All of us remember that childhood memory of attending a public sporting event for the first time. At the appointed moment before every game, with reverent solemnity, everyone in the crowd would rise from their seats, remove their hats, and place hand over heart as an amateur voice belted out (sometimes out of tune) the national anthem.
There was always a brief sense of pride and awe that overtook me when I heard those final words ring out: "The land of the free, and the home of the brave." I remember feeling how great it was to live in a free country, and to have brave men and women who would fight to keep us safe.
As the years went by and reality set in for me as an adult, my outlook began to change, and the red, white and blue that once shone so brightly from my childhood perspective began to fade and become discolored with the cynicism that comes from participating in our electoral system and keeping up to date on recent events.
After these last few years, I have taken a fresh look at this so-called free country of ours and what I see is a nation that worships the idea of freedom while basking in the glow of indentured servitude. I see people that talk of liberty, but have no real understanding of what it means.
From all sides, our freedom is evaporating as corporations corrupt every facet of our government from the halls of Congress, to the state houses and city governments.
We live in a country where if a citizen falls on hard times and needs a hand up he is labeled freeloading socialist, but a bank that inflates the housing market through irresponsible and predatory lending practices gets billions of dollars of your tax money and we call it a "bailout."
One should not look too closely, either, or they might notice that the trillions of dollars we spent bailing out the banks and corporations is now debt that those same banks are leveraging against the American people in the form of austerity cuts to education, social security and Medicare.
Conservative pundits and talking heads crow all over the airwaves about how 50 percent of this country pays no income tax, yet barely speak a word about the fact that 1 percent of the country has aggregated 40 percent of the available wealth.
As corporate profits reach 50-year highs and unemployment and underemployment reach the same 50-year highs, we are callously told that the rest of us need to pay our fair share and the finger of blame is placed on grade school teachers and the elderly while corporate fat cats receiving taxpayer bailouts float away with millions of dollars in bonuses as the U.S. economy crumbles around them.
As a result of the mess created by the banking industry and the housing bubble, we also have a new phenomenon, which is that we currently have 18.5 million empty homes across the nation and a population of 3.5 million homeless. That is five homes for each and every homeless person.
In this beacon of liberty and democracy, we also have one final achievement that sets us apart from the rest of the world.
America contains only 5 percent of the world's population, but we have 25 percent of the total worldwide prison population. We even beat out China for citizens behind bars, per capita.
When I hear of a land that is free and a home for the brave, I think it must be some foreign place spoken of in those words.
For, here, we have a country ruled by insatiable greed and home to indebted masses whose children have been sold into slavery to pay back debt that was never theirs to begin with; a nation ruled by plutocracy where the deepest pockets buy and sell public office as if it was just another commodity to be traded on the stock market, and American citizens are just equity to be leveraged for greater profits.