7:35 AM, Dec 27, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
An estimated 90 million of us will drive 50 miles or more during this holiday season, and recent years’ gnashings of teeth at the pump are being replaced with smiles. The price of gasoline is down 36 percent since April, to a national average of around $2.40 per gallon, with some cities reporting prices of below $2. That price, which includes paying for the crude oil and refining it into petrol, shipping costs and state and federal taxes, about equals only the tax component extracted from British motorists for every gallon of petrol, as they call it, that they buy. Costs of making the stuff are extra.
The story of oil and gasoline is only one part of the story of the advances -- some would say onward rush -- of the U.S. economy. In 2008 only 75 million Americans, some 15 million less than this year, took to the roads during the holiday season -- many were out of work or too strapped to bear the costs of travel. It might be too soon to revive Franklin Roosevelt’s 1936 campaign song, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” trumpeting the decline in the unemployment rate from 24.9 percent when he took office in 1933 to a mere 16.9 percent, but if things keep going as they are -- more on that next week -- we might be humming it at this time next year.
This is the year in which third quarter growth hit an annual rate of 5 percent, the highest in over ten years, following smart second quarter growth of 4.6 percent. Consumers spent more as did businesses. Orders for durable and nondurable goods, investment in plant and equipment and in intellectual property rose, as did exports. It’s hard to find a bad number in the newest batch of economic data, with the possible exception of housing.
· Auto sales are set to beat last year’s very good figure by about 6 percent, with big, gas-guzzling SUVs leading the way, some luxuriously outfitted and costing more than $100,000 dealers in Chevy Suburbans tell me;
· Share prices hit record levels, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average piercing the 18,000 level for the first time, prompting some New York Stock Exchange traders to show up on the floor wearing hats emblazoned “Dow 18,000”;
· The University of Michigan consumer sentiment index for December is at its highest level since January 2007;
· The unemployment rate fell from 7 percent at the end of last year to 5.8 percent and some 2.5 million new jobs were created;
· In October, manufacturing output passed its pre-recession peak, reached in January 2007, and the sector is now closer to operating at peak capacity than at any time in the past six years despite a global economic environment that is beset by woes from Europe to Russia to Asia to Latin America.
Two other milestones were passed on the road to a fuller recovery. The government’s bailout program, started by George W. Bush and continued by Barack Obama, was beloved of Wall Street and in boardrooms, and loathed on Main Street and around the proverbial “kitchen table” featured on so many political ads. It has now come to an end with the sale of stock from General Motors’ finance arm. That program, formally titled the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), had thrown $426.4 billion of taxpayer money into a battle that saved Citicorp, Bank of America, General Motors, American International Group (AIG) and other companies, and, TARP fans contend, the entire U.S. economy from financial disaster. While, they add, turning a small profit of $15 billion ($25 billion in gains offsetting a $10 billion loss on GM shares) when for the government when it unloaded the shares it acquired during the bailouts -- a profit, that is, if you don’t count the cost of adding to the deficit to get cash to finance the buyouts. TARP left a permanent legacy of banks restored to sufficient health to pay the government some $100 billion in fines for various rule infractions, and of two anti-Wall Street, anti-cronyism populist movements, the Tea Party on the right, and the anti-Hillary Clinton Democratic faction now led by Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, on the left. TARP is no more, these factions remain as thorns in the sides of establishment parties.
Joseph Bottum counts the days Jan 5, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 17 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
until after Christmas.
Christmas doesn’t really begin until Christmas—Christmas Day itself, that is. And I don’t mean just in the way the Christian churches lay out the season: the whole 12-days-of-Christmas thing, if you remember. And I know you do, because everyone remembers the song about the partridge in a pear tree, which is what our loves would give us on the first day of Christmas, if they were true.
3:45 PM, Nov 22, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Some 140 million bargain-hunting customers will descend on retailers on Thanksgiving Day, so-called Black Friday, and throughout next weekend -- or at least those who haven’t shopped already or by early next week will head for the shops. Not so long ago most stores remained closed on Thanksgiving Day, on the assumption that families preferred to spend the holiday enjoying uninterrupted togetherness, downing some 46 million turkeys and watching football. No longer. Walmart, Macy’s, and many others are opening their doors on the holiday.
1:13 PM, Dec 27, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Once again, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is on the case. Last week, his heart ached for fans of the Buffalo Bills who would not be able to watch their team’s game against the Miami Dolphins because the NFL & the FCC were blacking it out. Retribution, it seems, for the fans’ failure to fill the stadium.
9:31 AM, Dec 25, 2013 • By TWS PODCAST
The WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with editor William Kristol on Christmas, Obamacare, and the gift that keeps on giving.
12:00 AM, Dec 21, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Years ago, when Americans began visiting Europe in significant numbers, they invariably returned with trophies ranging from cashmere sweaters (Britain), silk scarves (France), several inches on their waistlines (Italy), and assorted knick knacks.
Dec 23, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 15 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The Scrapbook is delighted to commend to readers a new ebook from our contributing editor Joseph Bottum.
9:12 AM, Dec 10, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
The White House has not even officially introduced the 2013 White House Holiday Card yet and already Monday night copies were listed for sale on eBay for as much as $200. The card is quite elaborate based on the standards of previous years.
12:00 AM, Nov 23, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Go into almost any shop and hear Christmas carols and read signs trumpeting enormous discounts. Unusual, since the scramble for discounts traditionally begins after, not before, the first turkey has made the ultimate sacrifice to celebrants of Thanksgiving. By the end of next week, 45 million turkeys will have moved from farm to plate to palate, and the discount wars will be in full flow.
12:00 AM, Nov 16, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
In Geneva, the famous “Pink Star” diamond fetches $83 million at auction, almost double the price ever paid for such a stone, and in Arkansas, Walmart lowers its sales outlook for the holiday season. That might be a metaphor for the holiday shopping season, where grouchy retailers are predicting a relatively tiny 3 percent increase in sales over last year.
8:19 AM, Dec 26, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Obama, who is vacationing with his family in Hawaii, visited the Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay to wish everyone there a merry Christmas.
"First of all, we want to say Merry Christmas to everybody," Obama said, with his wife Michelle at his side. "This looks like it was a nice rather than naughty crowd so I’m sure Santa treated you well."
10:21 AM, Dec 24, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
According to a statement from the South African government, Nelson Mandela will "spend Christmas Day in [a] hospital."
"Former President Nelson Mandela will spend Christmas Day in hospital, his doctors have confirmed today, on 24 December 2012," the statement reads, according to BNO News. "President Mandela has been in a Pretoria hospital since the 8th of December and doctors say he continues to respond to treatment.
5:54 PM, Dec 21, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Barack Obama said this evening in a statement to the press that "the American people are a lot more sensible and a lot more thoughtful and much more willing to compromise and give and sacrifice and act responsibly than their elected representatives are. And that's a problem. There's a mismatch right now between how everybody else is thinking about these problems, Democrats and Republicans," according to a rush transcript of the remarks.