Strung Out: Trump, Afghanistan and More War

trump on campaign trail afghanistan

Since my typical writing style is stream of consciousness, you’re witnessing my real-time confusion over where to start my comments about President Donald Trump’s anticipated unveiling of his Afghanistan war plans tonight.

Hell, you should also be confused — America’s been fighting this war for SIXTEEN YEARS.

SIXTEEN YEARS. And for what useful purpose?

I’m immediately reminded of a few years ago, when I half-joked about how America’s so strung out that it can’t seem to stay away from whatever’s resting between Afghanistan’s thighs.

Let’s face it. SIXTEEN YEARS is a long time to be strung out over anything.

Didn’t the US started dropping bombs on Afghanistan in 2001 because the Taliban was hosting Osama Bin Laden — the Al-Qaeda leader and mastermind behind the World Trade Center attacks — in Afghanistan, and the Taliban wouldn’t hand Bin Laden over to the US?

Well, Bin Laden has been long gone and Al Qaeda has been bombed to relative insignificance in the country.

So, why is the US still fighting in Afghanistan?

Oh, right — the Taliban. I’ll get to that in a moment.

With Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda gone, isn’t there less of a reason to keep this war going for the past SIXTEEN YEARS?

Nope. Strung out.

America’s War on Terror that started with the war on Al-Qaeda, has magically transitioned to a war on the Taliban, where the objective has been to reduce the latter group’s footprint in the country.

But that strategy didn’t work. Afghanistan’s opium is flowing more than ever, and the Taliban has taken over more territory than they had before 9/11. Every military assessment I’m aware of says the Taliban has been fought to a stalemate, at best.

So, what the hell is between Afghanistan’s legs?

Has to be more than honor.

America’s been so strung out that it was willing to have talks with the Taliban. For the past TWENTY YEARS.

TWENTY YEARS. That’s is the part you don’t hear about.

Let’s explore these talks.

For starters, read this post by Counterpunch and this longform piece by Commentary Magazine to get the untold story about the US’s long and curious record of negotiations with the Taliban.

Mind blown yet? Wait until I paint the context.

The Clinton administration negotiated with the Taliban after the latter bum-rushed its way to power in the mid 1990s.

Negotiations took place with the Clinton administration’s full knowledge of the Taliban’s drug dealing, as well as its lethal problems with democracy and women.

Negotiations took place after Osama bin Laden, then a guest of the Taliban in Afghanistan, declared war on the US.

Negotiations also happened around the time of the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

America and the Taliban appeared to have plenty to discuss during the days of Bush the Second, before and after 9/11.

And yes, America and the Taliban were negotiating during President Obama’s reign. Talks went so (relatively) well that the US not only ended up recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate political organization, but America also allowed the Taliban to open a political office in Qatar.

How’s that mind of yours doing?

Even the most myopic of partisan thinkers reading this post would be forced to look beyond whatever Trump has to say tonight, and ask a common sense question: what in the hell does the US and the Taliban have so much to discuss?

This is where familiar themes come in: fossil fuel, minerals, and America’s desire to secure them.

I’m not driven by conspiracy speculations and neither should you. The truth about America’s interest in negotiating with the Taliban lies in America’s view of Afghanistan as an important piece of real estate in Central Asia. That’s why you should read two important sources.

The first is a book by Zbigniew Brzezinski titled The Grand Chessboard. Brzezinski was national security advisor for the Carter and Reagan administrations, as well as an advisor to Team Obama. In his book, Brzezinski wrote that America’s position as a global power is all but assured if it can run the show in Central Asia. He also emphasized Central Asia’s importance as an energy provider to the world, given its “reserves of natural gas and oil that dwarf those of Kuwait, the Gulf of Mexico or the North Sea.”

Brzezinski’s reference leads us to the second source: a 1998 Congressional testimony by John Maresca, an executive from US oil giant Unocal, where he requested the US government’s help in dealing with Afghanistan. While I think you should read the entire testimony, I’ll provide a summary:

  • Unocal knows there’s huge amount of oil and gas in Central Asia.
  • Unocal has a plan to extract this fuel and pump it through a proposed pipeline that will run through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan,  India and Pakistan (TAPI).
  • The planned pipeline will mostly run through the areas of Afghanistan that are controlled by the Taliban.
  • Unocal is fully aware of the Taliban’s mean streak, but the company hopes that the US government can create a politically stable environment in the region so that the pipeline can be built.

The oil hasn’t gone anywhere — it’s still resting between Afghanistan’s legs.

This explains why the Clinton gang had so much to discuss with the Taliban — before the Twin Towers fell — and why it wasn’t so quick to retaliate against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan after the USS Cole attack. I suggest you first read the Commentary Magazine piece mentioned earlier to understand why the US’s behavior in this instance is so outrageous.

It’s also no secret that the former Soviet Union had some idea of the mound of riches between Afghanistan’s thighs. In field notes obtained by Scientific American, Soviet experts noted that Afghanistan has an enormous amount of rare earths — the elements critical for computing technology, communications, national defense, transportation and other vital industries.

In other words, Afghanistan’s has so much economic potential that the Soviet Union was willing to risk its empire to conquer it and America’s been strung out for more than a decade and a half.

Shoot, you could argue that Afghanistan’s had America’s nose was open for even longer. Remember that the US spent over $1 billion from the late 1970s through the early 1990s arming and training the Taliban to expel the Soviet military.

So whatever Trump has to say tonight, you can be certain of two things: [1] he’s getting strung out too; and [2] he may not be down for talking with the Taliban — yet …

song currently stuck in my head: “willow weep for me” – wes montgomery

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Sunday Smack: What About This Race Conversation?

This Sunday Smack deals with a question I’ve indirectly brought up in previous posts: the conversation about race.

Is a conversation necessary? Whose minds would you like to change as a result of a conversation?

After what we’ve seen in America during the past two weeks, do you think a conversation would change anyone’s mind?

If we had this conversation, what would it look like?

Who should be invited to this conversation?

Would you invite this guy?

If your answer is no, why not?

Who should never be invited?

Who would host this conversation?

Who should be the speakers?

How would the conversation be structured?

What would be the goal of this conversation? What would be the final deliverables?

Based on your answers, do you really want a conversation, or do you want something else?

Do you expect others to have a completely different set of answers from yours?

If the answer to my last question is yes, would it be unfair for me to repeat the questions: “Is a conversation necessary? Whose minds would you like to change … ?”

song currently stuck in my head: “the pursuer” – carl allen

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Rest in Love, Dick Gregory

Dick Gregory comedian dead

I’m currently reflecting on the loss of Dick Gregory, who was 84.

While much of the media will spend the day filling your ears with love-in stories about how much of a good comedian he was — a point I can definitely nod my head to — you likely won’t hear much about the context in which Gregory framed his humor.

During a talk on the Washington DC-based Carl Nelson radio show, Gregory expressed a full awareness of humor’s limits:

We didn’t laugh Hitler out of existence. And the day we find a cure for cancer, it won’t be through jokes. It will be through hard and sincere work.

Hard” because that’s what struggles require: hard work.

Sincere” because not everyone — regardless of skin color — who chants “Black Lives Matter” will really mean it.

But Gregory understood the importance of humor. On the same show, he mentioned how laughter helps people to take a “five-minute break” from the madness that can sometimes smother us.

Of the many lessons Gregory left behind, two of them are at the top of my mind.

One is his admonishment to honor black heritage (“[The slave-masters] thought they were stealing workers, and they were stealing scientists.”)

The other is to never accept the surface narrative — the true story lies deeper.

Searching deeper for the truth is what my blog attempts to do. in some ways, you could say Gregory’s curiosity is one of the inspirations behind mental interest.

This is not to say Gregory always shared spot-on prognostications. For example, Herman Cain didn’t become president of the United States, all due praises. Then again, even a political candidate’s certain destiny can be derailed by mucus mindedness:

Still, Gregory’s advice to relentlessly chase the truth remains important.

One of the most powerful tributes you can make to Gregory’s Legacy is to read.

And to question.

And read.

And question some more.

My pal Tanya Free had Gregory on her show in 2011 where he talked about a range of topics including the important of digging deeper in search of Truth. Visit her page or click here to listen.

Rest in Love Elder Gregory …

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Trump Makes a Valid Point About ‘Changing Culture’


My main point about yesterday’s memorable press conference with President Donald Trump has less to do with his full turn of opinion when he reestablished air cover for his Alt-Right peeps by reincarnating his “Many sides” theory as an explanation for the death and racial violence this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.

But I should at least state the obvious first: you now have more confirmation than ever that Trump either one of the most hateful and bigoted Presidents in US history, or is a perverse lover of all things racist.

We’re talking about a Jefferson Davis and Governor Orval Faubus chiilin’ on one of Trump’s golf courses — if they were alive today — kind of bigot.

A Governor George Wallace — well, the 1960s version — having dinner at Trump Tower kind of bigot.

The kind of bigot where Trump could feel at home sitting on an antebellum Southern porch with Jefferson Davis and drinking lemonade while darkies serve as ottomans.

The kind of bigotry where J. Edgar Hoover would shout an orgasmic “Brilliant” in response to Trump’s demonization of counter protesters to this kind of filth by using the term “Alt-Left,” thus placing those who oppose the continued existence of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville on the same moral plane as the Alt-Right.

But you know all this by now. And that’s not the point of this piece.

I want to rap about how during yesterday’s epic media assault, Trump — through two analogies — offered his unfiltered opinion about whether or not the Robert E Lee statue should remain standing in Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park:

George Washington was a slave owner… Are we gonna take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? Ya like him? Are we gonna take down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner.

Jefferson was also a sexual predator who digged teen-aged girls, I must add.

The President then hit my responsive chord when he said:

You’re changing history, you’re changing culture

Damn right, Mr. President. I agree. I WANT TO CHANGE THE CULTURE.

And the only change in history I want to see is the one that tells the truth.

America has a fixation with glorifying American invaders [PDF], colonists, treasonous insurgents and violent sojourners who’ve made their fortunes and reputations from the yoke of oppression.

A nation where a group of slavery-supporting insurgents get more post-war love than the Black Panthers, who never started a civil war, but was the focus of relentless infiltration and assassinations.

And until America comes to terms with its past and subsequently addresses the roots of inequality and injustice, we’ll sadly see repeats of Charlottesville.

So yes, let’s take down every one of these monuments to exploitation …

song currently stuck in my head: “mo slow” – hi-fly orchestra


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Sunday Smack: What is the American Dream?

american dream

The American Dream is back,” says President Donald Trump.

But what does that mean?

Back in January, Trump associated his desire to eliminate up to 75 percent of government regulations concerning businesses with the American Dream.

In a series of moves that took place during the time of the White House-sponsored American Dream Week, Trump:

If you ask Trump’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, American Dream means owning a home.

However, being a homeowner doesn’t protect you from crosses burning in your front lawn …

… or being burned out of your home by others who resent people like you.

Besides, is owning your own home the sole ingredient to happiness?

I know — the American Dream originally had a very different definition, but I won’t focus on that tonight.

So, there’s my Sunday Smack to you:

What do you define as the American dream, and is it important for Presidents and their cabinet officials to get that definition right?

song currently stuck in my head: “handkerchief” – konkoma

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Charlottesville, White Terrorism and History — a Black Man’s Viewpoint

white nationalists attack

President Donald Trump’s difficulty with specifically denouncing the “Unite the Right” rally and White terrorist violence committed in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend confirms what many people of color already felt about the Trump regime: it’s Al-Qaeda or Islamic State in khakis and polo shirts, hiding behind perverse and ancient renderings of a noble religion to justify its violent goals and actions.

On that last point about perversion — scriptures say that Jesus Christ supported the liberation of poor and oppressed people. He didn’t advocate this:

Osama Bin Laden’s last days as leader of Al-Qaeda mirrors what I see in Trump today: figurehead leadership who would make public appearances to stir-up followers while the real work of terror is run by lieutenants.

The mainstream media’s handling of all this domestic terror is different from how it sees Al-Qaeda or Islamic State, however. A pissed-off Muslim with a machete is quickly labeled as a “terrorist” while guts flee from news editors when they identify the White folks marching through Charlottesville who chanted “White lives matter.”

But that’s no big surprise to Black folks either.

While African descendants who haven’t committed crimes can’t drive across town without being stopped, questioned, and sometimes killed by police officers, many of us immediately saw the two faces of law enforcement when 20-year-old White terrorist James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio managed to speed through the town of Charlottesville, Virginia to kill as many people as possible.

You know, an Islamic State-styled attack.

Some Americans are still waiting for a newspaper or government official to call Dylann Roof’s mass shooting of innocent Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina an act of terrorism, but others simply see a troubled kid.

Meanwhile, African descendants never held their breath in lieu of delivery.

I wrote about Roof a while ago and used a device to describe people like him, which easily applies to the Charlottesville terrorists: fractals of racial hatred.

My writings are typically stuffed with imagery which, for obvious reasons, I tend to avoid breaking down for readers. Besides, this blog is not a home for longform pieces.

But a more detailed explanation is important.

As an African descendant who studies the history of race in America,I hold the opinion that state-sanctioned terrorist acts against people of color do not represent new horrors, born from the Trump era. We’ve seen this pattern for decades.

Some Americans are visually-driven in the most current sense and possess only a transactional view of events — a combination which results in divorcing what happened in Charlottesville this past weekend from Roof and much of American history.

But this is a mistake. These terrorists — in speech, form and resultsare identical to the terrorists who committed acts of violence against people of color throughout the decades.

In other words, they are fractals. The Charlottesville terrorists could switch places with anti-Freedom Summer Mississippi terrorists from the 1960s — and neither group would feel out of place.

That’s how fractals roll.

And just like what we witnesseed in Charlottesville, where police officers watched the clashes between terrorists and counter-protestors for hours without apparently lifting a thought to stop the violence, local, state and federal government organizations have dragged their feet to deal with these violent fractals since the decades-long birth of White terrorism.

But unarmed and non-violent Black families in Ferguson Missouri can’t even protest on their home lawns without police officers attacking them with tear gas.

Peace to Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis for reminding us of this point in their new film.

The mislabeled “Reconstruction” — properly-titled if the goal of the exercise was to bail out rich plantation owners who went bust after the Civil War, and roll back the progress of freed Black slaves — is saturated with stories of racial violence committed by Ku Klux Klan terrorists, and the US government’s slow reaction to condemn or stop these acts from occurring.

The government and the terrorists exhibited the same behavior during the labor riots of the early 1900s.

Research the lynchings in America and you’ll find the same story: White terrorists who murdered Black people in the name of The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, while Congress couldn’t even agree on a bill to outlaw lynching.

Let’s pause for a moment — we needed a BILL to outlaw lynching …

… and that bill never arrived.

We saw a similar story during the acts of White terrorist violence against civil rights protesters during the 1960s. We also witnessed government agency support for these terrorists, in the name of preserving segregation and voter suppression.

Conversely, we also saw the destruction of the Black Panther Party through infiltration and assassination.

America is so mired in racial terrorism that a reasonable view of race relations in this country is nearly impossible to achieve.

For example, look at Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s public statement to the Charlottesville terrorists:

You pretend that you are patriots, but you are anything but a patriot. You want to talk about patriots, talk about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, who brought our country together.

Both “patriots” cited owned slaves, and one of them even felt that we lived in a post-racial America. In the late 18th century. When slavery still existed.

This is why I have problems with the phrase “This is Trump’s America.”

No — this is America.

And like the past, there’s no serious talk about ending White terrorism …

song currently stuck in my head: “canto fatal (full album)” – filó machado

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Whose Streets? Film and the New Black Leadership

whose streets sabaah folayan and damon davis

Although I plan to see the Ferguson, Missouri uprising documentary Whose Streets? in a theater this week, I’ve declined to write about the film up to this point because mentalunrest’s editorial policy typically forbids me from writing about media I’ve neither seen nor experienced, but I have to share some thoughts about the recent and excellent Facebook Live interview — featuring Whose Streets? directors Sabbah Folayan and Damon Davis — which hits its most resonating point at about 12 minutes and 42 seconds when a member of the online audience asked: “How Can I, a White woman, get involved and support people of color?”

Folayan’s explosive answer underscores a major theme of the film, and likely explains how the fight for racial and social justice has changed forever:

… We all have the capacity to be creative, to be strategic, and I think it’s about figuring out what that looks like for yourself.

In the old days, people would respond to oppression with an immediate call for establishment leaders to broker a solution with the oppressive forces.

Perhaps I’ll call out names later, but I’ll keep this note focused …

… but I’m talking about those 7-Eleven activists — named as such because they always seem to open shop down the block when you need something — seasoned pros at sniffing out and harvesting struggles while chasing 401Ks even harder …

… and leaving behind a field suffering from soil exhaustion while the leaders travel to the market.

Fed-up Ferguson Missouri citizens — tired of the government-sanctioned racketeering operation that used its police department for muscle — didn’t wait for convenience store leaders to take the streets.

After all, it’s “Our Streets.”

Gone are the days of waiting for a Messiah, who after anointment should begin to count down the days before being introduced to a bullet or life sentence in prison.

And then the movement dies.

The new thinking is that we’re all leaders, in our own way.

This point is what makes the uprising in Ferguson so dangerous.

Feel me?

I embedded the Folayan and Davis interview below this post. You can also click here.

Whose Streets? begins its nationwide release tomorrow, August 11.

Song currently stuck in my head: “cure” – moonchild

[Disclosure: I’m friends with Folayan’s Mother, who made an introduction about six years ago. I met her once more since that time.]

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Aural Dive: Saoul Bumbu

Saoul Bumbu

Recommended preparation for digging multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Saoul Bumbu’s music is to read how he describes it: “Good Songwriting is the real Pinnacle, no matter what Style or Genre. Write a Tune that still shines when there’s a Power [outage] and all you have is a 6-String and some Candles.”

I’ll supplement his quote with an admonition you’ll normally hear from the most hardcore of DJs and music heads: you should listen, but dig deeper.

Detecting Prince — peace be unto him — in Saoul Bumbu’s music isn’t a terribly challenging discovery path for most ears.

But here’s where I suggest you listen more closely. The Prince influence in some tracks seems very specific — like post-Purple Rain specific. Or perhaps Lovesexy-Graffiti Bridge-3rdeyegirl specific.

And then you should listen even deeper to notice Bumbu’s reverence to decades of Black American music patterns, where soulfully funky grooves with Rock inflections are bathed within a modern Electronica aesthetic, and sprinkled with poetic imagery. You’ll also hear 70s Jazz Fusion. His music will feel at home in your favorite lounge music playlist, dance floor or living room.

Moving to the beat seems to be the only sensible thing to do when you hear the Electric Boogie-flavored “Come On” with Susan Eleanor:

Or when you hear the metaphor-laden “Backseat Cadillac.”

And just when you think you have Bumbu figured out, his instrumentals send you back to the drawing board. The appropriately-titled “Bassoonova” could qualify him to write a tune or two for Azymuth.

The Jazz-Funk saturation in “Shifty” proves how boxing-in Bumbu’s style is a pointless exercise.

You Don’t say” sounds like a cross-pollination of late 70s Roy Ayers — especially in the chord progressions — with early 70s Blackbyrds.

And while you’re nodding in rhythmic approval, take note of the light social messaging brush Bumbu applies to his tracks.

I think there’s plenty to like here — especially since he never once sounds derivative.

Follow Saoul Bumbu on Soundcloud or contact him via Facebook for info on his upcoming The Juice EP. Checking out Bumbu’s prior releases is also a good idea. You can also dig deeper by checking out his work as half of Modern Soul duo The Noire.

Saoul Bumbu The Juice

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Shifting Standards — 7 Ways

racial injustice mental unrest

…. That tennis legend John McEnroe took time during his retirement to inexplicably mitigate Serena Williams’ standing as the top-rated women’s tennis player in the world — and possibly the best in history — by creating a new standard: comparing her to players from the men’s division

… That the insult appears to be a growing work in progress, as evidenced by the journalist who ignored the 12 grand slam titles that Williams, an American citizen, won since 2009, when he asked tennis great Andy Murray how it felt to be the first American to reach the semifinals for a Grand Slam title — since 2009.

… That Jasmine Shepard couldn’t enjoy her achievement of becoming valedictorian of a Cleveland, Mississippi high school without the school (allegedly) doing something it had not done in 110 years: appoint a co-valedictorian with a lower grade point average to share the honor with Shepard.

… That when Jasmine’s family publicly complained abiut this academic rendering, she became the target of racist attacks from perfect strangers — one of whom commented that “Black lives don’t mean s***.”

… That the documented views of many White Americans regarding race drove them to erect the highest standard they could imagine in 2008 for someone to be elected President of the United States, where even the mere rumor of a pussy-grabbing fantasy on candidate Barack Obama’s part would have relegated him to the recurring “He’s not a a first-stringer” commentary — only to see those standards dismantled in 2016 to elect someone who brags harder about snatching women’s crotches than he does about his self-described God-fearing ways …

… That the same demolished standard overlooked how the current President of the United States arrived at the NATO and G20 meetings so abysmally unprepared that some members of the mainstream media took the rare step of calling out his dull performance.

… That police officers, without guns drawn, found 18-year old Vermont native Logan Huysman sleeping in a running car with her friends; treated obtaining information from Huysman as if it were a negotiation-turned-earnest appeal — with no guns drawn; offered a weaponless response when Huysman lunged at them; responded to Huysman’s kick in the groin with “Oh my God, she kicked me” — and still no weapons drawn. No barrel roll. No body slam

That the CEO of JPMorgan can say being an American in 2017 is “almost an embarrassment” without the same backlash First Lady Michelle Obama received when she said “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.”

You can sometimes travel through life too quickly to catalog the instances of shifting standards. Those are my quick seven…

song currently stuck in my head: “red clay” – charlotte dos santos

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Let’s Revisit Robots and Minimum Wage Fast Food Workers


I’m not a fan of convenience stores.

But I get the case for why so many of us visit them — familiar structures located within the familiarity of our neighborhood’s borders, and merchandised with a limited set of familiar choices to enable easy purchase decisions.

The world is already difficult to navigate. We love “easy” when we can find it.

The problem with convenience and familiarity is the risk of obscurity.

Meaning, when left unchecked, convenience and familiarity can inhibit our freedom to view choices through a new lens, or explore a completely new set of choices.

And smashing the whole idea of “familiar” is a reason for why mentalunrest exists …

The fight for fast food workers to receive a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour fits squarely into criteria for becoming a story in this blog. Politicians and the mainstream media have conveniently framed — if not curated — the issue’s debate positions into the binary bins of “for” or “against” the wage increase.

But how about an effort to reframe the problem of poorly-paid fast food workers and ask a different set of questions?

Nope. Doing so breaks the rules of convenience and familiarity. And such an exercise would place politicians in an uncomfortable position, given their focus on treating your support as a transaction.

More on that later in this piece.

For a moment, forget about how the current states’ minimum wages virtually makes an affordable one-bedroom apartment a coast-to-coast American fantasy.

And let’s not dwell on a post I published just over a year ago about how the a $15/hour wage represents a step toward helping families save money, change their living conditions and even increase consumption in the economy.

Instead, let’s build on a point I made a while back about how robotics makes the $15 an hour debate is a decaying one and an eventual waste of time — perhaps even a game —  thanks to a moving goalpost called economic opportunity and the technology advancements that carry it.

Last month, robotics company Momentum Machines received $18 million in funding to pursue its mission: roll out restaurant robots that can each serve 400 hamburgers — from grilling to bagging — in just one hour.

This stealth technology startup, which has been funded by luminary venture firms like Google Ventures, is poised to conduct a limited test of these robot employees, with an eye toward ramping up deployment.

Major restaurant chains across the country are exploring robotics as a way to replace traditional eatery jobs.

So while states like New York slowly phase in wage increases to reach $15/hour as a way to protect restaurants from sudden financial disruption — a point I completely understand, by the way — fast food workers are on track to experience a major disruption of their own: long-term unemployment with limited prospects for skills upgrades.

With no help in sight.

And that translates into nothing less than increased misery for the working poor and poverty classes who’ve already been under attack during the past four decades.

The coming labor disruption also means a higher social and financial burden placed on local, state and federal government agencies.

As I mentioned in the past, the common sense prescription for workforce relevance while commericial enterprises continue to innovate is education and training.

Politicians have not been oblivious to this point. Burrowed deep in then-President Barack Obama’s February 2016 report (pdf) to Congress prepared by his Council of Economic Advisors, is an acknowledgement that the rise of robots is not only real, but there’s also a high probability that technology will aggressively replace workers who earn less than $20 an hour.

effects of robotics automation on jobs research

After citing the productivity gains the American economy will experience from robots, the report tries to address the human needs that will result from automation:

These data demonstrate the need for a robust training and education agenda, to ensure that displaced workers are able to quickly and smoothly move into new jobs.

Given what policymakers know about the coming disruption to the low-wage workforce, I challenge you to visit welfare offices across the country and find widespread signs of a desire to reimagine possibilities for underskilled job seekers in the robotics age.

I know — some of you will get sidetracked by that last sentence and begin to rant about how “those people don’t want to work anyway.”

While I don’t agree with that pseudo-hypothesis, let’s run with it for a moment.

The work provisions in many state welfare policies mean that whether or not recipients of public assistance dig the whole concept of work, they have no choice but punch a clock to receive welfare benefits.

But what you’ll mostly find in the form of support for the poor entering the workforce are listings for low-skilled and low-wage 20th century jobs with no skills upgrades opportunities for the current marketplace.

Any such skills initiatives broadcasted by the Obama administration were small in scale and subsequently ineffectual, while President Donald Trump has shown no appetite for reskilling the poor and working class.

This means, given the current course and data, two sad realities.

One, the cycle of poverty and unemployment is about to run deeper. Obsolete skills send more people to the public benefits line; but they will need jobs to get those benefits and the supply of low-wage jobs will become smaller over time; the lack of training presents more obstacles to finding employment thus reinforcing the poor’s position in the public benefits line. But they’ll need jobs …

Two, you now have proof that politicians view your support on issues as a mere transaction.

Not as a longer-term partnership for equality, social justice and a sustained vigilance for your community’s well-being, but simply a transaction where your vote is exchanged for mere “Thank you,” followed by a hope that your memory is short …

song currently stuck in my head: “desire” – pharoahe monch

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