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.

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.

Trump Advisor Lied About Think Tank Experience?

Here is what the Washington Post is reporting:
George Papadopoulous, a 2009 graduate of DePaul University [and an advisor to Donald Trump], has described himself in several lengthy published resumes as an oil and gas consultant and expert in eastern Mediterranean energy policy.
But his claim to have served for several years as a fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute was refuted by David Tell, Hudson senior fellow and director of public affairs, who said the institute's "records indicate that Mr. Papadopoulos started here as an unpaid intern in 2011 and subsequently provided some contractual research assistance to one of our senior fellows."

A recent peak at Mr. Papadopoulos's LinkedIn profile says that he was a Research Associate at the Hudson Institute from March 2011 to September 2015 and worked with three senior fellows there.

In related think tank news, Mr. Trump will be speaking on April 27 at an event sponsored by the Center for the National Interest.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Nixon's Think Tank to Host Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump continues to embrace think tank land.  Having scooped up a number of advisors from think tanks, he is now being hosted by a Washington, DC think to give a major foreign policy speech.

Here is more from The New York Times:
Donald J. Trump will deliver his first foreign policy address at the National Press Club in Washington next week, his campaign said, at an event hosted by an organization founded by President Richard M. Nixon.
The speech, planned for lunchtime on Wednesday, will be Mr. Trump’s first major policy address since a national security speech last fall.
The speech will be hosted by the Center for the National Interest, formerly known as the Nixon Center, and the magazine it publishes, The National Interest, according to a news release provided by the Trump campaign.
The group, which left the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in 2011 to become a nonprofit, says on its website that it was founded by the former president to be a voice to promote “strategic realism in U.S. foreign policy.” Its associates include Henry A. Kissinger, the secretary of state under Nixon, as well as Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and a senior adviser to Mr. Trump. Roger Stone, a sometime adviser of Mr. Trump, is a former Nixon aide.

Here is what Politico is reporting about the speech.  Here is what Brookings Institution scholar Thomas Wright is saying about the speech.

Dimitri Simes, the President of the Center for the National Interest (CNI) and a former aide to Richard Nixon, was reportedly on Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) foreign policy advisory team in 2014.

This Free Beacon article says that for years, Simes and CNI "have provided a sympathetic platform for the Russian government in the heart of the DC policy establishment."

Among those on the Board of Directors of CNI include Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Leslie Gelb (President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations), former Gov. Jon Huntsman, Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad, Admiral Michael Mullen, Grover Norquist, Brent Scowcroft, Jeffrey Bewkes (Chairman/CEO of Time Warner), billionaire Peter Peterson, and Julie Nixon Eisenhower (daughter of Richard Nixon).

Henry Kissinger is the Honorary Chairman of CNI, and Maurice Greenberg is Chairman Emeritus of CNI.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on think tanks possibly controlling a Trump presidency.  Here is a previous post on how Donald Trump sees think tanks.  And here is a previous post about how Donald Trump has an affinity toward Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) president Richard Haass.  Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post showing that Trump has been consulting with think tanks for quite awhile now.

Update: Foreign Policy has a new parody piece entitled "Breaking: Richard Nixon Does Not Endorse Donald Trump."  The author, who pretends to be Richard Nixon, says, among other things, that he objected to the Nixon Center name change to Center for the National Interest, and said that the new name is "the sort of pointy-headed doublespeak that passes as nuance in the campus tearooms."

Also, John Bolton of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) said that Trump's foreign policy analysis was right on target.  Matt Mayer of AEI said that the devil is in the details in Trump's foreign policy speech.  Michael Auslin of AEI said that Trump "is still at sea" in Asia.  And here is Derek Scissors of AEI on Trump's speech and trade.

Think Tank Quickies (#216)

  • CAP says climate skeptics in Congress have grown from 169 last year to at least 180 now.
  • PIIE experts forecast slow, steady growth in 2016-2017; fears for world economy overblown.
  • AEI President Arthur Brooks guest hosts Squawk Box on CNBC.
  • Model Diplomacy, a new free simulation by CFR, to educate students on global affairs.
  • Bertrand Badre (World Bank) and Rory MacFarquhar (National Security Council under Obama) join PIIE as 2016 Visiting Fellows.
  • CSIS establishes Zbigniew Brzezinski Prize and Lecture; issues open letter on defense reform.
  • World Resources Institute: Since start of 21st century, 21 countries, including US, have fully decoupled their economic growth from carbon emissions. 
  • New America co-founder Michael Lind debates Jack Abramoff on corporate subsidies.
  • New paper released by think tank Third Way, and penned by investment banker Daniel Alpert, says build more roads. 
  • Carla Koppell, formerly of USAID, named VP of Center for Applied Conflict Transformation at USIP.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Russia Paid PR Firm to Connect with US Think Tanks

Here is more from Politico in a piece entitled "Putin's Washington":
[Dmitry] Peskov [Putin's influential press attaché] had handpicked Ketchum to work on the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg in 2006. Russia’s image needed buffing after taking a hit that winter when Gazprom, the massive state-controlled energy company, cut off natural gas to Ukraine. Peskov and other media-savvy members of the Putin administration understood that a Western-style makeover would help. And Ketchum delivered at the G-8, arranging media interviews and recording podcasts, and connecting with American think tanks and officials to show Russia in a more flattering light. Peskov was so pleased that he inked a broader contract for Ketchum to “facilitate dialog [sic] and a relationship between The Russian Federation and representatives of the United States government and media.”

The deal was a coup, even for a big global company. At about $5 million a year, it was “one of Ketchum’s top 10 accounts,” according to a former executive familiar with the Russia portfolio. And the arrangement was lucrative not only for Ketchum. The firm brought in private consultants, one of whom was paid more than $850,000 over five and a half years to court think tanks and seek investment dollars for Russia. Ketchum employees flew business class to Moscow and racked up expenses as they spun up their PR operation: op-eds in major newspapers, “influencer” outreach, a slick new web platform called ModernRussia (now thinkRUSSIA).

Think Tank Watch should note that foreign governments often pay law firms, lobby firms, public relations firms, and others to help connect with think tank experts and others.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

AEI Head Makes Fortune List of World's 50 Greatest Leaders

Arthur Brooks, President of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) made the 2016 Fortune list of the "world's 50 greatest leaders," ranked at #32 on that list.   He is the only think tanker who made the list.

David Wessel, Director of the Hutchins Center at the Brookings Institution, wrote a brief clip about him for the list:
If the right is to have a shot at steering American public policy, Arthur Brooks will be one of the architects of its vision.  Hi conservatism stands for something more than tax cuts for the rich and ever-tighter restrictions on abortions.  The New York Times' David Brooks described it as "capitalism for the masses": It includes a heavy emphasis on social entrepreneurship - leveraging business techniques to solve social problems.  Not what you'd expect from a Seattle-born French-horn player.

An full biography of Arthur Brooks can be found here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

New Trend: Billionaire Think Tanks

We all know that billionaire's give tons of money to think tanks both large and small.  But a new trend has been taking shape that is redefining the traditional system of think tanks getting money from wealthy donors.

Now, a number of billionaires are starting their own think tanks rather than relying on ones that already exist.  Here is a recent example from The New York Times:
In a wood-paneled conference room in Stanford, Calif., a score of scholars, many of them eminent and some from as far away as Johannesburg and Beijing, gathered last month to compare philosophical notions of hierarchy and equality.
The gathering itself had no overt hierarchy, though one participant seemed a little more equal than the others. When Nicolas Berggruen spoke, no one interrupted. Only he occasionally checked his phone. And at dinner, the guests received fruit tarts for dessert — except for Mr. Berggruen, who was served chocolate mousse.
Mr. Berggruen, 54, is an investor and art collector who was once known as the “homeless billionaire” because he lived in itinerant luxury in five-star hotels. Now he is grounded in Los Angeles where he presides over a bespoke think tank, the Berggruen Institute.
The institute is a striking example of how wealthy philanthropists are reshaping the landscape with smaller versions of the foundations established by Bill Gates and George Soros. Sean Parker, one of the entrepreneurs behind Napster and Facebook, has a research institute, The Parker Foundation, which this month pledged $250 million for cancer immunotherapy. He is also a co-founder of the Economic Innovation Group, which labels itself an “ideas laboratory.” Tom Steyer, who made his fortune as a hedge fund manager in California, has several environmental nonprofit groups, and last year created the Fair Shake Commission to redress economic inequality.

The Berggruen Institute, founded in 2010 and based in Los Angeles, definitely has the coolest prize of any think tank that Think Tank Watch can think of - a $1 million prize in philosophy.

The think tank's Board of Advisors can be found here, and includes Arianna Huffington, Mohamed El-Erian, and former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch on billionaires and think tanks.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Think Tank Quickes (#215)

  • Ian Bond: Pay for playing cello seems better than think tank pay (Panama Papers reference).
  • Ezra Klein chats with CAP's Neera Tanden about think tank work.
  • Mina Kimes on DC: Love the terrible bar scene and talking to people who work for think tanks.
  • Protocol at think tanks.
  • Heritage Foundation scholar critical of attacks on Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which has just been served a subpoena demanding documents related to CEI's climate change research.
  • China can play a role in building capacity of African think tanks.
  • Brookings: Are the Russians behind the Panama Papers?
  • Leonard D. Schaeffer Initiative in Health Policy established at Brookings with $4 million; in partnership with Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics at University of Southern California (USC).
  • Heritage Foundation names Michael Gleba, Chairman/CEO, Treasurer and Trustee of the Sarah Scaife Foundation, to its Board of Trustees.
  • Beverly Hallberg, President of District Media Group, joins Heritage as Visiting Fellow in Communications.

The Think Tank Connection of Accused Spy Edward Lin

This is what Newsweek is reporting about Edward Lin, the naval flight officer accused of leaking sensitive information to either China or Taiwan (or both):
Among Lin’s Chinese contacts on LinkedIn was a former Washington, D.C.–based Taiwanese military attaché whose job was to “file intelligence reports on current statuses and events of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to superiors in the home navy force.” Another Taiwanese who endorsed Lin listed himself as a current “security manager” for Apple who previously worked high up in Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense, where he was “responsible for U.S. and European think tanks engagement,” an intelligence-oriented billet. A former senior British nuclear submarine commander, who served as a Royal Navy liaison officer in Washington, D.C., from 2012 to 2015, also endorsed Lin for various military and communication skills.

Think Tank Watch has written extensively about think tank spying in the past, including in this 2013 post entitled "Think Tanks a Hotbed for Spy Recruitment."

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Cato Think Tanker Opening Up a Restaurant

In the revolving door of think tank land, most think tankers end up leaving their think tank to enter a new Administration, or to go into the corporate world, or academia.

But one scholar from the libertarian think tank Cato Institute has taken a different route: He is opening up a restaurant.  That scholar is Justin Logan, the former Director of Foreign Policy Studies at Cato, who is in the process of opening up a Latin American wine and spirits bar called Ruta del Vino in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, DC.

Mr. Logan is opening up the restaurant with his wife Jessica, who worked as an accountant at Cato.

Although opening a restaurant is not the typical route for a think tanker, Mr. Logan will have knowledge and access to Cato's broad writings on the food/restaurant industry, including the think tank's latest work on the "futile effort" of menu mandates and obesity.

Think Tank Quickies (#214)

  • Sen. John McCain's think tank received $1 million from Saudi Arabia.
  • Whole Foods CEO John Macket quits Marc Gafni's think tank (Center for Integral Wisdom).
  • New America: We are not on Instragram because we are a think tank.
  • Brookings interactive poverty map (think tank row is not poor).
  • CFR getting lots of Cabinet officials for events in April, including Secs. Pritzker (Commerce), Carter (Defense), and Lew (Treasury); SecDef Carter also does CSIS, and Lew does Carnegie.
  • RAND Corp. analysis spells doom for Taiwan (via Defense News).
  • What think tanks are thinking on Japan and the EU.
  • Heritage: Over 2 million manufacturing workers employed by foreign-owned companies.
  • PIIE: The moral case for globalization.
  • Head of Center for American Progress (CAP) bashes Bernie Sanders's campaign.
  • Think tanks represent a blind spot for critical analysis?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

New Book on Conservative Think Tanks

Dr. Jason Stahl has written a new book on conservative think tanks entitled "Right Moves: The Conservative Think Tank in American Political Culture Since 1945."  Following is an overview from Amazon:
From the middle of the twentieth century, think tanks have played an indelible role in the rise of American conservatism. Positioning themselves against the alleged liberal bias of the media, academia, and the federal bureaucracy, conservative think tanks gained the attention of politicians and the public alike and were instrumental in promulgating conservative ideas. Yet, in spite of the formative influence these institutions have had on the media and public opinion, little has been written about their history. Here, Jason Stahl offers the first sustained investigation of the rise and historical development of the conservative think tank as a source of political and cultural power in the United States.

What we now know as conservative think tanks--research and public-relations institutions populated by conservative intellectuals--emerged in the postwar period as places for theorizing and "selling" public policies and ideologies to both lawmakers and the public at large. Stahl traces the progression of think tanks from their outsider status against a backdrop of New Deal and Great Society liberalism to their current prominence as a counterweight to progressive political institutions and thought. By examining the rise of the conservative think tank, Stahl makes invaluable contributions to our historical understanding of conservatism, public-policy formation, and capitalism.

Dr. Stahl is a Lecturer in the Department of Organizational Leadership and Policy Development at the University of Minnesota.

In the past, Dr. Stahl has delivered a lecture at the Library of Congress (video can be viewed here) entitled "Conservatives in a Marketplace of Ideas: Think Tanks, Interests, and Expertise in the 1970s."

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#213)

  • Think tank reports competing with 28,100 journals publishing 2.5 million articles a year. 
  • Legal Progress, the legal policy program at CAP, launches new website focusing on US Supreme Court: NeedTheNine.org; CAP hosts tech event with Google.
  • Liz Kennedy, formerly of Demos, joins CAP as Director of Government and Democratic Reform.
  • CAP teams up with Funny or Die to bring humor to Common Core debate; CAP hosts Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor.
  • New PIIE report from Robert Lawrence and Tyler Moran tries to defend January 2016 PIIE study by Peter Petri and Michael Plummer, which was criticized by some academics and lawmakers.
  • New PIIE study "Rich People, Poor Countries" by Carline Freund draws a distinction between rich-world billionaires and those of emerging economies.
  • Did anyone fall for the April Fool's piece on the Brookings-Heritage merger?
  • Brookings, AEI, and CAP present findings and lead discussions on electoral/policy implications of demographic change. 
  • Atlantic Council hires media guru David Ensor (most recently of VOA) to be EVP for External Relations; Adwoa Jones promoted to Atlantic Council's 1st Chief Talent Officer; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Evelyn Farkas joins Atlantic Council as Nonresident Senior Fellow.
  • Atlantic Council and Qualcomm launch multi-year collaboration on US's tech leadership; Ryan Crocker to chair Task Force on the Future of Iraq.
  • President Obama nominates Chris Brummer of Atlantic Council as Commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

USTR Cozy With Some Think Tanks; Hates Others

The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) seems to like a number of powerful think tanks, and it has held many private meetings with think tankers.

For example, on July 22, three think tanks met with USTR: Third Way, Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), and New Democrat Network.

Earlier this year, USTR Michael Froman spoke about trade at the Wilson Center.

However, USTR does not like think tanks whose ideas conflict with its own studies and ideas.  Here is more from Politico:
The administration wasn’t impressed by a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, which calculates that a $177.9 billion trade deficit with the other TPP countries translates to 2 million lost jobs, arguing that the methodology has already been debunked.
“The method EPI uses to create these numbers was given ‘Four Pinocchios’ by The Washington Post’s independent fact-checker last year for being a ‘whopper’, yet they continue to use it,” a USTR spokesman said. “The International Trade Administration's most recent official numbers show that 11.7 million jobs were supported yearly by exports of American goods and that 45 percent of those goods went to TPP countries. It’s unfortunate that opponents of trade, like EPI, continue to use faulty data to avoid having an honest debate about expanding American made exports through TPP.”
Many trade economists argue that imports don’t have a straightforward impact on jobs because some of them are used as inputs in other products made here, and some don’t compete directly with U.S. goods.
Rob Scott, one of the authors of the EPI paper, said the methodology he used is similar in some ways to the Public Citizen methodology but not exactly the same. He also noted that, unlike Public Citizen, his paper used data from the Census Bureau on trade flows, which is considered by the administration to be the most accurate.

USTR doesn't only rely on US think tanks to get its message across.  For example, in a trip to Malaysia last year, USTR Michael Froman promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at a think tank event.

Also, former Administration officials use think tanks to promote various policy initiative such as trade deals.  For example, former State Department official Kurt Campbell and former Ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell praised TPP this week at the Truman National Security Project.

Monday, April 11, 2016

AEI Launches Open Source Policy Center

During the week of April 4 the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) formally launched the Open Source Policy Center (OSPC), which is dedicated to making policy analysis transparent and accessible through open source computer modeling.

On April 4, OSPC launched its first web application, TaxBrain.  Here is more from a press release:
Today, OSPC launches its first web application, TaxBrain, which allows the public and experts alike to study the effect of individual income and payroll tax policy reforms using open source economic simulation models.
This breakthrough in open source public policy research inaugurates a new era in government transparency by making economic modeling and data analysis both accessible and collaborative.
Here is more from another AEI press release:
TaxBrain relies on several open source simulation models that work together to allow for “static” scoring and various types of dynamic scoring of individual income and payroll tax reforms. In static scoring, the overall size of the economy is held fixed. In dynamic scoring, policy changes can affect the size of the economy.
A core team of contributors oversees each simulation model. The core team members for models currently available on TaxBrain are T.J. Alumbaugh, Jason DeBacker, Richard Evans, Daniel Feenberg, Martin Holmer, John O’Hare, Amy Xu, and Matt Jensen.

Matt Jensen is the Founder and Managing Director of OSPC at AEI.  He is also a core contributor to open source modeling projects such as Tax-Calculator and TaxData.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) just had a lead editorial entitled "Cracking Washington's Black Box," which praised the opening of the Open Source Policy Center.  Here is an excerpt from WSJ:
The American Enterprise Institute will soon unveil its Open Source Policy Center in an effort to crack the codes used by government bean counters. The think tank’s goal is to produce open-source economic modeling to give outside academics, experts and average Americans the tools to test, check and improve the hidden calculations that government uses to design policy. This is wonky stuff, and therefore it won’t make the cable TV shows, but it is an essential step toward holding accountable the increasingly powerful administrative state.

Here is a link to OSPC and here is a link to TaxBrain.

Also, Think Tank Watch has noticed that OSPC is looking to hire.  Want to be an economics research assistant?  How about a summer intern?  Apply today!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#212)

  • Do think tanks have to apply for a business license, via Dana Shultz?
  • YouTube video: The story of the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels.
  • German Marshall Fund holds high-level Brussels Forum March 18-20, 2016 (just before bombings).
  • Max Fisher in Vox: How Saudi Arabia captured Washington think tanks.
  • CSIS event brings 45 current and former women ambassadors.
  • Price Floyd: Some DC think tanks may have problems finding women panelists, but not Project 2049.
  • Tamara Cofman Wittes of Brookings on being a think tanker.
  • Insights from Aaron Swartz on DC think tanks. (h/t Frank Pasquale)
  • British aid money wasted on terrorists and think tanks?
  • Russia Direct says it is "something of a hybrid between a media outlet and a think tank." 
  • Think tanker Justin Wolfers blasts flaws in academic study about Bernie Sanders's economic plan; and Jeffrey Flier of Harvard on how to keep bad science from getting into print.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

UK Goes Crazy Over Its Funding of US Think Tank

Some in the United Kingdom are not very happy that taxpayer money is going to fund a fairly well-off think tank based in Washington, DC - the Center for Global Development (CGD).  Here is more from the Daily Mail:

It is one of the richest countries on Earth, yet millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money is being sent to fund aid organisations in the US, The Mail on Sunday can reveal. 
One Washington think-tank, the Center for Global Development (CGD), received £5.9 million – yet was so cash-rich that it moved into new £12 million offices complete with a 60-seat ‘ideas lab’.
According to the Department for International Development (DFID) website, Washington-based CGD has received nearly £6 million since November 2011 for ‘global development, research-based aid, food security, global health, technology and anti-corruption cases’.
While CGD is an internationally recognised and respected think- tank that focuses on ‘rigorous independent research’ into how to make aid more effective and reducing global poverty, it appears to have few qualms about spending money on its own highly paid bosses and moved into new offices at the end of 2013.

The most recent publicly available tax records show that the organisation’s president, Nancy Birdsall, received a £300,000 salary in 2014 while chief operating officer Todd Moss (who writes thrillers in his spare time) was paid £200,000.
Birdsall lives in a £1.1 million home in the Washington suburbs with her lawyer husband David. She recently announced she was stepping down as president and has hired a firm of top Californian headhunters to find her replacement.
Moss is a former US State Department official who served under President George W. Bush. Moss balances his work with CGD with writing airport thrillers involving a character called Judd Ryker, who works in the State Department’s ‘Crisis Reaction Unit’ and becomes embroiled in adventures in Africa and Latin America.
The CGD’s new headquarters occupies the 33,000 sq ft fifth floor of a modern office in one of Washington’s most prestigious areas.
The offices cost £9 million to buy, with a further £3 million spent on fixtures and fittings, including a ‘multi-media lab’ and 170-seat conference hall. Lawrence MacDonald, CGD’s then vice-president of communications, sought to head off criticism of the office purchase in a blog post that said: ‘Sometimes the thriftiest thing to do is buy your own place.’
He said the millions ploughed into the building were available because the charity, which has around 50 US-based staff, had accumulated ‘a modest reserve fund’.
Staff at CGD – which also has offices in London’s exclusive Pimlico area – are encouraged to have fun. During President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in January, they had a ‘bingo’ night complete with drinks and pizza. The winner was the first to cross off a card filled with words commonly used by the President, such as ‘terrorism’, ‘immigrations’ and ‘poverty’.
In an email, a CGD spokesman said: ‘The funding we receive from DFID supports our independent academic research. None of the funding we received from them was used to buy our offices.
‘The support from DFID funds specific programmes of work including research into how wealthy countries can make aid money more effective, strengthening education systems and strengthening global health, food security, anti-corruption and technology policies.’

The UK is not the only one funding CGD.  Other funders include the governments of Australia and Canada, as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, Omidyar Network, The Rockefeller Foundation, UBS, William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, and many others.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Rising Stars in Think Tank Land Under 40

In its March 2016 edition, Washington Life Magazine has its new list of rising stars 40 and under.  While many of those who made the list are in the media, Congress, White House, PR, and lobbying worlds, there are a few think tankers who made the list:

  • Elbridge Colby, Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)
  • Daniel Costa, Director of Immigration Law and Policy Research at Economic Policy Institute (EPI)
  • Ilya Shapiro, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute
  • Emily Tisch Sussman, Director of Campaigns at the Center for American Progress (CAP)

And, Think Tank Watch noticed a few former think tankers, such as Amanda Terkel, a reporter/editor for The Huffington Post, who used to work at Center for American Progress.

Carnegie Competes with Brookings on Foreign Soil


Today (April 6) the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) launched Carnegie India in New Delhi.  It is Carnegie's sixth international center after Beijing, Beirut, Brussels, Moscow, and Washington, DC.  The official launch of Carnegie India has been anticipated for months, and comes as the think tank competes head-to-head with the Brookings Institution for think tank influence in the world's second most populated country.

Here press release on the launch, which was welcomed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  Following is an excerpt from that release:
Carnegie India's research and programmatic focus will include the political economy of reform in India, foreign and security policy, and the role of innovation and technology in India's internal transformation and international relations.
The center’s founding director, C. Raja Mohan, has been a nonresident senior associate at Carnegie since 2012. He has also served as a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, a visiting research professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, and a member of India’s National Security Advisory Board.
The center’s creation has been supported by Carnegie India’s Founders Committee, a group of Indian and international donors co-chaired by former cabinet secretary and Indian ambassador to the United States, Naresh Chandra, and former United States ambassador to India, Frank Wisner. 

Brookings announced the opening of its New Delhi office in 2013, giving it a significant head start in India, a country which has 280 think tanks.  Only the United States, China, and United Kingdom have more think tanks.
Carnegie India’s research and programmatic focus will include the political economy of reform in India, foreign and security policy, and the role of innovation and technology in India’s internal transformation and international relations. Led and staffed by Indian experts, it will build on decades of scholarship on India and South Asia across Carnegie’s programs, while placing special emphasis on developing a cadre of young, up-and-coming Indian scholars.

Read more at: http://carnegieindia.org/2016/04/05/launch-of-carnegie-india/iwns
Carnegie India’s research and programmatic focus will include the political economy of reform in India, foreign and security policy, and the role of innovation and technology in India’s internal transformation and international relations. Led and staffed by Indian experts, it will build on decades of scholarship on India and South Asia across Carnegie’s programs, while placing special emphasis on developing a cadre of young, up-and-coming Indian scholars.

Read more at: http://carnegieindia.org/2016/04/05/launch-of-carnegie-india/iwns
Carnegie India’s research and programmatic focus will include the political economy of reform in India, foreign and security policy, and the role of innovation and technology in India’s internal transformation and international relations. Led and staffed by Indian experts, it will build on decades of scholarship on India and South Asia across Carnegie’s programs, while placing special emphasis on developing a cadre of young, up-and-coming Indian scholars.

Read more at: http://carnegieindia.org/2016/04/05/launch-of-carnegie-india/iwns
Carnegie India’s research and programmatic focus will include the political economy of reform in India, foreign and security policy, and the role of innovation and technology in India’s internal transformation and international relations. Led and staffed by Indian experts, it will build on decades of scholarship on India and South Asia across Carnegie’s programs, while placing special emphasis on developing a cadre of young, up-and-coming Indian scholars.

Read more at: http://carnegieindia.org/2016/04/05/launch-of-carnegie-india/iwns

Monday, April 4, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#211)

  • 7 rules for avoiding all-male panels at think tanks, by Jacqueline O'Neill.
  • What Max Abrahms wants to see: A political science dissertation on the independent effect of ideologically driven donor money on think tank pundit analysis.
  • Conservative leader of Canada gets standing ovation after calling Center for American Progress (CAP) "anti-Canadian."
  • Ann Coulter: Trump is the only one with real solutions, not think tank talking points.
  • Inside Gay Talese's "subterranean think tank."
  • CFR President Richard Haass on what the next US president's challenges will be; Haass coming out with new book: A World in Disarray.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Gary Trudeau does CAP.
  • Cato's David Boaz: A "proud" think tank moment. 
  • The On Think Tanks School launches Evolving Think Tanks starting April 5.
  • Does your think tank order cookies with your book cover on it for a book launch?  FDD does.