World According to ... Curtis Welling
As the chief executive of AmeriCares, one of the planet's premiere philanthropies, Curtis Welling oversees the distribution every year of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of medical supplies and services to the poverty-stricken and war-torn pockets of the Third World, but also to poor Americans at clinics in the Unites States.
The 59-year-old Welling, who has been running the private nonprofit since 2002, is doing good after doing well, having spent a quarter century accumulating a fortune on Wall Street (and getting to know Bernie Madoff in the bargain).
"He was just a very hard-driving, successful, creative equity business guy," Welling told Portfolio.com about his former colleague in an exclusive interview from AmeriCares' Connecticut headquarters. "I never had any reason to question any of his business principles.... I suspect what happened here was he had a trading strategy that went bad fairly early on in the game, and he just kept trying to trade his way out of it and it got worse and worse and worse."
Lloyd Grove: Let me begin by wishing you a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday.
Curt Welling: Thank you very much and the same to you. It's obviously an interesting holiday season.
L.G.: It is. I'm looking at your annual report and year over year, 2007 to 2008, you had a pretty significant uptick in donations, mainly in-kind but also cash and securities. What's going to happen next year, given the financial meltdown?
C.W.: I guess I would say a couple of things. 2008 was a high-water mark year in many ways for us as you suggested, and the image of 2008 gets smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror with each passing day. I'm sort of looking at it fondly the way one looks at a quaint little town one's driven through as one heads down the road to some unknown but perhaps less hospitable destination.
L.G.: Watch out for that 18-wheeler overturned on the highway, Curt!
C.W.: Exactly. We don't know what the road's going to be like, don't know what the traffic's going to be like, and don't know what the weather's going to be like. The period we're in right now is obviously the period of maximum uncertainty. It's uncertain because we're in the transition to the new administration, because we're uncertain with respect to who the leadership is going to be in the new administration, we're uncertain what their policy priorities are going to be-we're uncertain about what the economic environment is going to be. And so we're reflecting that uncertainty in everything we're doing here to think about how we're going to deal with 2008. It seems to be a virtual certainty that charitable contributions and philanthropy will be down this year as they only have been a few times since the Depression, and everybody's wrestling with the question of how much. The problem that creates for us is that we're in the season when typically philanthropy would be at its peak for individuals. And, as you know, AmeriCares is entirely supported by private entities-individuals, foundations, and corporations. We don't take any money from the government, so our uncertainty is a little more complicated than some other people in our space.
L.G.: Do you think you'll be affected at all by the Bernie Madoff debacle?
C.W.: I think it's part of the frame, isn't it. I don't know of any particular donors to AmeriCares who have had their wealth managed by Bernie Madoff.
L.G.: "Managed." That's a very charitable term.
C.W.: Yeah. I know Bernie. In my previous incarnation, a long time ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with him.
L.G.: Is that when you were working for that quaint little town called Bear Stearns?
C.W.: It was actually before that-that quaint little town called First Boston. And this is just incredibly sad on a whole bunch of levels. This is going to sound like a funny thing to say, he doesn't need any defense from me, but I don't think he started out to create a criminal enterprise. I think he's like a lot of people that find themselves doing something they shouldn't do, and rather than deal with the consequences at the beginning when they might be trivial, he tries to figure out a way to bury them, and make things right and it just gets out of hand. And obviously this got out of hand in a spectacular way, but I don't think there's anything that's going to affect AmeriCares particularly as a result of that. We didn't have any money with them. I'm sure there may be some of our donors that had money with them, but I doubt very many. So this is just another odd picture in what is becoming sort of an odd montage this year. And I don't think anybody has a lot of conviction of exactly where it's going to come out.
L.G.: You got to know him when you were at First Boston. Give me your sense of the guy, and in what capacity was First Boston doing business with him?
C.W.: I was running the equity business and he was running a very significant over-the-counter brokerage business. We worked in the same industry together, and his firm was well known to be one of the most aggressive and successful over-the-counter trading firms. He was very creative. He was actively involved in creating the Cincinnati Stock Exchange as an alternative execution venue to the New York Stock Exchange. There's a lot of inside baseball here, but there was a time when you could only trade New York Stock Exchange stocks on the New York Stock Exchange, so when people were looking for ways to make money, create different execution forums, Bernie was very creative in developing the Cincinnati Stock Exchange as an alternative, and he was just a very hard-driving, successful, creative equity business guy. I never had any reason to question any of his business principles. His
firm was very a reputable, stand-up firm to deal with and they were a very big player in the over-the-counter securities market.
L.G.: I'm not a sophisticated investor. I have a 401(k) that, I have to admit, when the envelopes come with the statements in them, I can't even bear to open the envelopes anymore.
C.W.: That shows good judgment actually. My advice to you would be you take the envelopes and don't open them for about a year to 18 months. Everything will be fine then.
L.G.: So explain to me how ostensibly smart, knowledgeable, sophisticated people, including people who put their money with Madoff, thought it reasonable that in all kinds of market conditions, they should be getting 8 to 9 to 15 percent returns on their money year after year without deviation.
C.W.: Of course, it's why people like fairy tales, because they make you feel good even though you know they're not true. There's a quality in the investment community which is sort of like the willing suspension of disbelief-that everybody wants to believe that someone's found the ability to repeal the laws of gravity. And so, when people
are ratified by the stature of other investors who preceded them, they suspend their disbelief and their critical faculties because they want to believe and because they're a little greedy, and they go along. This is a spectacular example of a story that's older than the hills. The same phenomenon, you may recall, happened maybe 10 to 12 years ago with an amazing fundraising Ponzi scheme that had swept up, among other people, several senior partners at Goldman Sachs. I think John Whitehead might've been on the board of this organization where some fellow whose name I've forgotten, went around to a bunch of very high-profile charities and said, "I've got a great, committed group of investors who are social philanthropists who want to be anonymous, so if you give me $100,000, I'll give you back you $100,000 and 25 percent interest on it in six months."
L.G.: And the guy wasn't even Nigerian, huh?
C.W.: No, no, exactly. And that's the classic, the same thing. You don't have to have all the money, you just have to have enough money so you can keep giving people back money when you promise it. That's what Bernie did. And I'm not sure but I suspect what happened here was, he had a trading strategy that went bad fairly early on in the game, and he just kept trying to trade his way out of it, and it got worse and worse and worse.
L.G.: What about the enforcement agencies? How can you explain the Securities and Exchange Commission's complete falling down on the job?
C.W.: Well, I think you explain it by a complete failure of responsibility and incompetence. It's stunning to me. As people investigate this story, you're going to start reading all kinds of things about the fact there were a lot of professional investors who had reason to believe this was not a sound investment firm for a long time, that there was sort of a suspicion in the sophisticated investment community. You're starting to hear some of these people come forward who had actually done the due diligence who had raised exactly the question you're raising, so that information is all out there.
L.G.: And some of them had gone to the S.E.C. and said "Hey, take a look at this."
C.W.: Exactly, as far back as 1999.
L.G.: And an enforcement official at the S.E.C. was somehow related to Bernie by marriage.
C.W.: I don't know the family relationship, but I'm sure in part, Bernie got a pass because he was a member of the board of the N.A.S.D. [National Association of Securities Dealers], and he was a big figure on Wall Street and so on and so on. Of course, this is one of the things that happens in a protracted period of a growth and economic prosperity, and it's a reminder that the S.E.C. exists not to be chummy with people in the business, it exists to make sure people are doing what they're supposed to be doing. I don't think there's any way of sugarcoating this. This appears to be a complete breakdown of responsibility and competence at the S.E.C.
L.G.: Do you feel like by getting out of the business when you did, in the early part of the century, that you perhaps dodged a bullet?
C.W.: Well, I'm not sure. I obviously have 25 years' worth of friends who are involved in all kinds of organizations that are going through all kinds of pain, or have gone through pain and are out of business, and I'm not sure I have any sort of existential conclusions about all that. I would say that I think at its core, the investment banking business-capital raising and providing advice to companies and governments-is a worthy business. And the vast majority of people that did it have values and morals and integrity and so on. There is a clear sense in which this thing sort of spun out of control. It happened over a period of time, it didn't happen over the last couple months. If you go back and you trace the history of real estate lending in the United States and the creation of the subprime lending industry, it was aided and abetted by many of the same congressmen who are now raising demagoguery to a new level, and certainly aided and abetted by government institutions and banks. And everybody sort of had their hands in this pot. I think the period from the late '90s to today was a period where a sense of value and balance and some core values was lost in some ways. I had a great 25 years in the industry, I met many of the people I'm closest to as friends during that period of time, but part of the reason why I and I think other people have looked and continue to look for things to do beyond the securities industry is I think there is, for a lot of people, sort of a spiritually and morally empty prosperity that characterized Wall Street.
L.G.: Did you not believe in the tenet "Greed is good"?
C.W.: [Laughs] I'll give you two perspectives on that. "Greed" is obviously a pejorative word, but the more ennobling characterization of that is "initiative and aspiration to create prosperity for ones' self and ones' family," which is another way of characterizing greed, and it is what drives the fundamental free-enterprise system in an economic democracy. So the inherent human quality to aspire to be better off and to have one's family be better off is something I think is not only good but we rely on it in our form of government. The problem is that it needs to be bounded. Unfortunately the '90s and the first part of this century was a period in which we took down all the bumpers and the barriers and had this sort of slavish mantra that the market knows best. Well, the market doesn't know best. The market needs to be policed. The market does a spectacular job of allocating capital through a price-discovery mechanism, and it relies on the self interest and the aspirations-or the greed, if you will-of individuals to do that. But it needs limits and it needs boundaries, and all the people who were supposed to be maintaining the boundaries took the boundaries down. Then people did what people do when they don't have any boundaries.
L.G.: You once told a reporter, "There were no people more self-important than investment bankers, including me." What does that mean?
C.W.: I do recall saying it, and I think it's true. I'm not sure I would say today there are no people more self-important. I think there is occasionally the politician and the corporate executive that rises to that level. But this is the Michael Lewis observation that when you take relatively young people and you expose them to the perquisites that one normally associates with wealth and power, and you give them amounts of money which by any other social perspective are the result of either a lifelong pursuit of something or inherent wealth, then people become very self-important. It's the old story about the guy who wakes up on third base and assumes he hit a triple. There are an awful lot of people in the securities industry that got swept up with this rising tide, and somehow believed that they'd earned it or they'd done something to deserve it or that it meant they were somehow superior or more insightful. One of the things that is a particularly poignant element of the contraction of Wall Street is a lot of these people were swept up into a position where they didn't acquire any transferable skills. And it's a long step from that step down to the next step, where they actually have to go compete in the real marketplace to do something that someone will pay them a wage for. I'm not sure I'm ready to conclude that the industry is going to become humble.
L.G.: Perish the thought!
C.W.: A lot of the self-importance has been washed away with the multiple houses and the planes and those kinds of things. You know, Lloyd, you could've made a small fortune, perhaps a large fortune, if you had said 12 months ago that by the end of 2008 there would be no major American investment bank left in existence, which is the case. We have only bank holding companies.
L.G.: Tell a complete ignoramus how I would've acted upon that to make my large fortune?
C.W.: Well, first of all you could've bet on it economically through any number of ways, but you would've become a celebrity savant. That would've been like saying, "I guarantee there will be a cure for cancer in 2008." It was inconceivable that firms like Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley would either go out of business or would become bank holding companies. Just inconceivable. It's still very hard for people to process, and I think it's hard for those organizations. You're seeing this in the aftermath of this October debacle. They're still sort of groping for modus operandi in this new, more-regulated, less-leveraged environment, which presents a completely different set of economic opportunities.
L.G.: So at this point you don't envision AmeriCares as setting up free clinics for former Lehman Brothers employees?
C.W.: No, but if a Lehman Brothers employee without work, and without health insurance or was part of the working poor community in Connecticut, presented himself to our Norwalk or our Bridgeport or Danbury clinic, we'd give them the same quality of healthcare which we give to anyone else-and it's a very high quality indeed.
L.G.: Excellent. Tell me-at one point after you left your last position in business, and you were 51 years old, you were quoted somewhere as saying you were going to be working on polishing your golf game.
C.W.: That didn't last very long, as you'd well understand if you'd seen my golf game.
L.G.: You obviously made a decision that you'd made your fortune and that you were going to do something else. You were involved in your church. Tell me a little bit about your own process in terms of getting involved with AmeriCares.
C.W.: The seeds of this go back quite a while. I grew up in Rochester, New York, which is up on Lake Ontario and is certainly a more Midwestern community than it is a Northeastern community. And my parents and the people in our church and the people that we associated with had the old-fashioned value of community orientation and so on-the idea of being involved and the idea of philanthropy at some level. We didn't use that highfalutin term, it was just giving money to people who needed it. It was something that was always present in our family, so that was a fairly natural thing. So when I got to New York after graduate school, in fairly short order I began looking around for something to be involved in, became involved in a number of nonprofit organizations, one of which I'd chaired for 10 years, which is Spence Chapin, a spectacular adoption and child-service organization. I remember at one point, probably in the early '80s-I'd been pretty successful at First Boston at that point-I was up at Spence Chapin and we were doing some strategic work on setting up an adoption think tank. I went back to work thinking, Gee it would be fun to do this kind of thing full-time, and that was the first time I had the conscious thought that maybe at some point in the future, that would be a fun thing to do. That notion stayed with me and became more concrete as time went by, and I've said to a couple of people, everyone has a life list, whether it's well-defined and explicit or not, things you want to do. They made a movie out of this, with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.
L.G.:The Bucket List.
C.W.: The thing about having the list is you have to start doing the things or you have to cross them off. So when I left Socit Gnrale, where I was responsible for their investment banking activities in the Americas. I think that is when I made that observation about polishing my golf game, and I was sort of thinking about what to do next, and I was seduced by the internet like a lot of other people at that time and went to run this wonderful bill-payments company in New Jersey. Then after September 11th, when the world turned upside down, I stepped back and said well, you've got to make another conscious decision of what to do. If you're serious about this, you either ought to pursue it or you ought to cross it off your list. So I started to do the discernment and the networking, the investigation one needs to do to make that kind of continental shift in career and focus, and through a wonderfully serendipitous process about a year later, I found AmeriCares and was fortunate enough to be offered this job.
L.G.: It's obviously a charitable organization. It has an amazing ratio of overhead versus money to actual services. I think you're under 2 percent or something like that.
C.W.: Just under 2 percent goes to overhead and the rest goes straight into the field.
L.G.: But explain to people who think of charitable organizations a certain way, why the C.E.O. of a charitable organization should be making $300,000 or whatever your last paycheck was. I saw $275,000 quoted in one story.
C.W.: That's right. That's the salary I got when I came here, and that's been my salary for the entire time I've been here. I think that the answer to that is pretty straightforward actually. Charitable organizations, whether they're churches or universities or humanitarian-aid organizations, need quality leadership in order to be well run and to be successful and to be good stewards of the money they get. And there's a marketplace for people who do that, there's a standard of compensation in that marketplace, and if you want to have a high-quality team in any organization, whether it's profit or nonprofit, you need to pay people what the market is for people to do what they do best.
L.G.: You mentioned that you were not quite clear on what the policies of the incoming administration are going to be. What are you not clear on? What would you like to have defined that would help you out in deciding where to allocate your resources?
C.W.: I'm not sure it'll have as much impact on us directly, because, like I said, we don't take any money from the government.
L.G.: Right, but presumably if they're doing something, you don't need to be terribly redundant, if they're taking care of an area you might otherwise feel compelled to fund.
C.W.: That's one aspect of it. The bigger aspect is that most of the large humanitarian-aid organizations in this country, from the American Red Cross to CARE to Save The Children and so on, get somewhere between 30 to 70 percent of their money from the U.S. government. So they're very concerned about what the foreign assistance priorities, policies, and budget allocation in the new administration will be. We're concerned more from the perspective of what's the playing field going to look like, what are their priorities going to be, how much money are they going to be devoting to areas like global health, what is their universal health-insurance program really going to be, that will be relevant to our free clinic program here in the United States, and what's their approach to the economy going to be? We're really much more dependent on the prosperity of individuals and corporations than lots of organizations, and so we have a vested interest in having tax policy be favorable to philanthropy, for example. We have a vested interest in having tax policy not be confiscatory to people that have wealth in the sense that the biggest individual philanthropists are the people who have accumulated the most wealth. Those are all things we're concerned about and interested in. What I meant by the uncertainty of policy priorities is we've got a lot of campaign rhetoric, but right now in the reality, where you're confronted with a trillion-dollar federal budget deficit and the worst economic situation since the Great Depression and I think the most complex economic situation in the history of the republic, there are going to be all kinds of unintended, unforeseeable effects on all kinds of entities. And certainly the not-for-profit world is going to be affected dramatically, foreign assistance of not-for-profit is going to be affected too. There is this uncertainty, and it will gradually resolve itself. I think the president-elect is doing a good job in managing the transition. I think he's done a good job in honoring his commitment to focus on competence rather than traditional politics. But being president of the United States is a political job, so he can't be completely free from that. The biggest uncertainty we're going to deal with in the next two months is fundraising. This is the time of the year when American charities raise 50 to 70 percent of their money. So we're spending a lot of time here coming up with contingency plans for what we'll do if our fundraising is down anywhere from 5 to 25 percent relative to last year.
L.G.: It seems like the bulk of your fundraising is in-kind contributions of goods and services.
C.W.: That's correct. The value proposition, the leverage in our operations, comes from the fact that AmeriCares is the world's largest recipient of quality donated medicines and medical supplies from all the world's great pharmaceutical and medical-supply companies. We have very good relationships with you-name-a-company and the odds are that they're a donor to us. And so we raise cash to allow us to deliver those medicines, medical supplies, and other health-oriented relief supplies to needy communities around the world and increasingly even in the United States.
L.G.: I see that about 20 percent of your work, delivery of services, is domestically in the United States.
C.W.: That's right, and that's actually been a program which has been growing in the last couple years. And we think we'll grow significantly in 2009, obviously subject to the overall economic climate. But the combination of the magnitude of the uninsured population and the consequences of the economic downturn have put very much greater demand on safety-net suppliers of health services. So free clinics, federally qualified clinics, so-called safety-net clinics that provide either no-cost or very-low-cost primary care to individuals as an alternative to going out into the emergency room. And we are supplying medicines and medical supplies to over 100 of those clinics in more than 30 states last year, and we expect there to be more demand for that this year.
L.G.: So you think that the domestic part of your mission will increase relative to the other parts?
C.W.: You know, it's the sad reality of the context in which we work, which is quite different than the for-profit world. If you're in the for-profit world, you spend all your time trying to figure out a product, and how you go capture a demand for your product. Here in a world where there are somewhere between 2 to 3 billion people that don't have access to medicine, the demand for what we do is essentially infinite. So, yes, I think we will do more in the United States, and whether that will be more relative to what we do outside the United States depends on how big the overall pie is. We're resource-constrained, based on that amount of cash donations we get as well as the amount of donated medicine we get.
L.G.: Do you raise money outside the United States?
C.W.: We do, but not very much. We don't have a staff which is focused other than anecdotally on people outside the United States.
L.G.: And it might be more difficult this time to shake down Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.
C.W.: Yeah, there was a lot more discussion about international philanthropy and generosity at 150 bucks a barrel than there is at 40 bucks a barrel. But, as you probably have seen, we opened earlier this year our first integrated program office outside the United States in Mumbai, India. We did that for a couple reasons. One is, India has become a very important site of manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, and it's located in such a way that strategically it allows us to get assistance to a part of the world which is very tough for us to get to from here economically. We'll be spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to raise money from wealthy individuals, companies, and foundations in India, but 98 percent of the money we raise, or maybe a little bit more, comes from the United States.
L.G.: How much of your time is allocated to raising money versus checking up on programs and administering the programs of AmeriCares?
C.W.: Right now it's a little higher percentage. As a general matter I probably spend one third to a half of my time either raising money or speaking with both corporate donors and individual donors, cultivating them and so on, and the rest of my time I would divide between sort of general management kinds of things and policy and strategy work.
L.G.: Are you on the road a lot going to far-flung places where AmeriCares is doing its work?
C.W.: Yeah, I probably travel to international locations half a dozen times a year. Just a few weeks ago I was in Indonesia and India, and then last week I was in El Salvador. I've got the plan that's coming in the New Year to be in Sri Lanka, again in India, probably a couple trips to Africa.
L.G.: You have some stuff going on in Darfur, do you not?
C.W.: We do. We've done now 11 airlifts of planes full of medicines, to supply the essential medicine requirements of the refugee camps in the three regions of Darfur. Darfur is, sadly, one of those things that the Western world pays attention to when it can afford to. I first flew there on the first airlift that we did in 2004, when I and most of the rest of the people in developed countries really didn't have any idea where Darfur was, and I remember having learned quite a lot about it. And I was flying in a plane of about 15 tons of medicine, and I remember thinking this is a horrific thing, but at least now that the world has focused on it, in the post-Rwanda environment where everybody says "never again," at least now that people are focused on it this will get solved relatively quickly. That was more than 100 tons and 10 airlifts ago, four years ago.
L.G.: Do you have any idea that because this incoming president has such a unique relationship with Africa that the situation might change?
C.W.: Well I think this is apropos of the conversation we were having earlier about a little bit of uncertainty. This is a good example. I think he has the potential to redefine in an important way the nature of the foreign policy relationship between the United States and Africa in a way that would be important for the United States and for Africa. Where that will rank on his priority list, which list also needs to include oh, Iraq, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, India, the Middle East, and on and on, remains to be seen. There's a limit to the amount of power that the United States could project, just a practical limit, both financial and logistical. And there's a limit to the financial power that the United States can project at this time, and there's also a span of control set of issues. So I would like to see the president set engagement with the African Union as a high priority and set the resolution of Darfur as a high priority, as a signal of what the new relationship could be. I'd like to see that on political grounds but most importantly on humanitarian grounds. Whether that's something that will be on the list or not remains to be seen. This is going to sound like an odd analogy, but Darfur shares the willing suspension of disbelief that the Bernie Madoff situation shares. There are so many people with dirty hands that allow this atrocity to continue, including the United States, but not limited to the United States, to people who support the Sudanese regime for their economic reasons, most importantly the Chinese, the Russians, and on and on. And so what you have here is a manifest atrocity of the most despicable kind, where the people that are in the position of doing something about it, including the Africans, by the way, for their own reasons, have just chosen to turn away. So it's one of those rare moments when the true nature of human nature is revealed. Some of those are wonderful, and some of them are not. And this is one that is not.
L.G.: By the way, do you plan to be in Washington around the time of the inauguration?
C.W.: I don't. I plan to be as far away from Washington as I could possibly be and still see it on cable television.
L.G.: With all the traveling that you do, I have to think all your shots are up to date, but have you ever gotten hugely ill?
C.W.: No, I've been very fortunate. I travel with traveler's pharmacy. I travel with the range of things designed to get at bugs and bites and things like that. But I haven't ever been hugely ill. I've been around some people that have been pretty sick. One of the things that I greatly admire among the people who do the kind of work we do and the places we're doing it, is their willingness to subject themselves to healthcare conditions, living conditions, and physical risks that are really quite intense. You can't imagine that conceptually until you've actually slept under a mosquito net on the floor of a cement slab in the desert.
L.G.: Which you have done?
C.W.: I have done. In fact, one of the moments of greatest irony and cognitive dissonance for me was that Darfur trip in 2004, which was in October, so the Red Sox were playing the Cardinals in the World Series. And I watched about half of a game of the World Series under a mosquito net in the desert in Darfur on a satellite downlink
L.G.: That shows how loyal a Red Sox fan you must be.
C.W.: It also tells you something about how interesting the world has become from a connection and a communications standpoint. You can imagine the dissonance that creates.
L.G.: Indeed. Let's say there are normal people out there who are moved by your mission. You take contributions of any size, right?
C.W.: In fact, one of the things that's the great strength of AmeriCares is over 27 years we have a very large and dedicated donor base. We have over 10,000 people who give us gifts on average of $50 to $60 to $70 a year.
L.G.: Do you think you've learned anything from the Obama fundraising operation?
C.W.: Well, it's pretty clear that all gift-supported organizations are spending a lot of time thinking about social networking and the power of the internet to create communities, so we're certainly trying to learn as much of that as we can. It's an area where my prediction is, like a lot of things having to do with the internet, the rhetoric will precede the reality for some considerable period of time. But there's no question that internet-based fundraising and community-building is going to be a very important part of all nonprofit organizations going forward.
L.G.: What's your Christmas wish or your holiday wish for the coming year?
C.W.: That's a terrific question. I guess my holiday wish would be for a smooth transition to what I think has the potential to be a new era in the American experiment, and for there to be a return to the kind of aspirationally based politics that characterized this country maybe up through the '60s, maybe up to the Nixon administration, and the turning away of the partisan attack element that we see manifest in so much of the society.
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