portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary global

economic justice

Bono: Following His Stardom To Person Of The Year

Bono, in Portland tonight with U2 at the Rose Garden, has been honored, along with Bill and Melinda Gates, as Time Magazine's Person Of The Year.
My first year at college my small dormitory was in need of an extreme makeover. Hallway walls pocked and stained with the legacy of too many unsanctioned parties and impromptu freestyle wrestling matches briefed incoming freshman that little studying went on behond them.

That year, on my floor, someone had the overdue idea of painting over this history. The new theme would be rock-and-roll. Permission was granted and the paint provided by the university, naturally some boringly neutral color. After the base coat dried, I painted Opus, jammin' large on his guitar by the water fountain. Someone else painted an exact album cover replica of Pink Floyd's The Wall from ceiling to floor by the bathroom. All over the dorm guys were getting inspired to paint their own walls.

Roommates from each room on our floor painted a rock band logo over their door. The usual favorites went up: The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Boston, The Who, and Pink Floyd. You could never have enough Floyd. Over my door went a U2 logo. "U2? Who the hell is that?" my floormates demanded. "You wait," I remember saying, "you'll see."

Less than two years later, U2 released The Joshua Tree, and soon everyone knew U2. And for two decades and many more great releases since, these four Irish high school friends have ridden a wave of superstardom that has yet to crest.

It's difficult to decide the most remarkable thing about this band. Is it the volume of their work, equaled in measure only by The Beatles, Elvis, and The Rolling Stones? Is it the timelessness of their music, that recordings from twenty years ago sound as fresh and as relevant today as then? Is it that now into their forties, these guys are still making new music and putting on shows better than just about anyone else? Or is it just the simple fact that for more than a quarter-century all this has been accomplished by the same four guys.

But remarkable as all these feats are, it is perhaps the emergence of lead singer Bono as universal ambassador for the world's many impoverished nations and its too many extreme poor that stands out, a role for which Time Magazine today honors Bono, along with Bill and Melinda Gates, as their Persons Of The Year. As well deserved as this honor is, the other members of the band - Larry, Adam, and The Edge - deserve credit for this as well, for allowing their bandmate the freedom to perform solo on a second stage, the world's political stage, in hopes of doing something large and lasting with his iconic stature.

Bono began to earn his ambassadorship by working tirelessly as part of the Jubilee 2000 Drop The Debt campaign to convince first-world governments to cancel the growth-stifling international debt of poor African nations. Only in July of this year was the debt deal affirmed by President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, and the other leaders of the G8 at their summit at Gleneagles, Scotland. Despite that the deal reached called for immediate debt cancellation, the IMF and World Bank are dickering and dithering on how to implement it.

Then, in 2002, Bono joined with Bobby Shriver and others to found DATA (www.data.org), whose mission has been to work to bring people, organizations, leaders and politicians together from all over the world to stop the crises of Debt, AIDS, and Trade in Africa. As if that weren't enough, and despite launching a world concert tour on the heels of the band's latest recording, earlier this year Bono helped give birth to an even more ambitious campaign, the ONE campaign (www.one.org), whose aim is to end global extreme poverty.

With the ONE campaign, Bono is playing to the largest and toughest crowd he's ever faced: the Western world, whose comfortable citizens must become engaged in demanding their governments to do more to end the enormous misery endured by the peoples of faraway countries most cannot locate on a map. Unlike his concert audiences, this will not be an easy crowd to energize. But the defeat of global despair is indeed possible within our time, and more power to Bono for picking the fight.

Tonight, U2 ends its American tour with a concert here in Oregon. While that logo over my old dorm room has surely been painted many times over, tonight I'll be thinking about how far U2 and I have come since I painted it. Wearing my ONE bracelet, of Bono's campaign I'll be thinking: "You wait, you'll see."

Todd Huffman, M.D.
Eugene, Oregon

Todd Huffman is a pediatrician and political columnist for numerous publications. He can be reached at:  doctortodd@att.net.
I used to like Bono 19.Dec.2005 16:45


I know. Party pooper ratboy. I used to really love U2. "I Will Follow" was a great single, and Live at Red Rocks was a phenomenal concert. But after a few years the Bono-as-Punk-Christ act began fraying at the ends. Soon he was hanging around with the likes of Frank Sinatra, extolling the decaying crooner as the greatest singer in history. I could never reconcile that big a culture clash. The biggest disappointment to me was the non-changing nature of the music itself. Daniel Lanois caught them at their height on Joshua Tree, but the succeeding LP's paled in comparison. U2 became Bono's backup band and their reputation began to rest mostly on Bono's global attempts at influencing (pick one) the U.N., the Pope, the leaders of the so-called 'free world', International Bankers, and anyone else he could collar in his travels. But the story was always featuring Bono, and the messages seemed to get lost in the glare of celebrity. They still do. During the last G-8, it was Bono and Bob Geldorf trying to extract financial mercy from the likes of Bush and Putin for 3rd World debts. How did the hosts in the UK respond? With a series of false-flag bombing attacks on the London subway system. The Bono philosophy seems to accept that all these leaders and moneybags actually have a streak of humanity left in them. They just have to be cajoled. Of course he's a perfect pick for Time's 'Man of the Year". What better way to co-opt the rabble-rousing revolutionary spirit of the young than honoring one of their supposed heroes. This is a band that hit their artistic and commercial peak over 20 years ago. Bono may be the only so-called Punk-Rocker in history that brags about knowing all these important personages personally, and having some faith in their decisions and purpose. Maybe you can add Sting to this club, but at least Sting deals with environmental issues. He knows HE wasn't elected to office. I watched the induction ceremony when U2 was put in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hearing musicians like Bruce Springsteen stand there and gush about how amazingly relevant and great and philantrophic and timeless and unselfish and on and on and on and on about Bono and U2 in front of this crowd of millionaire music moguls in tuxedos. And I'm thinking- WHATEVER HAPPENED TO PUNK ROCK ANYWAY? NO WONDER COBAIN SHOT HIMSELF. IT'S ALL BECOME A BIG CAPITALISTIC JOKE ON YOU AND ME. I'll tell you this- California wanted to put a monstrous mega-dump adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park in Palm Springs. The coalition opposing this contacted U2 several times about helping out with a benefit or a donation. They recorded the 'Joshua Tree' LP there, and it seemed a natch that they'd probably want to help out. Local desert resident Eric Burdon responded immediately, doing a benefit show, but U2? They never even acknowledged the request. The mega-dump was voted down anyway. Doobie doobie doooo....... (I'm not even gonna mention Bill and Melinda Gates-remember, Sadaam and Hitler both had the same honor)

Rock star's burden 19.Dec.2005 17:22

Paul Theroux

December 15, 2005
Op-Ed Contributor
The Rock Star's Burden

Hale'iwa, Hawaii

THERE are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat, but I can't think of one at the moment. If Christmas, season of sob stories, has turned me into Scrooge, I recognize the Dickensian counterpart of Paul Hewson - who calls himself "Bono" - as Mrs. Jellyby in "Bleak House." Harping incessantly on her adopted village of Borrioboola-Gha "on the left bank of the River Niger," Mrs. Jellyby tries to save the Africans by financing them in coffee growing and encouraging schemes "to turn pianoforte legs and establish an export trade," all the while badgering people for money.

It seems to have been Africa's fate to become a theater of empty talk and public gestures. But the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help - not to mention celebrities and charity concerts - is a destructive and misleading conceit. Those of us who committed ourselves to being Peace Corps teachers in rural Malawi more than 40 years ago are dismayed by what we see on our return visits and by all the news that has been reported recently from that unlucky, drought-stricken country. But we are more appalled by most of the proposed solutions.

I am not speaking of humanitarian aid, disaster relief, AIDS education or affordable drugs. Nor am I speaking of small-scale, closely watched efforts like the Malawi Children's Village. I am speaking of the "more money" platform: the notion that what Africa needs is more prestige projects, volunteer labor and debt relief. We should know better by now. I would not send private money to a charity, or foreign aid to a government, unless every dollar was accounted for - and this never happens. Dumping more money in the same old way is not only wasteful, but stupid and harmful; it is also ignoring some obvious points.

If Malawi is worse educated, more plagued by illness and bad services, poorer than it was when I lived and worked there in the early 60's, it is not for lack of outside help or donor money. Malawi has been the beneficiary of many thousands of foreign teachers, doctors and nurses, and large amounts of financial aid, and yet it has declined from a country with promise to a failed state.

In the early and mid-1960's, we believed that Malawi would soon be self-sufficient in schoolteachers. And it would have been, except that rather than sending a limited wave of volunteers to train local instructors, for decades we kept on sending Peace Corps teachers. Malawians, who avoided teaching because the pay and status were low, came to depend on the American volunteers to teach in bush schools, while educated Malawians emigrated. When Malawi's university was established, more foreign teachers were welcomed, few of them replaced by Malawians, for political reasons. Medical educators also arrived from elsewhere. Malawi began graduating nurses, but the nurses were lured away to Britain and Australia and the United States, which meant more foreign nurses were needed in Malawi.

When Malawi's minister of education was accused of stealing millions of dollars from the education budget in 2000, and the Zambian president was charged with stealing from the treasury, and Nigeria squandered its oil wealth, what happened? The simplifiers of Africa's problems kept calling for debt relief and more aid. I got a dusty reception lecturing at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation when I pointed out the successes of responsible policies in Botswana, compared with the kleptomania of its neighbors. Donors enable embezzlement by turning a blind eye to bad governance, rigged elections and the deeper reasons these countries are failing.

Mr. Gates has said candidly that he wants to rid himself of his burden of billions. Bono is one of his trusted advisers. Mr. Gates wants to send computers to Africa - an unproductive not to say insane idea. I would offer pencils and paper, mops and brooms: the schools I have seen in Malawi need them badly. I would not send more teachers. I would expect Malawians themselves to stay and teach. There ought to be an insistence in the form of a bond, or a solemn promise, for Africans trained in medicine and education at the state's expense to work in their own countries.

Malawi was in my time a lush wooded country of three million people. It is now an eroded and deforested land of 12 million; its rivers are clogged with sediment and every year it is subjected to destructive floods. The trees that had kept it whole were cut for fuel and to clear land for subsistence crops. Malawi had two presidents in its first 40 years, the first a megalomaniac who called himself the messiah, the second a swindler whose first official act was to put his face on the money. Last year the new man, Bingu wa Mutharika, inaugurated his regime by announcing that he was going to buy a fleet of Maybachs, one of the most expensive cars in the world.

Many of the schools where we taught 40 years ago are now in ruins - covered with graffiti, with broken windows, standing in tall grass. Money will not fix this. A highly placed Malawian friend of mine once jovially demanded that my children come and teach there. "It would be good for them," he said.

Of course it would be good for them. Teaching in Africa was one of the best things I ever did. But our example seems to have counted for very little. My Malawian friend's children are of course working in the United States and Britain. It does not occur to anyone to encourage Africans themselves to volunteer in the same way that foreigners have done for decades. There are plenty of educated and capable young adults in Africa who would make a much greater difference than Peace Corps workers.

Africa is a lovely place - much lovelier, more peaceful and more resilient and, if not prosperous, innately more self-sufficient than it is usually portrayed. But because Africa seems unfinished and so different from the rest of the world, a landscape on which a person can sketch a new personality, it attracts mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth. Such people come in all forms and they loom large. White celebrities busy-bodying in Africa loom especially large. Watching Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie recently in Ethiopia, cuddling African children and lecturing the world on charity, the image that immediately sprang to my mind was Tarzan and Jane.

Bono, in his role as Mrs. Jellyby in a 10-gallon hat, not only believes that he has the solution to Africa's ills, he is also shouting so loud that other people seem to trust his answers. He traveled in 2002 to Africa with former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, urging debt forgiveness. He recently had lunch at the White House, where he expounded upon the "more money" platform and how African countries are uniquely futile.

But are they? Had Bono looked closely at Malawi he would have seen an earlier incarnation of his own Ireland. Both countries were characterized for centuries by famine, religious strife, infighting, unruly families, hubristic clan chiefs, malnutrition, failed crops, ancient orthodoxies, dental problems and fickle weather. Malawi had a similar sense of grievance, was also colonized by absentee British landlords and was priest-ridden, too.

Just a few years ago you couldn't buy condoms legally in Ireland, nor could you get a divorce, though (just like in Malawi) buckets of beer were easily available and unruly crapulosities a national curse. Ireland, that island of inaction, in Joyce's words, "the old sow that eats her farrow," was the Malawi of Europe, and for many identical reasons, its main export being immigrants.

It is a melancholy thought that it is easier for many Africans to travel to New York or London than to their own hinterlands. Much of northern Kenya is a no-go area; there is hardly a road to the town of Moyale, on the Ethiopian border, where I found only skinny camels and roving bandits. Western Zambia is off the map, southern Malawi is terra incognita, northern Mozambique is still a sea of land mines. But it is pretty easy to leave Africa. A recent World Bank study has confirmed that the emigration to the West of skilled people from small to medium-sized countries in Africa has been disastrous.

Africa has no real shortage of capable people - or even of money. The patronizing attention of donors has done violence to Africa's belief in itself, but even in the absence of responsible leadership, Africans themselves have proven how resilient they can be - something they never get credit for. Again, Ireland may be the model for an answer. After centuries of wishing themselves onto other countries, the Irish found that education, rational government, people staying put, and simple diligence could turn Ireland from an economic basket case into a prosperous nation. In a word - are you listening, Mr. Hewson? - the Irish have proved that there is something to be said for staying home.

Paul Theroux is the author of "Blinding Light" and of "Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town."

bono: cia shill 19.Dec.2005 18:16


it's real easy to flail away about the inequities in africa, sir bono, when your own people of northern ireland, occupied territory of the british crown, which you once reviled, suffer hunger, unemployment, poverty, discrimination, etc. So, now you embrace the crown, pucker up and kiss the queen's ass, and pose at various third world fundraisers while you tie-in your "product" to relentless i-pod commercials on TV. Blow me, bono, you sad, hypocritical wreck for a human being. Belfast still sits under the Queen's ass...and you, sir, are her eunich.

furthermore 19.Dec.2005 18:27

brain 2

john lennon and george harrison never sold out...and bono has yet to write a song like, "Imagine," "give peace a chance," or, "instant karma," so, please don't bore me to death with bono's "radical chic," to borrow tom wolfe's term from the late sixties, which describes bono to a tee.

John Lennon and yoko ono are the ones who held a press conference, nude, from their bed, to stop the war in vietnam; and his green card wasn't even dry, yet.

john lennon is a legitimate hero; bono is a pathetic, corporate dominance shill/whore/lap dog, who diverts attention away from the gross atrocities, inequities and perversion of northern ireland, still occupied territory and colony to the british crown.

. 19.Dec.2005 21:10


Bono is a sellout - Anyone with any salt would not be at the G8, standing with Bush on the U.S. aircraft carrier, but standing with the people doing their best to bring change.

Boner is a Joke 19.Dec.2005 21:56

Emiliano Zapata

Boner is a rock star capitalist lapdog and he should keep his capitalist nose out of African affairs. The peoples of Africa don't need actors and shill musicians parading around with cameras on, telling them how they are going to be saved. What they need is our white honkey speculative asses out of their countries period. Let Africans solve Africas problems.

Man... 20.Dec.2005 11:27


Are our opinions really based on his actions & contributions? Or are they based on whether or not we like the band/music?

We(Portlanders) are so elitist with music, I shouldn't be surprised we'd let it interfere here.

But honestly.... this guy, this guy who is in such an intensely materialistic world. Celebrities so often get isolated here, in a world of materialism, slefishness, etc.... Not very often does one pop up who steps out of that box and spends time working for other people.

Why does such a generous person recieve such criticism? Why can't we just say "Thank you, for bringing such important discussion into our classrooms" etc..... Why does it take so much more for us to say THANK YOU, than to say "FUCK YOU." We cry rebellion & revolution, and then slip a critical eye on the contributors.

Positive reinforcement is beautiful and attracive.... while criticism is ugly and scary. Both are equally crucial. Let's not forget either of them.

if you can't.... 20.Dec.2005 13:51

Harry Truman

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Portlander 20.Dec.2005 15:34


we do not thank bono because of what he represents.... what does he represent? well look at the cover of Time and see him his picture next to Capitalisms poster boy, Bill Gates. Bono declares his and others actions are the beginning to the end of poverty. I dont know of this is pure ignorance or not, but what i do know is that every self respecting right wing publication looks for people like Bono to help justify the system that has ruined the lives of billions of people across the globe.

how long? 21.Dec.2005 15:45

how long must we sing this song

> and bono has yet to write a song like, "Imagine," "give peace a chance," or, "instant karma,"

Just forget everything you think you know about U2 and listen to the album "War" by itself.

They definitely should've quit while they were ahead.