Look for America’s devotion to its 130 million dogs and cats to push the federal government to create the first official national network to collect information from veterinarians and disseminate crucial data on pet food and health.

The ongoing pet-food emergency has demonstrated how anemic the Food and Drug Administration’s monitoring of the animal food supply has been. No one can say how many pets have died or been sickened by the suspect food, with estimates ranging from 16 to as many as 3,000 deaths.

Deluged in recent weeks by more than 10,000 complaints from the public — almost double the number it got on all subjects last year — the FDA has now assigned more than 400 employees to handle the crisis. Also hearing from worried owners is Congress, which is poised to order the agency to establish a national data-gathering and -sharing system if the FDA doesn’t move quickly enough.

About this time of year, the last thing the initials “IRS” bring to mind is humor. But root around on the tax agency’s Web site (, then search for “tax quotes”) and you can actually find a few laughs to lighten the last-minute tax-filing load. To wit:

“Next to being shot at and missed, nothing is really quite as satisfying as an income tax refund.” — F.J. Raymond, humorist

“Taxation with representation ain’t so hot either.” — Gerald Barzan, humorist

“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” — Albert Einstein, physicist

Government plans for a new $10 billion-plus air traffic control system have gotten an unwelcome wake-up call from the sun. The strongest solar-radio-wave burst ever measured drowned out GPS signals over much of the upper two-thirds of the nation in December, causing a brief loss of guided-approach signals in some areas.

The burst was particularly worrisome because it came at what’s supposed to be a quiet time in the sun’s 11-year cycle of sunspots and flares. The next active period is expected in 2011 — just when the new air traffic system is supposed to kick in. This means that airlines will have to put more expensive GPS receiver antennas on planes to compensate for the muscular solar phenomenon — which will only add to the industry’s bottom line woes.

Maryland has become the first state to vote to drop out of the Electoral College, at least symbolically, for now. Believing that presidential candidates would take more note of smaller states if the winner were determined by popular ballot, lawmakers this past week decreed that the Free State’s 10 electoral votes would go to whichever candidate won the national — not state — popular vote. A handful of other states — Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont — are mulling the same move. In Maryland, the change wouldn’t occur until states comprising a majority of the country’s 538 electoral votes signed on as well.

We’re about to become an urban race. The share of humans living in such areas globally is close to becoming a majority, according to a new projection by the United Nations. The tipping point from a predominantly rural world is forecast to arrive before 2010. Of the anticipated 8.2 billion people on Earth by 2030, just 3.3 billion will live in rural areas.

It’s last muster for America’s surviving World War I vets, as the Department of Veterans Affairs makes plans to honor those who remain. This year has already seen six of the longest-lived doughboys die, leaving what’s believed to be just three who served as U.S. Army troops and a Californian who served in his native Canada. The VA has asked the public to alert the agency to any other of the 4.7 million Americans in uniform during WWI who have may have been overlooked. Contact the VA at ww1(at)

Where are they now:

Richard Gephardt, former Democratic leader of the House, has set up a Washington lobbying and consulting firm — Gephardt Group — with children Matthew and Chrissy.

Gale Norton, former Bush administration Interior Department secretary, has joined mega-oil company Royal Dutch Shell as general counsel in Denver.

Embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17 to defend his tenure, integrity and future paycheck in what observers predict could be among the most highly charged moments in Washington in recent years. So, few were surprised that Gonzales decided to bow out — at least temporarily — from a long-scheduled April 16 appearance at a National Press Club luncheon.

(Scripps Howard News Service correspondent Lee Bowman contributed to this column.)