Christmas 2014

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. 

Careful readers of last year’s letter will remember my noting that “The Republican majority refuses to govern responsibly. They deserve to lose the mid-term elections of 2014.”  I don’t believe I was wrong in assessing the Republican majority. Unfortunately Barack Obama had a worse 2014 than the Republicans. 

All of which is to say that our country’s governance is falling apart. This fall Francis Fukuyama published a masterful analysis of world political systems called Political Order and Political Decay in which he despaired for America’s current political system, describing it as a “vetocracy” controlled by special interests, unable to address any significant issue. 

In spite of all this, the American economy continues to be the envy of the developed world.  The economy put up sound growth numbers in 2014 and most economists are relatively bullish about 2015 – as long as we don’t lurch into a national fiscal crisis or an international conflagration over who controls Ukraine. 

From a professional perspective 2014 has had a nice balance to it.  My involvement as an advisor to a private equity group in San Francisco gives me both business challenge and personal flexibility.  Here in Maine I continue to play a strong role in Educate Maine, a business-led group advocating for more and better education. I have also joined the Board of MPBN, the Maine public radio and television system. 

2014 was the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.  The anniversary sparked the release of several books on the origins of the war.  The conventional view is that Europe stumbled into the war as if sleepwalking. This is not the view shared by Max Hastings, the English historian, whose Catastrophe 1914 makes the case that it was Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany who brought the idyllic early years of the 20thcentury to a close by giving its ally Austria a blank check to deal with Serbia.  While he is at it, Hastings decries the inept military leaders of France and England who sent hundreds of thousands of young men to their deaths in the first four months of the war before realizing that the machine gun had transformed the modern battlefield. The exception: French Marshall Ferdinand Foch who, as legend has it, turned the tide of the war at the Marne with the dispatch: “My right is driven in, my left is falling back. Excellent. I attack with my centre.” 

Hastings is a good read.  Other good reads of 2014:  A Spy Among Friends – Kim Philby by Ben Macintyre.  I had not realized how compelling a figure Philby was in one of the great betrayals of the Cold War.  Redeployment by Phil Klay – a riveting set of stories of Iraq veterans from a former Marine officer.  In Duty, the memoir of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, one gets an unvarnished look at the Washington politics of the Iraq War.  This is one of the most honest of the genre – and devastating to Barack Obama’s foreign policy reputation.  Lastly, check out The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz.  Another brutally honest book, this one is about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. 

I look with hope toward 2015. We are better and much more capable than our national governance suggests. If you have the chance to participate in a Constitutional Convention near you, jump in.  Democracy needs your help.