December’s Job Numbers Were Massively Better Than Expected

U.S. employers added the most workers in 10 months as wage gains accelerated and labor-force participation jumped, reflecting a robust job market that nevertheless faces mounting risks in 2019.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 312,000 in December, easily topping all forecasts, after an upwardly revised 176,000 gain the prior month, a Labor Department report showed Friday. Average hourly earnings rose 3.2 percent from a year earlier, more than projected and matching the fastest pace since 2009. Meanwhile, the jobless rate rose from a five-decade low to 3.9 percent, reflecting more people actively seeking work.

The hiring and wage gains will support consumer spending and offer some respite after a spate of weak economic data and cuts in corporate revenue forecasts fueled stock-market jitters. Still, it may be hard to replicate such labor-market strength in 2019 amid the U.S.-China tariff war, softening manufacturing, a housing slowdown and a projected cooling in global growth.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is scheduled to speak later Friday morning in Atlanta. While the report is in line with the Fed’s view of a healthy job market and officials last month penciled in two interest-rate hikes for 2019, the central bank may need more evidence of strength before moving forward with the next increase following four in 2018.

Before Friday’s report, investors had begun betting that policy makers will instead end up cutting borrowing costs.

The figures brought the 2018 payrolls gain to 2.64 million. Economists expect the pace of gains will ease this year, consistent with their forecasts that gross domestic product growth will moderate amid the trade war and a fading boost from the Trump administration’s tax cuts.

Broad Strength

The labor strength spanned most industries, including the biggest gain in construction since February, and the most manufacturing jobs added in a year. Private service providers boosted payrolls by 227,000, the most in more than a year, amid gains in education and health services, leisure and hospitality, and retail.

While the unemployment rate increased to a five-month high, it may not be much of a concern because the participation rate rose to 63.1 percent — the highest since September 2017 — from 62.9 percent. The jobless rate remains well below the level that central bankers consider sustainable in the long run.

Average hourly earnings for all private workers rose 0.4 percent from the prior month following a 0.2 percent gain, the report showed. The annual increase followed a 3.1 percent advance.

Another measure, average hourly earnings for production and non- supervisory workers, increased 3.3 percent from a year earlier.While worker pay has risen very gradually during most of the economic expansion, companies have been competing more vigorously in recent months to attract and retain workers.

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Private payrolls rose by 301,000, well above the median estimate of 185,000. Government payrolls increased by 11,000. The employment-population ratio, another broad gauge of labor-market health, was unchanged at 60.6 percent. The average workweek increased to 34.5 hours from 34.4 hours in the prior month; a shorter workweek has the effect of boosting average hourly pay. The U-6, or underemployment rate, was unchanged at 7.6 percent. This measure includes part-time workers who want a full-time job and people who are less active in seeking work. In annual revisions to data based on the household survey, the unemployment rate for October was increased to 3.8 percent from 3.7 percent. Labor Department economic releases are proceeding as scheduled, as the agency isn’t part of the partial federal- government shutdown.

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How Could You Impeach a President as Successful as Me, Trump Asks

(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump pushed back Friday against some Democrats’ calls to impeach him, saying they’re only seeking impeachment because they know they can’t win the White House in 2020.“How do you impeach a president who has won perhaps the greatest election of all time, done nothing wrong” and has had the “most successful two years of any president,” Trump tweeted. He said he’s “the most popular Republican in party history.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been cautious about whether her new Democratic majority would ever impeach Trump, but at least two of her members are ready to move forward. California Rep. Brad Sherman and Texas Rep. Al Green introduced articles of impeachment against Trump on Thursday, the first day of the new Congress.

Sherman and Green pushed to impeach Trump in 2017 and 2018 but the House blocked those resolutions twice, with the help of Democrats who said the effort was premature. Pelosi hasn’t ruled out impeachment but has called it a “divisive activity” that needs support from both parties.She and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., have said they want to wait for the outcome of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and contacts with the Trump campaign.Trump said his campaign did not collude with Russia.”They only want to impeach me because they know they can’t win in 2020, too much success!” Trump tweeted.

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Ellen DeGeneres Says She Wants Kevin Hart to Be the Oscars Host Despite Homophobic Comments

Ellen DeGeneres said she wants Kevin Hart to be the host of the 2019 Academy Awards – despite the revelation of homophobic comments that he posted on social media.

The Ellen Show host, one of the first openly lesbian Hollywood stars, announced her support for Hart after a candid interview on her talk show in which he apologized again for the remarks.

“I believe in forgiveness. I believe in second chances. And I believe in Kevin Hart,” DeGeneres wrote on Twitter Friday.

During the interview – set to air Friday – Hart said that when homophobic slurs and jokes he had made “a decade ago” resurfaced in December, when it was announced he would be hosting the Oscars, he was unwilling to apologize because he had already “addressed” his past homophobia.

In the end, he stood down and later apologized again for his comments – which included saying in 2010 that one of his biggest fears was his son growing up to be gay. Some of his now-deleted homophobic tweets were posted in 2011, according to BuzzFeed News.

“When it happened,” he said of his comments resurfacing, “my first thought is, I’m going to ignore it because it’s ten years old. This is stuff I’ve addressed, I’ve talked about this. This isn’t new,” he said. “I’ve apologized for it.”

He went on, “I’ve taken 10 years to put that apology to work … I look at life through a different lens, and because of that I live it a different way … I don’t joke like that any more. Because that was wrong.”

“I know you’re not that guy, because I know you,” said Ellen, after a long period where she allowed Hart to talk uninterrupted. “The night will be about you, and it should be about you, and you should host the Oscars.”

A source told People magazine on Thursday that the Academy was considering asking Hart back after the controversy.

But some Twitter users were not convinced. “It’s depressing that Ellen’s enthusiasm for Hart hosting the Oscars … led her to contribute to a narrative that Hart is the victim of “haters” & “trolls” out to “destroy” him,” said Adam Vary, a journalist for BuzzFeed and one of the Twitter users who highlighted Hart’s homophobia when it was first announced he would be hosting the Oscars.

“LGBT people who love the Oscars were legitimately startled to see just how harsh his words were,” Vary said.

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Here’s How to Watch the 2019 Golden Globes

With the new year officially here, the 2019 awards season is about to get into full swing. The 76th annual Golden Globes will kick off the festivities on Jan. 6 with a celebration of 2018’s best work in both film and television, including Vice, Adam McKay’s film about Dick Cheney that leads this year’s movie nominations with six nods.

Buzzy movies like Green Book, The Favourite and A Star Is Born are all nipping at the heels of Vice with five movie nominations each while The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story leads the television pack with four nods. Sharp Objects, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Barry are among the TV series that received two nominations apiece.

Brooklyn 99‘s Andy Samberg and Killing Eve star Sandra Oh — who is nominated for Best Television Performance by an Actress — are set to host the 2019 Golden Globes ceremony, which will be broadcast live from the Beverly Hilton hotel on NBC starting at 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST on Sunday.

Here’s how to watch or stream the 2019 Golden Globes.

How to watch the Golden Globes red carpet

Both E! and NBC will broadcast the 2019 Golden Globes red carpet live, with E!’s Live From the Red Carpet special beginning at 6 p.m. EST/3 p.m. PST while NBC’s coverage kicks off at 7 p.m. EST/4 p.m. PST on Sunday, Jan. 6. If you have a cable login, you can also stream the networks’ red carpet coverage on or the NBC app, or, respectively.

How to watch the Golden Globes ceremony on TV

The 2019 Golden Globes ceremony will air live on NBC on Sunday, Jan. 6 starting at 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST. The telecast will likely last for approximately three hours and end at around 11 p.m. EST/8 p.m. PST.

How to stream the Golden Globes ceremony

Anyone with a cable login can stream the 2019 Golden Globes ceremony on or the NBC app at 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST. A number of streaming services, including Sling TV, Hulu Live TV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, Century Link Stream and Fubo TV, will also offer streams of the telecast.

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Trump’s Withdrawal of U.S. Troops From Syria Will Boost Iran’s Fortunes

President Donald Trump’s sudden announcement in December that the U.S. would withdraw troops from Syria came at a time when Washington seemed to finally be developing a strategy to tackle the Syrian conflict that went beyond prioritizing fighting ISIS. It was not Syria that was the focus of this new strategy; it was Iran. While former President Barack Obama had pursued a softer approach to Iran that used the nuclear deal as a means of warding off potential Iranian threat to Israel and to nudge Iran towards playing by international rules, Trump views Iran as a destabilizing source in the Middle East.

Until he made the announcement about the US withdrawal from Syria, Trump had cast Syria as one of Iran’s venues for regional destabilization. His appointment of Ambassador James Jeffrey — who under George W. Bush had served as deputy national security advisor with a special focus on Iran — in August 2018 as Syria Special Envoy sparked the design of a U.S. strategy for Syria that foregrounded Iran. Two key components of this strategy — masterminded by Jeffrey — are increasing economic pressure on Iran to force it to roll back its activities in the region, and keeping American troops in Syria to limit both Iran’s access to oil fields in northeast Syria and its activities on the strategically important neighboring border with Iraq.

The withdrawal announcement put a stick in that wheel. A hasty withdrawal would empower Iran not just in Syria but also more widely.

Trump justified the announcement as delivering his election campaign promise to bring back troops from Syria. But implementing this promise before a resolution to the Syrian conflict is reached is akin to shooting oneself in the foot. Trump’s declaration on Jan. 2 that Iran “can do what they want in Syria” shows that he has come to regard Iran’s actions in Syria as distinct from its other regional activities. Yet, an imminent U.S. withdrawal from Syria would end up contradicting another of Trump’s very own campaign promises, which is to stand up to Iran’s influence in the Middle East.

After a meeting with Senator Lindsey Graham, Trump appeared to backtrack on the timing of the withdrawal, adding on Jan. 2, that the withdrawal would actually happen “over a period of time.” Graham and Trump may not see eye to eye on a number of issues — Saudi Arabia being one — but they are aligned on wanting to weaken Iran’s regional influence. Graham was one of the vocal opponents to the nuclear deal and strongly supported Trump’s decision to withdraw from it. In May 2018, Graham’s statement that “Iran has used the funds provided by the sanctions relief to enhance their military capability and create havoc throughout the Middle East” could have been taken from the Trump election campaign book. But any progress on the timing of the withdrawal as a result of the meeting with Senator Graham would be annulled by Trump’s isolating Syria from the wider regional context.

The area in northeast Syria where U.S. troops in Syria are deployed is highly coveted by Iran. It is rich in oil and is near the border with Iraq through which Iran has been sending into Syria its allied Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militias under the pretext of fighting ISIS. It is in Iran’s interest for the Syrian-Iraqi border to be porous.

The presence of American troops in the area limits these militias’ freedom of movement. It also blocks Iran’s access to the area’s oil fields. As things currently stand in Syria, were the U.S. to withdraw from the north-east, Iran will be able to use the area’s oil revenue to offset some of the economic losses it is incurring following the American reinstatement of sanctions after Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal.

Some see in Trump’s announcement an expectation that Russia and the Bashar Assad regime would eventually veer away from Iran. This expectation is based on Russia’s growing competition with Iran over influence in Syria and the pro-Assad camp’s preference for Russia over Iran because Russia channels its influence through strengthening state institutions in Syria, in contrast to Iran’s approach to achieving influence through keeping Syrian state institutions weak. But neither Russia nor the Assad regime is able to completely reign in Iran’s activities in Syria. Their partnership with Iran can loosen in the long run if pressure on Iran in Syria increases and it becomes more of a liability than an asset for its two current allies. An imminent U.S. withdrawal, however, would give Iran time and space to consolidate its presence and access to resources and eventually make it more difficult for Russia and Assad to detangle Syria from Iran. This would be bad news for Israel’s security.

This was not the first time that Trump made a hasty announcement that alarms Israel. In March 2018, Trump had made a similar declaration about withdrawing from Syria, only to change his mind 48 hours later following intensive lobbying by pro-Israeli advisors in his close circle who, according to sources in Washington, managed to convince him that the time was not yet ripe for such a move because Israel’s security would be at stake.

The U.S. withdrawal could also give ISIS an opportunity to regenerate. According to the French Minister of Defence, allies of the United States in the international anti-ISIS coalition will not be able to realistically or effectively continue the work of the coalition on their own. This would also be the end of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-majority local Syrian forces who are the coalition’s partners in the battle against ISIS. They would be left to fight ISIS without crucial American ground support while also being vulnerable to attack by Turkey, which considers them to be linked with the Turkish terrorist-classified Kurdish group, the PKK.

Such developments can only pave the way for ISIS to take advantage of this vacuum. The more resurgent ISIS becomes, the more reasons Iran has to increase the number of its affiliated militias that are sent to Syria to fight ISIS (and with no U.S. troops standing in the way), especially with the PMF now playing a lesser military role in Iraq after the general military defeat of ISIS there. A more active PMF, in turn, would strengthen Iran’s position in Iraq as well.

Withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria imminently would weaken America’s anti-ISIS coalition allies, grant a lifeline to ISIS, threaten Israel, and empower Iran. In the end, it would undermine Trump’s own promises and goals, boosting Iran’s fortunes instead.

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