The American economy added 156,000 new jobs last month, 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at a modest 66,000 jobs. The headline unemployment rate worsened slightly to 5.0 percent and the labor force participation rate improved slightly to 62.9 percent.

Beneath the surface, this jobs report was stronger than it looks. The unemployment rate increased only because there were lots of new labor force entrants—some of them probably recent college grads—most of whom found jobs. The number of labor force dropouts declined by over 200 thousand. Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees were up at an annual rate of about 2.9 percent compared to last month. That's not red hot performance, but it continues a streak of decent increases. The labor market doesn't yet qualify as tight, but it's finally tight enough to be generating some consistent wage gains.

Gary Johnson thinks our foreign policy should be less interventionist. That's fair enough. I agree with him. But this is ridiculous:

Attacking Hillary Clinton over what he criticized as her overly interventionist instincts, Mr. Johnson pointed to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians killed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, as well as civilian deaths caused by the American-backed coalition, and said Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state, bore at least partial responsibility…He charged that Mrs. Clinton “bears responsibility for what's happened, shared responsibility for what's happened in Syria. I would not have put us in that situation from the get-go.”

This is nuts. Hillary Clinton played no role in starting the civil war in Syria, and 400,000 people have died there even though Barack Obama chose not to adopt her policy preferences. Our responsibility for what's happened in Syria—whether you think it's large or small—belongs to Obama, not Clinton. Then there's this:

[Johnson] drew a parallel on Wednesday between the Syrian government's targeting of noncombatants in that nation's civil war and the accidental bombing of civilians by United States-backed forces…When pressed four times on whether he saw a moral equivalence between deaths caused by the United States, directly or indirectly, and mass killings of civilians by Mr. Assad and his allies, Mr. Johnson made clear that he did.

Words fail. Yes, the United States is far from perfect. Yes, we sometimes kill innocent civilians. Yes, we often do too little to make sure civilians are safe. All of this is worth protest until we get better.

But we do try to spare civilians. In fact, our rules of engagement are famously restrictive. Bashar Assad, by contrast, deliberately targets civilians in huge numbers. Civilian or not, if you oppose Assad he wants you dead.

Does Johnson really see no difference there? That wouldn't pass muster in a freshman ethics class, let alone the real world. I'd like to see the United States rely less on a military approach to the Middle East, too, but I sure wouldn't want our military in the hands of a guy who apparently sees no real moral difference between a butcher like Bashar Assad and decent but imperfect leaders like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

It's conventional wisdom that this year's presidential campaign is one of the most policy-free of all time. The reason is obvious: Donald Trump is a policy void. He knows nothing, doesn't want to know anything, and brags frequently about how everything you need to know to be president can be learned in an hour or two. His milieu is entertainment and insults, not policy wonkery.

I think this view is wrong, and I'd like to present a thoughtful, nuanced argument against it. Unfortunately, I don't have that in me at the moment. Instead, here's a quickie blog-length micro-essay making my case.

Among political junkies, "policy" means white papers. It means understanding the details of how government programs work. It means charts and tables. It means historical context. It means stuff generally written by folks with PhDs who have deep subject matter expertise.

This is my meat and drink. If this blog had a mission statement, it would be something like this: Bringing policy lite to the masses. I like reading academic papers and trying to explain them in plain English that any ordinary educated person can understand. I like historical context. I respect folks with deep subject matter expertise. I adore charts and tables. And I want to spread all this stuff to more people.

But we live in a country where a third of the population can't name the three branches of government and something like 95 percent probably have no idea how Social Security works. Feel free to sneer if you must, but most people just aren't interested in policy deep dives. And why should they be? Being a political junkie is basically a hobby, like collecting stamps or writing bad poetry. You probably aren't interested in that stuff, and there's no reason lots of people should be interested in your hobby.

But that doesn't mean they don't care about political issues. Many of them care more than you do. They just don't have much of a jones for white papers. Nonetheless, all of these things are policy:

  • Building a wall to reduce illegal immigration from Mexico.
  • Keeping troops in Afghanistan.
  • Changing our strategy for destroying ISIS.
  • Improving relations with Russia.
  • Toughening visa requirements to keep potential terrorists out of the country.
  • Expanding or repealing Obamacare.
  • Signing an agreement with Iran to halt their nuclear program.
  • Making college free.
  • Halting new trade agreements until they're made better for American workers.
  • Spending more on the military.
  • Insisting that treaty allies pay a higher share of defense costs.
  • Creating a federal maternity leave and child care program.
  • Tackling climate change.
  • Whether we should make America more energy independent via more clean power or more extraction of fossil fuels.
  • Profiling Muslims and surveilling mosques to stay ahead of Islamic terrorism.
  • Appointing liberal vs. conservative Supreme Court justices.
  • Routine stop-and-frisk as a way of combating crime.
  • Raising the minimum wage.
  • Rebuilding infrastructure.

This is a long list, and it doesn't even include the usual evergreens (abortion, guns, tax cuts) or stuff that hasn't broken through enough to really affect things (vets, charter schools, NSA spying). In a nutshell, then, I'd argue not only that 2016 is a policy-heavy year, but that thanks to Donald Trump's, um, earthy approach to things, the differences in policy between the two candidates are sharper than in nearly any election during my adult life. Lack of detail is irrelevant. Nor does it matter if you don't like Trump's earthiness. For the average Joe and Jane, Trump's coarse approach makes his positions more policy-centric than arguments over whether we should use chained CPI for Social Security COLAs or support a public option for Obamacare.

There is, obviously, a vast rhetorical gap between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, but their policy gap is equally far-reaching. And my guess is that more people know about their policy differences than in any year in recent memory. If anything, 2016 has featured more policy topics making it into the spotlight than usual. It's the year that policy truly took over an American presidential election.

Tim Fernholz reports today that countries around the world have lost billions of dollars in economic output by shutting down the internet for various reasons:

The countries most affected? India, accounting for $968 million in lost output....[shut] off internet service during school exam periods to deter cheating. To keep students honest, India imposed a ban from 9am to 1pm in certain areas.

Say what? They shut down the whole damn internet for four hours to keep kids from cheating on exams? Yes indeed. And they aren't the only ones:

India: "Mobile internet services will be blocked from 9 am to 1 pm in Ahmedabad....The Revenue Talatis Recruitment Exam is being conducted by 'Gaun Seva Pasandgi Mandal' (Gujarat State Subsidiary Selection Board or GSSSB) across the state....Considering the sensitive nature of the exam for recruitment of talatis, internet service providers have been asked to shut down all internet-based social media services from 9 am to 1 pm to prevent the misuse of mobiles during the exam."

Uzbekistan: "Uzbek authorities suspended Internet and messaging services across the country on August 1 to prevent cheating at university entrance exams....The restrictions on the additional services have become an annual practice on exam day as authorities fight against corruption and cheating."

Algeria: "Algerian authorities have temporarily blocked access to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to try to stop cheats posting high school exam papers online, state media reported on Sunday....'This is to protect students from the publication of false papers for these exams.' "

Iraq: "Iraq has shut down the entire country's internet in efforts to prevent students from cheating in exams....Wondering why the Iraqi government chose to take such a drastic step just for sixth grade finals? The reason why preventing sixth graders from cheating is such a high priority to the government is because, according to Iraqi law, education is compulsory only till the 6th grade. As a result, the pressure is fairly high on sixth graders to score well, as those who don't make the cut are almost definitely pulled out of school."

As you can see, this practice extends all the way from sixth grade to high school to universities to civil service exams. I guess building Faraday cages at all the test centers was too expensive, while strip searching every test taker was considered a step too far. The only option left was to shut down the internet for everyone.

All this said, the most common reason for shutting down the internet was in response to protests and other forms of civil strife. So I guess everyone is sort of used to it.

One of Donald Trump's favorite words is "strong." He came out "strongly" against the Iraq War. Vets who are "strong" don't get PTSD. We have to be strong against ISIS, strong on law-and-order, strong against illegal immigrants, and strong on guns. On Wednesday, he even preemptively insisted he'd eventually be strong on an issue he knew nothing about:

I'm gonna take a very strong look at it and I will come very strongly one way or the other. I will have an opinion.

Trump was in Nevada and was asked about the nuclear waste facility being built at Yucca Mountain. He actually admitted he knew nothing about it, but then said that once he did know something—BOOM! He'd be strong. Very strong.

In other Trump news, we learn that back during his bankruptcy days, Trump's own lawyers always met with him in pairs. Why?

In other words, Trump lied to his own lawyers so routinely that they had to have backup whenever they met with him. His. Own. Lawyers.

Elsewhere, we learn that Asian-Americans really, really don't like Trump. This is from the Fall 2016 National Asian American Survey, released yesterday:

Trump is losing to the rest of the field by ratios of 2:1 all the way up to a staggering 10:1, with an average of 4:1 against him. That's bad, but I'm not sure it's strongly bad. He needs to up his game. I don't think he's insulted Asian-Americans lately,1 but if he did he could probably drive his support down to 15 percent or even lower. Come on, Donald.

1But then again, maybe he has. It's hard to keep up.

National Review's Jim Geraghty passes along the news from SI's Richard Deitsch that ratings for NFL football are down this season. Deitsch suggests several possible explanations: a crazy election season sucking away attention; a smaller group of star quarterbacks (no Peyton Manning or Tom Brady); bad Monday night games; a slowdown in fantasy football; fatigue from too many days of football; and just generally the fact that this season has featured an awful lot of lousy play. However, Geraghty has his own theory:

There’s probably more than one reason, which means it’s oversimplifying it to say Colin Kaepernick and kneeling NFL players are driving way football fans. But it’s a factor, and maybe the biggest factor.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that nearly one-third (32%) of American adults say they are less likely to watch an NFL game because of the growing number of Black Lives Matter protests by players on the field. Only 13% say they are more likely to watch a game because of the protests. Just over half (52%) say the protests have no impact on their viewing decisions.

Looks like I’m not the only one who just wants to enjoy watching the game.

I don't watch much pro football, so someone help me out: do the TV nets actually show much kneeling at the start of the game? Do they talk about it? Is it something that intrudes on the game, or would you barely even know it's happening unless you read about it elsewhere? In other words, is there any plausible reason that Geraghty can't just enjoy the game anymore without having his beautiful mind reminded that racism still exists in the US?

Speaking of which, you will be unsurprised at just who finds all this kneeling so unpleasant: "Whites are twice as likely as blacks — 36% to 18% — to say they are less likely to watch this year." Surprise!

Did Tim Kaine "win" his debate with Mike Pence? Abby Phillip reports that this wasn't the Clinton campaign's goal in the first place:

Clinton and Kaine had a larger goal in mind than winning the debates themselves: to create a series of compelling sound bites that they planned to weaponize for the reminder of the campaign....Their clear objective: to record him and his running mate embracing, denying or evading controversial positions that Trump has taken in recorded speeches.

....“[Pence] claimed over and over and over again — he claimed, ‘He never said those things!’ ” exclaimed conservative radio host Glenn Beck on Wednesday. “We’re not living in the 1800s. We can go back to the clips on YouTube.”

And that’s exactly what the Clinton campaign did. Shortly after the debate Tuesday, the Clinton campaign tweeted out a glossy new site at The site highlighted dozens of moments “mentioned at the debate,” most of them by Kaine, with citations to back them up and the “share” button never too far away.

Kaine's over-aggressive style didn't make him look good on Tuesday, but Kaine didn't care. He was willing to take one for the team. Unlike Mike Pence, who resolutely refused to defend his boss, Kaine understood that the purpose of his debate wasn't to make Tim Kaine look good. It was to help Hillary Clinton win an election.

This is typical of the Clinton campaign's buttoned-down but very focused strategy. And it's working:

Mr. Trump has already slipped perceptibly in public polls, trailing widely this week in Pennsylvania and by smaller margins in Florida and North Carolina — three states he cannot afford to lose. But private polling by both parties shows an even more precipitous drop, especially among independent voters, moderate Republicans and women, according to a dozen strategists from both parties who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the data was confidential.

Generally speaking, Hillary Clinton's strategy has been to needle Trump and then stand out of the way and let him get as much media attention as he wants while he implodes. There are weeks here and there when Trump is able to simulate being an adult and the strategy doesn't work. But over the long term? It's working great. And since it's too late to fire his campaign team yet again in a vain search for someone who can talk sense into Trump, it's pretty likely to keep working. Pollster has Trump down by 6.6 percent right now, and if private polls show him doing even worse, then both he and the Republican Party are in a world of hurt.

Kurt Eichenwald continues his chronicle of Donald Trump's business failures today, this time via a report from the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety that summarizes Trump's federal tax returns from the late 70s. The report was based on tax returns furnished to them when Trump first tried to break into the casino business in 1980. This was just after Trump had scored his first big success—the Grand Hyatt hotel in Manhattan—which relied entirely on loans personally guaranteed by Trump's father. Fred Trump also arranged for Donald to obtain a personal line of credit of $35 million at Chase Manhattan:

But Trump was unable to control his spending....In 1978, the same year that Fred Trump set up the credit line for his son at Chase Manhattan, Trump’s personal finances collapsed....Losses came across the board. A number of Trump’s New York rental properties—on Third Avenue, Fifth Avenue, East 56th Street, East 57th Street, East 61st Street and East 67th Street—all were financial flops....Partnership investments—Park Briar Associates, Regency Lexington Partners and 220 Prospect Street Company—contributed even more red ink. The interest owed to Chase Manhattan on Trump’s massive use of his credit line topped off the dismal financial performance.

....No one could withstand these types of losses given the comparatively paltry amount of money available to offset them. So Trump took the same route he did for the rest of that decade and in decades to come: He borrowed more to keep himself afloat....On September 24, 1980, Fred Trump arranged for a series of loans totaling $7.5 million to his son....That same day, one of the Trump family’s companies, Trump Village Construction Corporation, lent Donald Trump an additional $976,238. All of the loans could be paid back at any time, and Donald Trump was not liable for any of the interest payments on them.

So what kind of businessman is Donald Trump? The truth is that it hasn't been all bungling and failure—just most of it. There have basically been six eras of Trump:

1970s: The Era of Early Failures. See above. Trump breaks into the Manhattan real estate market but racks up loss after loss. He is bailed out by his father.

Early 1980s: The Era of Success. A chastened Trump apparently decides to buckle down and pay attention to work. It's during this period that he puts together the parcels and financing for Trump Tower, one of his most successful projects. This is the briefest of the Trump eras.

Mid 80s/early 90s: The Era of Catastrophic Failure. Trump reverts to form. He negotiates terrible deals for a USFL team, the Plaza Hotel, the Eastern Shuttle, and a yacht he never uses. He obsesses over plans to develop a grandiose project he called Television City, located on 57 acres of land along the Hudson River. But he bungles the deal and loses control. He builds casinos in Atlantic City, but epically mismanages them and loses a huge sum. By 1991 he's broke. He avoids personal bankruptcy partly by browbeating his bankers and partly by pleading for tens of millions of dollars in loans from his father and his siblings.

Mid/late 90s: The Era of Desolation. Trump finally emerges in 1995, no longer broke but no longer all that rich either. His marriage to Marla Maples is heading south, and ends in divorce in 1999. He keeps up a brave public face, but these are bleak years with nothing much to maintain his interest. Then, in 1999, Trump's father dies, followed by his mother in 2000. Trump inherits roughly $70 million or so.

2000 and beyond: The Era of Golf and Licensing. Building skyscrapers is now out of reach, since no one will lend Trump the kind of scratch that takes. So he starts overpaying for golf courses instead. Beyond that, he finally finds something he's good at: making money from his mouth. He licenses his name to naive developers from overseas who still think he's the king of real estate. He lends his name to a seemingly endless string of penny ante businesses—Trump steaks, Trump vodka, Trump radio—as well as a dodgy assortment of penny-ante scams—Trump University, Trump diets, Trump mortgages. In 2004, he hits the jackpot of random luck when reality king Mark Burnett chooses him to host The Apprentice, a show perfectly suited to Trump's talents for bullying and bombast.

2015-16: The Era of Making America Great Again. You all know this part of the story, right?

It's kind of sad, really: Donald Trump has lived his entire life in the shadow of his father's success. Everything he's done has been one long, desperate attempt to prove to himself and the world that he's as successful as Fred Trump—who really was a self-made man. He never found that success, though, and running for president is his final, most audacious attempt to win his father's respect. Unfortunately, like all the others, it's doomed to failure—and not just because he's likely to lose in November. His problem runs much deeper than that. He's never looked in the right place.

The theories are piling up! Today, Josh Barro summarizes a theory from Lee Sheppard in Tax Notes about how Donald Trump managed to show a $916 million operating loss on his 1995 tax return. By my count, this is the third plausible theory in circulation. I shall now summarize Barro's summary of Sheppard.

Sheppard reckons that Trump's casino operations were organized as an S corporation, in which profits and losses flow through to the owner. So when the S corporation sustained huge losses after the casinos collapsed, those losses passed through to Trump. Subsequently, the corporation's debts were canceled, which should have shown up as offsetting income. However, because the debts were canceled through bankruptcy, they never showed up on the S corporation's balance sheet and never passed through to Trump:

"But wait!" I hope you are saying. "Wouldn't that put Trump afoul of the rule that his tax losses from the S Corporation can't exceed what he invested in it in the first place plus the prior profits?"

Yes, it would — except that, before the 2002 loophole fix, the debt forgiveness enjoyed by the S Corporation would have passed through to Trump for the purposes of calculating the amount of profit the S Corporation had earned on his behalf, even though the same debt forgiveness did not pass through as actual taxable profit to him.

Sheppard refers to this as a "double dip" — the tax loophole would have allowed Trump to claim losses on his individual income tax return that were ultimately borne by creditors, not by him.

Did you notice the reference to a "2002 loophole" there? This is what makes Sheppard's theory so precious. "Double dipping" is obviously stupid, and it was never the intention of Congress. However, when the IRS tried to kill it off, the Supreme Court ruled that the letter of the law is the letter of the law. If Congress screwed up, it's up to Congress to fix it.

So they did. In 2002 double dipping was banned. And guess who voted to ban it?

Yep: Hillary Clinton. So when Donald Trump disingenuously demands to know why Clinton never tried to close the loopholes he used, the answer is: She did. And if there had been any way to make it retroactive, she probably would have voted for that too.

So many theories. But all of them have one thing in common: They demonstrate that although Trump isn't much of a businessman, he is rich enough to hire good tax attorneys who will hand over huge stacks of forms for him to sign blindly. That's a helluva qualification for president, isn't it?

Here's a bracing dissection of whether it should be possible to patent software:

Given that an “idea” is not patentable and a generic computer is “beside the point” in the eligibility analysis, all software implemented on a standard computer should be deemed categorically outside the bounds of section 101.

The central problem with affording patent protection to generically-implemented software is that standard computers have long been ceded to the public domain....Because generic computers are ubiquitous and indispensable, in effect the “basic tool[]” of modern life, they are not subject to the patent monopoly. In the section 101 calculus, adding software (which is as abstract as language) to a conventional computer (which rightfully resides in the public domain) results in a patent eligibility score of zero.

....Software lies in the antechamber of patentable invention. Because generically-implemented software is an “idea” insufficiently linked to any defining physical structure other than a standard computer, it is a precursor to technology rather than technology itself.

(Note: "Section 101" is 35 U.S. Code § 101, the part of US law that governs patents.)

The interesting thing here is that this was written by a longtime judge for the Federal Circuit Court: Haldane Mayer, a Reagan appointee who is now on senior status. Apparently, Mayer has had enough. In a recent case involving a patent troll, he didn't feel like fiddling around on the edges of the Alice test handed down recently by the Supreme Court. He believes that Alice effectively does away with software patents entirely. Instead, software should be governed by copyright, as it was for decades before a series of vague rulings and the establishment of a new court accidentally created them in the 70s and 80s.

Mayer's analysis is just a concurring opinion and has no legal force. Still, it's encouraging that an experienced judge is saying stuff like this out loud. Maybe a few other will now follow suit. And maybe the Supreme Court will eventually agree. Maybe.