Honored with a Nobel Man of Peace Prize, Bono is poised to make millions of dollars at the expense of the music promotion company Live Nation. In this article, Ethan Smith at the Wall Street Journal reported that: “The Irish rock band U2 hasn’t toured since 2006, but it stands to make $25 million in a sweetheart stock deal, according to SEC filings Wednesday and people familiar with the matter . From the same WSJ article: “In March, the band struck a 12-year deal with Live Nation Inc., that called for the concert promotion giant to pay U2 partly with stock. Live Nation promised to pay tens of millions of dollars to high-profile artists in exchange for several years’ worth of revenue from a broad range of their work, including concerts, online fan clubs and t-shirt sales. The idea was pitched as a novel way to make money in the ailing music business.”
Now, however, in the changed business climate, U2 is cashing in their stock for the promised (long-term) figure of 25 million: “Live Nation had guaranteed that U2 would receive $25 million for 1.6 million shares. But the current market value was just $6.1 million at the close of trading Wednesday. That leaves Live Nation on the hook for the balance, which the company said Wednesday in a SEC filing it would pay with cash on hand or borrowed money”. Well, just so Bono makes more millions, no matter the terms of the deal. Live Nation, of course, is involved in numerous charitable events. But, no matter.
Okay, so maybe the inclination to vomit that I felt back in 2005 when I found out Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates had been named Time Persons of the Year, and the tendency to talk about the burning feeling in my esophagus with U2 fans wasn’t proper or popular. But alas, although I truly want to save lives in Africa, I detest the type of charity work he and the Gates were engaged in. It just seemed like a self-perpetuating cycle of money and ego. A couple days after the Time cover, writer Paul Theroux wrote a poingnant critique of the Rock Star’s Burden. Better than anything I could come up with, I encourage everyone to read his analysis. In a nutshell, the big-ticket charity acts made entrenched problems in Africa worse not better.
And then there is the troubling report a couple years later in 2007, stating that Bono sought to hide money in tax shelters in the Netherlands. Call me a socialist, but paying your fair share in the social contract is important, and becomes more so as wealth increases. To each according to his need, from each according to his ability…or whatever. What Bono, you run around trying to save the world, but you can’t step up and pay your fair share in taxes? Shouldn’t the first, best answer be personal responsibility? And what is up with that other Gates? Really? Bono is planning global policy? I really liked the Joshua Tree, and Sunday, Bloody Sunday is a truly treat song, but maybe Matt and Trey were right again.
Also last year, Charles Piller, Edmund Sanders and Robyn Dixon wrote “Dark Cloud over good works os Gates Foundation” for the LA Times. The article begins by introducing Justice Eta from Ebocha, Nigeria. Justice Eta was a 14 year old boy who had recently received a Polio vaccination from the Gates Foundation, but was plagued by respiratory ailments common to his village. “In Ebocha, where Justice lives, Dr. Elekwachi Okey, a local physician, says hundreds of flares at oil plants in the Niger Delta have caused an epidemic of bronchitis in adults, and asthma and blurred vision in children. No definitive studies have documented the health effects, but many of the 250 toxic chemicals in the fumes and soot have long been linked to respiratory disease and cancer…The oil plants in the region surrounding Ebocha find it cheaper to burn nearly 1 billion cubic feet of gas each day and contribute to global warming than to sell it.”
The problematic relationship between charity and profit, or even a financial system based on making money off causing the diseases you work to eradicate, is illustrated by the Gates’ own interests in the poison-emitting oil companies in Justice Eta’s Nigerian neighborhood:
“The Gates Foundation has poured $218 million into polio and measles immunization and research worldwide, including in the Niger Delta. At the same time that the foundation is funding inoculations to protect health, The Times found, it has invested $423 million in Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and Total of France — the companies responsible for most of the flares blanketing the delta with pollution, beyond anything permitted in the United States or Europe.” As Chris Rock said, “the money isn’t in the cure, it’s in the treatment.” Well, I guess the real money happens when you have both vertical and horizontal integration in the business of human tragedy.
So what if U2 sabotages the promoter that give them credibility as philanthropists, or if Bono, Who Preaches Charity, Profits From Buyouts, Tax Breaks, or that the Gates build their empire on causing and treating but never curing the problems they confront? What kind of solution do I offer? How can I distinguish this post from a useless complaint?
Well, I have an idea. We (Americans, agents of an exploitative economy and hegemonic culture) should stop fucking everything up. As uncomfortable as it is to accept, many modern-era problems are reactions to Western ( particularly US) imperialism. Sure there would be other problems, different kinds of exploitation and oppression, just not American style. Okay. Fine. That is no reason to keep on messing everything up when we should just stop. Some times the best way to help is to do no harm, and often the only way to do no harm is to go away and quit making problems worse.
People can work toward social equilibrium, justice, and health without the “help”of the USA, world cop/criminal. A timely example: in a recent movement in India, called the Pink Gang, women dressed in pink robes engage in vigilante social justice, protecting one another and their communities form the abuses of men. They refuse the help of outside agencies that attempt to co-opt their movement: “The pink women of the Banda shun politicla parties and NGOs because, in the words of their feisty leader, Smapat Pal Devi, “they are always looking for kickbacks when they offer to fund us” The organization in place to provide aid and protection are rightly viewed as part of the problem, and a fundamental part of the oppressive social and economic systems that reify the patriarchy they are contesting.
Recently I was at a lecture given by an indigenous South American historian. A man in the audience asked what the US could do to help the Mapuche people in the face of the Chilian state’s repression, neo-liberalism and land misappropriation. He answered by quoting an old Mapuche woman: “I don’t need you to give me a hand, I need you to get your hand off of me.”