Mercury Retrograde: Nebraska Repeals Death Penalty

Dear Friend and Reader:

Back in January 2003, during a Sun-Mercury conjunction, George Ryan, the outgoing governor of Illinois, commuted the death sentences of 167 people, clearing out death row. Illinois had an infamous reputation: by that day, 17 convicted murderers, all of them sentenced to death and having exhausted their appeals, had been exonerated of their crimes.

Nebraska state legislator Ernie Chambers after Wednesday’s vote. Chambers made abolishing the death sentence a central theme of his 40-year political career. But if not for a conservative movement to stop the death penalty, he could not have gotten the measure through.

Ryan, two days before leaving office and at the end of his political career, used his executive authority to commute all death sentences to life imprisonment. Illinois formally repealed its death penalty in 2011.

“Seventeen exonerated death row inmates is nothing short of catastrophic failure,” Ryan said at the time. He added 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were 93 other Illinois cases since 1977 “where our criminal justice system imposed the most severe sanction and later rescinded the sentence, or even released them from custody because they were innocent.” He added, “If I did not take this action, I feared that there would be no comprehensive and thorough inquiry into the guilt of the individuals on death row or of the fairness of the sentences applied,” Ryan said in a famous speech made that Saturday afternoon in January 2003.

It was an astonishing moment. And when Gov. Ryan announced this to the world, in the presence of four people he had pardoned that day because they had been falsely convicted, the Sun and Mercury were conjunct. Mercury was retrograde.

We’re now approaching another such conjunction, which will be exact Saturday. With that light shining on the world, Nebraska’s legislature abolished its death penalty. This happened Wednesday, May 27, when state legislators voted to override the governor’s veto of the same law, previously enacted May 20.

This was the first time in the modern history of the death penalty (that is, since the 1970s) that a conservative state has enacted a repeal. Notably, it was a conservative coalition that got this done. Of the 13 legislators signed on as co-sponsors, nine were Republicans.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, went above and beyond the call of duty to ‘save’ the death penalty. When the legislature repealed capital punishment, he vetoed the law, and his veto was overridden by a largely conservative coalition.

This episode began just a few weeks ago. On April 15, a supposedly obscure little group called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (CCADP) held a low-key press conference announcing they were going to focus on repealing the death penalty in Nebraska.

CCADP is headed by Mark Hayden, who has also worked for the NRA. He has his bona fides. His logic was that modern conservatism is about limiting the power of government, including disallowing its power to kill people. Technically capital punishment is ‘state homicide’. There is no evidence that it actually deters crime.

There already was a death penalty opposition movement in Nebraska before the CCADP arrived. This was led by longterm legislator Ernie Chambers, who made repeal a central issue in his four-decade legislative career.

“I wish that I could say that it was my brilliance that brought us to this point. But that would not be true, and we all know it. Had not the conservative faction decided that it’s time for a change, there’s no way that what is happening today would be taking place,” he said in an interview.

Gov. Pete Ricketts was not so thrilled. “My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families,” he said after the vote. It’s likely that words can’t express his sentiments because they’re insincere.

Capital punishment was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1972, and new guidelines were applied by the court in 1976. That begins what I consider the modern history of the death sentence. Since that time, Nebraska has executed just three prisoners, the most recent one in 1997.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers, early in his career, fighting the death penalty in 1979. The United States is the last civilized country that uses capital punishment, unless you count places like Saudi Arabia. Canada, Europe and nearly all other countries have stopped executing prisoners.

Meanwhile, Nebraska, like many states, has faced a shortage of sodium thiopental, part of the three-drug lethal injection protocol used by most states with capital punishment. The drug’s one American manufacturer, Hospira, Inc., halted production due to concerns about the drug’s use in executions from its customers outside the United States.

Nebraska tried to acquire the drug from a manufacturer in Switzerland, through a third party — a drug supplier in India — under the pretense of its use as an anesthetic in Africa, strictly for medical use. Instead, the drug ended up in the hands of Nebraska’s Department of Corrections.

When the Swiss manufacturer found this out, it demanded the return of the drug because it is “deeply opposed to the use of the medications in executions.”

Naari AG, the Swiss pharmaceutical company, issued a voluntary recall in May 2012, specifically aimed at the drugs in Nebraska’s possession, saying, in part, that the drug had been “illegally diverted from the company’s supply chain” and that they had no control over it.

Also in 2012 a federal court ordered Nebraska to surrender its supply acquired from Naari. This was followed by an order from the FDA. Still, Nebraska refused to release its supply of the drug. Nebraska was proceeding with its appeals when its supply of the drug expired, making it unusable in executions.

According to the clerk in the state’s Bill Room, which tracks these matters, Nebraska’s legislature repealed the death penalty at 3:59 pm local time in Lincoln, the state capital.

Chart for the repeal of the death penalty in Nebraska. This is likely to be the end of the road for an unjust law. The repeal is actually more popular with the public than politicians are claiming. It’s unlikely that a referendum will even come close to reinstating it in Nebraska. Thirty-one other states still have the death sentence, though its use has declined by two-thirds in recent years. And the Supreme Court has gradually been reining in the rights of states to kill prisoners, including those who were under the age of 18 at the time they committed their crimes.

What does this chart say about the future of the death penalty, in Nebraska and elsewhere? Libra is rising, and Venus, associated with Libra, is in the 10th house. This is a bold statement that justice has prevailed.

The 9th house is another place to look — the house of laws and the higher courts. We find retrograde Mercury and Mars in that house, though separating from one another. This implies a trend in the law away from violence.

Finally, the Moon is in the last degree of Virgo, in the 12th house. Between the void-of-course condition and its placement in the 12th house, we are on notice that the death penalty is a moot issue in Nebraska, despite threats to have it reinstated by referendum next year. That takes a lot of energy and I don’t think it’s going to happen.

This is in part due to the fact that Nebraska has not used its death sentence since 1997, and it’s nearly impossible to carry it out due to the drug shortage. It’s true that a majority of Nebraskans favor the death penalty, but the law is not a popularity contest. Were it one, we would not need laws at all.

In the rest of the U.S., the 31 states that still have a death penalty will soon run out of sodium thiopental, or their supplies will expire. Since it will be impossible to go back to hanging, the electric chair or the gas chamber in the age of the Internet, the sodium thiopental shortage will create an unofficial moratorium on executions.

Meanwhile, Mark Hayden and his CCADP group will be working on the legislatures of other states, now proceeding on the theory that if they can do it in Nebraska they can do it anywhere.

We all know that weird things happen under Mercury retrograde. Let’s chalk this up as one more example.


Weekly Horoscope for Thursday, May 28, 2015 #1051 | By Eric Francis

Aries (March 20-April 19) — You never know what you’re going through till you’re going through it; and you never know what others are going through till you figure it out. Then you have to figure it out a few more times, and slowly get to what seems like the bottom of things. You are not there yet, though you are weeding out what is not true; what is not relevant. Process of elimination is a kind of logic and it can be helpful, as long as you remember what you have ruled out and why. In service of that, I suggest you take some notes to augment your memory. You need to remind yourself of what you know and what you’ve determined is not true. Yet what you’re moving toward is an actual discovery. At that point all the sorting out you’ve done will disappear, and an entirely new idea will be emerge. Take things one step at a time. Small acknowledgements count for a lot. Put them together and they count for a lot more.

Taurus (April 19-May 20) — Take nothing for granted where money is concerned. That means you must think for yourself — actual, original thoughts that lead to intelligent strategies. Although you may think so at times, this is not about going anything alone. There’s a strong element of partnership and collaboration to your astrology now; all good things come from working with others in a dedicated way. You add an essential set of elements to any collaboration, most of which is your point of view. Yet remember that’s a work in progress; you are learning as you go, and part of how you learn is from environmental feedback. Part of how you get that is from expressing yourself. So keep the dialog, or dialogs, going. Make sure that you are fully informed and that you keep others around you informed. Know when you don’t know; notice when information comes your way. Act appropriately on your knowledge or lack thereof.

Gemini (May 20-June 21) — You are influenced by your distant past more than you may recognize, though I think you’re figuring it out. Mercury retrograde is guiding you to look back over your shoulder. You may be experiencing bits and pieces of unresolved scenarios from the past. You may even find it productive to tidy up some of those things as you re-discover them. Being clear about resentments and the way they can hang you up would be helpful use of this astrology. But in truth, you’re being guided to seek deeper into your personal history than may seem obvious. You’re seeking information from the invisible past, the one that has disappeared into the foggy mists of time. You might ask why you need to remember or be aware of something that you forgot long ago. I would propose that you will have a lot better idea of that when you figure out what it is.

Cancer (June 21-July 22) — The only real secrets are the ones we keep from ourselves; once those are acknowledged, it’s easier to be transparent with others. Keeping secrets from oneself is called denial. Notice when you’re doing this and moreover notice when you decide you just don’t like it. Usually that comes along with the revelation that denial is intentional and not some kind of accident. Pay attention when others space out about their own personal truth, or turn to mist in your hands when you try to have a real conversation. One suggestion I have is to pay attention to anger. Rather than judge yourself for it or try to ‘get rid’ of it, think of it as a barometer that gives you an indication of something from your inner or outer environment. Anger may seem like an issue but it’s not the issue — it will, however point you in the direction of what you need to understand.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — Make an effort not to believe what others say about you, or what you think they have been saying. This is definitely not the time to measure your self-esteem in any way based on public opinion. And I would suggest avoiding gossip in any form, even listening to it. Make sure that you really do mind your own business, which means taking care of business. This will exclude most matters of opinion unless they fall into a tangible ordering of your priorities. Said another way, identify and focus what is actually important; that will help you rule out what is trivial. There are in fact two major priorities that will come to light over the next few days. One of them is something that you have set aside from the past. This, you can resolve to your benefit and that of others. Another is a new concept or idea that will take you forward into the future. I suggest you proceed in that order, as what you discover and resolve about the past will open the way for something new to happen; something bold and a bit cheeky.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — Decisions about professional matters may be approaching at the rate of one every few minutes. Yet I suggest you take things slowly, one at a time, and note any decision that you can actually set aside. There will be an exaggerated sense of importance around issues that don’t really matter, while at the same time you may overlook the ones that make a difference. Pay attention to any revelations you may have about where you stand with others. Listen for clues about where colleagues and those in a position of authority are coming from, and keep that information in mind for future use. There are bigger changes going on than you may imagine, and you’re more involved than it seems. But you won’t get much information from colleagues, who seem to be oblivious to what’s going on around them. If you pay attention and bide your time, you will know exactly when to make your moves. Keep them small at first, then expand your scope.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — It may seem like your emotional life is delivering one thing after the next, leaving you little space for rest or sanctuary. This is especially salient in that you really do want a bit of comfort and security in your life, especially where your affections and emotions are concerned. We could develop a theory as to the nature of these intrusions and disruptions — why they exist and what they are here to teach you. It would be speculative to say there is a reason for everything. It would not be speculative to say that you are learning about yourself and the nature of your interactions through relating to others. You start to get on top of the game, as it were, when you begin to make choices about who you want to relate to; when you know why you want someone in your life and why you don’t want someone else in your life. You go beyond that when you recognize and accept that most of the time you actually have the power and the privilege to choose.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — You can make the most of any difficult or imperfect deal, and do very well with a good one. This is, however, largely a matter of strategy. Strategy begins with having goals, which is another way of saying knowing the outcome you want. This, you need to decide for yourself. Then there is the matter of figuring out where your partners and adversaries are coming from. You will get your best clues from what people say. I don’t just mean when they make a speech or write a memo but rather from the offhand remarks they make. I mean from the things they think nobody is listening to. You may even be able to glean certain facts from hearsay, though be cautious with all second- or third-hand information. There will be a distortion factor, and you may be amused to find out what simple, harmless thing lives at the seed of the rumor. That said, make sure you verify everything two or three times. Take no chances with the truth.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — In theory, your relationships are supposed to be a bit chaotic and unpredictable right now, with all the wild astrology in Gemini. What you may be discovering is that you’re big enough to embrace the contradictions of the people you care about. That is what makes you ‘you’ at your best. Your perspective is both wide and deep, but you also have a sense of time. You know that viewpoints and one’s personal understanding change over time, so you tend to assume that it’s worth giving people some space to figure out what is valid for them. That’s exactly what’s going on with the people around you. In fact you can expect a few genuine reversals of viewpoint over the next few weeks; don’t let that torture you in any way. Keep your sense of humor and appreciate that others are gradually figuring out what’s right for them — as are you.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — You may be busy, but the element to apply is intelligence rather than effort. Now, it’s true that thought takes some energy. It’s a form of effort, or it is most of the time. No need to pretend about that. What I mean is that one good idea can save a lot of labor, and get far more done than toil. This is another way of saying the pen is mightier than the sword. Solutions are easier to create than conflict is to endure. This is especially true once you get everyone cooperating, which you can do, and which in truth you know you must do. The place to begin is to cooperate with others, then see where you can advance the story into new territory. You seem to be pursuing both new and old goals at the same time, as a matter of necessity or of immediate circumstance. Here is a clue: the seemingly new and the seemingly old have nearly everything in common. They’re almost the same thing.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — You will be the ideal mediator if you see that there’s no conflict. Your role is to see the points of contact between seemingly opposing points of view, and explain that to anyone who is involved. It will help if you recognize that all the parts are elements or representatives of a larger whole. If you start from the whole and then look at the elements, you will work more efficiently than trying to assemble the parts of what in truth is a puzzle that’s already put together. One hint I can offer is that to do this, creativity is involved — creativity, that is, with your viewpoint. I know that’s not a concept you’ll typically see advertised, but in many ways viewpoint is everything. What lends originality is an idea such as: let’s go up on the roof and look around and see what’s visible. If I were a dog listening to this discussion, what would I hear? Is someone saying something over and over that makes no sense, and what do they really mean? Keep your viewpoint moving.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — Mercury, Mars and the Sun in Gemini are exaggerating your concerns about your wellbeing and safety. Whatever forms those worries may take, you can test the theory that they’re overblown. You can also test the theory that there’s no problem you cannot think your way out of, as long as ‘think’ means a blend of thinking and feeling. The way to evaluate an idea is how it feels to you and to others, as well as whether it makes sense to you and to others. The two will be intricately related. But be patient in working this out. Your emotional body has a lot of moving parts at the moment. The combination of Mercury retrograde and Mars blazing forward suggest that the future and the past contain elements of one another, elements that cannot be separated. There’s something you’re looking for in the distant past that holds the key to setting you free today. When you’ve worked this out, the thing you will find is your confidence.

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