March 27, 2014

Yesterday, a new one-and-a-half-minute economics video from Ezra Klein's newly formed Vox Media hit the internet. In it, Vox Executive Editor Matt Yglesias explained why the current level of the national debt is neither dangerous nor worrying:

He concludes that "debt just isn't a problem right now," because inflation is currently near historic-lows.

The video stirred up some pretty angry responses from people who think that debt is a problem right now. Red State's Erick Erickson claims some of the video is incorrect and calls Yglesias a liar who is spreading "left-wing propaganda."

Erickson contends that: "[Yglesias] tries to explain the National Debt and out of the gate begins with a lie. He claims the national debt is $5 trillion less than the U.S. Treasury says it is."

But Yglesias is pretty clear that he's excluding debt owed from one arm of the government to another, and only including federal debt held by the public. That is completely rational. After all, money the government owes to itself is simply money moved from one side of the government balance sheet to the other. There's nothing dishonest or disingenuous about citing the lower figure that only includes debt held by the public, especially given that Yglesias was clear about this.

Erickson then contends that: "[Yglesias] uses deficit and debt interchangeably."

But the debt is just the sum of the deficit over many years. So there's nothing wrong with treating them as two manifestations of the same thing so long as you understand that one is an annual figure and the other is the total. Yglesias' point is that the reason to worry about deficits is when they lead to elevated inflation and interest rates, something which we are not currently experiencing. This bases the assessment of debt and deficits around the real world consequences of debt and deficits, instead of hand-wringing over the size of the number, which seems to be what Erickson would rather have us do.

Erickson's next point is that: "[Yglesias] claims the U.S. government can never run out of money."

This, of course, is true. The U.S. government is a monetary sovereign that controls its own state-backed fiat money. Does Erickson think this is untrue? Does he think that the U.S. government can run out of paper and electronic dollars? Does Erickson think that the U.S. is back on the gold standard and therefore can run out of money?

Erickson concludes: "This isn't education. It is not explaining. It is left-wing propaganda. It is also sponsored by General Electric. Why is General Electric sponsoring left-wing propaganda?"

Now, to be fair, I'm not sure Yglesias' video will change many minds. It crams in a baffling quantity of information into a relatively short period. Viewers might on first viewing find it more confusing than enlightening, especially given that the mainstream narrative of the terribleness of government debt and deficits has become so deeply ingrained as "common knowledge."

But everything in the video is technically correct. At the very least it has succeeded in sparking a public debate on the issue of the national debt. And it is very definitely not left-wing propaganda, no matter how much Erick Erickson and other debt fearmongers would like it to be. John Aziz

1:09 a.m. ET

More than 80 million Americans skipped Monday Night Football to watch the first Donald Trump–Hillary Clinton presidential debate, "which I think is a sign of the Apocalypse," Samantha Bee said on Wednesday night's Full Frontal. "For once, concussion-ball was not as compelling as watching American democracy play Russian roulette." She touched on Trump's frequent interruptions, the one "portion of the debate set aside for white people to awkwardly tackle the topic of race," and the dearth of real-time fact-checking — sometimes combining all three topics in creative ways.

"Speaking of black people in uncomfortable situations, you may have noticed the very occasional presence of moderator and interruptee Lester Holt," Bee said. Holt made at least one "solid fact check," but "unfortunately, Lester seemed to be out of the room when Trump delivered most of his other whoppers. Maybe he went out to jam with his band. Ah, he plays bass, of course — the instrument that you're pretty sure is in the mix somewhere, even though you usually can't hear it." Mean.

Then she got to the part where Donald really blew it. "Trump warned us that Hermione Clinton would be cheating by doing something called 'preparing,' like some kind of busybody PTA mom kind of overplanner," Bee said. "But Trump never considered the possibility that she might be a Count of Monte Cristo overplanner. She spent months building an elaborate trap for Trump, and he lumbered right into it." That would be the part where America met former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. "Those wily Clinton bastards knew there are three things Trump can't resist: Calling women names, doubling down, and making dumb mistakes on Fox & Friends," Bee said, then she addressed Trump: "You had a stunningly beautiful Miss Universe winner, but you treated her like garbage — now you have a real problem. Not only with her, but with any woman who's ever been called fat — which is all of us. We've been dealing with you our whole life." She ended with a MASH note to Megyn Kelly, and you can watch below. Peter Weber

12:26 a.m. ET

He probably spent the past week memorizing the name of every city in Syria, and now, Gary Johnson has a new subject to brush up on: World leaders.

During a town hall Wednesday hosted by Hardball's Chris Matthews, the Libertarian presidential candidate was asked to name his favorite foreign leader. Johnson responded by making a strange noise. His running mate, Bill Weld, came in for the save, saying, "Mine was Shimon Peres," the former Israeli president who died on Tuesday. "I'm talking about living," Matthews snapped. "Any continent. Canada, Mexico, Europe, over there, Asia, South America, Africa. Name a foreign leader that you respect."

Referring to his gaffe earlier in the month, when he said he wasn't familiar with Aleppo (the city in Syria that before the civil war was the country's largest, and is currently under siege), Johnson said, "I guess I'm having an Aleppo moment in the former president of Mexico." Matthews kept pestering the struggling candidate to utter the name of any foreign leader, when Weld again came to the rescue, listing off the names of former Mexican presidents. Johnson looked like he wanted to jump for joy when Weld said "Fox," as in Vicente Fox, the ex-president who has called Donald Trump "a crazy guy." Weld, for his part, said his favorite world leader is Germany's Angela Merkel. Maybe this should be realigned as the Weld/Johnson ticket? Catherine Garcia

12:16 a.m. ET

Jon Batiste leads the Late Show band, Stay Human, but on Wednesday's show, host Stephen Colbert said that Batiste also works hard to "heal the racial divide" in America. He said he just learned that Batiste has "created a public service announcement that addresses important misunderstandings between black people and white people," and Batiste confirmed it: "Yeah, it's almost voting season, and I wanted to say something, because the tensions are high right now." So Colbert showed the PSA, titled "Hey White People!"

"Here in America it can be difficult to talk about race," Batiste said in the PSA. "There are a number of reasons why, but mostly, it's slavery." He gave other black actors and TV personalities a chance to weigh in, too — Tituss Burgess, Kevin Hart, Gayle King, Michael K. Williams, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Anderson — and it's kind of a mishmash of good-natured rants and other race-related banter. But lest White People think their voices aren't important in this PSA, don't worry: Batiste leaves room for one voice from the white community (even if he's British) and has a night shout-out to Chet Baker. (Also, Frasier produced the PSA?) Watch below. Peter Weber

September 28, 2016
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Agnes Nixon, the trailblazing soap opera writer and the creator of All My Children and One Life to Live, died Wednesday at a senior living facility in Pennsylvania. She was 93.

Nixon got her start in daytime serials thanks to her father's inadvertent assistance, the Los Angeles Times says. He was actually trying to convince her not to launch a writing career, hoping she would follow him into the burial garments business, when he set up a meeting with a pioneer in radio serial writing, Irna Phillips, to convince his daughter that her dream was foolish. But Phillips enjoyed Nixon's sample script so much, she asked her to come work for her. "It was one of the greatest moments of my life," Nixon said. "It was freedom."

During the 1950s and 1960s, Nixon helped launch As the World Turns, was head writer of Guiding Light, and helped turn around Another World. She was ahead of her time, giving a Guiding Light character in 1962 uterine cancer, but CBS and sponsor Proctor & Gamble agreed to let the storyline air only if the words "cancer," "uterus," and "hysterectomy" were not used. She later formed a company with her husband to produce One Life to Live, Loving, and All My Children; she based the latter show's villain, Adam Chandler, on her father, and gave Erica Kane, her favorite character, abandonment issues like she thought she had, the Times reports. In 1981, she became the first woman to receive the Trustees Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and in 2010, she was honored with a Daytime Emmy for lifetime achievement. Nixon's husband died in 1996. She is survived by her children Cathy, Mary, Robert, and Emily, and 11 grandchildren. Catherine Garcia

September 28, 2016
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During a military town hall on Wednesday, President Obama said it was a "mistake" for Congress to override his veto of a bill to allow 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia over its alleged role in the 2001 terrorist attacks, something the kingdom has long denied.

Speaking to troops at Fort Lee in Virginia, Obama said he understands why Congress acted the way it did, as "all of us still carry the scars and trauma of 9/11," but the legislation "eliminates this notion of sovereign immunity," potentially putting "our men and women in uniform around the world... subject to reciprocal laws." Obama warned that this sets a "dangerous precedent," and said his job as commander-in-chief is "to make sure we're looking ahead at how this is going to impact our overall mission. It means this time it's Saudi Arabia, next time let's say it's Great Britain, our closest ally." Catherine Garcia

September 28, 2016
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New Hampshire voters, feel free to snap away inside the voting booth this November.

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court in Boston ruled New Hampshire's ban on selfies in the voting booth is unconstitutional. In 2014, the Granite State made it illegal for residents to take photos of their ballots and share them on social media, with a fine of up to $1,000. The state has argued that the the law is designed to discourage vote-buying and intimidation, NBC News reports, but last year, a federal judge blocked its enforcement.

The appeallate court found that while New Hampshire does have a point, the ban is directed at an "unsubstantiated and hypothetical danger" and suppresses political speech. "It's like burning down the house to roast the pig," the court stated. This is the first time a federal appeals court has heard the issue, but it likely won't be the last — there are still 26 other states that have various laws banning photography at the ballot box. Catherine Garcia

September 28, 2016
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Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders put on a united front Wednesday in New Hampshire, with Sanders imploring young supporters in the audience to vote for the Democratic nominee in November.

The former rivals spoke at the University of New Hampshire in Durham in front of more than 1,000 people, and Sanders urged them to talk with friends and family members about voting. New Hampshire could "decide the outcome" of the election, Sanders said, and it is "imperative" that they hit the polls for Clinton. He then dropped some names to energize the crowd, saying, "If anybody tells you that this election is not important, you ask them why the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson and other billionaires are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to elect their candidates."

Clinton and Sanders also went over a college affordability plan, which would provide young people from middle- and working-class families with free tuition to public universities. Clinton had nothing but praise for Sanders, calling him a friend and "one of the most passionate champions for equality and justice who I have ever seen." She also reminded the crowd that it's "not just my name on the ballot. Every issue you care about, think about it, because in effect, it's on the ballot, too. The next 40 days will determine the next 40 years." Catherine Garcia

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