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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

6:06 p.m. ET
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A fake-news site is giving progressives a chance to visit an alternative reality in which Hillary Clinton won the election. HillaryBeatTrump​.org features headlines such as "Confused by fake news, Redditers think Trump is President" and "Approval ratings for President Clinton hit 89%." The site promises to deliver "news from real America," where the "majority rules." The Week Staff

5:18 p.m. ET
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The Department of Homeland Security was apparently unable to find sufficient evidence to back President Trump's claim that his immigration executive order banning people from certain countries from entering the U.S. could protect the nation from terrorist threats, The Associated Press reported Friday, citing a draft document prepared by DHS analysts.

The report suggests that assessments of the seven predominantly Muslim countries included in Trump's travel ban found that "few people" from those countries "have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria's civil war started in 2011," The Associated Press reported. Moreover, the draft document concluded, "country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity."

The Associated Press noted Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen did not "dispute the report's authenticity," but said it "was not a final comprehensive review of the government's intelligence."

Trump's ban is presently blocked by the courts, but he has vowed to introduce a second executive order on the issue. Becca Stanek

4:40 p.m. ET

On Friday, President Donald Trump made a speech at CPAC in which he slammed the "fake news" media for its use of anonymous sources. "They have no sources," Trump told the crowd, referring specifically to a story in The Washington Post that cited nine unnamed sources while accurately detailing former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's discussions with a Russian ambassador. Later in the day, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held an informal, off-camera press briefing from which several prominent news outlets, including The New York Times and Politico, were specifically excluded.

CNN was also barred from entering Spicer's press gaggle Friday, prompting the network's anchor Jake Tapper to begin his afternoon show with a fiery assessment of the Trump administration's relationship with the press. Tapper noted that Trump seems "particularly averse to any criticism" and that his White House seems to have a "lack of basic understanding of how an adult White House functions." "It's petulant," Tapper said. "This White House does not seem to respect the idea of accountability. This White House does not seem to value an independent press. There is a word for that line of thinking. The word is 'un-American.'"

Watch Tapper's full takedown below. Kimberly Alters

3:38 p.m. ET
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Republican Rep. Mo Brooks (Ala.) is starting to doubt the GOP will actually repeal ObamaCare. After witnessing swaths of angry citizens protesting at town halls across the nation, Brooks admitted in a radio interview this week that "a significant number of congressman are being impacted ... and their spine is a little bit weak."

"I don't know if we're going to be able to repeal ObamaCare now because these folks who support ObamaCare are very active, they're putting pressure on congressmen, and there's not a countereffort to steel the spine of some of these congressmen in tossup districts around the country," Brooks told WBHP 800 Alabama radio's The Morning Show with Toni & Gary.

Brooks, who insists the "monstrosity" that is the Affordable Care Act "needs to be repealed and right now," bashed President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for wavering on a full repeal. The Alabama congressman noted Trump's previous indication of support for parts of ObamaCare, and argued that if aspects of the ACA were retained it would be "an amendment to ObamaCare," not the promised full repeal. "Remember when Donald Trump publicly stated during the campaign that he's going to make sure everybody has health insurance?" Brooks asked. "That's ObamaCare." Becca Stanek

3:13 p.m. ET
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Republican Rep. Peter King of New York said Thursday that he is done holding town hall meetings because his angry constituents "diminish democracy," CNN reports. King, speaking on AM970 The Answer, explained: "There are people who are just angry, they're angry that Trump won, that Hillary lost. There's others who are being, I guess, egged on, if you will. So I'm assuming that they're all legitimate, but to me it just does not serve a purpose. It really diminishes democracy if you're gonna show up to a meeting to just scream and yell."

Instead of appearing in person, the Long Island representative is scheduled to hold a "tele" town hall that requires anyone interested in participating to "opt-in" online, Long Island Press reports. "I am not having these town hall meetings because to me all they do is just turn into a screaming session," King said. "What I am doing, I have done every national TV show."

King added that he is meeting with people who both support and want to repeal ObamaCare, which has proved to be one of the largest motivators for town hall dissenters. King said he will "try to explain that, when you're in front of a room and everyone is screaming and yelling [and] makes no sense, [it] really trivializes democracy." Jeva Lange

2:22 p.m. ET

The White House blocked several major news organizations from an informal, off-camera briefing Friday in White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's office, sparking protest and outrage from the White House Correspondents' Association as well as other outlets. CNN, The New York Times, Politico, the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, and much of the foreign press were not allowed in the room, CNN's Elizabeth Landers reports, although conservative outlets including Breitbart, The Washington Times, and One America News Network were allowed to attend. Networks including NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox were also included.

Reporters from The Associated Press and Time boycotted the press gaggle in protest of their colleagues' exclusion.

In a statement, the White House Correspondents' Association wrote that the board is "protesting strongly against how today's gaggle is being handled by the White House. We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not. The board will be discussing this further with White House staff."

On Thursday, chief strategist Stephen Bannon warned at CPAC: "[The press] are corporatist globalist media that are adamantly opposed to a economic nationalist agenda like Donald Trump has. Here's where it's going to get worse. He's going to continue to press his agenda. And, as economic conditions get better, as more jobs get better, they're going to continue to fight. If you think they're going to give you their country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day it is going to be a fight." Jeva Lange

1:23 p.m. ET

Politico shed some light on what Republicans may have in mind for their promised ObamaCare replacement plan Friday, when it published the contents of a leaked draft of a House Republican bill:

The legislation would take down the foundation of ObamaCare, including the unpopular individual mandate, subsidies based on people's income, and all of the law's taxes. It would significantly roll back Medicaid spending and give states money to create high-risk pools for some people with pre-existing conditions. Some elements would be effective right away; others not until 2020.

The replacement would be paid for by limiting tax breaks on generous health plans people get at work — an idea that is similar to the ObamaCare "Cadillac tax" that Republicans have fought to repeal. [Politico]

Though House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has promised repeal legislation will be introduced soon, Republicans have been less vocal about how they will go about replacing the Affordable Care Act, which has provided an estimated 20 million Americans with coverage. This draft suggests the GOP is "sticking closely to previous plans floated by Ryan and [Health and Human Services Secretary Tom] Price in crafting their ObamaCare repeal package," Politico reported.

For more details on what changes Republicans might be considering, head over to Politico. Becca Stanek

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