Mandela and ‘The Elders’ Aim to Save the World

by Kate Snow

JOHANNESBURG — The Elders, a new alliance made up of an elite group of senior statesmen dedicated to solving thorny global problems, unveiled itself today in Johannesburg.The rollout coincided with founding member Nelson Mandela’s 89th birthday.

After a grand entrance, Mandela, the former South African president, announced the rest of the Elders.

The members include Desmond Tutu, South African archbishop emeritus of Capetown; former U.S. President Jimmy Carter; former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan; Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and Mohammed Yunus, the Nobel laureate and founder of the Green Bank in Bangladesh.

The group plans to get involved in some of the world’s most pressing problems — climate change, pandemics like AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, violent conflicts.

It was an extraordinary gathering; a who’s who of famous international leaders, with enough emotion to move some of them to tears.

Under a large white futuristic dome, British billionaire Richard Branson and rock star Peter Gabriel, who conceived the idea for the Elders, gathered enough star power to change the world, or at least that’s the hope.

“The structures we have to deal with these problems are often tied down by political, economic and geographic constraints,” Mandela said. The Elders, he argued, will face no such constraints.

Seven years ago, Branson and Gabriel approached Mandela about the Elders idea, and he agreed to help them recruit others. “This group of elders will bring hope and wisdom back into the world,” Branson said. “They’ll play a role in bringing us together.

“Using their collective experience, their moral courage and their ability to rise above the parochial concerns of nations ? they can help make our planet a more peaceful, healthy and equitable place to live, ” Branson said. ” Let us call them ‘global elders,’ not because of their age but because of individual and collective wisdom.”

Calling it “the most extraordinary day” of his life, Gabriel said, “The dream was there might still be a body of people in whom the world could place their trust.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who moderated the event and will serve as its leader, was moved to tears after Gabriel sang an impromptu accapella version of his hit song “Biko,” written about a famous South African political prisoner.

Branson and Gabriel have raised enough money — some $18 million — to fund this group for three years.

Also onboard are names less well known in the United States, including Indian microfinance leader Ela Bhatt; former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland; former Chinese ambassador to the United States Li Zhaoxing.

The group left an empty seat onstage — symbolically — for an elder who was invited, but could not attend because she is under house arrest in Burma, Nobel laureate and human rights advocate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mandela and Carter emphasized the group’s ability to talk to anyone without risk.

“We will be able to risk failure in worthy causes, and we will not need to claim credit for any successes that might be achieved,” said Carter.

Carter said the group does not want to step on or interfere with other positive work that nations or organizations are doing but wants to supplement that work.

Several members acknowledged that the actual activities and actions of the group remain to be determined. There are no titles, no ranking of the members. And it is not clear if they will travel as a group, deploy individual members to global hot spots, or simply sit in a room together to develop strategies or assist those who are suffering find help.

But they certainly have high hopes.

“I didn’t like the title “elders,” because I didn’t feel like an elder,” said Yunus to laughter, “but I like the idea.”

Yunus said the world is without direction and he hopes the Elders can provide some direction.

Speaking of the Elders, almost in the way one would describe a cartoon about superheroes, Mandela said, “The Elders can become a fiercely independent and positive force for good.”

Annan added that the group does not “intend to go and take on Darfur or Somalia and resolve it singlehandedly. We don’t have a magic wand,” he said. But he argued that the group could intervene and perhaps force parties to honor agreements.

“There are certain crimes that shame us all,” said Annan. “We all have a responsibility, and I hope the Elders will take the lead in asking the question: What can we do to move the situation forward?

“Sometimes by saying ‘this is enough we can’t take this anymore it must stop,’ we are making a difference,” Annan continued

Mandela and Branson both celebrated birthdays today. At 89, Mandela looked frail. He walked with a cane and Carter helped him to the podium. But once Mandela got there, he stood tall and easily delivered some 10 minutes of remarks.

“He, as you know, walks sedately,” Tutu joked.

Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

Revealed: Blair’s talks with Murdoch on eve of war

Tania Branigan, political correspondent -The Guardian

Tony Blair spoke to Rupert Murdoch three times in nine days in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, it emerged yesterday, after the government caved in to a four-year campaign for the release of details of their conversations and meetings.

The Cabinet Office agreed to publish the dates of their contacts one day after the former prime minister left office. No further details of the calls are available and no details of informal meetings or conversations have been disclosed.

In all Mr Blair held six formal conversations with the media baron between March 2003 and October 2004. The first three took place on March 11, 13 and 19; military action against Iraq began early on March 20. A broadcasting row involving the BBC and BSkyB was also taking place.

They spoke again on January 29 2004 – the day after the Sun’s exclusive publication of the Hutton report’s findings – and on April 25, shortly after Mr Blair agreed to hold a referendum on the EU treaty. They held a sixth conversation on October 3, two days after Mr Blair announced he would stand down after his third term.

Liberal Democrat Lord Avebury first requested details of contact between the men in October 2003, but had no success. He then filed a formal complaint under the Freedom of Information Act in April 2005, requesting details of meetings and conversations from September 2002.

Last July the information commissioner ruled that official contacts could be disclosed. The Cabinet Office appealed but capitulated 10 months later. It published the dates yesterday. A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “We decided it was in the public interest to release it.”

Lord Avebury said: “This is a welcome blow for the cause of freedom of information, but it shouldn’t have taken so much time and effort … Rupert Murdoch has exerted his influence behind the scenes on a range of policies on which he is known to have strong views including the regulation of broadcasting and the Iraq war.

“The public can now scrutinise the timing of his contacts with the former prime minister, to see whether they can be linked to events in the outside world. One hopes that the timing of the government’s decision to capitulate indicates that under Gordon Brown’s leadership freedom of information will be made a reality.”

A spokesman for Mr Blair declined to comment.

ON CAPITOL HILL

Using Dietary Supplements in Patient Care Congressional Briefing

According to the 129-page annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers published in the journal Clinical Toxicology (Feb 2007), the National Poising and Exposure Database showed that there was not even one death cause by vitamins in 2005 yet dietary supplements are increasingly attacked and scrutinized. The media, allopathic medicine, and Quackbusters, among others, continue to criticize, mislead, and misinterpret the safety, effectiveness, and even regulations of dietary supplements.

Several well-respected practitioners and scientists will be briefing Congress and the public on the use of dietary supplements in treating patients in the United States.

Whether it’s using dietary supplements as an alternative to drugs or surgery, finding relief when there is no other option, or saving the patient or taxpayer money, dietary supplements are a misunderstood but vital component of our healthcare system.

It’s time to get the true facts. September 26, 2007, the American Association for Health Freedom presents Using Dietary Supplements in Patient Care Congressional Briefing– speakers to be announced shortly.

If you’re interested in more information, please contact us at office@healthfreedom.net or 1.800.230.2762.