Blow and Krugman

In “Blood in the Water” Mr. Blow says it doesn’t seem possible that Mike Pence knew nothing.  In “The Unfreeing of the American Worker” Prof. Krugman says we are creeping along the real road to serfdom.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump has left the country for his first foreign trip as president and what he has left behind is a brewing crisis that appears to deepen by the day, and even the hour.

There is a sense that blood is in the water, that Trump’s erratic, self-destructive behavior, aversion to honesty and authoritarian desire for absolute control may in some way, at some point, lead to his undoing and that the pace of that undoing is quickening.

Last week Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein took the extraordinary step of naming former F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

This was a significant ratcheting up. This is a criminal inquiry, by an independent operator who is well respected. The investigation is now largely insulated from politics. This investigation must now run its course, whether that takes months or years, and go wherever the facts may lead.

But that has not stopped Trump from whining in a tweet, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” and saying during a commencement address:

“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

Not only is this a laughable assertion that could only be uttered by someone who isn’t a student of history or a reader of books, but it also resurfaces one of Trump’s most vexatious qualities: perpetual wallowing in self-victimization and the shedding of his own tears for a spurious suffering that only exists in the muddle of his mind.

Grow up! Just correction is not jaundiced crucifixion. Any hell you’re in is a hell you made. You are the author of your own demise. You are not being unfairly targeted; instead your above-the-rules, beyond-the-law sense of privilege is being tested and found insufficient. It will not immunize you against truth and justice.

There are very serious questions here, ones that include but are not limited to collusion. They also now include the possibility of treason, obstruction of justice and making false statements.

It is increasingly clear that there is more to know than we now know.

There is more to know about former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn’s activities, and who knew what about those activities and when. There is more to know about the president’s interactions with James Comey and the reason for Comey’s firing. There is more to know about the true extent of contact between Trump associates and the Russians.

Did the president have inappropriate conversations with Comey, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in an effort to exculpate himself and mitigate inquiries about Flynn?

Trump’s and Comey’s accounts, at least as they are being reported, conflict on these counts. One of these men is lying. And while I am no fan of Comey — his buzzer-beating hijinks with Hillary’s email just before the election helped hand this country over to Trump and his cabal of corruption — I am more prone to believe him than Trump, a proven, pathological liar.

The crisis isn’t limited only to Trump.

Did Vice President Mike Pence not know that Flynn was under investigation by the F.B.I. for lobbying on behalf of Turkey until “March, upon first hearing the news”? How can that be when, as The New York Times reported last week, Flynn “told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case.” Pence led the transition team.

How can Pence claim ignorance when Representative Elijah E. Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent Pence a letter on Nov. 18, explicitly spelling out:

“Lt. Gen. Flynn’s General Counsel and Principal, Robert Kelley, confirmed that they were hired by a foreign company to lobby for Turkish interests, stating: ‘They want to keep posted on what we all want to be informed of: the present situation, the transition between President Obama and President-Elect Trump.’ When asked whether the firm had been hired because of Lt. Gen. Flynn’s close ties to President-elect Trump, Mr. Kelley responded, ‘I hope so.’ ”

It isn’t possible Pence knew nothing. I believe Pence is a liar like his boss.

We knew that Pence was a liar when during the vice-presidential debate he repeatedly claimed that Trump had not in fact said things that he was recorded on television saying.

The only difference between the two is delivery. Trump is bombastic and abrasive with his lies. Pence cleverly delivers his with earnestness and solemnity. But a lie is a lie.

The whole White House crew must be fully investigated and held to account. It is time for justice to be served and honor restored. The dishonest must be dislodged.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

American conservatives love to talk about freedom. Milton Friedman’s famous pro-capitalist book and TV series were titled “Free to Choose.” And the hard-liners in the House pushing for a complete dismantling of Obamacare call themselves the Freedom Caucus.

Well, why not? After all, America is an open society, in which everyone is free to make his or her own choices about where to work and how to live.

Everyone, that is, except the 30 million workers now covered by noncompete agreements, who may find themselves all but unemployable if they quit their current jobs; the 52 million Americans with pre-existing conditions who will be effectively unable to buy individual health insurance, and hence stuck with their current employers, if the Freedom Caucus gets its way; and the millions of Americans burdened down by heavy student and other debt.

The reality is that Americans, especially American workers, don’t feel all that free. The Gallup World Survey asks residents of many countries whether they feel that they have “freedom to make life choices”; the U.S. doesn’t come out looking too good, especially compared with the high freedom grades of European nations with strong social safety nets.

And you can make a strong case that we’re getting less free as time goes by.

Let’s talk first about those noncompete agreements, which were recently the subject of a stunning article in The Times (the latest in a series), plus a report from the Obama administration pushing for limits to the practice.

Noncompete agreements were originally supposed to be about protecting trade secrets, and therefore helping to promote innovation and investment in job training. Suppose that a company trying to build a better mousetrap hires a new mousetrap engineer. Her employment contract might very well include a clause preventing her from leaving a few months later for a job with a rival pest-control firm, since she could be taking crucial in-house information with her. And that’s perfectly reasonable.

At this point, however, almost one in five American employees is subject to some kind of noncompete clause. There can’t be that many workers in possession of valuable trade secrets, especially when many of these workers are in relatively low-paying jobs. For example, one prominent case involved Jimmy John’s, a sandwich chain, basically trying to ban its former franchisees from working for other sandwich makers.

Furthermore, the terms of the clauses are often defined ridiculously widely. It’s as if our hypothetical mousetrap engineer were prohibited from seeking employment with any other manufacturing firm, or in any occupation that makes use of her engineering skills.

At this point, in other words, noncompete clauses are in many cases less about protecting trade secrets than they are about tying workers to their current employers, unable to bargain for better wages or quit to take better jobs.

This shouldn’t be happening in America, and to be fair some politicians in both parties have been speaking up about the need for change (although few expect the Trump administration to follow up on the Obama administration’s reform push). But there’s another aspect of declining worker freedom that is very much a partisan issue: health care.

Until 2014, there was basically only one way Americans under 65 with pre-existing conditions could get health insurance: by finding an employer willing to offer coverage. Some employers were in fact willing to do so. Why? Because there were major tax advantages — premiums aren’t counted as taxable income — but to get those advantages employer plans must offer the same coverage to every employee, regardless of medical history.

But what if you wanted to change jobs, or start your own business? Too bad: you were basically stuck (and I knew quite a few people in that position).

Then Obamacare went into effect, guaranteeing affordable care even to those with pre-existing medical conditions. This was a hugely liberating change for millions. Even if you didn’t immediately take advantage of the new program to strike out on your own, the fact was that now you could.

But maybe not for much longer. Trumpcare — the American Health Care Act — would drastically reduce protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. And even if that bill never becomes law, the Trump administration is effectively sabotaging individual insurance markets, so that in many cases Americans who lose employer coverage will have no place to turn — which will in turn tie those who do have such coverage to their current employers.

You might say, with only a bit of hyperbole, that workers in America, supposedly the land of the free, are actually creeping along the road to serfdom, yoked to corporate employers the way Russian peasants were once tied to their masters’ land. And the people pushing them down that road are the very people who cry “freedom” the loudest.

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