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Alissa Everett/Reuters/Landov

Horror in Congo

and other news briefs

Issue: "Dating and courtship confusion," June 4, 2011

The American Journal of Public Health reported a gut-wrenching revelation in May: The problem of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is far worse than previously reported. The study by U.S. scientists reported that an average of 48 women and girls endure rape every hour in war-torn Congo. The report found that 400,000 females between the ages of 15 and 49 suffered rape over a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007. The United Nations had reported 16,000 rapes in the same year.

The new figures came from studying a 2007 government health survey that offered more data than police and health center reports. Amber Peterman, the study's author, said the higher figures are still likely conservative estimates since many never report rape: "Our results confirm that previous estimates of rape and violence are severe underestimates of the true prevalence of sexual violence occurring in the DRC."

Aid debate

"It would be tragic," said Franklin Graham as he departed for North Korea in May, "if the United States withholds food and uses food as a weapon." Graham's comments revealed one side of an ongoing debate over whether the United States should intervene in a reported food crisis in North Korea, despite the country's dangerous belligerence.

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Graham-head of Samaritan's Purse-and representatives from four other U.S.-based aid groups reported evidence of looming food shortages and rising malnutrition after the team visited the country in February. The group reported that North Korean authorities ­estimated the country could exhaust its food stocks by mid-June. The United Nations echoed that report in March.

Delivering aid to the regime isn't simple: Human-rights groups say government officials have often diverted food aid from a needy public to well-fed military officers and government workers. North Korea halted a food program run by five U.S. aid groups in 2009, but invited the groups back in February to assess the country's food crisis again.

U.S. officials haven't indicated whether the U.S. government will re-engage a food aid program. North Korea's nuclear tests and announcement of a uranium enrichment facility have strained already-frayed relations. American officials have said they want ­assurances that they could directly monitor and verify that food aid is reaching needy populations-a point the secretive North Korean government may not concede.

Democrat departs

The announcement of another Democratic senator's retirement makes the prospect of a Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate in 2012 even more likely. Four-term Sen. Herb Kohl's retirement brings to six the number of Democratic senators who have announced that they won't run for reelection next year. Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, said he is retiring after 24 years in office because "it's better to leave a job a little too early than a little too late." In total, Democrats have 23 seats to defend in 2012, while Republicans only have 10; Republicans need to gain four seats to take the majority.

Speculation had swirled that House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would run for Kohl's seat, but Ryan announced May 17 that he would not run so he could continue overseeing the budget in the House. Then buzz mounted that former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson would run for the seat. Possible Democratic candidates include former Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost his seat in 2010 to Republican Ron Johnson, as well as Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Democratic Reps. Ron Kind and Tammy Baldwin, who would be the first lesbian senator.

Losing time

Last year's target date for the emptying of Medicare's trust fund: 2029. This year's estimate for when these funds to support Medicare will run out: 2024. The fund's trustees, in their annual report released May 13, chopped off five years in the lifespan of the fund that supports one of the country's biggest entitlements. This earlier-than-expected bottoming out of Medicare's dollars will surely become a bargaining tool in this summer's congressional clash over raising the nation's debt limit beyond $14.3 trillion.

Republicans cited the trust fund's shortened expiration date as proof that entitlement reform must be a part of any deal to increase the debt ceiling. "We have to act now," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. "Doing nothing will lead to benefit cuts and the bankruptcy of these programs and our nation." The bleak picture painted by the trustees may even be too optimistic. Their prediction assumes that billions of dollars in savings will be realized under the new healthcare law. In the event that those savings are not met, Medicare could go bankrupt even sooner.

Stormy waters

One month after instructing its chaplains to permit same-sex marriage ceremonies at military chapels, the Navy backed off the order amid a sea storm of criticism. An April 13 Navy memo said the pending end of the military's ban on gays openly serving in the military meant that same-sex marriages could occur at chapels in states that recognize gay marriage. But Navy brass suspended the memo on May 10 after conservative organizations and lawmakers warned that the plan would violate the Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. "Federal law trumps the demands of those who would use the military to advance a liberal social agenda," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

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