Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#226)

  • Brexit means that many UK think tanks will lose access to key funding sources?
  • Brookings looking to turn itself more into more of a digital publisher; plays with Lego's.
  • Think tankers don't get Trump.  Can their advice change him? (via S.V. Date of HuffPo).
  • Ben Scott of New America: Think tanks should become incubators of civic entrepreneurship.
  • Nevsun Resources (with Eritrea ops) giving $100,000+ to Atlantic Council to promote Eritrea?
  • AEI President Arthur Brooks on how his think tank is working to improve Washington.
  • Think tanks and tax status: A note on 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) tax categories. (Alex Chance)
  • The role of think tanks: A reply to critics (via Jeremy Sammut)
  • How a 1962 Michael Polanyi essay on research funding inspires donations to think tanks.
  • AEI event: The world according to Star Wars.
  • Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe, who just spoke at CSIS, quits amid outcry on spending.

Monday, June 27, 2016

WPost on Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal

The Washington Post has a new story on the Daily Signal, a news website founded in 2014 and published by the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation.  Here is more:
Last summer, shortly after the first Republican presidential debate, the editors of the Daily Signal made a decision. Although its digital-only staff of 25 reporters and editors works less than two miles from the White House, they wouldn’t write about the presidential campaign — not at all.
An odd call, perhaps, but then again, the Daily Signal is not your run-of-the-mill news operation.
First off, it is funded by, and housed within, the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank whose president is former Republican senator (and tea party leader) Jim DeMint.
[Editor in Chief Robert] Bluey’s office boasts a large soft-focus poster of Ronald Reagan, and the newsroom lacks the clutter and clatter — and fast-food wrappers — of most places where journalists toil. Clean, quiet and well-appointed, it feels more like a law office or, well, a foundation — except for an impressive new video studio due to debut this summer.
Is it indeed a news operation, or a way for Heritage to do strategic communication in a new and effective way? The editorial insiders insist that it is very much the former.
Former CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson is a regular contributor. And when Facebook executives met with conservative news organizations to soothe fears about charges of anti-conservative bias, Bluey was among them. A few weeks later, Bluey was first to report a story about Facebook’s plans for anti-bias training.
So far, though, the two-year-old site has no credentials to cover Congress, which are granted by the Standing Committee of Correspondents. Bluey thinks the prerequisites for getting them may be pretty challenging for the Signal, at least right now. What’s required includes diverse funding sources and no affiliation with (or location within) an advocacy organization.

The article goes on to note that the Signal is trying to diversify its funding by asking readers to subscribe, noting that with an annual budget of $1.3 million, the site gets about 2 million unique visitors a month.

The Editor in Chief, Robert Bluey, noted that sometimes people at the Heritage Foundation, including President Jim DeMint, offer ideas for Daily Signal.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on the Daily Signal.

Friday, June 24, 2016

DNC Hackers Also Targeting Think Tanks

It seems that foreign intelligence agencies want to tap into the mind on Hillary Clinton's top advisors.  To do so, they are breaking into computer systems of think tanks that have employees who have close ties to the Clintons.

The latest example: Hackers who targeted the Democratic National Committee (DNC) have also been going after US think tanks.  Here is more from Bloomberg Politics:
The Russian hackers who hit the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign burrowed much further into the U.S. political system, sweeping in law firms, lobbyists, consultants, foundations and the policy groups known as think tanks, according to a person familiar with investigations of the attacks.
Almost 4,000 Google accounts were targeted in an elaborate “spear phishing” campaign -- intended to trick users into providing access so that information could be gleaned from personal and organizational accounts -- from October through mid-May, according to the person, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential information.
Among the policy groups targeted was the Center for American Progress (CAP), which has ties to Clinton and the Obama administration. “We are constantly reviewing our security and operations to prevent and thwart unauthorized activity,” Liz Bartolomeo, a spokeswoman for the center, said in an e-mailed statement. “We have reviewed our systems and we believe our security measures have prevented unwanted access to our systems.”

As Think Tank Watch has previously reported, several influential think tankers, including CAP President Neera Tanden, sit on the DNC policy committee that is helping Democrats draft their policy platform for the upcoming elections.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Attorney General Demanding Docs From Think Tanks in Exxon Probe

Here is more from The Daily Caller:
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is now the latest state prosecutor to start investigating conservative groups with supposed ties to ExxonMobil, after she issued a subpoena for 40 years of internal company documents and communications with a handful of think tanks.
Healey’s office subpoenaed Exxon as part of a multi-state effort among liberal attorneys general to investigate Exxon for allegedly trying to cover up global warming science. Healey charges that the oil giant lied to shareholders and consumers about the risks of global warming in its communications and shareholder filings, according to a copy of the subpoena obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
 Healey demands decades worth or records from prominent conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation and activist group Americans for Prosperity, and also from smaller, lesser known state-based right-leaning groups, such as Boston’s Beacon Hill Institute and the Acton Institute.

In April, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) said that the attorney general of the US Virgin Islands is demanding to see records of the think tank's donors and activities involving climate policy.

Naomi Oreskes, professor at Harvard and co-author of a history of climate skepticism called Merchants of Doubt, said that the history of climate denial can be traced back to a think tank called the George C. Marshall Institute.  That think tank, which was established in 1984, was founded by a former tobacco industry consultant.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Does Trump Want to Destroy Think Tanks?

For months and months, think tanks were not a target for Donald Trump, but now, some think tanks are fretting after the Trump campaign suggested that a main source of funding for think tanks should be severely limited.  Ironically, the suggestion came from Stephen Moore, a top economic advisor to Trump who happens to work at the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation.

Under Mr. Moore's plan, which calls for higher taxes on rich people who donate to non-profits (i.e., think tanks), many of the very donors who give to his think tank (and many others) will likely reduce their donations to Washington's powerful policy organizations.  After all, Heritage is one of the many think tanks that receives funds from billionaire donors.

Here is more from a recent Hill piece:
Moore said the policy challenge would be writing law that distinguishes between genuine charities, like churches and the Salvation Army, and those that should be subject to taxes.
“The question is: Could you make a distinction between a church, homeless shelter, soup kitchen versus the Brookings Institution?” he said, referring to the nonpartisan think tank. Moore’s employer, the Heritage Foundation, is a conservative think tank.

Our guess is that Moore does not mind shooting himself (and his think tank cohorts) in the foot because if Trump becomes president, he would likely leave think tank land after being given a plum job in the Trump Administration.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#225)

  • Why DC think tanks can't figure out Trump, via Boston Globe. 
  • Link to essay by Robert Kagan (of Brookings) causes hell for NYT editor Jonathan Weisman.
  • CSIS's strong ties to Vietnam, via Greg Rushford (5/23/16).
  • Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc., stepping down as New America board chair but remains as chairman emeritus; Reihan Salam and Jonathan Soros appointed as board chairs.
  • Hoover Institution's Golden State poll.
  • Center for a New American Security launches drone website called Proliferated Drones.
  • CNAS brings in three new board members: Leanne Caret (Boeing), Thomas Campbell (DC Capital Partners), and Michael Sonnenfeldt (MUUS & Company).
  • RAND Corporation appoints Shira Efron as Special Advisor on Israel.
  • POGO report says think tanks still not registering with FARA.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

History and Reputation of the McKinsey Global Institute

This in an excerpt from the book "The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence":
Despite some missteps, [Frederick] Gluck also grasped that the firm had to do a better job publicizing its accomplishments.  Under his direction, in 1990 the firm launched the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), an independent research operation with the goal of developing "substantive points of view on the critical issues" faced by McKinsey clients.  Even in a world overflowing with economic think tanks, McKinsey brought a unique perspective to the table: The firm's understanding of actual company economics and industry structures gave specificity to its work.  "What's different about MGI is the unique access we have to information that doesn't show up in statistics that we can use responsibly to inform research," said Diana Farrell, head of MGI from 2001 to 2008, when she left to join the Obama Administration.
MGI has been successful in giving the firm a quasi-academic glow that's yet another in the long list of the ways it is differentiated from the competition.  The institute's work on productivity in the early 1990s is widely regarded as groundbreaking in economic circles.  Later work on global capital market developments, the US healthcare system, and energy productivity continues to give McKinsey a voice in conversations to which its competitors are not invited.  But it has also given an outlet to the firms' recurring eruptions of arrogance.  When the institute paid significant sums to lure Nobel laureate Robert Solow and other leading economists to its board, then-chairman Ted Hall reportedly professed the belief that the institute itself was doing Nobel-quality work instead of merely buying Nobel-quality window dressing.

According to rankings by the University of Pennsylvania (which takes money from the think tanks it ranks), McKinsey Global Institute is ranked as the best for-profit think tank in the world.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

DNC Policy Being Influenced by Powerful Think Tankers

With the 2016 presidential elections in full-swing, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has been meeting to hammer out the Democratic policies that they hope will help defeat Donald Trump.  A policy committee has been set up that includes six members appointed by Hillary Clinton, five members by Bernie Sanders, and four members appointed by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who is head of the DNC.

Clinton has appointed Neera Tanden, the President of the Center for American Progress (CAP) as a member.  She also appointed Carol Browner, the former Director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, who is now a Distinguished Senior Fellow at CAP.  Another Clinton appointee is Wendy Sherman, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs.  Sherman is a Senior Fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#224)

  • Heritage Foundation unveils new resource (Federal Budget in Pictures) in fight for fiscal responsibility.
  • Heritage names Becky Norton Dunlop its Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow, succeeding former US Attorney General Edwin Meese, who remains as Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow Emeritus.
  • Heritage holds annual leadership conference in Amelia Island, Florida.
  • Promotions: Michael Strain becomes Director of Economic Policy Studies at AEI; Kevin Hassett becomes the first Director of Domestic Policy Research.
  • Patrick Honohan, former Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, joins PIIE as Nonresident Senior Fellow.
  • CSIS assists former Defense Secretaries (Harold Brown, William Cohen, and Leon Panetta - all on the think tank's Board of Trustees) with letter in support of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
  • CSIS establishes the Lillan and Robert D. Stuart Jr. Center in Euro-Atlantic and Northern European Studies; Heather Conley to be inaugural director.
  • CSIS promotes two women (Melissa Dalton and Lisa Sawyer) to Senior Fellow level.
  • Center for American Progress (CAP) hosts NASA astronaut Cady Coleman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; hosts summit with City of Cleveland.
  • Frederic Hof, former State Department Special Adviser for Transition in Syria, named Director of Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
  • Atlantic Council launches US-India Trade Initiative.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Panama Papers: Think Tankers Working to Safeguard Tax Havens

A group deeply connected to conservative and libertarian think tanks has been working to safeguard tax havens around the world, according to recently obtained "Panama Papers" that the Washington Post has received.  Here is more:
The Center for Freedom and Prosperity promised to persuade Congress, members of the George W. Bush administration and key policymakers to protect the players of the offshore world, where hundreds of thousands of shell companies had been created, often to hide money and evade taxes.
To reach out to American officials and fund its U.S. operations, the center said it needed an infusion of cash for an eight-month campaign: at least $247,000.  “We hope you can support this effort with a donation,” the center wrote in a document sent to Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the heart of an international financial scandal known as the Panama Papers.
Led by two U.S. citizens — one an economist, the other a tax expert for a Republican congressman — the center met again and again with government officials and members of the offshore industry around the world, while issuing hundreds of funding pleas and peddling its connections to Washington’s power brokers.
The directors of the center, Mitchell and Andrew F. Quinlan, two longtime anti-tax advocates, declined to reveal the identities of their donors, which they said is a common practice in the nonprofit world.
The man at the helm of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Andrew Quinlan, 53, is a former Republican congressional staffer who worked out of his home in Alexandria and spends much of his time on the road. Dan Mitchell, 57, is a widely known economist who worked for the Bush/Quayle transition team in 1988 and a leading tax expert at the Cato Institute, a libertarian Washington think tank. The two met in 1981 while undergrads and fraternity brothers at the University of Georgia.
Quinlan and Mitchell launched the center in October 2000. It is made up of two parts, the center itself, which is set up as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization “created to lobby lawmakers in favor of market liberalization,” according to the group’s marketing materials. The second part is called the Center for Freedom and Prosperity Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization set up to educate the public, lawmakers and the media on “the benefits of limited government” and “the need for competitive markets.”
Quinlan is listed in the center’s tax filings as president, Mitchell as its chairman. Two other board members are named — economist Veronique de Rugy, a co-founder of the center, and a man who died in 2014, John Blundell. Only Quinlan is listed as drawing a salary. His compensation has ranged from $122,000 to $23,000 in 2014, the last year of publicly available tax filings.

The article goes on to note that the Center for Freedom and Prosperity (CF&P) Foundation  received $119,000 out of funds raised by a financial services company in Virginia.  That firm was founded by Richard W. Rahn, a former Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank where co-founder Daniel Mitchell works as a Senior Fellow.

CF&P Board Member Veronique de Rugy is a Senior Research Fellow at the libertarian Mercatus Center housed within George Mason University.  She used to be a Resident Fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI).  The other Board Member listed in tax documents, the late John Blundell, was Director General and Ralph Harris Fellow at the London-based think tank Institute of Economic Affairs.

Friday, June 10, 2016

New "Mini Cato Institute" Launches

Washington, DC welcomes its newest think tank to the mix, the Defense Priorities Foundation, whose main goal is to promote foreign policy that includes a greater reluctance to assert military force.  It other words, it is basically the Cato Institute of defense, a libertarian shop that dislikes costly wars.

Here is more from Politico:
Sen. Rand Paul's vision of a less militaristic foreign policy got little traction in the GOP primaries, but some of his key backers are joining forces with associates of billionaire Charles Koch in a fresh effort to steer Washington away from interventions in overseas wars.

They’re launching a think tank, the Defense Priorities Foundation, that seeks to elevate national security policies that are decidedly out of the mainstream of Republican — and even some Democratic — foreign policy thinking, featuring a significantly greater reluctance to assert military force or even impose sanctions on nations such as North Korea. The related Defense Priorities Initiative, meanwhile, is designed as the organization's advocacy arm, which will seek to lobby Congress.
Among the architects of the nonprofit are William Ruger, a Navy Reserve officer who is the vice president for research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute. The institute is backed by the billionaire businessman and donor, who along with his brother David has poured millions into conservative political causes that champion lower taxes and lighter regulations.
The think tank is also the brainchild of several acolytes of Paul, the Kentucky Republican who rose to prominence criticizing American military operations in the Middle East and the expanding use of armed drones in particular.
The group's communications director, Eleanor May, was the national press secretary for Paul's presidential campaign. Paul's office declined a request to comment for this story.
The think tank has also enlisted some of D.C.'s leading libertarian foreign policy thinkers and several conservative pundits, as well as a retired Army officer and Afghanistan veteran, Daniel Davis, who was perhaps the most famous military whistleblower of the past generation.
A spokesperson for the Charles Koch Institute told POLITICO that the institute and the Charles Koch Foundation are not providing financial support to the new think tank...

The article goes on to note that Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at Cato, is a senior adviser at the new think tank.  Doug Bandow, a former special assistant to Ronald Reagan, and a Cato Senior Fellow, is also a "recruit" to the new think tank, according to Politico.  And Charles (Chuck) Peña, former Director of Defense Policy Studies at Cato, is a Foreign Policy Fellow and Scholar at the new think tank.  [It also notes notes that Koch has been a major backer of Cato.]

Edward King, who most recently served as Chief Operating Officer for Concerned American Voters, a pro-Rand Paul Super PAC, is listed as the President and Founder of the new think tank.

Unlike Cato, however, Defense Priorities Foundation will have a lobbying arm called the Defense Priorities Initiative.  That will allow it to officially lobby the US Congress and others, much like the Heritage Foundation, which has a sister lobbying arm called Heritage Action.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Could Atlantic Council Chairman Jon Huntsman be Trump's VP?

Rumors continue to swirl around who will be Donald Trump's vice presidential pick, and some have even floated the idea that a think tanker could be in the running.

Huffington Post recently said that Jon Huntsman is on Trump's short list as a VP candidate.  Huntsman, who is the Chairman of the think tank Atlantic Council, said back in February that he could support Trump if he is nominated.

Huntsman has been eager to try to impact the thinking of the next president, releasing in April a "policy playbook for America's next president."  He released that "playbook" along with Joe Lieberman, both co-chairs of the group No Labels.

Huntsman, who was a 2012 presidential candidate, may not be the only think tank head being considered by Trump.  Another possibility is former Sen. Jim DeMint, who some speculate is also in the running for VP.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Indian Prime Minister Has Powwow With US Think Tank Bigwigs


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting the United States, and with the US elections dominating the news cycle, he decided to have a meeting with top US think tank heads to discuss the elections, among other things.

Those in attendance included:
  • Neera Tanden, President and CEO of Center for American Progress (CAP)
  • Strobe Talbott, President of the Brookings Institution
  • William Burns, President of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP)
  • Kurt Campbell, Co-Founder and former CEO of Center for a New American Security (CNAS)
  • Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  • Jon Huntsman, Chairman of the Atlantic Council
  • Kenneth Weinstein, Chairman and CEO of the Hudson Institute
  • Nancy Lindborg, President of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP)
  • Michael Dimock, President of Pew Research Center

Others "think tanks" reportedly represented at the meeting include Center for the National Interest (CNI), Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), and Global Energy Capital (GEC) - which is not actually a think tank.

Here is a picture of the think tankers talking to Modi around a large table.

Many of those think tank heads present at the meeting have advised the presidential candidates and are providing policy advice to them.  Moreover, some will likely serve in the next Administration at very high levels.

Foreign heads of state rarely have convened such a high-level meeting strictly with think tank heads on US soil, making the meeting quite rare.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#223)

  • Arne Duncan, President Obama's former Education Secretary, joins Brookings.
  • Smithsonian's National Zoo has its own Think Tank with some brilliant scholars.
  • For Republicans, does Donald Trump mean four more years of working at a think tank?
  • Top Chinese think tanker (He Fang of CASS) under fire from watchdog over "hostile views" toward Mao Zedong.
  • Think tanks should pitch Trump best idea. 
  • Time for Black think tanks.
  • Board of Trustees at CSIS decides to make public the rules that guide the think tank.
  • "Slanted" CSIS report showcases Saudi influence on US think tanks?
  • Micah Zenko: Wisest words one can say working at a think tank is "I don't know."  Most meaningful thing is to then highlight smarter folks who do know.
  • Fun think tank fact of the day: Ted Halstead, founding president of New America, started the think tank when he was only 30.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Think Tank Featured in ISIS Propaganda Mag

The inaugural issue of Dabiq, the English language propaganda magazine that Islamic State (ISIS) produces, features none other than a Washington think tank scholar giving a speech at a think tank.

Business Insider (BI) notes that on page 32, there is a picture of Douglas Ollivant, a Senior Fellow at the think tank New America.  In that photo, Mr. Ollivant is speaking at the libertarian Cato Institute (event here).  Next to the photo is a quote from an article that Mr. Ollivant wrote with New America Fellow Brian Fishman in 2014.

When asked by BI if he was worried about being on ISIS's radar, Ollivant said he isn't worried.  "I live in Washington, DC.  If ISIS ever comes to DC, I doubt I'm on their top ten."

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on how think tanks view ISIS.

Here is a previous post on how think tanks are helping in the fight against ISIS.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on the fact that Osama bin Laden was quite fond of think tanks.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

New Rules May Lead to Fewer Paid Think Tankers, More Interns

New Obama Administration overtime work rules are causing a huge stir at think tanks as they scramble to understand the implications on their wonky workforce.

The new rules require employers to pay time-and-a-half overtime pay to most salaries workers making less than $47,476 a year.

Here is more from Dan Drezner:
It is not just New York publishing houses and Hollywood film studios that are affected. There is no exemption for nonprofit organizations. According to the Labor Department’s website, “the proposed rule may impact non-profit organizations having an annual dollar volume of sales or business done of at least $500,000.” Indeed, I violated my own rule of not acting like a reporter and actually queried some of D.C.’s indigenous think tanks to see if it would cover them. Bruce Jones, vice president and director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution, confirmed to me that that the new rules were a “big issue” and that Brookings “will be covered by this but not quite clear yet how extensively.”
Throughout the think tanks and policy shops that litter Washington, there exists a veritable army of research assistants scurrying around performing a hundred thankless tasks, from organizing panels to managing schedules to processing reimbursements to proof-reading working papers to making sure the questioner at a panel aired by C-SPAN knows how to operate the microphone. They are uber-competent and adroit at managing the fragile egos of their bosses and bosses’ bosses. I know many outstanding experts in international relations who got their start by working as assistants at the Council on Foreign Relations or RAND or AEI. And I guarantee you that most of them worked more than 40 hours a week.
What will the effect of the new overtime rule be on this unrecognized army of research assistants who make the Ideas Industry function? Scheiber quotes one person in his story suggesting that there might be “a wink-and-nod approach” in which assistants ‘volunteer’ to work late without reporting it as overtime. That is certainly a possibility, which would mean not much of a shift from the status quo.
My fear, however, is that some think tanks might respond to this rule by hiring fewer paid assistants and offering more unpaid internships instead. A few talented research assistants might thrive under these new rules, but the real winners would be those undergraduates, postgraduates and graduate students who can afford such unpaid internships as a way to get their foot into the door of the Ideas Industry. And as aggrieved as research assistants might feel, there are even more serious problems with the intern economy.

As Think Tank Watch has reported, the average think tank salary has been calculated to be around $47,136 to $66,000.

Think Tank Quickies (#222)

  • Think tanker Justin Wolfers: Not convinced that Brookings/Wilson Center new $1 million game "Fiscal Ship" is fiscally responsible.
  • SecDef Ash Carter-commissioned study on military transgender ban released by RAND Corp.
  • Ghost Fleet, book by think tankers August Cole and P.W. Singer, sparked debate inside Pentagon.
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has a new website. 
  • Global think tank leaders grade the world's performance and prospects for 2016.
  • Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) does AEI amid speculation of 3rd party run.
  • Carl Meacham, formerly at CSIS, joins Uber; Michael Matera replaces him as Americas Program Director. (Manhattan Institute scholar Jason Meyer writes book about Uber.)
  • Hunter College partnering with Brookings for a series of talks.
  • Hudson Institute head Ken Weinstein in Japan visiting Diet members.
  • Think tank (CEI) seeks damages over "unlawful" climate subpoena.
  • Cato suppressing research that contradicts their dogma?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Think Tank Fact of the Day: Canadian Think Tanks

The state of Virginia has more think tanks (105) than Canada (99).  Virginia's population is eight million, while Canada's population is 35 million.

A Number of Books on Think Tanks to be Released in 2016

Think Tank Watch has learned that a number of books on think tanks will be released in 2016 and 2017.  Among those books include:

  • Think Tanks, Foreign Policy, and Geopolitics: Pathways to Influence (by Donald Abelson and Xin Hua)
  • Northern Lights: Exploring Canada's Think Tank Landscape (Donald Abelson)
  • The Fifth Estate: Think Tanks, Public Policy, and Governance (by James McGann)
  • The Politics of Think Tanks in Europe (by Jesper Dahl Kelstrup)
  • The Rise of Think Tanks in China (by Xufeng Zhu)
  • The Power of Ideas: The Rising Influence of Thinkers and Think Tanks in China (by Cheng Li)

The most recent book on think tanks to hit the market is one written by Jason Stahl entitled "Right Moves: The Conservative Think Tank in American Political Culture Since 1945."  A recent review of that book, written in the Wall Street Journal, can be found here.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#221)

  • Journalist brawl erupts at Correspondents Dinner after-party at USIP.
  • Guardian cites "top independent think tank" on anti-Brexit claims...funded by European Commission.
  • Head of conservative think tank American Action Forum: Trump could make US "North Korea of economics."
  • How tobacco companies use strategic alliances with think tanks.
  • Chinese ambitions in South China Sea must be resisted, says Lowy Institute.
  • $5 million going to Koch-backed think tanks in Arizona universities.
  • William Reinsch, former head of NFTC, joins Stimson Center as Distinguished Fellow.
  • Mary Speiser, a former intelligence analyst with the CIA, joins Stimson Board of Directors; in February Kris Balderston (FleishmanHillard) and John Parachini (RAND) joined the Board.
  • Right-leaning DC think tank Independent Women's Forum (IWF) proposes 401(k)-type investment plan to use for parental leave.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

2016 Election Sparks Firings at Think Tanks

The 2016 election season still has many more months to go, but it is already taking a toll on think tank land, with a pair of recent firings at different think tanks that were linked to presidential politics.

The conservative think tank Center for the National Interest (CNI), which recently hosted Donald Trump for a foreign policy speech, has fired one of its employees who questioned the think tank's ties to Trump.  Here is more from Foreign Policy:
The dust-up marks the latest feud among the country’s top foreign-policy realists over whether to embrace the real estate tycoon — whose more narrow interpretation of U.S. national interests bears some resemblance to their own — or disown him as a charlatan with no serious ties to any intellectual tradition.
The employee, a junior fellow named Alexander Kirss, sharply rebuked the think tank for inviting Trump to explain his foreign-policy platform in an April 27 event at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel.
In hosting the mogul, Kirss said the think tank exhibited the same “opportunism displayed by others who have sided with Trump, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, and former presidential candidate Ben Carson.”
He was fired the same day the story published.
Paul Saunders, the executive director of the center, told FP that the decision to terminate Kirss’s position had “nothing to do with Trump.”
“The real issue is that this individual publicly disparaged the organization he was working for,” he said, noting that Kirss had never voiced his misgivings about the event to his superiors. “I don’t think that any employer would tolerate that.”

Some of Kirss past writings for the think tank can be found here.  Kirss, who is a Senior Consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton, was a member of the inaugural five member class of resident junior fellows tasked with pursuing independent research to support the mission and goals of Center for the National Interest.  In the past, he was a Research Assistant at the International Center for Defense Studies, and a Research Intern at the Cato Institute.

In response, the think tank said that when think tanks invite someone to speak, it does not constitute an endorsement.  CNI said that over the years, it has hosted then-President Bill Clinton, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Ash Carter, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, but those guests were not necessarily endorsed by the think tank.

In response to suggestions that CNI has been unable to contribute any policymakers inclined toward realism for government service, the think tank said that three of its current program directors have served as political appointees in the US government.  It also noted that former CNI employees are working in the State Department, Defense Department, National Security Council (NSC), and the intelligence community (as well as Capitol Hill).

In another think tank firing, progressive blogger Matt Bruening of the liberal think tank Demos was reportedly axed for calling a Hillary Clinton ally (Neera Tanden - the head of Center for American Progress) a "scumbag."

Center for American Progress (CAP) has strong ties to the Clintons, and Tanden is often mentioned as a possible chief of staff for a Hillary Clinton Administration.  (And as Mother Jones said, being president of CAP is a "Big Effin Deal.")

Here is what Demos, a New York-headquartered think tank founded in 2000, had to say about the firing.

During the past few years a number of think tankers have been fired for various reasons.  Examples include one who was let go for lying on a resume, and someone who was sacked for having a different policy stance from the think tank he belonged to.

Think Tanks Suckered Into White House Talking Points on Iran?

Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser to President Obama, recently admitted that the White House spoon-fed talking points about the Iran nuclear deal to think tanks and others in order to sell it to the US Congress, the US public, and others.

He made the comments in a profile in the New York Times Magazine.  Here is an excerpt:
Rhodes’s war room did its work on Capitol Hill and with reporters. In the spring of last year, legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters. “We created an echo chamber,” he admitted, when I asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.”

Interestingly, he defended his approach at a Washington think tank - the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).  Well, more precisely, at an event sponsored by CNAS at the swanky Willard Hotel.

The media, members of Congress, and others seem to be shocked, but the White House frequently passes along its talking points to numerous think tanks around town.  [Whether that information was meant to deceive is another question.]

And Rhodes is quite familiar with think tanks, having worked for one himself.  Here is more from the NYT piece about how Rhodes snagged his think tank job:
The editor at Foreign Policy...suggested that he apply for a job with Lee Hamilton, the onetime congressman from Indiana, who was looking for a speechwriter.
“I was surprised,” Hamilton remembered. “What the hell does a guy who wanted to write fiction come to me for?” But he had always found writers useful, and Rhodes’s writing sample was the best in the pile. So he hired him on at the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank. Though Rhodes never said a word in meetings, Hamilton says, he had a keen understanding of what was going on and a talent for putting the positions of distinguished participants down on paper.

In response to the whole flare-up with Rhodes, Brookings Middle East scholar Suzanne Maloney came out in defense of Rhodes, saying that claims of deception were never substantiated.

Here is what Peter Apps, Founder and Executive Director of the think tank Project for the Study of the 21st Century (PS21), had to say.

In related news, it was recently reported that the arms control non-profit Ploughshares Fund worked alongside the White House to sell the Iran deal.  Ploughshares, which is financed by billionaire George Soros' Open Society Institute, the Buffett Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Rockefeller Foundation, and others, funds a number of think tanks, including Brookings and Atlantic Council.

Also, here is an interesting Slate article, entitled "The Little Think Tank That Could," about Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the pro-Israel think tank that led the attack on President Obama's Iran deal.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#220)

  • White House admits it played think tanks for fools to sell Iran deal?
  • Grover Norquist: "My daughter was impressed that I worked with a think tank - she thought it was a military tank with thoughts...less impressed when explained."
  • Jason Stahl: Do we need a socialist think tank?
  • Do academics stigmatize conservative think tanks?
  • Nature Conservancy: Ideas for green energy can be found in labs, think tanks, and even the bottom of the sea.
  • PIIE joins other groups in Think Tank Diversity Consortium (TTDC) event at Carnegie.
  • Conservative think tank American Action Forum: Trump deportation plan would cost economy hundreds of billions. 
  • New: On Think Tanks TV - a series of videos profiling different think tanks.
  • BRICS think tanks to create digital diplomacy.
  • BBC bias by presentation: A case study of think tanks.
  • Dan Ikenson of Cato: The implied association of Cato & Republican Party is "enough to make one hurl."

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Few Think Tankers at Nordic State Dinner

The White House just held what is probably one of its last state dinners, and only a lucky few think tankers got to attend.

More specifically, there were only two current think tankers on the guest list for the Nordic state dinner: Rebecca Winthrop of the Brookings Institution and Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute.

Isaacson brought his wife, Cathy Isaacson to the state dinner, while Winthrop, who is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Universal Education at Brookings, brought Jean-Marc Bernard, Deputy Chief Technical Officer at the Global Partnership for Education.

That said, there were a number of former think tankers at the state dinner (particularly those who still serve in the Obama Administration), including Colin Kahl, Denis McDonough, and Susan Rice.

As previously reported by Think Tank Watch, it is extremely hard for a think tanker to score a White House state dinner invitation.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hackers Targeting Think Tanks Amid 2016 Election Season

As the 2016 presidential candidates battle it out loudly for all of the public to see, a much quieter battle is taking place against the candidates and their current and future advisors.

Foreign intelligence services are using a "back door" into campaign thinking by hacking into think tanks at an increased rate, trying to get as much intelligence as possible from think tankers who are advising the candidates and drafting their policy proposals.

Here is more from Bloomberg:
Foreign hackers are going after the wonks.
Cyber criminals are targeting policy groups and nongovernmental organizations to get a leg up on U.S. government strategy, according to an executive at cybersecurity company CrowdStrike Inc. Such "nation-state" hackers, often tied to governments including China or Russia, want advanced intelligence on U.S. policy, said Shawn Henry, chief security officer of the Irvine, California-based company.
"They want to know what the thought leaders in the United States are considering, what they’re debating,” Henry, who oversaw the FBI’s global cyber investigations before retiring in 2012, said in an interview in Arlington, Virginia. "They’re looking for how policy is being designed. They’re looking at how senior leaders or former senior leaders are advising existing senior leaders -- what the emerging issues are, how the U.S. government is going to implement certain strategy."
While Henry wouldn’t provide specifics on targets, Washington has many so-called think tanks and interest groups staffed by former government officials and analysts who stay in close touch with current policy makers.

Think tanks have been playing an increasing role in the Donald Trump campaign, and Hillary Clinton has extremely close ties to a number of think tanks, including Brookings, the Center for American Progress (CAP), Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Think Tank Watch has previously reported that nearly every major think tank in the US has been hacked, including the Urban Institute, Aspen Institute, Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Center for American Progress (CAP), Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Heritage Foundation.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Congressman: "Think Tanks Exist in a Fake World"

A lawmaker who has endorsed Donald Trump for president is advising Mr. Trump to avoid think tanks as he seeks to gather policy proposals from various people and groups.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who co-chairs Mr. Trump's US House Leadership Committee, is steering Trump toward lawmaker proposals because proposals coming out of think tanks "exist in a fake world."  Here is more from Hunter:

Hunter said the advice from lawmakers is more valuable than those coming out of a standard think tank because members know the political realities of their policies, and what it’s like to run for office on an actual legislative agenda.
“Think tanks exist in a fake world; they don’t have to run for reelection,” Hunter said. “Members of Congress not only have to get reelected every two years, but they get in the weeds on many policy issues like any think tank does. … I think that’s more valuable than anyone else’s input.”

But Mr. Trump has already been embracing think tanks and various think tankers.  The most recent example is the fact that he has asked Steve Moore of the Heritage Foundation to help him revise his tax plan.

Over the past few weeks, Mr. Trump and his team have been cozying up more to think tanks, holding secret meetings with some of them.  Last month, Trump was hosted by a conservative think tank in Washington, DC to present his foreign policy address.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

New Brookings Study on "Sextortion"

The Brookings Institution has just released a new report on sextortion - a relatively new crime in which someone uses blackmail carried out over a computer network to force victims to engage in some form of sexual activity online.

Brookings has also released a companion report entitled "Closing the Sextortion Sentencing Gap: A Legislative Proposal."

Today, Brookings has an online webcast detailing the new reports, which were written by Benjamin Wittes, Cody Poplin, Quinta Jurecic and Clara Spera.

The new study says that sextortion is scarily common, and there could be more than 6,000 sextortion victims.

Think Tank Quickies (#219)

  • China passes new law restricting the work of foreign think tanks and their local partners, mainly through policy supervision. 
  • Do conservative think tanks help to balance policy debates?
  • Has India outsourced foreign policy to American think tanks?
  • 5th China-Africa Think Tanks Forum opens in Zhejiang Province.
  • Iran's Central Bank Governor speaks at CFR. 
  • Catrina Rorke, Director of Energy Policy at R Street Institute, makes The Hill list of 10 rising stars in energy/environment world.
  • George Mason University think tanks (heavily funded by Koch money) under scrutiny after University named law school after Scalia.
  • May 2016 Washingtonian: "From the New Republic's former headquarters on 19th Street, Michael Kinsley (now at Vanity Fair) was at his sharpest, and Leon Wieseltier (Brookings) and Charles Krauthammer (Fox News) pounded each other in an intellectual cage match."
  • Think tanks rather than lobbying tanks, by Alejandro Chafuen. 
  • FP: If you want to understand the Middle East, ditch the think tank panels and catch the photo exhibits and hip-hop shows.

Think Tanker Disinvited to Speak at University

Jason Riley, a Senior Fellow at the conservative think tank Manhattan Institute (MI), was recently disinvited to speak at Virginia Tech, he wrote, because of concerns that he could spark a protest.  Here is more from Mr. Riley in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece:
...You don’t have to be in such distinguished company to earn the ire of the campus left. Last month I was invited by a professor to speak at Virginia Tech in the fall. Last week, the same professor reluctantly rescinded the invitation, citing concerns from his department head and other faculty members that my writings on race in The Wall Street Journal would spark protests. Profiles in campus courage.

Mr. Riley's publications and commentary can be found here.  The Manhattan Institute was recently ranked as the 39th best think tank in the United States.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Stimson Center Abounds in Partnerships

Think Tank Watch was scouring various think tank websites and noticed something unique about one think tank that many people may not be familiar with.

That would be the Stimson Center, a Washington, DC-based think tank, founded in 1989, devoted to addressing transnational challenges in order to enhance global peace and economic prosperity.

The think tank, which is named after Henry L. Stimson (a former Secretary of State and Secretary of War), has an enormous amount of "partner" organizations.  They include:


Think tank partnership are increasingly common, as Think Tank Watch has documented, but to have that many partnerships is almost unheard of.

The Stimson Center was just ranked as the 24th best think tank in the world by the University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings.

In October, Brian Finlay became the new president and CEO of the Stimson Center.  Former President Ellen Laipson became a Distinguished Fellow and President Emeritus after serving more than 13 years as the think tank's President and CEO.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

All Think Tankers Need to Take the "Bubble Quiz"

Whether your are a seasoned think tanker who has put in decades on think tank row, or a newly minted think tanker still trying to learn exactly where think tank row is, you need to take the "Bubble Quiz."

Or so says Chuck DeVore, Vice President of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, who discussed the Bubble Quiz in a recent post in Real Clear Politics.  Here is more:
Do the staff at national think tanks reflect the nation as a whole? Or are they more representative of the Acela Corridor, that narrow slice of America from D.C. to Boston where they are headquartered?
It's a serious shortcoming if national policy staffers too frequently have an urban pedigree, only have friends with similar views and education, and don't think much of their fellow Americans in flyover country, if they think of them at all. If staff at these institutions — who are charged with generating new ideas, turning those ideas into policies, and then convincing government officials to implement those policies — have little in common with the very people they claim to help, how can they be effective?
Elites' lack of familiarity with mainstream America is extensively documented in Angelo Codevilla's book The Ruling Class, and it was recently acknowledged by liberal writer Emmett Rensin in a Vox essay as well.
But state-level think tanks likely don't share this national-level weakness. Where national think tanks generally draw on a narrow base of experience, then offer advice to the entire nation, state think tanks are apt to more closely represent residents in the surrounding state and offer solutions crafted with first-hand knowledge.
To test this proposition, I turned to Charles Murray's "Bubble Quiz" — a 25-question survey that attempts to gauge a respondent's "isolation from mainstream white America" (which, while receding as a percentage of the population, is still a majority). Questions include whether you've lived in a small town, whether you've served in the military, etc.
Murray estimates that the mean for a nationally representative sample would be 44, with a lower score indicating more isolation from, and ignorance of, mainstream culture and experiences. When Murray analyzed scores from those who took the quiz online through PBS, he found that elite enclaves from Manhattan to Silicon Valley — and even Austin — had median scores ranging from 12.5 to 24.5.

As Kara Jones, nicely summarized in a tweet: "Translation: Make sure at least a few people at your beltway think tank still view Chili's as fine dining."

So go on think tankers, take the Bubble Quiz and let Think Tank Watch know how you do.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#218)

  • Think tankers step in to defend Donald Trump on foreign policy.
  • AEI's annual forum has big-name guests including Apple CEO Tim Cook,  Google co-founder Larry Page, Napster creator and Facebook investor Sean Parker, and Tesla head Elon Musk.
  • Eric Kanoy Siefring, a former lobbyist at Heritage Action, chairing new Computer Science Education Coalition.
  • For President Obama's last State of the Union (SOTU) address, White House used a tool created by World Resources Institute (WRI) for carbon pollution information.
  • British book retailer Waterstones has a book table titled "think tank." (h/t Jo Swinson)
  • The growing tribe of think tanks in India.
  • CNAS annual conference on June 20 to feature Vice President Joe Biden and SecDef Ash Carter.
  • Think tanks spending big bucks honoring lawmakers? 
  • In 2014, 19 of the 20 universities in the world that produced the most highly cited research papers were American.  What about think tank papers? 
  • Are there more retractions these days in think tank reports?
  • Think tank (Economic Cycle Research Institute) admits it was wrong in predicting 2011-2012 downturn.

Bigwig Think Tanker Calls Trump "Dangerous"

R. Nicholas Burns, a former Bush Administration official and think tanker, bashed Donald Trump's foreign policy speech this week, calling him a "dangerous" man.

Burns is the latest think tank power player to critique Mr. Trump's foreign policy.  Several weeks ago, more than 100 Republican foreign policy and national security leaders signed an open letter denouncing Trump.

Burns, who serves on the board of directors of Atlantic Council and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), is also a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Over the past few weeks, Mr. Trump and his team have been cozying up more to think tanks, holding secret meetings with some of them.  Earlier this week, Trump was hosted by a conservative think tank in Washington, DC to present his foreign policy address.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#217)

  • Do female think tankers get less credit when they write with male colleagues?
  • Former US Ambassador to Mexico E. Anthony Wayne named Public Policy Fellow at Wilson Center's Mexico Institute.
  • Wilson Center: How many people take the DC metro
  • CNAS launches "Derwin Pereira Southeast Asian Foreign Policy Roundtables"; announces 2016 Next Generation National Security Fellows.
  • New York Times columnist David Brooks joins New America Board of Directors; Tyra Mariani, formerly at Department of Education, appointed to newly created Vice President post at New America.
  • New America's OTI joins roster of official collaborators on National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA) Community Connectivity Initiative.
  • Salih Booker named USIP's Vice President for External Relations. 
  • RAND Corp.: Autonomous vehicles cannot be test-driven enough miles to demonstrate their safety.
  • New RAND report: US national security decision-making processes need trimming.
  • Carl Bildt and Michael Hoffman join Council of Advisors for RAND Europe.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Donald Trump Holding Secret Meetings With Think Tanks

As Donald Trump gets closer to winning the Republican nomination, he is courting think tanks more aggressively and think tanks are courting Donald Trump more aggressively.  Here is more from the Associated Press:
Senior aide [to Donald Trump] Paul Manafort said last week that he’d met people at a number of think tanks and members of Congress to talk about bulking up the team’s policy component, which is smaller than that of leading campaigns in the past.
“We’re finding there’s a lot of interest in working with him, coming on board,” he told reporters.
Manafort spent about an hour at the Heritage Foundation headquarters in Washington last week meeting policy experts at the conservative think tank. Heritage officials cast the meeting as part of an ongoing series of briefings for candidates and their advisers.

Today, Donald Trump is giving a major foreign policy address that is being hosted by the think tank Center for the National Interest (CNI).

In conjunction with the speech, Trump is expected to announce new members to his foreign policy team, and many of them will likely come from the think tank community.  After steering clear of Trump, many conservative think tanks appear to be slowly warming up to him.