Friday, September 27, 2013

Strip-Searched in Trondheim Again

I don't want to whine and I'm not alleging brutal treatment or anything like that. But I believe I'm on a list in Norway, too, and that I've been treated like a criminal, to some extent, although I have no criminal record in Norway or anywhere else. (He admits, embarrassed...) Nothing that happened was all that notable, but notable enough that I thought it deserved a blog post.

I was on a flight between two of the world's richest, most egalitarian democracies – Denmark and Norway. Copenhagen and Trondheim, specifically. The plane landed, we all walked down the stairs. As soon as I entered the terminal building, there was a customs agent with a sniffer dog. The dog dutifully sniffed my jeans, my guitar, my bag, my shirt (climbing up onto me a bit in order to do so, but I don't mind, I like dogs). My jeans should probably have been thrown into the laundry bag the night before, but I figured I'd wear them another day or two, they weren't smelling too bad, although they had just endured an evening at Ungdomshuset, the premier punk rock social center in Copenhagen, where I had had a great gig the night before, amidst a thick cloud of (predominantly) tobacco smoke.

I'm no expert on sniffer dogs, but on the Canadian border I have witnessed one of them find a small amount of marijuana (OK, it was me, I had accidentally taken half a joint in the van with me, which my girlfriend had left in a case of sunglasses, unbeknownst to me – no charges). When the Canadian sniffer dog found the roach, it barked excitedly. (Score!) This Norwegian sniffer dog did not bark. It sniffed me thoroughly and then it seemed to indicate it was done, and ready for the next job. (A friend here in Trondheim informs me that Norwegian sniffer dogs wag their tails when they find something, rather than barking.)

The Customs agent informed me, however, that the dog had noticed something. OK, I thought, perhaps it's conceivable my jeans smelled of hash, but mostly tobacco, and I certainly had no illegal drugs on my person or in any of my luggage, guitar case, etc. But the dog hadn't barked, that's for sure.

The agent took me into a room and closed the door.

“Do you have any drugs on you?”

“No,” I replied.

“Did you smoke any pot recently?”

I assume they're interested in actual, physical specimens of pot, not whether it's in my bloodstream, but I answered honestly, that at the gig the night before I had had a couple hits on someone's joint. I just like them to know that this is normal and they should feel stupid for asking such questions, and I feel no reason to lie about doing something that millions of their fellow Scandinavians do every day.

“Do you have any luggage?”

“Yes, on the carousel.”

“Come with me.” He took me to another room, one I had been in before, unnecessarily (and rudely, it seemed to me) pulling me along by my bag to make sure I was coming to the right room. I was, incidentally, not wearing any offensive clothing – just relatively clean pants and a t-shirt featuring the logo of a Danish trade union.

The agent motioned for me to put my things on a metal table. This guy wasn't big on verbal communication, although he was fluent in English, as are the vast majority of Norwegians.

A female agent came in.


I handed my passport to her. The male agent then asked what I was doing in Norway.

“Playing a gig in Trondheim tomorrow, and Oslo the next day.”

“Come with me,” he said, once my stuff was on the table. He took me into a small, windowless room. Same one I was in with a different Customs agent a few months ago, last time I flew from Copenhagen to Trondheim.

“Do you have any drugs with you?” There was that question again.

“No,” I replied again.

“If you have any drugs with you, you have to tell me now.”

That's an interesting thing to say, given that it's plainly not true. I don't know Norwegian law, but I'm pretty sure I don't have to tell him anything self-incriminating without a lawyer present. In any case, they're obviously combing through all my stuff on the metal table in the other room, which I can't see from our windowless cell, so if I have any drugs with me, they'll presumably find them, and don't need me to tell them about it first.

He then instructed me to remove each article of clothing, one at a time. He searched every pocket, turned everything inside-out, etc. After he had me completely naked, he instructed me to turn around and lift each of my feet up, to make sure I had nothing taped to the soles of my feet, presumably. Then to open my mouth, lift my tongue. No anal cavity search, anyway. (Maybe next time.)

He told me to put my clothes back on. If I needed anything, I should knock on the door, he said, helpfully. Then he left me alone in the small, windowless room with one chair and one table, both attached to the wall.

A few minutes later another agent opened the door.

“How are you getting into Trondheim?”, he asked.

“Someone's picking me up.”

“What's his name?”

I actually wasn't sure. I knew whoever it was who was picking me up was a member of Norway's Maoist party, but I wasn't sure which one it would be. I gave him a first name.

“Is he Norwegian?”, he asked.


I answered these questions on the assumption that they were going to let someone out there know why I was delayed.

After another ten or fifteen minutes, an agent opened the door.

“You can go,” he said.

My stuff was strewn all along the length of the metal table. Two agents watched as I packed it all up. No one made any effort to help me do this, which is just as well, since I prefer to do it myself (though usually they insist on helping me zip up my guitar case and stuff, probably because they're supposed to do that). They all looked really disappointed.

I walked through the “nothing to declare” line, since they clearly already had seen every item in my luggage. On the other end was a tall, red-faced young Norwegian Maoist, who looked somewhat flustered.

I apologized about the extra wait, explaining that I had been strip-searched again. He told me that he had been identified as the person who had come to pick me up, and was then taken into a room and searched, though apparently not strip-searched. The sniffer dog had taken an interest in his jacket, they told him.

This is notable. I admittedly hang out in places where people nearby might be smoking weed, but this guy doesn't. He's a straight-edge, clean-cut Maoist, dressed neatly in clothing that did not indicate any overt anti-government or even alternative culture sympathies, a member of a party that is very anti-drug. He doesn't do drugs or hang out with people who do. I'm sure the dog did not smell anything untoward on his jacket, in fact.

While he was in the room with the agent, the agent threatened to search his car in the parking garage, asking him not whether he had any drugs in the car, but how much. None, was the young man's honest reply. He was quite understandably annoyed at this intimidation tactic. In the end they didn't search his car.

My ride and I then drove away, and went to visit the nearby village of Hell, where I wanted to have my picture taken, which he obligingly did for me. And then he dropped me off in Svartlamon, a neighborhood where enough hash has been smoked over the decades that even the walls of the buildings would probably set off one of these Norwegian sniffer dogs.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Antideutsch and Me: An Open Letter to the German Left

There is a German translation of this piece as well...

Last night another concert of mine in Germany was canceled due to pressure from a political tendency here known as the Antideutsch (Anti-Germans). The show went ahead, in this case, but in a different venue. In previous cases, shows have been canceled due to Antideutsch threats to boycott venues, picket, smash windows and hurt people, depending on the case. All of these actions have been carried out by Antideutsch elements on many occasions throughout Germany over many years now. Their targets over the years have included progressive artists, groups, and venues, as well as members of the very large Palestinian community in Germany.

Since I first encountered the Antideutsch I thought that such a bizarre political tendency couldn't last, and I figured I'd just ignore it and hope it went away. That was a mistake. I'm not sure if their influence is growing, but they're certainly not going away. There may not be more than a few hundred zealous adherents to the various Antideutsch factions in Germany, but their influence in society and especially on the Left is vastly disproportionate to their small numbers, due to the historic guilt that still pervades Germany. They take advantage of this condition to force people to make uncomfortable or even impossible choices, again and again.

The Antideutsch, however well-meaning in their origins, despite the fact that some of what they do is admirable (such as opposing the far right in various ways), is a misguided subculture that has relied on incredibly convoluted logic to evolve into a fundamentally racist phenomenon. Their racism should be rejected. A failure to reject the logic of the Antideutsch is a failure to reject racism.

I'll explain. (I know I have titled this an “Open Letter to the German Left,” but I'll take the time here to give some background that will be obvious to most Germans, but may be news to non-Germans.)

I'm not alone among non-Germans who have spent significant amounts of time in Germany in saying that Germany is the most thoughtful, self-reflective society I have ever experienced. It is a place where a very large proportion of the population understands their history. Some people on the Left here will be quick to disagree with me and talk about all the backward people out there and how much more progress there is to be made. However, if they spend time anywhere else in the world, I believe they will have to admit that their society is one that has, to a vastly greater degree than France, the US, Great Britain, and other countries with very dark histories of colonialism and imperialism, largely come to terms with their history. There are of course notable exceptions, but for the most part Germans today viscerally loathe authoritarianism, war, and everything else the Third Reich stood for.

Most Germans especially loathe anti-Semitism. So much so that the very topic makes people uncomfortable, and any discussion that involves criticizing a person of Jewish lineage or an organization led by a Jew is something many Germans would rather just avoid entirely. Being of Jewish lineage myself, having grown up among survivors of the Nazi holocaust, and having spent a lot of time in Germany, I understand this.

Germans were and are faced with the same contradictions as the rest of us with regards to how to come to terms with anti-Semitism, and how European Jews experienced the first half of the twentieth century, which of course most notably involved being systematically killed by goose-stepping Germans. How to atone for the sins of their fathers and grandfathers? How to make sure a fascist regime doesn't take over Germany again? How to make sure the victims of fascism don't become victims again?

For many Germans, particularly on the Left, the answer to these questions lay in a rejection of authoritarianism, welcoming refugees from dictatorships such as Pinochet's Chile, and opposing wars around the world. For many Germans, this led them uncomfortably into the position of opposing not only the Right in their own country, but the US-led wars in places like Vietnam and Iraq. Not because they supported their own country's imperial ambitions as opposed to US imperialism, but because they opposed anyone carpet-bombing anyone else. Been there, done that, never again – to anyone.

But then, the question of how to view and interact with the new state of Israel posed an even bigger challenge for German society, just as it did for others around the world, such as the Jewish diaspora. Guilt-ridden Germans and traumatized Jews alike faced the question – does “never again” mean “never again” for some people or for everyone? For most people in the world, the answer was the latter – no one should invade someone else's country, force the inhabitants into refugee camps and walled ghettos, etc. Ethnic cleansing was unacceptable anywhere, even if the people doing the ethnic cleansing had recently been victims of an even more horrible ethnic cleansing themselves.

For a significant portion of the Jewish diaspora, and for many people in Germany, however, the main concern was for the well-being of Jews. The Nazi holocaust was directly responsible for Zionism's sudden popularity among Jews. Without the Nazi holocaust, the state of Israel probably never would have come to exist, since the overwhelming majority of Jews before that period of history weren't sufficiently enticed by the idea of abandoning their homes in Europe or North America to participate in the Zionist project. And for many Germans, now that German fascism had played a significant role in forcing Israel to come into existence, the Jewish homeland needed to be supported – even if its very existence meant the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people who had nothing to do with fascism in Europe.

On the contrary, for hundreds of years while there were pogroms, crusades and inquisitions in Europe, whose victims always included lots of Jews among many others, during the same period in the Ottoman Empire, Jews and other religious and ethnic minorities flourished. But now these Arabs would have to pay for the crimes of German Nazis, and the Zionist movement's new state – actively supported by the US, Great Britain, West Germany and other actors on the international scene – would be founded upon a fundamentally racist form of governance, a Middle Eastern apartheid system, where Palestinians were forced to flee at gunpoint while Jews got their land. After the 1967 war, when Israel annexed Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, the Palestinians in these occupied territories would become a people forced to live under military rule, with no right to vote, ruled by military courts, military injustice, with settlers daily breaking international law to take more and more of their best land away from them.

Most governments in the world, and most people paying attention, especially on the Left, saw this for what it was, and declared the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza illegal, the settlements illegal, and demanded that the Palestinians should be able to return to the lands from which they were forcibly displaced. But among many in the Jewish diaspora, collectively traumatized as they were by German fascism and anti-Semitism elsewhere, there was confusion on this question. Were the Palestinians victims of ethnic cleansing, or terrorists who deserved their fate? Was Israel an apartheid state run by settlers from overseas, or a nation of long-lost refugees returning home and doing what they had to do to stay safe?

Many Germans (and many Jews and most other people in the world) tended to take the former view, but generally preferred to avoid the issue, feeling like, as descendents of the Nazis, they didn't really have the moral authority to take a position one way or the other. Some Germans, particularly on the Left, took the principled stance against Israeli apartheid, despite how emotionally difficult it was for most of them to do this, given their history, and their intense feelings of guilt.

Enter the Antideutsch. In the days leading up to German reunification, many people in Germany were concerned with the prospect of a powerful new German state. They had reason to be concerned. In the months following reunification, the far right was emboldened in both east and west Germany, and there were many cases of immigrants being attacked and sometimes killed by the far right. The asylum laws in Germany became much more restrictive. Out of this context, the Antideutsch tendency evolved.

As with much of the German Left, they opposed German reunification, opposed the new restrictions on asylum-seekers, and opposed the far right's violent attacks on the homes of refugees. But unlike the more reasonable elements of the German Left, this new tendency proclaimed their unconditional support for Israel. The Israeli state claimed they represented Jews around the world, and the Antideutsch declared that this must indeed be the case. They aligned themselves ideologically with the most far right elements of the Jewish diaspora, such as the Jewish Defense League, proclaiming that anyone who criticized the state of Israel was an anti-Semite and a fascist (as I have personally been told on numerous occasions by Antideutsch activists).

The Antideutsch movement started splitting almost as soon as it came into existence. Some of the more bizarre tendencies to emerge include those who supported the US-led war in Iraq, on the basis that Israel supported it, so it must be good. Other elements of the movement proclaimed that although they considered themselves to be communist, they were opposed to criticism of capitalism, on the basis that criticizing capitalism was a veiled form of anti-Semitism (since apparently everyone knows that when your average anti-capitalist says “banker” they really mean “Jewish banker”).

While it may be easy to ridicule and dismiss some of the stranger offshoots of the Antideutsch, the thing they all continue to agree on is the importance of uncritically supporting the state of Israel. There also seems to be a general agreement on the principle that any serious criticism of the state of Israel must be actively opposed and denounced as anti-Semitic and fascistic.

By pushing this line throughout Germany, throughout the German Left and elsewhere in German society, the Antideutsch are essentially demanding that Germans, and anyone else in Germany, such as Palestinian refugees or anti-Zionist Jews from New York (like me), must take sides. They must either declare their unflinching allegiance to the state of Israel, or they must admit to being anti-Semites. They must avoid being involved with events that include someone who is critical of Israel, or risk allegations of anti-Semitism, smashed windows, beatings, and so on. There is no room for debate, no room for being on the sidelines or not taking a position on this issue, they say. You are either with us or you're an anti-Semite.

That is to say, you must choose: admit to being an anti-Semite, or embrace anti-Arab racism. Support the Nazi holocaust, or support the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and the apartheid state of Israel.

These, however, are false choices. There are other options – much more sensible ones. You can use your brain, and think for yourself, without unconditionally supporting anyone or anything. You can acknowledge reality – that the Nazi holocaust was indeed the worst thing humans have ever done to other humans, but that the fact that these horrible atrocities were committed in Europe during the first half of the twentieth century does not make it OK for the survivors of the Nazi holocaust to go and drive 700,000 Palestinians off of their land and into walled ghettos.

You can reject both of these horrors. You can oppose anti-Semitism at every turn, and also oppose ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. You can reject the Antideutsch's false dichotomy. Or you can embrace it, and embrace the idea that anything but unconditional support for Israel is anti-Semitism. But then you must come to terms with an inescapable fact: by embracing this position, you are embracing a virulent form of racism. By embracing a blatantly, fundamentally racist government – Israel – you are yourself a racist.

It's your choice. Your brain. I beseech you – use it. Don't let the Antideutsch turn you into a racist idiot who's not allowed to think for yourself because you were born German. I know you'd rather avoid the whole difficult issue, but the Antideutsch won't let you do that. Reject fascism of all kinds, whether they employ gas chambers or not. Reject imperialism, whether German, US, or British. Reject anti-Semitism, yes, but also reject Israeli apartheid. Reject the Antideutsch tendency. Embrace humanity, in all its forms, including the hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians who live in your country, and the Jews who don't agree with the twisted worldview embraced by US imperialism, Israel's ruling parties and the Antideutsch.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Letter from Australia: Coal Barons, Refugees, and War Criminals

It was a long, cramped flight on South China Airlines. The Chinese man sitting in the seat next to me was fidgeting and agitated during the whole flight, except during the brief period when he slept. If I had any Valium with me I would have offered him some. The flight ended with a public exercise program followed by a little documentary about Perth, the city we were about to land in, that was produced by the airline. It described Perth's Mediterranean climate, described how the city was located in the Swan River (which of course it isn't), and provided tips on which neighborhoods in the sprawling city most of the Chinese people hang out in. The film was narrated by a woman who spoke with a North American accent, but the script was clearly written by someone who spoke English as a very second language, and I wondered what must have been going through the narrator's head as she read these hopelessly butchered sentences.

Exhausted, I waited in the Immigration line along with everyone else. Getting towards the front of the line I could hear Immigration agents speaking to the new arrivals, making no effort to enunciate clearly or slow down their speech for the Chinese visitors. The agent I got to seemed like one of the nicer ones, though, an older man with a salt and pepper beard.

“I have a work visa,” I proclaimed, on the assumption he might want to know.

“Don't worry, it's all in the system,” he replied, looking at a computer screen. After a minute or so of perusing his computer he said “welcome to Australia, Dave.” The majority of Australians have the annoying habit of assuming you prefer to be addressed by a nickname of their choosing, which in my case was usually “Dave.” In his case I didn't particularly mind, though. I liked the “welcome to Australia” part. But after all the waiting and spending the $895 for the damn thing, I felt a bit jilted that he didn't even want to look at my work permit.

As I walked past him towards the baggage carousel, a younger female colleague of his who was looking at his computer screen said, “turned away from New Zealand,” which I was. There was a questioning tone in her voice, as if to say, “don't you think you should have asked him about this?” The man grunted disinterestedly.

At the cafe around the corner from the home of my hosts, Alex and Kamala, a couple of long-time activists and members of the organization which now calls itself Socialist Alliance, the local Murdoch rag was boasting about the plans the incoming Prime Minister had for dealing with what the press regularly calls the “refugee crisis.” Australia has very few refugees, relative to most countries, and there is no crisis in any conventional understanding of this term, but you can't tell that to Rupert Murdoch or to either of the two major parties, or to the millions of Australians who vote for them, clearly as disinterested in their own country's history as they are of international law.

Unlike in the US, where elections happen on an almost entirely predictable timetable, in Australia, as with most democracies, you don't always know when they're coming, and most of my tour ended up happening in the 10 days leading up to the election. Which coalition of parties was going to win – the rightwing one – was a foregone conclusion, according to the Murdoch press as well as the rest of the press, and everybody I talked to about it, without exception.

The outgoing Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was engaging in a suicidal backtracking on everything he once stood for, so that both he and Tony Abbott were competing on how tough they could be on “stoppingthe boats,” and how thoroughly they could repeal environmental legislation Rudd's predecessor had passed, which was Australia's brief and apparently fleeting attempt to compensate for the fact that it is one of the world's largest producers of coal and one of the world's biggest contributors to climate change.

Most of the press in Australia prefer to ignore the fact that the country is a deeply divided class society. They refer to billionaire coal barons as “miners,” as if any of them had ever spent a single day underground themselves, and they lament the Carbon Tax – a tax on some of the world's most rapacious energy companies – as if it were a tax on the average Australian family, who would somehow be prospering were it not for the fact that the corporations extracting their nation's nonrenewable resources had to pay tax like everybody else.

Despite the fact that the Labor Party was actively stabbing its base of support in the back, and despite the fact that everybody agreed the upcoming conservative win was a foregone conclusion, just about everyone with a political bone in their bodies with the exception of the anarchists were busily campaigning for one party or the other. In the case of most of my friends and fans, they were campaigning for the Greens or for one of several socialist parties, or for the Wikileaks Party, which was busily self-destructing upon my arrival in Perth, after initially looking like a hopeful alternative to the usual suspects.

The show I did in Perth was one of several fundraisers for the Refugee Rights Action Network, complete with a moving appeal from the stage by an organizer for the group, which has been involved with trying to publicize the indefinite detention of adults as well as children being practiced by the Australian government, the jailing of families who had dared think they might be able to live in Australia, after finding life in their own war-torn countries unlivable. The refugees from places like Iraq and Afghanistan especially inconvenient, given that they are fleeing from a chaos that the Australian government helped create.

There in the audience at the Workingman's Club in the progressive neighborhood of Fremantle was Afeif Ismail, a Sudanese communist and a poet of great renown, one of the few who did manage to get refugee status in Australia, with the help of the United Nations, years before. As a former political prisoner under the Sudanese dictatorship, he had been recognized as a political refugee by the UN, and had been given several options for countries he could move to. When I met him on my first visit to Perth two years earlier, I remember him explaining how he and his family decided to come to Australia. As I recall, it was a process of elimination. The other two choices were Finland and the US. Finland was out due to the decidedly un-Sudanese weather. The US was out due to its imperial empire. So Australia it was.

I had been looking forward to arriving in the southern hemisphere and enjoying a bit of winter weather, but it was, as it happened, the end of winter, and the beginning of spring, and was the warmest spring on record. Not as warm as Japan in summer, which I had just left, so although it was too warm to wear anything more than a t-shirt, I was still happy to be there. Back home in the US, where it was also summer, the forests of California were burning up at a ferocious rate, as the bush in parts of Australia had done a few years before, costing the lives of hundreds of people along with so many trees and houses.

My next stop was Adelaide, thousands of kilometers east and south from Perth, the next city along the south coast in the sparsely-populated continent.

Dave and Kathy were celebrating the 21st year of their Singing Gallery, a fixture of the South Australia folk music scene, with a new CD featuring 21 artists who had played in it over the years. I arrived at their house late at night, and they made use of my fresh pair of ears to get some feedback on how the mix turned out for some of the songs, concerned as they were that the vocals were too quiet on one of them. Last time I stayed at their lovely house in the countryside south of the city I was in a different room, but this time that room would be taken by a family of Tibetans who were expected to arrive the following day, which they did.

In the midst of the furor over refugees arriving by boat to Australia, here were some of the few who had been allowed to come by plane. One family out of the 100 families of Tibetan origin who the Australian government had been kind enough to allow entry into their formerly whites-only settlement. This was a family Dave and Kathy had known for many years. The mother of two was as enchantingly beautiful as she appeared in the pictures of her as a young woman I had seen on the walls in the house before. The kids were adorable, despite their tendency to turn on every available screen in the room at the same time and stare at all of them at once. For me it was the first time I had heard the Tibetan language spoken aside from in a documentary, and it was certainly the first conversation I had had with actual Tibetans.

They had all grown up in India, in the region where most of the Tibetan refugees live there, those who managed to survive the harrowing, often deadly winter journey from their occupied homeland, through the mountains, where many have the option of choosing between being shot by Chinese border guards, or getting frostbite, or both. Our conversations reminded me of the many conversations I've had in recent years with immigrants from eastern Europe. For them, the communists are evil (be they Russian or Chinese), and therefore the capitalists are good. They still seemed confident of this worldview, but having only spent a few days in Australia when I met them, they were already starting to figure out that all was not well in capitalist paradise. At first they came to Sydney, but were appalled at the lack of community they found there, wondering where all the people were (in their cars, or watching TV in their nuclear family units, is the answer, of course). They took a bus to Adelaide, to visit their friends there, hoping it might be different. My educated guess is that they'll soon discover that it's not, unfortunately.

Someone had usedchemical weapons in Syria the day after I arrived in Perth, and now in Adelaide the drums of war were being beaten hard by John Kerry, David Cameron, and both of the major contenders for the highest office in Australia. I sang at a protest in the center of town, attended by about ten people. I met an anarchist historian who regaled me with wonderful stories of the Wobblies of early twentieth-century Australia, who were clearly just as colorful and just as militant as their counterparts in North America. Paula introduced me to a local musician who goes by the name of Lord Stompy. He thanked me for the inspiration that attending my gig at a Communist Party hangout apparently provided him to write a fabulous anthemic punk song which he posted on YouTube as his contribution to the imminent Liberal-National electoral victory, “Who's Gonna Winthe Election” (answer: who gives a shit).

Another accomplished songwriter and a fixture of the Melbourne music scene named Les Thomas was responsible for my appearances in Victoria. After taking years off from songwriting, Les got back into the craft after his brother was arrested in Afghanistan for being a Muslim convert in the wrong place at the wrong time (he went there just before 9/11 and was arrested just after the NATO invasion). I participated in Les's weekly Unpaved Songwriter Sessions, along with a young Filipino woman named Celene, who sang raw, short songs about being a refugee in a not-very-welcoming land.

My first of four shows in New South Wales was organized by a woman who actually worked as an accountant for the Immigration department in the Australian capital, Canberra. Around the time when I was waiting to find out whether I'd be granted a work permit (having just been denied entry to New Zealand and then denied a tourist visa to Australia), a couple weeks before, she recounted a brief anecdote from her workplace. One of her colleagues in Immigration was walking past the offices of the War Crimes department. I'm not entirely clear on what a War Crimes department does in Australia, but in any case, the folks in that department were talking about me. Her coworker didn't catch what they were saying about me, but he did happen to pass by as folks from that branch of the government were spelling my name out loud for one reason or another.

In Sydney I had the pleasure of being given an impromptu guided tour of the newest ship to be added to the fleet of vessels belonging to the SeaShepherd Conservation Society. Much loved by many in Australia, they were biding their time in preparation for their next voyage to Antarctica, where they will once again be risking life and limb to do whatever they can to stop or at least hamper the efforts of the annual Japanese whale hunt.

As I headed north from Sydney, the news on the radio was all about the bush fires that were suddenly raging in the suburbs of that city, devastating fires far too early in the season. All the folks on the radio were talking about how unusual these early fires were, and nobody mentioned climate change.

After another fundraiser for refugees in Newcastle, I arrived at Byron Bay, the hippie capital of the country, where Graeme Dunstan spoke about hisattempts to do his part to try to stop the war machine, having just been given a decidedly light sentence for aiding and abetting the smashing with a sledgehammer of a helicopter gunship near the town of Rockhampton, where Australia was conducting joint military exercises with the country that overthrew their government back in 1975, the country that is home to the huge spy base near Alice Springs -- the United States. Here was someone really getting to the root of the so-called refugee crisis, attempting to disable one of the war machines that is responsible for creating refugees in the first place, by bombing and strafing their homes in the many war-torn countries that Australia likes to keep war-torn.

In Brisbane, the last stop on my tour Down Under, the new Prime Minister's plans to outsource Australia's refugees was showing it's first signs of cracking up, with a prominent politician from Indonesia denouncing the whole thing, which would supposedly involve sending refugees intercepted at sea, trying to reach Australia's golden shores, to Indonesia instead. But if Indonesia doesn't work out, they've still got Christmas Island.

My tour of Australia ended as it began, with the words “welcome to Australia.” No matter that this welcome came on the day before I left – it was the one that counted. For one such as I from the United States, who has lived for years in the western part of the country in particular, it was a familiar scene. But instead of Native Americans surreptitiously drinking themselves to death in a public park, it was Australian Aboriginals.

In between slugs of cheap liquor and drags on cigarettes, these men who said they were from the Bumma tribe of northern Queensland, told me stories and sang songs for my benefit, having accurately ascertained that I was a foreigner. One man sang a very moving song written by another indigenous Australian named Archie Roach, “They Took theChildren Away.” He claimed to have written it, and he may as well have, for it was entirely autobiographical. For just as they did in North America, the original European refugees who settled this land also thought they should civilize the natives by kidnapping, beating and raping their children.

The pertinent question is, are the boarding schools in which those children died or learned to become alcoholics better or worse than the detention centers in Nauru and Christmas Island where the would-be refugee children die or learn to become alcoholics?

David Rovics is a singer/songwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He is currently in Europe, on a world tour. His website is