tampabay.com

Faced with injustices, we prefer distraction

By Times editorial
Published February 11, 2007


While the focus in recent days has been on the Super Bowl and the latest rounds of American Idol, a few items of national and local interest have escaped the attention they are due. It's bad enough that they have not sparked any concern, they have barely been noticed.

That, in itself, is cause for alarm.

In no particular order, then:

- Exxon Mobil just reported its profit for last year: $39.5-billion. On revenues of $378-billion.

Try to digest those numbers. This may help.

Let's say Exxon Mobil were its own country (and since it answers to no one, it might as well be). Viewed as gross domestic product, or purchasing power, its revenues would rank the company as No. 17 among the nations of the world. Ahead of such lightweights as Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, Egypt, a dozen European nations and most of Asia.

The profit was a record for a U.S. company, by the way, topping 2005's obscene peak of $36-billion. That mark was set by, you guessed it, Exxon Mobil.

Now, I have no problem with a company being successful. It's the goal of capitalism. But Exxon's appalling profits, and those of its fellow oil companies, came during a year in which prices at the pumps rode an artificial roller coaster, topping $3 a gallon at times.

These high prices directly impacted the financial health of the American workers, making a tough challenge to feed and shelter their families even harder.

The oil execs and their shareholders pocketed billions and laughed at the plight of ordinary Americans. And no one says a word of protest as the profits climb into stratospheric levels.

Where is the outrage?

- Here's a scorecard for a single week in Iraq. Sunday, Jan. 28, 23 civilians killed by bombs, including five girls who died when their school was mortared; Monday, 36 killed by bombs; Tuesday, 58 killed by bombs; Wednesday, 43 killed by bombs; Thursday, 62 killed by bombs; Friday, 73 killed by bombs. The week concluded with a truck bomb on Saturday that claimed 121 souls.

That was just one unremarkable week of civilian slaughter. We have become so numb to the carnage that the dozens of innocent deaths every day no longer register. Even the rising number of American casualties fails to impress.

Make no mistake, our leaders triggered this fiasco. And we do not even acknowledge the depths of despair that we have unleashed.

Where is the outrage?

- On the local scene, the story is much the same.

A woman was in court Feb. 2 to be punished for causing an auto accident two years ago that claimed the life of a local artist. Lorie Norris was still recovering from a previous crash when she veered across U.S. 41 one morning in 2004 and collided head-on with another car. The passenger in that auto, the vibrant Anita Roy, was killed.

Besides the physical and psychological afflictions from the previous crash that should have kept her off the road, Norris also had a string of citations for erratic driving on her record. But she drove that day, and Anita Roy lost her life.

Certainly, Norris never intended to kill anyone that morning. And, in court, she showed a tremendous amount of heartfelt remorse for her victims. The judge in the case, Ric Howard, apparently took that into account and gave Norris a reduced sentence, three years in prison plus probation.

Three years in prison is no picnic for anyone, especially a 42-year-old woman with physical and psychological issues. And I'm not saying that she deserved more time behind bars. It was, Norris' attorney said, a fair sentence.

But it raises this question: Would Norris have received such a "fair" sentence had she been a young man and not a middle-aged woman?

This is not a theoretical exercise. Lives are in the balance.

William Thornton, now 18, is serving 30 years in prison because he drove a car that skidded into the path of a vehicle driven by an impaired driver. Tragically, the driver and his passenger were killed; Thornton was seriously injured.

Thornton had no prior arrests, was not drunk or high, and the road he was on lacked the proper traffic signs. Three state agencies recommended leniency; Judge Howard gave him the max.

Adam Bollenback, another teenager, is serving a 10-year term in prison for stealing beer. Jason Hill, 19, had consensual sex with his underage girlfriend, apparently with her family's approval considering that they allowed him to live in their house. He will spend the next 10 years in prison.

Neither Bollenback nor Hill killed anyone. Like Norris, Thornton did not intend to hurt anyone. There were other punishments available and appropriate. But the same mercy that Howard found for Norris was not available when the young men stood before him.

The scales of justice are not even close to being balanced.

Where is the outrage?

The list goes on:

- Utility companies charge a fee for a hurricane fund and then, when a storm strikes, are allowed to soak the customers a second time so that investors can maintain their profits.

- Corporate execs are being paid more in one day, or in one hour, than their workers make all year.

- The new federal budget cuts programs for the poorest Americans while raising taxes on middle-class families (through the alternative minimum tax) so that the richest people in the country can keep their undeserved tax cuts.

We should be howling at these injustices. The media should be full of stories detailing the fleecing of the public. Americans should be incensed.

But, wait, a blond Hollywood bombshell just died of mysterious causes. A disturbed woman astronaut took a cross-country drive to settle some romantic score that apparently existed only in her mind.

The public is thus distracted.

Where is the outrage?