* New jobs numbers defy expectations: They’re in:

Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 200,000 in December, and the unemployment rate, at 8.5 percent, continued to trend down.

There may still be serious bumps ahead, but this is reason for cautious optimism.

* Obama to ease path to green card: This will get comparatively litle attention in today’s crush of news. But it’s still a very big deal:

Obama administration officials announced on Friday that they will propose a fix to a notorious snag in immigration law that will spare hundreds of thousands of American citizens from prolonged separations from immigrant spouses and children.

The move could revive enthusiasm for Obama among Latinos, who are likely to be crucial to one of Obama’s routes to reelection — holding western states in order to offset possible Rust Belt losses. The initiative doesn’t require Congressional approval, and dovetails with his ongoing push to accomplish policy goals via executive action.

Liberals who are understandably dispirited about aspects of the Obama presidency might keep in mind that some things are quietly getting done — the new EPA standards on emissions is another example — that could ultimately improve the lives of many thousands of people.

* Another dimension to Romney’s bogus jobs claims: Little by little, the central claims Mitt Romney has been making about jobs, the economy and Obama are beginning to receive more scrutiny. Paul Krugman today devotes a whole column to debunking his nonsense about being a “job creator” at Bain and about Obama’s alleged record as a job destroyer, and adds another important layer:

When the dust settled after the companies that Bain restructured were downsized — or, as happened all too often, went bankrupt — total U.S. employment was probably about the same as it would have been in any case. But the jobs that were lost paid more and had better benefits than the jobs that replaced them. Mr. Romney and those like him didn’t destroy jobs, but they did enrich themselves while helping to destroy the American middle class.

And that reality is, of course, what all the blather and misdirection about job-creating businessmen and job-destroying Democrats is meant to obscure.

Again: Claims that are absolutely central to Romney’s entire rationale for running for president have now been proven to be demonstrably ridiculous. When are the major national reporters going to start pressing Romney on this?

* Is Romney’s credibility eroding? Relatedly, I really hope TPM’s Brian Beutler is right to argue that Romney’s jobs claims are becoming so transparently absurd that he is now “highly exposed to backlash from the press” and may have to “abandon his most effective but misleading talking points about his work in the private sector.” One can dream...

* Romney’s Bain years getting more scrutiny: Reuters has a deeply reported piece on what happened when Bain aquired a Kansas City steel mill, leading to 750 layoffs. Drip, drop, drop...

* Defending Obama’s right to make recess appointments: A hard hitting Post editorial debunks all the outrage about Obama’s “power grab” recess appointments, arguing that GOP obstructionism designed to cripple government more than justifies it:

Both the consumer bureau and the labor relations board are agencies of the U.S. government, created by Congress, and it is inexcusable that congressional obstructionism would leave them unable to function. If Republicans don’t like the structure or purpose of either agency, they should try to alter them through legislation. Meanwhile their filibustering against qualified nominees to make political points or extort concessions from the White House cripples government and discourages good people from serving. That is the real poisonous practice, in which both parties have engaged. Until there is a de-escalation, the country will continue to pay a high price.

Senate Republicans can’t claim any moral high ground, given that they have employed what appears to be a deliberate strategy of rendering government as dysfunctional as possible, in the calculation that Obama will pay the biggest political price for it.

* Conservative opinionmakers edge towards Santorum: The next thing to keep an eye on is whether the conservative elite seriously begins coalescing around Santorum, and today Charles Krauthammer gives Santorum’s effort a big push with a column arguing that he is the first “admirably worthy conservative alternative to Romney.”

Also key: “If he can make it through the next three harrowing primaries, the (relative) February lull would allow him to build a national campaign structure before Super Tuesday on March 6.” This, combined with Rick Perry perhaps dropping out and Gingrich allying with Santorum against Romney, and who knows?

* Why Santorum is emerging as threat to Romney: Ronald Brownstein offers up a deep demographic dive revealing that Santorum’s social conservativism and blue collar roots may end up having more appeal than Romney’s aura of managerial competence does to the working class Republicans, white seniors, and evangelicals that increasingly drive GOP primaries. Must read.

* Romney fights high expectations in New Hampshire: The Romney team is determined to avoid Obama’s fate. But as Hillary’s surprise victory over Obama in New Hampshire showed, it isn’t over in this state until the votes are counted, and Romney will need a very large victory there in order to be able to declare a decisive victory.

Still, the fact that New Hampshire is higher on moderates and independents and lower on evangelicals does suggest Romney may win big.

* And can Santorum leave New Hampshire with momentum? Also key to watch: Scott Conroy has the details on Santorum’s chances of securing a strong third-place or even second place finish behind Romney in New Hampshire, which could conceivably set him up as the frontrunner in South Carolina.

Relatedly: Keep an eye out for the new CNN poll of South Carolina that’s set for release at noon today.

What else is going on?