I shop at Wal-Mart. I do not and will not apologize for that.

Last week, Bob Zaltsberg’s “Monday morning” column drew over 150 comments because of a debate over one of the Left’s favorite targets: Wal-Mart.

The elitism of the Left was on full display, with Leftists deriding Wal-Mart and the people who shop there. Even Zaltsberg, who argued that some in Monroe County would consider Wal-Mart a positive contribution to their quality of life, felt compelled to write that he has “never even been in Walmart.” What purpose does that serve?

In the comments, an anonymous poster said he was “happy to hear Bob say he’s never been inside a Walmart.” A member of the Monroe County economic development commission responded to an argument in favor of Wal-Mart by saying “Bedford is still open. Move there.” Is this the kind of intolerant elitism that we want from our government officials? If you cannot afford to patronize businesses on the square you do not belong in Monroe County?

A lot of people argue that our unique economy, with a wide variety of local business, is what makes Bloomington special. It is great that we have so many thriving local businesses, in addition to the national chains. But I would counter that there is one very big factor that makes our economy as vibrant as it is: Indiana University.

The reality is that IU is the economic engine of Monroe County. The students provide a huge boost to the local economy (including the local businesses the elitists brag about while they dismiss Wal-Mart) and IU employs a huge number of people in the city. Without IU, Bloomington would be just another small city in south-central Indiana, just like Bedford or Bloomfield or any number of small rural cities and towns.

The academic elite can look down their noses at other communities that that embrace “low-cost big-box retail, retail monoculture, and low-wage employment” if they choose, but it is not the policies of local government that makes Bloomington a vibrant place to live and work. That would be Indiana University.

The reality is that many people choose to shop at Wal-Mart because the store offers a huge selection and competitive prices. It is convenient for many to be able to get electronics, home supplies, groceries and gasoline all at the same place. Arguing between Wal-Mart and local businesses, though, is a false choice. The two can coexist!

Effective political yard signs

It’s campaign season again, and yard signs for candidates are starting to pop up around Bloomington. The only contested races are in the Democratic primary, so all of these signs are for Democrats. For anyone running for elective office, here are my thoughts on how to make the best use of your signs.

(Hopefully, only Republicans will follow this advice.)

So what makes a good political yard sign? To answer this question, we need to establish the purpose of the signs, which is to increase the name ID of a candidate for elective office. A yard sign needs two primary things: the name of the candidate and the office that candidate is seeking. There are legal requirements on reporting who paid for the sign and so forth depending on jurisdiction, but the purpose of this post is political strategery, not election law.

On a political sign, you have a few precious seconds to get your message across. This means your sign needs to be simple and easily read by motorists whipping by at 40 miles per hour. If your name and/or the office you seek is in small, obscured or otherwise unreadable font, you are wasting your money.

Because you have so little time to get your point across, the only thing that should be on your sign is your name and office. Do not bother with slogans, because the point of a yard sign is not to make a policy argument. Save that for your literature, advertisements and campaign website. Keep illustrations, graphics and photographs to a minimum – or better yet, remove them. The goal is to advertise your candidate, not to be artistic.

I’ve seen some good and bad yard signs. Mark Kruzan’s signs are some of the best I have seen. (Kruzan is running in a contested Democratic primary for re-election as mayor.) Big bold white letters on a bright red background catches the eye of the passing motorist. The name and office sought are easy to read, and those are the only things on the sign. The signs are simple, effective and to the point.

Other yard signs are not so good. Chris Sturbaum’s signs feature his name and office (city council) wrapped around a large illustration of a tree. The sign is too cluttered and the text is too difficult to read in the precious seconds passing motorists have to read it. As a political junkie, I make an extra effort to notice yard signs, but if I was not specifically looking for them I would be much less likely to know what those signs are advertising.

While they cannot win an election by themselves, there are a number of advantages to yard signs. In order to get the maximum value from your signs, you have to get the most critical message across in the shortest possible time. As part of a larger political campaign, yard signs can help you win, but only if those signs are effective enough that people know your name and what you are running for.

End the military operation against Libya

Note: I sent the following letter to President Obama on Monday.

Dear President Obama,

I write with great concern over your decision to use military force in Libya.

My first and most urgent concern is with the legality of your decision. The text of the Constitution is very clear that Congress, not the President, has the authority to declare war. While no reasonable person questions the President’s authority as commander-in-chief to initiate military action in the event of a national security emergency, this is by no means a national security emergency. While Muammar Gaddafi is a mass murderer, terrorist and war criminal, his regime represents no imminent threat to our national security.

While your stated goal of protecting noncombatants is laudable, the justification of using military force for humanitarian purposes grants the President unlimited power to intervene anywhere in the world for any reason. After all, many regimes around the world mistreat their people. Do you claim the authority to intervene in any or all of those places? Furthermore, given the epidemic of sexual abuse of inmates in our nation’s prison system, would you agree that another nation has the moral authority to strike us militarily in an effort to force us to more effectively safeguard human rights here at home?

I am not a pacifist, but I recognize that war is a terrible thing. Therefore, I believe that military force should only be used to protect national security, and then should always be the last resort. We should be very reluctant to engage in combat.

When we bombed Libya in 1986, that was in retaliation for a terrorist attack on a night club in Germany that was tied directly to Gaddafi. That was necessary to protect our national security, and it should be obvious that military retaliation is necessary and proper whenever we are attacked. I believe it was a failure of leadership that we did not respond with overwhelming military force when Gaddafi ordered the bombing of Pan Am 103. Gaddafi committed a war crime, plain and simple.

As much as we may sympathize with the plight of the Libyan people, the current air strikes are not necessary to protect our national security. In fact, our military intervention will likely encourage more terrorism from the truly evil Gaddafi regime. With these air strikes, we are inserting ourselves militarily into the middle of another nation’s civil war, which is why I oppose them. As terrible as Gaddafi may be, we simply cannot be the world’s policeman.

Bombing Libya in the 1986 was a good idea, but bombing Libya in 2011 is not. I strongly urge you to immediately end military operations in Libya.

A limited federal government – principle, not partisanship

Working to reduce childhood obesity is a good thing, right? Of course it is. So why are conservatives opposed to the President’s efforts to curb the problem? It must be partisanship, says New York Times columnist Charles Blow.

I have another explanation. It is about principle.

Conservatives believe that most matters of public policy should be left to the states, rather than being decided by the federal government. Conservatives distrust a powerful central government, which is why many conservatives were dissatisfied with President Bush, who gave us several significant expansions of federal power.

The primary issue is not whether steps to reduce obesity are good policy, the primary issue is whether the federal government should be setting the policies. For example, I enthusiastically support policies to reduce bullying in schools, but not at the federal level. The federal government simply does not have the constitutional authority to be setting policy on obesity or bullying, no matter how good that policy might be.

It may make Blow feel better about himself to reflexively accuse conservatives of reflexively opposing Obama’s policies, but it does little to advance the discussion about the proper role of the federal government. If Blow considers himself to be a serious pundit, he should think more deeply about the philosophical reasons why conservatives might oppose it. Until then, his own partisan rantings are going to be dismissed as he dismisses Obama’s opponents.

Looking back on the "Bluebird" tree sit, ten years later

Ten years ago, an environmental activist climbed a tree in Brown’s Woods on the west side of town in an ultimately failed effort to prevent an apartment complex from being constructed. “Dolphin” would be the first to live in a tree that spring and summer, but she would not be the last. Eventually, police invaded the tree-sit and forced the activists out, clearing the way for the apartments to be completed.

The Bluebird tree-sit and the events that surrounded it had a significant impact on local politics. One of the opponents of the Canterbury development went on to challenge an incumbent Democratic county councilor and defeated him in the 2002 primary. No Republican bothered to file against David Hamilton, but the GOP couldn’t wait to challenge Lucille Bertuccio – and they won in the general election. One of the other tree sitters, Mike “Moss” Englert, narrowly lost to Joyce Poling in a race for county commissioner in 2004.

The Bluebird tree-sit was a big event in a series of more aggressive environmental activism, but it was also one of a series of events- including arsons of homes under construction, the firebombing of a poultry distribution plant and spiking of trees in Yellowwood State Forest – that turned off more moderate voters and helped the GOP gain control of county government in the 2002 elections. Republicans unseated an incumbent county commissioner for a 2-1 margin. In January of 2003, the Republican Party also held five of seven seats on the county council.

While concern about plans to remove trees was laudable, the tree sit was not morally or legally justifiable. The activists did not own the property, and therefore did not have the right to prevent development on it. So long as they are not harming anyone else, property owners should have the right to develop their own land without interference from government or “activists” who stand in the way of their rights.

But while property rights should be protected, there was no need for the county council to approve $10 million in tax-free bonds. I spoke against the bonds at the June 12 county council meeting, joining with environmentalists in an interesting (if rare) alliance. If a project is economically feasible, a developer should not need a financial boost from government to help it along. The council’s vote was seen as adding insult to injury by people already bitterly opposed to the project, which is one of the reasons why it sparked so much outrage.

Even so, the near-riot that shut down the meeting was inexcusable. There are always times when public policy votes do not go the way we want them to go. I have rebuked the city council every year since 1999 for giving money to Planned Parenthood. I’ve spoken against decisions to designate a property as “historic” over the objection of the property owner and I’ve spoken against efforts to restrict smoking in “public places.” But while I am tilting at windmills virtually every time, I am obligated to maintain basic civility. Those of us involved in politics will win some arguments and we will lose some, but we cannot shout down elected officials and shut down meetings.

Shameless lies used to support .xxx domain

Soon, people will be able to buy a .xxx domain for their web sites, much as we can purchase .com or .net domains today. There has been a heated debate over this change, with many expressing fears that the top-level domain would legitimize internet pornography by creating a space just for those sites.

While I am opposed to creating the domain, that is another argument for another day. What irritates me is the flagrant dishonesty being used to support the new domain.

BBC News reports that “supporters say the domain will make it easier to filter out inappropriate content.” Peter Dengate Thrush of ICANN told the Washington Post said “it will be easier for people to filter” internet porn.

The people who say this are either fools or liars, and almost certainly the latter.

It has been well-documented that a huge percentage of Internet traffic is dedicated to pornography. Does anyone think that existing sites are going to give up their current domain names and move to a .xxx domain? You will sooner see Osama bin Laden waving an American flag and chanting “USA” in his cave somewhere in Pakistan. The existing sites will stay exactly where they are.

If supporters of the .xxx top-level domain want to advance their argument for it, we can have a reasonable discussion about the merits and drawbacks of the proposal. But at least have enough respect for those hearing your argument to not make a claim that is so obviously false to anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of the Internet. Shameless lies only discredit your position and weaken your argument.

Universal morality requires a Primary Source

Was Saddam Hussein wrong when he ordered the gassing of innocent people in Kurdish villages in the late 1980’s? Were the massacres of innocent people in Bosnia and Rwanda wrong?

“Well, yeah. Of course those things were wrong.”

Why? Why are those things wrong?

We know there are fundamental moral standards that teach us that things like murder and rape are wrong. We know it’s wrong to steal from someone. But why do we know this? What is the source of these moral standards? If there are universal standards of morality, then there has to be a Primary Source for that morality.

What if, as some say, there is no God, and we are all here through random chance and billions of years of evolution?

If that is the case, there are and can be no universal moral standards. If there is no supernatural being governing our lives, there can be no universal standard of morality to guide us. This is because the source for any moral code would be the imaginations and beliefs of individual people or groups of people. One group of people may believe that killing innocents is wrong, but another might believe it is perfectly fine.

If there is no God, how can we declare that the actions of Nazi Germany were absolutely morally wrong? We can’t, because the moral code of the Nazis and the moral code of the Allies are simply different standards brought forth by different groups of people. There is no objective way to compare the two.

If there is no God, there can be no absolute moral standards. Instead, there are only competing human values. We cannot declare that Adolf Hitler’s morality is superior or inferior to Mother Teresa’s morality unless we have an objective higher standard to compare them to. An atheist on a forum I used to visit recognized this when he said that the Holocaust was not fundamentally evil because there is no absolute right and wrong.

This is not to say that “morality” cannot exist in a godless world. Individuals can live by personal moral standards, and groups of people can agree to a set of moral standards to live by and perhaps even enforce by law, but they cannot declare anything to be fundamentally good or evil.

But if there is a God, we can point out what is universally good, or what is universally evil. This is because we have a Primary Source of morality to look to and measure ourselves with: All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. II Timothy 3:16-17

I am a Christian, and therefore I believe there is a universal standard for right and wrong: the Bible. I can declare that the Holocaust was fundamentally immoral because it violates the laws that a Supreme Being has put in place for His creation. I appeal directly to a Higher Power that holds ultimate authority over all mankind, regardless of culture, national history or anything else.

An atheist cannot do that. An atheist can say he personally despises the killing of innocents, and he or she may even argue that killing innocents goes against established human morality. An atheist cannot argue, though, that the Holocaust was fundamentally immoral, because there ois no objective standard to say that his morality is superior to the morality of Nazi Germany. It is a horrible way to live.

The human rights crisis in American prisons

The New York Review of Books points out a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics 216,600 people were sexually abused in prisons and jails in 2008. This means that every single hour of every single day, 25 inmates were sexually abused in prisons and jails – some by staff and some by other inmates.

Rape and sexual abuse in prison is a serious problem, and Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003 to attempt to finally take steps to deal with it. It was not until 2009 that the committee established by the act delivered a report to Barack Obama’s attorney general, who had a year to revise the recommendations and issue nationally binding standards. The Obama administration missed that deadline.

In the meantime, tens of thousands more prisoners have been raped and sexually assaulted in our nation’s prisons. The Obama administration knew well in advance of ever taking office that this was coming, so there is simply no excuse for foot-dragging on this issue. This is an President who campaigned on a platform of respect for human rights and properly treating prisoners of war, so why the lack of action on American citizens who are abused?

Our nation was rightly shocked by the obscene abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib facility in Iraq. But even as we are shocked, we should not be surprised. After all, this is a nation that has turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of our own people in our prisons and jails for decades, so what are a few abusive pictures of terrorists on top of that?

It is a basic duty of our criminal justice system to ensure the safety of the prisoners under society’s care. While our unsustainable budget deficits are a genuine cause for concern, cost containment should not prevent us from doing what is necessary to protect those prisoners and prevent these crimes. The Obama administration talks a good game on human rights, but the time for talk is over. It is time for action.

Mike Nifong is a rapist – Five years later

On March 13, 2006, the Duke University lacrosse team held a party at a house off-campus. They foolishly invited strippers to perform for the party. Little did they know that their foolishness would have dire consequences, when a vengeful bitch named Crystal Gail Mangum falsely accused them of “raping” her.

The accusation was a complete fabrication. False accusations of criminal activity do take place, but what happened next should be of great concern to every American who loves his country and wants to preserve the liberties this nation was founded to protect. A thoroughly corrupt prosecutor named Mike Nifong entered into a criminal conspiracy with Mangum to railroad these men for a crime they did not commit.

Over the course of the next year, Mike Nifong urinated and defecated on the Constitution and on the graves of every American soldier who ever died defending liberty. Mike Nifong raped the reputations of men who committed no crime, raped the taxpayers who pay his salary, and worst of all he raped he justice system. There was a rape in Durham, but Mike Nifong is the rapist. Innocent men lost a year of their lives to a corrupt politician’s quest for personal gain.

We should never forget the criminal actions of disgraced, disbarred ex-prosecutor Mike Nifong. He should forever be a reminder that a government that ignores the rule of law is far more dangerous to our liberty than any terrorist or foreign aggressor. This scandal should serve as a reminder that we must uphold the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” without exception and without compromise.

Mike Nifong is far from the only prosecutor who is guilty of suppressing evidence that proves that someone accused of a crime is actually innocent. In the name of liberty and justice, we must hold prosecutors and police accountable – with the possibility of criminal charges and harsh criminal penalties – for violating civil rights. Our “war on crime” mentality is too often a war on civil liberties, and justice is a forgotten casualty. That must end, and it must end now.

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Real vs. virtual killing: An open letter to Joe Lieberman

Dear Senator Lieberman,

I am watching the movie Moral Kombat, a documentary about video game violence. You were quoted very early in the movie and you have been a vocal critic of video game violence for nearly 20 years.

First, let me tell you about myself. I have been an avid gamer for 30 years. I have owned the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, NES, Super NES, Atari Lynx, Nintendo 64, PlayStation 2 and Nintendo DS. I follow the industry and the games themselves. I have written a number of articles on the social and political issues surrounding games.

I am also an anti-abortion activist. I have stood in front of Planned Parenthood and pleaded with women not to allow that clinic to kill their unborn children. I am a former president of Monroe County Right to Life and I have been working to oppose abortion and public funding of abortionists for nearly 15 years.

You and I disagree on both issues.

You are vehemently opposed to virtual killing, represented by pixels and polygons on a monitor or TV screen. Yet you support the real killing of unborn children. You have supported and voted to give taxpayer money to a damnable industry that has murdered 50 million people since 1973.

I simply cannot see the logic in your position, Senator Lieberman. You become morally outraged by representations of killing in a video game, where no real person is so much as scratched. But you support real killing of real human beings. You support killing babies by dismemberment for profit.

Please explain this to me. Please explain why pixels and polygons depicting the dismemberment of a fictional character requires hearings in the U.S. Senate, while the unmitigated evil of abortion requires the federal government to subsidize the most notorious abortion providers. I legitimately want to understand your position.