The American economy added 98,000 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 8,000 jobs. That's pretty dismal, but under the surface the news was better: the number of employed people went up by 472,000 and the number of unemployed declined by 326,000. As a result, the headline unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 percent.

Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees went up at an annual rate of about 2.3 percent for the second month in a row. That's about even with the inflation rate, which means the real increase was close to zero. That's disappointing given recent signs that wages were starting to make gains.

I know I pretty much said this in the previous post, but it bears repeating: what President Trump did tonight was bog ordinary. He called it a "targeted" attack on Syria and the Pentagon called it "proportional." It was precisely the kind of limited strike American presidents are addicted to when public opinion requires them to demonstrate anger over something or other, and it's precisely the language every president uses to describe them. Russia will issue a pro forma denunciation, and the Syrians will rebuild their airfield. In a couple of weeks it will all be forgotten.

Don't make too much of this unless Trump goes further. It doesn't prove that his foreign policy instincts have changed, or that he's demonstrated resolve and decisiveness. He's merely done the smallest, safest, most ordinary thing American presidents do in circumstances like this.

UPDATE: I guess I should clarify a bit. I don't mean that a military strike like this isn't important. I mean only that pundits and the press shouldn't treat it like a huge change in Trump's foreign policy, or in American foreign policy in general. American presidents do this kind of stuff all the time, and Trump was always more likely to do it than most. Remember, he ran as "the most militaristic person you will ever meet" and promised to "bomb the shit out of ISIS."

It's Obama who was the unusual one, resisting enormous pressure to get involved in Syria. Trump is proving himself to be yet another follower of bipartisan foreign policy conventional wisdom.

Trump Bombs Syria

Trump has launched a few dozen cruise missiles at Syrian airfields—in particular, at the airfield that Assad used to launch the chemical attack earlier this week. So far, this is standard stuff for presidents who want to "send a message." Cruise missiles cause some damage but don't endanger any American lives. We'll see if Trump takes things any further.

Marco Rubio is on my TV right now calling this a great thing. "It's not a message, it's an actual degrading of their capabilities." If Obama had done something like this, Rubio would have contemptuously called it a pinprick.

Let's roll the tape on the past few days:

Last Friday: Sean Spicer confirms remarks by Secretary of State Tillerson that Trump is OK with leaving Bashar al-Assad in power in Syria. "There is a political reality that we have to accept," he says.

Tuesday: Trump learns the downside of haphazard policy changes driven mostly by a desire to be different from Obama. Assad, feeling more secure after learning the United States accepts his leadership of Syria, launches a chemical attack on rebels in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Wednesday: Trump, apparently shocked to find out that Assad is a butcher, says Assad has "crossed many, many lines."

Today: Trump tells reporters about Assad, "I guess he's running things, so something should happen." Tillerson translates this into English: "It would seem there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people."

Later today: We learn that the Pentagon is preparing recommendations for military action in Syria.

A few minutes after that: Regime change is once again official policy. "Those steps are underway" for the US to lead an international effort to remove Assad.

So in the space of a week, we've gone from Assad can stay to Assad must go to let's bomb Syria. This is quite the crack foreign policy team we have in Washington these days.

I can hardly wait for Trump to launch a bombing campaign for a few days—something that's a routine favorite of US presidents—and then declare it a massive, game-changing retaliation, "something that's never been done before." But at least that would be better than something that really was a game changer. Just remember: whatever John McCain recommends, do the opposite.

Lunchtime Photo

I'm sure you've all seen those pictures where the camera pans on a moving object, so the object appears still while the background rushes by. Right? Aside from being an object lesson in special relativity, it's also hard to do. You have to pan the camera perfectly at constant speed to get it right, and that's trickier than you might think.

A few days ago I was out trying this on passing cars, and making tough sledding of it. Then a group of bicylists came by, so I panned on them. But I was still panning at automobile speed, so I didn't catch them.

Except I did! By a fluke, one frame turned out nearly perfectly. So here you are, a pair of Irvine bicyclists pedaling along on one of our miles and miles of bike lanes. Next up: panning at night.

The Wall Street Journal has a chart-heavy piece today about the growth of big companies vs. small companies, and it's interesting in detail even if the overall thesis is hardly a surprise. I was going to highlight a chart showing the basic growth of employment in different sizes of companies, but the Journal published two charts about this and they don't agree with each other. So I'm not sure which one is correct.

In any case, this one is more interesting anyway:

In medium-sized companies, wages have gone up for everyone over the past few decades. The executives make 40 percent more, the receptionist makes 40 percent more, and everyone in the middle makes 30 percent more. Not bad!

Among big companies, it's exactly the opposite. Even the highest-paid workers only make about 15 percent more than they did in 1980, and everyone else actually makes less. Why? There are only two possible answers: (a) big companies haven't grown much, or (b) the executive suite and the shareholders are taking a far bigger cut of the profits than before. We know the answer isn't (a), so it must be (b).

Why is this? My guess is the obvious one. In a large company, the workers are just a line on a spreadsheet. If you pay them less and the company keeps on running, it's all good. They occupy approximately the same mental space in the CEO's mind as the cost of capital or expenditures on SG&A.

In smaller companies, the CEO knows the workers. Maybe not all of them, but at least a few hundred of them. They talk in the lunchroom and see each other at company picnics. If one of them has a kid with cancer, the news probably trickles up. Depending on how old the company is, the CEO and her top staff probably personally hired a lot of these people. It's not that labor costs don't matter, but there just isn't the incentive to pay themselves astronomical salaries at the expense of everyone else.

These are the best companies to work for. They're big enough to be stable, but small enough not to be stultifying. Obviously some kinds of companies just can't be medium-sized, but plenty can be. If you can find a good one that wants to hire you, run don't walk.

There's a lotta fighting going down in Washington DC lately. Let's review. First up, Steve Bannon has suffered a few reverses lately, and apparently he blames Jared Kushner:

LOLOLOLOL. The good news for Bannon is that Jared can probably generate plenty of bad press all by himself. It shouldn't be too hard to push a little bit more. The bad news for Bannon is that, according to Jonathan Swan, the Jared wing of the White House "thinks the Bannonites are clinically nuts." In the Trump White House, that's saying a lot. Marcy Wheeler has the right response:

In other news, Devin Nunes has finally stepped aside from the House investigation of Trump's Russia ties. Nunes' erratic behavior and bizarre press conference a couple of weeks ago has finally prompted an ethics investigation for possibly revealing classified information. Nunes claims he's the victim of "left-wing activist groups," but the ethics office says it did this all on its own. In any case, he's pretty angry about the whole thing. So now we have Republican wars in two branches of government:

And it turns out we also have a war between both branches of government:

A Thursday evening meeting between top aides to President Donald Trump and House Republican leaders turned heated when the White House officials exhorted Speaker Paul Ryan to show immediate progress on the GOP's stalled plan to repeal and replace Obamacare...."It was really bad," said one person familiar with the meeting. "They were in total meltdown, total chaos mode."

It's just like Renaissance Florence. The palace intrigue is delicious, isn't it? And now, your moment of Zen:

This should surprise no one:

Environmental Protection Agency officials are proposing to eliminate two programs focused on limiting children’s exposure to lead-based paint, which is known to cause damage to developing brains and nervous systems.

The proposed cuts, outlined in a 64-page budget memo revealed by The Washington Post on Friday, would roll back programs aimed at reducing lead risks by $16.61 million and more than 70 employees, in line with a broader project by the Trump administration to devolve responsibility for environmental and health protection to state and local governments.

Old housing stock is the biggest risk for lead exposure — and the EPA estimates that 38 million U.S. homes contain lead-based paint.

This is pretty typical Trump. Or maybe I should say, pretty typical conservative. The lead program is part of the EPA, liberals like the EPA, therefore the lead program must be a worthless, job-killing regulation. Or something like that.

The only thing that keeps me from being more pissed off is that $16 million is an absurdly paltry sum to begin with. I'd take issue with the article's claim that lead paint is the biggest risk for lead exposure—lead in soil is an equal or bigger threat—but either way, we ought to be spending something like $10 billion a year to remediate this. Getting rid of the current program is like going from a 1 percent response to a 0 percent response.

The problem with lead, of course, is the same as the problem with climate change: you have to spend money on it now, but the benefits don't come until today's politicians are long out of office. Getting Congress to approve $10 billion for a program that will start to show results around 2040 or so is a hard lift.

Plus it would make it harder to fund tax cuts for the rich. We can't have that, can we?

A few days ago I was channel surfing and ended up watching the final tedious few minutes of a basketball game. It was at the point where the losing team was doing the intentional foul thing in a last-ditch effort to make a comeback. "Does that ever work?" I muttered. Now I have an answer:

Nick Elam, a 34-year-old middle school principal from Dayton, Ohio...has tracked thousands of NBA, college, and international games over the last four years and found basketball's classic comeback tactic — intentional fouling — almost never results in successful comebacks. Elam found at least one deliberate crunch-time foul from trailing teams in 397 of 877 nationally televised NBA games from 2014 through the middle of this season, according to a PowerPoint presentation he has sent across the basketball world. The trailing team won zero of those games, according to Elam's data.

What a waste. Elam has a provocative proposal about how to fix this, but it's far too radical for the NBA to consider. After all, the league's boffins won't even consider changing the intentional foul rule or limiting timeouts. If they can't bring themselves to make modest changes like that, what are the odds of ever doing something serious about the final two minutes of basketball games, which are widely considered the most tedious 20 minutes in all of sports?

On the bright side, at least basketball's final two minutes are still better than soccer's tie-breaking shootout—which is basically just a fancy way of flipping a coin. Personally, I'd make them keep playing until the players start collapsing on the pitch—and then leave them there until somebody finally scores a goal. Maybe that would motivate them.

This post isn't about immigration and the economy. It's about immigration. And it's about the economy. First up, here's a survey from Pew Research about positive attitudes toward the economy:

Here's the interesting part. It's normal to assume that people think better of the economy when one of their own is president. But is it true? During the recovery from the Great Recession, Republicans consistently rated the economy worse than Democrats. When Trump took over, their views suddenly skyrocketed, with a full 61 percent now having a positive view of the economy. Apparently Republicans do indeed view the economy through a partisan lens.

If Democrats followed that pattern, their view of the economy would have plummeted in 2017. But it didn't. It went up again, at about the same rate as previous years. Democrats, it turns out, don't view the economy solely through a partisan lens. If you're looking for an explanation, my guess is Fox News and the rest of the conservative disinformation machine. You can take your own guess in comments.

And now for immigration. Last month, DHS Secretary John Kelly bragged that illegal border crossings were down. This month he crowed about it again. But a sharp-eyed reader pointed out that there's really nothing unusual about the latest numbers:

Border apprehensions in March have been on a steady downward trend for nearly two decades. This year's numbers are just following that trend. Last month I thought that President Trump's fear campaign might be having a real impact, but now I doubt it. There's no special reason at all to think that anything he's doing is having much effect at all.

UPDATE: The CBP apprehensions chart originally had the wrong number for 2017. The correct number is 16,600. The chart has been updated.