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
"Ordinarily, people running for president tell us what they will do if they win," said Jimmy Kimmel on Thursday's Kimmel Live. Donald Trump? Not so much. "Apart from his plan to build a wall to keep the Mexicans out, we know absolutely nothing about what he is planning to do as president." To highlight Trump's "much broader approach," the Kimmel crew came up with an ad for Trump, and it is comically, perhaps sadly, plausible. Example: "Donald Trump: A man with a vision for America. Not a specific vision, a great vision, the best vision." You can watch the rest below. Peter Weber
Haters of square photos, your long nightmare is over. On Thursday, Instagram announced that users of its iOS and Android apps will finally be able to post photos and videos in landscape and portrait orientations.
Love the squares? Don't worry. "Square format has been and always will be part of who we are," Instagram said in a blog post. "That said, the visual story you're trying to tell should always come first, and we want to make it simple and fun for you to share moments just the way you want to." You can download the new versions of Instagram, with the new format button, right now.
Why could you only share square photos earlier? "The story we've heard is it looked beautiful, and it looked really nice in feed when they were mocking it up," Ashley Yuki, the Instagram Product Manager who pushed through the new options, tells TechCrunch. Now you know. Peter Weber
Starting about 542 million years ago, a huge diversity of new animals appeared in the Earth's oceans, continuing over a 20 million year stretch known as the Cambrian Period. "The Cambrian explosion was really biology's Big Bang," Andrew Parker, a professor of life science at London's Natural History Museum, tells The Economist in the video below. "Life literally exploded." And nobody is quite sure why.
In just under 11 minutes, The Economist provides a crash course on the Cambrian explosion, talking to Parker and two other experts in the field, trying out different theories: A sharp increase in oxygen levels in the water, new nutrients from melting glaciers, evolutionary innovation in nervous systems and vision, the rise of more capable predators, perhaps some catastrophic explosion that wiped out the shell-less creatures who lived before. But "from the human point of view," The Economist notes, "the significance of the Cambrian explosion is that homo sapiens wouldn't be here if it hadn't happened." If you're curious, watch the video below. Peter Weber
In Idaho, investigators are still on the hunt for an enamored teen who used a cliffside to ask a girl on a date.
— Financiera FP (@FinancieraFP) August 27, 2015
Sometime in May, the unknown vandal scribbled, "Destiny, Prom?" in huge letters on the Black Cliffs climbing area outside of Boise. Destiny may have thought this was a sweet gesture, but the authorities aren't swooning. "Whoever did this did a lot of damage aesthetically and culturally," Patrick Orr, spokesman for the Ada County Sheriff's Office, told KBOI.
Deputies decided to try to nab the mysterious vandal by finding Destiny. They have interviewed over a dozen girls with the name and checked a few leads, but none have panned out. Investigators say they are hopeful that with school being back in session, they'll get a break in the case. If the enigmatic delinquent is ever found, they could face a misdemeanor charge of injury by graffiti, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Destiny, if you're reading this, turn him in. Vandal, if you're reading this, Google "ways to ask a girl to prom without destroying nature in the process." Catherine Garcia
A spokesman for the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas said on Thursday that earlier in the week, two men jumped into an outdoor canal on the property and had to be rescued because they could not swim.
On Monday morning, two men were spotted on surveillance cameras jumping over the fence that surrounds the canal, Reuters reports. The hotel offers gondola rides in the area, which is based on the Grand Canal in Venice, but the gondolas were not in operation at the time. The men were rescued and taken to a local hospital in critical condition. Authorities did not give an update on their condition, and said they are not sure why the men jumped into the canal. Catherine Garcia
Junaid Hussain, a 21-year-old British citizen, was one of Islamic State's secret weapons, a convicted hacker who fled to Syria in 2013 while awaiting trial in England, then took a leading role in ISIS's efforts to recruit members online, hack into U.S. military sites, and beef up the group's cybersecurity. He was killed Tuesday in a drone strike on his car outside Raqqa, Syria, U.S. officials told The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) August 27, 2015
British and U.S. officials decided a few months ago that Hussain and other British nationals who had prominent roles in ISIS should be captured or killed. Using the online nom de guerre Abu Hussain al-Britaini, Hussein was linked to a thwarted plot to bomb a parade in London, encouraging the two gunmen who died shooting up a cartoon-drawing contest outside Dallas, and efforts to hack into military sites and the social media accounts of U.S. service members, publishing their personal information online to target them for attacks.
Hussein is also believed to have convinced ISIS leaders to stop communicating through non-secure networks, making it harder for Western intelligence to track and monitor them. He "was an irritant that had developed a worrying edge," Raffaello Pantucci of London's Royal United Services Institute told The New York Times. "Undoubtedly his online skills will be missed by the group... but it is unlikely to dramatically change the pattern of dangerous plots emanating from the group."
ISIS hasn't confirmed Hussein's death, but condolences started showing up Thursday on Twitter from ISIS supporters. Hussein was married to Sally Jones, 45, a former punk rocker whom he met online. Peter Weber
Retired Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen Jr., the first black Marine Corps aviator and officer promoted to brigadier general, died Tuesday. He was 83.
— Marine Corps Reserve (@MarForRes) August 27, 2015
Petersen was born March 2, 1932, in Topeka, Kansas. After serving two years in the Navy, Petersen was commissioned in the Marine Corps. He flew more than 350 combat missions and more than 4,000 military aircraft hours, and received the Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, the Defense Superior Service Medal, and Navy Distinguished Service Medal.
Petersen's wife, Alicia, said that her husband didn't see himself as a trailblazer, but he did work toward equality in the Marine Corps. "He was a man who had very strong character, strong goals, and a lot of determination to achieve what he wanted to do," she told the Topeka Capital-Journal. "And very early on he decided that he wanted to be a pilot." In 1979, he was promoted to brigadier general, and in 2010, was appointed by President Obama to the Board of Visitors to the United States Naval Academy. Petersen is survived by his wife, five children, one grandson, and three great-grandchildren. In the video below, Petersen describes what it was like to be in the military during the 1950s, and the obstacles he faced. Catherine Garcia