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."
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
Stephen Colbert was ticked that Jeb Bush is raising money off the Late Show premiere, so he started a feud
The free publicity apparently wasn't enough for Jeb Bush, so he turned his spot on Stephen Colbert's inaugural Late Show into a fundraiser for his already well-funded presidential campaign: If you send in $3, you'll be entered into a raffle for a ticket to the show and dinner with Woody Johnson, the billionaire owner of the New York Jets. "I think the contest is a great idea," Colbert said, in what he suggests will probably be his last pre-show online video, "but here's the thing: No one from Jeb's campaign asked me if this was okay with me, to raise money off my first show."
So Colbert responded with some jokes about the Bush political dynasty, Bush's political base — "if you can't afford $3, you're probably not voting for Jeb Bush" — and the wisdom of tying your campaign to the "winning tradition of the New York Jets." And then he announced his own contest, the winner of which gets to submit one (non-vulgar) question that Colbert will ask Bush. Shot, fired:
...and returned. Probably glad to be sparring with somebody other than Donald Trump, Bush tweeted this video to Colbert, managing to both rib Colbert and dampen his own fundraising efforts by lowering the contest fee to $1:
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) September 3, 2015
Well, Amy Schumer is funny. Maybe Colbert has found his stand-in host. Peter Weber
Congratulations, Queens! In addition to being the most diverse urban area in the U.S., boasting a massive beer garden, and hosting the city's best Chinatown, the borough of Queens is also home to seven of the 10 worst subway stations in New York City, according to a report by the Citizens Budget Commission.
The report evaluated the stations by the number of structural components in disrepair, weighted that against the total number of structural components at the station, then gave each station a percentage. Of the 33 stations in worst shape, roughly half are located in Queens, Capital New York reports. Here's the map:
(Citizens Budget Commission)
Lest non-Queens residents begin to gloat, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is ruining basically every New Yorker's commute. As New York notes, it will be 2067 before all 467 MTA subway stations are in a “state of good repair." Perhaps in the intervening 52 years, we can all learn to actually leave enough time for subway delays in our morning commutes. Kimberly Alters
The six Baltimore police officers who were charged with the death of Freddie Gray, 25, while in their custody have had their defense motions rejected by a Baltimore judge on Wednesday. The officers' trial will begin next month; a pretrial hearing on September 10 will decide whether the case should be removed from Baltimore due to its publicity, Reuters reports.
Earlier Wednesday, protesters gathered outside the Circuit Courthouse to wait for the judge's decision. Gray's death in police custody — which was ruled a homicide — has become one of several centerpieces in the national discussion over police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement. Jeva Lange
Golden boy quarterback Andrew Luck isn't afraid of fans hating him one day: 'You have to have skin like an armadillo'
There are plenty of things that set Andrew Luck, 25, apart from other football players. As the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, Luck is posed to become the next football superstar in the vein of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady — he's destroyed passing records, bringing his team closer and closer to the Super Bowl each year. And, maybe most noteworthy of all, Luck is actually immensely likable and down-to-earth, both on the field and off.
He's always been this way, too: Luck was a star player at Stanford, and graduated as his high school's co-valedictorian. In a profile by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, he humbly added that he had never thought, "I'm good enough to play in the NFL," taking his early successes and goals step by step. Now known for being bookish and weirdly friendly on the field ("Luck routinely compliments the NFL players who sack him or knock him down, saying things like 'Hey, nice hit!' as they try to beat his head in," Taibbi notes), Luck can't really imagine a time when the tides might turn against him:
Americans love to turn on their celebrities. In sports especially, we root for them on the way up, then pelt them on the way down. Once-adored superstars like LeBron and Brady became villains after too many years in contention. I ask Luck about that phenomenon given that it might be in his future. His answer is hilarious.
"I bet Tom Brady doesn't give a shit about what people think about him," he says. "Or Peyton. You play quarterback long enough, you hear some things. You have to have skin like an armadillo." [Rolling Stone]
Luck won't settle for simply being thick-skinned, like the rest of us mortals. Jeva Lange
President Obama isn't the only one making a visit to Alaska this week, according to a new report from Pentagon officials. The U.S. military has spotted five Chinese navy ships off the coast of Alaska in the Bering Sea, heading in the direction of the Aleutian Islands. The presence of the Chinese ships, including three combat ships, a replenishment vessel, and an amphibious ship, marks the first time that the U.S. military has reported seeing "any such activity in the area," The Wall Street Journal reports.
Although China's defense ministry could not be reached by the Journal for comment, the presence of Chinese warships close to U.S. territory is likely connected to China's efforts to ramp up its military activity as its economic power expands. "I don't think we'd characterize anything they're doing as threatening," one defense official told The Wall Street Journal.
Other officials theorized that the ships' presence could be due to China's growing interest in using the Northern Sea Route to transport goods, since that route between Asia and the West can be up to several days faster than the Suez Canal route. "It's difficult to tell exactly, but it indicates some interest in the Arctic region," one Pentagon official said. "It's different." Becca Stanek
Does Donald Trump cheat at golf? That's the subject of an investigation by The Washington Post, which offers a good amount of anecdotal evidence that he does. Trump, of course, denies the claims, and he does seem pretty confident in his prowess on the links, going so far as to say he would put the presidency on the line in a face-off with President Obama.
"His swing looks like it's coming along beautifully, his game looks much better," he told The Post. "I'd love to play him for the presidency." [The Washington Post]
Evolution usually allows animals to get better at avoiding death. However, new evidence reported by Vanderbilt University seems to find that the rise of early animals hundreds of millions of years ago was the cause of the first massive die-off of complex life — not a super volcano or a meteorite.
Scientists believe that for more than 3 billion years, microbes were the only life on Earth. At some point, a few of the microbes evolved to be able to photosynthesize, or convert sunlight into energy. The byproduct was toxic to most of the other microbes, who were used to an oxygen-free environment. But for the microorganisms photosynthesizing, the development allowed them to become complex, multicellular forms called Ediacarans, which took over the planet around 600 million years ago. Ediacarans were basically like plants: immobile marine life shaped like discs, tubes, fronds, or quilts.
Paleontologists call the ensuing period the "Garden of Ediacara," emphasizing the so-called peace of the era — that is, Ediacarans politely didn't eat each other. At least not until 60 million years ago, when they evolved even further into what we now call animals (vertebrates, mollusks, anthropoids, annelids, sponges, jellyfish).
It was these independently moving, hungry critters that caused the first extinction, by eating all the Ediacarans, the scientists say.
"This study provides the first quantitative palaeoecological evidence to suggest that evolutionary innovation, ecosystem engineering, and biological interactions may have ultimately caused the first mass extinction of complex life," Simon Darroch, the assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University, told Science Daily.
Perhaps that's just a fancy way of suggesting that it's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and may the hungriest mollusk win. Jeva Lange