Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Indiana Spring

It happens every two years. Here in Hoosierville we never know what will emerge from the ground once the soil temperature and longer daylight combine to favor germination. Hard to tell which comes first, dandelions, political lawn signs or crabgrass.

Lawns occupying a corner lot on a busy intersection or roadway will often sprout a dozen or so political signs usually belonging to the same party. This one in a low traffic area obviously has a theme.


These days it doesn't take an election for certain union members to display a lawn sign proclaiming "Proud Union Home". Some signs appear on lawns all year long as this nearby property in the above photo.

There are others like it. It's as if us non-union homeowners should be ashamed that we managed to succeed on our own without assistance from a historically sketchy organization.


Rarely has Indiana been regarded by the national media as influential in a national outcome. 2016 appears to be to be different.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Oh No, Not Another Earth Day...

We can save the planet. If we want to. I guess.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Federal Takeover of State Debt is About to Begin...

Often people focus on the "loud" items and miss the subtle, important events that really change the world.  On the positive side, the 401(k) plan has that obscure name because a financial expert basically "invented" it out of a line in the tax code which enabled tax-deferred savings.  And Jack Bogle of Vanguard did the same thing with "passive" investing, which reduced fees and for practical terms has taken over the investing world (along with ETF's).

One very subtle item that is about to occur is the nationalization of state debt (and likely debts of individual cities) by the Federal government.  At the highest level, states and cities have made promises (mainly pensions) to their employees that are un-payable without raising taxes to extortionate rates.  Detroit cracked first but since it was a city and there was some state framework they were able to use bankruptcy, but many more are to follow, including Puerto Rico (right now) and soon thereafter likely the city of Chicago or its' teachers' pensions as well as the state of Illinois.

A very similar event occurred in Europe when the ECB basically put the debts of Greece and Portugal onto the backs of taxpayers in Germany and Holland.  The ECB had a moment (several moments, actually) when they could have fundamentally changed how Greece ran their economy, shutting down statist laws and heavy governmental interference in the economy to open up competition and growth, but they blinked and instead just "wired them money in exchange for promises".  The Greeks, of course, haven't kept their promises, and why should they, given that the ECB continually blinks when the showdown occurs.

The reason that these states and territories like Puerto Rico are in dire straits is because they

1. spend more money than they make every year
2. rely on borrowing to pay for operating expenses
3. have giant, unfunded liabilities on top of this that can never be repaid (pensions, medical bills, etc...)

This situation is enabled by a governing class that views funds as an opportunity to redistribute wealth to favored constituents and relies on "fairness" as a bedrock of their planning.  The apex of this sort of planning can be seen in crony capitalist states like Brazil, where large enterprises like the National Oil Company (partially on the stock market, partially owned by the state) are used to fund politicians and social programs and are systematically diverted away from their core mission (to make money) until the enterprises are bled almost totally dry and then, ironically, the state has to bail out the very companies that were supposed to provide for the socialistic wealth in the first place.

The CORE issue is - if you give these sorts of entities money (bailout) without a "root and branch" cleaning of the issues - you will just get more of the same, indefinitely, as their individually painful debts become part of the larger national (or pan-European debt) which continues the little game of overspending and wasting money on favored political groups for a little longer (maybe a couple years, maybe longer).

The slippery slope - the trigger - is occurring right now in Puerto Rico.  That entire economy is corrupt and ridden with subsidies from electricity to taxes to everything else.  For Puerto Rico to thrive, it would need to break down barriers to private enterprise, reduce taxes, levies and bureaucracy, and find some way to bring logical industry into their jurisdiction.  However, the more likely course is as follows:

1. point out the current individuals suffering from a lack of funding (the poor, kids in school, the elderly)
2. note that the debt which was once owned by individuals was bought up by hedge funds for a fraction of their original value - these funds are in a position to fight (legally and politically) for repayment and although they may be termed "vultures" or something else, they really are the last man standing for the individuals without the means to fight legally for their rights
3. use the political system to "promise" reforms that will never be carried out (because why would you if you can use funds to enable the current system to thrive)
4. talk about the retirees and "promises" made to them over the years that cannot be paid and how they can't go back to the work force and earn more money so that they have to be made whole
5. use political or class warfare to point out the groups that run Washington don't look like the groups that are broke and make it a fairness issue or tied to some century plus grievance

It is very likely that these tactics will "work" and that the debts of Puerto Rico will be backstopped by the US government.  While this technically isn't a "bailout", it absolutely is, because Puerto Rico can't borrow one dollar on their own anymore (who would loan money from someone who says they won't pay you back) and we know that without major reform (which won't happen), Puerto Rico will just continue to bleed money indefinitely (and fall back on fairness and the above tactics to ensure that this keeps happening).

Then soon after this subtle bailout (and likely before Puerto Rico fails AGAIN, which will happen again as it will with Detroit), entities of Illinois or the state itself will drive straight through this loophole and Federalize their debt, too.  The state and entities will make lavish promises about change that will be never occur because this is the lifeblood of the Democratic party (patronage workers and the public sector) and all of the clout / featherbedding / etc... will continue on indefinitely, without any of the sorts of laws that enable competition.

Watch the headlines... see this occur... it will be seismic in its long term nature, because it will fundamentally change the nature of the US government, since the debts of the states and cities will become everyones' debt and we don't have any "real" tools to govern their behavior or fix the long term promises that destroy competitiveness and economic growth.

This is the real story, it is happening under our noses, and instead we are following these idiotic presidential campaigns of pure vapor.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Pub Cheese

It's been a while since I posted a food entry here on the blog.This one is worthy. No recipe makes to the blog unless it has been tested and approved right here in The Country Bunker Test Kitchen®. We try to maintain a brand reputation you know. First some background.

For years we've enjoyed a smooth chilled cheese spread with pretzels or on a variety of crackers. At the local grocer it was on the expensive side for the packaged amount. 


A few brands stood out. We rated this one highly. Here's another we enjoyed over the years.

My favorite brand began in a small tavern located in Marshall Michigan called WIn Schuler's. While I never ate a meal at Schuler's (she had a few times) their Cheese spread snack was made widely available at the grocery store under the brand "Win Schuler's Bar Scheese".

Never did we think of making something such as this at home until we stumbled on a great recipe that beat all the grocery store choices. It is not a mimic recipe meant to taste like one of the others mentioned.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Firepower To The People

Very quietly last Tuesday Indiana passed legislation making it legal to hunt deer with Hi-Power rifles statewide on private land.


One would assume this would please the deer hunters. To my surprise, according to my customers, more hunters have reservations than are in favor.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Breaking The Back of Winter lll

Our final day in Key Largo was spent on my friend's 36' twin screw inboard boat heading out to sea.


The trip required navigating a few shallow mangrove mazes, open bays and a channel that led us to open blue water. It was a 90 minute trip to get to the offshore Pennekamp reef.

Along the way my friend the captain pointed out points of interest like this home on the north side of Largo owned by rap guy named Pitbull. Never heard of him.

This tells me how much out of touch I am with pop culture. It's my choice and not some unintended ignorance. Whatever it is Mr. Pitbull does he has been rewarded handsomely for it.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Is Blogger Dying?

I bought a new iPad and was going through all the steps of setting it up.  After the hard ones (email migration, etc...) I started looking around for an iOS app for Blogger (the software that powers this blog).  Since I am on my iPad a lot (I have a little keyboard and it is usually with me, as opposed to my 2011 Mac Book Pro which usually sits on my desk) it is cool to be able to get a quick post done and out the door.

But as I started looking for a Google Blogger official app, I couldn't find it in the App Store.  That's odd, because it exists on my iPhone so I'm not hallucinating.  But I really couldn't find it.  So I started looking around various sites and, lo and behold, Google isn't making an app any more for iOS.  They apparently pulled it and it doesn't exist (although if you have an old one you can keep using it).

So now I installed chrome on my iPad (you can use Safari too, but I figured Chrome would be more integrated) but it kind of sucks.  I can't get the side bars to work very well and it takes a while to do something simple to put labels on a blog post.  I haven't tried uploading pictures yet but will work on that and maybe it just takes a while to get used to this whole thing.

Funny one time I had a meeting with a big wig at Google ventures who used to be an executive at blogger and he assured me that Google had no plans to shut this down but I think this is kind of a bad sign.  Why Google would ever give up on something that gives them free money is beyond me... They probably have like one guy working on Blogger because there are few updates and it is a really sleepy app.  But it hooks up with the Google ad universe so once again I just don't understand why they would turn away free money.  Not that I actually know if Blogger is going away, I have like 2 scraps of info and I'm just speculating.

But in reality Word Press is kicking the crap out of Google.  Dan and I have other word press sites that are free (they throw ads in from time to time but we don't care, they can make the 3 cents that our blog generates) and they are super easy to use with advanced features and are constantly innovating.  Maybe Google just doesn't want to compete in that space for whatever reason.  I don't know.

If we started this site today I am sure we'd use word press.  Likely at some point we'll just cut over when we have some free time (ha ha ha not going to happen in the near term).  Oh well enough boring thoughts about blogging...

Book Review - "Dream Big - How The Brazilian Team Behind 3G Capital..."

As I discussed earlier I am trying to read more "real" books and less random items on the Internet. I am going to try to take a few minutes to blog about them, too.

The book is called "Dream Big - How the Brazilian Team Behind 3G Capital... Acquired Anheuser-Busch, Burger King, and Heinz".  These Brazilians started in a dysfunctional, controlled economy in Brazil beset by hyperinflation and other emerging market ills and ended up taking control of iconic components of the USA including staples we consume every day.

How they did it is documented in this book, and it makes for a great read.  The businessmen believed in a ruthless meritocracy, and didn't allow their wives or children to enter the business.  They emulated early Goldman Sachs, which was a partnership that demanded discretion and dedication rather than splashy purchases and high current income.

When they acquired a business, they generally followed the same playbook, including:

  • Only acquiring businesses where they could control management (not a financial investor)
  • Manage businesses for the long term
  • Implement zero based budgeting and ruthlessly control costs, including items such as having executives share hotel rooms while on the road and print double sided on paper to avoid waste
  • Using the 20 / 70 / 10 rule from GE where the bottom 10% were eliminated every year but the top 20% could reap huge awards, a multiple of their salary, in bonuses
  • Take down walls between the executives and staff and move into an open and informal floor plan (this was very radical in class conscious Brazil)
  • Drive revenues up and attack the competition by using data and metrics to measure success and have specific goals that are publicly displayed
  • Promote younger, aggressive staff into lead positions including the CEO, and always make way for upcoming talent
With these rules they turned around businesses rapidly and left cozy corporate offices in the dust.  These principles could be effectively applied at almost any business and attack the heart of the "Principal / Agent" problem where shareholders want growth and a rise in the stock price but employees prize their own stability and comfort and don't want to take risk.  By acting as shareholders and not managers and staying for the long haul, the 3G leaders shook out all the old guard and effectively turned over the entire culture, leading to a metrics-driven high profit enterprise.

This book is highly recommended and is a bracing contrast to the softer side of employee management and back to the "roots" of shareholder-driven capitalism.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Fun Video

Sometimes you are having a bad day and just need to see something funny and a bit heartwarming. I love Llamas and Alpacas (don't know why) as anyone who received my holiday card noted and this video shows how they are using them as service animals in Portland. This is a cause I can get behind.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Chicago River and Construction

There's a lot of activity along the Chicago River. If you haven't been to Chicago in a while I highly recommend that you take the river walk along the south side of the Chicago River which extends through Streeterville / River North. They have bars and restaurants and you can rent canoes and do some people-watching at river level. Here's the official web site.



The construction is fun to watch as you walk down Wacker Drive. They have barges where they bring in equipment and install a metal barrier and then fill it in with gravel to extend out into the river. The river is still green from St. Patricks' day in this photo above. If you have kids or grandchildren who like to watch construction and cranes and such this is highly recommended, as well.



We keep building new high rises in Chicago. This photo is looking west along the river and you can see the two large buildings that are nearly completed. It is a whole new Chicago!

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Book Review - "Sneakers - Fashion, Dress and Subculture"

Dan and I have been going back and forth in recent months about a desire to stop looking at the "ephemeral" web and to start trying to read actual books. For many years my primary collection was physical books, and in the transition to electronic books, I kind of faded out my usual efforts of purchasing books on a regular basis. However, I've recently just given up entirely on physical books and am going completely electronic with Amazon.com. I can read those books on my iPad or my Mac and they are there forever. Virtually everything is available in Kindle format. So now there is no excuse and it is time to begin buying regularly and actually focusing on reading and getting deep into a topic rather than flitting about on my smartphone.

For a variety of reasons I am very interested in sneakers including the history of shoes and what makes them important to people's lives. They say that you know you are old when you don't understand the motivations or decisions of younger people and in some ways I am definitely at that stage of life. For instance - I just can't embrace the idea of going to a place where "bottle service" is routine and you spend $400 on a bottle of vodka. I grew up in sports bars or local taverns and while I absolutely conceptually understand that if you want to meet girls and this enables you to do so (they just go from table to table drinking with the guys) that is completely the thing to do. I just can't bring myself to think that this makes any sense and thus I am old. On another dimension - I didn't ever think much about footwear or brand name clothing. I worked in suits and then business casual and if I worked out it was old clothes or shorts or sweats.

The book I bought was about sneakers and it is a scholarly book written by a female academic. It was worth reading from my perspective but she warned readers in the free preview that you can get on Amazon that it was scholarly and not for everyone. She was right. There were many references to academic theories on groups and an entire male / female approach that grew tiresome if you weren't in the academic arena. However, since she warned me of that in the free preview before I bought the book I figured I wouldn't rate it on Amazon because I'd be the first rating that she'd receive and for all the work an author puts into a book they need a lot of 5 star ratings or it looks bad. If I wasn't going to give her a 5 star rating it is probably best not to rate her at all. But at least I paid her so she gets some cut of whatever Amazon charges.

The interesting thing about the book from my perspective was trying to align the obsession that many young men have with their sneakers (collecting, shopping, trading, and posting in social media) and thinking back to what it was like to be in a subculture that had its own norms and spoken and unspoken rules back when I was a teenager. From my perspective it was heavy metal music, where we bought black concert T shirts that proved that "we were there" and there was a distinct hierarchy to what was "cool" and what "wasn't cool". This extended to the guitars we bought, what records we bought, and what shows we attended. So I got it - being part of a group was good - especially one where you understood each other within some norms, even if many of them were lunkheads. The video "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" is a classic for a reason!

Sneakers and heavy metal are both big business (sneakers much more so, but the fact that Iron Maiden can fly around in their own jet and play for hundreds of thousands of people in South America isn't small change) and they have both been (mostly) appropriated by the masses to some extent. And yet both are still new, with new designs and metal having a foothold around the world in almost every city and creating new genres and always attracting new fans. For both it is likely the disaffected, and predominantly young males, that these cultures embrace, although the metalheads and the sneakerheads would likely feel they have little to nothing in common if they met up.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

New Wake Up Call

Forget Starbucks, Red Bull style energy drinks and those five hour energy shots. They have nothing on Cafecito (Cuban espresso). It is so easy and cheap to make. This may not be news to you tooth-grinding coffee snobs but it was a big discovery for old redneck me. 

My friend has made this at 4am for me on numerous hunting trips. When in Florida he suggested I buy this goofy little espresso brewer for $7 at a tiny Cuban grocery in Hialeah. No fancy espresso machine is necessary.


Water goes into the bottom section. The top half acts as a percolator. Between is a third stage that holds the espresso. Boil. It makes one tidy cup. Not much harder than using those K-Cup brewers which I like. Simple, easy, cheap, savory legal energy. A small four ounce cup puts me in orbit for hours.

The coffee itself is available here in Indiana at my local grocery and of course they have an online store. It is a brand called Bustello and has a dedicated following.

Here is a cup I brewed this morning.


This stuff does what a cup of coffee should do and that is to give you a four cup buzz that lasts hours but is only a few ounces at a fraction of the cost. And it is quite tasty.

Saves trips to the toilet too.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Breaking The Back Of WInter ll

Not everyone shares the same expectations of what a road trip or vacation should be. On our favorite past vacations we chose to explore and see things we would not normally see, going off the beaten path if you will. It's not for us to sit at one resort on a small island, float around on one cruise ship or spend time at one of those guided tour packages for any length of time.

We dedicated one day of our last vacation to explore and experience life in Little Havana near Miami in the city of Hialeah. It felt as if we had left the country for a day. The claim is 75% of Southern Florida residents are Cuban expats. seemed more like 90% to me.

If we were on our own and drove down 8th St. heading east of Miami Int'l I would have turned around and hit the pedal. But my friend, our host and driver, was born in Havana, Cuba in 1954. Currently living in Southwestern Illinois he has excellent connections with relatives and friends in Little Havana. Like many other Cuban expats that land is still a magnet of a place they long to live. Long story short, we were getting the Cuban cook's tour.


Our day began with a visit to Vicki Bakery