The months-long drama surrounding former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has moved into its final act. While the nation ponders the State of the Union address delivered by one Chicago politician who rose to become the 44th president, another of the city's former rising political stars is facing potential prison time. The contrast is stark, compelling -- and tragic.

This morning, Jackson entered his plea. "Guilty your honor -- I misled the American people," he said. "For years I lived off my campaign. I used money I shouldn't have used for personal purposes." News reports estimate that hundreds of thousands of dollars were misappropriated that will have to be paid back. Most catastrophic is the possibility that he could receive as much as five years in prison.

A once-promising career has come to a bitter end. Congress has lost the voice of one of its most progressive members. So has the nation.

The oldest son of civil rights icon and ex-presidential aspirant the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the younger Jackson in many ways represented the next generation of black leaders who not only embraced a civil rights agenda but many other issues and concerns.

During his 17-year tenure in the House of Representatives, Jackson fought the Bush tax cuts, spoke out against the war in Iraq, and argued for expanding voting rights and access to the ballot. Considered by some as brash, he did not hesitate to go against the majority of the Congressional Black Caucus when he felt an important principle was involved, such as the time he opposed the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Though it was supported overwhelmingly by other black members and then-President Clinton, Jackson saw it as harmful for Africa's development.

His last campaign as a member of Congress was to push for an increase in the minimum wage that would raise it to $10 per hour. There are few current members in Congress who staked their political life on fighting for the poor and working class. Jesse Jackson Jr. was chief among them.

But even as he was fighting for the poor and the disadvantaged, he was engaging in behavior that began to erode his stature.

An extramarital affair went public, and he became associated with the scandal involving then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's effort to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat when he became president. The ensuing investigations related to campaign funds forced Jackson to resign his seat on Thanksgiving Eve last year. Soon after, his wife, Chicago Alderwoman Sandi Jackson, was obligated to give up her seat as well.

As all of these incidents unfolded, Jackson apparently had a severe mental breakdown caused by his bipolar illness that required extensive hospitalization and aftercare.

It will be difficult for Jackson to recover from the medical, financial, legal and political challenges before him. His mistakes were grave, and his fall from grace is yet another cautionary tale for those who desire power and influence.

But unlike many dishonored politicians, Jackson at least can comfort himself with having done some real good while in office for people who are often neglected or forgotten.

Clarence Lusane is program director and associate professor of the Comparative and Regional Studies Program in the School of International Service at American University. He can be reached at

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The new head of the Environmental Protection has a history of suing the agency for trying to do its job.

The reach of this story extends from the lowliest working stiff to the highest court in the land.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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