Sense of Debt, Deficits and Other Dull Mysteries of the Universe

There’s been a lot of news recently about the government’s ongoing battle over the deficit and the debt ceiling.

But what does it all really mean?

If you happened to be snoozing through most of your 12th grade economics class, here’s a quick refresher:

The deficit is the gap between what the government spends and what it actually makes in revenue (through taxes).

So, basically, to put it into first-grade math terms: (D)eficit  = (S)pending – (R)evenue 
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Are States With Tough Gun Laws Actually Safer?

Includes interactives and video

Source: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Gun control advocates say yes. Gun rights folks beg to differ.

Big surprise on that one.

Source: Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an advocacy group pushing for tougher regulations, assigned every state a grade based on 29 different policy approaches to regulating firearms and ammunition. California topped the list with an A-. New York, which now requires background checks for ammunition sales, has since surpassed it in the toughness of its gun laws. It’s the first state to enact such legislation following the Newtown shooting. And  efforts in a handful of other states — including California and Colorado —  to strengthen gun laws are already underway. Continue reading

The Loose Laws and Loopholes of Federal Gun Regulations

Includes videos
source: thinkprogress.org

source: thinkprogress.org

When it comes to gun laws in the U.S., we’re as far from united as it gets. Beyond the loose set of federal regulations that everyone must follow, there are 50 unique state laws and even more individual county and city rules. It’s resulted in a confusing tapestry of gun regulations that vary drastically depending on where you happen to be. There’s variation in anything from background checks and handgun permit requirements to the sale of semi-automatic weapons and waiting periods. Even rules on allowing firearms on college campuses, in bars, or even in churches can differ across certain state lines.

Federal Gun Law

Federal regulations apply to everyone. But due largely to the intense lobbying efforts and political influence of the gun industry and gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association, these laws have been significantly stripped over the last two decades (see our gun control timeline); they’re now far and away the loosest (and vaguest) of any industrialized country in the world. States must meet the basic requirements, and then have the option to enact some stricter regulations … if they choose to do so.

Federal law prohibits buying or transferring firearms across state lines, owning machine guns and other certain high capacity devices, and bringing guns onto school zones (“except as authorized”). Under the law, you also can’t buy or possess a gun if you’ve been convicted of domestic assault or other serious crimes, dishonorably discharged from the military, or if you have a restraining order against you. The prohibition also includes fugitives, drug users, illegal immigrants, and those deemed mentally ill or institutionalized. Continue reading

The State of the Union Explained in Four Visualizations

Includes multimedia visualizations
President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner, gives the State of the Union address. (Charles Dharapak-Pool/Getty Images

President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner, gives his 2013 State of the Union address. (Charles Dharapak-Pool/Getty Images)

So, what did the big guy actually say? These four multimedia resources help sort through the nitty gritty of the president’s speech. Continue reading

New Faces In the President’s Crew

Includes videos and interactive visualization on presidential line of succession (Prezi)

Disclaimer: This is a video produced by the White House, not an independent source.

Change is a–coming to the president’s Cabinet.

As President Barack Obama prepares for his second term in the White House, he’ll be joined by a handful of new faces to help guide him through the sausage factory we call government.  The Cabinet includes the vice president and the heads (or “secretaries”) of 15 executive agencies, each of whom helps advise the president. PBS NewsHour Extra lists a good description of each position (you know, in case you’re looking for a new job).

It’s pretty common for a president entering a second term to switch up his Cabinet a bit. Of course, whether the departing Cabinet member has chosen to leave or was told to get packing is not always clear.

Each new Cabinet member is nominated by the president, but most need to be confirmed by a majority vote of the U.S. Senate. The practice of picking Cabinet members dates back to America’s first president, George Washington, who had a four member Cabinet that included Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of War and Attorney General. Continue reading

What Prop. 30 Means For Your Taxes

Includes explainer video

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Wait … Californians actually voted to tax increase their own taxes?

Get outta here!

Like most Americans, California residents don’t look too kindly on the notion of raising taxes. In fact, voters have rejected statewide tax measures the last seven times they’ve been on the ballot!

So in many ways, it’s pretty miraculous that on Tuesday 54 percent of California’s electorate approved Proposition 30, which temporarily increases sales tax for everyone by a quarter cent and raises income taxes for those making over $250,000. The measure, which Governor Jerry Brown crafted and threw himself behind, is expected to raise about $6 billion a year and prevent massive cuts to the state’s already beleaguered public education system.

Here’s how it’ll affect you:

Brown staked much of his political reputation on winning what became a bitter, hard-fought, and incredibly pricey fight; both sides waged a relentless ad war, collectively spending more than $120 million.

“I know a lot of people had some doubts and some questions: Can you really go to the people and ask them to vote for a tax?” Brown told supporters at the victory party late Tuesday night. “Well here we are. We have a vote of the people – I think the only place in America where a state actually said, let’s raise our taxes for our kids, our schools, for our California dream.”

And he was right. In a state where voters haven’t approved a tax hike in almost three decades, the very real threat of huge cuts to education appears to have actually resonated with voters.

The consensus seemed to be: “Yes, taxes suck, but some things are just too important to lose.”

The temporary nature of the tax, also, likely made the measure more palatable to voters.

Interestingly, it was younger voters who turned out in force on Tuesday in support of the measure. Voters ages 18-29 – who Brown and his campaign targeted – made up almost 30 percent of the electorate and were critical in pushing the measure through.

Why It Matters: Seven Major Issues At Stake For Youth In This Presidential Race

Includes explainer video

cbsnews.com

It’s been a long, hard slog, but the presidential race is finally coming to a close (back to good ole’ dish detergent and cereal commercials!). And for young people especially, the outcome could have a huge impact. There are some vast differences between what another four years of Democratic President Barack Obama will look like and a Republican Mitt Romney presidency.

So yes, it matters! Continue reading

Thinking Twice About California’s Three Strikes Law

Includes original video and additional multimedia resources

On November 6, California voters will decide whether the state should revise it’s tough-on-crime three strikes law. If passed, Proposition 36 would reduce sentences for second and third strike offenders. Opponents of the measure warn that doing so will lead to an increase in violent crime. San Francisco State University film students Owen Wesson, Aaron Firestone, Marine Gautier, and Daniel Casillas took to the road this fall to collect a range of perspectives on a thorny, emotionally-charged issue that questions how best to handle crime prevention and fairly administer justice in California.

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