P.S. Disregard The “Right-Wing Ideologue” Part; It’s Not McCain That He’s Interested In . . .

As seemingly every Times columnist this week argued against Clinton continuing the charade, several of us wondered where Clinton apologist Paul Krugman stood on the matter. Now we know:

Mr. McCain, we’re told, is a straight-talking maverick. But on domestic policy, he offers neither straight talk nor originality; instead, he panders shamelessly to right-wing ideologues.

Mrs. Clinton, we’re assured by sources right and left, tortures puppies and eats babies. But her policy proposals continue to be surprisingly bold and progressive.

Finally, Mr. Obama is widely portrayed, not least by himself, as a transformational figure who will usher in a new era. But his actual policy proposals, though liberal, tend to be cautious and relatively orthodox.

Do these policy comparisons really tell us what each candidate would be like as president? Not necessarily — but they’re the best guide we have.

Spot Runner

A new site that will do for political media consultants what Redfin did for real-estate agents:

Political campaign season is upon us and that means one thing: really bad political ads on TV. There are 50,000 public elections every year in the United States. And an estimated $3 billion will be spent on political TV ads alone in 2008. Spot Runner wants to get in on the action, and maybe even raise the quality of the ads a little, by turning its self-serve TV advertising platform over to politicians. Today it is launching a political section of its site, where both national and local political campaigns can create TV ads for as little as $500 and run them in highly targeted cities and even neighborhoods. It has also assembled a high-powered political advisory board that includes former Senator Bill Bradley and political strategists Mike Murphy, Dan Schnur and Bob Shrum.

Spot Runner so far has focused mostly on making it easy for local businesses and national franchises to buy TV ads on both cable and network TV. To keep costs down, the company shoots different ads which can be modified by each customer, and lets them target the ads by neighborhood. The ad selection and media planning is all self-serve and automated over the Internet. Now the company wants to help level the playing field in political campaigns, especially local ones that may not have as much money for TV ads. CEO Nick Grouf tells me:

One reason we started Spot Runner was during the 2004 campaign we found out you can do better targeting using TV than the Internet. The two big barriers were the cost of creating an ad, and challenges around the fundamental media buying and planning that need to occur.

He believes Spot Runner has begun to solve those challenges. To start with, Spot Runner has created 22 generic ad templates that can be further modified, which cover issues ranging from taxes and education to immigration and leadership. Campaigns add video images of the candidate and tweak the script any way they like. Spot Runner will record the voiceovers. And if new footage needs to be shot of the candidate on the campaign trail or working hard in Congress, Spot Runner can supply the camera crew (in January it purchased GlobeShooters, a network of about 1,500 video professionals).

Did I Say “Head Archivist”? I Meant “File Clerk” . . .

After successfully keeping the story alive for like two weeks now, she finally admits that perhaps some words were “misspoken”:

As part of her argument that she has the best experience and instincts to deal with a sudden crisis as president, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton recently offered a vivid description of having to run across a tarmac to avoid sniper fire after landing in Bosnia as first lady in 1996.

Yet on Monday, Mrs. Clinton admitted that she “misspoke” about the episode — a concession that came after CBS News showed footage of her walking calmly across the tarmac with her daughter, Chelsea, and being greeted by dignitaries and a child.

The backpedaling was a rare instance of Mrs. Clinton’s acknowledging an error, and she did so on a sensitive issue: She has cited her “strength and experience” since the start of the presidential race, framing her 80 trips abroad as first lady as preparation for dealing with foreign affairs as president. That argument was behind her campaign’s “red phone” commercial, which cast her as best able to handle a crisis.

Electric Cars

I found myself watching Who Killed the Electric Car? last night, and it’s quite an interesting little movie.

One thing that’s hinted at in the film, but not really fleshed out, is the idea that electric cars are a really, really disruptive technology. Like any disruptive technology, they create a whole new class of winners and losers. And, just like health care reform, land use reform, or just about any large-scale government intervention, the existing winners will fight like hell to preserve the status quo (Iraq, anyone?).

Moving to electric cars would have several ramifications. Most obviously, electric utilities would replace oil companies as our primary transportation energy provider. Electric utilities tend to be heavily-regulated quasi-public entities, much more so than oil companies. On the minus side, electricity in the U.S. tends to come from coal. On the plus side, though, upgrading a single power plant to cleaner technology — hydro, nuclear, wind, etc. — will instantly make the whole transportation grid more carbon-friendly (instead of, say, increasing CAFE standards and waiting 10 years for people to buy new cars).

Also, the film makes the point that electric cars are simpler and much easier to maintain. This is great for consumers, but terrible for auto dealers, who make much more money from their service departments than they do from their sales floors. Add in the cost of re-training and re-certifying service techs, and you can see why auto dealers would prefer the status quo.

Finally, the auto companies, understandably, hated the idea that the government would pick be picking the winning technology, as the state of California seemed to be doing with the electrics, so they fought it like hell. Governments should never be in the business of picking technological winners and losers. Instead it should create the rules of the market (i.e. “vehicles must emit fewer than X particulates of CO2”) and let the technology follow from that.

The subject of the film, the GM EV1, was introduced in the late 90s when gas was still $1.40 or so per gallon and rechargable batteries were of the lead-acid variety that long-time laptop owners will remember as providing a stunning 30 minutes of battery life. With gas hitting $4/gallon, and Litium-ion batteries — such as thosed used in the Prius* — providing the power, it might be time to look at EVs again.

So how would you do it in a way that prevents the oil companies and car companies from killing it? Well, I think the EV1 provides some interesting lessons. First, as I said above, government has to set up the market correctly, which means pricing gasoline appropriately, facilitating charging stations, and generally not doing things that get in the way. Next, customers need to be educated about the idea that they could have different cars for different purposes. The EV1 is not a good car for the family vacation, but it’s fine for commuting, getting groceries, etc.

GM is prepping a new electric car, the Chevy Volt, for a possible 2010 launch. Right now it’s vaporware, but assuming they get it right, it could be a game-changer. CEO Rick Waggoner said that killing the EV1 was the biggest mistake he made, which is reassuring.

Critically speaking, the film is not a great documentary. There are gaping holes in the logic (such as the use of street interviews and anecdotes to “prove” that there was massive demand for the EV1), and the tone is uneven. But it’s an interesting story, one worth hearing.

* Update 3/25/08: The Prius uses NiMH batteries, but Toyota is experimenting with Li-Ion batteries for use down the road.

Photo by Flickr user Corvair Owner, used under a Creative Commons license.

You’re Welcome

Would Barney Frank ever have been able to talk about regulating the banking sector had it not been for Bush’s Bear Stearns bailout? That’s why Bush may be the most progressive-liberal president since, uh, Jimmy Carter. (Sorry, Bill!)

Unconvinced? What about John McCain running around Europe pandering about Kyoto and torture and “reestablishing diplomacy”?

Karl Rove is smarter than you think!

The Shadow Banking System

Krugman explains:

America came out of the Great Depression with a pretty effective financial safety net, based on a fundamental quid pro quo: the government stood ready to rescue banks if they got in trouble, but only on the condition that those banks accept regulation of the risks they were allowed to take.

Over time, however, many of the roles traditionally filled by regulated banks were taken over by unregulated institutions — the “shadow banking system,” which relied on complex financial arrangements to bypass those safety regulations.

Now, the shadow banking system is facing the 21st-century equivalent of the wave of bank runs that swept America in the early 1930s. And the government is rushing in to help, with hundreds of billions from the Federal Reserve, and hundreds of billions more from government-sponsored institutions like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks.