Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gates-Induced Wariness

Even Chester Finn is feeling a little uneasy about Bill Gates' influence on the national education front. Perhaps a new voice of consciousness is whispering in Finn's ear.

In his Education Gadfly post today, he writes:

In the world of education policy and education reform, recent months have seen the relationship between government and private philanthropy grow entirely too intimate. Many of our major foundations, including some for which I generally have high regard (and occasional gratitude for their help with Fordham's work), have, with the best of intentions, acted as if their foremost mission were to instruct federal and state officials on what to do, tug the strings of public policy in directions that they favor, and spend their own money in ways that compliment (or foreshadow) outlays of government funds. What's more, the flow of active human traffic between foundation and government offices--in both directions--suggests not only that there's much overlap between private and public agendas but also that some of the same folks are working both sides of that street in alternate months……Perhaps in retrospect we'll conclude that the intimacy even did some good and produced some healthy progeny. But there's a problem here, too: the possibility of a Faustian bargain that, in the throes of short-term passion, fails to note the long-term risk.

Deep parallel concerns about the Gates Foundation’s role as a player in world health are expressed in a 2008 report by Global Health Watch (Global Health Watch 2, Chapter DI-3, "The Gates Foundation.")* In other words, US education is not alone.

The chapter about the Gates Foundation “…draws on interviews with global health experts from around the world all of whom requested anonymity or indicated a preference to speak off the record. Several who recounted specific incidents or experiences asked that these not be described so as to protect their identity.” In other words, they are fearful of the consequences if they are publicly honest. Here are some excerpts (italics are mine):
  • “But it is vital in today’s world of immense wealth and enduring poverty to question the mainstream portrayal of philanthropy as being entirely benign.”
  • “The Gates Foundation is governed by the Gates family. There is no board of trustees; nor any formal parliamentary or legislative scrutiny. There is no answerability to the governments of low-income countries, nor to the WHO. Little more than the court of public opinion exists to hold it accountable.”
  • “According to one [expert], ‘They dominate the global health agenda and there is a lack of accountability because they do not have to implement all the checks and balances of other organizations or the bilaterals.’”
  • “In addition to the fundamental lack of democratic or public accountability, there was little in the way of accountability to global public health institutions or to other actors in the health field. The fact that the Gates Foundation is [both] a funder and board member of the various new Global Health Initiatives (e.g. the Global Fund; GAVI, Stop TB Partnership; and Roll Back Malaria) means that other global health actors are accountable to the Gates Foundation, but not the other way round.”
  • “In reality, there is surprisingly little written about the pattern and effectiveness of grant-making by the Gates Foundation. Limited information is available on the Foundation’s website.”
  • “Several interviewees also felt that the way grant proposals are solicited, reviewed and funded is opaque. Many grants appear to be made on the basis of personal contacts and informal networking.”
  • “The absence of robust systems of accountability becomes particularly pertinent in light of the Foundation’s extensive influence. As mentioned above, it has power over most of the major global health partnerships, as well as over the WHO, of which it is the third-equal biggest single funder. Many global health research institutions and international health opinion formers are recipients of Gates money. Through this system of patronage, the Foundation has become the dominant actor in setting the frames of reference for international health policy.”
  • “Not only is the Foundation a dominant actor within the global health landscape; it is said to be ‘domineering’ and ‘controlling’. According to one interviewee, ‘they monopolise agendas. And it is a vicious circle. The more they spend, the more people look to them for money and the more they dominate.’”
  • “The Foundation’s corporate background and its demand for demonstrable returns on its investment appear to have resulted in a bias towards biomedical and technological solutions. In the words of one interviewee: ‘The Gates Foundation is only interested in magic bullets – they came straight out and said this to me.’”
  • “The ties between the Foundation and the pharmaceuticals industry, as well as its emphasis on medical technology, have led some health activists to question if the Foundation is converting global health problems into business opportunities. Others worry about the Foundation’s position with regard to intellectual property (IP) rights and the effect this has on the price of essential medicines.”
  • “The Foundation has done much, and it will be doing even more as its level of spending sets to increase. But there are problems with what is happening. The Foundation is too dominant. It is unaccountable. It is not transparent. It is dangerously powerful and influential.”
  • “The Gates Foundation needs to consider its relationships with other actors. While it should preserve its catalytic, innovative and bold approach to global health, it needs to learn to know when it should follow and not lead.”

Since he's only human, Gates may be having trouble managing his unprecedented wealth in a manner which is wise, and that's with a capital W. It’s much too easy for him to utterly override the input of everyone else, even if his intent is to do something "good." (Just to be nice, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that.)

Anyone who can drop $4 million to buy whatever he wants (for instance, extensive public-relations, media and lobbying efforts to Learn NY for pushing mayoral control) needs to be closely watched. That's the amount of a really inexpensive sandwich to the average US citizen.

And as I like to remind readers (just so they can get an inkling of this unfathomable wealth), to Gates that $4 million which helped pay for propaganda and a fake grassroots movement (commonly referred to as "astroturf") had the relative value of $5 to someone with a net worth of $50,000 (the pre-recession US average). For Gates, such a paltry amount can buy as much influence as 800,000 average people could buy if they pooled all their money together. And that number of Americans is nearly as many people as the number that makes up the population of San Francisco, CA (12th largest US city at 808,976) or Jacksonville, FL (807,815 at 13th).

* Thanks to reader Laura for this link.


melody said...

Thanks for posting this. I suspected the moneybags Gates & Broad were behind Duncan's "reform" strategy.

nikto said...

I once, (a few days ago), naively thought that a Progressive Luminary such as Arianna Huffington might be on the side of The People, regarding
her policy stands on Public Education.
But no.

Even Arianna is on the
CORPORATE (essentially, vouchers) side:

What the heck happened?

How can the Neocons/Neoliberals win the "argument" so utterly and completely on privatizing Education?

How and WHY did we lose, or get so far behind on, the dialogue?

Was it that we didn't say anything to counter The Lie every time we heard some one say, Public Ed

Was it because we never really thought deeply about what applying business standards to childrens' learning really mean't until it was too late?

Was it because too many people in positions of power (like Obama, Ms.Huffington, many Corporate officers, etc) have never actually attended Public School and in reality, don't understand it?

Was it possibly because school may have worked for us, personally, and we assume EVERYBODY ELSE has to have the same experience for education to be worthwhile?

Was it because some folks just had a negative school experience, or just hate public schools from the get-go, and they just obtain a primitive pleasure to see teachers and people in public schools suffer and be criticized?

Was it because some folks didn't know how to prepare THEIR OWN kids to be members of the Educated Class in society, and are BITTER when others (pub schools) cannot accomplish it FOR them?

Was it because some good, low-income parents are uneducated, naive and easily-manipulated by opportunistic administrators, demagogic politicians or self-serving Big-Business-people?

In a time when even many so-called
"liberals" and "Progressives" have been deceptively sucked into the "reform" mentality, WE who can clearly see the present and looming disaster, have to ask ourselves, how the heck did we get so far behind on this argument, that we seem to be, not even IN it?

And, more importantly, how can we, as patriots, for America's sake, get back INTO it?

The Perimeter Primate said...

Hi nikto,

I'm still contemplating all of those possibilities and will probably do so for quite a while. My initial response is that a number of them are at play.

Thanks so much for posting them.

Maybe some future historian will be able to sort out and explain what actually happened. For the time being, though, we've been out-gamed.

I'm in the middle of The Shock Doctrine, and am absolutely positive the source is what Klein talks about there. It was a smart and greedy mindset that developed this strategy, and they had/have tons of power, connections, and financial resources.


PS: Michael Moore's new movie, Capitalism, is going to be released on October 2. Maybe the backlash is finally here.

The Perimeter Primate said...

And 800,000 people is just under the size of population of South Dakota.

Five smallest state populations:
1. Wyoming 532,668
2. Vermont 621,270
3. North Dakota 641,481
4. Alaska 686,293
5. South Dakota 804,194

nikto said...

Regarding Michael Moore's assertion that "Capitalism is Evil", I certainly agree that BIG-BUSINESS & HUGE CORPORATIONS are evil, most of the time.

But to me, it is a matter of size & power. I don't see the wonderful burrito retaurant in East LA I patronize, or the non-chain flower shop on the corner, usurping my rights, blocking public healthcare or using offshore tax shelters while I pay taxes in their place.

Small businesses lack sweeping powers, and so, lack the corrupting
aspects of big corporations, which can afford to skip good business practices altogether and just lobby top government officials and get all those special favors that only *big money* can yield.

Capitalism, to me, is truly embodied by small and medium-sized business ONLY----NOT Big Corporations, which have become stagnant and seriously parasitic in our society.

Small businesses actually have to COMPETE and deliver quality products and services.

Big Business is simply corrupted by the sweeping power great wealth brings---Power corrupts, just like wealth, because they are almost the same thing, aren't they?

Human nature, folks.

A proper democratic republic, IMO, would provide a robust environment for small & medium businesses, but have extremely strong regulations and restrictions on BIG business.

To restrict the size of BIG BIZNESS, I would heavily tax all companies that exceed a certain size, with NO TAX BREAKS, ever.

If The People provided the infrastructure (transport, etc), for society, We could all rely on small & moderate-sized companies to get things done, with greater officiency and far less corruption, graft and societal harm in the name of vast Corporate profits/control, than we suffer under now.

And I do mean suffer.

If Americans don't force BIG change on our Corporate community, our suffering will grow exponentially in the coming years.

nikto said...

Over in the "Schools Matter" blog...

Very timely, and somewhat discouraging post, on the Obama
administration's misguided
Education policy:

andrew said...

It's time to walk away from the farce that passes for the political process in the US now. It's time for resistance. It's time for disruption. It's time to tear it down.

The corporate state described by Benito Mussolini may not yet be fully consolidated but the US will soon arrive there. It is a development that explains why the oligarchs and the neoliberal schemers that serve them have handed-off their movement to gut public education to Obama and his blabbering henchman Arne Duncan. Just as well, it explains the use of taxpayer's money instead of or in concert with the fortunes of Gates, Broad, and the Waltons to see their designs realized.

The day of the monkey wrenches is here.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Gates Foundation money works at cross purposes

January 7, 2007

The Gates Foundation endowment had major holdings in:

• Companies ranked among the worst U.S. and Canadian polluters, including ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical Co. and Tyco International;

• Many of the world's other major polluters, including companies that own an oil refinery and one that owns a paper mill, which a study shows sicken children while the foundation tries to save their parents from AIDS;

• Pharmaceutical companies that price drugs beyond the reach of AIDS patients the foundation is trying to treat.

The most recent data available showed that hundreds of Gates Foundation investments — totaling at least $8.7 billion, or 41 percent of its assets, not including U.S. and foreign government securities — have been in companies that countered the foundation's charitable goals or socially concerned philosophy.

The Perimeter Primate said...


The link to Global Health Watch 2 ( isn't opening today.

This link opens the document chapter by chapter

The Perimeter Primate said...

Now a South African agricultural specialist lobs complaints about Gates that sound all too familiar.

"Bill Gates' support of GM [genetically modified] crops is wrong approach for Africa." Seattle Times, 2/27/2012,


"Bill Gates' support of genetically modified (GM) crops as a solution for world hunger is of concern to those of us involved in promoting sustainable, equitable and effective agricultural policies in Africa.

"There are two primary shortcomings to Gates' approach.

"First, his technocratic ideology runs counter to the best informed science...

"Secondly, Gates sponsors compliant African organizations whose work with multinational agricultural corporations like Monsanto undermines existing grass-roots efforts to improve local production methods. He has become a stalking horse for corporate proponents of industrial agriculture which perceive African hunger simply as a business opportunity. His Gates Foundation has referred to the world's poor as the 'BOP' (bottom of pyramid), presenting ' ... a fast growing consumer market.'...

"While successful in his chosen field, Gates has no expertise in the farm field... However, some circumspection and humility would go a long way to heal the rifts they have opened. Beating Africans with the big stick of high-input proprietary technology has never been requested; it will perpetuate neo-imperialism and repetition of foreign-imposed African 'failure.' Africans urge Bill Gates to engage with us in a more-broadly consultative, agro-ecological approach."