I am sad for the state of our country. We have lost our way. Our President is largely responsible. He constantly works to divide us as a people, to denigrate truths that don't suit him, and people who criticize him. He is inept and ineffective at governing but capable of bombast that some core piece of America finds tantalizing. How he won the majority of electoral votes will go down in history as an incredible and unfortunate series of circumstances that hopefully is impossible to replicate. To paraphrase political commentator Ezra Klein from Vox this morning, historians in future years will view the tapes and say "How could reasonable people have let this happen".
I am writing this just after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a time to relax with family and enjoy wonderful pies (also turkey). It is a respite from a troubled world.
In America we have recently had our mid-term elections – a resounding win for Republicans who took the Senate and increased their majority in the House. Here in Maine we re-elected a confrontational, conservative Republican governor – in a state that went overwhelming for Obama in 2012.
I am writing this on Thanksgiving, feeling particularly thankful for little Connor Bancroft Johnson, our second grandchild; born on November 24th in Seattle to our younger daughter Emily and her husband, Andy Johnson. Connor joins our other grandson Greg Sewell-Bancroft, now 19 months and also living in Seattle with older daughter Carrie and her husband Phil Sewell.
The shooting deaths of twenty 5 and 6 year olds in the picture postcard New England town of Newtown added a grim post-script to 2012. There is little to say about this horrific act except that it is becoming a pattern. Yes, we are seeing a pattern of disturbed young men with arsenals of lethal weapons taking out their frustrations on the innocent and, in the case of Newtown, on the very innocent.
For those of you who have been visiting another planet, the US had a Presidential Election in 2012. It seemed endless. Previously unthinkable amounts of money were spent. If you had the misfortune to live in a swing state, your life was hell- only in America, land of Citizens United.
In August I had my 50th Reunion from Cape Elizabeth High School, a town just across Portland from where we live today. It was a surprisingly lively and fun time. We had different events over three days, and more than half of our class of 72 graduates turned up, including our exchange student from Turkey. We listened to lots of great music from the 50’s and 60’s – the big hit of 1961, our graduation year, was Elvis of course: “Are you lonesome tonight.”
The American economy over the past year was a bit like General Motors – fragile at the start of the year but slowly gaining strength.
By the end of the year we were all pleased at the signs of recovery, but couldn't quite be sure it was for real.
It was a difficult year, 2009 – a year that will go down in U.S. economic history as one of the toughest. The economy came perilously close to seizing up in a way that would have made the Great Depression look like primary school. Heroic interventions by the Fed under Ben Bernanke and first Henry Paulson and then Tim Geithner at Treasury literally saved our economy. The current high unemployment rate is a concern, of course, but the alternative was catastrophic.
"Oh my goodness, oh my goodness" seems a good way to sum up 2008. Orphan Annie's friend Tessie got it right, and she and Tom Wolfe were about the only people so to do. Wolfe, you may remember, was found roaming the Stock Exchange floor on the day in the summer of '06 when Blackstone, the giant of Private Equity went public.
2007 has not been a particularly memorable year, except perhaps if you are a Red Sox fan or the holder of a zero-down ARM. The economy has managed a respectable showing in the face of a major melt-down in the sub-prime mortgage market, $100 dollar a barrel crude oil prices, and a precipitous decline in the dollar. The American economy is a pretty miraculous thing. It keeps on generating new jobs, in spite of market forces that would decimate most other economies in the world.
2006 will go down as a good year for business, the stock market, private equity firms, youTube, Bordeaux wine futures, Exxon-Mobil, and, improbably, the Saint Louis Cardinals. Faring not so well would be George W. Bush, the Amaranth Group of Hedge Funds, and the Boston Red Sox.
October 21st, 2005 was, of course, the 200th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar. Trafalgar, you will remember, was where an English fleet led by Admiral Horatio Nelson demolished a larger French and Spanish force, thus dooming Napoleon's plan to cross the channel and invade England. The event was commemorated in grand style in England with a series of events, the highlight of which was a dinner on Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory, still on active service (in dry dock) in Plymouth.
T.S. Eliot once said "Humankind cannot bear very much reality". The year 2004 has tested all of us on the reality dimension.
The year 2003 started for Sally and me with a visit to South Africa for the hundredth anniversary celebration of the Rhodes Scholarship. It was a particularly memorable celebration because it highlighted a new collaboration of the Rhodes and Nelson Mandela Trusts to help build schools in South Africa.
Greetings, last year in this letter I was bullish on the prospects for 2002. Turns out I was mostly wrong. If your business is in or related to semiconductors, telecommunications, or financial services, 2002 was not a good year. On the other hand, the economy has continued modest growth; the outlook for 2003 is cautiously positive; moreover, it seems unlikely that we will see the dreaded "double-dip" recession. Count your blessings and keep reducing your costs.