A Friendly Spot On The Side Of The Road

After leaving Portland and heading north on 295 and 95 until we reached the outskirts of Augusta, we turned onto Route 3 and headed due east. From there, it’s two-lane road and local places — no chains or franchises.

This morning Russell and I stopped at one of those local spots, Lori’s Cafe, for a late breakfast. It’s right on the side of the road along Route 3, in a tiny town called Liberty. It’s the kind of place where the wait staff is friendly and unhurried, the food is served piping hot, there’s a box of little candies by the door — and you might just get your excellent coffee in a “hello Beautiful” cup. My pancake and sausage patties really hit the spot, too.

Lori’s Cafe is a great place to linger over a second cup of coffee. . . so we did. It’s also a great place to come back to . . . so we will.

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Fireworks, And Freedom, On The Fourth

What could be more American than fireworks on the Fourth of July?  These days . . . maybe a desire for increased tax revenue by state governments?

Richard has an interesting article in the Chicago Tribune today about fireworks sales in Indiana stores that are just across the state line from Chicago.  There are bunch of those stores, ready to serve the insatiable fireworks appetites of Chicago area residents, and not surprisingly the weeks around the Fourth of July are their biggest sales period.

Illinois strictly prohibits fireworks sales while neighboring Indiana broadly permits them, and recently Indiana loosened its regulations to allow out-of-staters to buy fireworks more easily.  The result is a proliferation of stores and sales.  Sales of consumer fireworks in the U.S. now exceed $660 million, and 42 states allow the sale of consumer fireworks to the maximum extent permitted by federal law — largely because increased consumer sales means increased tax revenues.

The Nanny State impulse is at work in our society, with know-it-all regulators and advocacy group trying to dictate what we consume and what we do, but the zeal for more tax revenue seems to be trumping the notion that government exists to protect us from every risk and form of sin we might undertake.  Perhaps the back story of the American Revolution has been turned on its head, and taxation and freedom now go hand in hand.  If the hunger for taxes has convinced state governments to permit Americans to freely purchase explosive devices and detonate them at their whim, maybe we shouldn’t be that concerned about the increasing intrusion of government into our personal liberties.

Presidents And Pocket Change

Today is President’s Day. I celebrated by looking at the the change in my pocket — and wondering about the history of placement of Presidents on our nation’s coinage.

Of course, now there are Presidents on every coin we use regularly. (I’m not counting the Sacajawea dollar, the Susan B. Anthony dollar, or some of the other oddball coins that have come into being recently.) Abraham Lincoln is on the penny, Thomas Jefferson on the nickel, Franklin Roosevelt on the dime, George Washington on the quarter, and John F. Kennedy on the half dollar. That’s been the roster on U.S. coins since the 1960s, when President Kennedy replaced Ben Franklin on the 50-cent piece.

Although Presidents have been on all of the American coins in common circulation for most of my adult lifetime, it wasn’t always that way. In fact, no American President appeared on a circulating coin for the first 140 years of our history. Most American coins featured depictions of Liberty, or native Americans, or native animals, or a combination of the same.

The first President to appear on a coin was Lincoln, who knocked a native American off the penny in 1909. He was joined by the Father of our Country in 1932, when George Washington replaced a Liberty figure on the quarter, by Thomas Jefferson in 1938, when the Sage of Monticello took his place on the five-cent piece and the classic buffalo nickel was discontinued, and then by Franklin Roosevelt, whose visage replaced the Mercury dime in 1945.

I’m not opposed to honoring Presidents, but I’d like to see American coins go back to recognizing themes rather than individuals. Coins like the liberty penny, the buffalo nickel, and the walking Liberty half dollar were beautiful, and aspirational. Our current coins are pretty boring by comparison.

Land Of The Free, Home Of The Monitored

Yesterday the New York Times published an excellent editorial on the federal government’s routine collection of data about everyday Americans.  As the Times aptly framed the issue, the question is whether the government should be allowed to continue to use anti-terrorism efforts as a catch-all excuse for increasing encroachments into our private activities.  In short, have we gone too far in trading liberty for (alleged) security?

The latest disclosures indicate that the federal government, through the National Security Agency and the FBI, obtains massive amounts of data from the servers of internet companies.  The NSA also apparently has obtained an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that requires Verizon to give the NSA on “an ongoing, daily basis” information on all telephone calls in the Verizon system, including calls that are entirely domestic.  That court order runs from April 25 to July 19, and will provide information on millions of calls — including mine, because Verizon is our cell phone provider.  (Nice to know that, somewhere deep in the bowels of an NSA supercomputer, data about my calls to Kish telling her I’m on my way home from work will be preserved forever, available for use by whatever government functionary cares to access it!)  And, of course, we know that in most metropolitan areas video surveillance cameras surreptitiously record our movements.

For decades, the argument in favor of enhanced government police powers has been that law-abiding citizens have no cause for concern, because only criminals would be targeted.  That argument doesn’t wash when information about the personal activities of millions of Americans is gathered indiscriminately.  Whatever you might think of your fellow citizens, we aren’t all terrorists.  By what right does our government collect information about our telephone calls, our internet searches, and our daily movements?  Shouldn’t anti-terrorist activities be focused on terrorists?

As the Times editorial linked above notes, the Obama Administration’s response to such disclosures has been to offer bland reassurances that systems are in place to prevent abuses.  Those reassurances ring hollow in the wake of incidents like the IRS scandal or the Department of Justice targeting of journalists, where the President and other high-ranking officials disclaim any prior knowledge of classic examples of overreaching by faceless government employees.  So, where are the systems that we are supposed to trust?  With respect to many of these governmental intrusions, it appears that there is no control from the top and — if the statements of press secretaries are to be credited — no meaningful decision-making by anyone who can be held accountable to voters.

Under President Obama, the government’s ever-growing appetite for collection of data about average, taxpaying Americans seems to be on auto pilot.  That is a very scary proposition.

What To Do On A Bright, Sunny Sunday?

Normally my autumn Sundays are pretty regimented.  I play golf in the morning, get home and have lunch, then watch the Browns.  By the time the Browns have lost — again — it’s just about dinner time, and the day is close to being done.

Today is different, however.  The golf course is closed for a special tournament.  The Browns have already played — and lost — so four hours that would have been spent in speechless rage and agony are now available for more pleasant pursuits.  As a result, a day that is typically heavily scheduled has no schedule at all.  The sense of liberty is exhilarating.  It’s a free day, one where I can do whatever I want.

So far this morning I’ve done some chores and caught up on various tasks that have piled up during the busy period.  Now the chores are done, the tasks are completed, and it’s time to enjoy myself.  Nothing sounds better than camping outside, enjoying the cool weather, bright sunshine, and autumn colors, sipping on a steaming cup of black coffee and digging into my book.

The patio beckons, and its allure is irresistible.

How To Respond To Muslim Lectures, Edicts, and Bounties

The Muslim world has been giving the United States a lot of advice and information lately.  No doubt we’ll hear more thoughtful recommendations and guidance in the next few days, as Muslim leaders come to New York for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly.  America needs to decide how to respond.

In Egypt — where only days ago raging mobs stormed the U.S. embassy and ripped down our flag — the new President, Mohamed Morsi, says in an interview with the New York Times that the United States needs to fundamentally change its approach to the Muslim world and show greater respect for Muslim values.  In the meantime, the head of the largest fundamentalist Islamic party in Egypt, which supported Morsi, is calling for U.N. to act to “criminalize contempt of Islam as a religion and its Prophet.”  And in Pakistan — a supposed ally — the government Railways Minister has offered a $100,000 payment to whomever kills the makers of the YouTube video The Innocence of Muslims and called upon al Qaeda and the Taliban to help in murdering the videomakers.  (Fortunately, the Pakistani government says it “absolutely disassociates” itself with the comments of its Railway Minister.  Thank goodness!)  And we haven’t even heard yet from the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who will be speaking to the U.N. General Assembly, too.

It’s heartening to hear from the enlightened leaders of a region that is widely recognized for reasoned discourse and thoughtful consideration of opposing viewpoints.  But I’d like to see whoever speaks for America at the U.N. General Assembly share some of our views with the assembled Islamic leaders — and do so in pointed terms.  We should say that we relish our First Amendment, and we’re not going to change it no matter how often Muslims go on murderous rampages at some perceived slight.  We should say that will fight any effort to criminalize speech and will veto any ill-advised U.N. resolution that attempts to do so.  We should emphasize that we think that the world needs more freedom, not less, and that we stand with the forces of liberty.  We should tell the Muslim leaders that their real problems are not with freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but with tribal-based, anti-female societies that crush individual initiative, medieval economies that leave huge swathes of the population unemployed and ready to riot at any moment, and corrupt leaders who are more interested in amassing their own fortunes than helping their people realize a better way of life.  Oh, and we should make clear that we won’t do business with government where ministers are offering bounties on the heads of filmmakers.

I’m tired of our simpering, whimpering approach to defending our fundamental freedoms.  It’s high time that we stood up for what we believe in and told the Islamic world that they can riot all they want:  we aren’t going to back away from our liberties.

(Not) Secure Beneath The Watchful Eyes

Recently the Federal Aviation Administration released a list of 63 authorized sites at which the military, government agencies, towns, universities, and other entities can launch unmanned drones within American borders.  These domestic launch sites are located in 20 states — including one for a small college in Steubenville, Ohio.

Our inability to police our borders is cited as justification for use of drone aircraft by the Border and Customs Patrol and the military; the advocates argue that we need the monitoring to enhance our security.  Then, as those initial uses become rationalized and accepted, “drone creep” occurs, and more agencies and entities discover a purported need for the devices and the ability to monitor the population from the skies.

The reality is that we are an increasingly monitored society, whether it is through the use of unmanned drones or security cameras mounted on the corners of buildings or cameras attached to traffic lights that are supposed to catch scofflaws who run red lights.  The monitoring is always justified on grounds of safety and security, as in the classic British poster touting the presence of closed-circuit TV cameras on British buses.

We are supposed to be trading our freedom and liberty for security — but that notion presupposes that the people who are doing the monitoring are truly motivated by security concerns and are capable of doing something about what they see.  The recent performance of our government raises, I think, legitimate questions about the accuracy of both assumptions.  Is the primary motivation for traffic light cameras security, or finding a cheap way to collect fines and add much-needed revenue to the coffers of hard-pressed local governments?  How much of this monitoring is really to protect us from terrorists and invading criminals, and how much is to give a government that increasingly wants to control how we live our lives a platform to insure that we are complying with their edicts?