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CULTURE DIGEST: Wal-Mart partners with homosexual group; businesses campaign to legalize alcohol sales; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, has taken another step away from its family oriented roots by entering a partnership with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, a move the chamber’s president said Wal-Mart initiated.

As part of the deal, Wal-Mart will pay the chamber $25,000 a year for sponsorship of events and initiatives and has agreed to conduct workshops for homosexual business owners on how to break into the Wal-Mart supplier ranks, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times Aug. 25.

Randy Sharp, a spokesman for the American Family Association, told the Morning News of northwest Arkansas that he has stopped shopping at Wal-Mart because it has moved away from its pro-family stance.

“Up until a year and a half ago, the AFA applauded Wal-Mart for their pro-family policies, but now it seems Wal-Mart has decided to push aside that legacy left by [founder] Sam Walton and joined those who look at the bottom line and stock prices,” Sharp said.

Wal-Mart contends the partnership with a homosexual group is in line with the Bentonville, Ark.-based company’s efforts to expand beyond their rural southern roots into urban areas where shoppers are more diverse. Company spokesman Bob McAdam even said Wal-Mart has worked with other homosexual groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Times reported.

“I don’t think this is something that will sell on Main Street America, where most Wal-Mart stores are located,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said of the latest move. “I don’t think cheap prices on goods from China will be enough to stop a rollback in their customer base if they choose to go down this aisle.”

Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute at Concerned Women for America, told Cox News Service that Wal-Mart is “validating the idea that homosexual activists have the right to shake down corporations out of fear of being called bigots.”

Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor of history at UC Santa Barbara, told the Times that what is happening with Wal-Mart is common in America today.

“Wal-Mart is figuring out how to make itself welcome and amenable in every corner of America’s pluralistic society,” Lichtenstein said. “Lots of companies once thought of as conservative culturally have made their peace with gay and lesbian rights. It’s become a standard corporate thing.”

With more than 3,900 stores in the United States, Wal-Mart had been considered family friendly for several reasons. For instance, in 2002 they stopped selling a pregnant Barbie doll because people were concerned it would promote teen pregnancy, and the following year they agreed to stop carrying three particular racy magazines.

COMPANIES PUSH FOR LEGALIZATION OF ALCOHOL SALES — Wal-Mart also is under fire for joining grocery store chains like Albertson’s, Kroger and Safeway and restaurants including Chili’s, Red Lobster and Olive Garden in pushing dry counties to legalize the sale of alcohol in order to increase revenue.

A New York Times report Aug. 12 examined the trend of dry towns in the Bible Belt giving in to political campaigns funded by national corporations that are more interested in the economic benefits of alcohol sales than in the safety and morality of citizens.

Since 2002, businesses have spent more than $15 million on campaigns to persuade voters in about 200 dry towns and 25 dry counties in six southern states to legalize alcohol sales in stores and restaurants, The Times reported.

Wal-Mart has financed “dozens of elections,” The Times noted, and has contributed from $5,000 to $20,000 per campaign, often making the claim that increased tax revenue from beer sales would reduce the need for property tax increases.

“I think Sam Walton, being the family oriented man he was, would be rolling over in his grave about this,” Ronnie Frankens, pastor of Homer Pentecostal Church in Diboll, Texas, told The Times about Wal-Mart’s founder.

Conservatives in many towns are fighting back, saying any increased tax revenue would be countered by an increase in drunken driving and violence.

Lee Miller, a leader of the Texas-based Angelina Citizens for a Better Community, told The Times that for every $1 in revenue the state receives from alcohol, $9 is paid out for expenses like treatment for alcohol abuse, law enforcement services and motor vehicle crashes.

“This will not benefit us as a community. It costs us more money in expenses and in the lives of our children,” Miller said, adding that he is concerned about his town going wet because his teenage children will have easier access to alcohol.

Still, alcohol proponents claim that for casual dining chains, the average restaurant check doubles when someone orders an alcoholic beverage and restaurants are not particularly attracted to towns that don’t sell alcohol, The Times said. Other proponents simply want the convenience of purchasing beer or wine on their regular grocery runs rather than driving to the next county.

GOOGLE JOINS EFFORTS TO CATCH CHILD ABUSERS — Google, a leading Internet search engine, has joined the Technology Coalition and the Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography, two major initiatives aimed at fighting the exchange of online commercial child pornography.

AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, EarthLink and United Online already were part of the Technology Coalition, which works to enhance knowledge sharing among industry participants, improve law enforcement tools and research perpetrators’ technologies, according to a news release by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children Aug. 23.

Members of the Financial Coalition include American Express, Bank of America, Chase, Citigroup, MasterCard, Visa and other corporations that work together to stop the flow of funds to child pornography websites and help track buyers and sellers.

“Both coalitions exemplify the best spirit of private industry, as these companies set aside their competitive zeal to work together to protect the world’s most vulnerable citizens,” Ernie Allen, president of NCMEC, said.

The CyberTipline operated by NCMEC received more than 24,000 reports of child pornography in 2001, the center said, but by early 2006 the number had grown to more than 340,000.

In related news, The New York Times reported in June that more states are allowing the death penalty for sex crimes against children as a deterrent for repeat offenders.

A law passed in Oklahoma this summer, for example, makes people found guilty of rape and other sex crimes more than once against children younger than 14 eligible for the death penalty. In South Carolina, the age is 11.

The Times noted that there has not been an execution for rape in the United States since 1964 and no one has been executed for a crime that did not involve murder since 1976.

Florida, Louisiana and Montana also have laws on the books making repeat child abusers eligible for the death penalty, although some laws are being challenged over their constitutionality.

FAITH PROPELLED MARINE IN ‘WORLD TRADE CENTER’ — Moviegoers who have seen Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center,” a depiction of some of the events that took place during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, know Marine Staff Sgt. David Karnes as one of the characters who helped rescue two survivors.

Rebecca Liss, an associate producer at CBS’ “60 Minutes” in 2002 wrote about Karnes in a slate.com piece titled “An Unlikely Hero.”

“Karnes hadn’t been near the World Trade Center. He wasn’t even in New York when the planes hit the towers. He was in Wilton, Conn., working in his job as a senior accountant with Deloitte Touche,” Liss wrote. “When the second plane hit, Karnes told his colleagues, ‘We’re at war.’ He had spent 23 years in the Marine Corps infantry and felt it was his duty to help. Karnes told his boss he might not see him for a while.”

Karnes promptly got a military-style haircut, put on a Marine Corps uniform, gathered some equipment and drove to church, where he asked the pastor to pray that God would lead him to survivors.

When he arrived at Ground Zero, rescue workers were being ordered to get off the piles of burning rubble because their own safety was at risk, but Karnes managed to sneak past and enter one of the mounds. He met up with another Marine he didn’t know, Sgt. Jason Thomas, who had also volunteered for search and rescue.

“United States Marines,” Karnes yelled. “If you can hear us, yell or tap!”

After about an hour, Liss recounted, the pair discovered two Port Authority police officers who were trapped. Karnes called for help, and nine hours later both officers had been rescued. They were among only 12 survivors pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center.

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  • Erin Roach