The Handbasket Report

Tonight, President Bush delivers his State of the Union address. It will be a tedious affair, guaranteed to have at least one "surprise" simply because we've already been told, endlessly, pretty much what he'll say.

The whole enterprise would be more interesting if, like the Super Bowl -- another overhyped event dissected by far too many play-by-play network anchors -- Bush's speech was overshadowed by the expensive and creative commercials. It would certainly be consistent with the spirit of Bush's presidency; the RNC is probably looking into it for next year.

This year, Bush will deliver, for the 547th time, his long-awaited Comprehensive Case to the American People as to Why We Should Kick Saddam's Fanny. He'll urge the privatization of Medicare (though he won't quite say it that way). He'll demand a comprehensive tax reform package so that this coming April 15 we will each be assigned a billionaire to whom we will make our check out directly.

He won't quite say that unswervingly, either.

And what Bush won't say at all could fill volumes. The reasons why millions of people around the world are in the streets protesting against America each week; the reasons why many tens of thousands (at least) of Muslims have probably newly pledged their lives to committing terrorist acts against America; the reasons for the remarkably deep anger among those Americans who dislike Bush's presidency; all will not find voice tonight, either in Dubya's speech or the "reply" by yet another Democratic version of Republican Lite -- this time Washington State Gov. Gary Locke.

In his home state, Locke has enraged most legislators and nearly all voters in his own party by responding to a severe state budget shortfall (over $2 billion in a $23 billion budget) with a "no new taxes, ever" budget plan that cuts spending mostly in social services. Republicans themselves are either delighted with Locke's priorities or alarmed that even by Republican standards they go too far.

Locke has dreams of a vice presidency some day -- he's relatively young, photogenic, Asian-American, and a shoo-in for a third term next year. He's remained popular by smiling a lot and refusing to take any actions in his first two terms to respond to his state's most urgent problems -- leaving legislators to face the heat as they debate various unpopular options.

This is the national Democratic Party's idea of a comprehensive rebuttal to George W. Bush's frontal assault on what America stands for: Smile a lot, do nothing, and try to cash whatever corporate checks the Bush juggernaut might have overlooked.

Meanwhile, in the two years of his presidency -- and particularly the 15 months since 9/11 -- Bush has turned American government, and America's role in the world, upside down. It's more than the headline items, like the childish bellicosity and the massive tax breaks for the obscenely rich. Every day, far away from the public eye, the Bush Administration has been busy remaking America's relationship to the world and Americans' relationship to our government.

Regulatory and judicial appointments; end runs around Congress through arbitrary rule changes; unprecedented expansion of police and secret agency powers at the expense of both civil liberties and the Constitution itself; a direct bid to make evangelical Christianity our governing religion; runaway spending which, combined with the tax cuts, amounts not just to class warfare but to a massive, and wildly successful, wealth transfer scheme. Examples of each of these threads of the Bush crusade, and many more, ooze out of Washington each day. And the Democrats, almost without exception, have either cowered or applauded.

A favorite tactic of all presidents in their State of the Union addresses is to tell the representative anecdote. So here are a handful of anecdotes for our Handbasket Report -- because after two years, an oversized, gas-guzzling handbasket is surely what America is being taken for a ride in.

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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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