By: Tim Houchen
September 16, 2018 —
For a long time now, I’ve been holding on to a history lesson just waiting for the right moment and the right means for sharing it publicly. You probably will never see this chapter in history written in a book anywhere and because it does relate to homelessness, it’s not likely that you will hear this story from anyone else either.
Please forgive me if I come off a little too, Forrest Gump-like. I am possibly slow-witted, but kind-hearted just the same. I’m not from the South and my Ping-Pong skills can only be described as marginal, but like Gump, I too have played witness to several defining events in American history and I am just dying to share the details of these events with you.
The now famous quote at the top of this article is from President Obama and is excerpt from a speech he made moments before signing the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2009. The HEARTH Act became law on August 30, 2012. The speech and quote have since been named appropriately as the “Simply Unacceptable” speech and the “Simply Unacceptable” quote. See the HEARTH Act of 2009.
We’re going to look at what inspired the words of President Obama and why America was renewing its commitment to ending homelessness before the international community and the American people. This article is filled with moments in history, international politics, foreign policy, lies and deceit, and the proliferation of international propaganda.
Our story begins in the year 1945. World War II had just ended. The remaining allies were busy squabbling over territories reclaimed from the Germans during the war. Europe and Asia had been decimated from the ultimate and cataclysmic destruction of the war and the economy in both Europe and Asia was completely stifled and bankrupt.
The Soviet Union lost more than 20,000,000 soldiers and civilians in the war and their economy was bankrupt. The rest of the developing world was living in mud huts and open sewers ran down the middle of their streets, pretty much like they had before the war.
Then there was America. The U.S. had lost only about half a million soldiers in a war that never came to her shores. For the most part, these were prosperous times in America. Americans had been pulled into two world wars in Europe in less than half a century and was determined not to go back again. The idea of the United Nations was popular among Americans because it replaced the ineffective League of Nations with a multi-national peace-keeping military force in the event that another war were to erupt in Europe or elsewhere.
The United Nations was established on October 24, 1945 and headquartered in Manhattan, New York City. Originally there were 51 member states, there are now 193.
There were four major allies from the war that emerged as superpowers and they are sometimes referred to as the “Four Policemen” they are the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union and the Republic of China.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a historic document that guarantees people the means necessary to satisfy their basic needs, such as food, housing, and education, so they can take full advantage of all opportunities. By guaranteeing life, liberty, equality, and security, human rights protect people against abuse by those who are more powerful. The declaration was drafted under the chairmanship of Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The U.N. adopted the declaration at its third session in Paris, France on December 10, 1948.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, provides, among other things, that “everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living… including the right to housing.” However, the following year, the 1949 Federal Housing Act stated a goal of ” a decent home and suitable living arrangement for every American family,” but that goal was never enshrined as a right for every American.
See the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
For the next 70 years America remained the premiere world superpower and American corporations were involved in foreign markets everywhere. These markets were very competitive as third-world countries began developing industries requiring raw materials for manufacturing and an increasing demand for crude oil.
After WW II, the Soviet Union and the United States entered into a cold war that lasted nearly five decades. Asia became a hotbed of contention over the spread of communism in that part of the world and America became involved in conflict that led to shooting wars and extended occupations of both Korea and then later Vietnam.
Supply and demand economics drove prices higher when crude oil or other raw materials dwindled and became more scarce. The competition in foreign markets remained strong and America continued creating partnerships and building alliances politically and economically world-wide.
By the 1970’s, things were not going well in Southeast Asia and the United States began pulling out of a war that had been determined as unwinnable. Things were not looking much better in the Middle East either. The cost of oil was unstable after the toppling of governments there and conflict rose among Middle Eastern nations. In the interest of protecting American assets in the Middle East, the U.S. rushed into the center of conflict first as a peacekeeper and later became the target of terrorist attacks sponsored by countries that opposed the U.S. and their alliance with Israel.
Shortages of oil in the 1970’s drove the price per barrel of oil from about $4 a barrel in 1973 to almost $35 a barrel by 1980. The Middle East nations became the world’s major producers of oil in the 1970’s and those major producers learned quickly about how to manipulate markets by creating shortages that allowed oil to be sold at a higher price. The price of oil would peak at $100 a barrel in 2008 just as America was slipping into its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
The U.S. eventually became involved in several conflicts in the Middle East including a peace-keeping mission in Lebanon that went south after a terror attack killed 237 Marines. The U.S. fought two Gulf Wars battling Iraq and another war in Afghanistan. The second Gulf War in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan were both fought simultaneously by U.S. forces leading to protracted occupations of both countries that lasted more than a decade each. As the conflict spread to the African continent, the U.S. military would conduct missions in Libya and then Somalia. During the 1990’s, U.N. Peacekeepers were dispatched to countries formerly occupied by the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe. The United States would then provide military air support for the U.N. mission to prevent mass genocide in Bosnia. The United States still has troops stationed in Afghanistan today.
It often seems that the cards are stacked in favor of the United States and their allies in times of conflict and there is most likely very good reasons for why this is. Sometimes, it is painfully obvious that there are double standards that exist, however. It’s not a far stretch to observe that U.N. policies often provide one set of rules for us, and another set of rules for everyone else. Certainly, other countries must see this disparity and understandably despise the United States for doing this.
If you can imagine this in terms of a basketball game and America is a basketball player who is also given authority to be the only referee in the game. America blows the whistle for every infraction by the opposing team and imposes penalties on the opposing team when they break any rules, but the whistle never blows when America breaks a rule so they are never penalized. Since America the player is also the official, they never get called for a foul so they never have to worry about fouling out.
It is the intentions of the author of this article to establish in this diatribe, a direct relationship between the human right to housing and homelessness in America and the double standards that America has set for itself and the rest of the world regarding this topic. It is only because it is a considerable embarrassment to some, and some would rather that other Americans share that embarrassment, at least enough to do more to eradicate homelessness and ensure Americans human rights to housing.
The United States has been critical of violations of human rights committed by other countries. In one case 190 of the total of 191 member nations of the U.N. were listed as violators by the U.S. In fact, the only member nation that was not listed was the U.S.
Over the years the U.S. has been critical of the Soviet Union for its human rights record alleging that the political rights and civil liberties of its citizens were violated. The U.S. has reported China for just about every human rights violation in the book. U.S. officials called for sanctions against the Chinese government in 1989 when troops turned automatic rifles and tanks on a student demonstration firing at protestors in Tiananmen Square. Anywhere between 200 and 10,000 were killed by troops depending on where and who you get your news from.
No government has been criticized more by the United States than Iran for their heinous human rights record. Iran has been sanctioned continuously for the better part of the last half century going back to 1980 after student revolutionarys stormed the American Embassy in Tehran taking 26 hostages and holding them for more than a year. The United States froze millions in Iranian assets in U.S. banks for three decades.
Several times Iran has been sanctioned for sponsoring terrorism targeting Americans. The U.N. has sanctioned Iran at least one time for refusing to suspend the enrichment of uranium that they claim is for peaceful purposes even though they have threatened to nuke Israel many times. This is all without counting the alleged human rights violations perpetrated on their own people with harsh punishments for victimless crimes like fornication or homosexuality and the executions of tens of thousands of political prisoners.
Other nations that are frequent visitors to the United Nations penalty box are North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and occasionally other nations of South America and Africa.
In all of the years that have passed since the inception of the United Nations and the International Declaration of Human Rights, The United States had never been formally subjected to review of their human rights record by the United Nations until 2011. But, a series of reports titled, “The Human Rights Record of the United States” was published by the People’s Republic of China beginning in 2003 in response to a report published by the United States in 1999 that accused 190 of 191 member countries of the U.N. of various human rights violations. The only country that the United States did not report as having violated human rights was itself.
The Chinese report in 2004, states that the State Department reports are “full of distortions and accusations of the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions including China. However, the United States turned a blind eye to its own terrible human rights situation and seldom mentioned it.” It says that the United States uses the human rights issues as “a political instrument to defame other nations’ image and seek its own strategic interests.”
The report asserts the U.S. State Department released the ‘Country Reports on Human Rights Practices’ year after year to accuse and blame other countries for their human rights practices. These moves fully expose the United States’ hypocrisy by exercising double standards on human rights and its malicious design to pursue hegemony under the pretext of human rights.
The Report criticizes U.S. domestic social and economic issues, such as poverty, crime and racism. Some of the data cited in the report is derived from official or authoritative sources; other sections are composed from a variety of material found online, some of which may be anecdotal.
Additional reports titled, “The Human Rights Record of the United States” were published by the People’s Republic of China in the years 2004, 2010, 2011 and 2014 criticizing broad categories of human rights violations and atrocities ranging from the USA Patriot Act, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 without U.N. approval, abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Graib, and an overview of the Occupy Movement.
The Chinese report accused the U.S. government of committing violence and torture and that police commonly used excessive force upon citizens and noted specific cases where young American men killed by police were both ethnically and racially motivated.
The Chinese in most of their reports criticized the U.S. for its homeless problems.
“Although the U.S. is the most developed country in the world, it is hard for the economic and social rights of its citizens to be soundly ensured,” the report says.
In the process of economic recovery, the income inequality continued to be enlarged, the basic living conditions for the homeless people deteriorated, the health care system operated terribly and the education rights of average citizens were violated, according to the report.
The international community has increasingly taken note of America’s failure to uphold the right to housing. In 2006, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the disparate racial impact of homelessness in the U.S. and called for “adequate and adequately implemented policies, to ensure the cessation of this form of racial discrimination.” In February 2008, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed additional concerns about the disparate racial impact of segregated housing communities, and called for a right to counsel in civil cases where housing is threatened. In June 2008, the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism conducted a visit to the U.S. and condemned racial disparities in housing and local policies that criminalize homelessness in his report. In the fall of 2009, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing conducted her first official mission to the U.S. Her comprehensive report, issued in March 2010, covers affordable and public housing, homelessness, and the foreclosure crisis, and provides detailed recommendations for federal and local level policy reforms.
In the third week of September of 2008, millions of Americans would hear the term “sub-prime mortgage crisis” for the first time ever. After five years Americans will have heard the same term spoken more times over those five years than they would hear their own name spoken throughout the course of their lifetime.
2008 was the year of the “great recession.” The U.S. has not experienced another recession since making these last ten years the longest period without recession since World War II. 2008 also seen the end of investment banking, the stock market crashed and there was the failure of several financial institutions and the bailout of several more. Credit markets were frozen and General Motors and Chrysler were also bailed out of bankruptcy in 2008.
On May 20, 2009, President Obama signed the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act into law, reauthorizing HUD’s Homeless Assistance programs. The HEARTH Act allows for the prevention of homelessness, rapid re-housing, consolidation of housing programs, and new homeless categories. In the eighteen months after the bill’s signing, HUD must make regulations implementing this new McKinney-Vento program.
Few Americans remember another bill signed into law by President Obama on the same day he signed the HEARTH Act. The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 was also signed on May 20, 2009. The stated purpose of the act, a product of the 111th United States Congress, was to allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages on primary residences, among other purposes; however, that provision was dropped in the Senate and is not included in the version that was eventually signed into law. In addition, the bill amends the Hope for Homeowners Program as well as provide additional provisions to help borrowers avoid foreclosure.
In March of 2011, about a year after President Obama signed the HEARTH Act of 2009, the U.S. acknowledged for the first time that rising homelessness had implicated our country’s obligations to uphold human rights according to the Universal Declaration.
This recognition came in the Obama Administrations official response to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s first ever comprehensive review of the United States’ human rights record. That response included a commitment to take action to “reduce homelessness” to “reinforce safeguards to protect the rights” of homeless people, and to continue efforts to ensure affordable housing for all.
The response to the Human Rights Council was followed a week later by a statement from the State Department informing Americans and the World that after 70 years, the U.S. would be returning to a commitment to uphold the the full range of the Four Freedoms outlined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression, including the Freedom from Want.
In acknowledging our renewed embrace of the full spectrum of economic, social, and cultural rights alongside civil and political rights, Assistant Secretary Michael Posner, singled out the right to housing among others, stating “Our governments commitment to provide for the basic social and economic needs of our people is clear, and it reflects the will of the American people… They ask us to provide shelter for the destitute… and we do. In the wake of the housing crisis, last year the federal government committed almost $4 billion to target homelessness.”
If you go back and review the HEARTH Act and the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act you will find nothing that provided additional funding for people that were already homeless at that time. Both bills were specifically created for homeless prevention, rapid rehousing, loan modifications and other provisions to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. Assistant Secretary Posner was not telling the truth in his response to the Human Rights Council when he said that $4 billion had been committed by our government to target homelessness. Can anyone help me to understand how $700 billion could be spent bailing out banks and $4 billion to help people with homes prevent foreclosure and nothing appears to have been provided to help the most vulnerable population in our country.
Is this what the Chinese were referring to as inequality?
In December 2017, United Nations Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston, toured the United States performing research for an upcoming report on extreme poverty in America. Orange County civil rights activists and homeless advocates met with him to discuss the treatment of homeless persons here and whether or not that treatment constitutes violation of international human rights.
See the Orange County Register article here.
Also see the Voice of OC article here.
On May 4, 2018, The U.N. Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston, submitted his report to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The report identifies the purpose of Alston’s 2017 mission to the United States and the purpose of the report was to evaluate and report to the Council to the extent in which U.S. government policies and programs addressing extreme poverty are consistent with its human rights obligations with the United Nations. An additional purpose for the report was to offer constructive recommendations to the U.S. government and other stakeholders.
The report gives details regarding Alston’s 2017 visit to the United States and having visited multiple cities including Los Angeles, and consulting with public officials from every level of government, civil rights activists and advocates, as well as people living in poverty themselves.
In an overview, Alston stated that the United States was home to one of the world’s wealthiest societies and was a global leader in many areas including technology, innovation and higher education. He noted that society here was vibrant and sophisticated and that American corporations were global trendsetters.
Alston goes on to report that even with all of the wealth and expertise that exists in the U.S. it stands in “shocking contrast” to the conditions that a vast amount of American citizens live. Statistically, there are 40 million people in poverty, the most in any nation. The U.S. has the highest youth poverty rate, highest infant mortality rate and the poorest citizens live shorter and sicker lives compared to other wealthy democracies of the U.N. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate and the lowest voter registration rate. The report goes on to describe widespread income inequality before examining human rights in America. See the entire U.N. Special Report to the Human Rights Council here.
In the assumption of human rights in the United States, Alston had this to say.
“Successive administrations, including the present one (Trump), have determinedly rejected the idea that economic and social rights are full-fledged human rights, despite their clear recognition not only in key treaties that the United States has ratified, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, but also in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States has long insisted other countries must respect. But, denial does not eliminate responsibility, nor does it negate obligations….”
We’re going to stop right here where it will be revealed to you an interesting secret that has been hidden in plain sight and bears witness to the extent that the United States government is willing to grant its citizens any human rights whatsoever.
The absolute truth is that the United States never signed the Covenant for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights until President Jimmy Carter signed it in 1977. What took so long? Why then?
Although the Covenant for the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was eventually signed by the United States, it has yet to be ratified by the states. In fact, the U.S. has a mixed record on human rights. Despite early leadership on human rights and its role in establishing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has not ratified most other human rights treaties. U.S. foreign policy does not always respect human rights and the government also fails to protect key human rights domestically, especially economic and social rights.
One explanation for not ratifying the Declaration was because the U.S. Constitution already provides inalienable rights with many of the same protections. Really?
What about the Patriot Act that can un-provide just about any protections?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees people the means necessary to satisfy their basic needs, such as food, housing and education so they can take full advantage of all opportunities. By guaranteeing life, liberty, equality and security, human rights protect people against abuse by those that are more powerful.
Roll that around in your brain for a few minutes and then try to imagine what things could look like in the future. And as far as my homeless friends are concerned, I’ll keeping fighting for you, but I’m real sorry about our government.