At least one sector of the economy is hot

One of the few bright corners of the U.S. economy these days is the agriculture sector, where higher prices for major crops are counteracting spot losses from drought and floods.

But look for that seeming good news to bring bad news for farmers hoping to benefit soon from the $586 billion farm bill, which remains mired deep in discord on Capitol Hill eight months after the House passed it last year.

In that time, the overall economy has tanked, making lawmakers decidedly less inclined to bestow growers and ranchers with subsidy bounties as everybody else tightens his belt.

If no agreement is reached among the House, Senate and White House in the next month, the bill could be destined to lie fallow for as long as a year.

In these final days before America’s newest baseball stadium debuts on Opening Day, matters of much D.C. speculation include not only how long the beer lines will be at the new home of the Washington Nationals and what the wind from the nearby Anacostia River will do to fly balls.

Wagers are also being made on how the far-from-popular President Bush will be greeted by the fans when he throws out the historic first ball at Nationals Park on March 30: boos and jeers or cheers?

Bush got an ambivalent greeting in April 2005 when he inaugurated the first game of the newly created Washington Nationals team. That was a far cry from the emotional roars that met him when he threw the first pitch at the 2001 World Series not long after the 9/11 attacks.

It may be, given Bush’s lame-duck status, that he rates little more than a yawn as the sun continues to set on his presidency.

Speaking of time ticking, Defense Secretary Robert Gates regularly carries in his pocket a digital device that counts the days, hours, minutes and seconds that remain in his tenure at the Pentagon. Tapped by Bush to replace Donald Rumsfeld in November 2006, Gates was a reluctant warrior who says he took the job out of a sense of duty. A friend gave him the counter as a gag gift.

When January 2009 comes, Gates has said he will head home to Washington state.

More than three years after the deadly Indonesian tsunami, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says an early-warning system designed to give a vital heads up to coastal U.S. territory is finally fully in place. In all, 39 warning systems that give real-time data via satellites are now positioned in the western Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, and every seismic zone surrounding Hawaii, the U.S. Pacific territories and the entire U.S. West Coast.

Aging boomers — and those who find themselves stuck on the moving stairs behind them — had better beware of escalators. A new study of U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission data has found that the rate of escalator-related injuries among people 65-plus had doubled between 1991 and 2005. Indiana University researchers say 40,000 older folks were hurt over that span, although only about 8 percent had serious enough injuries to require hospitalization.

But they warn that the trend suggests seniors with balance and vision problems would be wise to ride the elevators instead.

A recent study has found that the median net worth for U.S. senators reached $1.7 million in 2006, the latest year for which complete financial data is available. The study by the watchdog group also determined that the median wealth for House members was $675,000. No doubt they feel our pain …

(E-mail Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl(at) SHNS correspondent Lee Bowman contributed to this column.)