The United States of America is reputedly the bastion of freedom as is tooted every given opportunity by both the government and citizens. In fact, the one verse in the country’s national anthem that people love to sing the loudest is that part that states this claim at the end of the anthem. “the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

Everything the US government does purportedly always has preserving or extending “our freedoms” as the reason and guiding principle. There is no speech given by our government officials that doesn’t include ‘our freedom’ in some form, or the other.

The first thing every American citizen learns as soon, as they become sentient, is how free they are, and how their country is the free-est place on the face of the earth.

In light of this ubiquitous ‘American freedom,’ I think it’s time to really examine the word ‘freedom’ as juxtaposed with the reality of the American citizen.

First, we will define freedom in all its ramifications, and try to compare these with what we know obtains in the United States.

Freedom is defined as: (1) personal liberty, as from slavery, bondage, serfdom, etc. (2) liberation or deliverance, as from confinement or bondage. (3) the quality or state of being free, esp to enjoy political and civil liberties ~ Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition

Prisons and Prisoners.

Since 2002, the United States has had the highest incarceration rate in the world. Although prison populations are increasing in some parts of the world, the natural rate of incarceration for countries comparable to the United States tends to stay around 100 prisoners per 100,000 population.

There are 4,575 prisons in operation in the U.S., more than four times the number of second-place Russia at 1,029. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.”

According to the latest release in December 2016 by US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS),

  • At year end 2015, an estimated 6,741,400 persons were supervised by U.S. adult correctional systems, a decrease of about 115,600 persons from year end 2014.
  • About 1 in 37 adults (or 2.7% of adults in the United States) was under some form of correctional supervision at year end 2015, the lowest rate since 1994.
  • The U.S. correctional population declined 1.7% during 2015 due to decreases in both the community supervision (down 1.3%) and incarcerated (down 2.3%) populations.
  • By yearend 2015, the community supervision population (4,650,900) fell to the lowest level since 2000 (4,564,900), and the incarcerated population (2,173,800) fell to the lowest level since 2004 (2,136,600).
  • All of the decrease in the community supervision population during 2015 resulted from a drop in the probation population (down 2.0%), as the parole population (up 1.5%) increased.
  • In 2015, the majority (69%) of the decline in the incarcerated population resulted from the drop in the prison population (down 35,500).

What that mumbo jumbo means is that at the end of 2015, 6,741,400 people or 1 in 37 adults (2.7% of adults) were under the American correctional systems.

  • The total number of prisoners held under the jurisdiction of state and federal correctional authorities on December 31, 2015 (1,526,800) decreased by 35,500 (down more than 2%) from year end 2014.
  • The federal prison population decreased by 14,100 prisoners from 2014 to 2015 (down almost 7%), accounting for 40% of the total change in the U.S. prison population.
  • After increasing during the previous 2 years, the number of state and federal female prisoners decreased by 1% in 2015.
  • State and federal prisons held 1,476,800 persons sentenced to more than 1 year on December 31, 2015.
  • The imprisonment rate in the United States decreased 3%, from 471 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents of all ages in 2014 to 458 prisoners per 100,000 in 2015.

What that means is that 1,476,800, excluding those whose sentences were below 1 year, were held in American prisons as at December 31, 2015. The imprisonment rate in the United States was 458 prisoners per 100,000 Americans. Presumably, this rate was also reached while excluding prisoners whose sentences were under 1 year. That’s for prisons and prisoners in the ‘land of the free.’

Debt.

The average American household with credit card debt owes $16,061, up 10% from $14,546 10 years ago and $15,762 last year, according to a new analysis of Federal Reserve Bank of New York and U.S. Census Bureau data by the personal finance company NerdWallet. The amount of household credit card debt is still down from a recent high of $16,912 in 2008 at the height of the recession. The U.S. won’t hit pre-recession credit card debt levels until the end of 2019, NerdWallet’s analysis projects.

Total debt (including mortgages, auto loans and student loans) is expected to surpass the amounts owed at the beginning of the Great Recession by the end of 2016, NerdWallet found, mostly due to mortgages and student loans. Mortgage debt jumped from $159,020 per household in 2010 to $172,806 in 2016, and debt from auto loans grew from $20,032 in 2010 to $28,535 in 2016.

Nationwide, total household debt (including mortgages, auto loans and student loans) now equals almost $12.4 trillion, up from about $11.7 trillion in 2010.

A breakdown of the debt held by American families goes thus; Mortgage: $172,806, Student loans: $49,042, Auto loans: $28,535, Credit cards: $16,061. These figures show that Americans are not racking up debt from frivolous spending, but from very necessary spending.

Are you really free when you’re saddled with so much debt that all you do is work to pay it off?

Healthcare.

The United States is the only major industrialized nation in the world without a universal health care system for her citizens. What this means is that citizens have to provide their own individual health care and pay for the services from their own pockets.

This also means that America is the only wealthy, industrialized nation where people die because they don’t have access to healthcare. A recent study found that lack of insurance coverage can be tied to 45,000 deaths per year in the United States and that people without health insurance have a 40% higher risk of death than those with private health insurance.

Despite this fact, the United States spends over $8,250 per capita on health care every year – that’s over 22% higher than the next highest country in the world and over 170% higher than the average of the highest-spending 50 countries in the world!

In 1960, the per capita cost of health care was $147 per person in America; adjusted for inflation, it would be $1,082 today; that means our current per capita cost has grown over 660% above and beyond normal inflation. This is mainly due to the exploitation by insurance corporations who have taken a stranglehold on the health care industry.

The total amount of money spent on health care each year in the United States is $2.6 trillion, and it is expected to continue rising. By 2021, spending on health care each year is expected to be $4.8 trillion. It is estimated that 30% (about $750 billion) of health care spending each year is wasted. This is the part that goes into the coffers of the insurance cabal while the people die from their health issues.

* Iraq and Afghanistan have universal healthcare provided by US war funding.

Despite all the money spent, life expectancy in the United States is 77.4 years for men and 82.2 years for women; overall, America has the 34th highest life expectancy in the 195 countries of the world.

  • The United States ranks 47th for infant mortality in the world.
  • The World Health Organization has ranked the United States health care system as 37th in the world.

About 75% of all health care dollars are spent on patients with one or more chronic conditions, many of which are preventable, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, lung disease, and others.

Paying for health care is the number 1 cause of bankruptcy filing every year in the U.S. Almost 2 million people need to file bankruptcy because they cannot pay their medical bills each year, and outside of bankruptcy, over 20 percent of the population (about 56 million adults) between the ages of 19 and 64 struggle with health-care related bills each year.

What sort of freedom do you have when you have no healthcare, and are constantly worrying that you can go bankrupt at any point if you fall sick? It is a known fact that many Americans stay at jobs they hate because they need the health insurance it provides. Is that freedom, or slavery?

Voting rights.

These extensions state that voting rights cannot be denied or abridged based on the following:

  • “Race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (15th Amendment, 1870)
  • “On account of sex” (19th Amendment, 1920)
  • “By reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax” for federal elections (24th Amendment, 1964)

Those are extensions to the American Constitution stipulating that citizens must not be denied voting rights because of their race, color, or previous condition of servitude. This means that color, race or whether you were once a slave must not prohibit one from voting.

They must not be denied voting rights based on their sex. This means that everybody who is 18 years and older has the right to vote whether they are male, female or transgender.

Another amendment, the 24th, stipulates that citizens must not be denied the right to vote due to failure to pay any poll tax for federal elections. This means that people must not be charged any fees as a condition to vote. This particular voting right is the one that is most under threat due to the recent popularity of voter ID laws among the states.

Voter ID laws are laws that require a person to provide some form of official identification before they are permitted to register to vote, receive a ballot for an election, or to actually vote. Right now, 33 states have some form of voter ID law with varying degrees of strictness. Even though states have been requiring some form of identification before voting since 1950, it wasn’t until 2006 that the state of Indiana became the first state to require a government issued photo ID for voting when it passed a very strict photo ID law.

The voter ID requirement is seen as a poll tax by some critics who insist that forcing people to pay for these IDs before they can vote is a form of taxation. Proponents of the laws argue that they reduce voter fraud while placing very little burden on the voters. Extensive studies have found that incidents of voter fraud in the United States is so minute that legislating against it isn’t necessary, but that has not stopped the assault on voting rights that has disenfranchised tens of millions of mainly minority voters.

Citizens United.

Americans protesting the Citizens United ruling.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 558 U.S. 310 (2010) is a landmark U.S. constitutional law and corporate law case dealing with the regulation of campaign spending by organizations. The United States Supreme Court held (5–4) on 21 January 2010 that freedom of speech prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions and other associations.

What this decision has done is open the door for rich corporate entities to take the upper hand in electing government officials by their superior spending power. America’s democracy is gradually turning into fascism as a result, because ordinary citizens can no longer compete with the huge amounts of cash being dumped into political advertising by the corporations.

The result is that elected officials in government, from the presidency to city officials, have corporate money to thank for their election to office, and now work to please these corporate citizens more than they work to satisfy the ordinary citizens. When it begins to cost upwards of a billion dollars to elect the president of the United States, it’s very clear that the ordinary people have been priced out of their government.

All in all, the United States of America is home to some of the unhappiest and most depressed citizens in the world. Depression affects approximately 19 million Americans, or 9.5% of the population in any given one-year period. At some point in their lives, 10%-25% of women and 5%-12% of men will likely become clinically depressed. In fact, it affects so many people that it is often referred to as the “common cold” of mental illness. However, it must be noted that only about 50% of depression sufferers seek treatment, and statistics is taken from people who seek treatment.

Many factors can contribute to major depression. Depression is often triggered by traumatic life events, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, financial problems, or some other significant loss. People who tend to be pessimistic, have low self-esteem, worry too much, or feel they have little control over life events are at a higher risk for developing depression.

The United States is the third most depressed country in the world behind India and China. Of course, we know how ‘un-free’ people are in those two countries which begs the question as to why citizens of the free-est nation on earth can be almost as depressed as citizens of those two countries. India, China and the U.S. are also the countries most affected by anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to WHO.

Here are the countries with the greatest burden of disease for mental and behavioral disorders, in terms of most years of life lost due to disability or death adjusted for population size, according to WHO.

Overall Depression Anxiety Alcohol & Drug Use
China India India China
India China China India
U.S. U.S. U.S. U.S.
Russia Indonesia Brazil Russia
Brazil Brazil Indonesia Brazil
Indonesia Russia Pakistan U.K.
Pakistan Pakistan Bangladesh Germany
Bangladesh Bangladesh Nigeria Mexico
Nigeria Nigeria Turkey Japan
Germany Iran Iran France

The United States is only the world’s 13th happiest place. The chart below explains much of that, but I need you to take a closer look at the ‘freedom’ and ‘dystopia’ parts of the US index. Now, why would citizens of the free-est country on earth have this much feeling of dystopia where they live in a place with the lowest incomes, lowest life expectancy, lowest generosity, most corruption, and least freedom? And why is so little of US citizens’ happiness explained by a feeling of freedom?

world happiness index list

If the definition at the beginning of this article describes freedom, then the reality of life in America does not match her claim of being the bastion of freedom. Free citizens aren’t weighed down by tons of debt, nor do they worry to the point of depression about healthcare and economic issues, especially when their country is the richest on the face of the earth. America probably has a different definition of freedom, but going by the one in the normal English dictionary, we ain’t nowhere near as free as we proclaim to be.

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