US Adds Strong 201K Jobs; Unemployment Stays at 3.9 Percent

Hiring picked up in August as U.S. employers added a strong 201,000 jobs, a sign of confidence that consumers and businesses will keep spending despite the Trump administration’s conflicts with U.S. trading partners.

The Labor Department said Friday the unemployment rate remained 3.9 percent, near an 18-year low. 

Americans’ paychecks grew at a faster pace in August. Average hourly wages rose last month and are now 2.9 percent higher than they were a year earlier, the fastest year-over-year gain in eight years. Still, after adjusting for inflation, pay has been flat for the past year.

The economy is expanding steadily, fueled by tax cuts, confident consumers, greater business investment in equipment and more government spending. Growth reached 4.2 percent at an annual rate in the April-June quarter, the fastest pace in four years.

Most analysts have forecast that the economy will expand at an annual pace of at least 3 percent in the current July-September quarter. For the full year, the economy is on track to grow 3 percent for the first time since 2005. 

Consumer confidence rose in August to its highest level in nearly 18 years. Most Americans feel that jobs are widely available and expect the economy to remain healthy in the coming months, according to the Conference Board’s consumer confidence survey.

The buoyant mood is lifting spending on everything from cars to restaurant meals to clothes. Consumers’ enthusiasm is even boosting such brick-and-mortar store chains as Target, Walmart and Best Buy, which have posted strong sales gains despite intensifying competition from online retailers.

In August, factories expanded at their quickest pace in 14 years, according to a survey of purchasing managers. A manufacturing index compiled by a trade group reached its highest point since 2004. Measures of new orders and production surged, and factories added jobs at a faster pace than in July.

Not all the economic news has been positive. Higher mortgage rates and years of rapid price increases are slowing the housing market. Sales of existing homes dropped in July for a fourth straight month.

And wages are still rising only modestly, even after more than nine years of economic expansion and an ultra-low unemployment rate.

Many economists also worry President Donald Trump will soon follow through on a threat to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on $200 billion of imports from China. That would be in addition to $50 billion in duties already imposed. That move could shave as much as a quarter-point off growth over the next year, Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, has estimated. 

For now, there’s little sign that companies are worried enough about a trade war to slow hiring. Businesses are increasingly reluctant to even lay off workers, in part because it would be difficult to replace them at a time when qualified job applicants have become harder to find.

On Thursday, the government said the number of people seeking unemployment benefits — a proxy for layoffs — amounted to just 203,000 last week, the fewest total in 49 years.

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US Adds Strong 201K Jobs; Unemployment Stays at 3.9 Percent

Hiring picked up in August as U.S. employers added a strong 201,000 jobs, a sign of confidence that consumers and businesses will keep spending despite the Trump administration’s conflicts with U.S. trading partners.

The Labor Department said Friday the unemployment rate remained 3.9 percent, near an 18-year low. 

Americans’ paychecks grew at a faster pace in August. Average hourly wages rose last month and are now 2.9 percent higher than they were a year earlier, the fastest year-over-year gain in eight years. Still, after adjusting for inflation, pay has been flat for the past year.

The economy is expanding steadily, fueled by tax cuts, confident consumers, greater business investment in equipment and more government spending. Growth reached 4.2 percent at an annual rate in the April-June quarter, the fastest pace in four years.

Most analysts have forecast that the economy will expand at an annual pace of at least 3 percent in the current July-September quarter. For the full year, the economy is on track to grow 3 percent for the first time since 2005. 

Consumer confidence rose in August to its highest level in nearly 18 years. Most Americans feel that jobs are widely available and expect the economy to remain healthy in the coming months, according to the Conference Board’s consumer confidence survey.

The buoyant mood is lifting spending on everything from cars to restaurant meals to clothes. Consumers’ enthusiasm is even boosting such brick-and-mortar store chains as Target, Walmart and Best Buy, which have posted strong sales gains despite intensifying competition from online retailers.

In August, factories expanded at their quickest pace in 14 years, according to a survey of purchasing managers. A manufacturing index compiled by a trade group reached its highest point since 2004. Measures of new orders and production surged, and factories added jobs at a faster pace than in July.

Not all the economic news has been positive. Higher mortgage rates and years of rapid price increases are slowing the housing market. Sales of existing homes dropped in July for a fourth straight month.

And wages are still rising only modestly, even after more than nine years of economic expansion and an ultra-low unemployment rate.

Many economists also worry President Donald Trump will soon follow through on a threat to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on $200 billion of imports from China. That would be in addition to $50 billion in duties already imposed. That move could shave as much as a quarter-point off growth over the next year, Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, has estimated. 

For now, there’s little sign that companies are worried enough about a trade war to slow hiring. Businesses are increasingly reluctant to even lay off workers, in part because it would be difficult to replace them at a time when qualified job applicants have become harder to find.

On Thursday, the government said the number of people seeking unemployment benefits — a proxy for layoffs — amounted to just 203,000 last week, the fewest total in 49 years.

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Trump Officials Denounce Anonymous Attack From ‘The Quiet Resistance’

Top officials within the Trump administration, from Vice President Mike Pence to several key Cabinet members, have denied that they authored an anonymous opinion piece in the New York Times critical of President Donald Trump’s leadership. Publication of the column has set off a furious debate in Washington about the Trump presidency and a high-stakes guessing game as to who the mysterious dissident voice may be. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

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Trump Officials Denounce Anonymous Attack From ‘The Quiet Resistance’

Top officials within the Trump administration, from Vice President Mike Pence to several key Cabinet members, have denied that they authored an anonymous opinion piece in the New York Times critical of President Donald Trump’s leadership. Publication of the column has set off a furious debate in Washington about the Trump presidency and a high-stakes guessing game as to who the mysterious dissident voice may be. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

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Times’ Decision to Publish Anonymous Column Carries Risks

The coup of publishing a column by an anonymous Trump administration official bashing the boss could backfire on The New York Times if the author is unmasked and turns out to be a little-known person, or if the newspaper’s own reporters solve the puzzle.

Within hours of the essay’s appearance on the paper’s website, the mystery of the writer’s identity began to rival the Watergate-era hunt for “Deep Throat” in Washington, and a parade of Trump team members issued statements Thursday saying, in effect, “It’s not me.”

The Times’ only clue was calling the author a “senior administration official.” James Dao, the newspaper’s op-ed editor, said in the Times’ daily podcast that while an intermediary brought him together with the author, he conducted a background check and spoke to the person to the point that he was “totally confident” in the identity.

How large the pool of “senior administration officials” is in Washington is a matter of interpretation.

It’s a term used loosely around the White House. Press offices often release statements or offer background briefings and ask that the information be attributed to a senior administration official.

The Partnership for Public Services tracks approximately 700 senior positions in government, ones that require Senate confirmation. Paul Light, a New York University professor and expert on the federal bureaucracy, said about 50 people could have legitimately written the column — probably someone in a political position appointed by Trump.

He suspects the author is in either a Cabinet-level or deputy secretary position who frequently visits the White House or someone who works in the maze of offices in the West Wing.

Perhaps not

Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, tweeted that, based on her experience with the Times and sourcing, “this person could easily be someone most of us have never heard of and more junior than you’d expect.”

That would be a problem for the Times, partly through no fault of its own, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, communications professor and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The column attracted so much attention — as much for its existence as for what it actually said — that it raised the expectation that the author is someone powerful, she said.

If the person is not among the 20 top people in the administration, “the Times just gets creamed,” said Tom Bettag, a veteran news producer and now a University of Maryland journalism instructor. “And I think it gets held against them in the biggest possible way. I have enough respect for the Times to believe that they wouldn’t hold themselves up to that.”

It would look like the Times was trying to stir the pot if it were not a high-level person, said Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet the Press.

Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post, told Todd on MSNBC that if the author had come to the Post it would provoke a serious discussion, because the newspaper has not in the past run anonymous op-ed columns. She said no one approached the Post to hawk the column.

“When you give someone anonymity on this, you are putting your credibility on the line,” Marcus said.

News organizations have different standards for using information from unnamed sources. Frequently, they try to give some indication of why the person would be in a position to know something — the senior administration official, for example — and why anonymity was granted. In this case, the newspaper considered that the person’s job would clearly be at risk and that the person could even be physically threatened, Dao said.

He did not see much difference in the use of anonymity in news and opinion pages.

Longtime Trump target

The Times has long been a target of President Donald Trump’s vitriol. He criticized the newspaper for printing the column and said the Times should reveal its source for reasons of national security.

“There’s nothing in the piece that strikes me as being relevant to or undermining the national security,” Dao said.

The newspaper maintains a strict policy of separation between its news and opinion side, and the decision to publish the column without identifying the author was made by Dao and his boss, editorial page editor James Bennet, in consultation with publisher A.G. Sulzberger. The paper’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, is responsible for the news side and was not part of the decision.

Few people at the paper know the writer’s identity, Dao said, and he could not see any circumstances under which it would be divulged.

The Times’ own news story about the column said the author’s identity was “known to the Times’ editorial page department but not to the reporters who cover the White House.”

Like hundreds of other reporters in Washington, the Times’ news staff is trying to find out the writer’s name. If the Times learns the identity, it could raise serious questions about the newspaper’s ability to protect a confidential source among people who don’t know — or don’t believe — that one part of the newspaper will keep important information away from another.

“You could write a novel about this,” said Jamieson, author of the upcoming Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President. “If they engage in successful journalism, at some level they discredit themselves.” 

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Times’ Decision to Publish Anonymous Column Carries Risks

The coup of publishing a column by an anonymous Trump administration official bashing the boss could backfire on The New York Times if the author is unmasked and turns out to be a little-known person, or if the newspaper’s own reporters solve the puzzle.

Within hours of the essay’s appearance on the paper’s website, the mystery of the writer’s identity began to rival the Watergate-era hunt for “Deep Throat” in Washington, and a parade of Trump team members issued statements Thursday saying, in effect, “It’s not me.”

The Times’ only clue was calling the author a “senior administration official.” James Dao, the newspaper’s op-ed editor, said in the Times’ daily podcast that while an intermediary brought him together with the author, he conducted a background check and spoke to the person to the point that he was “totally confident” in the identity.

How large the pool of “senior administration officials” is in Washington is a matter of interpretation.

It’s a term used loosely around the White House. Press offices often release statements or offer background briefings and ask that the information be attributed to a senior administration official.

The Partnership for Public Services tracks approximately 700 senior positions in government, ones that require Senate confirmation. Paul Light, a New York University professor and expert on the federal bureaucracy, said about 50 people could have legitimately written the column — probably someone in a political position appointed by Trump.

He suspects the author is in either a Cabinet-level or deputy secretary position who frequently visits the White House or someone who works in the maze of offices in the West Wing.

Perhaps not

Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, tweeted that, based on her experience with the Times and sourcing, “this person could easily be someone most of us have never heard of and more junior than you’d expect.”

That would be a problem for the Times, partly through no fault of its own, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, communications professor and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The column attracted so much attention — as much for its existence as for what it actually said — that it raised the expectation that the author is someone powerful, she said.

If the person is not among the 20 top people in the administration, “the Times just gets creamed,” said Tom Bettag, a veteran news producer and now a University of Maryland journalism instructor. “And I think it gets held against them in the biggest possible way. I have enough respect for the Times to believe that they wouldn’t hold themselves up to that.”

It would look like the Times was trying to stir the pot if it were not a high-level person, said Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet the Press.

Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post, told Todd on MSNBC that if the author had come to the Post it would provoke a serious discussion, because the newspaper has not in the past run anonymous op-ed columns. She said no one approached the Post to hawk the column.

“When you give someone anonymity on this, you are putting your credibility on the line,” Marcus said.

News organizations have different standards for using information from unnamed sources. Frequently, they try to give some indication of why the person would be in a position to know something — the senior administration official, for example — and why anonymity was granted. In this case, the newspaper considered that the person’s job would clearly be at risk and that the person could even be physically threatened, Dao said.

He did not see much difference in the use of anonymity in news and opinion pages.

Longtime Trump target

The Times has long been a target of President Donald Trump’s vitriol. He criticized the newspaper for printing the column and said the Times should reveal its source for reasons of national security.

“There’s nothing in the piece that strikes me as being relevant to or undermining the national security,” Dao said.

The newspaper maintains a strict policy of separation between its news and opinion side, and the decision to publish the column without identifying the author was made by Dao and his boss, editorial page editor James Bennet, in consultation with publisher A.G. Sulzberger. The paper’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, is responsible for the news side and was not part of the decision.

Few people at the paper know the writer’s identity, Dao said, and he could not see any circumstances under which it would be divulged.

The Times’ own news story about the column said the author’s identity was “known to the Times’ editorial page department but not to the reporters who cover the White House.”

Like hundreds of other reporters in Washington, the Times’ news staff is trying to find out the writer’s name. If the Times learns the identity, it could raise serious questions about the newspaper’s ability to protect a confidential source among people who don’t know — or don’t believe — that one part of the newspaper will keep important information away from another.

“You could write a novel about this,” said Jamieson, author of the upcoming Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President. “If they engage in successful journalism, at some level they discredit themselves.” 

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Feds Lift Roadblock to Copper Mining Near Boundary Waters

The Trump administration on Thursday lifted a roadblock to copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northeastern Minnesota, reversing a decision made in the final days of the Obama administration.

The Obama administration in late 2016 withdrew around 234,000 acres of the Rainy River watershed near Ely from eligibility for mineral leasing pending a two-year study, citing the potential threat from acid mine drainage to the nearby Boundary Waters, the country’s most-visited wilderness area. The move could have led to a 20-year ban on mining and prospecting on the land.

The most immediate beneficiary is Twin Metals Minnesota, which hopes to build a copper-nickel-precious metals mine south of Ely. It plans to submit its first formal mining plan to regulators in the next 18 months.

The land is part of the Superior National Forest, which is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service, an agency under the Department of Agriculture. The USDA canceled the withdrawal Thursday, saying its review revealed no new scientific information and that interested companies may soon be able to sign mineral leases in the area.

“It’s our duty as responsible stewards of our environment to maintain and protect our natural resources. At the same time, we must put our national forests to work for the taxpayers to support local economies and create jobs,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.

The decision had been expected. President Donald Trump said at a campaign rally in Duluth in June that his administration would soon rescind the withdrawal.

The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, The Wilderness Society and allied groups denounced the decision as a sellout to foreign corporate interests. They blasted the agency for failing to complete the study, despite Perdue’s assurances to a congressional committee in May 2017 that it would and that no decision would be made until it was finished.

“The Trump Administration broke its word to us, to Congress, and to the American people when it said it would finish the environmental assessment and base decisions on facts and science,” Alex Falconer, executive director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said in a statement.

Forest Service spokesman Brady Smith said the agency determined that there was no need to complete the assessment, based on what it had learned over the last 15 months. But he said the Forest Service met its obligations to conduct a scientific analysis that included multiple opportunities for public feedback.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, the lead Democrat on a subcommittee that funds the Forest Service, issued a statement accusing Perdue of breaking his promise to her panel, “bending to political pressure from a foreign mining company and abandoning sound science.” She said Perdue’s word “cannot be trusted.”

But Twin Metals, which is owned by the Chilean mining company Antofagasta, welcomed the decision, which will also give a freer hand to other companies that have conducted exploratory drilling in the area.

“This important action ensures that federal lands that have been open to responsible mining activity for decades will remain open, offering the Iron Range region the potential for thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in economic growth,” Twin Metals CEO Kelly Osborne said in a statement.

The Trump administration in May reinstated two key mineral leases for Twin Metals that the Obama administration had declined to renew. Environmental groups are challenging that decision in court.

The Twin Metals project is not as advanced as the planned PolyMet mine, which would become Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine if it gets final approval of its permits. PolyMet sits several miles away in a different watershed.

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Feds Lift Roadblock to Copper Mining Near Boundary Waters

The Trump administration on Thursday lifted a roadblock to copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northeastern Minnesota, reversing a decision made in the final days of the Obama administration.

The Obama administration in late 2016 withdrew around 234,000 acres of the Rainy River watershed near Ely from eligibility for mineral leasing pending a two-year study, citing the potential threat from acid mine drainage to the nearby Boundary Waters, the country’s most-visited wilderness area. The move could have led to a 20-year ban on mining and prospecting on the land.

The most immediate beneficiary is Twin Metals Minnesota, which hopes to build a copper-nickel-precious metals mine south of Ely. It plans to submit its first formal mining plan to regulators in the next 18 months.

The land is part of the Superior National Forest, which is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service, an agency under the Department of Agriculture. The USDA canceled the withdrawal Thursday, saying its review revealed no new scientific information and that interested companies may soon be able to sign mineral leases in the area.

“It’s our duty as responsible stewards of our environment to maintain and protect our natural resources. At the same time, we must put our national forests to work for the taxpayers to support local economies and create jobs,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.

The decision had been expected. President Donald Trump said at a campaign rally in Duluth in June that his administration would soon rescind the withdrawal.

The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, The Wilderness Society and allied groups denounced the decision as a sellout to foreign corporate interests. They blasted the agency for failing to complete the study, despite Perdue’s assurances to a congressional committee in May 2017 that it would and that no decision would be made until it was finished.

“The Trump Administration broke its word to us, to Congress, and to the American people when it said it would finish the environmental assessment and base decisions on facts and science,” Alex Falconer, executive director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said in a statement.

Forest Service spokesman Brady Smith said the agency determined that there was no need to complete the assessment, based on what it had learned over the last 15 months. But he said the Forest Service met its obligations to conduct a scientific analysis that included multiple opportunities for public feedback.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, the lead Democrat on a subcommittee that funds the Forest Service, issued a statement accusing Perdue of breaking his promise to her panel, “bending to political pressure from a foreign mining company and abandoning sound science.” She said Perdue’s word “cannot be trusted.”

But Twin Metals, which is owned by the Chilean mining company Antofagasta, welcomed the decision, which will also give a freer hand to other companies that have conducted exploratory drilling in the area.

“This important action ensures that federal lands that have been open to responsible mining activity for decades will remain open, offering the Iron Range region the potential for thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in economic growth,” Twin Metals CEO Kelly Osborne said in a statement.

The Trump administration in May reinstated two key mineral leases for Twin Metals that the Obama administration had declined to renew. Environmental groups are challenging that decision in court.

The Twin Metals project is not as advanced as the planned PolyMet mine, which would become Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine if it gets final approval of its permits. PolyMet sits several miles away in a different watershed.

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Twitter Bans Jones, ‘Infowars,’ Citing Abuse

Twitter has permanently banned far-right media personality Alex Jones for violating its policy against “abusive behavior.”

Jones, who is known as a conspiracy theorist, has about 900,000 followers on Twitter. His Infowars website has hundreds of thousands of followers, as well.

Twitter accused Jones of violating its policy after he was seen on television berating and insulting a CNN reporter waiting to enter congressional hearings on social media policies.

Jones called the reporter a smiling “possum caught doing some really nasty stuff” and also made fun of his clothes.

Twitter had previously suspended Jones’ account, but now he is banned from posting on the social media site.

Jones has yet to comment.

Jones is one of the country’s most controversial media figures, known for saying the President George W. Bush White House was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He also called the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre a fake. Some of the parents of the murdered children are suing Jones.

The congressional hearings were focused on whether such social media sites as Google and Facebook are prepared against fake foreign accounts that may be aimed at influencing U.S. elections.

The hearings came just after President Donald Trump accused Google’s search engine of being biased against him.

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Twitter Bans Jones, ‘Infowars,’ Citing Abuse

Twitter has permanently banned far-right media personality Alex Jones for violating its policy against “abusive behavior.”

Jones, who is known as a conspiracy theorist, has about 900,000 followers on Twitter. His Infowars website has hundreds of thousands of followers, as well.

Twitter accused Jones of violating its policy after he was seen on television berating and insulting a CNN reporter waiting to enter congressional hearings on social media policies.

Jones called the reporter a smiling “possum caught doing some really nasty stuff” and also made fun of his clothes.

Twitter had previously suspended Jones’ account, but now he is banned from posting on the social media site.

Jones has yet to comment.

Jones is one of the country’s most controversial media figures, known for saying the President George W. Bush White House was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He also called the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre a fake. Some of the parents of the murdered children are suing Jones.

The congressional hearings were focused on whether such social media sites as Google and Facebook are prepared against fake foreign accounts that may be aimed at influencing U.S. elections.

The hearings came just after President Donald Trump accused Google’s search engine of being biased against him.

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