Dawn of a New Day

For Friday, January 17th, 2003

Dear Friend and Client:

Announcing the inauguration of Rod Blagojevich, the new governor of Illinois, the official state web page said this week, “We turned the page in Illinois, rising to the dawn of a new day.”

It would seem, however, that the eastern sky and the state’s troubled conscience had grown lighter 48 hours earlier, when then-Gov. George Ryan cleared out death row, saving the lives of 167 inmates who had come through the deeply-flawed Illinois capital punishment system. All but a few of these prisoners had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole; some objected. Illinois is a state where the governor has sweeping powers of clemency, and his decision is not subject to appeal or judicial review.

George Homer Ryan, Sr. was the 39th Governor of the U.S. state of Illinois from 1999 until 2003.

George Homer Ryan, Sr. was the 39th Governor of the U.S. state of Illinois from 1999 until 2003.

The new governor opposed the move, but is powerless to stop it.

Earlier that week, Ryan pardoned four additional death row inmates whose false confessions had been viciously tortured out of them by police. These four men, all African-Americans, sat in the audience at Northwestern University Law School in their first hours of freedom, as Ryan informed the world of his decision Saturday afternoon. As he spoke, a Mercury-Sun conjunction was exact, within arcminutes, in Capricorn.

It is difficult for me to describe the love and admiration I feel for George Ryan, and the privilege I feel for having lived to see this day come. This is not the end of the death penalty issue. In context, it will likely be viewed as the beginning of the end, the definitive point beyond which the moral issues of executions could not be easily ignored. The documented problems in Illinois, which reach into each of the 38 states which kill prisoners, could easily become the basis for a widespread demand for a national moratorium on state homicide.

By any measure, it is a rare and stunning victory for social justice.

And it is an example of how a movement that included the political, legal, academic and journalistic communities could shape both public opinion and public policy.

The four death-row inmates Ryan pardoned, Aaron Patterson, Madison Hobley, Stanley Howard and Leroy Orange, brought to 17 the total number of men who walked off of Illinois death row completely exonerated of crimes for which they had been convicted and sentenced to die, and whose trials withstood repeated appeals. The first 13 were cleared by DNA evidence, donated legal services or the efforts of a diligent undergraduate journalism class whose homework projects freed Anthony Porter, a developmentally-disabled inmate who at one point came within 48 hours of execution. Students also obtained a confession from the real killer, whom they had identified and located.

“Seventeen exonerated death row inmates is nothing short of catastrophic failure,” Ryan said Saturday, adding that, in addition, 33 other people in the state had been convicted of murder charges and then exonerated. And he said there were 93 other Illinois cases since 1977 “where our criminal justice system imposed the most severe sanction and later rescinded the sentence, or even released them from custody because they were innocent.”

[The full text of Ryan’s historic comments are located here: http://www.sfgate.com/ryan — unquestionably worth the 30 minutes they take to read.]

Death Row, San Quentin Prison.

Death Row, San Quentin Prison.

Capital punishment was held as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court between 1972 and 1976, and Illinois has executed 12 prisoners since reinstating the death penalty in 1977. When, thanks to the efforts of undergraduate students at the Medill School of Journalism, the number of freed exceeded the number of executed, Ryan said the odds of an innocent person being executed were worse than a coin’s toss. He shut down the lethal injection chamber, and ordered a three-year study of the problem.

The investigative reporting class, taught by Prof. David Protess, would each semester take on one iffy-looking death row case and dismantle it with old-fashioned, on-the-street reporting. Efforts by earlier students in this class also freed the Ford Heights Four, two of whom had been convicted of capital murder and were awaiting execution. It turned out that all four had actually been arrested at random by the police, who, along with prosecutors, were later changed in the scandal but not convicted.

The Chicago Tribune also played a major role in shaping public opinion. In a series beginning Nov. 14, 1999 by Ken Armstrong and Steve Mills, Tribune readers had the scenario laid out in rather clear language: “Capital punishment in Illinois is a system so riddled with faulty evidence, unscrupulous trial tactics and legal incompetence that justice has been forsaken, a Tribune investigation has found.” This series led to numerous other daily newspapers around the country investigating the truth of the death penalty within their own states, essentially creating a new genre of investigative reporting.

Gov. Ryan, a pharmacist with 35 years of experience as an elected official, said he personally reviewed each of the 167 cases in which he granted executive clemency, met with families of both victims and perpetrators, and deprived staff members of sleep many nights researching the issues. As a state legislator, Ryan had voted for the reimposition of the death penalty under which the prisoners were convicted. His independent three-year study said that the situation was far worse than had been suspected, with documented racial bias and severe problems with juries, lawyers and judges misunderstanding the rules for sentencing a person to death.

He went on for an hour describing numerous documented problems with both the capital punishment system and with the justice system at large, touching on everything from horrid conditions in prisons, to the poor treatment of victim’s families, one of whom could not afford proper grave markers for its murdered children. The state did not provide them, and he questioned why funds were so generously forthcoming to kill convicts but not take care of survivors.

He railed on legislators and the courts for failing to take action on copiously documented problems, adding, “The legislature couldn’t reform it. Lawmakers won’t repeal it. But I will not stand for it. I must act.”

“I never intended to be an activist on this issue,” Ryan, a Republican who took office four years ago, said. “I watched in surprise as freed death row inmate Anthony Porter ran into the arms of Northwestern University Prof. Dave Protess, who poured his heart and soul into proving Porter’s innocence with his journalism students.”

[More of that story is told at http://www.PlanetWaves.net/mumia2.html.]

Ryan’s actions are not historically unprecedented; on at least three other occasions as recently as 1986, governors have cleared out death row. But the number of inmates he spared Saturday is many times the previous total, coming at a moment when the death penalty is under siege. Two recent Supreme Court decisions have curtailed the power of the lower courts to impose a penalty of death, a lower court judge has held the federal death penalty unconstitutional, and a federal court recently ruled that Mumia Abu-Jamal, perhaps the best known death row inmate, could not be executed. A worldwide coalition has long demanded that the courts review significant evidence that Jamal, accused of killing a Philadelphia cop 20 years ago, is innocent.

Ryan was in part able to act because a campaign funding scandal, in which public funds were allegedly diverted to political candidates when he was secretary of state several years ago, ended his political career, forcing him not to seek re-election. But it stands as evidence of how, in politics, one can’t really do something daring or meaningful unless there is nothing to lose.

Ryan is a Pisces with the Moon in Cancer, born in Maquoketa, Iowa on Feb. 24, 1934 (data: Illinois state homepage, place of birth via in-house research, no time available). According to The Secret Language of Birthdays, he is born The Day of Sacrifice, a day whose natives typically give themselves over to larger causes than their own, sometimes amidst great inner conflict. He has Mars, Mercury and Pallas Athene in Pisces as well, and Neptune opposing his Sun. Athene, in particular, is a planet associated with politics and strategy, and is prominently placed in the main energy center of his chart. Looked at one way, it is a defining energy in his chart.

The powerful influence of Pisces in his natal horoscope is expressed by his over-riding compassion and the ability to act in accord with cosmic law regardless of what opinions may be running loose on the planet. He acknowledged that his action “will draw ridicule, scorn and anger from many who oppose this decision,” but said he would sleep with a clear conscience. He also faced the anger and disapproval of his wife, who opposed to clemency for one prisoner who had killed a close family friend.

Ryan was inaugurated in 1999, the year of the grand cross and Leo total solar eclipse, which impacted his chart about as directly as is possible. The eclipse occurred exactly on his natal south node with many planets in aspect to it, activating what can appear in life as destiny, the release from a burden, or the fulfillment of a long-held mission potentially relating to a prior incarnation. In recent years, he has also been experiencing transiting squares by Pluto to many of his natal planets in Virgo and Pisces, initiating what could reasonably be called a series of total transformations.

He was also inaugurated the year of the Chiron-Pluto conjunction in Sagittarius, which is prominent in the inaugural chart. Under this astrology, world witnessed the first of the anti-globalization protests in Seattle.

“In the days ahead,” Ryan said in his last public appearance as governor, speaking to many of the lawyers, students and activists who had worked tirelessly on the issue for years, “I will pray that we can open our hearts and provide something for victims’ families other than the hope of revenge.” ++


More on the work of journalists in ending the Illinois death penalty is at this article, written for Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting’s journal Extra!: http://www.ericfrancis.com/articles/death_penalty.html


Late Capricorn Birthdays

The energy of release is all over your solar return chart, and it’s deep and good stuff. Release can have a destabilizing quality to it, a touch of going mad, the lure of freedom, and the hot necessity to crack or wiggle out of the bonds that have been holding you into yourself. There is a lot of pleasure to this, and some pain; both are important. And there is a history here; there is something old that’s finally resolving, but your exploration of your past feelings is not quite over. In a sense, you don’t have to think of them as the past, as something you need to move beyond. You can treat anything you feel now as present experience, whether it seems to be old or new. In a sense, everything is new. On another theme, the powerful emphasis on Sagittarius in your anniversary chart (Mars, one of your ruling planets, has just entered Sagittarius, and Venus is doing her thing there as well) offers a stark contrast to the usual ways of Capricorn. The relationship is akin to the concepts boundless/boundaries. You are, to be sure, becoming more boundless, and the strictures of the past are finally losing their grip. You may not realize it, but one energy is driving this whole process forward, and that, simply, is awareness.

Aries (March 20-April 19)

There is, of course, a difference between “being spiritual” and allowing spirit to do the work. One is predominantly a mental process. The other, multidimensional and in fact fully tangible. The rare strength you feel right now is the strength of spirit, nothing more or less beautiful than that. In the world of darkness, mystery and deception, accurate information is one of the most nourishing aspects of healing. Though you may be experiencing rank confusion in some parts of your existence, look for a ray of undeniable personal truth shining through your personal cosmos in the coming hours and days. The particular questions you seem to face, despite their dramatic or high-suspense appearances, are fairly petty. What rises to answer them will emerge from true grandeur.

Taurus (April 19-May 20)

I can see that you’re becoming a lot more daring about what you will allow yourself to believe, or realizing that you can certainly get there if you need to. The whole notion of appropriateness is one of the most crucial bonds from which you now have the strength to break free. Few people recognize the strangulating power of this notion, or how much life is sucked from us in the process of attempting to make sure nothing we do is offensive in any way to anyone. Your inner bursts of freedom may feel ecstatic like flight, they may feel like throwing a television through a bank window, or they may feel like you’re reaching a previously restricted depth of feeling within which you are utterly free to exist. They are all new elements; move with awareness.

Gemini (May 20-June 21)

Now a real exchange can happen. You want it, you need it, and most of all, your fear is dwarfed by your desire to feel. It’s a beautiful thing when fear is put in its place, or reduced down to scale. Exchange has been limited throughout your life by a hidden belief that a formal quality is what makes any sharing of energy real, that tradition must somehow be invoked or followed, or that outside parties must somehow sanction the process. Well, all that is getting the first-class run for its money right now, and it’s huffing. There are, in actual fact, times when something that did not exist before commences to exist. There are in reality moments when events happen in this world for the first time. Welcome to one.

Cancer (June 21-July 22)

You are broad-minded and aware enough to allow any experience of another person into your heart and mind, which is a good thing, because you’re being offered a diversity of extraordinary human experiences right now. It would be an excellent idea to stand back from what you think is happening and allow people their journey without much analysis. What each of them is going through is unique in all the world and really quite beyond anyone’s scant ability to size up in convenient terms. Truer still, it would help immensely if you recognized the power of mystery and the wisdom of the unknown that they feel about their own experiences. Bear witness. Be compassion. The gift is mutual.

Leo (July 22-Aug 23)

You may think you’re finally feeling some of your old fire, and it’s likely that you’re feeling just that, some of it. The rest of what you’ve got access to is decidedly new. Or shall I say it’s decidedly now. This is the time to practice ritual de lo habitual, the worship of the most mundane details of everyday life. You may already be getting this message, and be assured that I’m not suggesting you do this in order to bore you. Not at all. I would never, ever want to bore you. It’s just that there are vivid messages of freedom waiting in small, odd places of consciousness, and as it turns out, a massage therapist’s table may be one of them. Anything involving the formal practice of alternative healing will do you wonders. Your office is a space portal. Other strange things are true.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22)

You would feel a whole lot better if you allowed yourself to come undone. That’s what you want, right? There is no point at all in holding on to all you’re holding onto. Life has been handing you clues for some time on the theme of compassion, in particular how you handle the apparent transgressions of the people to whom you are the closest. Now, a situation has presented itself in which you are being given an opportunity to try on your new values. You are not doing this for the benefit of other people. This is purely a gift to yourself, because the process of holding on, to whatever you happen to be clinging, is consuming too much of your energy and potential happiness. This may seem like an awfully big dare, with great risks. But there are risks either way.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23)

You may finally wake up from the dream that you must play cup-bearer to the gods around you, or from the dream that says you don’t like it. In any case, your sense of desire begins to rule your emotional world; you are entitled, though the concept ‘entitlement’ is not usually the best way to make friends with a Libran. Anyway, the question vibrating through the chart has to do with your sense of service, or servitude, and how you express it in the world. Even if you have to serve others by some karmic mandate, you do get the choice of how you go about it. And you get the freedom to respond to how others perceive you in your service role. You don’t have to put up with people who take advantage unfairly, or take you for granted. More freedom resides in this recognition than you may think, freedom within yourself.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22)

I can see you writing in your notebook, or on a napkin, “Okay, this time I’m actually going nuts.” Well, okay, I hear you, but it’s not quite for sure. What’s happening is that a lot of internal energy is getting liberated (Mars in Sagittarius) at the same time a marvelously complicated situation is unfolding in your mental world. Conditions are such that the increased energy is amplifying your perception of what is happening, though the situation does warrant a close look. It is dangerous to be too invested in your own personal value system; that’s one message of this crisis. There are a lot of ways to accomplish the same goal, or meet the same need. One message of your current chart is to strive for diversity in your thinking, including what you learn from other countries.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 22)

Mars bursting into your sign has the attention of the astrological world right now. The transit of Mars from a 12th house reality (in your case, Scorpio) to a 1st house reality (your Sun sign, Sagittarius) has an effect of shifting the experience of fear from unconscious to conscious. At that, it can just vanish without a trace, replaced by a heart-felt sense of confidence and the awareness of your deepest commitments. Both Venus and Mars are in your sign, and they are all charged up with the deep, evolutionary energy of the Scorpio zone. If that’s not erotic, I don’t know what is. And you get to do something about it if you wish. Just as a reminder: not all sex causes pregnancy or disease. There are about a thousand ways to have a lot of healthy fun, lots of them without a partner. Lots of them with.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20)

You may be feeling a mad flight impulse or urge to escape, or a craving for peak experiences, or a desire to plunge into your inner depths like never before. Without a few moments of reflection, the distinctions may not be obvious, and hence, the choices may not seem available. And choice is very important to you right now, both the prospect and the act of deciding. You are, at the moment, standing in your own portal to life, which is a space where many good things have happened, and many horrendous ones. All your experiences of this world are inscribed on the walls of this temple, and it feels like you’ve been here so many times before that it’s not worth noticing. But if you’ll notice, you will see that despite the illusion of familiarity, you’ve never passed this way before.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19)

Coming aspects during the next two weeks are among the most unusual I’ve ever seen, particularly regarding your sign. One of my astrological research projects of recent months has been the issue of family and cultural lies, that is, systems of deception that take up residence in a family or social system. If you have not noticed this phenomenon, here is an example. In many Latin cultures, a homosexual man is not considered gay unless he plays the role of “the woman” in the relationship. To us this is ridiculous; within its culture, it’s transparent. Every culture, and family, has these kinds of self-deceptions, certain topics that “don’t exist,” certain facts that are never acknowledged, and ideas that are beyond the realm of consciousness. Find them. They will make you strong.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20)

Almost all the hottest astrological activity reaches across the public angles of your chart, those which deal with your professional life, your circle of friends, the groups and organizations you belong to, and most importantly, what you want out of life. Pisces is often given to intense self-doubt, but you have no actual reasons for misgivings about what you are striving for in the world. By all measures, this is a brilliant time of getting clear about new ways to express your deepest creative movements, but also of discovering portals to other universes of expression. Your powerful inner sense of calling by default puts you in a position of outer leadership. You may need to be a bit subtle about it, but the guidance you are being called upon to offer is moral in nature. Occasionally, right and wrong exist.

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