Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a big day ahead tomorrow when the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Citizens United v. FEC, a case that could result in the death of corporate spending restrictions in federal elections. McConnell, the nation's number one Republican, has been seldom seen during the August health care reform debate (see our new story here), but he's been a relentless foe of campaign finance reform over the years. Represented by the famous First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, McConnell has filed a brief in the case supporting Citizens United, and tomorrow the court will likely discuss a precedent that carries McConnell's name.

In one of his many attempts to derail the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, McConnell sued the FEC in 2002 arguing that the act was a violation of his First Amendment right to take gobs of corporate money to get elected. McConnell, a prolific Republican fundraiser, lost that case by a narrow margin, but the composition of the court has changed significantly since then, giving him much better odds in his current crusade. While the Republican leader might not lead his party to victory against health care reform, his Supreme Court advocacy may soon usher in a new era of corporate dominance of federal elections—a development that could have significant benefits for his party in the long run.

Sgt. Ryan Pettit, left, and Cpl. Matthew Miller, from 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, fire their service rifles during an operation in Helmand province, Afghanistan, July 3, 2009. The Marines are part of Regimental Combat Team 3, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau).

The president will speak to schoolchildren today; he plans to address a joint session of Congress tomorrow. Which audience will behave more maturely? Today's must-reads aren't sure.

  • Why Health Care Reform Survived August (The New Republic)
  • Max Baucus, Senate Finance Committee May Actually Move Health Care Reform Forward After All (NYT)
  • The Supreme Court Might Let Corporations Pour Unlimited Amounts of Cash Into Politicians' Campaign Coffers (WaPo)
  • Why That Might Be A Bad Idea (NYT)
  • Van Jones and the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory Poison (MoJo)
  • Newt Gingrich Is The GOP's Voice of Reason? (TPM
  • Why Isn't Mitch McConnell Leading the GOP's Fight on Health Care Reform (MoJo)
  • Joe Kennedy, Ted's Nephew, Not Running for Senate (Boston Globe)

I post articles like these throughout the day on twitter. You should follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

For years I have refrained from writing about 9/11 conspiracy theory. But Van Jones' resignation as top green jobs adviser in the Obama administration has compelled me to pick up this battering ram once again. In my column, I've (partly) blamed 9/11 conspiracy theorists for the downfall of Jones. Not that he's not accountable for his own behavior, but the perpetuators of the 9/11 nonsense launched a virus in left circles, and Jones was not savvy enough to keep clear of it. As I huffed: 

As far as I can tell, the only thing the so-called 9/11 Truth movement has accomplished is this: it's caused the Obama administration to lose its most prominent expert on green jobs. So well done, Truthers. Thanks to you, the federal government will now be spending about $80 billion on green economy initiatives without the guiding hand of one of the most knowledgeable experts in this field.

I went on:

I am, of course, referring to Van Jones, who resigned this weekend from his position as adviser to the head of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality. Jones, once a civil rights activist, in recent years has become a leader in the green jobs movement, and as an administration official he was given the task of making sure that billions of stimulus dollars flowing to jobs in enviro-friendly fields (say, wind power) were being deployed in an effective manner. But his (apparently) unpardonable sin was that he had signed a petition—"a "9/11 Truth Statement"—that suggested the Bush-Cheney administration either orchestrated or allowed the 9/11 attack to happen and that called for an investigation. He also had been part of an organizing committee for a 9/11 "truth" march. There were other actions dredged up by Jones' conservative antagonists, including conspiratorial rightwing Fox host Glenn Beck. (Beck was pursuing a vendetta; after Beck recently called Obama a "racist," a group that Jones had founded launched an advertising boycott of Beck's show.) Jones had once referred to Republicans as "assholes." But it was the 9/11 stuff that did him in.

In a way, I tried to prevent this from happening.

Years ago, when the 9/11 conspiracy theories were first emerging on the left, I wrote several pieces decrying them. (See here, here, and here.) My fear was that this unsound idea would infect the left and other quarters--discrediting anyone who got close to it. I even debunked a book promoting an unfounded 9/11 conspiracy theory that was published by Nation Books when I was Washington editor of The Nation magazine. (I tried to persuade the decision-makers of Nation Books that the book ought not even be published—and failed.)

The 9/11 conspiracy theory was just too tempting for many Bush critics. Van Jones says he was not fully aware of what he was signing when he put his John Hancock on that 9/11 petition. This might be true. But I can see how Jones and others on the left—without thinking too much—might have easily said, sure, sign my name to any call for any investigation of Bush and Cheney. And that sloppiness—if that's what it was—has cost him his job.

The 9/11 conspiracy—of which I have not written about in years—was always a load of bunk. You don't have to be an expert on skyscraper engineering or top-secret government communications to know that the two variants of the theory—the Bush White House orchestrated 9/11 so it could subsequently exploit the tragedy or the Bush White House knew the attack was coming and allowed it to occur so it could exploit the tragedy—make no sense.

Let's walk through some of the reasons the 9/11 theory is out of sync with reality.

From here on, I presented a tutorial that should persuade anyone that the 9/11 theory makes no sense. (Click here if you want to see it.) But I have learned from experience that people who believe this stuff are not open to persuasion. (Please do not send me emails, mail me manuscripts,  invite me to debates, or post comments accusing me of being a CIA plant.)

What is sad is that Jones, a pioneer in the green jobs field, has left the administration because he could not steer clear of the 9/11 foolishness. He certainly gave potent ammunition to his enemies—especially rightwing Fox host Glenn Beck, who targeted  Jones after a group Jones had founded launched an advertising boycott of Beck (after Beck had called President Obama a "racist"). But the country would have been better off if the White House had managed to find a way to stick with Jones.

At the end of this sad episode, we're left with a victorious Beck waving a scalp. (One prominent conservative tells me he is deeply upset by this, for the last thing he wants to see is Beck's credibility on the right enhanced.) And the circus will continue, with Beck now calling on his followers to dig up dirt on other Obama administration officials, and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann urging his audience to dig up dirt on Beck and Roger Ailes, the head of Fox. As for the real world, the administration will now pour tens of billions of dollars into green jobs without the benefit of Jones' widely acknowledged expertise. As I put it elsewhere, "Jones is responsible for his own actions, but the 9/11 Truthers are also responsible for concocting and spreading the poison that he drank."

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Quote of the Day

From James Joyner:

When Thomas Friedman loses faith in a war, it’s time to give up.

The subject is Afghanistan, and Friedman doesn't quite say that we should withdraw.  He says, "This is a much bigger undertaking than we originally signed up for."  He says it's become a war between light black and dark black and "light black is simply not good enough to ask Americans to pay for with blood or treasure."  He says, "I feel a vast and rising ambivalence about this in the American public today, and adopting a baby you are ambivalent about is a prescription for disaster."

You'd think anyone who could write all that would take the obvious next step and recommend that we get out.  But no.  The farthest Friedman is willing to go is to suggest that the war in Afghanistan ought to be "debated anew."  Sheesh.

Happy Labor Day! Here are stories from MoJo blogs, and other sites, you may have missed from Friday.

No Money, Mo' Problems: Kevin Drum says healthcare debate is all about the money.

Delayed Justice: Ford finally settles dumping lawsuit from the 1960s for $10 million. [Yahoo News]

Nature's Clock: Inkblot knows when it's dinnertime, and he's happy to remind you.

Rising Sun: Months before Copenhagen, Japan says it will veto limits on GHG emissions. [Planet Ark]

Afghan Antics: The Armor Group guards who participated in highly sexual, and highly unhygienic, hazing in Kabul may be on their way out the door.



Ingrid Michaelson

Much of chanteuse Ingrid Michaelson’s charm lies in her unpretentious approach: Her sparse use of ukulele, piano, and guitar. Her warm voice. Her clean, catchy melodies.

On Everybody, which quickly soared to No. 1 on the iTunes charts, Michaelson evokes this simple style to mostly good effect. Part of the credit goes to the producers (of which she is one), who understand when to punctuate the minimalism with flourish. "The Chain," for instance, is elevated by a vocal round at the climax, while "Man of Snow" benefits from an ethereal string section in the chorus.

Yet at times it is Michaelson's austerity that snags her. This is most apparent in the lyrics, which can tread the line between earnest and treacly. I gotta see if I'm filled up when it's only me/It's not your fault but you just can't be here she croons in "Once Was Love." In "Locked Up," she asks Have I taken a wrong turn? When will I learn? Great lyrics manage to be both personal and profound, and Michaelson seems to struggle sometimes.

"There is a hate layer of opinion and emotion in America. There will be other McCarthys to come who will be hailed as its heroes."

Max Lerner

All Jim knew about her was that she was thirteen years old.

That and the fact that she was Vietnamese (they were in Vietnam, after all).

He hits fast forward…

Jim is back in Vietnam. But he’s no longer a grunt walking point for the Big Red One.

He’s traded in his green jungle fatigues for a light gray two-buttoned suit, white shirt and an earth-toned tie. Jim’s also added a beard to the mustache he wore back then. They’ve both gone gray. He’s a proud "second father" walking Linh down the aisle alongside her Vietnamese father. She’s about to begin a new life, start a new family. She wears pearls in her long hair and has pink eye-shadow with glitter in it. She is beautiful.

It’s been a long, strange trip, says Jim with a laugh as soft as snow falling on a mine field.

When asked, he talks about how he first met his "daughter."

It was fate, he answers without hesitation, but just as quickly makes it clear he is not talking about a Deity.

"God died in Vietnam," he says, "and I can show you the village." It’s a line Jim heard somewhere, but it’s also what he believes.

There’s no way, Jim says, he can ever believe again in a Supreme Being who would, as he points out, "allow all that shit to happen." If there is a God, Jim adds, he doesn’t want to have anything to do with the Bastard.

Maybe it was a spirit that brought them together, he offers, echoing a belief common in Vietnam.

It had to be something pretty special, anyway, because Linh wasn’t even part of the official welcoming party that day.

He hits rewind…

They are at a school in Hanoi. It is a hot day and humid and the children are singing to Jim and a delegation of other returning American veterans. Little girls in clean white shirts present carnations to the men. The flowers are red — the color of good luck throughout Asia.

One small girl stands off to the side, shy and alone. Something about her catches Jim's eye. He smiles at the thin 13-year-old with the round, pretty face. Linh beams a big smile right back at him.

Something happens in his heart. It's all tangled up with pain and emptiness, but also with love and something else. The light of Linh’s smile probes the hole in Jim’s heart and he feels the darkness retreat a bit.

"There was just this… instant…connection between us," he says groping for the right words, but with a smile you can hear over the phone. "I can’t explain it."

Over the years, Jim has kept in contact with Linh and her family. He has made eighteen trips back to Vietnam, and always tries to spend as much time as possible with the family that has become entwined with his own. When Linh graduated from high school and her Vietnamese family didn’t have the money to send her to a university, it felt like the most natural thing in the world for Jim and his wife to pay. They also put Linh’s sister through college. You want the best for your children.

Every time he returns from Vietnam, Jim can tell the wound in his heart has healed more. "It’s closing, little by little," he says.

If things go as they have in the past, that hole should shrink even more this week, when Jim makes his 19th trip back to Vietnam. He has a new role to play on this visit: as the proud grandfather of a baby born to Linh and her husband on August 17th.

A boy: seven pounds, twelve ounces.

"I know this might sound strange to some people," Jim says. "But, what I learned more than anything in Vietnam is how to love people. I learned the value of a human life. How each one makes my life better. How can you not love someone?"

I know he’s talking mostly about his daughter, Linh, and the comfort, joy and healing she has brought. But someone else hovers over the conversation like a spirit. The other 13-year-old girl. The one whose path crossed Jim's more than a dozen years before Linh was born.

Jim doesn’t know anything about her, except that she was 13-years-old and Vietnamese and that he killed her.

He was 19-years-old at the time. The act that ended her life carved a hole in Jim’s own heart, a wound that only began to heal when he traveled back to Vietnam where a different 13-year-old girl smiled at him on a schoolyard in Hanoi and she and her family allowed him to love them.

He hits play…


Osha Gray Davidson is a contributing blogger at Mother Jones and publisher of The Phoenix Sun. This piece appeared first in Brief Back.