The Economic Case Against Barack Obama, Part Two

Above: a typical street scene in the Detroit of Obama’s economy. Lovely, isn’t it? In fact, it’s not too far off from the picture I used in Part One of my series. Oh, wait– the first picture isn’t even real. It’s from District 12 in The Hunger Games.
Part Two out of four of my case against President Obama centers on the failed monetary policy of the past four years and how such policies have both created and exacerbated the recession we have been mired in for over four years now. Part Three will focus on the truly terrible economics behind bailouts (which are only mentioned at a glance and in part here), and Part Four will expose the true cost of legislation like the PPACA, Dodd-Frank, and subsequent damage to business confidence and job creation. I’ve necessarily included a significant portion of history behind the financial crisis in order to set us up properly to read into the Fed’s actions since 2008.

The Failure of Monetary Policy

If I were to name a single man who was responsible for the financial crisis of 2008 and the prolonging of the economic slump other than President Obama (who actually has no legislative power; the stimulus was Nancy Pelosi’s project), I would name the current chief of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke.

It may be unfair to criticize the presidential administration for the failings of the Fed chairman since the President actually has little power to remove the Fed chairman from office (he serves a 14 year term, and was appointed by former President Bush). However, President Obama has stated that he would reappoint Ben Bernanke come January 1, 2014, when Bernanke’s current term ends. And that, friends, is enough reason to heap the blame on Obama.

Ben Bernanke subscribes to a mixture of the monetarist school of thought expounded by the likes of Milton Friedman and Keynesian economics which many government officials and economists also believe in. In Bernanke’s mind, government has powerful levers such as adjusting interest rates which must be fine-tuned regularly to keep the economy humming along.

When the economy takes a downturn, the Fed is supposed to lower interest rates, which lowers the cost of borrowing money. When borrowing money is cheaper, people and business supposedly will borrow more money and buy more stuff – keeping the economy going. The obverse is true if the economy heats up too much: the Fed is supposed to raise interest rates, curtailing borrowing and spending.

All of that however is predicated on the consumer spending money. To do that, the consumer needs to have the money in the first place. It is no secret that, after adjusting for inflation, the middle class has remained stagnant since the 1970’s. The decline in manufacturing, outsourcing of IT jobs, and globalization have had long-running downward pressures on wages, hitting the lower-middle and blue collar workers the hardest. Forty years ago, a worker could graduate high school, get a factory job, and after twenty years get a respectable wage and benefits. You see some of this in the collective bargaining agreements that are still active in many General Motors plants – veteran workers easily make $25 an hour or more with just a high school education. But that is the exception rather than the rule. New GM workers make a fraction of that, and the $50,000 a year blue collar job is going the way of the dodo.

A Brief History Lesson on the Financial Crisis

Increasingly from the 1990’s on, consumer spending was propped up by debt financing. We saw this in the run-up of the stock market and then the rise in housing prices. Consumers could tap into the increased equity of their homes to take a vacation or buy a new car. The economy seemed to be humming along, and all was well, so long as houses continued to appreciate in value.

Problem is, Fed policy has been directly responsible for the past two recessions – the dot-com bust of 2000 and the financial crisis of 2008, which the economy continues to hemorrhage from today. I will focus primarily on the financial crisis of 2008 and the Fed response since then, which has precipitated the economic situation we are now mired in. In the early 2000’s, in response to the dot-com bust and subsequent recession, the Fed, chaired by Alan Greenspan, lowered interest rates to 1%. According to monetary theory, lower interest rates cheapens borrowing – and for the next five years, borrowing picked up significantly as people took out new loans on new houses, cars, boats, and other big-ticket items.

But the underlying economics simply weren’t there. Middle-class jobs were disappearing and incomes were stagnant or falling. Gas prices hit $3 per gallon for the first time in 2005, causing drivers of big SUV’s to lose enormous amounts of money just in keeping the tank filled up. People continued their lifestyles in the face of these pressures by floating on credit – tapping into their home equity. This was possible because many believed that houses would continue to appreciate in value indefinitely.

Thing is, that didn’t happen. The Fed, now chaired by Ben Bernanke, raised interest rates starting in 2005 in response to inflationary pressures. This was all in accordance with the monetarist school of economic thought.

The wheels fell off elsewhere. In response to increasing pressure to get more loans out the door, unscrupulous bankers and their sales agents invented the “ARM” mortgage, short for adjustable-rate mortgage. Essentially, the bank would fire off a loan with a gimmick rate to a buyer who may or may not be qualified, giving the unsuspecting buyer the greasy assurance that he or she could refinance in the future if rates began to rise. This allowed bankers to get more loans out the door, increasing profits and commissions for salesmen.

In order to free up the capital again to make another loan, the bank then packaged the unqualified lender’s mortgage with a bunch of good mortgages and resold the package as a “mortgage-backed security.” Essentially, the investor, rather than the bank, would assume the risk of the homeowners defaulting in exchange for the returns on the good mortgages. Credit-rating agencies such as Moody’s and S&P gave these mortgage-backed securities an AAA rating, indicating that they were the safest kind of investment. So, thousands of risk-averse investors – bond buyers, pension funds, people who hate losing money – loaded up on these mortgage backed securities, thinking they were safe.

Take a step back to the original homeowner, who got one of those adjustable-rate mortgages. When Ben Bernanke raised interest rates starting in 2005, the interest rates on these mortgages began to rise as well. Many of the homeowners who had qualified for an ARM mortgage didn’t qualify for a refinance despite the banker’s assurance in the past – thus, they watched their interest rate and corresponding monthly payment hit the roof. It wasn’t long before the defaults and foreclosures began.

By 2008, the peak had been reached – and after that, foreclosures multiplied and housing prices began a historic and precipitous drop. Once investors became aware of how many of their “supposedly safe mortgage backed securities” were actually terrible investments, they panicked and quickly dumped them on the banks, which were forced to take them back. Once banks became aware of the magnitude of the problem, they just as quickly realized how many of them other banks had, too – and suddenly had no idea what assets and liabilities other banks actually had on their balance sheets.

That froze up the credit markets and cost us long-running financial companies such as Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, Countrywide Financial, and IndyMac. As the bottom fell out of demand for housing due to credit disappearing, housing prices began to fall too. In some of the hardest-hit places such as Nevada and California, houses are still worth 50% of what they were five years ago. Thus, the equity-financed economic boom suddenly began to work in reverse – as now millions of people were now underwater on their loans: that is to say, their house was worth less than the loan they had out on it.

This sudden collapse in spending put the skids on the economy which was already reeling from $4/gallon gasoline and a divided and unpopular Congress at home. The stock market consequently lost almost half its value in a few months and housing prices are still down nationwide by a quarter or even a third from their 2007 levels.

In short, Alan Greenspan caused the rise, and Ben Bernanke caused the fall.

Ben Bernanke, however, continues to kick us while we’re still down.

It’s All Ben Bernanke’s Fault

In response to the credit markets freezing, Treasury secretary Henry Paulson engineered a $700 billion “bailout” of the banks, which would provide temporary and emergency liquidity to markets that had by then largely frozen up. Despite widespread opposition, Republican leaders such as President Bush and Mitch McConnell strongarmed the bailout through the Senate and forced the House to come to terms within a week, giving the Treasury broad authority to create and hand out as much as $700 billion, often sent in lump sum cash payments to the banks – which became known as TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

By most objective measures, the program worked – it freed up the credit markets enough to get them going again, banks were permitted to take over troubled assets of other banks, and the final cost to taxpayers is somewhere in the $80 billion range. All is fine and well, and indeed TARP’s payback exceeded even my wildest expectations.

Ben Bernanke responded by quickly dropping the interest rate to 0%. That’s right, zero percent interest. It’s been there since 2008, and currently the Fed is talking about keeping it there until at least 2015. If you’ve ever wondered why your savings account isn’t paying jack crap anymore, it’s all Ben Bernanke’s fault.

If you’ve ever wondered why CD’s at the bank don’t pay jack crap anymore, it’s all Ben Bernanke’s fault.

If you’ve ever wondered why 10-year US treasury bonds are stuck at 1.6%, it’s all Ben Bernanke’s fault.

And if you’ve ever wondered why inflation is on the march, gas prices are rising, food prices are rising, and wages aren’t keeping up, it’s all Ben Bernanke’s fault.

Ben Bernanke lowered interest rates to zero in the mistaken belief that lower interest rates would cheapen loans and increase consumer spending. That is true, except when the underlying economics don’t make sense. I’ve used the phrase “underlying economics” multiple times so far, and I’ll keep using it – when middle class jobs aren’t there, when hours and pay are being cut, when people are squeezed by high gas prices – people simply aren’t going to spend money they don’t have, no matter how “cheap” the loan is. That’s why, despite loan rates at historic lows, loans simply aren’t going out in the same numbers that they used to.

Ben Bernanke, on his part, doubled down on his mistaken bet and launched a round of unconventional monetary policy, called “quantitative easing.” Don’t led the Fed chairman fool you on this one – it’s simply printing money. The Fed prints money (electronically, these days) and plows it into Treasury bonds in an attempt to drive down the interest rates even further. Ideally, it drives interest rates below zero (after counting inflation) and will provide an extra impetus for borrowers to… well, borrow.

Trouble is, the lenders see right through this malarkey – and just won’t lend anymore. Now, it is nearly impossible to get a decent loan unless you have stellar credit – because the risk to the bank is too great, even with a small chance of default, in the face of such miniscule returns.

So what does good ole Ben Bernanke do? He then triples down on his bet, engaging in even more quantitative easing, now known as QE2 and QE3. The first time, the Fed handed out large amounts of money to the banks (about $1.5 trillion) and the banks turned right around and parked the money in TIPS – treasury inflation-protected securities.

The second time, Ben Bernanke tried buying up about $75 billion of US government bonds monthly for a time of about six months (or about 70% of all the bonds being issued monthly). All this did in the summer of 2011 was stoking unwanted inflation and gas prices again flirted with $4 a gallon, more than offsetting any gains made in consumer spending via the loan markets.

Then came QE3, starting in summer 2012 – where the Fed would buy roughly $40 billion of government bonds indefinitely. That should scare you, me, every economist, and every other rational thinker out there. Printing $500 billion a year is simply inviting disaster. Although current core CPI indicators remain low (primarily because they don’t consider food or fuel), we are going to be reaping a whirlwind of inflation before long.

What, then, does this have to do with President Obama? After all, I’ve spent the past ten minutes beating on Ben Bernanke, an unelected Fed chairman with virtually unlimited power and no accountability to anyone.

The tie back to President Obama comes in the form of the President’s political support of Ben Bernanke. Although Bernanke is a Bush appointee, President Obama is on the record as supporting Ben Bernanke, and has all intent on re-nominating Ben Bernanke for another fourteen-year term as Fed chief on January 1, 2014. That means Bernanke would be on that post until 2028. I’m not convinced America could take another fourteen years of sub-zero interest rates, inflation, and misguided monetarist economics.

A Potentially Successful Monetary Policy

As someone who received his bachelor’s in economics, I feel like I’m uniquely qualified to answer this question – so, bear with me.

As President, I would immediately seek a political solution and bring as much pressure as possible to force Ben Bernanke to resign, effective immediately. Although there is no established political procedure for doing this, a President can heap bad publicity, pressure Congress to officially condemn any continued money-printing, and legislatively revoke portions of the Fed’s charter.

I would appoint Richard Fisher, current Fed chairman out of Dallas, to be Fed chairman, with a specific mandate to get inflation under control and reverse all forms of “quantitative easing” as quickly as possible. The interest rates would necessarily have to rise to a minimum of 2, maybe even 2.5% in order to give banks a proper incentive to loan money again.

Of course, that would have a disastrous short-run effect on the stock market – expect the Dow index to drop by two thousand points within a week. But they’ll get over it. After this, the Fed must maintain a hands-off policy, allowing the economy to recover on its own terms. That, of course, is a political solution (creating good middle-class jobs), not a monetary solution.

And I’ve already began to discuss the woeful job President Obama has done in creating good middle-class jobs.

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The Economic Case Against Barack Obama, Part One

It is no secret outside the Washington Beltway and Manhattan Island that the American economy is still absolute rubbish. While President Obama jets around the world on Air Force One bowing to Saudi sheiks, the rest of the United States – and nearly 300 million Americans outside of the DC/NYC metro areas – remain mired in economic stagnation, continued uncertainty, and a loss of confidence that the America left for the next generation will be better than the America that’s being left behind.

The objective numbers are indisputable. 47 million Americans are on food stamps, representing a 50% increase in the past four years and the largest number in history. One in six Americans – nearly 53 million – are in poverty, also the largest number in history. Unemployment remains lodged at 8%, interest rates remain at zero, the government has run consecutive trillion-dollar deficits, and entitlement spending is in imminent danger of spiraling completely out of control.

All of this is being caused, directly or indirectly, by Barack Obama’s abjectly failed attempts to initiate an economic recovery. I will address each issue separately: the failure of the stimulus package, the lack of business confidence, the failure of monetary policy, the lousy economics of bailouts, and the longer term effects of policies such as the PPACA and Dodd-Frank. It will, consequently, be subdivided into four sections, with a brief commentary on what could credibly work – or at least what I could get on board with.

Let’s Face It, the Stimulus Didn’t Work

The White House economist, Christina Romer, famously claimed that with the stimulus package, unemployment would peak at around 8.5% and quickly decline to 5.4% by Election Day of 2012. Well, as of November 8 (two days after Election Day), the peak was more like 10.5% and unemployment remains stubbornly high at 7.8%. And even that number is misleading, as it is a very narrow of definition of unemployment.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports monthly the U-3 unemployment, which includes workers that are (1) unemployed and who are (2) looking for work at the present moment. Unfortunately, this fails to include workers who are either (1) working part time instead of full time; (2) working at FedEx when they have a bachelor’s in finance; or (3) have given up on finding a job altogether. That broader definition of unemployment, known as the U-6, is north of 13%. That is the true economic situation in America.

Why then, did the ARA fail so abjectly in achieving its goals? The answer lies in the failure of Keynesian economics, which many economists and advisors in the Obama Administration subscribe to. The theory, proposed by the British economist John Maynard Keynes in the 1930’s, stated that the economy was subject to boom-bust cycles as people didn’t always necessarily act in the common interest. When the economy took a down-swing, it was government’s responsibility to increase spending – via financing deficits – to take up the slack, until the economy recovered. When the economy was good, government would pay down that debt in preparation for the next downturn, and the government would be well-positioned to counter that.

The problem lies in the failure of Keynesian economic theory when actually applied in the real world. According to the traditional IS-LM demand curve, a dollar in government spending will produce as many as five extra dollars down the road. The government wants to build a road, so they hire a company. The company pays its workers, the workers shop at Kroger’s for food, Kroger’s pays its workers, and so on down the chain.
Unfortunately, the actual return on government investment is much lower. Government, unlike the private sector, is not accountable financially to anyone. Not the shareholders’ board, not the Wall Street investors, not the accountants, nobody. Government has no incentive to economize, to seek the best value for their money, or even to invest their money properly. Hence – and this is a temptation on both sides of the aisle – legislators try to bring the bennies home to their districts or their ideologies, regardless of whether it makes economic sense.

Of the $787 billion stimulus package, roughly $90 billion of it went towards “green energy” companies of dubious investment value. While we can sit here and extol the virtues of the green economy endlessly such as reducing pollution and getting us off fossil fuels, the intractable argument remains that the economics of solar power and electric cars are lousy. Reuters recently came out with a report that the true cost of building a Chevrolet Volt is closer to $90,000. MSRP after Federal tax credits is still in the $40,000 range, which means that not only is the Volt priced well out of many working Americans’ ranges, but also that the Chevy Volt is a massive loss leader for General Motors.

Other green companies that received generous Federal stimulus dollars have also gone belly-up, with disastrous PR results for the administration’s policy. A123 Systems, Solyndra, and Fisker are just a few of the more well-known names. Frankly, I’m not surprised Fisker went bankrupt – their cars were mysteriously catching fire for as-yet unknown reasons.

Another $300 billion of the stimulus package went almost directly to the states in the form of tax benefits and direct transfers to state treasuries. This permitted states to close up budget deficits for a year or two, since the broader economy’s fall resulted in a corresponding decline in state revenues. Unlike the Federal government however, states are extremely limited in their ability to finance deficit spending. This is why we see exceedingly nasty fights over union pension reforms, tax hikes, and fights over local tax levies since about 2010 or so – because that’s when the stimulus money ran out, and states had to tighten their collective belts. Effectively, the stimulus package allowed states to punt on their budget deficits and kick the can down the road a couple years.

That time has run out. Large cities such as Stockton in California have gone bankrupt. That state is talking about raising the state income tax to an unheard-of 13% in a desperate bid to close a yawning budget gap. Scranton, PA is running under state oversight and is paying its city workers minimum wage in violation of their labor agreement because the city is flat broke. Ohio, failing to reform public employee collective bargaining agreements, was forced to gut state funding to local school districts, causing local fights over tax levies which have been almost uniformly rejected. Kentucky state employees are forced to take mandatory, unpaid furloughs. State and local government continue to lose workers in the face of unsolved budget woes, hampering the recovery on all levels. I can go on and on about the shortfall of money at the local level.

Another $200 billion of the stimulus went to entitlement spending. This primarily took the form of increased food stamps, increased welfare spending, and extending the unemployment insurance (UI) from 26 weeks out to 99 weeks as out-of-work people were given more time to find another job. Of course, as Newt Gingrich famously quipped during a debate, 99 weeks is an associate degree. Government was purely concerned with extending benefits with nary a look at how much more productively that time may have been spent, reeducating and retraining workers.

Now, did each of these programs have immediate benefits? Sure. The state employees remained on the job for another two years. People on unemployment could pay their bills and eat properly while looking for another job. Jobs were created at Fisker, Solyndra, and other green companies. But all of that was temporary and the underlying economics simply failed to support those programs indefinitely. It’s obvious that unemployment will not last forever. And unless the underlying economics behind state government and green energy make sense, they will go belly-up the minute the government rug is pulled out from under them.

The market knows this, which is why private investors and consumers will fail to get on board with the Chevy Volt. If government wanted to make a concerted effort to shift national energy policy, government must find a way to credibly discount private sector fears of green energy’s lousy economics. This can only be done by making a long-term effort over decades to subsidize and develop the green industry, including creating comprehensive economic incentives to improve energy efficiency/renewability. We can see this by numerous private programs piggybacking on the technology that NASA pioneered over five decades of government investment and the subsequent achievements they made. The cost of a comprehensive green energy policy would of course have been many times what any legislator could have stomached: thus, we were forced to settle with a two-year plan which was doomed to fail from the start.

Lastly, the stimulus package results in a PR disaster for the Obama administration because few people could point to any quantifiable benefits from the program. The public at large is not going to notice when their state employees remain on the job. They are unlikely to notice in say, Ohio, when a California company gets stimulus dollars. Suburban residents will not benefit from a high-speed rail line that goes from one city center to another, with no stops in between. And someone who kept their job is not going to benefit directly from their neighbor receiving unemployment benefits.

A Stimulus Plan That Could Have Worked

There is one credible, visible stimulus package that I could have gotten on board with – $800 billion over the next ten years to rebuild and upgrade our roads, bridges, and tunnels. Fixing potholes, rebuilding bridges, and upgrading the capacity and design of our Interstate and US highway networks would produce benefits far in excess of the initial government investment. Higher speeds and higher network capacity mean less otherwise-productive time wasted on the roads or mired in congestion, which will return untold billions for decades to come. Although more difficult to quantify, lower commute times can translate to better quality of life, employee morale and productivity, and needless to say, less fuel wasted in traffic jams.

The Sierra Club, Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory, and the rest of the public transit advocates will of course cry foul at this, claiming that increasing road capacity will increase global warming, increase pollution, and continue the trend of suburbanization. But they fundamentally fail to forget that roads have been in use since the rise of civilization. They don’t have to necessarily carry gasoline-powered cars, and the time may well be in the near future that cars run on electricity or some other renewable, clean fuel.

Killing road expansion in the name of deterring environmental harm is simply hindering progress and development – the exact same kind of economic development we need today to get America back on track. Brazil today runs a significant proportion of its road cars on ethanol extracted from sugarcane, which is extremely renewable and efficient (far more than corn ethanol). And the issue of suburbanization is entirely the City’s problem – the City failed to attract and retain residents. It’s not an excuse to kill road expansion.
In Part Two, I will address the failure of monetary policy to kickstart the economy, primarily due to actions at the Federal Reserve, support from the Obama administration in these Fed actions, and a possible solution to the Fed’s actions.

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Review: 2007 Toyota Prius

Sometimes an automaker can hit a line drive into center field, bounce it into the warning track, and get a decent double or triple. Others knock the ball completely out of the park. Still others swing one, two, and three times and they’re out of the ole ball game. In 2004, Toyota managed to do the unthinkable – a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning of the World Series to beat the Yankees by one.

That grand slam was the second generation Prius, built between 2004 and 2009. Built during a time of sub-$2 gasoline, the Prius promised an unheard-of 48 MPG around town, with many users reporting even-higher fuel economy numbers. But few bought these vehicles at first, save for Californians who took advantage of the little yellow HOV stickers, which allowed them to drive solo in the otherwise empty carpool lane while other traffic was mired in its own congestion.

But I digress. Under the hood is Toyota’s 1NZ series four cylinder engine, displacing 1.5 liters and producing the princely sum of 73 horsepower at full tilt. The electric motor produces another 60 horsepower and just under 300 ft/lbs of torque, providing plenty of get up and go from the starting line. As an added bonus, the gasoline engine will shut off when not needed under ~40 MPH and run on electricity alone, providing a significant boost to fuel economy around town. Both motors are seamlessly mated to a CVT transmission via Toyota’s patented hybrid synergy drive.

The EPA reckons this car is good for 48 MPG around town and 45 MPG on the highway. A year (and 30,000 miles) after buying this car, I can truly say YMMV. Your mileage will vary. The car’s computer tracks what fuel mileage you’re getting, and I’ve had one tank of gas as high as 63 MPG, probably driving 55 in the slow-poke lane with the windows up, air conditioner off. Or something like that. I’ve also had as low as 37 MPG, driving like a tool on I-68 through the mountains of West Virginia and western Maryland. In practice, I’ve come to expect anything between 45 and 55 MPG – which is miles ahead of the competition in almost every imaginable respect. I’ve found myself stopping at gas stations for other things – milk, chips, snacks, beer, etc. – but not needing to buy any gas.

Interior room is impressive and the seats are surprisingly well-constructed, provided you put a seat cover on them. I didn’t for the center armrest/console, and within a few months the collected dirt, grease, and sweat from my right arm is noticeable. I’ve tried scrubbing it out with little luck. Within a couple years, it will probably be about as sanitary as  a hog’s barn – and by this point, the armrest will have to be fumigated, cremated, and buried at sea.

The cargo capacity is in most respects like a midsize car, with one glaring exception: the trunk will not fit a golf bag. It is about three inches too narrow for a golf bag to be laid sideways in the trunk, due to the plastic vent for the hybrid battery taking up the space. Consequently, I have to lower the rear seats and place the golf bag in length-wise. That’s annoying.

As to performance, I have had little problem keeping up with other traffic on the highway – I’ve never felt like a liability out on the road. That said, performance drops off considerably above 75 MPH, forcing you to plan highway merges and passes ahead of time.

I must be perfectly clear, however – this is not a performance car. It’s actually the anti-performance car of the century. Toyota’s traction control, ABS, and VSC (vehicle stability control) are all incredibly aggressive in the Prius, ostensibly to protect the hybrid drive. Unfortunately, it won’t let you spin the wheels, drift, burnout, or indeed, to do anything to prove your manliness.

The suspension in the standard Prius is quite roly-poly around corners, too. I recommend getting the Touring version, which includes a tighter suspension and premium 16” wheels (my ’07 has the wheels but not the suspension).

As far as reliability goes, Toyota has really done themselves well. The reliability of this Prius has been second to none. It’s never left me stranded, it’s never overheated, and precisely zero things have broken inside the car since I bought it. The only things I’ve replaced in a year was a headlight, the 12 volt battery that came originally with the car, and I swapped out Toyota’s wimpy horn for a beefier one.

Verdict: As a method of reliable, fuel-efficient, safe personal transportation, this car is as brilliant as it gets. As a track car, though, I’d rather go on a bus than drive one of these.

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Review: 2005 Chevy Cavalier

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I am completely and fully convinced that God created the world in six days. And on the seventh, while He rested, Beelzebub came up and created Detroit, the UAW, and the General Motors factory in Lordstown, Ohio, where this car was made.

I had the opportunity to take a 2005 Cavalier for a drive. It had just a hair over 105,000 miles on it at the time and I picked it up from the shop, if that tells you anything – it had just had over $1,000 of work done, the lion’s share of which went towards replacing the fuel pump. This particular car was equipped with a 2.2 liter four-cylinder engine, called the Ecotec. When it was new, the Ecotec was good for 140 horsepower, giving the car a semi-respectable 0-60 time of in my estimation nine seconds and speed that is competitive with (and actually somewhat better than) other compact cars of the time. The government reckons this car is good for 31 MPG on the highway, which isn’t bad considering the body and styling hadn’t been updated since the mid 90’s.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. According to the owner, this is the second fuel pump that has been replaced in the past seven years. The paint is literally peeling away, leaving the bare metal underneath. The floor has been re-welded three times in a semi-succesful attempt to keep puddles from entering the car and ruining the upholstery. The accelerator pedal (throttle body?) is hesitant and jerky when you start to get going, there is an alarming wheel wobble when you get up to around 60 MPH, and I am convinced that the rear suspension is built out of cardboard. I won’t even get into the truly woeful state of the brakes, the appalling road noise, the litany of power window issues, the non-functioning windshield washer pump, or the tie rod that gave out about a week after I drove it.

2005, and it’s already ready for the scrap heap.

Verdict: Rubbish.

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Review: Ke$ha – “Die Young”

Normally I’m not a fan of this kind of music, despite this artist’s popping up all over the radio back in late 2010 with the album “Animal” (if I recall correctly). Had a few catchy tunes, especially if you heard them enough, but auto-tuned as all get-out. The music videos were generally over the top concerning partying, glitter, and alcoholism.
In my personal world, Ke$ha was fading into obscurity before long, as I may have heard one or two things after that – but that was the end of it, really.

Or was it? This came out last month. And it’s such a change from the usual diet of under-engineered, over auto-tuned rubbish that we’ve become used to that it’s actually all right.

Verdict: Mixed.

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