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United Notions

For all that certain countries seem inclined toward bickering, posturing and outright hostility, I think it might be interesting to compile a statement which is built entirely from quoting the founding documents of different nations. You may or may not recognize these words as coming from your own country’s most sacrosanct legal framework.

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[The state] is a sovereign Republic, the constitution of which shall guarantee the inviolability of human dignity and the freedom and rights of the individual as well as promoting justice in society. All citizens have equal social dignity and are equal before the law, without distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinion, personal and social conditions. All persons are entitled to protection of their life, body and dignity.

The fundamental objectives of [the state] are: to build a free, just and unified society; to guarantee national development; to eradicate poverty and substandard living conditions and to reduce social and regional inequalities; and to promote the well-being of all, without prejudice as to origin, race, sex, color, age and any other forms of discrimination.

It is the duty of [the state] to remove those obstacles of an economic or social nature which constrain the freedom and equality of citizens, thereby impeding the full development of the human person and the effective participation of all workers in the political, economic and social organisation of the country. No free person shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will [the state] proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

[The state] shall establish diplomatic as well as political, economic and cultural relations with all friendly countries, on principles of complete equality, independence, mutual respect, noninterference in each other’s affairs and mutual benefit. [The state] shall promote unity with the world public defending independence, resolutely support and encourage the struggle of all peoples who oppose all forms of aggression and interference and fight for their countries’ independence and national and class emancipation.

[The duties of the state include]: raising the level of public awareness in all areas, through the proper use of the press, mass media, and other means; free education and physical training for everyone at all levels, and the facilitation and expansion of higher education; and strengthening the spirit of inquiry, investigation, and innovation in all areas of science, technology, and culture, as well as [religious] studies, by establishing research centres and encouraging researchers.

[The state] shall: guarantee equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights, including the right to equal pay for equal work and other related benefits; promote women’s rights through affirmative action; combat harmful customs and traditions which undermine the dignity and the status of women; provide maternity and child care and medical care for pregnant women; and protect the rights of the child as provided in the international and regional conventions ratified by [the state].

Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing and pictures, and to inform himself without hindrance from generally accessible sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by means of broadcasts shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.

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All things considered, there’s some pretty good stuff in there, isn’t there? Sure, it’s by no means complete, but it seems like an awfully good start.

So…. would it surprise you to learn that in compiling this I have drawn from the highest laws of Iran, North Korea, Israel, Brazil, the Sudan, Finland and more?

Perhaps we would all be wise to see what we can learn from our fellow nations instead of assuming a priori that we are better than they are.

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#YouToo

Harvey Weinstein. Roy Moore. Al Franken. Matt Lauer. Kevin Spacey. Bill O’Reilly. John Conyers. Garrison Keillor. And yes, Donald Trump. The list goes on and on, and each new day brings more names.

It’s not just these big names who have a lot to answer for, either. Every person who has ever been the reason someone used – or could have used – a #MeToo hashtag must take a share of the blame.

Sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault – all of these occur all too frequently all over the world. America is facing a reckoning today, and similar reckonings in other nations may not be far behind. We have reached a critical mass, the point of no return.

While these incidents have been predominantly actions by men against women, we must acknowledge that in the overwhelming majority of these cases, the underlying motivation isn’t sex – it’s power. Anyone who is in a position of power over another, whether that power is gained through wealth or fame or occupational rank or family standing or even sheer physical strength, these assaults are an expression of that power, a power which for all of America’s history has been wielded by men.

The success of the #MeToo movement has been due to its inherent message that if you have suffered this, you are not alone. It was truly disheartening and distressing to see than well over half of the women among my Facebook friends had reason to use that hashtag. Considering how many women have continued to be reluctant to share their stories, I would at this point be unsurprised if that fraction were closer to three-fourths.

And I’m sure my observation is not a unique one. So consider this: over half of the women you know – friends, colleagues, family members – have at some time been subjected to sexual harassment or worse. That fact should sicken you. It certainly sickens me.

Of course, as with all such things, this is not a black and white issue; there are always nuances and shades of gray involved. Certainly we can concede that an off-color comment, or even a pattern of them, is not as egregious as an outright sexual assault. However, we must also acknowledge that all people should have the right to a non-threatening environment at work, at school, at church, or in any other aspect of their lives.

Perhaps it could be argued that one off-color joke at a party twenty years ago should not be reason enough to demand a person’s resignation or firing today. Shades of gray. But again, these incidents constitute abuses of power, and when a person is allowed to abuse that power, and a blind eye is turned, that forbearance becomes the new normal. It sends a message to the perpetrator and victim, and others around them, that the specific behavior was tolerated, and therefore acceptable. That acceptance paves the way, however unintentionally, for a greater abuse.

It should also be acknowledged that people react very differently to these situations, and what is acceptable flirting to one person may constitute sexual harassment to another. This is indeed probably true not only based on who is receiving the comments, but even on who is making them; the same person may react differently to a compliment from an attractive superior than to the same compliment from an unattractive one.

Another complicating factor is that (with few exceptions) we do all enjoy the freedom of speech. I will not be surprised if at some point a person whose only infractions have been verbal rather than physical does at some point mount a First Amendment defense. These comparatively minor incidents are, therefore, a thorny issue.

However, I’m sure we can all agree that unwelcome touching (or worse) is reprehensible, or that persistence with such behavior after an indication that the behavior is unwelcome should not be tolerated.

Women are standing up and taking back their power, and it’s about damn time that the men who have abused their power over them are held accountable. And, in those rarer but no less problematic cases where the incident has been perpetrated by a woman on a man, or the two have been of the same gender, those people should also be held accountable.

Interestingly, the pattern thus far has been that the media personalities have been held accountable and the politicians have not. This too must change. Why should we tolerate behaviors from our nation’s leaders – regardless of party – which we would not accept from people in other positions? Nobody, not even a President, should be considered unaccountable.

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It makes me sad and angry to see so many dear friends posting ‘Me too’ right now. Not because you’re posting it, of course, but because you’ve been given reason to.

And I know there are still more of you who have been given just as much reason but are choosing not to speak out for a variety of reasons; that choice is yours, of course, and it does not in any way diminish what you have endured.

And you know… it damn well should make me sad and angry. It should make us all sad and angry.

Please, keep speaking out. Don’t let anyone silence your voices. Hold up a mirror to the ugliness that is still out there in the world.

And may we raise the next generation to do better.

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Last night broke my heart on several levels.

Mostly, of course, because it was the deadliest mass shooting in the history of a country where even though mass shootings have become commonplace, we still like to pretend that we as a nation are decent people who care. You know, not quite enough to actually enact meaningful gun control legislation, or vote in people who will, but we care, really we do. Pinky swear.

Also, because I’m a musician. Whether it’s a multi-platinum-selling recording artist like Jason Aldean who is up on that stage, or someone like me who is just trying to connect to people through music, we do it out of love. Love for the art itself, love for the people it touches, love for the moments when people sing together and set aside the worries of their regular daily life. An act like this profanes that love. It is not merely an attack on musicians or music fans, but on music itself. And yeah, I take that pretty personally.

No doubt in the coming days, someone will find a way to blame anything but the gun. They’ll blame the venue for being open-air, despite the fact that people have been coming together to sing in open fields for centuries before the gun was ever invented. They’ll blame mental illness, despite the fact that we don’t do anywhere close to enough to help people through mental illness *or* to prevent them from getting guns. They’ll probably find a way to blame Jason Aldean, even though he really hasn’t done or said anything to provoke this kind of act. No. The hell with any that. This guy, despite living in Las Vegas already, booked himself a 32nd-floor room with a view of the show, and set himself up in there with more heavy artillery than any single human being needs, and an intent to use it. Let me illuminate something for you: The usual slippery NRA claptrap does not apply here. People 32 floors up and across the street don’t kill 50 people and injure 500 more, guns do. He couldn’t have done that with a knife.

Lastly…. this one hit especially close to home, because if that show had been in Tampa rather than Las Vegas, I would almost certainly have been in that crowd last night. I might even have had my nine-year-old with me. And let me tell you this. If something had happened to him, all the thoughts and prayers in the world would not bring him back or bring me peace. Especially from people in elected office who actually have both the power and the responsibility to do something about this. If you can’t act to help, then by all means offer thoughts and prayers; it may be small comfort, but it’s something. If you can act, but don’t…. then keep your thoughts and prayers, and I welcome you to choke on them.

We can’t keep looking at events like this, shaking our heads, saying ‘never again’ and then going right back to whatever we were already doing. We need better mental health care in this country. Now. Today. We need meaningful gun control legislation – not a ban, but something which can actually keep everybody safer. Now. Today. We need to do something about a culture in which we are so inured to tragedy and injustice that anyone can shrug off an event like this. Now. Today.

We need to get out there and demand this. Say it with our voices and with our votes. Say it with our arts and with our actions. Say it with our time and money and effort as we all work to make a difference. Say it with our very blood, in the form of donations to the Red Cross.

On behalf of music fans, musicians and decent human beings everywhere… say it. Please.

In the meantime, I’m very much of a mind to grab my guitar, get out there, and play some country music of the fuck-you-est kind. Now. Today.

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I refuse to give in to the hate which has been rearing its ugly head too often in today’s America.

Let’s not kid ourselves that Charlottesville happened in isolation. Charlottesville is merely the latest in a long string of incidents, a string which has seen big white hoods replaced with little red made-in-China Make-America-Great-Again hats but has otherwise changed very little.

And when these incidents happen, White America shakes its head and says “never again!” And then sits back down in front of Keeping Up With The fucking Kardashians. And strangely, the ‘never again’ somehow fails to work.

This is a particularly dangerous time; our last president gave a face and a name to the idea that the racists and bigots fear and hate the most, and our current president has given that hate and fear an outlet.

I cannot sit on the sidelines and watch this kind of behavior be condoned, enabled, encouraged. I will not support the passing of laws which divide us against ourselves, which are injurious to people’s basic human rights, nor will I follow those laws if they are passed. I will continue to speak out, continue to oppose, continue to resist.

And you’re going to have to put a bullet in my head to stop me.

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Connection

While at the beach yesterday, I pulled out a guitar and played an impromptu set for the folks out there. Most people would just smile as they passed by, or stick around for a song or two.

But there were two kids, probably around ages 6 or 7, who hung around, absolutely awestruck. “Mom, Dad, come listen, this guy’s really good!” It absolutely made their day – and mine.

At the end of the day, it’s not about the size of the crowd or the money you make – it’s about making a difference to someone, brightening the world a little, and connecting with people through music.

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Still more horrifying news out of my beloved London today.

But if there is a light that shines through it, let us remember that an imam from the mosque which was targeted showed the compassion and humanity to save the life of the very person who killed a member of his mosque and injured a dozen more.

Let us remember that not all Muslims are evil and not all Christians are good, and vice versa. Let us remember that not all Arabic people are evil and not all white people are good, and vice versa.

And, while I often disagreed with the man, let us remember this quote from President George W. Bush:

“Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”

If we stop judging in this way, there is yet a path to a greater peace.

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