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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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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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Should Felons Have the Right to Vote?

Includes video

In California, felons serving time in prison or county jail are denied their right to vote. So too are ex-felons who have served their prison terms but are still on parole.That amounts to a fairly significant population – many thousands of California residents – who have temporarily lost their right to vote as a result of criminal convictions.

(Most inmates in county jail awaiting trial or serving time for a misdemeanor, or who are on probation, can still vote, according to the California Secretary of State’s voting guide for current and former inmates).

And this raises an important question: is voting a privilege that should be denied to people who commit crimes, or is it an inalienable right? Continue reading

Where the Super PACs Spend Their Dough

Includes animation

This animation by NPR does a good job showing where the super PACs and campaigns are funneling their cash to buy up airtime for political ads. Forgot California – in the months leading up to election day, it’s all about the battleground states!

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)

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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.

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.

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The Battleground States: Where It All Goes Down

Includes maps and videos

Watch Map Center: What If the Battleground States Go Red? on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Because nearly every state in the nation has a winner-take-all presidential electoral system (except Nebraska and Maine), the outcome on election day in most states is fairly predictable. No Republican presidential candidate, for instance, has won California since 1988, and there’s no sign of that trend changing anytime soon. So it wouldn’t be the smartest move to put your money on Mitt Romney here.

Likewise, Texas hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976. So Barack Obama’s chances of winning over the Longhorn State this election? Pretty slim.

Of course, on the rare occasion there have been some monumental upsets. Take Indiana, which hadn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, but in 2008 picked Obama (albeit narrowly and ephemerally: the state is back to it’s solid red roots this year).

The majority of the presidential race is downright predictable.

So where’s the suspense? Where’s the action? Continue reading