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Tom Morello went from playing guitar in the L.A. club band Lock Up to arena-stage stardom as a founder of Rage Against the Machine. The Harvard-educated Grammy winner’s many other music projects have included Audioslave and his current solo, accoustic incarnation called the Nightwatchman. He is the classic rebel in the rain, an all-seasons champion for the rights of the underdog, one who performs at protests from Madison to Wall Street.
On the eve of a new tour in support of his World Wide Rebel Songs LP, Morello spoke to the Frying Pan about his new comic book, protest and a certain president who, like Morello, has a Kenyan father and white mother.
What was the first thing that ever made you mad?
Well, growing up as the only black kid in my school was one thing, but as far as global events it was Bobby Sands’ hunger strike in Ireland.
Things are seldom what they seem. Sometimes the distance between what we think we see and what is actually there is the result of personal prejudices. Sometimes it’s influenced by a kind of factual gerrymandering created by official sources and reinforced by the media. Most vacationers, for example would choose Carnival-happy Brazil in a moment over drug war-scarred Mexico. Unless they knew that Mexico has only 11 homicides per 100,000 people while halcyon Brazil is a murder leader with 31 homicides per 100,000 – a fact that seldom appears on Rio brochures or on our own six o’clock news.
And so it is here in America, where our own perceptions of unemployment and poverty often clash with the facts. The official calculation for the number of people out of work puts it at a single-digit — nine percent — while in California it nips at the heels of 13 percent.
Across the country critics of the Obama administration’s multimillion-dollar support for Northern California’s Solyndra solar panel factory are railing against government stupidity. How is it possible, they ask, that federal and state governments could have invested hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in a company that went belly up? Why didn’t the officials take more precautions, do more research, put in place more safeguards? How could they have been so dumb and so wasteful of precious government dollars?
But really, what the conservative Obama critics are saying is that the federal government and states such as California and Wisconsin that invested millions in the company should have had more bureaucratic red tape. Yes, that most hated of terms, “red tape” is something that could have actually prevented a huge loss of government dollars in an unwise investment.
Extreme right-wing conservative Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan said it well in an article this week on Fox.com:
A few years ago the nonprofit, nonpartisan Los Angeles Economic Roundtable released a study that got too little attention. It found that union workers in the county earn 27 percent more than nonunion workers in the same jobs. These extra wages for the 800,000 union workers—17 percent of the labor force—added $7.2 billion a year in pay. As union workers spent their wages on food, clothing and other items, their additional buying power created 64,800 jobs and $11 billion in economic output. Let me repeat: $11 billion.
Clearly unions are good for the economy. But to hear business propaganda tell it, that 11 billion is the 11th Plague, because anything that moves the country away from an imaginary, 19th-century Utopia where business held all the cards, is to be avoided — like the plague.
This winner-take-all crowd should be happy because, in many ways, America today does resemble its Gilded Age of the late 1800s —
Corporations are forever arguing that all that stands between consumers and paradise is the “lousy gummint” and its lousy regulations. “Get out of the way!” is their rallying cry. Well, we had a bit of a natural experiment this past summer, as Congress forced a shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration. (As it happens, the shutdown sprang, in part, from anti-union ideological reasons, but that’s a whole other story.)
In addition to furloughing some 4,000 FAA employees and idling tens of thousands of construction workers, the shutdown deprived the government of an estimated $30 million in ticket taxes—every day.
Some might argue that the government needs that revenue. But let’s focus on the positive: Without the taxes, ticket prices are lower for consumers, and that’s a good thing, right? Awwww, you’re adorable. A couple of airlines did pass the savings on to travelers, but according to a travel agent I spoke with (yes,