Thursday, June 16, 2005


There's a puff piece - and, boy, is it puffed-up - flattering Bono the way he flatters the rich and powerful in today's Guardian. Now, we don't think Bono is insincere in his wish to eradicate poverty; nor do we think he's atypical in basking in praise for his good works. We do, though, think he's a little too close to the people who have created, and are profiting from, the problems he's supposed to be helping with, and that's an impression that we find stiffening as we read the self-regarding flammery:

Earlier this week he told the Guardian in Cologne how advice from Buffett, reportedly the second richest man in America, had shaped his strategy: "Warren Buffett told me, 'Don't appeal to the conscience of America, appeal to its greatness, and I think you'll get the job done'."

His mate Warren, of course. Bono has simply hundreds of famous friends:

"Brad and Jennifer [Aniston] a year ago put together a dinner for 20 great actors and asked me to speak. Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz were all there, and they have all followed through. Sean Penn, George Clooney and P Diddy have all come to me, saying, 'We see you're there, we want to help. What can we do?'"

Rupert Murdoch? Bono's so in with Murdoch. And Karl Rove. And...

Bono has also been able to draw in help from new technology corporations such as AOL, and has described Murdoch as "very helpful". Murdoch lobbied Karl Rove, White House chief of staff, and cleared free airtime on his Fox TV network for One campaign adverts in the run-up to the G8. "Rupert said, 'I'm not going to lead the charge but if we make progress, I'll support you,'" Bono said.

Of course, you could argue that holding hands with Murdoch, the Bush White House, and the whole apparatus which delivered Bush's victory in the last US election in order to get the few crumbs of concession is a little like cutting off your nose to spite your face, only when we say "cutting off your nose" we mean "slicing off your head with a very blunt spoon, and then kicking your head down the steepest hill and letting weasels and eagles feast on the contents of your neck stump, while having a heavy weight dropped onto your feet" and when we say "to spite your face", we mean "to kiss the asses of the sort of people who've made the world and will gladly shake your hand while the cameras are there and then turn around and renege."

For example, Bono is proud of his role in making this happen:

He also cites the fact that aid to Africa has nearly trebled under George Bush and the US in 2003 initiated a $15bn (£8.2bn) five-year programme on Aids.

Well, there has been a small increase in US Aid worldwide, it's true - although much of the rise in the US aid budget was due to September 11th 2001 rather than any words from Bono. (The biggest recipient of US Overseas Development Aid is, of course, Egypt, which benefits from being quite near the Middle East). But it's the Aids programme which, as we've said before, is the point where Bono has either willingly been duped, or is joining in trying to dupe us:

* President Bush promised $15 billion over 5 years, or $3 billion a year, for his new AIDS initiative. But in his budget request for 2004, unveiled the week following his promises, Bush asked for less than half a billion dollars ($450 million) for next year for this initiative.

* Instead of the $3 billion per year over 5 years that was promised, most of the money for the AIDS plan will not even be requested until 2005 and beyond. This is after Bush's term in office will have ended, so there is no guarantee this will be requested at all. Even more importantly, this deadly delay will cost millions of African lives.
(This, of course, was compiled before his election victory last year)

* The focus of the new AIDS initiative is not really on Africa and the Caribbean. The White House has clarified that the $15 billion will include all U.S. funding for AIDS globally. In July 2003, President Bush said the initiative he announced in January was "to fight AIDS abroad", breaking his own promise that it would be for Africa and the Caribbean. This means that whatever amount of money is appropriated for AIDS, Africa will get far less than promised.

* In July 2003, the White House specifically asked Congress to limit AIDS funding for next year. President Bush intervened during the budget process to urge Congress not to spend the $3 billion that was being considered at that time. This was after Bush had returned from Africa, where he had seen first-hand the devastation caused by AIDS and where he had repeatedly promised U.S. support for African efforts to fight AIDS.

And while he was doing this, and faffing about creating a new bureaucracy to ensure Republican values prevailed in any anti-AIDS work (overseen by a druggist, Randall Tobias ex of Eli Lilly, Bush was meanwhile choking off funds to the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Oh, and at the same time, Bush's 2004 budget request attempted to claw some of the cash back by cutting domestic spending on HIV/AIDS prevention programes in the US.

Back to Bono's friends, though - as if Bono hasn't fluffed himself up enough, he's now taking the credit for conversions, too:

He was personally credited with the dramatic public U-turn on Aids of Jesse Helms. "Christ only speaks about judgment once and it's not about sex but about how we deal with the poor, and I quoted Matthew, 'I was naked and you clothed me, I was hungry and you fed me.' Jesse got very emotional, and the next day he brought in the reporters and publicly repented about Aids. I explained to him that Aids was like the leprosy of the New Testament."

Let's just leave to one side for a moment just how sickening that concept is - basically, Bono bought into the right-wing way of thinking that some people are poor, pitiable victims and some people get what they deserve. When faced with Helms spitting his venom about people with aids, the response you'd expect anyone with a conscience to make would be to tell him he was wrong; not flatter the old bigot by telling him that he could be like Jesus amongst the leppers. It's akin to taking to the Live 8 stage and announcing "the poor are always with us."

And did Bono actually change Helms' mind anyway? Not so much, according to initial reports about what Helms' biogrpahy is going say:

But in his final years in the Senate, Helms said his views evolved because of old friends such as North Carolina evangelist Franklin Graham and new ones such as rock singer Bono, both of whom got him involved in the fight against the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

"Until then," Helms writes, "it had been my feeling that AIDS was a disease largely spread by reckless and voluntary sexual and drug-abusing behavior, and that it would probably be confined to those in high risk populations. I was wrong."

So he seems to be saying that he was persuaded to accept that Aids would spread beyond the sodmites and the skagheads - not so much that he was wrong when he spat bile like "The only way to stop AIDS is to stop the disgusting and immoral activities that continue to spread the disease."

You might want to argue that if you really want to ensure the spread of Aids and eradicate poverty, rather than sitting down for tea and bible quotes with racists and right-wingers, you'd be better off trying to unseat them in the first place. Bono's response, we're sure, would be you get more results by accepting the world as it is, and working with that. And maybe he's right. But one thing's for sure: if you want to have lots of suppers with George Clooney and chums, make sure you don't actually shake the boat too much.