Political Technology

Mark Udall's Internet Ads

Any one else notice the now ubiquitous Mark Udall banner ads on the big progressive blogs?  They are among the best I've seen this year.  Attractive, message-based, animated, about "joining," not about "giving."  They are setting a new standard for ads below the presidential level, and are clearly inspired by the success of Obama's deep success on the Internet. 

For more on how to best use the Internet in your advocacy work, visit our affiliate, the New Politics Institute, where you can find papers on to buy ads on the Internet, how to buy search and how to optimize your site for search engines, how to engage the blogs and the role of "influentials" in all marketing.  It is a powerful package and very much worth reviewing. 

In Africa, Banking Goes Mobile

Mobile phones have made the headlines this year due their role in political organizing the world over, from the aftermath earthquake and environmental protests in China to political campaigns here in the United States. Now, what many have recognized as the true power of mobile technology is being realized in Africa. In Tuesday's Guardian, Richard Wray writes that "the dramatic spread of the handset is revolutionising the way money circulates."

For consumers in developed markets, using a mobile phone for banking services is a smart add-on to a bank's branch network. But to people in the developing world, the arrival of mobile banking - or m-banking - is potentially revolutionary.

If money is an economy's lifeblood, improving its circulation plays a critical role. Many Africans living in rural areas, for instance, rely on money sent home by members of their family who work in towns and cities. But getting that cash to a village that could be hundreds of miles away is a tricky business. In Kenya, for example, workers in urban areas hand wages over to bus drivers, who promise to stop off at the worker's home village en route to their destination.

Even those who do have a bank account - and they make up only a few per cent of Africa's 950 million population - are restricted in what they can do with their money because of the dearth of branches in rural areas.

But the dramatic growth in mobile phone use in Africa - phones now outnumber cash machines by several thousand to one - is paving the way for a new set of services that turn the humble handset into a banking tool with the potential to transform Africa's economy.

Services have sprung up that let people transfer cash by text message to other mobile phone users and give Africa's vast number of "unbanked" their first access to financial products. Instead of using a bank branch, these services rely on local retailers who already sell mobile top-up cards.

"We wanted to offer something that would work," explained Mung Ki Woo, who heads Orange's m-payments division. "Instead of giving people a plastic card, why not use something many people already have: a mobile phone? And instead of doing transactions at a bank branch, why not let people go to their local retailer to deposit and withdraw cash?"

The article goes on to discuss the proposed creation of m-banking systems that allow access by all users, regardless of cell phone carrier. It also discusses the expansion of this technology to microfinance, which would potentially allow these small loans that have changed the lives of millions for the better to be expanded to many times more people.

M-banking is truly revolutionary, and a broad-based implementation that allows mobile technology to substitute for visits to banks will have dramatic economic development impacts. The emergence of technology that enables bottom-up politics and banking may yet be the beginning of a new era of prosperity and engagement that will be felt globally.

GOP Tries, Fails to Keep Up Online

The hallmark of this election cycle, at least on the Democratic side, has been the emergence of bottom-up politics, much of the time focused around the internet and social networking sites. On facebook.com, a supporter created Barack Obama group has over 500,000 members, and he currently has over 900,000 supporters.

The Republicans have been a little slower to get the message on the value of bottom-up politics. Their most recent facebook.com group epitomizes their top-down approach. Entitled “Republican National Committee - Official Group,” it was created by the Director of RNC eCampaigns, and the results are not promising. As of this posting, the group boasted 13,186 members, 11 videos, all posted by the same administrator, and this ambitious group graphic:

Official RNC
Facebook.com is only one example of the facility with which each party uses new political tools, but it is safe to say that the GOP has a lot of catch-up to do if they really value their online presence.
Update: The politico.com printed a story today by Ben Adler entitled "Can McCain compete with Obama online?"
"It's the difference between a horse and buggy and a NASA space ship," said Phil Noble, a veteran of Democratic campaigns and the founder of the nonpartisan political news site PoliticsOnline, comparing the campaigns’ respective approaches to technology. "Obama has given people the tools to create and run their own campaigns," Noble continued. "McCain is still a command-and-control, top-down candidate. Part of it is the difference in age."
For more on the candidates and technology, check out Maggie Barker's recent post on John McCain's computer literacy (or lack thereof). 

San Francisco Bay Area Money Behind Obama, as Northern Donors Challenge Southern California

Follow the money. That’s the mantra that can go a long way towards explaining a lot in life, and often much in politics. Starting last fall there was a palpable sense in the San Francisco Bay Area and its Silicon Valley that people were moving their money to Obama. Only now are the analyses coming in that definitively show the shift – that the political money center of gravity for Obama is the north and not the south of the state. The San Francisco Chronicle has a terrific original research project that lays it out, complete with some great graphics. Some highlights:

California contributions to presidential candidates have surged so much
during the current campaign that if it were a state, the area would
rank fourth in the nation.

The rise is a reflection of the influence of Silicon Valley and a flood of donations to Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who has raised a great deal of his campaign money through Internet fundraising and social networking.


Six of the top 10 ZIP codes for fundraising in California are in the northern half of the state. That includes three in San Francisco and one each in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Burlingame.

"It's not that Southern California is giving less, it's that Northern California is giving more" said Anthony Corridor Jr., a professor of government at Colby College in Maine, who specializes in campaign finance. "Silicon Valley has become much more engaged, and the new technologies of social networking and Internet-giving have made Northern California much more involved."


Obama raised $18 million in Northern California - $1.5 million more than he raised in the southern half of the state. He collected $1 in Northern California for every 17 cents raised by McCain and for every 62 cents raised by his primary contender Sen. Hilary Clinton, who did most of her fundraising in the southern part of the state. In Southern California, Obama raised $1 for every 41 cents raised by McCain and every 97 cents raised by Clinton.


This story gives grist to the argument that Josh Green laid on in this month’s Atlantic Monthly about the critical function the fundraising machine from Silicon Valley played in Obama’s rise. It also comes packaged with a database where readers can easily do searches about who gave what, and from what neighborhoods. Definitely worth checking out.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

Simon and Kos talk politics

Thanks to our friends at FORA.tv, we now have video from last week's event in San Francisco with Daily Kos founder, Markos Moulitsas. Check it out below:

An Unfunded Mandate

This recent ad by Elizabeth Dole goes along with the continuing tide of GOP ads on national security and immigration. However, unlike other ads that directly attack Hispanics, representing them as undocumented immigrants, this ad is much more moderate. Instead of showing people crossing the border, it focuses on just talking about border security; instead of showing someone being deported, it is limited to discussing deportation, and it limits the discussion to "tough" undocumented criminals, as opposed to immigrants in general. It is also telling that Sen. Dole does not speak on the issue herself - might she be heeding the warnings by GOP leadership that directly anti-immigrant tactics are counterproductive?

With a strong challenger and limited funds, Sen. Dole is, quite literally, banking on fear and the desire for a sense of security among many in North Carolina. This ad promotes her efforts to bring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to North Carolina to train local and state police to aprehend undocumented criminals. The information that is ommitted in the ad is that this type of training is performed under Section 287(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, and under 287(g), ICE must enter into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the county or State in question. In the case of North Carolina, ICE does not have a state-wide MOA, as expressed in the ad; ICE only has MOAs with five counties in the state, and each MOA can vary in scope and severity.

From a policy perspective, these type of agreements are criticized by Police Chiefs and law enforcement officers because they often have unintended consequences that actually make it harder for them to work with their community to fight crime, particularly in the case of areas with a large immigrant or minority population. Additionally, these agreements with Federal immigration officials come with no additional resources - only additional responsibility and strain on local law enforcement. So we're left wondering why Sen. Dole promotes her push to impose an unfunded mandate on North Carolina.

Connecting the Dots of the Obama Phenomenon

No offense intended, but I do not normally look to Roger Cohen, the older New York Times/ Herald Tribune columnist in Paris, to give insights about the power of social networks and connectivity. Yet his recent column on “The Obama Connection” did just that. In fact, it starts:

It’s the networks, stupid.

More than any other factor, it has been Barack Obama’s grasp of the central place of Internet-driven social networking that has propelled his campaign for the Democratic nomination into a seemingly unassailable lead over Hillary Clinton. Her campaign has been so 20th-century. His has been of the century we’re in.

Cohen goes on to make more analytical points based on the flow of history, and how the world is shifting from the paradigm of the divisive Cold War that defined the last century to the new paradigm of hyper-connectivity and sociability. His own insights stay on that historical geo-political plane, rather than at any tactical, or certainly technical level.

Along the way he cites the work of others who have helped him understand this meta-shift going on – starting with Joshua Green in the most recent Atlantic Monthly. Josh did do a fantastic job in explaining the fundraising phenom behind Obama, by going to Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area in general and reporting on that untold story. I helped Josh with that story and highly recommend it to anyone. Check it out here.

Cohen also references a new book by David Singh Grewal called, “Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization” that describes the core tension in the world as: “Everything is being globalized except politics.” I have not read the book yet, but I have been talking about similar themes for awhile. In the tech, business, private sector world where I came from before getting involved with the New Politics Institute three years ago, the globalization of everything is the key phenomenon reworking everything. Yet from what I can see, our politics is only barely beginning to adapt to this. Perhaps, as Cohen says, Obama can help change that in a big way.

There is one other book that I would also highly recommend to anyone trying to come to terms with the new world of social networks: Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations.” Clay does a terrific job of explaining in plain language the power of social networking in its broadest sense. Too many people think “social networking’ simply means Facebook and MySpace. That is an extremely narrow way to understand what’s happening – one that Clay will help correct. The better way to think about all this is as a wide range of social tools or social media that acts very differently than media as we have known it. It’s about communications and content and media and all things that get passed around and are collectively worked on and commented on and recommended or just viewed from afar.

I’ve been telling journalist friends of mine to read Chapter 3, “Everyone is a Media Outlet” to really understand what is happening around them in the big picture. Clay makes the best explanation about what is happening to the journalism and news business that I have ever seen. For that and many other reasons, check it out.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

New Politics in China: Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Facebook

Following the massive earthquake in China, there was much discussion of the new media and communications technology that Chinese were using to spread news and opinions about the earthquake and the response to it. It seems that this earthquake and the use of this new media and new political tools has lead to the emergence of a new politics in China. From Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in the New York Times last week:

In the aftermath of the great Sichuan earthquake, we've seen a hopeful glimpse of China’s future: a more open and self-confident nation, and maybe — just maybe — the birth of grass-roots politics here.

In traveling around China in the days after the quake, I was struck by how the public and the news media initially seized the initiative from the government. Ordinary Chinese are traveling to the quake zone to help move rubble, and tycoons, peasants and even children are reaching into their pockets to donate to the victims.

"I gave 500 yuan," or about $72, a man told me in the western city of Urumqi. "Eighty percent of the people in my work unit made donations. Everybody wants to help."

Private Chinese donations have already raised more than $500 million. That kind of bottom-up public spirit is a mark of citizens, not subjects.

This political cycle in America, the Obama campaign has revolutionized fundraising through the internet by enlisting supporters as partners in the campaign, not just voters. Just as American politics has changed, so too are Chinese taking politics into their own hands through individual giving. As Kristof argues, China is going through a fundamental change, as its people think of themselves as "citizens, not subjects." Kristof continues:

China may claim to be Marxist-Leninist, but it’s really market-Leninist. The rise of wealth, a middle class, education and international contacts are slowly undermining one-party rule and nurturing a new kind of politics.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is hard-working and blessed with nearly a photographic memory, but he also may be the second-most boring person alive (after his boss, President Hu Jintao). Both Mr. Hu and Mr. Wen rose through the system as classic Communist apparatchiks — Brezhnevs with Chinese faces. Yet Mr. Wen has seen the political landscape changing and has struggled recently to reinvent himself. When the earthquake hit, Mr. Wen flew immediately to the disaster area and appeared constantly on television, overseeing rescue operations.

Heroic tidbits seeped out. Mr. Wen fell and cut himself but refused medical attention. He bellowed directions to generals over the telephone and then slammed the handset down. He shouted to children buried in a pile of rubble: "This is Grandpa Wen Jiabao. Children, you’ve got to hold on!"

Mr. Wen’s conduct is striking because it’s what we expect of politicians, not dictators. His aim was to come across as a "good emperor," not to win an election. But presumably he behaved in this way partly because he felt the hot breath of public opinion on his neck.

Yesterday, the world (and Mike, who tipped me off to this) was shocked to find Prime Minister Wen on Facebook. That’s right, facebook.com, the social networking site started by Harvard students and spread through America’s universities, is now impacting Chinese politics. As of this posting, Wen had just surpassed 16,000 supporters.

China's transition from a compltely closed society in the three decades ago to one in which individuals are coming together to develop civil society - in large part with the help of these new tools - is indicative of broader change happening in that country. Kristof predicts that within two decades, the Chinese Communist party will transition to a "a Social Democratic Party that dominates the country but that grudgingly allows opposition victories and a free press." Indeed, there is already evidence of this in the aftermath of the earthquake, as the Chinese government realizes a free but professional press is of great use to them in that it provides important services that free-wheeling and unaccountable media cannot.

In this short period of time since the US chose to normalize trade relations with China, there has been much improvement in economic freedom. China's economy is moving toward a free market model and many sectors are extremely entrepreneurial and open. There can be no doubt that the liberalization of relations with the west and the opening of China and its markets to American goods, services, and ideas has worked. Time will tell if a market of ideas, that ultimately leads to a more democratic and liberal China, takes hold, even if that process does begin on Facebook.

All the Insights of the New Tools, New Audiences Forum Live On

We now have video of almost all the talks and breakout sessions from the all-day event on May 9th that the New Politics Institute and NDN put on. It’s all housed in an easily accessible form on the NPI website at www.newpolitics.net. There are several ways into the material:

The front page features an anchor area for the ongoing New Tools Campaign, and the blurb there has links to four series of video. You can also see the Technology Panel right off the front page as the featured video of the whole site.

The dedicated video page also has those four series laid out: The Framing of the Forum, The Technology Panel, The Demography Panel, and The Breakout Sessions. Each of the breakout sessions has their own video module which also can be seen on the individual pages for each tool: Go Mobile, Reimagine Video, Target Your Marketing, Leverage Social Networks, Buy Cable, Speak in Spanish, and Advertise Online.

So now we have hours of new video explaining these new tools and new audiences in addition to all the memos and previous video from events already housed there. This really is becoming a node of great information for those in organizations or campaigns who want to get up to speed on how to use these new tools in advocacy and politics. Please send around the links to those who might find them useful. Thanks.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

Bush: Americans can send cell phones to Cuba

Following up on recent work on the power of mobile communications in the developing world, the Bush Administration has provided an important step on this issue in its Cuba policy. Americans will be allowed to purchase and pay bills for cell phones that they can ship to Cuba.

From yesterday’s New York Times article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg:

President Bush announced Wednesday that Americans would soon be allowed to give their relatives in Cuba cell phones to use. The move is intended to challenge Cuba’s new leader, Raul Castro, to make good on his promises of reform, by giving ordinary Cubans more freedom to communicate with one another and the outside world.

"If the Cuban people can be trusted with mobile phones, they should be trusted to speak freely in public," Mr. Bush said, during a White House ceremony attended by dozens of Cuban-Americans, including the families of imprisoned dissidents. He added, "The world is watching the Cuban regime."Since Mr. Castro succeeded his ailing 81-year-old brother, Fidel, in February, he has initiated a series of changes in the country, including opening up access to cell phones, computers and DVD players.

But most Cubans cannot afford to buy such luxuries, Mr. Bush said, so the policy changes have amounted so far to "nothing more than a cruel joke perpetuated on a long-suffering people." He added, "If the Cuban regime is serious about improving life for the Cuban people, it will take steps necessary to make these changes meaningful."

We at NDN applaud this move by the Bush administration, but the fact is that this move is far too little in terms of broader Cuba policy. It is a positive development that the administration is on board with mobile communications as a tool to advance human rights. The lessons from China and Egypt, among others, are too significant to ignore.

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