No refuge at home

There was a terrible irony in the New York Times yesterday. The headline (at least on the web version) reads, “U.S. and Allies Seek a Refuge for Qaddafi.”[1]

This is a man whose forces are reportedly bombarding Misurata with cluster bombs.[2]. The bombardment is apparently so brutal that civilians are complaining of a “medieval siege” and demanding more help from NATO.[3] And it seems that the Obama administration’s efforts to find Qadaffi a home are “complicated by the likelihood that he would be indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988, and atrocities inside Libya.”[4]

Qadaffi is to be found a comfortable exile, possibly in “a country that is not a signatory to the treaty that requires countries to turn over anyone under indictment for trial by the court,”[5] while millions of dispossessed, foreclosed-upon homeowners in the United States have been left to their own devices against a system that encouraged them to buy homes, sold them houses they couldn’t afford, loaned them the money to by those houses on ruinous terms, took whatever payments they made on those mortgages, and now takes legal “shortcuts”—some call these fraud—and now hustles them out of their homes just as fast as it can.[6]

Qaddafi, whose wealth is surely ill-gotten, will live a life of comfort while millions in the United States, who desperately seek jobs, struggle to survive without them.[7] Indeed, Qaddafi would join the Bush administration and the Wall Street financiers, who have killed, tortured, maimed, and looted millions of people, in absolute immunity for their crimes.

Of course, as the Times notes, the idea is to “giv[e] Colonel Qaddafi an incentive to abandon his stronghold in Tripoli.”[8]

But I remember asking my students, what would their local district attorney do, if they went on a killing rampage, if they kidnapped, tortured, and illegally imprisoned dozens of people? I would ask them now, what would their district attorney do if they conned people out of their homes and their life savings? Would their district attorney say, as Obama so generously phrased it, “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards?”[9]

This phenomenon reaches far beyond Qadaffi. It is a pattern in which a dictator’s position in his country becomes untenable, and the powers that be seek to ease his exit. It is a pattern in which, as Jeffrey Reiman explains, criminal injustice is principally for the poor, while the rich are mostly excused. No matter how heinous the crime.[10]

I’m struggling to understand how this can go on. There’s been a lesson in my life that if something doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense, and it cannot continue, that something will happen, that change will occur. This is the lesson I draw from the collapse of the Soviet Union, the dot-com bust, and the financial collapse of 2008. The situation we are in is another situation that simply does not make any sense whatsoever.

I remember when I was working at Linuxcare. It must have been in 2000 as the dot-com boom was reaching its peak. I went through a succession of managers and I remember sitting next to one, one day, who happened to have a relatively solid business background. I asked him, as we witnessed the unimaginable and senseless extravagance around us, this doesn’t make any sense, does it? He looked back at me, knew exactly what I was talking about, and said, no, it doesn’t.

Early the following year, I had another job. Unfortunately, it too was in a situation that didn’t make any sense. And two months later, I was unemployed. As of the end of this month, it will have been ten years since I held gainful employment. In that time, I have finished a bachelor’s degree, earned a master’s, and been admitted to two Ph.D. programs. But I can’t find a decent job to save my life.

So when I look at millions of unemployed people, people who lack my credentials, the last thing I can imagine is that they’re lazy or undeserving. But instead, it is the likes of Qadaffi and Bush who get the free pass. And there’s no change in sight.

  1. [1]David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. and Allies Seek a Refuge for Qaddafi,” New York Times, April 16, 2011,
  2. [2]C. J. Chivers, “Qaddafi Troops Fire Cluster Bombs Into Civilian Areas,” New York Times, April 15, 2011,
  3. [3]Simon Denyer, “Gaddafi presses siege of Misurata as civilians beg NATO to prevent massacre,” Washington Post, April 16, 2011,
  4. [4]Sanger and Schmitt, “U.S. and Allies Seek a Refuge for Qaddafi.”
  5. [5]Sanger and Schmitt, “U.S. and Allies Seek a Refuge for Qaddafi.”
  6. [6]Andy Kroll, “Fannie and Freddie’s Foreclosure Barons,” Mother Jones, August 4, 2010; Amy Goodman, “When Banks Are the Robbers,” Truthdig, October 19, 2010; John Letzing, “Ohio AG sues GMAC, Ally over foreclosure fraud,” MarketWatch, October 6, 2010; Dean Starkman, “A ‘Gate’ Worthy of the Name—’ForeclosureGate’,” Columbia Journalism Review, October 11, 2010; Matt Taibbi, “Courts Helping Banks Screw Over Homeowners,” Rolling Stone, November 10, 2010; L. Randall Wray, “Right Now, A Complete Collapse Of The Financial System Is Not Out Of The Question,” Business Insider, November 4, 2010
  7. [7]Andy Kroll, “The Face of An American Lost Generation,” TomDispatch, October 5, 2010,,_the_face_of_an_american_lost_generation/
  8. [8]Sanger and Schmitt, “U.S. and Allies Seek a Refuge for Qaddafi.”
  9. [9]David Johnston and Charlie Savage, “Obama Reluctant to Look Into Bush Programs,” New York Times, January 11, 2009,
  10. [10]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Pearson, 2004).

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