Saturday, June 27, 2015

Just Another Mad, Mad Day on the Road: Some Thoughts About Seeing Rush in Concert

Annie, a journalist friend of mine from Cleveland, tweeted last night that she was listening to "Moonlight Mile" by the Rolling Stones, a song I hadn't thought about in years (and one I used to play when I was a disc jockey). It's a song that was inspired by a musician being out on the road performing, far away from home, far away from the people he loves.  In late 1973, I moved from Boston to Cleveland to follow my dream of being in radio, and suddenly, I too was far away from everything and everyone I knew. It wasn't easy for me to make friends and I often felt I didn't belong there ("...the sound of strangers sending nothing to my mind/ just another mad, mad day on the road...").  But there was no way I could just turn around and go back to Boston. This was my chance, and I had to make it work.  I especially identified with the line in "Moonlight Mile" that said, "oh, I am sleeping under strange, strange skies..."  No offense, but Cleveland always felt strange to me.  It never felt like home... until I met Rush.

You already know the story of how I was the music director at WMMS-FM and I received their home-grown album on Moon Records from Bob Roper, then a record promoter at A&M of Canada.  You already know how I fell in love with the song "Working Man" and gave it to Denny Sanders to play. And you already know how the audience responded almost immediately. Rush came to Cleveland in August of 1974, as I recall, and there's a photo of that online in a number of places. (Neil had only recently joined the band, and we all looked so much younger...) I had no idea at the time that I would begin a 40+ year friendship with the guys in the band, as well as with their management, and with several members of their road crew.  I never expected that we'd stay in touch over the decades, nor did I expect that they'd acknowledge me on two of their albums, give me a shout-out at one of their early concerts, continue to remember me when being interviewed about their career, or ask me to introduce them at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and I didn't expect to see them inducted (finally) into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. (In fact, there was no Rock & Roll Hall of Fame yet in 1974.)

But while I was in Cleveland, Rush gave me something really valuable-- they gave me acceptance. Thanks to my association with them, suddenly people who had never wanted to talk to me decided I was okay after all.  Thanks to being Rush's unofficial Big Sister, record executives who wanted to sign them treated me as if I mattered.  Suddenly, I wasn't just some music director at some radio station, and the fact that I didn't smoke or drink or do drugs (at a time when all three were common activities in both the radio and record industries) was no longer a problem.  I was a friend of Rush.  People I didn't even know began to treat me with courtesy. Of course, many of those people quickly lost interest as soon as I could no longer give them access to the band; Rush signed with a record label (Mercury Records in the US); the Moon album was re-released on Mercury, followed by a new album with new material, Fly By Night.

In mid-April 1975, I left Cleveland to work in New York and then in Washington DC, before going back to Boston.  Rush and I kept in touch periodically:  they no longer needed a Big Sister, and we were all much busier with our careers.  But they never forgot what I had done to advocate for them in those early years.  To this day, even though the band has gained world-wide (and well-deserved) fame, the guys in Rush and the people who work for them still treat me with kindness and affection; it is deeply appreciated.

I had the privilege of seeing Rush in concert on Wednesday June 23, along with Annie, who flew in from Cleveland to watch them perform. She had already seen them in Columbus (she's a rock journalist), but she told me this show was even better. Based on what fans told me (including some who have also seen multiple shows on this tour), she was right:  the Boston show far surpassed everyone's expectations.   There were so many high points:  the visual retrospective with images from the many years of Rush's performances; hearing songs they hadn't performed in a while or rarely performed (fans told me that "Jacob's Ladder" was especially impressive for them, as were "Xanadu" and "How It Is"); and witnessing the energy and enthusiasm that Rush brings to every concert.  The newspaper critics were effusive in their praise for Rush's performance, and the fans took to social media to express their appreciation for such an amazing evening of music.  I did too:  the fact that Geddy is able to achieve the same vocal range year after year, and the fact that the band's musicianship remains so consistent and precise-- this is something unusual in the universe of rock bands.  Too many older rock stars become parodies of themselves, but that has never been the case with Rush.

And yet... despite such a great show, many of us have mixed feelings. When I revisited that Rolling Stones song, I couldn't help but think of Neil, who almost didn't want to go out on tour because he didn't want to miss a moment away from his wife and little daughter.  Yes, he was his usual outstanding self playing the drums:  Neil is a total professional, and if you didn't know that he feels ambivalent about this tour, he did not give it away.  (Nobody in Rush has ever "mailed it in." They always give 100% to the fans.) But now more than ever, Neil is "sleeping under strange, strange skies," rather than where he wants to be, near his family.

I had a chance to spend some time with Alex before the show.  He too has his own mixed emotions-- while his health is better now, and he is pleased with how well the guys are playing, he too misses his family, especially his grand-kids. I totally understand. The guys have been living the hectic life of rock musicians for more than forty years; it can be gratifying, but it can also wear a person down.  And while I am rarely at a loss for words, this time, I admit I didn't know what to say to Alex-- for one thing, he had several friends waiting backstage and I didn't want to intrude, but for another, I don't know if this is the last time I'll see him in concert. We hugged a lot.  Sometimes, words get in the way.

I sat in the mixing booth during the show, watching Howard Ungerleider (whom I've known for as long as I've known the band) doing his magic with the lights and effects.  And at the end of the show, Howard and I hugged too-- neither of us knows what the next thing is, and at this point, it's all very uncertain.  Maybe there will be more live concerts.  Maybe not.  Only the band knows for sure.  But for me, once again, I remain overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude for all the years of great music, for the devotion the guys show to the fans, and for the friendship Rush has continued to give me.  And in the end, whether there are more tours or not, I have a lot of great memories, and a lot of love for three guys from Toronto whose songs have been the soundtrack for so many people's lives... including mine.              

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Myth of a "Post-Racial Era"

I noted with mild amusement this morning that President Obama is yet again being excoriated on Fox News, this time for daring to say the word "nigger" rather than using the preferred euphemism, "the N-word." But he wasn't being intentionally provocative. He was merely making a point, one that many of us who are educators have also tried to make.  I taught media-related courses at Emerson College for 19 years, and one day, I did a lesson on the history of racist language-- including the N-word; and yes, I used the actual word. I showed my students that years ago, even respectable newspapers like the Boston Globe and New York Times used that word on certain occasions, and I discussed common slang expressions that contained the word and were regularly used by white people.  But evidently, my lesson offended someone:  I was called into the office of the department chair, who basically yelled at me and accused me of being a bigot; he said I must never use that word, not even to teach about it.  Similarly, whether you like President Obama or not, his point was accurate: banning a word, even if the effort is well-intentioned, does nothing to solve the problem of racism.

But lest you think only "the left" has a problem with talking about race, you are sadly mistaken.  While the language police may operate more prominently in university environments, the thought police can frequently be found plying their trade amongst conservatives.  Consider the tragic murders of nine innocent people at prayer in a black church in Charleston SC, an event that certainly proves racism isn't dead:  the killer (whose name will NOT be mentioned on this blog-- he wanted publicity, but he isn't going to get any from me) had a racist website, spouted racist views that could have come directly from the Ku Klux Klan (the tired old myth about black men "raping our women" or the equally false assertion that black people are "taking over our country" for example), and he told his friends that he wanted to start a race war.  (Given his views, why his father bought him a gun for his birthday remains one of life's mysteries.)  Yet when the majority of the Republican presidential candidates were asked to comment, they all said there was no way to know why the killer did it; some conservative commentators said he must be mentally ill, and at least one commentator even said that if members of the church had been armed, this wouldn't have happened (a comment I found truly bizarre:  I mean, who would Jesus shoot?).  But none of the major Republican candidates was willing to say "Yes, this kid is a racist and we must condemn his actions."     

And then there is the confederate battle flag that flies in the South Carolina capitol.  Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney condemned it, and I salute him for doing so; but few other Republicans did the same.  Even our supposedly moderate Massachusetts governor, Charlie Baker, espoused the approved Republican response-- the people of SC should decide whether to take that flag down.  Umm, really? I have heard far too many conservative politicians defending that flag over the past few days, using words like "pride" and "tradition" and "it's a part of who we are." If so, then put it in a museum.  Flying it in the capitol of the state sends a message that your state approves of its message of secession and segregation, and is that really the message you want to send in 2015?  But hey, at least none of the politicians who defended the confederate flag used the N-word, so they can't be racists, am I right?

I'd really like to see a conversation about race that doesn't deteriorate into political score-settling, name-calling, myth and accusation.  Yes, black people have indeed come a long way in the past sixty years.  Yes, there are more black doctors, lawyers, professors, businesspeople, members of the government, and members of the media than there used to be.  But the stereotypes persist and the problems have not gone away.  There are still too many white Americans who believe the worst about black people, especially poor black people.  There are still too many myths about black criminality and black welfare recipients (myths that are frequently refuted, yet they are still widely believed).  There are still too many politicians eager to grab headlines by blaming the lyrics of rap songs for society's problems.  Yes, we can take down that racist flag (and we should), and yes we can avoid using certain words (and we probably should, just to be courteous). But there are difficult discussions that we as a country do not seem eager to have.

When a tragedy occurs, such as the one in Charleston, people are genuinely moved.  They express sorrow and bring flowers, but then they retreat to their own neighborhoods and their own set of attitudes:  I note, for example, that a large number of churches are either all white or all black; and all too many public schools have also become re-segregated, as have many "gated communities."  In our culture, we seem to prefer to live amongst "our own," and other than at work, we don't interact much with "them," especially if they are poor or live in what we perceive as a bad part of town.  But if we are serious about wanting a post-racial society, a society where there is equal opportunity and racial minorities are accepted, segregation (even if these days, it's often voluntary) isn't very helpful. As long as there are too few opportunities for people to engage in serious discussion about how to fix what's broken, and as long as our political representatives seem more eager to stay in power than to participate in finding solutions, we will keep going from crisis to crisis, with the usual "I am shocked, shocked" sound-bites from the usual politicians.  And we will continue to debate comparatively trivial matters like whether the president was wrong to use a certain word... rather than finding ways to actually bring about the meaningful change that has been needed for far too long.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Why Prison Reform Matters, and Why Most People Think It Doesn't

In this age of people falsifying their resumĂ© or their life story (talking to you, Rachel Dolezal), some of you will be surprised to learn that I used to be a prison guard.  It's true. In 1970, when I was pursuing a master's degree in counseling, I spent a few months working at the Women's Reformatory in Framingham, Mass.  It was quite a surreal experience. The warden was very popular and widely regarded as a progressive, but she seemed stuck in the 1950s when it came to how to "cure" criminality in women. One of her rules was to mandate that the women wear dresses and use makeup, so that they could learn to be more feminine.  She also seemed to believe (and in fairness, many people back then still believed this) that female prisoners should become adept at sewing-- one of the few jobs for the women was making flags.

One of the prisoners, and I still remember her, was built very much like a guy.  In fact, she wanted to be treated like a stereotypical male, and she prided herself on being "tough."  Today, perhaps she might have an opportunity to have female-to-male gender reassignment and maybe she would have finally gained acceptance as a man; but back then, such options were few, especially for anyone in prison.  She really disliked the rule about lipstick and dresses, but the choice was not hers to make.  (To be honest, although I admit to not being an expert in criminology, I empathized with her:  I was considered a "normal" female, yet I too objected to the wearing dresses and using lipstick rule.  It just didn't seem to me that such rules addressed why women ended up breaking the law.)

The women I encountered at the prison were not saints, of course.  Several were doing time for armed robbery or manslaughter; some had been found guilty of child abuse. Many, if not most, had been addicted to drugs or alcohol and that was one key reason they committed crimes. An equal number were involved with a guy who was also addicted, or who had a criminal background.  The prison had some classes, but nothing that would lead to a career or a good-paying job on the outside.  And yet, compared to some prisons, this one was relatively enlightened, with inmates living in "cottages" rather than cells, unless they broke the rules.  Then, their punishment was to be sent to "the hole," better known as solitary confinement. Some prisoners were sent there often; others knew how to avoid it.

I wasn't cut out to be a guard, I must confess.  I found myself wanting to help the prisoners.  No, not by giving them hacksaws or smuggling in contraband.  I wanted to counsel them-- there weren't a lot of counselors or psychologists there, as I recall.  And I absolutely wanted to advise them, so that perhaps they wouldn't make the same mistakes in the future.  Sometimes, I sang folk songs with them (for obvious reasons, Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" was a big favorite).  Ultimately, the warden and I mutually agreed that I'd be better off working somewhere else.  She was right-- my heart was always in radio.  And yet, I never forgot the prisons. While I was in Cleveland at WMMS-FM, I became the local chair of the ACLU's Prisoners Rights Project, and I worked to help set up at least one prison radio station, in Mansfield OH.  I also visited prisoners who heard me on the air and wrote to me.

Some people thought that was a strange thing to do-- I mean, the common wisdom was (and for some people, still is) that prisoners cannot change; once a criminal, always a criminal.  Back then, first offenders were regularly incarcerated with hardened criminals.  There was little if any counseling available, few classes they could take-- yes, I understand that some prisoners would not have been willing to go to counseling, nor would they have taken any classes, but it always seemed counter-productive to just give up on them, especially the younger ones.  That prison radio station was really popular; prison newspapers are too, even though such publications are frequently censored. But giving the inmates a change to be creative in a positive way, whether through classes or job skills courses, or prison media, always seemed sensible.  After all, those first offenders were usually going to be paroled; and with no new skills, and a society that rarely gave them any opportunities, of course they ended up back in jail again.  It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

Today, we are still in a "tough on crime" era.  For many, especially politicians running for office, the prisons make an easy target.  Many politicians deny that rehabilitation is necessary, since "everyone" knows criminals will never change.  The best strategy, they say, is to lock them up and throw away the key; make sure the conditions are especially harsh, since that's what they all deserve.  And if they do get out, keep on punishing them:  even take away their right to vote after they've served their sentence.  Remind them of their criminal past:  don't help them get a job, don't give them a chance of any kind.  And finally, make sure you blame them when they go back to prison, even though you did absolutely nothing to change the way that story unfolded.

Don't misunderstand me. There are some criminals who do deserve harsh punishment, and who probably won't ever become productive members of society.  Even when I was a guard, I met inmates who were manipulative and untrustworthy. (But truthfully, I met other guards who fit the same description.)  Anyway, even today, I continue to believe that juvenile offenders (especially first offenders) do not benefit from harsh and inhumane treatment. It doesn't teach them a lesson, unless the lesson is to hate society even more.   I am not saying we should "coddle" them, but there has to be a middle ground between coddling and brutalizing.  For example, I am troubled that prisons are allowed to operate with little oversight-- reporters can't see what is going on, and often, even family members, lawyers, and advocates are denied access. As a result, when a young offender is assaulted (whether by other prisoners or by sadistic guards), it rarely if ever makes the news; when a prisoner awaiting trial is denied needed medical assistance, that too rarely makes the news.  And as more prisons outsource medical care to private organizations, there is even an incentive to deny proper care-- it saves money, and besides, they're just prisoners and they can't expect good treatment. 

There are a few organizations that advocate for prison reform-- one newer advocacy group that I like is the Marshall Project (  But the voices of reform are usually drowned out by the voices demanding that prisons continue to treat all inmates the same, the voices that insist that only punishment works and that the worst thing is to be "soft on crime."  This attitude seems short-sighted and frankly, it seems unwise. As I said earlier, one day, many of these inmates will get out. If we give them no opportunity to change for the better, we shouldn't be surprised if they never do.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Swimming While Black and the Persistence of Racial Stereotypes

The other night, there was some noise in my neighborhood; loud music, loud voices, not what generally happens in this quiet, suburban part of Quincy, MA.  A group of high school kids had just graduated, and they evidently were having a party (or so it seemed, based on the noise level).  One of the neighbors must have called the police to complain, because a patrol car came by our street and soon, the noise stopped. But there were no gunshots, no tasers, and no shouting at the kids to get on the ground or face arrest.  In fact, from what I can gather (it was dark, the party was up the street from where I live), the party either dispersed or the kids decided to calm down.  It was another happy ending to a story of overly exuberant suburban teens and their encounter the local police.  Oh-- I forgot to mention-- the kids were white, the neighborhood was mainly white, and the police were probably white too.  

Contrast that with what happened the other day in McKinney, Texas.  Exuberant black kids having a graduation celebration at a community swimming pool, making noise (as party-goers often do) and acting like... well... kids.  Evidently, that was a problem for some of the white residents, based on the complaint received by the police.  The report read in part that there were"multiple juveniles at the location, who do not live in the area or have permission to be there, refusing to leave."  Umm, I have no clue whether the teens making noise in our neighborhood last week were from our area, and I don't know if they had permission to be there-- I assume that someone invited them, but I didn't think about whether they lived in Quincy, and I doubt the police thought about it either. They just wanted the noise level lowered.  In fact, I'm puzzled by the McKinney police report-- how did the residents who complained have any idea the teens "didn't belong there"-- could it be because they were the wrong color?  Echoes of the excuses made by George Zimmerman about Trayvon Martin come to mind-- Trayvon, walking down the street with a soda and some candy, was "up to no good" and "didn't belong there" according to Mr. Zimmerman, who took it upon himself to follow the young black man who dared to walk in a predominantly white neighborhood at night.  And here we go again-- a large and noisy group of black teens at a swimming pool don't belong there, and so, they must be up to no good.

The outrage on the blogosphere was predictable too.  While liberal websites defended the black teens and accused the police of over-reacting, conservative websites immediately began throwing around the word "thugs."  Some sites claimed the teens were smoking marijuana and fighting. Others claimed that they were intimidating (white) people trying to use the pool.  But witnesses, both black and white, noted that much of the trouble was started by certain white residents who insulted the black teens, telling them they belonged in jail, that they ought to go back to the housing projects (as if every black kid comes from the projects), and making other disparaging remarks.  Fortunately, nobody was killed, but disturbing videos emerged-- especially one of an (unarmed) black girl in a bathing suit being thrown to the ground by an officer.  I don't care how mouthy she may have gotten, and yes, teens can and do get mouthy said Donna, who used to be a step-mom and knows this first-hand.  But I doubt that the young black girl deserved to be harshly thrown to the ground, and I also doubt that any of the white kids in my neighborhood would ever be treated that way.

And speaking of the fact that I am white, I too have witnessed racial profiling of black kids who were doing absolutely nothing wrong:  for example, several years ago, I was a Big Sister. My Little Sister was a truly adorable ten year old black girl; she was also polite and well-behaved, no matter where I took her, and as those of you with kids know, ten-year-olds do not always behave.  Anyway, one day we went to a department store to do some shopping. I needed to buy some office supplies, as I recall. My Little Sister wanted to look at clothes, so I told her to go ahead. But as she walked over to that department, I noticed that store security had begun to follow her.  This puzzled me.  I watched for a minute or two and then decided to intervene.  I told the security officer she was with me, and that seemed to make it all right-- but it still bothered me.  Evidently, any black kid in a store is a potential shop-lifter... just like any black kid at a community swimming pool is a potential thug. 

I know that police don't have an easy job. And I know that some kids, of both colors, can exhibit thuggish behavior. But I also know that in 2015, it's shameful that some white people, including some members of law enforcement, still assume that black kids are automatically suspicious if they are in the "wrong neighborhood" at the "wrong time."  Such racist assumptions can lead to tragic consequences: unnecessary arrests, unprovoked beatings, and in some cases, such as what happened to Tamir Rice, death at a very young age.  Tamir was only twelve and playing with a BB gun.  But he was black and he "looked suspicious," perhaps even dangerous. And so, the police shot him to death, seconds after the police car spotted him.  They had received a complaint that there was a juvenile in the park with a gun, and though the complainant said the gun might be a fake (and it was), that was enough for a police officer to get out of the car and shoot Tamir dead.

I don't expect the rhetoric on the blogosphere to die down at any time soon, but whatever side of the issue you are on, surely we can all agree that throwing around the word "thug" and making unfounded accusations isn't helping to improve the situation.  Neither are the persistent racist assumptions that every black kid walking or riding or swimming in a predominantly white neighborhood is "up to no good."  I often quote my favorite philosopher, Emmanuel LĂ©vinas, who called upon us to look into the face of 'the other' -- get to know the person as a human being, rather than making assumptions based on race or social class or other superficial metrics.  Sadly, in many parts of society we seem to have re-segregated ourselves, such that we stay mainly in our own little enclaves, surrounded by people who look like us.  In fact, one study from last year showed that as many as 3/4 of white people have no black friends at all.   It seems obvious that if you never get to know "them," you will be suspicious whenever "they" are in your neighborhood. And I wonder what Martin Luther King Jr. would think about what has happened since his death:  in some ways, we have indeed come so far, but in others, it seems we have a long way to go.

Monday, June 1, 2015

John Anderson, Rand Paul, and Bernie Sanders

Many of my conservative friends believe I'm one of those Blue State liberals (not that there's anything wrong with that).  Truth be told, I've voted for Republicans before:  in fact, voters in Massachusetts are famous for choosing Democratic legislators and Republican governors.  But in 1980, I worked for a presidential candidate who came from the Republican Party.  His name was John Anderson, and he was a nine-term representative in congress.  He ran as an Independent, and I supported him because I liked his views better than those of the two major party candidates-- Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.  I found Anderson to be very practical, a political moderate who was not a "bomb-thrower."  He was fiscally conservative, but socially liberal. Yes, he had once been ultra-conservative, but as the years passed, he moved more to the center, and even slightly center-left on some issues.  And he was not afraid to acknowledge that some of his views had changed over time. 

I liked that.  Only in politics is it a bad thing if candidates change their mind about an issue.  In real life, we do it frequently.  It's necessary.  We get new information, or circumstances call for a different approach, and we adapt. But in politics, someone who does that is a "flip-flopper." I've never understood that criticism.  I don't want a candidate who is stuck in the past.  I want someone who can embrace the new, while respecting what came before.  Anyway, I believed Anderson, as a moderate who had experience dealing with both parties, would be able to build consensus in Washington. 

But in the end, John Anderson really had no chance.  The way the current political system is set up, the obstacles an independent candidate must overcome are far too daunting.  Anderson was not able to get any traction, and he only got about 7% of the vote in the 1980 election.  But despite that, I am not sorry I supported him.  And that brings me to the two most interesting candidates amid the current group of presidential hopefuls:  Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders.  At this point, neither is running as an independent, since neither party has yet chosen its presidential nominees.  I don't know if the Republican Party could ever fully accept Rand Paul-- some of his more libertarian stances are totally at odds with where the base of the party is.  I have the same question about Bernie Sanders-- yes, he may pull current front-runner Hillary Clinton to the left, but are his stances so liberal that the majority of the Democratic Party would consider him unelectable?

What I'm really curious about is whether the "establishment" will once again choose the candidates that big donors find the most appealing.  I think Bernie Sanders is 100% correct in railing against the "billionaire class"-- in fact, I am surprised some of my Republican friends don't see this as a real issue. If our elections are going to bend to the whim of billionaires, no matter what party they are from, then what does the average person's vote really mean?  In the 2012 presidential race, one group alone -- Koch Industries-- spent more than four hundred million dollars helping Republican candidates.  (I know what some of you are thinking-- what about the left?  They've got [pick one] George Soros, labor unions, teachers' unions, etc etc.  Yes they do, but fact-checkers at Politifact and the Washington Post confirmed that the Koch political network far outspent all those other donors; and thanks to all that  money, the views and policies they championed played a major role in which senators and representatives got elected-- in other words, what the Kochs wanted was far more important than what the average voter might have wanted. 

And it got even worse in the mid-term elections of 2014. By some reliable estimates, about four BILLION dollars was spent on political ads in that election cycle.  Not all were from individual wealthy donors, but given how expensive it is to purchase TV and radio airtime, a lot of money had to flow from the pockets of certain Political Action Committees, as well as from the parties, and from the wealthiest donors.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I have nothing against people who are wealthy.  But I do have a problem with people who only care about policies that will benefit themselves, rather than policies that will benefit American workers or taxpayers (many of the most profitable US corporations pay little if anything in taxes).  Meanwhile, it's well documented that a number of companies that are making record profits are not re-investing it in the American economy that was so good to them.  These companies are hoarding millions of dollars overseas, and not creating jobs in the USA.  Meanwhile, CEO pay sky-rockets, and worker salaries remain flat.  So, yes, I am happy that Bernie Sanders is focusing our attention on how much our country has become like an oligarchy, where a handful of wealthy elites call the tune and the rest of us dance to it, whether we feel like dancing or not.

As for Rand Paul, bless him for calling out the war hawks in his party. Some conservatives hate him for doing it, but he is right in saying that war is not always the answer.  President Bush's invasion of Iraq did not make the region safer or better-- quite the opposite.  And calling for more troops to be sent to [pick a country] is no guarantee that we won't lose more American lives and end up in a quagmire, where various factions that have hated each other for generations decide to turn on us, rather than turning on each other.  I'm also glad that Paul is forcing congress to debate the Patriot Act, something I wish had been done years ago.  I personally have nothing much to hide-- I lead a rather uninteresting life, all things considered.  But I still am not fond of the idea of the government (whether led by Democrats or led by Republicans) being able to snoop on my phone calls. 

I wonder, however, if either Paul or Sanders has a chance of getting the nomination.  For Paul, he has to consider that defense industries contribute a lot to candidates; and supporting the Pentagon (and the troops) is at the heart of traditional Republican strategy.  Can a Republican candidate who is not a total hawk, and who has moments when he is a strong civil libertarian, win over the average conservative voter?  For Sanders, the fact that he is (gasp) a Democratic Socialist, someone who isn't shy about attacking the excesses of Wall Street, and someone who speaks out about income inequality on a regular basis, seem to doom his candidacy from the start.  Can enough individual donors give him the money he needs in order to get his message out?  Can he move beyond his small but enthusiastic leftie supporters?  And if neither gets the nomination, will Paul or Sanders try to mount an independent candidacy? In some ways, the next few months will tell us a lot about the state of our democracy-- especially whether a candidate who puts civil liberties first, or a candidate who puts working class people first, can even stand a chance in this post-Citizens' United environment.