×
FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
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

6:41 a.m. ET

Prince died two years ago from an accidental overdose of fentanyl-spiked ersatz Vicodin, but right after prosecutors in Minnesota said there was not enough evidence to charge anyone in his death last week, Prince's estate reminded everyone why people are still morning him two years later, cracking open the vault to release his original 1984 recording of "Nothing Compares 2 U." Prince wrote the song for his side project, The Family, formed with the remnants of The Time, but he did not release any of his recordings of the song until a live duet with Rosie Gaines in 1993 — three years after Sinead O'Connor made the song famous with her No. 1 version.

Prince's original recording of "Nothing Compares 2 U," accompanied by previously unreleased rehearsal footage from 1984, is different than either subsequent version, starting off with an "I Am The Walrus" keyboard riff and ending with a saxophone. You can listen below. Peter Weber

6:07 a.m. ET

If you don't know who Ryan Zinke is, don't feel too bad — President Trump pretty clearly isn't sure what his interior secretary does, John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight, kicking this off with a NSFW analogy. "Zinke's job is to serve as a steward of America's public lands, although so far he's overseen the largest reduction of federal land protection in the nation's history," he noted. Also, Zinke is a serial exaggerator or outright fabulist and, "it turns out, may well be an extremely weird man,"

As evidence of his quirkiness, Oliver cited the fact that like Queen Elizabeth II, ZInke flies his own special flag when he's at the Interior Department headquarters, plus his minting of a special coin and, most persuasively, his decision to grab Vice President Mike Pence's wife, Karen Pence, for a dance during a political rally. "You might not have even heard of him before tonight, but he is an important, deeply strange man," Oliver said. "If I may sum him up in the way he would sum himself up in a campaign ad, Zinke is a oil-friendly, coin-commissioning, non-bin-Laden-killing weirdo who throws second ladies around, and he is not a f---ing geologist — America." Watch below — yes, there is NSFW language. Peter Weber

5:27 a.m. ET
Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron arrives in Washington on Monday as guest of honor for the first state visit hosted by President Trump. Macron has suggested he will try to use his carefully cultivated relationship with Trump to steer him away from ripping up the Iran nuclear deal, pulling out of Syria, and raising tariffs against European nations on May 1. Trump will host Macron and his wife for a dinner Monday at Mount Vernon, George Washington's historic residence, and a state dinner at the White House on Tuesday; no Democratic members of Congress were invited, in a break from tradition.

Macron will also meet one-on-one with Trump, hold a town hall with at George Washington University, and give an address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, the anniversary of a 1960 address by French President Charles de Gaulle.

Macron, universally seen as the European leader with the best rapport with Trump, hosted Trump last July and clearly impressed him with French hospitality. By cultivating a warm relationship with Trump, reportedly including near-weekly phone conversations, "Macron has made a gamble, given Mr. Trump's unpopularity, that he can court him but not be tarnished by him — or even that he can burnish his own reputation as a leader who is so psychologically astute that he can gain the ear of an American president who is in many respects his polar opposite," The New York Times reports. So far, Macron has little to show for his efforts — Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement and appears poised to kill the Iran nuclear deal, for example. But aides say he feels he needs to try. "Sometimes I manage to convince him, sometimes I fail," Macron told the BBC in January. Peter Weber

4:00 a.m. ET

"It is a busy time for diplomacy in the Trump White House, what with them planning the North Korea summit, weighing what to do about Syria, and a state visit with [French President Emmanuel] Macron next week," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. And on top of that, Trump faces a massive decision on whether to re-certify the Iran nuclear deal on May 12 — and there's a growing sense that this time, Trump might actually kill the agreement.

Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the pact, signed by former President Barack Obama, Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France, and the European Union, but its demise "could have huge, lasting consequences," Oliver said. "So tonight, let's look at the Iran deal: What it is, why Trump hates it so much, and what's likely to happen if he kills it." Oliver ran through Trump's objections, explaining that each was based on false information. Iran can't keep sanctions relief and still make a nuclear bomb, for example, Oliver said. "What Iran could do, in theory, is wait for part of the deal to expire in 10 years, then it could ramp up its nuclear program, getting it closer to a bomb. But here's the thing: If the deal blows up, Iran could start doing that right now, in zero years. And 0 is less than 10 — trust us, we ran the numbers on this ourselves."

"You can't just be against something without having any plan for what comes next," Oliver said, and like "a cat on an airplane trying to escape from its carrier," Trump has only unrealistic demands. Also, his top advisers — John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and Sean Hannity — hate the deal, too. To try to insert a moderating voice, Oliver said, he'll run a catheter cowboy ad during Hannity this week. You can get a preview, and learn more about the Iran deal, below. (There's NSFW language.) Peter Weber

2:56 a.m. ET
REUTERS/Mike Segar

Fox News host Sean Hannity has said he only sought legal advice from Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer and fixer, regarding real estate, and they would have a lot to talk about, according to a report in The Guardian. "I hate the stock market, I prefer real estate," Hannity said on TV after he was revealed in court to be one of Cohen's three listed clients. "Michael knows real estate." And thousands of pages of public records show that Hannity has a massive portfolio — over the past decade, more than 20 shell companies linked to Hannity bought at least 877 properties for just under $89 million, The Guardian said Sunday.

The residential properties — in Florida, Georgia, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Vermont, and New York — include multimillion-dollar mansions used by Hannity, single-family units in modest suburbs, and apartments in low-income areas, The Guardian reports. Dozens of the properties were scooped up at a discount in 2013 from banks that had foreclosed on the owners during the financial crisis, and at least two large apartment complexes in Georgia were purchased with assistance from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Hannity bought the apartments in 2014 for $22.7 million, using $17.9 million in mortgages obtained via HUD, replaced last year with $22.9 in loans from HUD and a new bank, The Guardian says.

Hannity has taken public stances against HUD financing going toward rental properties, criticized the mass foreclosures before Trump took office, and featured HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Bill Lako — who took nominal control of the Georgia firm Henssler Financial LLC from Hannity in 2016 — on his radio and TV shows, The Guardian says. Christopher Reeves, Hannity's real estate attorney, told The Guardian they'd "struggle to find any relevance" in Hannity's confidential property holdings. "I doubt you would find it very surprising that most people prefer to keep their legal and personal financial issues private. ... Mr. Hannity is no different." Read more at The Guardian. Peter Weber

1:40 a.m. ET

James Shaw Jr., 29, acknowledges that if he hadn't disarmed the gunman who murdered four people at a Waffle House in Nashville early Sunday, more people would have died, but he said in a news conference on Sunday that he isn't comfortable with the "hero" label. "On my Instagram and Facebook, everybody's calling me a hero, but I want people to know that I did that completely out of a selfish act, I was completely doing it just to save myself," Shaw said. "Now, me doing that, I did save other people, but I don't want people to think that I was the Terminator or Superman or anybody like that. ... I figured if I was going to die, he was going to have to work for it."

Shaw explained that when he realized somebody was shooting, he ran behind an unlockable swinging door. "He shot through that door; I'm pretty sure he grazed my arm," Shaw said, and "at that time I made up my mind ... that he was going to have to work to kill me. When the gun jammed or whatever happened, I hit him with the swivel door." The gunman, identified by police as Travis Reinking, 29, had the gun pointed down, and Shaw said he grabbed the hot barrel of the AR-15. "When I finally got the gun he was cussing like I was in the wrong," he said. "I grabbed it from him and threw it over the countertop and I just took him with me out the entrance."

Waffle House CEO Walter Ehmer disregarded Shaw's request. "You don't get to meet too many heroes in life," he said, nodding to Shaw. "We are forever in your debt." Shaw's father, James Shaw Sr., had mixed feelings. "I take no pride in him charging a loaded gun," he told The Associated Press. "I do take pride in him helping save the lives of other people." Peter Weber

12:49 a.m. ET

Last July, the U.S. Secret Service arrested Travis Reinking, the 29-year-old suspect in Sunday's murder of four people at a Waffle House in Nashville, for being in a restricted area near the White House and refusing to leave, saying he wanted to meet President Trump. In the fall, state police in Illinois revoked Reinking's firearm license at the request of the FBI, and police took away four of his guns, including the AR-15 used in the Nashville shooting, authorities said.

Deputies returned the weapons to Reinking's father, Jeffrey Reinking, on the promise that he would "keep the weapons secure and out of the possession of Travis," Tazewell County, Illinois, Sheriff Robert Huston said Sunday, adding that based on past encounters with the younger Reinking, "there's certainly evidence that there's some sort of mental health issues involved." Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron said that Jeffrey Reinking "has now acknowledged giving them back to his son."

Reinking, who witnesses say fled the scene of the crime naked, is still on the run, and he is believed to have at least one of the remaining two guns police seized from him last fall. The four people killed in the shooting have been identified as Taurean C. Sanderlin, a 29-year-old cook at the restaurant, and patrons Joe R. Perez, 20, Akilah Dasilva, 23, and DeEbony Groves, 21. James Shaw Jr., 29, is credited with saving several lives by tackling and disarming the gunman. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads