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Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service/AP

No liftoff

And other news briefs

Issue: "Return to war?," May 5, 2012

The UN Security Council announced plans to tighten sanctions on North Korea after a failed long-range rocket launch April 13 and threatened more action if the country conducts more tests. The United States, China, and Russia had previously asked North Korea to cancel the launch, which they believed was a test of the country's long-range missile technology banned under UN resolutions.

But North Korea went ahead, claiming it would send a satellite into orbit to mark the 100th birthday of its national founder, Kim Il Sung. Pyongyang held a week of events to celebrate Kim Il Sung's April 15 birthday-but the rocket fell to the sea moments after taking off. The secluded nation had hoped to demonstrate renewed military power with the launch, and the United States promised to suspend food aid to the country-dashing hope that the new leader Kim Jong Un would improve relations between North Korea and the rest of the world.

Prize-winning scene

Afghan photographer Massoud Hossaini won a Pulitzer Prize April 16, when the top journalism awards were announced, for capturing 12-year-old Tarana Akbari in Kabul shortly after a suicide bomber detonated a bomb near a Shiite shrine last December that killed over 70, among them seven in her own family.

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Deadly blasts hit Afghanistan again April 15, with coordinated attacks in the capital as well as three eastern provinces. This time civilian casualties remained low, as Afghan security forces fought Taliban fighters including near parliament and NATO headquarters, killing 39 of the insurgents.

World leader

While a Democratic president wants to raise taxes on the wealthy, and a Republican Congress wants to cut taxes on small businesses, few Americans noticed a tax milestone: As of April the United States stands alone with the world's highest corporate tax rate, at 39.2 percent. Japan, which has held top billing, cut its rate to 38 percent. "Even Russia, at 20 percent, and China, at 25 percent, have lower rates than America does. The difference in tax rates means American companies are trying to compete with one hand tied behind their backs," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee.

Status quo

The World Bank followed its traditional path, voting in as its next president on April 16 Korean-born American Jim Yong Kim, 52, a physician, development expert, and president of Dartmouth College. The bank's 25-member board was divided in the decision-with experts criticizing President Barack Obama's nominee as lacking credentials to lead the institution, and emerging nations seeking to break the hold the United States has on the position by supporting instead Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The United States has held the presidency since the World Bank's founding after World War II, while a European has always led the International Monetary Fund. With both European and U.S. economies growing at slower rates than BRIC nations, a growing number of board members argue it's time for that to change.

The grants go on

The Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure has kept its support for Planned Parenthood steady this year after it reversed its decision to cut funding to the group in February, a debacle that prompted a top executive to resign. The breast cancer foundation announced its annual grants in April and said it approved funding to at least 17 Planned Parenthood chapters for this year, the same number as 2011. The grants are ostensibly for breast cancer screenings, though Planned Parenthood doesn't do mammograms itself but refers patients. Registration for Komen's fundraising races has been down in certain parts of the country since the Planned Parenthood controversy.

Alarm bell

Keeping up the drumbeat on the contraceptive mandate, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' religious liberty committee issued a statement April 12 calling for U.S. bishops to observe a "fortnight for freedom," from June 21 to July 4. The bishops will focus on teaching about religious freedom, taking "public action," praying, and fasting. "As Catholic bishops and American citizens, we address an urgent summons to our fellow Catholics and fellow Americans to be on guard, for religious liberty is under attack, both at home and abroad," the religious liberty committee wrote. "This is not a theological or legal dispute without real world consequences."

The bishops singled out domestic issues: the contraceptive mandate, the Alabama immigration law, universities barring Christian student organizations (see "Campus divide") , the New York schools barring churches, and state and federal governments ending contracts with Catholic groups for foster care services and services to counteract human trafficking. Despite their alarm on domestic issues, the bishops noted that Christians abroad are in a "graver plight" than those in the United States.

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