Tales from the Trail

The Lunchbox Index

GERMANYThe Dow, the FTSE, the Hang Seng — all these are economic indices of a sort. But in Washington, there’s another index that might offer a more intimate picture of people under economic pressure, and it’s as near as the office fridge. Let’s call it the Lunchbox Index.

Decades ago, lunching out used to be an integral part of the Washington working day, with expense account palaces like the long-gone Sans Souci filled to capacity with the great, the good, the powerful and, yes, journalists pumping their sources.

That still goes on, but more often than not, lunch is a meal to be grabbed on the fly, close to a phone and a computer. Even a take-out lunch can be costly: soup or a sandwich is easily $6, a substantial salad $10. Want a cookie for dessert? That’ll be $3, please. Even those who can afford the time to go out to lunch might have second thoughts about paying $20 or more for a daily mid-day meal.

SPACE SHUTTLEEnter the Lunchbox Index, a totally unscientific measure of how financially pressed Washingtonians can feel in economic hard times.

Just a peek into even our office fridge, which is probably like other office refrigerators around town, shows it’s crammed with leftover-filled plastic containers, plastic supermarket bags filled with home-packed food, clear plastic zipper bags of chopped salad vegetables and lunchboxes of every description, plus a door-full of well-aged condiments. The freezer compartment is loaded with boxes of diet meals and a few cold packs.

Think brussels sprouts and cauliflower are agricultural commodities? Think again.

While the financial bailouts tossed to automakers, banks and other groups during the recent economic crisis left a funny taste in the mouth of some Americans, one former U.S. regulator hopes efforts to prevent another panic doesn’t go rotten.

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission is immersed in drafting dozens of rules to assist it in increasing oversight of the once opaque over-the-counter derivatives market, widely blamed for exacerbating the recent financial crisis. USA/

Among the rules it must craft is what the definition of an agricultural commodity is? Of course, corn, cotton, soybeans and livestock, among other items, fall into this realm.

Game Night AND Date Night for President Obama

It was unlikely that President Barack Obama, a big basketball fan, was going to miss the seventh and final game of a hard fought NBA playoff series between his hometown Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics on Saturday night.  
 
get_thumbnail2But it happened to fall on one of the regular “date nights” that the U.S. leader had promised First Lady Michelle Obama upon their arrival in Washington in January. 
 
Solution: an early dinner at French restaurant Michel Richard Citronelle in Georgetown. A 14-vehicle Presidential motorcade pulled up outside the swanky restaurant, drawing hundreds of onlookers and blocking traffic as the upscale area’s Saturday night party scene got underway.  
 
The restaurant is one of Washington’s most exclusive eateries. A table was not available on its online booking system until May 29, and that was before the Obamas appearence made headlines and was widely Twittered. After the U.S. leader dined with Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty at Ben’s Chili Bowl in January, the landmark DC institution had queues outside for weeks. 
 
Although Citronelle’s website boasts that Conde Nast Traveler magazine called it “one of the world’s most exciting restaurants,” Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema was not so flattering in an October 2008 review. 
 
“Throughout a recent dinner at what used to be a four-star experience, an unmistakable joylessness courses through the fading underground dining room that bears the name of one of the country’s most esteemed chefs,” Sietsema wrote http://www.washingtonpost.com/gog/restaurants/michel-richard-citronelle,795996.html#editorial-review 
 
Nonetheless, Sietsema added in his review that Richard and his staff still put on an impressive show. “I adore Citronelle’s tomato tart, which springs from a pastry base (and cucumber gelee) like a colorful bouquet. And sablefish marinated with sake, miso and mirin before hitting the broiler is about as good as that creature gets.” 
 
Like clockwork, two hours after departing the White House, the Obamas’ 14-vehicle motorcade departed cheering crowds in Georgetown and arrived home apparently in time for the Bulls-Celtics 8 p.m. tip-off. 
 
The President then took the First Lady for a brief stroll across the White House grounds, waving to photographers. Game Night could now begin. 
 
“Click here for more Reuters political coverage”

from Commodity Corner:

Obamamania missing in farm country

obama1Many U.S. farmers don't have confidence in President-elect Barack Obama, with many fearing the new administration will not be receptive to the needs of American farmers and ranchers.

A Reuters straw poll of more than 800 farmers at the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting in San Antonio found 72 percent of the respondents did not believe Obama would have the best interest of the farmer in mind.

Instead of helping U.S. sectors that produce goods for the country, such as farmers, several mentioned Obama would focus on programs that work to even out income and help those that are seeking something from the government.