Pleading the Fifth

An Amendment Linking Fine
Americans & Notorious Hacks

It all may have started with the number of fingers. To write a full post about a particularly random number between, say 1 to 10, is, of course, a fool’s run. But, as your uncle Bob once said, after having a few at the local water hole, ‘life ain’t worthy without taking chances,’ while tossing you up in the air. We’re taking the fifth and running with it.
Constitutionally, as you may remember, the expression is often associated with tax dodgers, counselor-instructed crime bosses and your garden-variety white-collar crook. Historically, though, it may have had its defining moment during the 1950s, with Senator Joseph McCarthy-led infamous witch hunt of many fine American artists and intellectuals and their supposedly illegal activities.
For those who need a refresher, the Fifth is the amendment of the U.S. Constitution designed to protect the accused of self-incrimination, and of being ‘deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.’ It’s often associated with the Miranda Warning, given by the police to criminal suspects, before they can be interrogated in the presence of an attorney.
Such association is not casual and stems from the 1966 case of Ernesto Miranda, who was arrested for stealing $8, and told the cops he’d also kidnapped and raped a woman a few days earlier. He was neither told that he could have a lawyer present during questioning, nor that he had the right to remain silent.
Miranda was promptly convicted based on his confession and sentenced to twenty years in prison. But, as his lawyers appealed, the Supreme Court eventually ruled that his self-incriminating statement was not admissible in court and that law enforcement officials must establish safeguards to protect this right of the individual being questioned. Thus the Miranda ruling.
As for McCarthy, surprise surprise, he succumbed to its own paranoia, was censured by the Senate in 1954, and died of alcohol-related hepatitis three years later. The damage he caused was already irreversible to many movie professionals, though, as Hollywood slammed its doors to them, helped by secret files that the likes of Ronald Reagan and others compiled on them.

The episode, however sad, became emblematic in the way it showed the Constitution as a defense mechanism to protect citizens against a dangerous nut in power such as McCarthy, even when it’s not as swift as needed. The same about the Miranda case, which may serve (more)
Read Also:
* The Other Fourth
* Bellyache

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We’ve Kept You Posted

Yearly Recall Takes
a Blurry 2015 Picture

It was a year of record refugee waves, with boatloads of heartbreaking stories landing en masse on European shores. Greeting them, equal parts of compassion and vile political pettiness, and a stunned world reacting as it usually does: with violence.
As usual too, there were plenty of staggering deaths – massive, laser-focused, or undiscriminated – due to terrorism, war strikes, stampedes, and in the U.S., racism and too many guns. And, of course, a fair share of encouraging news about climate change, for instance.
This post hardly covers them all, though. For these Colltales stories we’ve picked are more of a counterpoint to what was going on then. Rather than rehashing what was on everyone’s devices in 2015, they run a parallel track of commentary, criticism, and even comic relief.
Just as global temperatures kept rising, our pulse on the year’s events was better reflected on the weekly editorial Newsletter/Curtain Raiser. So we were free to report another kind of news, neither Pollyanna nor downright depressing. You know, the Colltalers preferable way. Enjoy.

The terrorist attack that killed nine journalists at the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo, on Jan. 7, was arguably the biggest news of the first three months of 2015. But the following day, we featured Elvis Presley‘s 80th birthday. And never looked back.
Stories about crows, unemployment, that old fave Voynich Manuscript, and a quirky take on Valentine Day followed. A personal darling was the 450th anniversary of Rio, our city of birth. Bandit Maria Bonita, cats, caturally, and life after death, online, completed the bunch.

By then, the biggest refugee crisis of our era was already creeping in, but within the U.S., an old scourge was robbing the headlines: racism. Our own second quarter, though, was deep into Continue reading

Bunga-Bunga Mogul

Prison Sentence Is Unlikely
to Set the Sun on Berlusconi

An Italian court has sentenced former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to a four-year prison term. But a long appeal process has just started and, if the flamboyant billionaire can help it, he may not spend a day in jail. After all, he’s beaten the rap a couple of times before.
The 76-year old owner of a media empire and a major soccer team, who was forced out of office last November, has been known as much for his frequent sex scandals as for his failure to prevent Italy from sinking under the weight of Europe’s debt crisis that started in 2009.
Despite being in and out of the government for 20 years, Berlusconi’s center-right political coalition has done little, once in power, to limit Italy’s economic instability, which seem to pervade it at regular intervals. But it’s clear that he’s increased enormously his personal wealth through the connections his position allowed.
Of all world leaders of the early 2000s, a particularly uninspiring bunch, Berlusconi managed to be the most visible, both for his political gaffes and for his ostentatious lifestyle. Propped up by his personal fortune, though, he’s arguably one of the few who still stands a chance for a political comeback.
That is, if he overcomes the latest tax evasion charges, which originated from a far from sensational set of circumstances. Along with seven other defendants, he’s accused of purchasing rights to broadcast U.S. movies on TV networks belonging to his Mediaset company, through shady offshore deals done to avoid paying taxes.
In the past, Berlusconi’s has shown an uncanny ability to skip convictions and prison sentences, for false bookkeeping, corruption, or sex with minors, all the while keeping a high profile as an international playboy. It’s possible that this time Italians have finally had enough with his stunts.
It’s possible but, as we said, unlikely. In the meantime, we’re republishing a post we wrote two years ago, about a particularly revealing episode made of equal parts of money, crassness, culture and cult of personality. It goes a long way to illustrate the way this short-temper buffoon goes about his business. Enjoy it.

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A Gift to Mars, King Tut’s
Loss & Iran’s Penis Cemetery

Italian billionaire Silvio Berlusconi is not the only politician, or rich person, who believes the world’s his playground. But you gotta give it to him: he’s astonishingly oblivious to the horror that usually greets his decisions, mostly guided by the pursuit of fun, candy and more power. As for us, we just happen to be camping around, mostly annoying the hell out of him. (*)
So when the 1800-year old classical Roman statue of Venus and Mars was loaned to his office, Berlusconi immediately made plans to fix it.
As it turned out, the likeness of the ruler of war had its penis chipped off circa 175 C.E., and the goddess of love was missing a hand too. Continue reading

Dangerous Doll

Barbie’s New Roles May
Erase Dumb Blonde View

Who knew? Barbie, a doll that inspired years of controversy over its frivolous image (and fashion mishaps) has now reached full revolutionary maturity, at least for the Iranian religious zealots who’ve just banned it.
What’s unexpected, though, is not this latest in a long line of spectacularly ill-timed decisions by the Ayatollahs-ruled regime. It’s the role of Barbie as a global cultural artifact, which is evolving to surprising new heights.
Two recently developments illustrate this trend: A photographer’s series that subverts its usual flimsy image, and an unusually engaged online petition for a new line to be designed for health patients. And, of course, the ‘bald Barbie.’
Faced with a potential disastrous military threat from Israel, Iran decided to cut to the chase and tackle what it perceives as one of the causes for all ill-intent directed against itself: a domestic-grown cult of Barbie.
The Islamic Republic has been rocked recently by a wave of assassinations of its top scientists and faces stiff international sanctions in response to its nuclear program. Amid such complex pressures, Continue reading

Egypt Reborn

As Ruler Exits the Stage,
People Dream of a New Day

Congratulations, people of Egypt.
This is your moment, don’t let anyone
take it away from you.

Difficult Conversations – Special Edition

Earthquake, Oil Spill &
Dangerous War Secrets


A Short List of What Have Kept Us Awake in 2010,

and What We May Need to Awake From in the New Year.


1) July 26, December 19. The biggest story of the year, the two-punch WikiLeaks revelations about our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the startlingly dispirited diplomacy used to achieve them, had all the limitations of an attack led by drones: all fire, no eyesight.
What was far more revealing was the swift counter punch by the U.S. and its allies in reaction to them. Within days, a case of free speech was turned into a terrorist witch-hunt of the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, the Interpol was brought in and a personal misdeed in Sweden was quickly rolled in for good measure.
The effort to punish the messenger was enough to temporarily derail the essence of the allegations, force Assange to fight expatriation and jail term threats, and land Pvt Bradley Manning, his supposedly source, into an insalubrious location Continue reading

Stone Unturned

Iran Says Now That
Ashtiani Is NOT Free

JUST IN: Iran did it again. Provoking outrage around the world, its state-run TV station announced today that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has not been freed, despite footage made available yesterday, depicting her and son at home. The station said it was all part of a program to be broadcast tonight, that all but endorses the official version portraying her as a murderer. The announcement:
“Contrary to a vast publicity campaign by western media that confessed murderer Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has been released, a team of broadcast production team with the Iran-based Press TV has arranged with Iran’s judicial authorities to follow Ashtiani to her house to produce a visual recount of the crime at the murder scene.”
In other words, the international vigil and watch for Sakineh’s life will continue.

The Iranian state-run TV station showed footage last night of Sakineh Muhammad Ashtiani, the 43-year-old mother of two sentenced to death by stoning, apparently free at home with her son Sajad.
Sakineh appears on the undated footage saying that she “planned to kill” her husband, Iran’s main accusation against her.
So far, the state prosecution hasn’t offered any details under which she was released or whether her sentence was commuted or she was pardoned for good.
Human rights activists expressed joy for her freedom but could not offer independent confirmation of her current and future legal status. Her release comes after an intense international campaign against the lack of transparency of her criminal process and death sentencing.
Sakineh was twice condemned to die by separate courts over the murder of her husband. A sentence of hanging was commuted to 10 years in jail by an appeal court in 2007.
But a second sentence, to death by stoning on charges of adultery in several relationships, including the man convicted of her husband’s murder, was upheld by another appeals court the same year.
The news of Ms Ashtiani’s possible reprieve came a day after another woman sentenced to death, Khadijeh Jahed, was hanged at dawn in jail with her son pushing the stool from beneath her feet.

Read Also:
* Stoning Iran
* Stoning Sentence

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Berlusconi’s Gift to Mars, King
Tut’s Loss & Iran’s Penis Cemetery

Italian billionaire Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is not the only politician, or rich person, who believes the world is his playground. But you’ve got to give it to him: he’s astonishingly oblivious to the horror that usually greets his decisions, mostly guided by the pursuit of fun, candy and more power. As for us, we just happen to be camping around, mostly annoying the hell out of him.
So when the 1800-year old classical Roman statue of Venus and Mars was loaned to his office, Berlusconi immediately made plans to fix it.
As it turned out, the likeness of the ruler of war had his penis chipped off circa 175 C.E., and the goddess of love was missing a hand too. Never mind that it’s been exhibited that way at the Palazzo Chigi in Rome for years.
The other day, the work was completed and delivered to his door, and Berlusconi was beside himself. After all, a man known Continue reading

Stoning Sentence

Death Threat Against
Woman Shames Iran

The death sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year old mother of two accused of adultery, is provoking worldwide indignation against Iran.
Although Ashtiani’s sentence to die by stoning has reportedly Continue reading

Paul Is Dead

New Evidence May Point to
Coverup in Octopus Demise

The German news agency DAPD said that Paul, the octopus who successfully predicted the outcome of the World Cup of soccer last July, was found dead Monday evening by what’s is being considered natural causes. According to reports, the cephalopod extraordinaire was in good spirits early on. He had his usual dish of boiled squid and watched his favorite show on Continue reading

Stoning Iran

Sakineh Is Shown Again on

Iranian TV Admitting Guilt

JUST IN: In what looked like another staged guilty “confession,” Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was shown on the Iranian state TV, along with her son and lawyer. The highly suspicious broadcast was blurry and no identification of the faces of the three could be positively established. What looks like another farce follows a Minister of Foreign Affairs Manouchehr Mottaki declaration a few weeks ago that “the authorities of justice had not pronounced the final verdict in the affair concerning Sakineh.” That meant either Iran was once again backpedaling on its intention to hang her, or just trying to divert the world’s attention to her fate, as it did many times in the past, according to human rights activists. They vowed then, as now, to keep up the public vigil to prevent the issue from falling through the cracks and allowing Iran the undisturbed opportunity it’s apparently seeking to carry on Ashtiani’s death sentence.

Once again, the world’s bracing itself breathlessly in the face of horrible news that the Iranian state is ready to kill Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani very soon.  And once again, a global mobilization is apace to prevent this crime from happening. Human rights organizations are urging Iran’s authorities to free Ashtiani, who stands accused of a murder to which no proof has been provided by the prosecution.
Ashtiani was initially sentenced to death by stoning, a medieval form of capital punishment only Iran and a few other authoritarian regimes still carry. Faced with a huge wave of public outcry, the Iranian state commuted her sentence to death by hanging, insisting the 43-year old mother of two murdered her husband with a relative it said she was having an illicit affair. The proof for these charges have never been produced publicly and they wouldn’t be even considered by the strict but Continue reading