Bloom Briefing 30: Trump-Russia; Race and College Admissions

Welcome to the thirtieth edition of The Bloom Briefing: Notes from the Resistance. As is becoming commonplace, there were a number of disclosures relevant to the Trump-Russia scandal last week. I’ve also written about the Justice Department’s decision to look into college admission practices on the grounds that they are discriminatory.

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Trump-Russia Update

Mueller Impanels Grand Jury
The biggest news this week is surely that Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington, D.C. as part of his investigation. The Wall Street Journal initially broke this news on Thursday, followed by reports on Friday from the New York Times that the grand jury had already begun issuing subpoenas.

For those keeping track at home, this is actually the second grand jury impaneled to look into potential collaboration between Russia and the Trump campaign. The first was impaneled in Alexandria, VA to look into Michael Flynn’s behavior.

Grand juries aren’t anything that out of the ordinary. It’s a common prosecutorial tool to gather evidence. The power to issue subpoenas will help Mueller gather evidence from the White House as well as financial records pertaining to Trump and his top associates that might otherwise have been difficult for him to access.

The existence of the grand jury, however, indicates that Mueller is making progress, that he has found something and believes that by impaneling a grand jury, he will find more. We are no doubt still many months, perhaps even a year or more, away from ourselves learning what Mueller has and will have found, but these must be nervous times at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Trump Personally Dictated Junior’s Statement on Veselnitskaya Meeting
The Washington Post reported this week that Trump, Sr., personally dictated Trump, Jr.’s, statement about meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

What, you might be wondering, is the significance of Trump telling yet another lie? The significance, it seems, involves the fact that this is now direct evidence of Trump himself attempting to cover up a meeting that was itself, at the very least, an attempt to collude with the Russians during the campaign.

Insofar as Robert Mueller may be investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice, this would put him in potential legal jeopardy. If he himself dictated this statement (as the Post reports), then he himself has lied to the American public about his campaign’s attempts to benefit from and cooperate with a hostile foreign power.

Bill Browder Testimony to Senate Judiciary Committee
Bill Browder, an American (and now British) finance executive, is a key player in U.S.-Russia relations. The Magnistky Act, which placed severe sanctions on Russia (and to which Russia responded by banning American adoptions), is named for the lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, Browder hired to investigate Russian corruption, and who was killed in a Russian prison.

Two weeks ago, Browder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his long-running relationship with Russia and what he learned about corruption between Putin, the state, and the major industries there. Browder’s testimony is everything you expect and more about the depth of corruption and injustice endemic to Russia’s governmental, financial, and judicial systems.

The testimony actually bears reading in full. No one statement is extraordinary – we know Russia systematically attacks, imprisons, and even kills those Putin views as a threat to his well-oiled ring of corruption – but the sheer amount of precision and interlocking web of detail Browder has on this network is formidable.

Tillerson Won’t Spend Money to Combat Russian Propaganda
Politico reported this week that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will not spend $80 million earmarked by Congress to combat terrorist propaganda and Russian disinformation. As the article states, “It is highly unusual for a Cabinet secretary to turn down money for his department.” The money, if not claimed by Tillerson, is set to expire at the end of next month.

There seem to be two possible interpretations of this. The first is incompetence. Tillerson is a governmental neophyte. He doesn’t understand how various parts of his job work. And it’s not unreasonable to imagine that he just hasn’t realized what he needs to do or that this is important.

The second is that he is afraid of antagonizing Russia, either because of potential repercussions from Russia itself, or from Trump. Remember that Tillerson has history with Russia, including being a recipient of the Russian Order of Friendship Prize in 2013 for his work with Exxon Mobile in the Russian oil industry.

Russia’s disinformation campaign hasn’t ended with the election of Trump. Just this week, as General McMaster has gone after some Trump loyalists at the National Security Council, Russian Twitter bots began using the hashtag #FireMcMaster.

There is a real need for Tillerson to put this money to use, and his decision not to use it raises serious questions about whether he is actually serving America’s interests or Trump’s, Exxon Mobile’s, Russia’s, or his own.

Congressional Republicans Major Recipients of Russian Campaign Contributions
Also this week, the Dallas Morning News reported that a number of congressional Republicans have received major campaign contributions from Russian sources. The report names Senators McConnell, Rubio, Graham, and McCain, along with Governors Kasich and Walker as being collective recipients of over $7 million worth of funds from Russian oligarchs.

Perhaps this represents a way for Democrats to convince conservatives that money doesn’t equal speech. In a globalized world, it's nearly impossible to limit sources of funding to those from within the country. One oligarch named in the report even has U.S. citizenship, which is easy enough to get when you can invest tens of hundreds of millions of dollars in the country.


Race and College Admissions

White Students Have Little Case
Given my area of employment, it behooves me to be rather sensitive in discussing higher education-themed topics in the news, but I feel some commentary on the issue of the Justice Department’s decision to look into colleges discriminating based on race in the college admissions process. These views are my own.

First of all, it should be clear that such a move is designed not to actually advantage any particular group of people or to solve any particular problem, but instead to engage in the basest form of the race-baiting politics of white grievance that is Trump’s calling card.

The interesting dimension to this is that white people don’t have much of a case. The evidence for white students having a legitimate grievance about being discriminated against in the college admissions process is that the average test score at elite universities is higher for white students than it is for black or Hispanic students.

Of course, this is far less a function of innate ability and far more a damning indictment of both the public education system which produces wildly unequal outcomes based on race and also the tests themselves which, even when controlling for other measures of academic performance, show small signs of being harder for students of color than for white students.

Furthermore, at the elite colleges*, the student population remains majority or plurality white. The Supreme Court ruled in its decision about the University of Texas’s admissions policies last year that diversity is a legitimate educational end, that creating a diverse learning environment is a reasonable goal. To the extent, then, that white students feel they have a legitimate grievance, the Supreme Court disagrees. Creating a learning environment with a greater breadth of backgrounds can justify placing a slightly higher bar on white applicants than on black or Hispanic applicants because white applicants are the largest group on campus.

Asian Students May Have a Case
The group that arguably does have grounds for grievance is Asian students. Asian students likely represent a minority of enrolled students at every elite college or university. Though they are overrepresented at these schools relative to population size, the average test scores of admitted students are even higher than the scores for white students.

The same principal that allows for there to be a slightly higher bar for white students – to ensure that a diversity of perspectives is well-represented – doesn’t apply to placing a limit on the number of Asian students. To the extent that more Asian students would displace white students (and not black or Hispanic students), there is no legal grounds for rejecting higher-scoring Asians in favor of lower-scoring white students.

Moreover, Asian students arguably represent a more diverse group than white students. White students from outside the United States are already counted as international students, so the category of white students only applies to white non-Hispanic Americans. In contrast, Asian students span a broad spectrum of ancestry, from the Middle East to Eurasia to South Asia, to East and Southeast Asia. Surely, when it comes to diversity goals, an Iranian-American, an Indian-American, and a Chinese-American can be counted in more nuanced terms than simply the solitary bucket of Asian-American.

In short, it is my belief that the lawsuits brought by Asian-Americans against elite universities might actually have legs. The apparent cap (they argue that all students are reviewed holistically) on Asian students employed by elite universities doesn’t stand on the same grounds the Supreme Court used in ruling on the University of Texas’s admissions policies.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t other reasonable arguments to make in favor of the current choices elite universities are making. Universities may, after all, be looking at likely outcomes of students (with a belief that admissions should be based on predicted future performance rather than performance-to date).

They may be attempting to further institutional missions related to socio-economic mobility (taking more students from underprivileged backgrounds would thus entail more lower-scoring students from such backgrounds). And there may be other legitimate educational reasons for using marginally different means of evaluating students by race in the admissions process as well.

All of this is simply to say that on the grounds the Supreme Court has given to justify these practices to date, the way Asian-Americans are treated in the admissions process doesn’t meet that threshold.

* I have used the term ‘elite universities’ throughout this piece. I am referring to roughly the top 50-75 private colleges and universities and roughly the top 20 public universities. At virtually no other universities do race-based admissions policies represent a problem.



Additional Reading
At the New York Times, David Brooks has written an interesting piece on the ancient concept of manliness. His one-large-oversight-per-piece quota is fulfilled, in this instance, by failing to even address contemporary gender norms or the role of women or femininity or manliness’s application to women. With that caveat, I still found it interesting.

In a related piece in the National Review (of all places), Kevin Williamson has written about the disconnect between how the inhabitants of this administration view themselves (hard-nosed alpha males) and their reality (as failed salesmen).

In The Globe and Mail, Cathal Kelly has written about the struggle for happiness among refugees in Canada. It’s an excellent reminder of just how much refugees give up when they flee violence and persecution to come here (or to Canada).

If you read one thing this week, make it David Graham’s article in the Atlantic about what Trump has actually accomplished in office so far. It’s disturbingly more than