This past weekend my wife and I returned from a driving trip to the Midwest. I don't fly, and enjoy driving. The main benefit of driving is that you are in the country, seeing it as it is instead of flying over and getting a travel brochure picture of what is below. We also avoid interstate highways as much as possible. Zooming along at the rate of flow (posted speed limits of 80 mph) is not much more informative than flying.

If your vision is good enough to allow you to drive, you can learn a lot. T wo things become apparent not long after you reach the lands beyond Vermont's border. One is that economic activity is booming elsewhere. Starting with New York's 'southern tier' and continuing into Ohio, Indiana and beyond there are signs of new prosperity almost everywhere.

New malls. New factories. Housing developments. Help wanted signs. New highway construction. Yard signs that say "Frack On!! Gasoline for $3.25/gallon." I'm describing rural areas and small cities with populations of 20,000 to 50,000 people, not metropolitan areas. Oil pumps working in the middle of fields of corn or soybeans. Electric power in abundance creating jobs and proving a good standard of living to middle class workers. It is possible to have energy to power a thriving economy and still have a clean environment. VPIRG and fellow travelers take note!

The other, more important thing that becomes apparent outside Vermont is that the people out there are worried about America. They realize all is not well and are upset.


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Home-made small billboards and road signs abound. Many are simplistic, but are on target. "Roses are red, my gun barrel is blue, criminals have guns, why can't you?" "They really do hate us, except when they want our money or our weapons or our doctors."

A more formal warning was the message on the marquee in front of a large Catholic church in a city of about 35,000 people. It read, "Pray for the U.S. God knows we are in serious trouble." If the clergy in a church of this size in a town bigger than most feel that the country is in enough danger to need divine intervention, it might be a good idea to take inventory.

Trying to construct a balance sheet of positives and negatives for the U.S. is a fool's errand if the goal is to show either a surplus of positives over negatives, or only a "break even" of pluses and minuses. For example, the macro-economy is fine. Corporations are making money, the stock market is booming and the unemployment statistics seem to be positive.

On the other hand, wages are stagnant and have been for a long time. Many people have stopped looking for work. Full-time jobs are becoming scarce and people resort to finding two or three jobs to get a 40-hour week. Self-employed peopled who don't find work are not counted as unemployed, because they don't work for someone else.

The national statistics continue to show improvement, but the incessant appeals for donations to provide food for the ever-increasing number of people who are not able to feed themselves increases even faster. At the same time the well-meaning loons argue that we need more immigrants, legal and illegal, to do the jobs that our citizens who are unemployed, or are on welfare, don't want to do. What's wrong with this picture?

Our once high status in the world has been dismantled by our president, both intentionally and through his lack of understanding of the uses of power and the dangers that come when strong powers act weakly. When Obama took office, we were a powerful and respected nation. He has proceeded to change this position of strength to one of weakness and indecision.

He apologized to the world for America's past successes. Our borders are a shambles, penetrated at will by busloads of unarmed pre-teen children. Our allies are skeptical of "red lines" being drawn and abandoned. The president has ignored or underestimated the strength and motives of every adversary. Since the "re-set," Putin's sly smile grows broader daily. Iran's nuclear centrifuges whirl merrily along in the face of our sanctions. Our exit from Iraq and Afghanistan will be on terms dictated to us, not on terms of our own choosing. Matters in Syria, Libya, Israel, Palestine and with the ISIS seem to shape-shift daily if not hourly.

Perhaps prayer is the best solution. Wishful thinking has not worked too well so far.

Weiland Ross is a Banner columnist.