Those who are schooled in the techniques of propaganda will always frustrate those of us who rely on facts and logic to arrive at informed conclusions.

Those who possess a rudimentary understanding of how propaganda works can have a rather profound effect on public opinion.

Those who are unwilling to learn from history are bound to repeat the mistakes which were made in the past.

Senator Joseph McCarthy was an American politician who served as U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957.  McCarthy rose to national prominence in the early 1950’s by initiating a probe to ferret out communists holding prominent positions in both the public and private sectors. During his investigations, safeguards promised by the Constitution were trampled.

An atmosphere of fear of world domination by communists hung over America in the post-WWII years:  fears of a nuclear holocaust based on detonation of an Atomic Bomb by the USSR in 1949;  the transition of China – the world’s most populist nation – to communism; and the effective control of half of Europe by the Stalin regime.

McCarthy picked up on national paranoia and relentlessly told his story that communist spies were everywhere and that he was America’s only salvation.

McCarthy was never elected to the Presidency, yet his leadership as head of the Senate Committee on Government Operations gave him the platform from which to launch an investigation which derailed and/or ruined the careers of thousands of public and private sector professionals.

McCarthy created a carefully manufactured series of situations and events which provided the foundation for his quest to distract the attention of a majority of the American public to focus away from the big picture toward his personal animus toward communist intrusion.

One of his techniques involved throwing Congress ‘under the bus.’  He publicly cited “..the graft, the corruption, the dishonesty, the disloyalty, the treason in high Government positions” as a critical ingredient in failure of government to protect “the 140,000,000 American people” from the “cloak of numbness and apathy” and offered to supply his spark to rekindle their passions.

McCarthy’s Reign of Terror lasted almost 5 years, until Senate leadership introduced resolutions in late 1954 to censure McCarthy for ‘behavior contrary to Senate traditions’.

On December 2, 1954, the U.S. Senate voted 65 to 22 to condemn McCarthy for “conduct that tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute”.

The McCarthy saga ought to provide an historical reference to the dangers of allowing a passionate and eloquent person who has perfected some of the powerful tools and techniques of propaganda to take the American people on a wild and crazy ride toward ruin.

What is most distressing to me is the willingness of congress to allow such egregious behavior to continue unchallenged:  in the 1950’s for almost 5 years; in the 2010’s for over 2 years.

Sixty plus years later, it seems that Donald Trump is using some of the Joseph McCarthy techniques to distract us away from the real issues at hand.

Trump has perfected the art of propaganda, using a myriad of techniques which were refined over the course of the 20th century.

Trump’s particular expertise is in an arena often referred to as ‘authoritarian’ or ‘totalitarian’ propaganda, a form of communication where a would-be leader offers a simple narrative which explains the root causes of pain groups of people feel, while concurrently providing a simple solution to remove the pain.

The offered reasons for the pain (and problems) point toward another group (or groups) working in conspiracy with corrupt politicians. (“Drain the Swamp”  “Lock Her Up”  “Make America Great Again”  “It’s The Immigrants”  “Build A Wall”)

The solution is very simple:  Join the New Team; Elect the Would-Be Leader; and the problems will be solved through elimination of the corrupt politicians and their entrenched groups.

The constant repetition of the simple message helps get it accepted, and it ensures a loyal and stable base.

The repeatedly false claims that Trump made during his campaign — ‘crime is at record highs, the economy is in decline, Obama has killed jobs, the military is a disaster, an international conspiracy is behind it all’ –and so on—are immune to disproof by presentation of actual facts. During his campaign, Trump created a fictional world too compelling to be weakened by reality.

Why do groups of people buy into such fictions?

Is it ‘groupthink’? A mass desire to escape from the reality of change? Or some other emotional variable?

What gives authoritarian propaganda its magnetism is the promise to fully reveal the previously secret dealings of those ‘swamp creatures’ who formerly called the rules of the game.

What such propaganda fails to reveal is the replacement of one set of entrenched swamp creatures with an entirely new – mostly inexperienced – cadre of fresh swamp dwellers.

“Those elected members of congress who are unwilling to learn from history are bound to repeat the mistakes which were made in the past.”

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Our system of governance in the U.S. is highly dependent on the willingness and ability of citizens to elect leaders who will solve the problems and challenges of the current environment, and who will promote institutional adaptations in the long-term public interest.

Most of us will identify with the basic attributes scholars often point to as the foundation for effective public leaders: (1) Honesty; (2) Basic and Common roots; and (3) A reputation of high integrity and personal principles.

As I searched for the “secret sauce” of public sector leadership, I found a few terrific recipes.

My favorite might be, “If leadership has a secret sauce, it may well be humility. A humble boss understands that there are things he doesn’t know.”

Some contenders include,

“Good leaders motivate and encourage others.” Continued emphasis on controlling and/or reducing costs in the public sector puts extreme pressure on public sector employees.  Good leaders create supportive atmospheres and encourage initiative. They invest in their people and foster skill growth. And when employees are satisfied in a healthy environment, great results likely will follow.

“Good leaders communicate clearly and listen attentively.” When good leaders sincerely listen to the needs and challenges of their constituents, they can respond effectively and bring about the greatest positive change.

“Good leaders are trustworthy.” Trustworthiness is built upon integrity and character. When people trust leaders and value their integrity, they tend to be more open to new ideas and exude a willingness to try.

“Good leaders think critically and act collaboratively.” Effective decision makers employ careful consideration and analysis of the evidence before formulating a decision. Public sector decisions can have multi-generational impact, so using a team approach incorporating strong analytical, problem solving and critical thinking skills is essential to the job.

“Good leaders are resilient.” In the world of public policy and governance, the only constant is change. Uncontrollable external variables will create unexpected challenges. Good leaders remain positive; they develop alternative solutions; and they encourage confidence in their employees to help ensure they will remain effective at the most crucial times.

My greatest hope is that other fellow citizens of the U.S. will take a few minutes to step back and think about the strategic implications of leadership.

Today, I watched and listened to a significant portion of the Congressional hearing involving FBI agent Peter Strzok.

I believe this Spanish Inquisition model was perfected by Rep. Trey Gowdy during his multi-year ‘Joseph McCarthy-inspired’ Benghazi investigation.

I also believe that the needs and rights of the American people are being completely ignored by members of Congress who follow this Model, seemingly fully deaf and blind to the needs and rights of the American people.

Trey Gowdy gained a national stage when he took charge of the Benghazi committee in the spring of 2014, prior to which there had already been seven (7) previous House and Senate investigations (plus an internal review by the State Department) into the conditions surrounding the terrible attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost by members of the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia.

The Benghazi incident took place in September 2012 when attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and 3 other Americans.

Gowdy’s Select Committee on Benghazi consumed significant amounts of American resources, yet it yielded nothing that was not already known.

Today’s performances by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (backed up by Rep. Trey Gowdy) would be worthy of Tony Award nominations had they taken place within a Broadway show.

Although they were not performing on Broadway, they did help to inspire a vicious and highly partisan attack on Mr. Strzok, both professionally and personally.

I am an American citizen, property owner and voter who has become completely disillusioned by the increasingly malignant infestation of our legislative bodies by individuals who seem to be motivated by evil intent, and who further seem to be unwilling and unable to adhere to the commonly acknowledged rules of decorum.

This charade — publicly attacking Peter Strzok, a man who has an exemplary 20+ year history of service protecting and supporting the U.S. Constitution — is completely out of context.

If Strzok is a traitor or is guilty of some heinous crime, that should be determined behind the scenes, perhaps by a Grand Jury.

There is no excuse for a committee of the Congress to attempt to publicly eviscerate and excoriate a sworn federal agent who has proven his willingness and ability to protect the best interests of American citizens while upholding the U.S. Constitution.

Today, Donald Trump was in Brussels representing the U.S. at a NATO summit.

His documented behavior was at best, rude. Some have called his actions to be “obnoxious and uncivilized.” Others have said, “…consistently appalling and despicable behavior.”

Trump continues to test the lower boundaries of bad behavior, creating an internationally negative aura against the people of the United States.

How to explain this immature and puerile public conduct by a man who is currently serving as the President of the U.S.?

Here is one clue: In his 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, Trump states, “Even in elementary school, I was a very assertive, aggressive kid. In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye. I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music and I almost got expelled. I’m not proud of that, but it’s clear evidence that even early on I had a tendency to stand up and make my opinions known in a forceful way.”

The Donald attended an exclusive private elementary school (Kew-Forest) from 1950 to 1959.

Ann Trees, one of Trump’s elementary school teachers (now retired), was quoted in a 2016 Washington Post article as saying, “Who could forget him? He was headstrong and determined. He would sit with his arms folded with this look on his face — I use the word surly — almost daring you to say one thing or another that wouldn’t settle with him.”

Sound familiar?

An unsubstantiated story from Trump’s youth adds some additional credence to the potentially negative effects of a weak upbringing. The story dates to the early 1950’s (likely 1954) when The Donald would have been in 3rd grade.

Donald’s father, Fred, entered young Donny into a contest, ‘King of the Playground Bullies’. Despite being one of the youngest contestants, The Donald took second prize.

Donald’s father was quite disappointed, and from that point forward, Donald himself vowed to become the best and meanest bully the world would ever know.

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Fast forward 65 years, and The Donald proved his mettle today on the world stage in Brussels.  Let’s hope his father Fred is proud of his progeny.

The headline comes directly from Steven Mnuchin, our U.S. Treasury Secretary, who recently penned an op-ed piece which appeared in print in the Tampa Bay Times (July 3, 2018).  https://www.whitehouse.gov/articles/trump-tax-cuts-strengthened-u-s-economy/

Mnuchin’s opinion piece seems to consist primarily of fluffed-up puffery related to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017.

Mr. Mnuchin omitted several critical issues which most economists agree must be included in any analysis of the U.S. economy.

First is the ‘business (economic) cycle’.  The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has been tracking the U.S. economy for 160+ years.  NBER defines one business cycle as: A period of economic expansion; followed by a contraction (recession); ending at the next point of recovery.

NBER’s 160+ years of records reflect that (over that time) the U.S. economy experienced 66 business cycles. Since 1945, we have experienced 11 business cycles with an average length of expansions of 5 years, followed by an average length of recessions of 1 year.

We can’t forget that the U.S. economy almost collapsed in early 2008 following a period of ebullience and expansion apparently accompanied by loose regulatory oversight of the financial sector.

Quick intervention in 2008 by our federal government saved the U.S. economy from the deepest and longest downturn since the Great Depression.  NBER data reflects the point of recovery (beginning of expansion) of the U.S. economy occurred in June 2009, and has now entered its 10th year (109th month) of growth.

Our current economic expansion is now the second-longest expansion on record, exceeded only by the expansion from March 1991 to March 2001, which lasted a full 10 years.

History tells us we are very close to the point of contraction (recession) of the U.S. economy.

Second is the ‘Skills Gap’.  When Mr. Mnuchin tells us that “…there are enough job openings in America for every unemployed person in the country” he fails to explain that the majority of open jobs require skills which the majority of unemployed people lack. In other cases, the unfilled jobs are located hundreds – maybe thousands – of miles away from the location of potential job seekers.

One solution to filling the open jobs is to encourage migration – or immigration — of skilled workers.

Another solution is to recruit, educate and train currently underemployed or unemployed U.S. residents who live in near proximity to the open jobs.

Third involves a dangerous combination of tax cuts and deficit spending to finance those tax cuts.

Mr. Mnuchin touts benefits to U.S. workers as a result of repatriation of hundreds of billions of dollars from off-shore corporate subsidiaries to the U.S.  In fact, companies thus far have paid out dividends and other withdrawals of $305.6 billion from foreign receipts which far outstripped the amount of this cash which was reinvested domestically.  By some estimates, corporations have spent 72 times as much on share buybacks as they have spent on one-time worker bonuses and raises.

The U.S. ‘current account deficit’, which measures the flow of goods, services and investments into and out of the country, widened by $8.0 billion to $124.1 billion, or 2.5 percent of national economic output in the first 3 months of 2018, virtually all of which seems to be attributable to the repatriation tax holiday.

To make up for the loss of tax revenue, the Trump administration is relying on a combination of debt financing and mystical economic growth which they expect to occur at the end of an extended business cycle.

Mnuchin tells us that U.S. economic growth is on steroids.

Some observers have noted that the appearance of economic growth is highly influenced by the infusion of repatriated cash – somewhat similar to feeding 2nd graders sugar before sending them out onto the playground.

The energy is intense, but it won’t last very long, and it is just not sustainable.

A recent report (6/21/2108) from the U.S. Office of Government Accountability (GAO) warns that responsible action is needed on the nation’s growing federal deficit, which grew to $666 Billion in FY 2017 (10/01/16 to 9/30/17) and is projected to surpass $1 Trillion by 2020.

According to the GAO’s 2017 financial report, the federal deficit in FY 2017 increased by 13.5% from $587 Billion in FY 2016 and $439 Billion in FY 2015. Federal receipts in FY 2017 increased by $48 billion, but that was outweighed by a $127 billion increase in spending.  (Note that Deficit is an annual measure; National Debt is aggregate, an accumulation of annual shortfalls.)

The aggregate (gross) amount that the U.S. Treasury can borrow is limited by the U.S. debt ceiling. As of April 30, 2018, our National Debt was $21 Trillion, about 78% of GDP.

Since its passage in December 2017, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has warned that TCJA will add $1.84 Trillion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years, which they estimate will push the National Debt to an unprecedented 152 percent of GDP by 2028, significantly increasing the odds of a new financial crisis.

Interest rates are rising, and National Debt is increasing, thus interest on National Debt will consume an ever-increasing amount of future federal budgets.

And, of great concern is the flattening of the ‘yield curve’.  Traditionally, interest rates on short-term debt are lower than rates paid on long-term obligations.

The spread between the yields of the 2-year Treasury note (2.55 percent) and 10-year Treasury note (2.89 percent) was 34 basis points on June 23. That’s less than half of what it was in early February and the narrowest it’s been since August 2007.

An inversion of the yield curve — when long-term rates fall below short-term rates — traditionally predicts a looming recession.

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It’s not clear why Mr. Mnuchin – a seasoned financial services sector professional with a clear expertise in fixed income securities – would omit such important information in his assessment of the U.S. economy.

I am drawn to conclude Mr. Mnuchin is using his position as a high-ranking federal official to ‘butter his own toast’, likely through complex – and undisclosed — derivative positions.

We’ll have to see if the Walrus is correct…..