Tuesday, January 31, 2006


I haven't thought much about Jim Nussle's campaign for governor. While he has a strong challenge in Vander Plaats, he's the presumptive Republican nominee, and therefore somehow not very interesting. I've been disappointed in his transformation from a bag-wearing young budget hawk to an establishment figure as federal government spending has careened out of control.

But now he's shown some real nerve by defying one of his moneyed backers. From the WHO-TV website:

Bill Krause is one of the Republican party's biggest activists and biggest donors. He may also have the most to lose if lawmakers ban Touchplays. Krause is the founder and owner of the Kum N Go convenience store chain. The lottery says 205 of his stores have Touchplays. Records show Krause also founded a distribution company call Royal Financial. That company distributes nearly 1,500 Touchplays to stores all over the state. So Krause makes money on two fronts. He makes money from distribution of the Touchplay machines. Plus, he makes money the machines bring in to the Kum N Go stores. Krause had supported Jim Nussle for governor. Records show he and his son have donated about 25-thousand dollars to Nussle's campaign.

All that stuff about how the video lottery terminals keep small businessmen solvent, that just cracks me up. Little guys like Kum N Go, with 205 stores with slot machines, and Hy-Vee, with 194 stores in seven states.

I didn't think Nussle had it in him. It's a great sign that he didn't take some wishy-washy middle ground. Still, as bad as they are, even the slot machines are a side issue in the big scheme of things. If Nussle shows he's serious about cutting the bloated state government and rewriting the corporate welfare spigot that serves as our state tax system, suddenly the election will be worth getting excited about.

(Hat tip: State 29)


The second item on Eugene O'Kelley's to-do list is "Unwind Relationships." His approach could have come out of some strange Franklin-Covey seminar for the terminally ill. He evaluates his relationships in a series of concentric circles, starting with his wife, then his children, than his family, and moving out from there to lifetime friends, close business associates, and "People who because of shared experiences or shared passion are friends that enhanced my life and I in turn."

The approach a window on a tightly disciplined mind. In other circumstances it would almost seem like self-parody, but seeing it diagrammed in the dying man's shaking hand makes it seem more poignant and dogged than obsessive.

It turns out to be an enormous task. O'Kelley identifies 1,000 people in the outer circle. Undaunted, he starts sending letters and making phone calls. Many of the people he contacted he had not talked to in years. The effect was to replay scenes from his life:

I was able to conjure so many pleasant memories, momories that I hadn't thought of in years and that, had I not been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer, I might never have thought of again, except for the occasional random association. I was amazed at how truly full and overlapping my life really had been.

It may seem a luxury to have spent more than a little time on this circle, but it was very gratifying.

Still, it was too much. Just do the math: if you have to spend 1/2 hour contacting 1000 people, that's 500 hours. Giving him eight good hours a day for his remaining 90 or so days, he had about 720 hours at his disposal.

I spent almost thee weeks going through the fifth circle, then I was done with it.

By removing this layer, as with the next few layers, I was simplifying my life as I got down to the innermost circles. But three weeks was a lot of time to spend on the fifth circle for a man who had maybe three months. Too much time, actually.

I had miscalculated. I hoped it wouldn't come back to haunt me.

(I'm reading "Chasing Daylight," a forthcoming book by the late CEO of accounting behemoth KPMG. It's a memoir of his life following the diagnosis of his fatal brain cancer. Prior posts here, here, here and here)

Saturday, January 28, 2006

'Daylight': the protagonist tries to make the most of what remains

As Eugene O'Kelley faces his death, he uses tools of his lifetime in business: facing a problem squarely and adopting a plan to deal with it. An inveterate planner, he makes a list:

-Get legal and financial affairs in order
-"Unwind" relationships
-Live in the moment
-Create (but also be open to) great moments, "perfect moments"
-Begin transition to next state
-Plan funeral

Once he makes his list, his training seems ill-suited to his tasks. He has succeeded by anticipating and planning, often 18 months out. With only three months or so left, he decides to live in the moment, to savor the minutes:

Every morning upon waking, I tried my hardest to be in the present moment. Just to appreciate what was around me, that very second. Because if I were in the present moment, I would not be so aware of the time of day, time required to complete my remaining goals, time of year, time I had left. If I were in the present moment, I would be aware only of the experience I was having, not of how this might be the last time I would experience, this, ever. If I were in the present moment, context and history wouldn't be the issues. The experience itself would.

I tried to be conscious of what was around me, really conscious, exclusively conscious.

I failed.

He tries using meditation techniques. He consults New York's Cardinal Egan. Yet the present fails to slow down and blossom for him. Will he learn to live in the present before night falls?

(I'm reading "Chasing Daylight, a forthcoming book by the late CEO of accounting behemoth KPMG. It's a memoir of his life following the diagnosis of his fatal brain cancer. Prior posts here, here and here)

Thursday, January 26, 2006


The book has now progressed through Eugene O'Kelley's terminal diagnosis. Unanticipated aspects of his character are emerging.

As a driven career man, Mr. O'Kelley's first reaction is to tackle his impending death as another project. He doesn't seem to flinch at the reality of his condition. Once it is clear to him that he is well into his final year, he works to formulate a plan. After a very brief transition he makes a clean break with his career and turns to face death on his own terms.

He abandons chemotherapy after three days because he finds that it's not worth the side effects. He continues radiation because it relieves some of the symptoms (not pain - that isn't a problem so far). Here we see a new aspect of his character - empathy, and some reflection.

Just months before, and for my whole life before, I had been used to - and expected - people operating at a very high standard. If they didn't, they might lose my confidence. That's just the way the business world worked. I don't mean to say that I or we lacked all compassion; it's just that our index for evaluating people was competency. Proficiency. Quality. It had to be. If someone said something that in my opinion was carelessly conceived -- whether it was one of the firm's senior partners or my teenage daughter -- I was not above telling him or her that it was "a stupid thing to say." I expected the most from myself too. I was known to flash a temper.

My daily experience at the radiation clinic made me realize that proficiency was not the index I could always use anymore. Or even usually use anymore. Not everyone can perform at the level you'd like. Or that they'd like. They simply can't, try though they may.

For the first time we see a spiritual side - a side which implicitly acknowledges that there are things in life beyond management by objective. He goes to church, only to hear that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven -- surely not a comforting thought for a successful and dying executive. I hope the preacher added the follow-up, that "things that are impossible for men are possible for God."

One passage strikes me as of unusual wisdom:

The business of dying is hard. The wrapping up. The paperwork, the legal work. The stuff that's boring and maddening about life when life is going well. Of course, the other stuff that's happening when dying -- the physical stuff and the huge emotional stuff-- can be unspeakably awful. But if paperwork is enough to break your spirit -- and it is -- how can you have anything left?

A longtime client, one of the smartest and wisest businessmen know, is fighting brain cancer. He's about two years into the six months they gave him when he was diagnosed. I can't help but feel I've been inadequate in sheltering him from the paperwork hassles that don't go away just because you have brain tumors. If I get nothing else from this book, I'm going to make sure to take care of this client and shelter him from spirit-breaking paperwork; the other clients have time to wait.

Prior posts on "Changing Daylight" here and here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I think I met a few people like Eugene O'Kelley back when I practiced in big firm public accounting. I neither understood nor liked them. They were people who went from staff accountant to partner in six or seven years, after, say, landing two or three Fortune 500 accounts. They didn't spend weeks of their life in futile boredom working for an inept or evil senior accountant. They skipped all of their vacations, were always at the office, but never seemed unable to cope at any level. They were rare, and the rest of us in the field offices only saw them flash by on their way to fame and fortune in New York and Washington.

It's a demanding life:

I worked all the time. I worked weekends. I worked late into many nights. I missed virtually every school function for my younger daughter. My annual travel schedule averaged, conservatively, 150,000 miles. For the first 10 years of my marriage, when I was climbing the ladder at KPMG, Corinne and I rarely went on vacation. After that, vacations were mostlly rolled into the corporate outings I was required to attend... Over the course of my last decade with the firm, I did manage to squeeze in workday lunches with my wife.


His calendar is full for the next eighteen months.

And then he finds out that it all ends in 100 days.

The book starts: "I was blessed. I was told I have three months to live."

After the first two chapters, it looks like O'Kelley tried to apply the focused, can-do attitude he applied to his career to his final months. I look forward to seeing what he learned and how he coped with going from being a master of the universe to a man facing the abyss.

(I am reading a review copy of "Chasing Daylight" by Eugene O'Kelley, the late CEO of KPMG. I am posting my impressions as I read. My initial post is here.)

Monday, January 23, 2006


When a McGraw-Hill publicist asked whether I would like a review copy of a book by a recent KPMG CEO, I expected a first-person account of the accounting firm's battle to stave off death at the hands of a federal prosecuter. I assumed that I was offered the review copy as a result of my KPMG posts on my work blog, which covered the battle to avoid a firm indictment and the subsequent prosecution of individual partners. I took for granted the book would be on the same topics.

It was obvious I was mistaken when I saw my copy of "Chasing Daylight: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life." This isn't about a figurative near-death experience. Eugene O'Kelley, former KPMG CEO wrote this book in the brief interlude between his dire cancer diagnosis and his death.

I haven't written anything like a book report in over 20 years, so I'm going to wing it here. I'll write my impressions as I read the book on this blog, and then I'll cross-post a full review here and on the work blog. The book is to be released February 1, so I will try to finish it up this week.

Friday, January 20, 2006


This week was Bob Vander Plaats turn to visit our luncheon club. I knew very little about him before his visit. I know more now, but not enough to support him yet.

It's hard for me to put my finger on exactly why I'm ambivalent about V.P. He noted Iowa's excessive government and the folly of the Iowa Values Fund, showing sufficient grasp of the obvious to merit further consideration. He didn't talk at all about the silly pron tax issue, and he didn't say anything glaringly idiotic.

The closest I can come to figuring out why I'm not yet sold on V.P. is that he lacks focus. When Ed Fallon came in last week, he spent most of his time talking about health care and campaign finance. Without coming out and exactly saying it, he gave the impression that those would be the things he would concentrate on as governer. I don't want him to do those things, but he does have a plan.

V.P. didn't have that sort of focus. He said a perfectly reasonable things on many topics, but it sounded like he was trying to tick off every item on a list. For example, he mentioned the system for Medicare payments and how he thinks Iowa is getting a bad deal - perhaps a legitimate point, but it's nothing a governor can change.

Iowa's biggist problems come from high taxes, bloated and outdated government, and lack of entrepreneurship and dynamism. Dealing with these will require a focus on tax and governmental reform -- a focus that isn't apparent with the V.P.

I could still end up voting for V.P. I'm not sure yet that I will, though.

Though he could clinch my vote by making V.P. mean something else.

UPDATE 1/21. I can't help but notice similarities between my discomfort with V.P. and that of State 29's correspondent with "Ma Judge" and "Kent Dorfman.

Nobody's perfect. Elections are always a choice between flawed alternatives. Still, I wish that I would like to see a candidate who had more in mind than climbing the next step up the ladder. I can't help but feeling these guys are all going to get into office and say, "now what?"

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


A group of Iowa senate Republicans have introduced legislation (SSB 3008) to prevent the use of emininent domain to sieze property for private investors. The key element of the bill:

Except as specifically included in the definition inparagraph "a", "public use", "public purpose", or "public improvement" does not mean economic development activities resulting in increased tax revenues, increased employment opportunities, privately owned or privately funded housing and residential development, privately owned or privately funded commercial or industrial development, the lease of publicly owned property to a private party, or recreational development paid for primarily with private funds.

There is a loophole for "blighted" areas, if the building meets one of these conditions:

(a) Dilapidated, deteriorated, or deteriorating structures located on the parcel.

(b) Unsafe conditions or inadequate provision for sanitation.

(c) Existence of conditions which endanger life or property by fire and other causes.

(d) Substantial deterioration of site.

(e) Tax or special assessment delinquency exceeding the fair value of the land.

(f) Defective or unusual conditions of title.

(g) Use of the property that is detrimental to the public health, safety, or welfare.

The "welfare" bit seems ripe for mischief. Politicians can justify almost anything as being for the public welfare. While he bill does specify that the burden of proof is on the government to demonstrate that the building is "detrimental," I would feel a lot better without the word "welfare." Still, SSB 3008 is a serious effort to rein in municipalities in the wake of the awful Kelo decision.

It's unfortunate that this bill seems to be a "Republican" effort so far. Protecting small property owners is also supported by many Democrats not wedded to city and county power structures; Ed Fallon is a good example. The Iowa Civil Liberties Union, not noted as a Republican outfit, has declared itself in favor of the bill. The sponsors need bring Democrats into the tent on this. As closely-split as the legislature is, they'll need to, as some squish Republicans will no doubt oppose SSB 3008 to support their cronies in Iowa's city halls and courthouses.

The bill is clearly needed. Des Moines has already tried to condemn buildings owned by pioneering East Village entrepreneurs Brad Hamilton and Kirk Blunk. The fierce opposition to anti-Kelo legislation by city and county lobbyists and the Greater Des Moines Partnership shows that they're itching to use Kelo to take over attractive properties for their well-connected pals.

UPDATE 1/19: Des Moines Register coverage.

Another raging injustice

Number of posts before first Volokh link at the work blog: 666.

Number of posts bofore first Volokh link on this goof-off blog (last update to post): 8.

Advantage: goofing off!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Finally an Iowa connection in the Alito hearings

Now that the Alito nomination is all but a foregone conclusion, we finally have an Iowa connection (besides Senator Grassley) in the deal. Our connection: Drake Law Professor Sally Frank.

The connection comes via a Todd Zywicki post at The Volokh Conspiracy. The post suggests that an article in the Princeton Magazine quoted by Senator Kennedy to challenge Judge Alito's fitness was actually a satire. If so, the humor is apparently comprehensible only to a small subset of 1970s-era Princetonians. What's interesting to us is the presumed trigger for the article:

The article seems to be intended as a tongue-in-cheeck defense of the Princeton eating clubs that were under attack by litigation by Sally Frank at this time.
That's the only mention of Prof. Frank in the post, so Zywicki apparently assumes we all know about her. Here in Iowa we do:

I doubt if Sally and Sam ever dated at Princeton, somehow.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

But when State 29 is on his game, he's on fire...

Like this perspective on our new state-run slot machines:

Iowa Touch'n'Play Brothels

Originally from the Des Moines Register, but changed slightly:

The spread of 4,600 Iowa mini-brothels to 2,600 retail locations statewide will benefit Iowa's economy, help the survival of small-business owners, and create thousands of jobs for unemployed and underemployed young women who lack health insurance, a group whose members make money from the brothels said Friday.

Read it all, for it is good.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


The esteemed Iowa blogger State 29 today has an uncharacteristic economically daft post supporting Harkin and Boswell's attempt to block the sale of Maytag to Whirlpool:

Harkin and Boswell are certainly doing the right thing in trying to kill this deal if all Whirlpool wants is a couple of brand names, a pile of debt, less competition, and eliminating all the jobs here in Iowa.
Poppycock. It's not Harkin and Boswell's company to keep or sell. It belongs to the shareholders, 98% of whom voted for the deal. If they thought there was a better deal out there, they'd have taken it.

Whether the company is bought by Whirlpool, Triton, or the Chinese, the Newton plant will stay open if it can do so profitably. If not, Tom Harkin and all of his union cronies won't be able to keep it open. If Bos-kin kill the deal, they will cost the shareholders millions of dollars without saving the plant

Anybody who doesn't like the deal has had a simple way to stop it: put together a group and outbid Whirlpool. As they didn't, it's none of their business what the owners should do with their own money and property.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The problem with Ed Fallon

Ed Fallon spoke at my luncheon club this week. I have no doubt he is a smart and honest man. That may end up being enough to stand out in a weak field, but I have two huge problems with what I heard from him:

1. His emphasis on "clean election" reform, and

2. His approach to health care.

Clean elections. Who can oppose "clean" elections? Anybody who is for free speech.

Ed is against "big money" in campaigns, and for some version of public financing. This necessarily makes the government the regulator of what is "proper" campaigning, and inevitably makes government the arbiter of political speech. When incumbents write rules regulating speech, those rules will always benefit the incumbent. If there's any area that government should not be involved in, it's this. With the best of intentions, Ed would set up the structure for a great incumbent protection racket.

There's only one solution to campaign finance that is consistent with free speech: transparency Every campaign should be required to post every contribution in a standard, searchable web format within 24 hours. The interchange barons of the world will always find a way to get money to their candidates, but we at least should know who they are buying.

Health Care. Ed seeks to get the state involved in "fixing" health insurance. He says it doesn't have to involve a government program, but you know it will, and it will be an expensive debacle.

Ed is correct that health insurance shouldn't be linked to employment. Unfortunately, the problem is embedded in the federal tax law, which limits what the state can do to solve the problem.

For the state to make a difference in health care, the biggest step is to throw open the state to health insurers licensed in other states, especially those that offer high deductible policies, and to move state employees to a consumer-driven, high deductible model. This will go a long way to making affordable insurance available. If people can afford to buy insurance and don't, that's their problem, not the state's.

So where does that leave us?

Ed stands above the Democratic field, but so does the smallest midget in the room. Still, he's a serious policy thinker, and he strikes me as well aware of the problems of traditional liberal government. But his willingness to limit political speech and meddle in health insurance could cause incalculable damage.

Jim Nussle is coming out of the House of Representatives corrupt culture of pork, which could be fatal. Bob Vander Plaats visits my luncheon club next week, and I would really like to get excited about him, but the whole "porn tax" nonsense doesn't signal seriousness.

Iowa government has been like "Groundhog Day" for a long time now, as we elect one cipher after another while the state continues to ignore its major problems of excess government and inertia. Will we ever get it right?