Today’s Top World News from The Washington Post:
- Justice Dept. document justifies killing Americans overseas if they pose ‘imminent threat’--The United States can lawfully kill a U.S. citizen overseas if it determines the target is a “senior, operational leader” of al-Qaeda or an associated group and poses an imminent threat to this country, according to a Justice Department document published late Monday by NBC News. The document defines “imminent threat” expansively, saying it does not have to be based on intelligence about a specific attack since such actions are being “continually” planned by al-Qaeda. “In this context,” it says, “imminence must incorporate considerations of the relevant window of opportunity” as well as possible collateral damage to civilians, reports Karen DeYoung.
- U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Africa defined by a decade of missteps--The U.S. military was closely tracking a one-eyed bandit across the Sahara in 2003 when it confronted a hard choice that is still reverberating a decade later. Should it try to kill or capture the target, an Algerian jihadist named Mokhtar Belmokhtar, or let him go? Belmokhtar had trained at militant camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s, returned home to join a bloody revolt and was about to be blacklisted by the United Nations for supporting the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But he hadn’t yet attacked Americans and did not appear to pose a threat outside his nomadic range in the badlands of northern Mali and southern Algeria. U.S. military commanders planned airstrikes against Belmokhtar and a band of Arab militants they had under surveillance in the Malian desert, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the episode. But the U.S. ambassador to Mali at the time vetoed the plan, saying a strike was too risky and could stir a backlash against Americans, reports Craig Whitlock.
- Lawyers take risks for Russian protesters--MOSCOW — Violetta Volkova woke up that fateful December morning a hard-hitting mergers and acquisitions lawyer. Before the day was over she was springing neophyte demonstrators from jail. In a matter of weeks she would be defending some of Vladimir Putin’s worst enemies, a punk-rock group among them. A year later she was a widely known human rights lawyer. Many Russians changed Dec. 5, 2011, when Muscovites, infuriated by what they considered fraudulent parliamentary elections the day before, protested in unexpectedly large numbers. The disgruntled young and passive middle class went out onto the streets, for the first time willing to join a protest. Leaders began to emerge from once barely known opposition movements. The punk rockers began planning political protests that would end in a performance in Moscow’s main cathedral. Soon lots of people needed lawyers ,reports Kathy Lally.
- China’s economic data draw sharp scrutiny from experts analyzing global trends-- When China announced better-than-expected trade numbers last month, the statistics were met with outright suspicion from international powerhouses such as Goldman Sachs, Swiss financial firm UBS and Australian bank ANZ. The disbelieving scoffing only mounted days later, when the government unveiled numbers showing yet another positive trend — a narrowing income gap between China’s rich and poor. Numbers in China have long faced suspicion, from optimistic recordings of visibly hazy air to the age of its Olympic gymnasts. But the credibility of its economic data is now coming under particular scrutiny, at a time when China’s growing global role weighs on investors, analysts and governments worldwide, even as the country’s economy is slowing after years of unbridled growth, reports William Wan.
- President of Mexico outlines plan to rejuvenate passenger rail service--PUEBLA, Mexico — Mexico’s 19th-century leaders spent lavishly to bring the railroad to their young republic, eager to show the world that they were building a modern, technologically advanced nation. More than 100 years and a few upheavals later, with Mexico’s economy barreling forward but its pride in need of a boost, new President Enrique Peña Nieto has outlined a grand vision to showcase the country’s renewed prosperity and engineering might. He’ll make the trains run again. Peña Nieto surprised many at his Dec. 1 inauguration when he announced a multibillion-dollar plan to restore passenger rail service in Mexico, nearly 15 years after his own Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) finished dismantling it , reports Nick Miroff.
-For insurance exchanges, states need ‘navigators’ — and hiring them is a huge task--Signing up an estimated 30 million uninsured Americans for coverage under the health-care law is shaping up to be, if not a bureaucratic nightmare, at the very least a daunting task. While some people will find registering for health insurance as easy as booking a flight online, vast numbers who are confused by the myriad choices will need to sit down with someone who can walk them through the process. Enter the “navigators,” an enormous new workforce of helpers required under the law. In large measure, the success of the law and its overriding aim of making sure that virtually all Americans have health insurance depends on these people. But the challenge of hiring and paying for a new class of workers is immense and is one of the most pressing issues as the Obama administration and state governments implement the law, reports N.C. Aizenman.
- Obama takes gun control push to law enforcement, American people-- President Obama, taking his first trip outside Washington to rally support for new gun measures, stood alongside dozens of uniformed police officers here Monday as he delivered a forceful defense of mandatory background checks for all gun buyers. Obama also touted his proposed bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines during a speech at the Minneapolis Police Department’s Special Operations Center, signaling his intent to keep pushing for several major policy changes in Congress. But Obama focused his remarks Monday on his most popular proposal — universal background checks — calling it a “smart” idea rather than a conservative or liberal one, reports Philip Rucker.
OPINION by Eugene Robinson: The NRA’s tone-deaf rhetoric
-The Fix: How immigration reform could hurt Republicans--Republicans are anxious to get something done on immigration reform in light of their growing electoral slippage among Latino voters. But even if doing comprehensive reform helps repair the GOP’s image with the Hispanic community and increases its share of the Hispanic vote, one thing has gotten lost in all of this: The GOP would potentially be helping to give millions more Democratic-leaning Latinos the right to vote. A Pew Hispanic Center study last year showed there were 24 million eligible Hispanic voters in the United States and about 16 million Hispanic kids who will be eligible to vote when they turn 18. That means 40 million eligible Hispanic voters by 2030. But if there is some kind of a path to citizenship in the immigration bill — as is expected — that pool will grow even larger. Just how large, of course, depends on how quickly and easily illegal immigrants and legal permanent residents could attain citizenship — something that will be a significant issue in the ongoing discussions in Congress, reports Aaron Blake.
-OPINION by Dana Milbank: John Kerry, finally where he belongs
-Michelle Obama’s posterior again the subject of a public rant--They’re at it again. The latest public rant against Michelle Obama’s effort to promote low-calorie school lunches was recently caught on tape in Alabama — the usual protest against the federal government meddling in local business. And then it quickly found its way around to the first lady’s posterior. “Fat butt Michelle Obama,” said Bob Grisham, a high school football coach who was surreptitiously recorded by one of his students. “Look at her. She looks like she weighs 185 or 190. She’s overweight.” Grisham, who was suspended Monday, is neither the first nor the most high-profile person to feel moved to comment on the first lady’s physique, reports Krissah Thompson.
- Justice prepares civil suit against S&P over grading of financial products before crisis--The Justice Department is preparing to file a civil lawsuit against the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s that will allege the company gave its seal of approval to toxic investments at the heart of the financial crisis, according to the company and people briefed on the case. The lawsuit would mark the government’s first federal case against one of the country’s big ratings firms, which have been blamed for playing a major role in causing the meltdown on Wall Street. The Justice Department has faced years of criticism from watchdog groups and some on Capitol Hill who have questioned why it has been slow to pursue those responsible for the crisis. The department has told S&P it intends to focus on the firm’s grading of certain mortgage bonds from 2007, according to the company, reports Jia Lynn Yang.
- President Obama misses budget deadline for third straight year--For the third year in a row, President Obama on Monday blew the deadline for submitting his budget request to Congress, prompting Republicans to grouse once again about presidential fecklessness on fiscal matters. Less usual was the administration’s refusal to say when Obama would release his 2014 spending plan. Congressional aides in both parties said they expect to see the budget in mid- to late-March — a delay of more than a month, unmatched by any other incumbent president except, on one occasion, Ronald Reagan. Though Obama’s budget requests have been dead on arrival in Congress since Republicans took control of the House two years ago, the blueprint remains an important political document, reports Lori Montgomery.
-Wonkblog: No, there probably isn’t a bond bubble--One peculiar legacy of the financial crisis is that, among the financial commentariat, there is a tendency to see a bubble whenever the market for a particular asset rises. We’ve seen it lately with the resurgence in the stock market, which commentators are quick to say is a built-on-thin-air creation of the Federal Reserve (even though price-to-earnings ratios are the lowest they have been in a generation). And then there are the modest rises in home prices — also seen as a bubble (even though price-to-rent ratios show no sign of becoming unhinged from reality the way they did in the early 2000s). by Neil Irwin.
-The Root: How Slave Labor Made New York--From the Lehman brothers to Tiffany's founder, the city's early titans benefited from toiling blacks. The next time some right-wing commentator (Pat Buchanan, are you listening?) bellows about how white people built America, a tour of New York City could be used to point out how the slave trade (i.e., the labor of enslaved Africans) contributed to the creation of this country's financial center. The very name "Wall Street" is born of slavery, with enslaved Africans building a wall in 1653 to protect Dutch settlers from Indian raids. This walkway and wooden fence, made up of pointed logs and running river to river, later was known as Wall Street, the home of world finance. Enslaved and free Africans were largely responsible for the construction of the early city, first by clearing land, then by building a fort, mills, bridges, stone houses, the first city hall, the docks, the city prison, Dutch and English churches, the city hospital and Fraunces Tavern. At the corner of Wall Street and Broadway, they helped erect Trinity Church, reports Peter Alan Harper.
- Washington rated the worst for traffic congestion — again--When it comes to traffic congestion around Washington, even the good news is bad, and it goes downhill from there. The city that so hungers to be No. 1 at something — usually on a gridiron or diamond-shaped field — has again risen to the top as the most congested metropolitan area in the United States, a place where the average driver burns 67 hours and 32 gallons of gas each year sitting in traffic. The No. 1 ranking is the good news. The bad news is that it’s going to get worse. The annual crunching of numbers by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute projects that unless something is done about traffic, the economic recovery will put more wheels on the road and create more congestion, reports Ashley Halsey III.