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A tipping point in America's mood

There is a new awareness of the challenges we face.

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As I wander along the Atlantic seacoast this holiday season, chatting with folks at their summer play, I sense we have arrived at a kind of tipping point in the American mood.

Whether it be in Newport, R.I., or Duxbury, Mass., or towns along the craggy, breathtakingly beautiful, coast of Maine, there is a new awareness of the multiplicity of challenges – both domestic and international – that must be met.

Americans are taking calmly such apocalyptic predictions as Al Gore's this month. Speaking of the energy problem, he declared: "The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk." But higher gas and food prices; a slump in the real estate market; a deflated dollar; a skittish stock market; layoffs at airlines, banks, and newspapers; wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and an erratic, nuclear-pursuing regime in Iran, have nevertheless combined to produce a "perfect storm" cloud of concern over traditional summer fun.

In Maine and neighboring states, there has been a sharp drop in toll and tax revenue as tourists from other regions in the United States stay home. The chatter I hear from neighboring restaurant tables may just as likely be in German, Japanese, Thai, or some other non-English language as visitors from other lands find the cheap American dollar a bargain. A Dutch visitor who pays $9.50 a gallon for gasoline at home is not fazed by $4-plus for a gallon in the US. Canadians, who have long simmered under a weak Canadian dollar, are basking on Maine beaches in sunny enjoyment of what to them is now a weaker US dollar.

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