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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

12:05 p.m. ET

If it weren't for the sage words of an unnamed "highly respected" Republican governor, Donald Trump would've been taking out all the people at the Democratic National Convention who said bad things about him. "The things that were said about me. I mean, should I go through some of the names," Trump said at a rally in Davenport, Iowa. "You know what? I wanted to. I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard."

Trump said he wanted to hit one person in particular — a "very little guy" — "so hard his head would spin, he wouldn't know what the hell happened." "They'd never recover," he said of all the Democrats he would've hit, before adding, "that's why I still don't have certain people endorsing me. They still haven't recovered."

Watch Trump's tough talk, below. Becca Stanek

11:35 a.m. ET
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Another six Michigan state employees have joined the growing list of officials facing criminal charges over the Flint water crisis. On Friday morning, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed charges including misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty, and various conspiracy counts against three employees from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and three from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, The Associated Press reported.

This marks the second round of charges Schuette has filed in connection to Flint's lead-contaminated water scandal. In April, two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees and one City of Flint official were hit with felony charges, including official misconduct and tampering with evidence.

Flint has been dealing with its drinking water being contaminated with dangerous levels of lead since 2014, when the local government, under a state-appointed emergency manager, switched the city's water sources. Becca Stanek

10:14 a.m. ET
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Four cases of Zika virus infection in Florida have been confirmed to have been transmitted by local mosquitoes, a first in the continental United States since the global outbreak began, CNN reports. None of the four patients affected had traveled to a region outside of the U.S. that was known to have the Zika virus, nor had any of them had sexual contract with someone who had traveled to such a region, which leaves little doubt that the disease came from bites from local mosquitoes.

The patients, a woman and three men, live in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, but Florida Gov. Rick Scott said that to date, no mosquitoes in the state have actually tested positive for the virus.

More than 1,650 Zika infections have been reported in the United States, but these are the first four cases to not be linked to someone traveling outside the U.S. More than 60 countries and territories have reported Zika.

In June, the World Health Organization advised that visitors to regions that have the Zika virus consider delaying pregnancy. Zika has been linked to thousands of cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads, as well as other severe brain defects. The WHO made its recommendation because there is no known treatment to keep pregnant women with Zika from transmitting the disease to their unborn babies. Jeva Lange

10:08 a.m. ET
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If you've recently committed a felony and are now on the lam, here's a tip: Beware of rare Pokémon, as they might be a trap.

At least, they might be in Smithfield, Virginia, where the local police department is attempting to lure people with outstanding arrest warrants to the police station through Pokémon Go. The specific monster Smithfield police say is in their processing room, Ditto, is presently the subject of intense speculation, as no verified Ditto captures have yet occurred, and some believe Ditto is actually uncatchable at this time.

So far, Smithfield PD has been unsuccessful — but you've gotta catch 'em all, right? Bonnie Kristian

9:52 a.m. ET
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A police officer named Michael Kelley from Prairie View, Texas — the small town where Sandra Bland died last year under disputed circumstances — says he was forced to suppress evidence of departmental wrongdoing pertaining to Bland's death.

By Kelley's account, the top Waller County prosecutor refused to let him testify before a grand jury to share observations Kelley believes could have helped produce an indictment. In a recorded phone conversation, Kelley describes threats of retaliation including loss of his career should he speak out about having observed marks on Bland's forehead after the traffic stop as well as debates among fellow officers about how to charge Bland after she had already been arrested.

Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis categorically denied all Kelley's allegations. When the grand jury deliberations concluded last December, no one was indicted in connection with Bland's death. Meanwhile, Kelley himself is now suspended from the police department after he was caught on camera using a stun gun on a local city official who, like Bland, was African-American. Bonnie Kristian

9:45 a.m. ET

Not only have the Democrats squashed the Republicans in TV ratings, but it looks like they've taken the lead on Instagram, too. This photo, from Wednesday night at the Democratic convention, is not just Hillary Clinton's most-liked Instagram picture of all time, but the most-liked photograph of all of the candidates in the entire 2016 presidential race:

We love you back, President Obama.

A photo posted by Hillary Clinton (@hillaryclinton) on

It's easy to see why. Jeva Lange

9:42 a.m. ET
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Hillary Clinton got massive applause Thursday night at the Democratic convention when she said this about her election rival, Donald Trump: "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons."

Naturally, Trump responded Friday morning via Twitter by slamming Clinton's speech, claiming, "Crooked Hillary Clinton made up facts about me, and 'forgot' to mention the many problems of our country, in her very average scream!"

The Democratic convention's TV ratings were higher across the board than the viewership for the Republican gathering last week — sometimes by several million people — which prompted Trump on Thursday to implore his supporters not to watch Clinton's nomination acceptance speech. Jeva Lange

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