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Looking behind the numbers of the September jobs report

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 11:50 AM

As the Labor Department reported that the U.S. economy lost 33,000 jobs in the month of the September – possibly due to the impact of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma – the numbers behind that new jobs report did not seem to indicate a broader negative outlook for the U.S. economy, but it’s clear that economic growth still hasn’t moved into a higher gear as yet in the Trump Administration.

Here is some of what we learned:

1. This was the first monthly job loss since September 2010. Seven years. That’s how long it had been since the monthly jobs report went the wrong way, back during the second year of the Obama Administration. The loss of 33,000 jobs means the average monthly job growth so far in 2017 is just over 148,000 jobs. At this point in 2016, the average monthly job growth was just under 200,000 jobs. At this point in 2015, the average monthly job growth was 209,000 jobs. So, it’s clear that job growth so far during the Trump Administration has slowed from past years.

2. The unemployment rate headline was good. The national jobless rate dropped to 4.2 percent in September, which is the lowest since February of 2001, at the start of President George W. Bush’s Administration. The jobless rate did not go down because people were leaving the labor force – instead, the size of the labor force swelled by 575,000 people, which means many more people were actively looking for a job. The Labor Force Participation rate increased to 63.1 percent, the highest since March of 2014. So, those are strong numbers, despite the 33,000 job loss. But economists have long said that the economy needs monthly job growth of over 300,000 to help restore employment to many who suffered during the 2008-2009 downturn. And we haven’t been close to that.

3. The U6 rate lowest since June 2007. The broadest measure of unemployment is known as the U6 rate, which includes all unemployed, those who are working part time while looking for a full time job, and those who aren’t looking currently for a job – but still want one, and have worked in the last year. That rate dropped to 8.3 percent in September, the lowest U6 rate in over 10 years. That’s another good indicator about the psyche of the economy, and workers as well.

4. Where were the job losses and job gains? This is where we get into the impact of the hurricanes, according to the Labor Department. “Employment in food services and drinking places dropped sharply in September (-105,000), as many workers were off payrolls due to the recent hurricanes,” the report stated. One of the strongest areas of the U.S. economy continues to be in health care, which added 23,000 jobs in September. Manufacturing was flat, which was a change from the last year.

5. GOP calls for tax reform. As D.C. digested the first negative growth jobs report in seven years, Republicans in Congress reinforced their call for tax reform legislation, arguing a cut in rates will spur new economic growth, and help the economy create more jobs. “In the weeks ahead, the Ways and Means Committee will move forward with pro-growth, pro-middle-class tax reform legislation that Congress will ultimately send to the President’s desk this year, for the first time in 31 years,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX). Democrats meanwhile saw something different. “The U.S. economy is not working as it should for middle-class America,” said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY). One thing is for sure, this September jobs report was a curve ball for the markets.

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House Democrats release rebuttal intelligence memo on Russia probe

Published: Saturday, February 24, 2018 @ 12:38 PM

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Saturday released their redacted response to a Republican memo on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as Democrats charged that the GOP omitted numerous details about the FBI’s probe during the campaign for the White House.

“FBI and DOJ officials did not “abuse” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign,” the Democratic memo states.

“The FBI supplied information to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that Russia might be colluding with Trump campaign associates,” Democrats said in a press statement announcing the release of the memo, which had been held back earlier this month after the White House raised questions about details included in the ten page memo.

“Some time ago, Republicans on our committee released a declassified memo that omitted and distorted key facts in order to mislead the public and impugn the integrity of the FBI,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence panel.

“We can now tell you what they left out,” Schiff added.

Democrats said their rebuttal “should put to rest any concerns that the American people might have as to the conduct of the FBI, the Justice Department and the FISC,” as they said the evidence “failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical, or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement.”

Democrats not only countered that, but raised questions about the testimony of one-time Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, who was the focus of the original Republican memo, as the GOP raised questions about how surveillance had been approved of Page.

Democrats said the answer was not the information supplied by ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele.

Some portions of the document on those points were blacked out, or redacted.

You can read the full Democratic memo at this link.

Democrats also released a fact sheet to go with the memo.

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Outlook unclear at best in Congress as Trump pushes for actions to deter school shootings

Published: Saturday, February 24, 2018 @ 4:11 AM

In the wake of the recent mass shooting at a Florida high school, President Donald Trump on Saturday signaled again that he wants changes in background checks for those people who are buying firearms, as he emphasized his call for Congress to make a series of reforms to gun-related laws, also urging state and local officials to do more to toughen security at their schools.

“Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue – I hope!,” the President tweeted.

White House officials said Mr. Trump would again press his call for action on issues of school safety in coming days as he meets with the nation’s Governors, many of whom will be in Washington, D.C. for their yearly legislative conference.

But the question remains – what will the Congress do? Or what can Congress do?

1. Some details still murky on what the President wants to do. While the President has a ready list of items on which he is asking for action in the Congress, the exact details will determine how the Congress reacts. For example, Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he wants ‘comprehensive background checks with an emphasis on mental health’ – how that is structured is an extremely important point. While it may sound completely logical that someone who has mental issues should not be able to buy weapons, those details are not easily fleshed out.  While he has talked repeatedly about background checks, the President has never addressed the issue of private gun sales – what is sometimes referred to as the ‘gun show loophole’ – which is something members in both parties have talked about dealing with for several years.   At a Friday news conference with the Prime Minister of Australia, here’s how the President set out what he wants accomplished:

2. The push for the “Fix NICS” bill. Even before the Florida school shooting, there was a bipartisan effort to make some changes to ensure that more information is funneled into the background check system for gun buyers, whether it’s on mental health, or military charges which would disqualify someone who wants to buy a firearm. The House already passed the “Fix NICS” bill – but it was combined with another measure that approved a national “Concealed Carry” effort, which would allow anyone with a legal permit to carry a concealed weapon to do that in any state – even if that state has different laws and regulations governing such conduct. While that combination was approved by the House, it seems doomed in the Senate, and it is one reason that some lawmakers are now pressing for action on just the “Fix NICS” plan, which the President has endorsed.

3. How much would the Congress really do under Trump’s plans? This is a question that’s up for debate. Think of the President’s call for certain teachers or administrators to carry concealed weapons at schools – that seems more of a state and local matter than something which would be legislated by the Congress. Increasing security measures at schools – the Congress could deliver aid, but the idea of approving new spending is not exactly a popular item with some Republicans right now in the House and Senate. Changing the age of purchase for certain weapons like an AR-15 might sound attractive to some, but that is guaranteed to be controversial as well in Congress – especially when states might be able to take that same step on their own. The “gun violence restraining order” is another idea that’s popped up as a way to keep the mentally ill from access to firearms – but is that better done by state legislatures instead of the Congress?

4. There has been some movement in Congress – but not much. Yes, we have examples of members of Congress who have changed their position on certain gun issues, but by no means has there been an upheaval on Capitol Hill in the wake of the Florida school shooting, just like there was no major change after past school shootings. Yes, the President has talked to House and Senate leaders about the gun issue – but don’t expect gun legislation to be on the floor next week or anything. Here is one GOP lawmaker who said he wants to revisit that ban – but that’s just one.

5. The outlook for the short-term – more of the same. While the Florida school shooting has energized younger Americans and their call for action, there is no sense that Republicans are about to dramatically change course on guns. As someone who has covered the gun debates since the 1980’s in Congress, the House and Senate right now have large majorities in favor of gun rights – and it has been that way since Democrats pushed through the Brady law and an assault weapons ban back in the early 1990’s. Change could always happen – but as of now, it’s hard to see that occurring in 2018.

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Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleads guilty in Mueller investigation

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 2:39 PM
Updated: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 2:53 PM

What You Need To Know: Rick Gates

Rick Gates, a former aide in President Donald Trump's campaign, pleaded guilty to making false statements and conspiring against the United States on Friday, making him the fifth person to enter a guilty plea in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

READ MORE: Paul Manafort, Rick Gates face new charges: report | Mueller investigation: Lawyer pleads guilty to lying to investigators in Russia probeWho is Rick Gates and why was he indicted by Robert Mueller?Who is Paul Manafort, the man indicted in Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation?What are Paul Manafort and Rick Gates charged with?MORE

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Third Trump Campaign official pleads guilty in Russia investigation

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 9:55 AM

Former Trump Campaign aide Rick Gates pleaded guilty in a Washington, D.C. federal court on Friday to a pair of charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, becoming the third person from the President’s 2016 campaign to accept a plea bargain with investigators, who are probing Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

For weeks, news reports had said that Gates was under pressure to agree to cooperate with prosecutors, as he was the one-time right hand man to former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort. The feds say both men engaged in extensive efforts to avoid reporting millions of dollars in income from political work done for a pro-Russian leaders in Ukraine.

In new documents filed earlier in the day, the feds again set out a highly detailed and extensive series of financial transactions by Manafort, Gates – and several unnamed conspirators – to funnel “millions of dollars in payments” into foreign companies and bank accounts around the world.

Along with pleading guilty to charges of defrauding the United States by conspiring to avoid taxes on millions of dollars in payments , Gates acknowledged in this plea bargain to lying to investigators – just three weeks ago.

One additional note – on that day that Gates lied to investigators, February 1, his original attorney filed a motion with a federal judge to immediately withdraw as Gates’ lawyer.

The reason wasn’t known – as the details were filed under seal, and kept secret.

Gates is the fifth person to publicly plead guilty to a charge in the Mueller investigation; none of the allegations leveled by the feds against either Manafort or Gates have centered on Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Gates also becomes the third member of the Trump Campaign to plead guilty in this probe, joining foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

The plea bargain would seem to ratchet up the pressure on Manafort, as the two men have worked together for many years in the private sector as political consultants and lobbyists, and then for Mr. Trump in 2016.

Gates was originally indicted along with Manafort in late October 2017 on a 12-count indictment covering money laundering, false statements, and not registering as a foreign agent.

A superseding indictment was filed Thursday afternoon against Manafort and Gates, 32 criminal counts which featured charges of income tax evasion, bank fraud, and conspiracy.


In the latest indictment, the feds charge that Manafort and Gates made “tens of millions” of dollars
from their work with a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, and then “engaged in a scheme to hide income from United States authorities.”

The plea bargain by Gates comes a week after a federal grand jury indicted a group of Russians, as the feds set out the details of a well-financed operation that used social media to mainly support the candidacy of President Trump, and raise questions about the bid of Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton.

This was the reaction from Manafort to the Gates plea.

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