Public Eye 

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An enterprising group of activists has embraced the old wit and wisdom of not getting mad, but even, and applied it to Gazette advertising pundit Ed Bircham.

You'll recall Ed's most recent attack on a host of people and groups he does not approve of, including the National Endowment for the Arts and Phil Donahue, likening them to terrorists. (Over the years, Bircham has also routinely attacked public schools, gays and lesbians, people of color and anyone else who doesn't conform to his narrow-minded vision, demanding America wake up and do better. The Gazette continues to faithfully take his money and run his bizarre advertorials every week.)

Anyway, shortly after the terrorist ad appeared, we were mailed a strip of "Doing my part to piss off Ed Bircham" address labels, printed with backgrounds of smiley faces, flowers, a moon, peace signs, a rock 'n' roll guitar scene and a Volkswagen van and bus. A brief explanation accompanied.

"A few weeks before Ed Bircham issued his terrorist ad, much talked about of late, he ran one dissing three things that happen to matter to me and my crowd: David Letterman, tattoos and piercings," wrote the label's creator, who we'll merely call "John" to protect him from the wrath of Bircham.

"Smartasses and nonconformists tend to really set Big Ed off. So, we had this variation to an already published slogan printed up on an address label format, as a possible forerunner to a standard-sized bumper sticker that we'll offer for sale."

A bumper sticker at last! And John noted that the address labels are being spread around town for public posting. How thoughtful, in this season of giving.


The El Paso County Sheriff's Office this week released its official report concerning the investigation into the latest inmate death at the Criminal Justice Center. Inmate Brian Richard Bennett Jr. hung himself on Nov. 1 while awaiting a court hearing, the latest casualty at a jail where the number of inmate deaths has ballooned in recent years. The pattern has resulted in an American Civil Liberties Union demand to investigate conditions at the jail, including whether the medical and mental health care services are adequate. In at least two cases, the Sheriff's Office and the Board of County Commissioners have been sued over other inmate deaths, and taxpayer settlements have been given to family members of the dead inmates. After Bennett's death, his family reportedly hired local attorney Elvin Gentry.

With all the hoopla, we were thus surprised when this week's official report noted the following: "There have been seven (7) deaths within the El Paso County Detention facilities since 1998, two (2) of those deaths were suicides and five were attributed to natural causes with two of the latter having possible contributing factors of the use of the restraint board and pepper spray," the summary read.

Actually, as has been extensively reported here and elsewhere, the Sheriff's Office recently admitted that nine inmates have died while incarcerated at El Paso County's jail since 1998. Why they've reduced that number to seven in its official report to the Board of County Commissioners -- the body that gets sued and has paid settlements to the families of the dead inmates -- is unclear.

The Sheriff's Office claims that its recent internal investigation will result in improvements at the jail, including modifications that are intended to reduce the possibility of inmate suicides and address how inmate deaths are investigated. That's a good first step.

But the department's bungling of a fundamental fact -- that is, the number of inmates dead in their charge -- sure doesn't give us a lot of faith.


The ever-resourceful People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has apparently realized the selling power of celebrity. In a recent publicity stunt, the Norfolk-based group that loves animals and hates the people who mistreat and eat them recruited Olympic gold skater Scott Hamilton to call on organizers of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City to ax a planned rodeo, calling it violent and manipulative of animals.

And this week, PETA announced that Martin Sheen has donated tofu turkeys to the Marion House Soup Kitchen in downtown Colorado Springs and to other homeless shelters across the country to offer as part of their holiday feasts. Just imagine, the guy who plays the president of the United States on TV will actually be feasting on Tofurky for Thanksgiving.

Pass the drumstick.


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