We already knew that the hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) used to replace ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are proving to be a super greenhouse gas—4,500 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Nevertheless, we're still using them in everything from spray cans to refrigerators to air-conditioners.

Now a new paper in Journal of Physical Chemistry finds that HCFCs may also be increasing acid rain. Computer models show HCFCs break down in the upper atmosphere to form oxalic acid, one culprit in acid rain.

The researchers suggest the new computer model could help determine whether replacements for the replacements are as environmentally friendly as they appear before manufacturers spend billions of dollars marketing them.

The paper's open access online.
 

President Barack Obama kicked off the final push on health care with a speech at the White House Wednesday. Basically, the plan now is for the House to pass the Senate health care bill, and then for the Senate to pass a package of changes to the bill through the filibuster-proof process known as "reconciliation."

As you know if you've been following this, the big question is whether the Senate bill has the votes to pass the House.

The House passed its health care bill by the narrow margin of 220-215 in November. Since then, three members—two Dems and one Republican—have left the House, and one Democrat, Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, passed away. Theoretically, that brings the vote to 217-214. But Rep. Anh Cao (R-La.), the only Republican to vote for the original bill, has said he won't vote with the Dems again. That makes it 216-215.  As I have previously reported, it seems clear that Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), the author of the House health care bill's tough anti-abortion language, will oppose the Senate bill because he believes its abortion restrictions are not stringent enough. Stupak claims to have other Dems that previously voted yes on health care reform ready to switch, but House Dem staffers and Speaker Nancy Pelosi have expressed doubts about how many of those people might actually break ranks.

So, until this afternoon, absent any vote switchers other than Stupak, the vote in the House stood 216-215 against the bill.

Then came the news that Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) plans to resign in the wake of allegations that he sexually harrassed a staffer. Despite his avowed liberalism, however, Massa voted against the health care bill the first time around. That makes the vote count 215-215. So while the Massa sex scandal is terrible news for the Democrats narrative-wise, it's actually good news for the health care vote count. It takes away a no vote.

But even Massa's resignation won't be enough to pass the bill. Pelosi will still have to find at least one Democrat who voted against the bill the first time around to switch his or her vote. She'll also have to prevent any Democrats from switching their "yes" votes to "nos"—or find no-to-yeses to offset them. (Rep. Michael Arcuri, a Democrat from New York, told the Utica Observer-Dispatch on Wednesday that, absent "dramatic changes" to the bill, he will switch his "yes" to a "no.")

So where can Pelosi find more potential "yes" votes? On Monday, the Associated Press ran a story listing 10 Democrats who said they were undecided about possibly switching to "yes" votes. And as Jonathan Chait noted at the time, not all Dem "no" votes responded to the AP's query, meaning "the universe of potential N to Ys is larger than 10—the 10 who said they could potentially switch, plus another several who won't say."

The AP story is a useful piece of reporting, but for my money, the best full rundown of all the potential vote switchers is at Daniel Nichanian's Campaign Diaries blog. Check it out.

Season Six, Episode 6: "Sundown" (March 2)

Creepy. That's probably be the best word to describe last night's bloody, game changing episode, which forever changed the way we'll listen to a popular children's song. What bargain did Flocke (faux Locke) make with Sayid? Is Dogen really gone forever? And for the love of god, will Sun and Jin ever reunite?

To help four MoJo staffers dissect it all, we invited Mac Slocum from the popular Filmfodder blog to join in. Thanks, Mac! Read the chat below, and tune in for more guest bloggers in the coming weeks.

Jen Phillips, Assistant Editor: Hey everyone.
Laurin Asdal, Director of Development: Howdy.
Nikki Gloudeman, New Media Fellow: Mac, thanks so much for joining us!
Mac Slocum, Lost blogger: You bet! Thanks for having me.
Nikki: So last night's episode...wow, yeah? I'd say creepiest in the history of the show.
Mac: Uh, yeah. It got dark in those closing moments.
Samantha Schaberg, Administrative Assistant: I loved the music.
Nikki: Freakiest version of that children's song. Gave me chills. Also: No more temple, hooray!
Mac: Yeah, thank God for that. The Epcot Temple needed to go.
Nikki: Yes it was pretty lame. Now it's fight time in the jungle. Much more interesting.
Laurin: Bring it back to the beginning.
Ben Buchwalter, Editorial Fellow: It's gonna. be. crazy.

On Wednesday afternoon, President Barack Obama gave a fiery speech to kick off what he no doubt hopes is the endgame for health care reform—or, as the White House has been calling it, health insurance reform. It was a rather belated recognition that the only way he's going to get anything passed is by rolling the Republicans. Putting aside the issue of partisanship, last week's health care summit demonstrated that there is a huge policy and ideological divide between the Ds and Rs over what to do about the nation's troubled health care system. This gap cannot be bridged by the usual cut-the-difference legislative compromises. It is more of an either/or situation. Obama and the Dems want to remake the private insurance system (still keeping it private), and the Republicans do not. So if the president and the Democrats are serious about what they say, they have no choice but to embrace a DIY approach to the legislation. That is, reconciliation—with no apologies.

Obama did look a bit fed-up. But he has no one to blame but himself. (I'm giving Rahm Emanuel a pass.) Obama has reached a conclusion a year into his presidency that seemed rather obvious to others last spring. Think of all the time the White House wasted negotiating with Republicans, both before and after Sen. Max Baucus, the uninspiring chair of the finance committee, led a painfully slow mark-up of a bill that concluded with not one GOP vote.

"Let's get it done," an impatient-sounding Obama said at the end of his remarks. But though the bills on the Hill are in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who are counting votes and figuring out how to finesse the reconciliation process, it really is up to Obama to lead the way. He will have to lean on reluctant Democrats—on the right and the left—and serve as The Enforcer for any arrangement reached between Pelosi and Reid on how to proceed. That accord might compel House Democrats to vote for the Senate bill before it is tweaked to their liking via reconciliation, meaning the House Ds will be worrying that that their Senate comrades might pull the rug out from under them by failing to pass those tweaks afterward. Obama will have to be the guarantor.

For months, the president allowed the messy legislative process to dribble along on its own. He refused to take sides on various issues. He declined to state his preferences for assorted provisions. He deferred to the legislators. Now he has to take charge. He is the one he has been waiting for.

It feels as if Sarah Palin's been attacking Fox's "Family Guy" longer than she was governor of Alaska. Last night, a desperate-for-ratings Jay Leno gave her another forum to vent about a single line in a February episode of the comedy show. (One of the characters, a learning disabled woman, refers to her mother as "the former governor of Alaska." Palin took that as a dig against her son, Trig, who has Down Syndrome, and happily played the victim via a note on her Facebook account.)

Given the golden opportunity, Palin flat-out lied to Leno:

"...I commented and then that gets out there in the blogosphere, it gets out there in the different forms of the mediums that we have today. And then it's left there, not an opportunity for me to follow up and kind of elaborate on what I really meant and what I really thought of the thing."

Before Mr. Leno went to a commercial break, Ms. Palin said that a fuller opportunity to discuss the incident would have led to a "much healthier dialogue." After the commercial, she did not expand on her remarks. (H/T to the New York Times via The Daily Dish.)

Funny, since we all seem to remember her 6-minute tirade on Fox's "O'Reilly Factor" last month, when she went on at length about the "Family Guy" fake controversy, then parsed Rahm Emanuel's and Rush Limbaugh's uses of the word "retard." She also took the chance to rail against "the Hollywood Fox," apparently to differentiate it from the more-authentically American Wasilla Fox studio.

It's not often you get to write a column that covers White House pastry desserts and nuclear weapons policy. But I had that opportunity today with my DailyPolitics.com gig. And that column went something like this:

On Monday, as I walked to the White House for the daily press briefing, I bumped into a Canadian journalist who was heading there as well, and we engaged in a common practice: guessing what topic would dominate the questions for press secretary Robert Gibbs. Health care, I said, explaining that this was still the main narrative of Washington's political theater: Would President Obama resolve to use the reconciliation procedure to push his health care overhaul over the finish line? "Not the new Nuclear Posture Review?" she asked, almost incredulously. I chuckled and politely shook my head. "But it's on the front page of The New York Times," she exclaimed.

Indeed it was. That day, Times reporter David Sanger was reporting that Obama was putting the finishing touches on a nuclear weapons policy review that would seek to reduce the U.S. arsenal by thousands of warheads but that would reject a proposal long-advocated by arms controllers -- for the United States to declare it would never be the first to launch nuclear weapons. The article noted that Obama has yet to resolve a crucial matter: Would the United States reserve the right to use nuclear weapons in response to a biological or chemical attack, even if the attacker were a country that didn't possess nuclear weapons? Also under consideration, the Times noted, is withdrawing U.S. tactical nuclear weapons -- essentially, smaller nukes on smaller missiles -- now based in Europe. The big issue, not yet decided, is whether Obama should declare that the "sole purpose" of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is to deter any other nation from firing nuclear weapons at us, or whether he should leave some wiggle room so the U.S. could use its nukes in another extreme situation.

Jim Bunning's ostensible reason for blocking the extension of unemployment benefits was one of fiscal rectitude: he wanted the benefits paid for instead of added to the deficit. For some reason I haven't noticed anyone pointing out how dumb this is, but CBPP does the job today:

The widespread and significant decline in economic activity that defines a recession ended sometime this past summer, and the economy is in the early stages of recovery. That is good news, but it does not mean that the economy no longer needs stimulus. The economy is just beginning to climb out of the longest and most severe recession since the Great Depression. Without additional stimulus, and soon, many economists fear that the pace of recovery will be particularly sluggish — and the economy could even fall back into recession.

....At a time when many people want to work but cannot find jobs and the demand for goods and services falls well short of what businesses are capable of supplying, the key to boosting economic activity and strengthening the fragile recovery is to create additional demand....For Congress to require contemporaneous cuts in federal spending or tax increases so that measures to boost the economy do not increase short-term deficits would be unwise and counter-productive — it would reduce the overall demand for goods and services and thereby partially or fully cancel out the economic boost that the recovery measures were designed to provide.

This is a little bloodless, as befits a policy shop full of economist wonks. So let's translate into bloggish: Bunning is a moron. The goal of stimulus spending is to increase the federal deficit. Paying for it misses the whole point. It's like putting high-test fuel in your car and then tying a lead weight to your bumper so you can't accelerate too fast.1

This is especially noteworthy in light of a recent research note from Joshua Aizenman and Gurnain Kaur Pasricha suggesting that "the aggregate fiscal expenditure stimulus in the United States, properly adjusted for the declining fiscal expenditure of the fifty states, was close to zero in 2009." That is, federal spending went up but state and local spending went down, for a net stimulus of zero. (Via Tyler Cowen.)

To sumarize, then: not only is Jim Bunning a cranky old man who held the entire Senate hostage just because he could, he's a cranky old man whose grasp of economics is nonexistent. And even at that, there were at least half a dozen Republicans who actively supported his cranky tirade and virtually none who did anything to actively fight it. Quite a party they have there.

1As CBPP points out, we should be doing something credible to rein in our long-term deficits. But that has very little to do with running short-term deficits to fund emergency stimulus during a recession.

Blanche Lincoln is one of three Senate Democrats so far to officially back a GOP effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. And now she's taking the heat for it: Environmental groups are gearing up in force to oppose the Arkansas senator's campaign for reelection in November. 

The Sierra Club blasts Lincoln in new ads released in Arkansas Tuesday for "backing this Big Oil bailout"—referring to the anti-EPA measure. This is the second round of radio ads Sierra Club has launched against Lincoln, who has become a stalking horse for green groups to discourage other moderate Democrats from following her lead.

The ads come as Lincoln’s latest primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, has received an outpouring of support from the liberal netroots. Since he announced his candidacy on Monday, he has pulled in $1 million through MoveOn.org, Progressive Campaign Change Committee, Democracy for America, and DailyKos. The AFL-CIO has also pledged $3 million to his challenge. While green groups aren't yet out campaigning for Halter, they’re expressing tentative support for him—and outright disdain for Lincoln.

"I think she’s getting what she deserves on this," Tony Massaro, senior vice president for political affairs and public education at the League of Conservation Voters told Mother Jones. The group launched the first environmental attack on Lincoln in January, putting her atop their annual "Dirty Dozen" list of lawmakers who are sympathetic to polluters. "So far we like what we see from Bill Halter," said Massaro, although he stopped short of endorsing him, noting that the group didn't yet have enough information about his positions on environmental issues. The League of Conservation Voters expects to decide whether to endorse him by the end of the month. "That said," Massaro added, "we clearly don’t want Blanche Lincoln back."

Hooray for us! Starting this year the American Society of Magazine Editors has decided to start handing out awards for online media, and Mother Jones has been nominated in two categories: news reporting (along with BusinessWeek, Slate, Time, and the Virginia Quarterly Review) and blogging (along with the Atlantic, the Economist, Foreign Policy, and the New Yorker). Wish us luck. Full list of nominees here.

Email from a friend involved in the legal end of the commercial real estate market:

We just had yet another lender pull the plug on a commercial real estate deal that was set to go.  The stated reason was minor and technical.  The real reason we're guessing is that it has too many underwater loans on its books and simply doesn't have the resources.

So what is happening now?  Remember the doom and gloom scenario of mass foreclosures by banks to get the bad commercial real estate loans off their books?  Well, if my purely anecdotal experience with the first few months of 2010 are any indication, that scenario will not be happening any time soon — which is a bad thing.  It will not be a dramatic cascade but a slow tentative process with limited positive impact on the economy.

Instead, it appears that banks are continuing to grant very long deferments rather than take the loans down.  The logic here is bizarre, but understandable I guess.  They are punting on the issue until the economy improves, which they are betting is next year or so.  But if they don't get the bad loans off their books, they can't free up their resources to provide the necessary new financing to recharge the economy.  Then next year they'll punt again.  And the vicious circle continues. I'm not sure what the government can do here, but I sure hope there is some creative thinking going on in D.C.

It's just a single data point, but I'll bet there's a lot of similar stories out there. We may have saved the banking system last year, but it's still in pretty fragile shape.