Unemployment Rate Falls to 7.7 Percent: New York Times: "Bolstered by a healthier private sector, the United States economy gained 236,000 jobs in February, well above what had been expected, while the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, its lowest level since December 2008. ... Public-sector employment continued to shrink, however, as the number of government employees nationwide fell by 10,000. ... While many economists were encouraged by the report, some noted that the size of the labor force contracted by 130,000. Some of that was because of retirements, but some was also a result of discouraged workers giving up the search for jobs. As a result, the labor participation rate sank to 63.5 percent, a low for the current economic cycle. At the current rate of job creation, unemployment could actually crack the 7 percent level by the end of the year."
The Slatest: Secret Ballot For New Pope Will Begin Tuesday
Hagel's Surprise Trip to Afghanistan: Washington Post: "U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in the Afghan capital Friday night to take stock of America’s winding-down war in Afghanistan, one of the thorniest issues the new Pentagon chief will confront. Just days after weathering a bruising confirmation process, the former Republican senator said he was eager to get a first-hand look at the war zone, speak to commanders and reacquaint himself with Afghanistan’s nettlesome president, Hamid Karzai. ... The trip, which was not announced in advance due to security concerns, comes at a delicate time. U.S. officials continue to debate the role and mission the United States should aspire to have in Afghanistan in the long run — a process that has become knottier as Karzai has sought to rein in the authority of American troops in recent weeks."
Chavez's Long Goodbye: New York Times: "Foreign dignitaries and Venezuelans continued their extended goodbye to Hugo Chávez on Friday as the government began a stately funeral that seemed designed to showcase Mr. Chávez’s appeal to the powerless and the powerful. The funeral was a stunning display of the political alliances that Mr. Chávez assembled during almost a decade and a half in power, with some of the leaders in attendance, including those notable for having a history of difficult relations with Washington, making their presence here felt. At one point, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, kissed the coffin, mustering a clenched fist after doing so. Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, shed some tears. While leaders from an array of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean attended the funeral (along with Prince Felipe of Spain), some were notably absent from the politicized ceremony, in which Vice President Nicolás Maduro placed a replica of a golden sword on Mr. Chávez’s casket to much applause."
The Obamas Hosted the Clintons For Dinner: Politico: "On March 1st, the president, First Lady Michelle, former President Bill Clinton and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enjoyed a quiet, three-plus hour dinner in the private residence to celebrate Hillary's retirement from the administration, POLITICO has learned. Details are scant, but people with knowledge of the event described the meal as 'informal,' featuring a 'wide-ranging discussion' in which the former president apparently offered some second-term advice, including his experiences in engaging hostile Congressional Republicans. Obama had planned his big push for bipartisan engagement prior to the dinner—but Clinton has long favored a schmooze-and-sell approach."
Bin Laden's Son-in-Law: Reuters: "A son-in-law of Osama bin Laden pleaded not guilty in a New York court on Friday to conspiring to kill Americans, becoming one of the highest-ranking al Qaeda figures to face trial in the United States for crimes connected to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a militant who has acted in videos as an al Qaeda spokesman, made his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, only blocks from the site of the hijacked plane strikes on the World Trade Center."
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North Korea's Latest Threat: ABC News: "A leading general in North Korea claims the country has a long-range missile armed with nuclear warheads on standby. Pyongyang repeated its Thursday vow to ditch all nonaggression pacts with South Korea and again threatened a 'preemptive nuclear attack' on the United States as well. The regime also announced early Friday that it plans to cut off phone hotlines between North and South Korea. It was part of a defiant response to tough new sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council."
The Slatest: Kim Jong-Un Needs a New Catchphrase
Unfinished Business: The Hill: "The Obama administration will release its 2014 budget more than two months late on April 8, according to congressional sources. ... The April release means President Obama's budget will be nine weeks late, as it was due by law on Feb. 4, the first Monday in February. Republicans have slammed Obama for delaying the budget so far past the deadline."
A Few More Quick Hits From Slate—
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