Bono Asks for debt relief

by Gordon McDowell

Bono Asks For Debt Relief On Behalf Of United States Of America

Dec 30, Beijing, China

With U2′s Vertigo tour about to wrap, their lead singer Bono has renewed his calls for debt relief which now encompasses the downtrodden United States of America.

Closing their performance at Beijing Dance Academy, Bono pontificated about the injustice of an unfair debt burden on a struggling economy.

“As of 2004, the United States was being crushed by total gross foreign liabilities of over 12 trillion U.S. dollars, that’s over $40,000 per man woman and child. Since then the foreign debt has only increased. The people of the United States, having so recently lost New Orleans to Katrina, can’t afford to rebuild. They can’t afford health care for their citizens. They can’t afford to provide a decent education to their children. We’re calling on the leaders of China and Japan to please forgive some of the US debt.”

Bono then launched U2 into a stirring performance of “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” to which the Beijing crowd responded enthusiastically. U2 had priced tickets well below market value in an attempt to allow greater access to the performance by China’s emerging middle class. Based on the wide variety of attendees (including the expected smattering of foreigners) it had been a success.

But Japan’s minister of finance, Sadakazu Tanigaki, was quick to respond. “This is nonsense. Without foreign investors, how can the United States grow its economy? Where are they going to get the capital to invest in research and factories? If it wasn’t for foreign investors purchasing almost 40% of U.S. Treasury Bonds, the USA couldn’t even support their military industrial complex.”

An ally of Bono, President Bush, had taken to the podium in 2005 to discourage foreign investment. Apparently concerned about the U.S. Government’s ability to repay its increasing debt load, he described the dangers of investing in U.S. Treasury Bonds in his trademark plain-spoken (MP3) style.

“There is no trust fund, just IOUs that I saw firsthand, that future generations will pay — They’re stacked in a filing cabinet. Imagine — the retirement security for future generations is sitting in a filing cabinet.”

The President was echoed by a slightly more optimistic Charles Krauthammer (of the Washington Post) who suggested, “These pieces of paper might be useful for rolling cigars.”

Al Franken quickly chimed in (MP3), “Bonds are just like dollar bills dude, they’re pieces of paper. And if the government decides not to pay, you’re screwed man. Totally screwed. Totally.”

Susan Chapman of the Office of Public Debt Accounting (who had shown Bush the filing cabinet) was quick to counter, noting that the ivory four-drawer filing cabinet did indeed have numeric locks which were frequently employed. She may have been concerned of the wider economic ramifications should foreign investors doubt United States’ willingness to meet its fiscal obligations.

“Make poverty history” was the slogan of this year’s Live 8 concert in Scotland where Bono did most of his pontificating, although at the time the United States was not mentioned as a debtor nation requiring relief. During the Live 8 concert, Bono’s focus seemed to be solely directed at African nations. It is unclear when he began perceiving the United States as also being in dire straights.

Bob Geldof, another musician activist, has not backed up Bono’s call for relief of U.S. debt, and has so far refused to comment on the matter. Some perceive his refusal to comment as comment enough.

“I think Bob Geldof, and perhaps everyone except Bono has come to recognize that the United States is not simply a victim of predatory lending practices. After all, it is largely due to the U.S. that the World Trade Organization and World Bank have been able to leverage African debt relief into trade agreements favorable to wealthier nations,” muses Paul Krugman (of New York Times).

Paul Wolfowitz, the president of The World Bank recently came to share Krugman’s skepticism. “Lets just say since I took my post at The World Bank, I’ve started to see things a little differently. What is the sense in forgiving U.S. debt when there is unchecked corruption? When the U.S. stops awarding no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq and New Orleans, maybe then we can talk about the debt. Sure, its been a tough year for The United States, but what is the sense of giving [debt relief] when there’s little chance it will do any good? The current administration keeps funneling U.S. tax dollars into cronyism based contracts, and tax cuts for the rich. We’d all like to see New Orleans rebuilt, but the very same contractors which have utterly failed to rebuild Iraq have been hired to rebuild New Orleans. The World Bank wasn’t born yesterday.”

Paul Wolfowitz, previously labeled a neo-con and hawk, was quick to downplay his differences with the U.S. President.

“I admire George Bush, he’s been a great friend to me. He still is a very dear friend. And I know from personal experience he doesn’t tend to be very interested in these matters. But come on… could he at least try to look like he’s concerned about Halliburton cost overruns? At the start of WW2 Senator Harry Truman launched a committee to investigate war profiteering, its not that hard to do. Hell, he can stack it with Republicans if he has do, but at least put on a show.”

Bono has never commented on U.S. cronyism, war profiteering, or tax cuts for the rich. Which begs the question, is he being played for a fool by President Bush? At the G8 summit following Live 8, Bono stated that if Bush “in his second term is as bold in his commitments to Africa as he was in the first term, he indeed deserves a place in history in turning the fate of that continent around.” Some wonder if Bono is even aware of the Bush administration’s insistence on stressing abstinence education over proper use of condoms, a tactic many have declared ineffective.

When questioned about fighting AIDS through abstinence, Bono offered the following: “You can’t escape the politics if you’re Irish.”

While Bono’s attention has only recently been brought to the issue of U.S. debt relief, those who have made it their cause over the last decade are divided over Bono’s contribution. Some see Bono’s asking for relief as an incorrect framing of the argument.

For example, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow pointed out that “The people of Iraq shouldn’t be saddled with debts incurred through the regime of the dictator” and that was why Iraq’s debt had been forgiven. And Richard Perle, was similarly blunt. “If you loan to a dictatorship don’t expect to be repaid if a democracy emerges.”

Both are adamant that since Al Gore actually won the 2000 election, all debt incurred by the U.S. during President Bush’s first term does not need to be repaid. While it is unknown if President Bush shares this view, it would certainly help explain his most recent round of tax cuts for the wealthy.

Bono hasn’t stated why he added USA to countries deserving of debt relief, nor is it clear he understands the lender’s concerns. But he has made an impact. Time Magazine credits Bono with convincing the world’s richest countries into forgiving $40 billion debt owed by the poorest. If he can apply that same magic to the United States, Bush may yet make good on his 2000 campaign promise of fiscal responsibility.

“I hope that my work – the activism – will be forgotten. Because I hope those problems will have gone away.” – Bono

  • Bono Asks for debt relief
  • by Gordon McDowell
  • Published on January 1st, 2006

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