- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

POST OFFICE

First-class stamp to cost 44 cents

The price of a first-class stamp is set to jump again next month, meaning you might want to stock up on Forever stamps now.

On May 11, a first-class stamp will go up by 2 cents to 44 cents. Other rates are set to rise as well.

A Forever stamp costs the same as a regular stamp, but can be used to mail letters at any time in the future regardless of how much prices go up.

Some might feel stocking up on Forever stamps now is a smart bet, with the postal service staring down some major financial challenges.

Postmaster General John E. Potter last month sought permission from Congress to cut mail delivery to five days a week, saying the post office will run out of money this year unless it gets help. The agency lost $2.8 billion last year and is looking at much steeper losses this year.

Any price increase is bound to provoke some complaints, but the bump won’t amount to a significant hit if you don’t use the mail often.

STIMULUS

Volcano monitoring to be modernized

Weeks after Mount Redoubt erupted in Alaska, the Interior Department is spending some of its first stimulus dollars to improve volcano monitoring.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Friday said the department will use $15.2 million to modernize volcano warning systems in one of its first projects to be funded by the stimulus. It was part of $140 million in spending announced Friday.

Mr. Salazar said the monitoring will do a better job of warning the public and airlines of eruptions, as it did months before Mount Redoubt blew in March.

Republicans targeted volcano monitoring as an example of wasteful spending in the stimulus plan. In a February speech, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the rapid growth in federal spending should be monitored.

IRAQ

Pentagon under fire over electrical contract

A New Hampshire congresswoman said the Pentagon has failed to justify giving a new, $35 million contract to a company whose electrical work on U.S. facilities in Iraq has been criticized as shoddy and unsafe.

At least three service members were electrocuted while showering at U.S. facilities in Iraq. Others have been injured or killed in electrical incidents.

Houston-based contractor KBR Inc., which maintains nearly all U.S. facilities in Iraq, has said it was not responsible for any of the deaths, and that safety is its top priority.

In a letter sent last month, Army Secretary Pete Geren told Rep. Carol Shea-Porter that KBR got the new contract because the Army Corps of Engineers felt KBR had performed well on other jobs. Mr. Geren also said KBR was the only contractor to submit a proposal, and was not on a government list of debarred companies.

The military is in the process of inspecting every facility in Iraq and making repairs to electrical problems.

NASA

Module name to be revealed on ‘Colbert’

Stephen Colbert is still clinging to hope that NASA will name a new room at the International Space Station after him.

The space agency said Friday it would announce the name of the module Tuesday on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” Astronaut Sunita Williams will appear on the program.

The agency held an online contest, letting the public vote on a name for a future addition to the station. “Colbert” beat out NASA’s four suggested options: Serenity, Legacy, Earthrise and Venture.

The comedian said in a statement: “I certainly hope NASA does the right thing. Just kidding. I hope they name it after me.”

NEW YORK

Bloomberg does little to save energy

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wants wind-powered city buildings and a green Empire State Building, but admits that the only way he saves energy at his private homes is by using efficient light bulbs.

The billionaire mayor says he also often chooses walking to motoring, turns off lights that aren’t being used, and likes to open windows when it is warm instead of using air-conditioning.

In addition to a Manhattan townhouse, Mr. Bloomberg owns homes in upstate New York, Colorado, Florida, Bermuda and London.

Mr. Bloomberg had sought to cast himself as a national environmental leader when he was testing his appeal as an independent presidential candidate for 2008.

He acknowledges that he uses a lot of energy, but tries to “make it as little as possible.”

BORDER

Killer wasps eyed to deter illegals

The federal government has come up with a plan to unleash killer wasps along Texas’ border with Mexico to help combat illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

The idea is not to sic Tetramesa romana wasps on humans trying to sneak in, but instead to have them do battle with Arundo donax, a giant bamboo-like invasive weed that reaches 20 feet in height along the banks of the river and provides wonderful cover for those up to no good.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which wants to issue permits for the release of the wasps, says the tiny insects adore Arundo donax both for dinner and as a nursery for their eggs, and would, in short order, either stunt the weed’s growth or kill it altogether.

So far no opposition has surfaced to the plan. The same can’t be said for the Department of Homeland Security’s idea to eliminate the same stands of weed — also known as carrizo cane — by spraying it with the herbicide Imazapyr. Mexican officials raised such a stink that DHS put the plan on hold in late March.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.


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