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The experience remained with him through 1999, when he joined the Jubilee 2000 movement. Citing the Book of Leviticus ("Ye shall hallow the fiftieth year...and ye shall return every man unto his possessions"), Jubilee 2000's aim was to get the U.S. and other wealthy nations, as well as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to erase the public debt of 52 of the world's poorest countries, most of them in Africa. By wiping $350 billion from their books, these countries would be free to spend money on health care and education, rather than pay down the principal on loans floated by corrupt and sometimes long-gone governments. "We have squeezed these countries to the point where their health systems are absolutely unable to function," says Jeffrey Sachs, the Harvard economist who negotiated a debt-relief package for Bolivia in 1986. "Education systems are broken down, and there's a lot of death associated with the collapse of public health and the lack of access to medicine. I don't think any American wants that."

Though Bono knew the basics of debt relief, he consulted with Sachs when he began his unofficial tenure as a Jubilee ambassador. "He gave a call and said he'd like to meet and talk about foreign debts," says Sachs. "And he said to bring a conservative colleague with me, because he wanted to hear the other side." Armed with his quick grad-school tutorial on debt relief, Bono began using his fame to lobby politicians, even those who may not have known exactly who he was. "I'll never forget one day during my Administration," says former President Bill Clinton, "[Treasury] Secretary [Lawrence] Summers comes in to my office and says, 'You know, some guy just came in to see me in jeans and a T shirt, and he just had one name, but he sure was smart. Do you know anything about him?'"

Last year Jubilee 2000 was renamed Drop the Debt, and Bono stayed on as the group's most persuasive and high-profile spokesman. He founded DATA, which he hopes to officially launch in mid-March, as a vehicle to expand his African agenda to include short-term economic aid, lowered trade embargoes and money to fight AIDS, in return for democracy, accountability and transparency in governments across that continent. "I know how absurd it is to have a rock star talk about the World Health Organization or debt relief or HIV/AIDS in Africa," Bono says. But he also knows that no one else with his kind of access to media and money has taken on the job. In an effort to keep the discussion serious and avoid the appearance of being just another rocker against bad things, he refrains from treating Africa as an emotional issue. "We don't argue compassion," he says. His argument is pragmatic, not preachy. "We put it in the most crass terms possible; we argue it as a financial and security issue for America...There are potentially another 10 Afghanistans in Africa, and it is cheaper by a factor of 100 to prevent the fires from happening than to put them out."

The DATA Agenda is loosely modeled on the Marshall Plan, which provided Europeans with foreign assistance, debt cancellation and trade incentives to rebuild their economies after World War II, so that they could act as a bulwark against Soviet expansion. When Bono met with Colin Powell in January 2001, he brought a gift, a signed note from George C. Marshall, another military man turned Secretary of State. The rock star turns lyrical when talking about the Marshall Plan: "You still find people my parents' age in Europe who talk about the Marshall Plan. That was where Europe felt the grace of America, in a way more than just stepping in with its military might." Bono wants his vision for Africa to be as effective and as enduring for future generations as the Marshall Plan was for earlier ones. "Can we do something that people will be proud of in generations?" he asks.

At 1:30 a.m., exactly five hours after his bravura Super Bowl show, Bono is exercising the rock star's fundamental right to be ridiculous. At a celebratory post-game dinner in the French Quarter with his band mates, the U2 management team and actress Ashley Judd (an old friend), he throws back some red wine, tells a few stories about Frank Sinatra, leaves a rambling cell-phone message for Judd's husband gently informing him that his wife has been kidnapped by a rock band, and then sneaks off to the bathroom for a cigarette. (Bono thinks the rest of U2 doesn't know he smokes; they know.) After 15 minutes, guitarist the Edge, who adopts a kind, paternalistic role toward his childhood friend and band mate, glances toward the bathroom and says nervously, "Bono's allergic to red wine." Sure enough, Bono has passed out on the bathroom floor. U2's deputy manager, Sheila Roche, is unconcerned and continues sipping her drink. "He's probably just taking a nap. He's an excellent napper," she says.

A few minutes later, Bono emerges rumpled but renewed. As he exits the restaurant and makes his way through the mob on Bourbon Street, he throws his hands in the air and screams to no one in particular, "No, I will not do the snake dance for you!"

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