A blog about business and economics.

July 26 2016 1:47 PM

Laugh All You Want: Under Armour Says Sales of Stephen Curry’s Lame Shoes Are on Fire

The internet has not been kind to Stephen Curry's shoes. When Under Armour debuted the all-white  Curry 2 Low “Chef” in June—the blandest iteration of the reigning NBA MVP's line of signature sneakers—it was subjected to one of the most thorough roastings Twitter has ever seen, its reputation quickly charred to a punchline. And rightly so. The Chef looked like a mayo-on-white-bread sandwich served on a rubber sole. It looked like a shoe only Jerry Seinfeld could love. It looked like it might come with keys to a Buick and a Sam's Club card. It looked like a shoe you'd ignore on the sales rack at Marshalls. As many rermarked, it looked like a nurse’s shoe. A lunch-lady shoe. It was not a good shoe.

And yet, as in so many other instances, Twitter's opinion doesn't appear to have counted for much. In its second-quarter earnings report released Tuesday, Under Armour announced that, for all the laughter, Curry's shoe line was doing just dandy. “Footwear net revenues increased 58% to $243 million from $154 million in the prior year's period, primarily reflecting the continued success of the basketball category led by the Curry signature basketball line as well as growth in running and cleated categories,” the company stated.

Does this mean boring has triumphed? Has the all-white Chef 2 turned out to be the Coldplay of basketball shoes—milquetoast, mocked, and massively popular? I wouldn't quite go that far. Under Armour did apparently sell out of the Chef online a few days ago. But Canaccord Genuity analyst Camilo Lyon has estimated that the Chef also only makes up about 5 percent of sales for the Curry 2 line, which includes high-tops and low-tops in all sorts of color combinations that, mercifully, look a bit less orthopedic.

The bigger takeaway is that while Under Armour is still having difficulty designing shoes that can win over fashion-conscious sneaker obsessives as well as actual athletes (Slate's John Swansburg has written extensively on this), all the online laughter directed at the Chef doesn't seemed to have damaged Curry's brand. That sets the company up pretty nicely for the eventual release of the Curry 3, which might make a little aesthetic progress.

Then again, that white-on-white Chef did sell. To some, bland is apparently beautiful.

July 25 2016 6:34 PM

The DNC’s Leaked Emails Show It Had No Idea How to Rig an Election

Let me start with the obvious: Bernie Sanders' supporters have every right to be royally pissed off about the revelations contained in the hacked Democratic National Committee emails that have been released by WikiLeaks. The correspondence shows party officials clearly preferred Hillary Clinton, were flip and condescending about Sanders, and occasionally plotted ways to hurt him in the media. This was unacceptable coming from an ostensibly neutral organization with a key role in the nominating process; it was also a tactically idiotic way to treat a candidate whose campaign was exciting millions of young voters. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is resigning as DNC chairwoman at the end of this week, deserves her downfall.

But there's also something a little ironic about this scandal. Rather than proving that the primary was deviously rigged by Clinton's cronies—as many Sandernistas clearly believe—the WikiLeaks emails suggest the opposite. The party didn't seem to have very many ideas at all for meddling with Sanders' candidacy. And the ones they cooked up were weak and quickly forgotten.

Consider the most damaging news to come out of the leak. One DNC official seems to have floated the concept of trying to make an issue of Sanders' apparent atheism, in order to hurt his standing with Southern Baptists in states like Kentucky. This was a deeply offensive idea.1 It also seems to have gone nowhere. In May, meanwhile, the DNC national press secretary suggested “pushing a narrative” that Sanders “never ever had his act together, that his campaign was a mess.” This was meant to push back against the charge that there was a DNC conspiracy against against him in the first place. But in any event, as ABC News notes, the idea was quashed.

Other than that? Wassmerman Schulz called Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver a “damn liar” after he claimed there was no violence at Nevada's state Democratic Party convention; some media outlets had reported that Sanders supporters threw chairs (there was controversy about whether that was true). Some radio host got called a Bernie Bro. Wasserman Schultz fulminated about how Sanders never understood the Democratic Party, because he was never part of it (which, until this election, was true). The committee coordinated with a Clinton campaign lawyer about how to respond after Sanders charged that the DNC had “laundered” money to Clinton—which is completely unremarkable, given that both groups were implicated in the allegation. DNC employees also planned to pass around an article critical of Sanders (mind you, an article that had already been published). In late May, after Sanders told CNN that Wasserman Schultz would not be reappointed DNC chair if he won the presidency, a DNC staffer wrote: “This is a silly story. Sanders isn't going to be president." Mean? Perhaps, but it was also pretty clearly true by then.

None of this is good, mind you. The emails create a vague sense of impropriety. But as the (useful) cliché now goes, it's more Veep than House of Cards. We're reading a bunch of cranky D.C. office drones dealing with and letting off some steam about a cantankerous campaign. And in at least one other email that has Sanders fans angry, the DNC actually seems to be worrying about heading off even the possible appearance of foul play. In that one, they fretted that Rhode Island, a state in which Bernie had a lead, was opening up only a limited number of polling places. “If she outperforms this polling," one email read, "the Bernie camp will go nuts and allege misconduct.” The staffer suggested putting out an inquiry to Rhode Island's governor, who is “one of ours”—which seems like another way of saying “a Democrat.”

Again, on balance, this is all a bad look for the DNC. But it's not vote tampering. The worst ideas seem to have been scotched. It's always possible the real malfeasance was plotted offline. But nothing has been found in the leaked batch of emails that rises to the level of “rigging.”

As of now, we know of one truly significant way in which the DNC seems to have aided Clinton. It planned relatively few debates and scheduled the early ones for weekends, when nobody would watch. The DNC denied it had done this to prevent Clinton's opponents from getting exposure. But even at the time, this seemed like a pretty transparent attempt to “circle the wagons around the inevitable front-runner,” as then candidate Martin O'Malley put it. The WikiLeaks emails certainly don't do anything to ease those concerns. In one, a DNC staffer wrote “lol” after Sanders prematurely announced that he and Clinton had agreed on an extra debate before the California primary (the event didn't end up happening).

Did the paucity of debates really skew the election results? Sanders diehards will probably say so. Some have blamed Sanders' poor performance in the South, which essentially lost him the nomination, on a lack of name recognition among black voters. It's possible that a few more prime-time debate-nights might have helped erase that disadvantage. On the other hand, it's possible they would have helped shore up support for Clinton, who reminded everybody during the campaign that she was a very formidable debater. Moreover, there were many problems with Sanders' efforts to court black voters, including what may have been a deadly hamfistedness with retail politicking. Even if you believe that the Wikileaks emails suggest the DNC wanted to put its thumb on the scale during the primary through the debate schedule, it's hard to tell how decisive or meaningful that effort really was.

Aside from the debates, the major allegations about DNC favoritism involved Clinton's joint fundraising efforts with the DNC (Sanders inked a deal to do something similar, but never took advantage of it) and a scuffle over access to voter data that Sanders and the DNC eventually resolved. At this point, the WikiLeaks emails don't add anything to that dossier. They show the DNC lacked the respect for Sanders that his campaign had earned, but not that it stole his nomination.

1Why on earth would the Democratic Party contemplate alienating secular Jews, one of their most reliable, albeit small, constituencies?

July 25 2016 5:43 PM

What Will Happen to Yahoo Sports, Yahoo Maps, and Yahoo Mail? An Exhaustive List.

After putting itself on the market in February, Yahoo finally has a buyer for its internet business: Verizon. AT&T and Quicken Loans were both said to have been interested in buying the firm, and rumors of 38 other potential buyers surfaced back in March. But on Monday, Verizon announced it will buy most of the long-struggling company for $4.83 billion in cash. The deal, which is subject to approval by regulators and Yahoo’s shareholders—is expected to close in the first quarter of 2017.

Yahoo itself will remain a concern, retaining patents as well as stakes in several several Asian companies (including Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba). If the deal goes through, Verizon will bring together the “core” Yahoo business with AOL, another former giant of the first dotcom era, which it bought in 2015. Those core Yahoo properties include advertising, email, search, and the media business. At a time when Google has a market capitalization of $516.57 billion, Yahoo’s $4.83 billion price tag might not seem like a lot, especially since it remains the fifth most-visited website in the U.S. Then again, Yahoo-branded services were once the backbone of many internet users’ online experience in a way they haven’t been for a very long time, and that sale price reflects a company on the tail end of a long decline.

So which Yahoo businesses will live on at Verizon? And which never even made it this far? Grab your lasso and strap in for this (lengthy but not exhaustive) ride down memory-hole lane.

Ask Yahoo: A Q&A platform which was shut down to make way for Yahoo! Answers in 2005.

Bix: A contest tool, discontinued in 2009.

BrightRoll: A video advertising platform. Verizon acquisition.

Flickr: Subjecting the world to everyone’s’ family travel photos since 2004 (acquired by Yahoo in 2005). Verizon acquisition.

Flurry: A mobile analytics, monetization, and advertising company. Verizon acquisition.

FoxyTunes: A shuttered music-service alternative for the iTunes-averse.

Polyvore: A popular fashion, beauty, and home décor website. Verizon acquisition.

Rocketmail: One of the rarest email domains since 2013, when Yahoo! stopped creating new accounts. Verizon acquisition.

Tumblr:  Where you probably get your .gifs. Bought by Yahoo in 2013. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Advertising: The umbrella for all of Yahoo’s advertising services. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Answers: A site where you can question, answer, and battle trolls all at once. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Autos: A site to “buy, sell, maintain, research, and discuss cars.” Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Assistant: A browser helper for Internet Explorer. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Axis: A discontinued mobile browser and web browser extension for iOS devices.

Yahoo! Avatars: A site, discontinued as of 2013, where users could design avatars for their Yahoo profile.

Yahoo! Babel Fish: A free multilingual translation service, replaced, in 2012, by Bing Translator. Any user who visited the Babel Fish website they found themselves transferred to Bing Translator.

Yahoo! Briefcase: Shut down in 2009, this was Yahoo’s version of iCloud.

Yahoo! Buzz: A community-based news article website, where the dreams of all nonprofessional news writers died in 2011.

Yahoo Celebrity: Celebrity gossip. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Directory: Yahoo’s first offering, this web directory was defunct by 2014.

Yahoo! Family Accounts:  Yahoo doesn’t currently support the creation of new family accounts.

Yahoo! Finance: Providing stock quotes and financial information since 2007. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Gallery: The shuttered service from Yahoo! that offered access to applications—now redirected to Yahoo! Pulse.

Yahoo! Games: Passed away earlier this year. Sorry Spades players!

Yahoo! Go: The discontinued Java-based phone application to give PDA users and other mobile users access to Yahoo products.  

Yahoo! Green: This site provided a platform where people could discuss environmentally conscious lifestyles. It shuttered in 2012.

Yahoo! Groups: Yahoo’s version of Google Groups. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Homes: A home buying, selling, and renting site. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! HotJobs: Bought by the less excitingly named

Yahoo! Kickstart: Closed down in 2008, this site was a professional network for college students, alumni, recent graduates, and employers. It seems existing college alumni networks were enough.

Yahoo! Koprol: An Indonesian social networking service shut down in 2012.

Yahoo! Kids: Originally Yahooligans! Discontinued in 2013.

Yahoo! Live: Closed as of 2008, this service allowed users to broadcast videos in real time.

Yahoo! Mail: The domain name keeping the question, “You still use yahoo?” alive. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Maps: Google Maps’ less exciting rival. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Mash: In existence for a little less than a year, this site—closed in 2008—was a social networking service where users could “mashup” existing web services.

Yahoo! Meme: Discontinued in 2012, this microblogging site was conceived as a mix between Twitter and Tumblr functionality.

Yahoo! Messenger: An instant messenger for those with Yahoo accounts. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Mobile: Mobile services offered by Yahoo. Verizon acquisition.   

Yahoo! Movies: A one-stop shop for movie trailers, gossip, and information. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Music: A site for music videos and internet radio. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Music Unlimited: Discontinued in 2008, this site was the on-demand music subscription service linked to Yahoo! Music.

Yahoo! News: Yahoo’s news service. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Originals: Providers of 100 percent original video content. (And the saviors of Community.)  Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Personals: Yahoo’s dating platform, replaced in 2010 by

Yahoo! Photos: The pre-Flickr way of posting phots to share with family and friends. Defunct as of 2000.

Yahoo! Pipes: A now-defunct user interface for building data mashups.

Yahoo! Podcasts: Shut down in 2007. Exactly what it sounds like.

Yahoo! Publisher Network: Closed in 2010, this advertising network  provided tools to assist publishers building their websites.

Yahoo! Pulse: A way to connect and engage with people on Yahoo. Dumped by Yahoo in 2015 due to a lack of popularity.

Yahoo! Screen: An on-demand streaming service discontinued in 2006.

Yahoo! Site Explorer: Offered users information on websites, this eventually merged with Bing Webmaster Tools.

Yahoo! Search: The “its better than Bing but worse than Google” search engine. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Shopping: Yahoo’s price-comparison service. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Sports: A sports news provider, with fantasy sports. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Tech: A news and tech site. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! Travel: A site with travel information and some of the largest ads I’ve ever seen. Verizon acquisition.

Yahoo! TV: Online TV news. Verizon acquisition.  

Yahoo Web Analytics: Discontinued in 2012.

Yahoo! 360°: A now defunct social-networking portal.

Yahoo! 360° Plus Vietnam: A similar service available in Vietnam and discontinued in 2012.

July 25 2016 5:12 PM

The L Train Shutdown Is a Crisis New York City Can’t Afford to Waste

Today, New Yorkers can look the future in the face: The L train will stop running between Brooklyn and Manhattan for 18 months starting in January of 2019.

Yes, we’re just talking one tunnel in one city. But this is still a very big deal. By itself, the L train has half the weekday ridership of all of Bay Area Rapid Transit. Its closure will produce one of the largest transportation shifts in New York history, and has already set waves of panic sweeping across North Brooklyn.

The prognosis for its water-damaged Canarsie tunnel, which whisks 225,000 commuters under the East River each day, had been divided between two scenarios: a long period of heavily reduced, one-track service—or a shorter full shutdown. Option No. 2 was the MTA’s pick.

“We think it is better to have a shorter duration of pain than a longer more unstable process,” said Ronnie Hakin, New York City Transit president, in a statement. That’s essentially the same conclusion that WMATA in Washington D.C. has come to with respect to its own subway reliability problems, which have been building for decades.

This makes sense, because cutting transit service in half makes it a lot less than half as good. Long-term service disruptions make it more likely that people will reconsider big life choices: whether to own a car, whether to move away, whether send their kids to different schools. The “L’apocalypse” will be bad, but it will be fast. It’s a victory for technocracy over politics, and it could—in the end—have a great positive effect on New York.

July 25 2016 11:25 AM

The Trump Campaign Continues Its War on Economic Fact

On more than one occasion, Donald Trump has suggested that the official unemployment rate, which is currently sitting at 4.9 percent, is a “phony” number that makes the economy seem healthier than it is. The real unemployment rate, the one the experts don't want you to see, is probably 18 percent, or maybe 21 percent, or 25, or 30, or 35, or 42 percent, the Republican nominee argues.

This is but one small front in the Trump campaign's broader war on logic, fact, and math. Mostly, it is a convenient way for him to dismiss the labor market's progress during the Obama era. But over the weekend, Trump's son and surrogate, Donald Trump Jr., continued the assault during an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper.

TAPPER: The crime rate is down overall nationwide and has been trending down, unemployment is much, much lower than when President Obama took office.  Now, I’m not defending—
TRUMP JR.: Wait, wait, wait.  Jake, let's talk about that.
TAPPER: Go ahead.
TRUMP JR.: Let's talk about the murder rate for cops skyrocketing. Let’s talk about the real unemployment rate. Because the way we actually measure unemployment is after X number of months if someone can't find a job, congratulations, they're miraculously off.

This is not, in fact, how the unemployment rate works. The statistic measures the percentage of Americans who are employed out of the entire workforce, which includes those who either have a job or are looking for one. If you lack a job but say you are hunting for one, you are considered unemployed, full stop. It does not matter if you have been sending out résumés for two weeks, six months, or two years—you are included in the denominator. Nobody “miraculously” disappears from the calculation. To say so is simply untrue.

Trump the Younger continues:

When you talk about underemployment which Obamacare has destroyed, people that are working 30 hours a week instead of 40 hours a week so companies don't have to put them on Obamacare. When you talk about people that just aren't even registered because they don't count them anymore. They have been out of work for so long. They'd love to work if they could but they can't that doesn't count.

Here, Trump Jr. comes tantalizingly close to making a legitimate point. There is a reasonably large number of Americans who say they would like a job but have given up searching for one. The Bureau of Labor Statistics considers these so-called discouraged workers out of the labor force and therefore does not include them in the headline unemployment rate that the media widely reports each month. In this respect, the official figure makes the economy look sunnier than it is. It seems as if this might be the issue Trump Jr. is trying to gesture at, albeit a bit vaguely. However, he then flies back off into the realm of conspiracy:

These are artificial numbers, Jake. These are numbers that are massaged to make the existing economy look good and make the administration look good when in fact it's a total disaster.

No. For the love of god, no. The BLS publishes lots of other unemployment (and underemployment) stats that give us a fuller picture of the economy. The broadest measure—called U-6—includes both discouraged workers and part-time employees who wish they had full-time jobs. That, too, has been trending down steadily over the Obama era. Nobody his hiding anything. What Trump Jr. is saying is absurd.

Along with the obviously troubling fact that the Republican presidential candidate is hellbent on eroding America's faith in basic government institutions, this all raises some vexing logistical questions. If Donald Trump wins the presidency, as he well might, what economic indicators will he use? If he doesn't trust any of the numbers currently coming from the BLS, will he appoint a commission to simply remake our economic stats? If so, that would put him in a strange position—he would need to find a number that looks terrible now but would steadily improve over his administration, which would be difficult, if not impossible. Or will he simply pronounce the health of the economy daily, based on his own feelings that morning? My money's on the latter. That's basically how he gauges his own net worth, after all.

July 22 2016 5:29 PM

An Illustrated Guide to the Palace Intrigue at Fox News

Fox News chief Roger Ailes resigned in disgrace on Thursday in the wake of a sexual harassment suit brought by former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson earlier this month. In the tumultuous two weeks since the suit was filed, the nation’s No. 1 cable news channel has been embroiled in palace intrigue. The network has a reputation as a place where loyalty is prized and insubordination punished, and a gaggle of pundits and reporters from the Fox universe have come to Ailes’ defense—and questioned Carlson’s character—in interviews and op-eds.

On the other side, more than 20 female associates of Ailes have come to Carlson’s lawyers with stories like hers, and six told their stories to New York’s Gabe Sherman. Sherman has also reported that Fox News star Megyn Kelly has told investigators of her own harassment by Ailes, and encouraged a former Fox host with a similar story to come forward. Rupert Murdoch’s two sons have reportedly been pushing for Ailes’ ouster for years, and the 85-year-old chairman will run the channel for the time being,

In part because of the nondisparagement clauses that some Fox employees sign, public testimonials have largely run in Ailes’ favor. But there are different degrees of support. And tracking the various players, both on and off-screen, in the Fox News drama can be as difficult as keeping track of Bill O’Reilly’s many books about murdered luminaries.

So we hope this graphic makes things simple. The next time you’re struggling to remember who had the courage to speak out about a man with a reported 40-year history of harassing women, who came to his defense, and who kept quiet, they’re all here.

July 22 2016 12:21 PM

Why Colorado Marijuana Businesses Suddenly Have an IRS Problem

This post originally appeared on Inc.

The IRS appears to be harshing the mellow of some 30 cannabis companies in Colorado.

That’s according to tax lawyers, accountants. and business owners in the state, who say the federal agency is auditing the cannabis entrepreneurs for tax years 2014 and 2015, possibly because they failed to fill out form 8300—a document that businesses file when they make cash deposits over $10,000. Some companies are also having issues with tax code 280e, which was created for drug traffickers and does not allow for normal business deductions.

Whether the audits are civil or criminal is unclear, according to tax attorney James Thorburn of Thorburn Walker LLC, who is representing some of the business owners. One audit letter obtained by Inc. was sent from the IRS’s fraud group. “When you see something about criminal investigations and fraud, it typically is not a civil audit,” he says.

However, Thorburn says that when he questioned an IRS agent about the specific department, the agent said he used “inappropriate letterhead” and is no longer part of the fraud group. Still, “I am telling my clients that there is potential for criminal charges,” Thorburn says.

The IRS says it cannot comment on specific taxpayers, but a representative did say that the agency follows federal law, which considers marijuana a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Inc. confirmed the audits by speaking with business owners who are being audited and seeing the audit letters. The news about the Colorado audits was first reported by Marijuana Business Daily.

There is a big difference between civil and criminal audits. A civil audit can result in fines, while a criminal audit could result in a prison sentence and steeper fines.

The audits come as marijuana cultivation and sales are now legal in some form in 25 states. But new laws—passed by state legislatures—conflict with federal law. The IRS, in fact, has a cut-and-dry stance on marijuana: It’s an illegal substance, according to federal law, and entrepreneurs running state-legal marijuana businesses are considered drug traffickers.

Since the IRS must adhere to federal law, “these new state statutes do not have any impact on federal tax law when determining allowable expenses for income tax purposes,” according to a memo written by Kristen E. Bailey, the director of collection policy at the IRS.

The IRS wouldn’t say it is targeting marijuana companies for audits.

In Colorado, Thorburn says the conflict between the federal government and state has caused a great deal of friction. He believes that the Department of Treasury is not making concessions for the industry as laws are slowly reforming. In 2013, Deputy Attorney General James Cole released guidance for federal agencies, noting that authorities should focus limited resources on marijuana companies that sell to minors, serve as fronts for drug cartels, use violence and firearms to distribute, or cause other harm.

In December 2015, Congress extended a rider in the 2016 spending bill that banned the Department of Justice from preventing states from creating their own marijuana laws. All of these reforms gave the cannabis industry confidence that federal legalization was on its way, Thorburn says, but tax code 280e and the recent audits have deflated some of that confidence.

“The IRS is taking a strong position that what the industry is doing in Colorado is a criminal violation of federal law,” says Thorburn. “It’s not a huge step to say that the federal government could prosecute the violators of the federal crime.”

Hank Levy, a CPA who handles taxes for marijuana companies, has his own theory: He believes the IRS is taking the opportunity to collect while marijuana is federally illegal.

“I would not be surprised if they are combing through cannabis companies,” says Levy. “The IRS perceives there is big, easy money by auditing these companies.” It’s easy to pick up a retail dispensary’s tax return and see if they’ve done their forms correctly—and it’s easy for the IRS to win at the tax court level, he adds.

A co-founder of one of Colorado’s largest cultivators and retailers, who requested to be anonymous, says his company is being audited for failing to fill out form 8300 in about 20 instances.

“Our accountant did not tell us we needed to fill out form 8300 for single cash deposits over $10,000,” he says. “It’s our fault; we should've known.”

Still, the entrepreneur believes the IRS is targeting marijuana businesses on a moral level. He is afraid of criminal prosecution and is working with his lawyers during the audit process.

“We are very sensitive as an industry, but the IRS has been aggressively going after us,” he says. “They are acting as the judge, jury, and executioner and assigning punishment without due process.”

July 22 2016 2:46 AM

Why Trump’s Acceptance Speech Hardly Mentioned the Economy

Donald Trump delivered a long, dark, and gory convention speech on Thursday night. He bellowed warnings about murderous ISIS terrorists and immigrants, about crime waves sweeping American cities and police officers being gunned down. He talked about Hillary Clinton's email mendacity (of course) and described a world swirling into chaos because of her incompetence (of course). He painted himself as the only hope for fixing a “rigged” political system.

He spent relatively little time, however, talking about the economy. In the longest convention address by a party nominee in the modern era, the subjects of trade, taxes, and jobs took up maybe 10 minutes or so—in the leaked draft of his remarks that circulated beforehand, economic concerns commanded about seven out of 64 pages. He sprinkled in some stats about poverty to reinforce the theme of America in decay. And while he offered his standard spiel about negotiating better, making smarter trade deals, and getting tough with China—calling it a “signature issue” of his campaign—the material was utterly overshadowed by the apocalyptic talk of mortal threats at home and abroad.

The fact that jobs got short shrift Thursday was no coincidence. It's a reminder that his campaign is fundamentally not about the economy—it’s about white working-class nationalism. Trump inflames anxieties and resentments and offers himself as protector and avenger. Bucking his party's free-trade consensus has merely been one useful way to accomplish that. Early in his campaign, it allowed him to signal to blue-collar conservatives that he cared about their (often very real) troubles. But just as importantly, railing against China, NAFTA, and corrupt trade negotiators let him enforce the us-vs.-them dynamic essential to any good nationalist appeal. Yes, Trump's opinions about trade deals are probably sincere—he's been ranting about America getting beat at the negotiating table since the 1980s. But why wax on about economic data when there are even more visceral fears to appeal to?

Even as Trump makes the bold claim that his position on trade will single-handedly win over Bernie Sanders voters, it almost comes off as a throwaway—though the populist similarities between the Trump and Sanders campaign have been pointed out, most of the likeness ends there. Trump now spends his time on villains his base truly lies awake worrying about: cop killers. Terrorists. Immigrants who murder innocent Americans. And so his economic message has become revealed for what it is: the side salad to a main course of bullets and blood.

July 21 2016 9:36 PM

Donald Trump Says the U.S. Is One of the Most Taxed Countries in the World. This Graph Shows It’s Not.

In the leaked draft of the speech he will deliver tonight at the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump repeats one of his favorite talking points about the economy: “America is one of the highest-taxed nations in the world.”

July 21 2016 1:28 PM

The Astounding Collapse of American Bus Ridership

Ridership statistics from the past decade suggest that Americans have gotten off the bus.

Even in New York City, despite record population gains and new highs for subway ridership, bus ridership has fallen by 16 percent since 2002. Bus ridership in D.C., after a good decade, is down 6 percent this year on weekdays despite the troubles of the regional subway system.

Nationwide, bus trips have fallen from 5.86 billion in 2002 (a peak year) down to 5.11 billion last year, and dropped almost 3 percent between 2014 and 2015.

What’s to blame? Low gas prices, the recession, investments in rail, competition from Uber and bike-share? A new Bus Turnaround Campaign in New York, undertaken by research and advocacy groups, suggests that the fault lies largely with the bus service itself, and that the city—and, implicitly, other American cities—has the power to restore the bus to the urban transportation toolkit.