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Gates foundation under fire from anti-abortionists

Plans to fund a birth control awareness campaign cause a raising of the blood pressure

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It seems that our article about Microsoft's and Gates' charitable activities was a hot button for many people, and there's more to report on the saga. A focus of the Gates Foundation philanthropy has been population control and planned parenthood, and not surprisingly this has resulted in howls of anger from pro-lifers. It is not our intention to enter this debate, but we would make the point that, surprisingly, this does show that Gates and his wife are following their own inclinations, since Microsoft PR would clearly have liked to steer him away from controversial donations. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America is getting $5 million for its planned parenthood global partners program. This didn't go down very well with Pro-Life Infonet, who noted the paradox that Rory John Gates was born just two days before the gift to help the world cope with fast population growth. Says Pro-Life: "The International Planned Parenthood Federation has pushed pro-life countries to scrap their protective laws and worked with the UN to force many countries to accept abortion on demand or other population control programs". Pro-lifers are also criticising the UN for accepting the Gates largesse and thereby becoming more independent of the member states it represents. The Johns Hopkins University Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health received $20 million for training in "public health initiatives" which sounds like a PR toning down of what will amount to a birth control programme, especially as a 1997 donation of $2.25 million was to train family planning and reproductive health specialists from developing nations. The American Life League (ALL) decided to take some unusual measures, and commenced a series of 12 advertisements (a "course in population control for Bill Gates") in the Sunday editions of the Eastside Journal, Bill and Melinda's local paper. A Web site (www.billgateseducate.com) has the texts published so far. It has apparently been decided by ALL that 12 October will be the day on which the six billionth baby will be born, so further exchanges can be expected between those who see this as a cause for concern, and those who wish it to be celebrated. Gates has been invited by ALL to join the celebrations. Although Bill appears to be a protestant agnostic if not an atheist, Melinda Gates is a Roman Catholic - and they were married by a priest - so their stance is somewhat unexpected. Let's set these events in a Microsoft perspective. Everyone and his dog knows that corporate philanthropy is PR, but what is not understood very well in the US is that there should be a certain decency about how it is done. Not so with the Gates Foundation. It uses plenty of professional PR to milk the donations, and the timing certainly correlates with Microsoft's desire to influence public opinion. Microsoft is after all only partly playing to Judge Jackson, where what is in effect special pleading ("we've been naughty, but we've given wagon loads of money to charity by way of a penance" ) is unlikely to prove helpful. Much more important to Microsoft at the moment is a hearts-and-minds campaign and to use the charity card to lull a gullible public into thinking that at heart Microsoft is OK. Former Novell boss Ray Noorda scotched that one when he observed (paraphrasing) that to have a heart-to-heart, you had to have two hearts. Looking at the Foundation's actions over the last six months, and analysing press releases announcing donations, we see that when nothing was happening publicly in April, there were three releases. In May, as things were warming up for the June rebuttal hearings, there were 12 releases. In June, the number shot up to 20, but immediately dropped down to just four in July, when the trial was quiet again. August saw 12 and there were 13 in September, in honour of the findings of fact and the oral hearing. A recent move is an invitation by Craig McCaw of Teledesic (in which Gates and Microsoft have invested significantly) for Nelson Mandela and his new wife to visit Seattle from 7-9 December "to raise awareness of issues in Africa". The press release was jointly issued by Teledesic and the Gates Foundation. You can bet that Mandela will be given a large cheque. This looks like a PR blocking move in case Judge Jackson's Opinion is handed down around that time. As has been said before, charity begins in the home PC. Several hundred million PC users around the world have been a victim of Microsoft's monopoly exploitation, pricing policies and software quality. This charity money comes from these users - us - yet we have no say in what happens to it. Microsoft is indeed a world leader -- in exploiting philanthropy. ®

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