The United States added 292,000 jobs in December, rounding out a year of steady growth; the jobless rate remained at 5 percent. "The remarkable thing is how consistent employment growth has been over the past three or four years," Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, told The New York Times. "We're getting at least 200,000 jobs per month on a consistent basis. That's quite an achievement." Many of the gains were in temporary-help services, health care, transportation, and construction, Bloomberg reports.
Payrolls also grew in December, making 2015 the second-best year for employees since 1999 and supporting the Federal Reserve's decision to raise interest rates. Jeva Lange
While many moderate Republicans are now eyeing opportunities to cooperate with Democrats on health care, still others are doubling-down on their repeal message. For House Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), whose ultra-conservative faction helped take down the GOP health-care bill, the do-or-die message has earned him positive feedback in his home state, Politico reports. As one local flier advertising a Meadows rally raves: "This is the face of leadership! Thank Mark and all those who gave us an opportunity to get health care right."
"I respect [Meadows] for staying true to his principles," said one of Meadows' constituents, Jerry Moore of Highlands, N.C. "Trump promised repeal. That was no repeal."
"What's happening now is no longer the Trump plan. It is the Obama plan," agreed the local GOP chairman, Jackson County's Ralph Slaughter.
The Affordable Care Act covered thousands of people in North Carolina in 2016, but only one insurer in the state participates in the ObamaCare exchanges. Still, as Highlands mayor Patrick Taylor told Politico: "People like the Affordable Care Act. They don't like ObamaCare. And they just don't realize [they're the same]."
When CBS correspondent Scott Pelley sat down with Michael Cernovich, founder of alt-right blog "Danger and Play," on Sunday night's episode of 60 Minutes to discuss fake news, it quickly became apparent that Cernovich's definition of "truth" was not the same as Pelley's. Cernovich's blog — which Pelley noted has "become a magnet for readers with a taste for stories with no basis in fact" — was one of several websites that pushed the Pizzagate story, the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was operating a child sex-trafficking operation in the back of a D.C. pizzeria which led a man to open fire in that pizzeria last December.
"These news stories are fakes," Pelley said, right off the bat. "They're definitely not fake," Cernovich said, insisting the stories were "not lies at all" and "100 percent true."
When Pelley asked if Cernovich was just saying that because "it's important for marketing" his website, Cernovich maintained he believed it. "I don't say anything that I don't believe," Cernovich said, claiming that's a "high bar" because he's an attorney.
Pelley pointed to a baseless headline published on Cernovich's blog, "Hillary Clinton has Parkinson's Disease, physician confirms," to see if he could get Cernovich to admit that may have been "misleading." The story was sourced to an anesthesiologist who had never met the Democratic presidential nominee, and was later denied by the National Parkinson Foundation and Clinton's doctor.
But Cernovich stood by it. "I don't take anything Hillary Clinton is gonna say at all as true. I'm not gonna take her on her word," he said. "The media says we're not gonna take Donald Trump on his word. And that's why we are in these different universes."
Watch the 60 Minutes segment below. Becca Stanek
In February, actor Harrison Ford had a bit of a mix-up at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, landing his private plane on the taxiway instead of the runway and narrowly missing a loaded passenger plane. The audio of Harrison's call to air-traffic control has been released, and it's classic Harrison Ford.
"I'm the schmuck that landed on the taxiway," he said, explaining that he had been "distracted" by an airliner in movement and "the big turbulence" from a landing Airbus. "Okay, so can I just get your name and your pilot's license?" the unidentified air-traffic controller asked. "The name is Harrison Ford," Ford said. "Okay," the controller said, nonchalantly. Ford explained that he had to find his license in his backpack. "Okay, take your time, no big deal," the air-traffic controller said. "Well, it's a big deal for me," Ford said.
This wasn't Ford's first brush with aviation disaster. But the 74-year-old flight enthusiast has had more hits than misses, earning him honors as a Living Legend of Aviation from the Kiddie Hawk Air Academy. Peter Weber
Last Thursday, Denis Voronenkov, a former Russian lawmaker who had fled to Ukraine and become a strident critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was shot dead on a Kiev sidewalk in broad daylight. A few days earlier, Voronenkov had told The Washington Post that he and his wife knew they were in danger. "For our personal safety, we can't let them know where we are," he said. "The system has lost its mind. They say we are traitors in Russia."
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the attack an "act of state terrorism by Russia," a charge Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed as a "fabrication."
Voronenkov is one of a handful of Putin critics and Russian diplomats who have died suddenly and sometimes mysteriously in the past few months. "I have an impression — I hope it's only an impression — that the practice of killing political opponents has started spreading in Russia," Gennady Gudkov, a former Russian lawmaker and security services officer, told The Moscow Times.
Two days before Voronenkov's murder, Nikolai Gorokhov, a lawyer for the family of Sergei Magnitsky — himself killed in police custody after uncovering $230 million in Russian government fraud — fell from his apartment window. Russian authorities say Gorokhov, who survived the fall, was trying to hoist a bathtub up to his apartment when he fell; Bill Browder, a financier who had hired Magnitsky, alleges that somebody pushed Gorokhov. In another apparent near-miss, Putin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza narrowly survived what appears to be a second poison attack.
On Dec. 26, Oleg Erovinkin, a former top Russian intelligence official and the chief-of-staff to Igor Sechin, the president of state-owned oil firm Rosneft, was found dead in his car on the streets of Moscow; no official cause of death has been given. There has been speculation that Erovinkin was the main source of the dossier on President Trump and Russia compiled by former British MI6 agent Christopher Steele.
Stranger still, since November, at least six Russian diplomats have died, some from gunshot wounds and others of apparent natural causes. Among these is Andrey Karlov, 62, the Russian ambassador to Turkey who was shot in an Ankara art gallery, and Vitaly Churkin, 64, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations who died in New York City. The New York Chief Medical Examiner's office said in mid-March that it would "not publicly disclose the cause and manner of death of Ambassador Vitaly Churkin" due to diplomatic protocols.
The deaths and near-deaths may well be totally unconnected. But it's sure a lot of coincidences. Peter Weber
The White House is denying that President Trump handed German Chancellor Angela Merkel a bill for over $350 billion when the two leaders met earlier this month, as the Times of London reports. Trump reportedly claimed the bill was for the money Germany owed NATO. The Times apparently learned of the bill from anonymous German officials, including one who described Trump's move as "outrageous."
"The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations," the minister said.
NATO countries agree to spend two percent of their GDP on defense, although only the U.S., U.K., Greece, Poland, and Estonia are meeting those goals at this time. "It is believed that Mr. Trump's team calculated the amount Berlin has fallen short of the two percent target from that point then added interest," The Independent writes.
Former President Bill Clinton's secretary of labor, Robert Reich, tweeted in response to the news: "Trump is an international embarrassment. To our allies around the world: He doesn't represent most Americans, and we're doing all we can."
The White House denied Trump offered Merkel the bill. "This is not true," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told Business Insider.
Whether Trump handed Merkel the bill or not, there's no doubt their meeting was an awkward affair. Trump has additionally made a point of chasing down Germany for the money: "Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO and the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!" he tweeted. Jeva Lange
The Senate Intelligence Committee will question President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, over his meetings with Russian officials as part of its ongoing investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, The New York Times reports. Kushner met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December and later, at Kislyak's request, with Sergey N. Gorkov, the chief of Russian bank Vnesheconombank, which suffered sanctions from the Obama administration after the annexation of Crimea.
Kushner was a member of Trump's transition team and on the surface there are no red flags about his meetings with foreign officials. A government official told the Times that the Senate plans to ask if Kushner "discussed ways to secure additional financing for [the Kushner Companies' office tower on Fifth Avenue] during his meeting with the Russian banker." Kushner had not yet stepped down as chief executive of the company when he met with Gorkov.
White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks confirmed Kushner's meetings, and said Kushner spoke with Kislyak about improving relations between the U.S. and Russia and cooperating on the Middle East. Kislyak later asked for a second meeting with Kushner to "deliver a message," and Kushner sent a deputy in his place. Kislyak told the deputy that he wanted Kushner to meet with the banker, Gorkov. In that meeting, Gorkov discussed the desire for an open dialogue, but Kushner's building and American sanctions did not arise as topics, Hicks said. "It really wasn't much of a conversation," Hicks added.
Notably, "the Senate panel's decision to question Mr. Kushner would make him the closest person to the president to be called upon in any of the investigations, and the only one currently serving in the White House," the Times reports. Earlier revelations about the Trump administration's conversations with Kislyak have led to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's resignation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recusal from Russian inquiries.
Kushner "isn't trying to hide anything," Hicks said. Jeva Lange
With the death of the Republican health-care bill on Friday, both parties are acknowledging that the standing Affordable Care Act will still need tweaks. "With the demise of the House bill, there's a real window of opportunity for a bipartisan approach to health care," Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) told The New York Times.
Many Republicans have signaled intentions to reach across the aisle for the next phase of health-care reform, with White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus expressing a desire to "get some Democrats on board" in an interview on Sunday. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) explained: "The reason why ObamaCare failed was because it wasn't a bipartisan bill," and Republicans are also "very frankly guilty of that" in their failed American Health Care Act push.
Other Republicans see an opportunity to nudge ObamaCare toward President Trump's promise of an explosion. Republicans "could sabotage the Affordable Care Act's insurance markets, betting that Democrats would be blamed for collapsing coverage choices and spikes in insurance premiums and would then come to the negotiating table ready to toss the law and start fresh," the Times writes.
Kevin J. Counihan, the chief executive of HealthCare.gov, explained: "The comments by President Trump and Speaker Ryan predicting the collapse of the ACA and health insurance exchanges could become a self-fulfilling prophecy." Jeva Lange