Blue State Digital

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According to their website:

Blue State Digital (BSD) is a leader in online fundraising, advocacy, social networking, and constituency development programs for :nonprofit organizations, political candidates and causes, and corporations. Since our founding in 2004, we’ve delivered :successfully on the promise of the Internet to over 200 satisfied clients, including Obama for America, Wal-Mart Watch, the Alliance for Climate Protection, and the Communications Workers of America, raising over $500 million in contributions to date and generating tens of millions of online signups and actions.
Our programs rest on the foundation of the BSD Online Tools, a carefully architected technology suite that integrates tools for fundraising, advocacy, social networking, constituency development, and content management through a unified interface. Along with our technology services, we provide comprehensive Web design and development services and strategic campaign management.[1]

Obama for America Campaign

Blue State Digital was instrumental in Barack Obama's presidential campaign,[2] crucially deploying peer-to-peer networking and online tools to convince more than 3 million donors to contribute in excess of $500 million online to the campaign. The development of Web 2.0 under the aegis of corporate capitalism, at the expense of the democratic potential of peer-to-peer networking has been criticised in certain circles.[3] The deployment of the social networking potential of Web 2.0 by spin doctors and lobby groups may well represent a new wave of corporate spin.

Keep the Post Public

In March 2009, Blue State Digital was appointed by the Communication Workers Union in a bid to reverse the part-privatisation being proposed by Peter Mandelson.[4] This is the latest in a long line of attempts to privatise the post. In 1970, a year after the post office became a public corporation, Ian Senior wrote in a memorandum for the Institute of Economic Affairs:

The change of the PO’s status has simply given the postal service the same monopoly privilege with less accountability than before […] what is needed is the creation of an environment which gives to PO managers not only the freedom to manage with more efficiency, but also the incentive to do so […] to counterbalance the enervating effect of past monopoly […] for it is widely accepted that competition coupled with free consumer choice creates the best environment for productive enterprise.’[5]

In 1986, under the umbrella of the Royal Mail Group, three separate companies – Post Office Counters, Royal Mail and Parcelforce – were created, which was viewed by some as a precursor to privatisation (as the separation of telecommunications from posts had been under the British Telecommunication Act of 1981).

In 1997, the European Commission issued a Directive to establish a single market for postal services in Europe. This specified that all European Community residents were entitled to access a universal service at an affordable price that reflected costs. On an interim basis, as part of the ‘gradual and controlled liberalisation of the market,’ the Directive allocated a reserved area – of items up to 350g and five times the basic tariff, expected to be reduced to 100g after January 2003 and to 50g after January 2006 – to providers of the universal service.

In the UK, a White Paper was published in response, outlining the many benefits of competition to the Post Office, and detailing changes which ‘should ensure that high quality postal services are offered at a reasonable price and that a universal service under a uniform tariff structure can be provided without direct public subsidy’. While simultaneously reducing the percentage of profits withdrawn by the Exchequer, this document proposes halving the Post Office letter monopoly to fifty pence whereby, from 1 April 2000, anyone may provide a rival service to deliver items above this price and weighing more than 150g, significantly reducing the initial reserved area proposed by the European Commission. The White Paper also proposes transforming the public corporation into a public limited company with all shares owned by the Crown, ostensibly maintaining a commitment to keeping the Post Office in the public sector while opening up its market to competition.

The main protagonist responsible for postal reform in Europe is Charles McCreevy, Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services portfolio since 2004. Charged with the duty of creating a single market within Europe, he is acknowledged as a free-marketeer.[6] Giving a speech in London in 2006, then-Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, heralded a new wave of liberalisation across Europe and announced that the Treasury was working with McCreevy to achieve this.[7]

In 1998, in the wake of its first Directive on postal services, the European Commission approached National Economic Research Associates (NERA), which describes itself on its website as ‘an international firm of economists who understand how markets work,’ to undertake an analysis of the cost to each of its Member States of the Universal Service Obligation. The published report cites as part of its project team none other than Ian Senior, self-declared ‘special adviser in the London office of NERA’[8] who subsequently re-iterated their flawed findings to justify market liberalisation [9]

Under the provision of the Postal Services Act 2000, a new Postal Services Commission (Postcomm) was set up to provide for the universal service and to issue licenses for competing postal services. This delegation of powers by Government – akin to the Bank of England being charged with determining interest rates – also conferred on Postcomm the responsibility of protecting consumers. In the seven years of its operation to date, Postcomm has been the major commissioner of research into the postal sector – allocating over £17 million to ‘outside consultants, lawyers etc.’ up to the end of the 2007 financial year, with a further £3 million earmarked for 2007-08. Postcomm has commissioned research from Andersen Consulting (which, it will be remembered, was subsequently disgraced in the Enron scandal and forced to re-brand as Accenture), Frontier Economics, The Future Foundation, NERA/RAND Europe, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, Arthur D Little, LECG, NERA/Accent and Europe Economics.

References

  1. Blue State Digital website
  2. Obama for America on Blue State Digital website
  3. See Dmytri Kleiner & Brian Wyrick, 'Info Enclosure 2.0', Mute, Vol 2, #4, Winter 2006, pp.10-19
  4. See Nadia Ghani, Brand Republic http://www.brandrepublic.com/News/886683/Obamas-digital-agency-hired-fight-against-Royal-Mail-privatisation/?DCMP=ILC-SEARCH 2 March 2009].
  5. Ian Senior, The Postal Service: Competition or Monopoly? Background Memorandum 3, (London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 1970).
  6. H. Mahony, ‘Free marketers in top commission posts’, EU Observer, 13 August, 2004.
  7. HM Treasury, ‘Check against delivery’, Speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP at the Mansion House, London, 21 June, 2006.
  8. NERA (1998), ‘Costing and Financing of Universal Services in the Postal Sector of the European Union’, October.
  9. Ian Senior, ‘A Penny on the Post: Too little, too late, too intrusive’ (London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 2003), p. 4.
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