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Bono Calls on U.S. to Increase Aid to World's Poor

Reuters, February 02, 2006
By: Timothy Ryan


Rock star Bono, wearing his trademark tinted glasses, stood before President George W. Bush, members of the U.S. Congress, diplomats and clergy on Thursday and called for the United States to give an extra 1 percent of its budget to the world's poor.

Guests at the National Prayer Breakfast, a high-powered and sedate annual gathering, were transfixed by the frontman from the Irish band U2 and aid-to-Africa activist who professed to be shocked by his own presence at the event.

"Please join me in praying I don't say something we all regret," he began. "If you're wondering what I'm doing at the prayer breakfast, so am I."

He said there was only one possible explanation.

"I've got a messianic complex."

Bono confessed to having avoided organized religion for most of his life and said he was not a man of the cloth unless, as he quipped, "that cloth is leather."

After launching into a kind of informal sermon about "the laws of man" and "higher laws," Bono likened economic relief to that of religious sacrificial giving.

"People of faith, people of America," he said, "I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing, which to be truly meaningful will mean an additional 1 percent of the federal budget tithed to the poor."

One percent of last year's overall budget of $2.6 trillion would be about $26 billion. But in reality Congress and the Bush administration control significantly less than half of the overall budget because most is consumed by mandatory programs.

"Where you live should no longer determine whether you live," he said. He thanked Americans for doubling aid to Africa and tripling aid for global health.

Bush called Bono "an amazing guy," and praised him for being "a doer."

"He's used his position to get things done," the president said.

The breakfast had a decidedly ecumenical feel with Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman, serving as the first Jewish Senator ever to co-chair the event. Several speakers noted the presence of Jordan's King Abdullah, a Muslim, in the audience.

While lauding Americans who "opened up their hearts and their homes to the displaced" in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Bush said Americans also looked beyond their borders to show generosity.

"We saw an outpouring of compassion after the earthquake in Pakistan and the tsunami (in Southeast Asia) that devastated entire communities. We live up to God's calling when we provide help for HIV/AIDS victims on the continent of Africa and around the world," he said.

© Reuters, 2006.

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