Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wife of Bernie Sanders Launches Think Tank

Think tanks may be losing credibility, but they are gaining in numbers.  Here is more on the latest think tank being formed, from USA Today:

A team of Berniecrats, including Jane O’Meara Sanders, launched a nonprofit, educational organization today that aims to “revitalize democracy” with progressive policies to address economic, environmental, racial and social justice issues.
“The Sanders Institute” is one of the organizations that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said last year would be created to help raise awareness of “enormous crises” facing Americans after he ended his bid for the Democratic nomination. His wife Jane is one of the 11 founding fellows who will direct the organization. Bernie Sanders will have no role in leading the institute.
The Sanders Institute has an office in Burlington and three staff members, but the fellows are participating as volunteers. Jane Sanders said she and the senator have contributed $25,000 of their personal funds to help cover startup costs of about $125,000, and they intend to be ongoing contributors. "Our Revolution" the political spinoff organization from the Sanders campaign, has provided the rest in seed money, which will be repaid as the nonprofit begins raising money for its work, she said.
Other founding fellows include high-profile advisers and supporters from the Sanders campaign. They are Robert Reich, who served as President Bill Clinton’s labor secretary; Vermont author and environmentalist Bill McKibben; actor Danny Glover; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii; economist Stephanie Kelton; Ben Jealous, former NAACP president and chief executive officer and now a gubernatorial candidate in Maryland; author and civil rights activist Cornel West; Former Ohio state senator Nina Turner; economist Jeffrey Sachs; and entertainer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte.

The new Sanders Institute website can be found here.  Salon says that the Institute will function as a hybrid between a think tank and an educational center.

The Sanders Institute is not the only think tank connected to a sitting US senator.  Another example is the McCain Institute for International Leadership, connected to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#274)

  • US-Colombia Business Partnership and Atlantic Council hold reception and dinner at Library of Congress for Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
  • David Horowitz Freedom Center not a think tank, it's a "battle tank."
  • UAE and its ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, have close ties to small, pro-Israel DC think tank FDD. 
  • David Reaboi: Over the next few weeks, you will be slammed by op-eds and propaganda from Qatari-funded think tanks like Brookings.
  • A trial lawyers think tank. 
  • Former Bush official John Bailey joins AEI as Visiting Fellow. 
  • Former top Obama official Denis McDonough joins Carnegie's Technology and International Affairs Program as a Senior Fellow. 
  • Jake Sullivan, former advisor to Biden and Clinton, joins Carnegie's Geoeconomics and Strategy Program as a Senior Fellow.
  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace establishes Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs.
  • Carnegie Europe announces that Tomáš Valášek is its new director.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Conservative Think Tank Coming to UW-Madison?

Here is more from the Superior Telegram:
Thursday, the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee allocated $3 million in state funds in an unprecedented move to use taxpayer money to fund a partisan, conservative think tank at UW-Madison called the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership.
Speaker Robin Vos stated in media accounts that this Center was designed to counter "left-leaning" research organizations and "liberal thinking" on campus.
A board of exclusively conservative Republican political appointees — without a single Democrat — would control the think tank.
According to press accounts, UW political science professor and former Thompson staffer, Ryan Owens, who has received funding from the conservative Bradley Foundation, is vying to lead the center. A significant portion, $500,000, must be used to pay speakers for engagements at other UW campuses.
UW-Madison currently has its own public policy school, the world-renowned Lafollette School of Public Affairs, which receives $600,000 of public funds annually. The Tommy G. Thompson Center will receive $1.5 million annually over the next two years, with more to come from the private sector.

Many seem to be up in arms about the think tank...

Think tanks housed within universities are quite common, the most popular being the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Here is an Inside Higher Ed article on the challenges that university-affiliated think tanks have been facing.

Monday, June 5, 2017

New Report Shows Extent of Taypayer Funding of Brookings

A new study shows the extent that US taxpayers are helping fund the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, a think tank that consistently collects more than $100 million a year in donations from corporations, foundations, and others.

Here is more from Capital Research Center:
Did you know you’re funding the well-heeled scholars at the Brookings Institution, a hoary D.C. think tank? A new report by OpenTheBooks.com, a database that tracks government grants, has uncovered millions of taxpayer dollars going to the Brookings Institution—and the findings are troubling.
Brookings was founded to be a government watchdog in Washington, D.C. Its motto is “Quality. Independence. Impact.” In reality, it has become the leading center-left think tank, and we’re all paying for it, to the tune of $19.5 million in public grants since 2008.
While there is no evidence that Brookings has violated the law, it’s certainly compromised its independence. OpenTheBooks CEO Andrew Andrezejewski puts it bluntly: “An organization loses all credibility to hold government accountable when the government becomes a donor.” Andrezejewski points to Brookings’ public policy studies as the most egregious example of its illusory independence. Brookings accepted $1.8 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for “humanitarian” causes. In 2016, Brookings published a white paper espousing the value of USAID public/private partnerships—without disclosing its obvious conflict of interest with the Agency.

Adam Andrzejewski, founder and CEO of OpenTheBooks.com (which conducted the study), says that Brookings "does not resemble a think tank, but a jukebox - add a little coin and Brookings will play your tune, if the price is right."  Here is more from Mr. Andrzejewski:
Since 2008, Brookings amassed nearly $20 million in contracts and grants from 50 agencies – including the Obama Administration’s Office of the President. Despite assets of $496 million (IRS990, FY2014), our OpenTheBooks.com audit shows it was not enough. Brookings instituted an aggressive strategy to pursue federal business over the past nine-years.

Among other things, Mr. Andrzejewski notes that when Brookings published a 2016 white paper touting the veracity of US Agency for International Development (USAID) public/private partnerships, it failed to disclose that USAID was a donor to Brookings.

US government agencies that have recently donated to Brookings include: Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US Central Command, US Department of Treasury, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Social Security Administration (SSA), USAID, US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), US Department of the Navy, US Coast Guard, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), US Department of the Air Force, and the US Department of the Army.

More details (including raw data) about the US government funding of Brookings can be found here.

The reputation of Brookings (as well as other think tanks) was severely damaged last year after the New York Times exposed a number of pay-for-play schemes at think tanks.

To be sure, a number of think tanks receive money from the US government, including the RAND Corporation, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Atlantic Council, and many more.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Think Tank That Destroyed the Paris Climate Agreement

A little-known US think tank has played an outsized role in encouraging the Trump Administration to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.

Here is more from Axios:
The non-profit Competitive Enterprise Institute played a big role in rallying outside conservative groups.  An administration source says CEI was "the energy" and "enabled the issue to stay high profile in the White House for months."  CEI marshaled a coalition letter of influential outside groups, and helped generate the letter from the 22 Republican senators — including Mitch McConnell — that gave Trump crucial ammo.

Myron Ebell, Director of Global Warming and International Environmental Policy at CEI, and the leader of Trump's transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recently said that the Trump Administration is moving too slowly to unravel climate change regulations.

Ebell correctly noted that Trump would pull out of the deal before the official announcement was made.  Here is CEI's statement commending Trump on pulling out of the agreement.

Here is a CEI statement on why the Paris agreement "is all pain and no gain" for Americans.

Here are some more tidbits about CEI's influence from The Daily Caller:

In early May, the heads of 44 free market groups sent a letter to Trump, urging him to withdraw from the agreement.  The coalition was led by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).
In May, CEI launched an online petition and ad campaign to remind Trump of his campaign promise to withdraw from the Paris accord, and AEA circulated another petition calling for Trump to withdraw from the agreement.
CEI senior fellows Chris Horner and Marlo Lewis published a report detailing the legal risks of remaining in the accord.  CEI’s Myron Ebell, who headed Trump’s EPA transition team, was also public about his opposition to the Paris agreement.

CEI has also been a big defender of EPA chief Scott Pruitt, and was among the groups that supported his nomination.

According to the latest publicly available Internal Revenue Service (IRS) records, CEI has 33 employees, annual revenue of around $7.4 million, and net assets of around $2.4 million.

In related news, the president of the conservative think tank Heartland Institute was among those invited to the White House climate announcement.

In more related news, the Heritage Foundation says that it impacted Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#273)

  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Counselor and Trustee at CSIS and co-founder of the Trilateral Commission, passes away
  • AEI head Arthur Brooks proposes a new think tank: James Bond Institute. 
  • Should we be able to sue think tanks for malicious misrepresentation?
  • Camille Busette joins Brookings to lead Race, Place, and Economic Mobility Initiative.
  • Third Way think tank obtained leaked copy of Trump's budget.
  • Andrew Bacevich destroys new Brookings report on national security strategy of the US: "The document is at once pretentious, proudly nonpartisan, and utterly vacuous."
  • Gary Bourgeault: Think tank (RethinkX) misses it concerning oil and self-driving cars.
  • 20 most influential think tankers on Twitter (methodology appears deeply flawed...).
  • Corporate taxes get the think tank treatment.
  • Think tank or fake tank, via Till Bruckner.
  • Pic: What a former leading think tank president (Jim DeMint) does with his free time.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Head of Think Tank EPI to Step Down

It looks like 2017 is shaping up to be the a major year for turnover of think tank presidents.

New presidents are expected at both the Brookings Institution and Heritage Foundation, and now, Lawrence Mishel, the longtime president of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), will step down at the end of 2017, according to the think tank.

A search committee led by EPI's Board of Directors will work to find a new president.  Mishel will remain at EPI as a senior economist.

Here is more from a press release:
Mishel first joined EPI in 1987 as research director, and assumed the role of president in 2002. In the three decades he has been with the organization, Mishel helped build EPI into the nation’s premier research organization focused on the labor market, inequality, and living standards for low- and middle-income families. He was a coauthor on every edition of EPI’s flagship publication, the State of Working America, a cornerstone of EPI research that was published every other year from 1988 to 2012.

In late March, EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey announced his retirement after 15 years at the think tank.  EPI said that in anticipation of Eisenbrey's retirement, it has hired two labor lawyers (Celine McNicholas and Marine von Wilpert) who will be a part of the Perkins Project on Worker Rights and Wages.

The Worker Rights and Wages Policy Watch, an online tracker providing up-to-the-minute updates on policy actions that affect working people, was recently launched under that Project.

In related EPI news, former Obama Administration Secretary of Labor Tom Perez has joined the think tank's Board of Directors.  He joins three other former labor secretaries on the board - Robert Reich and Alexis Herman (Clinton Administration) and Ray Marshall (Carter Administration).

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Coolest Think Tank of the Month: Happiness Research Institute

Congratulations to the Happiness Research Institute (HRI) for being the coolest think tank of the month.  HRI, a think tank based in Copenhagen, Denmark dedicated to exploring why some societies are happier than others, also acts as a consultancy to various businesses and foreign governments.

HRI's clients include Random House, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Minister of State for Happiness Office, Carlsberg Group, City of Aarhus, University of Copenhagen, City of Copenhagen, Nordic Council of Ministers, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Danica Pension, and LEO Innovation Lab.

HRI also says that it has advised the state of Jalisco in Mexico, the Royal couple of the Netherlands, and the city of Goyang in South Korea.

Some of its major publications include the Job Satisfaction Index (2016 version here) and Sustainable Happiness (here).

In 2015 HRI released a study that said staying off a Facebook can actually make you happier.  Interestingly, HRI CEO Meik Wiking notes enthusiastically that he is now on Facebook.

Here is Mr. Wiking's 2016 TEDx talk on the dark side of happiness.  His new book, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, can be found here.  Does Mr. Wiking have the coolest job in the world (i.e., getting paid to study happiness)?

Interestingly, the UAE now says that it is setting up its own Happiness Research Institute, aided by Mr. Wiking in Denmark.  It will be a collaborative effort by the UAE University and the National Programme for Happiness and Positivity.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Comey Shared Secrets with Brookings Institution Scholar

A variety of think tank scholars are friends with people in high places, allowing them to gain access to secrets about the internal workings of the White House and broader US government.  Here is an example from The New York Times:

Mr. Comey has spoken privately of his concerns that the contacts from Mr. Trump and his aides were inappropriate, and how he felt compelled to resist them.
“He had to throw some brushback pitches to the administration,” Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Mr. Comey’s, said in interviews.
Mr. Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, the editor in chief of the Lawfare blog and a frequent critic of Mr. Trump, recalls a lunch he had with Mr. Comey in March at which Mr. Comey told him he had spent the first two months of Mr. Trump’s administration trying to preserve distance between the F.B.I. and the White House and educating it on the proper way to interact with the bureau.
Mr. Wittes said he never intended to publicly discuss his conversations with Mr. Comey. But after The New York Times reported earlier this month that shortly after his inauguration Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey for a loyalty pledge, Mr. Wittes said he saw Mr. Trump’s behavior in a “more menacing light” and decided to speak out.

Here is Benjamin Wittes post in Lawfare entitled "What James Comey Told Me About Donald Trump."  Here is a link to PBS Newshour's interview with Wittes, in which he notes that he is a longtime friend of Comey but not among his closest friends or one of his intimate advisors.  He also said that they "periodically" have lunch.

Besides being editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings, Mr. Wittes is also co-chair of the Hoover Institution's Working Group on National Security, Technology, and Law.

And for longtime readers of Think Tank Watch, you may remember that Mr. Wittes was a part of the highly esteemed Brookings Fight Club.

Think Tank Quickies (#272)

  • USIP chief Nancy Lindborg featured in Washington Life Magazine.
  • CNAS has launched a new Transatlantic Security Program and a new project on Evolving the Future Force.
  • Matt Bruening building left-wing think tank not reliant on corporate donors.
  • How women should respond to all-male think tank panels, via Kara Alaimo.
  • Eddie Williams, who ran leading black think tank for decades (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies), dies.
  • AEI's Charles Murray gives introduction to The Bell Curve.
  • RAND Corp. on how information is being weaponized.
  • CAP's chief Neera Tanden protesting outside of the White House.
  • Bishop Jakes has global think tank?
  • Peter Navarro called the Peterson Institute the "pimps of globalization."

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Amid Turmoil, White House Staffers Sending Resumes to Think Tanks

With all the turmoil in the White House, some Trump Administration officials are starting to look for employment elsewhere, including in think tank land.  Here is more from Time:

Senior officials walk through the building with funereal looks on their faces. Others complain that the White House is being "paralyzed" by the commotion. "He likes everyone always being on thin ice," explains one adviser of the President's management style. A few West Wing aides have begun to look for lifeboats, shopping résumés to think tanks, super PACs and corporate communications firms in the market for anyone who can make sense of the White House's bizarre workings. When news broke on May 15 that the President had revealed sensitive classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister and the Russian ambassador in an Oval Office meeting, one White House staffer sent a message to a friend outside the building: FML, read the text--abbreviated millennial slang for an unprintable curse on one's own life.

The good news for those searching for a think tank position in Washington: Think Tank Watch hears that there are a few positions open at the Heritage Foundation...

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Bannon Pulls Out of Brookings Speech

Here is more from Amanda Terkel in HuffPost:
White House chief strategist Steve Bannon withdrew from a planned appearance at one of Washington’s premiere mainstream think tanks after scholars expressed alarm that the institution would be giving legitimacy and a friendly forum to one of the most controversial members of President Donald Trump’s administration.
Over the past month, staff members at the center-left Brookings Institution became aware that the think tank’s leadership had invited Bannon to address its board of trustees meeting in June, according to multiple Brookings staff members, who requested anonymity to speak openly with HuffPost. Because it would be a board meeting, it would not have been open to the public.
David Nassar, vice president of communications at Brookings, confirmed they extended the invitation.
Scholars at all levels of the organization developed concerns about Bannon’s appearance and whether staff would be able to press him and engage in an open dialogue. They had the opportunity to express their worries with Brookings President Strobe Talbott at three in-person meetings last week, Nassar said.
On Wednesday, Brookings informed staff that Bannon had decided not to attend. They did not state a reason for his decision. The White House did not return a request for comment on why Bannon backed out.

The Brookings Institution is certainly hostile territory for the Trump Administration and Steve Bannon, and numerous scholars at the Democratic think tank have bashed Trump and his allies on a number of occasions.

Turkey Meddling in US Think Tank's Affairs?

Turkish President Recep Erdogan visited Washington, DC on Tuesday and while there was no riot on "Think Tank Row" like last year's visit (see here), Turkey appears to be stirring up some new think tank controversy.  Here is more from Amberin Zaman in Al-Monitor:

[There has been] intense speculation whether any think tank would dare to invite Erdogan during his brief stint in the capital to meet with President Donald Trump today. Turkish think tank SETA and the Atlantic Council have stepped up to the plate. Erdogan will speak at a closed session co-hosted by them at the Turkish ambassador’s residence after his noon encounter with Trump, and tongues are wagging.
It’s hardly unusual that SETA would make room for the Turkish leader. The outfit has been long mentored by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and before the government’s recent free fall into authoritarianism, SETA was well respected for its high quality if occasionally ideologically tinged output.
The Atlantic Council’s alleged cozying up to the Erdogan regime is another matter. The incestuous relations between some Washington think tanks and foreign governments that are said to be greased by plenty of dollars is well-covered ground. Still, allegations that the Atlantic Council had bowed to Turkish pressure and excluded speakers, including a member of its own staff, at its yearly energy summit held in Istanbul in April have left some think tankers clutching their stomachs.

Turkish government-linked and pro-government conglomerates were among sponsors of the summit, themed “Strengthening Transatlantic Engagement with a Turbulent Region.” They included the state-owned Halkbank, whose deputy general manager is sitting in a New York jail over his alleged connections to money laundering for Iran, and construction giants Limak, Calik and MNG holding. Erdogan was the star draw of the event.
In separate conversations with Al-Monitor, four sources with intimate knowledge of the summit’s arrangements asserted that the claims of Turkish government meddling were true. On condition of anonymity, they said the alleged targets of Turkish objections were both Turks — and women.
One was the highly respected Turkish journalist Asli Aydintasbas, who writes for the opposition daily Cumhuriyet and is a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. The other was the Atlantic Council’s own Naz Durakoglu, a former State Department staffer under the Obama administration.

The article goes on to note that the Atlantic Council leadership is "unruffled" by Turkey's alleged pressure, and "drew up a detailed memo for Erdogan offering advice on how to handle" his meeting with Donald Trump.

A link to the above-mentioned energy summit in Istanbul, Turkey from April 27-28, 2017 can be found here.  Sponsors of that event also included Chevron, BP, Turkish Airlines, and Noble Energy.

Atlantic Council's donors include the Turkish Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, which gives between $250,000 and $999,999 to the think tank.

We should also note that while there were no riots on Think Tank Row, there were protests just up the street (on Embassy Row) outside of the Turkish Embassy where nine people were injured.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#271)

  • Reproducibility crisis in research studies.
  • Former director of research at the Heritage Foundation, James Wallner (now an adjunct professor at Catholic University), on think tanks and the future of politics.
  • China tightens rules on Chinese think tanks.
  • What kind of think tanks does China want to establish, via The Diplomat. 
  • China's quest for its own Brookings Institution or Chatham House in vain?
  • Kate O'Beirne, former Heritage Foundation VP of government relations, passes away.
  • Amy Moritz Ridenour, a veteran leader in the conservative movement who testified in Congress about the illegal lobbying activities of Jack Abramoff, who had used her think tank (National Center for Public Policy Research) as a conduit in his influence-peddling scheme, passes away.
  • Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) has 18 think tanks.
  • Jeet Heer: "Best part of my latest article in the New Republic is it destroys any chance I'll ever get a job in an American think tank." 
  • Steve Pieczenik: Think tanks in Washington are nursing homes for people who can't get a job elsewhere.

Monday, May 15, 2017

F.H. Buckley: The Right's Think Tanks Have Stopped Thinking

The legitimacy of think tanks has eroded over the years for numerous reasons, any many continue to view think tanks with deep skepticism.

Here are some excerpts from a new piece by F.H. Buckley in the New York Post entitled "How the Right's Think Tanks Stopped Thinking," detailing some recent concerns about conservative think tanks:

You’ll find the same kind of creative destruction in the idea factories on the right, in their think tanks and little magazines. The Heritage Foundation lost its president last week, but had lost its intellectual edge years before. Its moment, and that of the other great conservative think tanks, had passed. They had had a few great ideas, back in the day — then became prisoners of their beautiful orthodoxies. But what worked in 1980 no longer worked in 2016, for they missed what had changed in the interim.
That Obama putdown of Mitt Romney could be applied to them: The 1980s were calling and wanted their policies back.
The conservative think tanks ignored this. They told us that they were conservatism’s brains. But the brains had stopped working, and they had become the movement’s stomach. They gorged on the money from conservative donors, as Jeb Bush had, with about the same political impact.
They told the donors they were scholars who would simply sit around and think conservative thoughts. But, as any scholar will tell you, it’s more enjoyable not to think at all. And so the idea factories became the front for their fund-raising operations.
Like generals fighting the last war, these think tanks failed to recognize that an entirely new set of challenges demanded an entirely new set of politics, represented by a President Trump whom they loathed. What they forgot is the Red Queen effect (from “Through the Looking Glass”): When your opponents can react to your ideas, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”
Other think tanks, such as the liberal Brookings Institution, read what the conservatives had written, reacted, and became go-to places for smart ideas. The conservative think tanks didn’t return the compliment, and were left behind.

F.H. Buckley is a Foundation Professor at George Mason University's Scalia School of Law.  He is also a Senior Editor at The American Spectator and a columnist for the New York Post.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

MGM Resorts Starts New Policy Think Tank

Casinos are not what first comes to mind when thinking about the establishment of think tanks, but that notion may be changing.

MGM Resorts International, the global hospitality and entertainment company which operates destination resorts such as Bellagio and Mandalay Bay, has started a new public policy think tank.

Here is more:
MGM Resorts International and UNLV are partnering up to create a think tank that will seek bipartisan solutions to various economic, social, political and workplace issues.
The MGM Resorts Public Policy Institute at UNLV — co-chaired by retired Sen. Harry Reid and former House Speaker John Boehner — will concentrate on comprehensive, authentic and relevant national and international policy issues that impact the travel, tourism, hospitality and gaming industries and the global communities in which they operate.
The development of the institute is part of MGM Resorts’ continuing efforts to expand its leadership in extensive conversations on matters of public policy and will continue to strengthen UNLV’s engagement on a wide variety of national and international issues.
The institute will be housed in UNLV’s School of Public Policy and Leadership within the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs.
Work will commence at the think tank later this year pending formal approval by the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents.

The Associated Press reports that MGM has committed more than $950,000 for three years to the think tank that will bear its name.

The new think tank will be one of a number of policy organizations that is housed within a college or university.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Speakers Announced for CAP's Ideas Conference

The much-anticipated Ideas Conference - what Politico is calling the Center for American Progress's (CAP) response to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) - will take place next week.  Here are some details:

The Ideas Conference, the Center for American Progress’s response to CPAC, will be held at the Four Seasons in Georgetown on May 16.  Among the speakers: Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)

More details can be found here.  Think Tank Watch's previous post on the Ideas Conference, which is also being called "CPAC for Liberals," can be found here.

PBS notes that the Democrats' next nominee for president could very well be speaking at the upcoming think tank conference.

Update: A video of the conference as well as a list of all the speakers can be found here.

Think Tank Quickies (#270)

  • Pete Peterson: Journalists have to question expertise of think tanks.
  • Reporter Alex Emmons removed from AIPAC talk featuring Stephen Seche, VP at a Saudi-funded think tank.
  • Which think tanks run South Africa?
  • Jen Buckner of CyberCom: DoD listening to ideas coming out of think tanks.
  • Pic of Donald Trump's think tank.
  • Pic: How think tank presidents should dress.
  • The funders of CEPA.
  • Former US envoy to Israel, Dan Shapiro, joins Tel Aviv-based think tank.
  • Right-wing think tanks accuse TED talks of blatant bias toward liberalism.
  • The Volkswagen Group's think tanks.

Hoover Fellow Could Replace Janet Yellen at the Fed

Could a think tanker become the next Chairman of the Federal Reserve?  Here is more from Pedro Nicolaci da Costa (formerly of the Peterson Institute for International Economics) in Business Insider:

He's young, he's Republican, and he was seen a key steward of the Federal Reserve's financial crisis, Chairman Ben Bernanke's right-hand man.
It's only natural that the name of Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor who is now a fellow at the Hoover Institution, would come up as a potential replacement to Janet Yellen, whose term as Fed chair expires at the end of next January.
Warsh, a former Morgan Stanley banker, now "advises several private and public companies, including service on the board of directors of UPS," his profile says.

Mr. Warsh serves as the Shepard Family Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Economics at Hoover and lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

When Ben Bernanke stepped down, there were rumors that the next Fed Chair could come from think tank land.  However, a non-think tanker, Janet Yellen, was ultimately selected.

Think Tank Watch should note that former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke is now housed within the Brookings Institution.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

US's Top Spy Chief Joins CNAS

Top defense think tank Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has just announced that James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence (DNI), will join the policy shop as a Distinguished Senior Fellow for Intelligence and National Security.  He will also join CNAS's Board of Advisors.

The Washington Examiner originally reported that Clapper has joined the Center for a New American Century, but rest assured, he is joining the Center for a New American Security (Think Tank Watch has pointed this out to them and they have since fixed it).

There are dozens of former spies at think tanks (Think Tank Watch has documented a number of them here), although very few spy chiefs.  But it is not a huge surprise since Clapper was sometimes seen around the think tank party circuit.

Recently, Clapper also joined Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs as a Non-Resident Senior Fellow.

We are now wondering if James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), will join think tank land after being fired.

CFR's Int'l Report Card: The World is in Steep Decline

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has just released its third annual Report Card on International Cooperation, and things are not looking too good for planet Earth.  Here is more:

The third annual Report Card on International Cooperation sharply downgraded its assessment of efforts to mitigate the world’s most vexing problems in 2016 to a C-, falling from a B grade in 2015.
The Council of Councils, a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) initiative comprising twenty-six major international policy institutes, surveyed the heads of member think tanks to evaluate the world’s performance on ten of the most important transnational challenges of 2016.
"Limited progress in combating climate change and advancing development in 2016 was overwhelmed by dismal failures of international efforts to promote global trade, resolve internal conflicts, and advance cyber governance," said CFR President Richard N. Haass. "Nationalist electoral campaigns throughout the world sailed to victory on promises to retreat from international commitments. This suggests 2017 will face even more fundamental challenges to international cooperation."

The full report card can be found here, and the methodology (including participating think tanks) can be found here.

Think Tank Quickies (#269)

  • Heritage Foundation pushing US into war with North Korea?
  • Hungary does US think tank scene.
  • Small tornado almost hits World Resources Institute.
  • AEI has an information session at Tufts.
  • I'm establishing my own think tank, kind of.
  • Think tank reps attend Schuman Challenge.
  • PwC looking for someone to work with think tanks.
  • Chart: Mercer Family Foundation donations to think tanks.
  • Hudson Institute co-convenes 7th Transatlantic Think Tank Conference.
  • Cato turns 40.
  • Nikki Haley gives speech at CFR.
  • AEI scholar Charles Murray named "White Nationalist."

Monday, May 8, 2017

CSIS Promoting Weapons Made by Its Defense Donors?

Here is a new piece from Adam Johnson of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR):

As tensions between the United States and North Korea continue to rise, one think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), has become a ubiquitous voice on the topic of missile defense, providing Official-Sounding Quotes to dozens of reporters in Western media outlets. All of these quotes speak to the urgent threat of North Korea and how important the United States’s deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system is to South Korea.
In the past year, FAIR has noted 30 media mentions of CSIS pushing the THAAD missile system or its underlying value proposition in US media, most of them in the past two months. Business Insider was the most eager venue for the think tank’s analysts, routinely copyingandpasting CSIS talking points in stories warning of the North Korean menace.
Omitted from all these CSIS media appearances, however, is that one of CSIS’s top donors, Lockheed Martin, is THAAD’s primary contractor—Lockheed Martin’s take from the THAAD system is worth about $3.9 billion alone. Lockheed Martin directly funds the Missile Defense Project Program at CSIS, the program whose talking heads are cited most frequently by US media.
While it’s unclear how much exactly Lockheed Martin donates to CSIS (specific totals are not listed on their website, and a CSIS spokesperson wouldn’t tell FAIR when asked), they are one of the top ten donors, listed in the “$500,000 and up” category. It’s unclear how high “and up” goes, but the think tank’s operating revenue for 2016 was $44 million.

FAIR goes on to note that five of CSIS's ten major corporate donors (giving $200,000+) are weapons manufacturers: Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing, Leonardo-Finmeccanica, and Northrup Grumman.  FAIR also notes that South Korea gives money to CSIS through the governmental Korea Foundation.

Think Tank Watch should point out that Lockheed has given donations to a number of different think tanks, including Atlantic Council, Heritage Foundation, Brookings Institution, and Center for American Progress (CAP).

For decades a number of think tanks have had strong ties to the defense industry.  Here is a recent Salon piece about think tanks and war, and here is a part of the recent New York Times expose on how think tanks amplify corporate America's influence.

Docs Reveal Bradley Foundation's Quiet Funding of Think Tanks

Some interesting tidbits about the Bradley Foundation's funding of think tanks from PRWatch:

Documents examined by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) expose a national effort funded by the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation to assess and expand right-wing "infrastructure" to influence policies and politicians in statehouses nationwide.
The documents were made public in October 2016 on two Twitter accounts that cyber security analysts have linked to one of the Russian hackers alleged to have breached the Democratic National Committee. The Bradley Foundation confirmed in a statement that the hack had taken place and was reported to the FBI. More information about how the Bradley files became public is available here.
The documents open a window to the behind-the-scenes workings of one of America's largest right-wing foundations. With $835 million in assets as of June 2016, the Bradley Foundation is as large as the three Koch family foundations combined, yet receives much less attention as a significant funder of the right.
Bradley funds the MacIver Institute ($1,079,640) and Wisconsin Policy Research Institute ($13,055,000 since 1987). The State Policy Network "think tanks" work closely with ALEC legislators on model bills, including recently on ALEC's private sector union-busting legislation, ALEC's rollback of prevailing wages and more.

The Bradley Foundation was recently honored as "a force for what makes America so good" by the Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has benefited from the Foundation's support for more than 35 years.

A recent annual report shows that the Bradley Foundation supports a variety of conservative and libertarian think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, Hudson Institute, Hoover Institution, Cato Institute, and Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Ultimate Guide to the Heritage Foundation Meltdown

Since news broke on Friday that Jim DeMint will likely be ousted as head of the Heritage Foundation, the situation at the think tank has been like a slow-moving train wreck as speculation about the next moves run rampant.

In order to help understand all that has happened and to update the latest news, Think Tank Watch has created this guide that we will be updating several times each day.

Friday (April 28)
  • On Friday Politico breaks the news that Jim DeMint will be ousted from the Heritage Foundation following a dispute with board members about the direction of the think tank.  Politico reports that some board members think DeMint has brought in too many Senate allies and made the think tank "too bombastic and political," while also noting a dispute between the think tank and its sister lobbying arm, Heritage Action.  It also says that a handful of staffers close to DeMint are expected to leave the think tank, and former Heritage president Ed Feulner will become interim president.
  • The New York Times says that the abrupt ouster is being described as a "coup," and mentions that billionaire board member Rebekah Mercer, a Steve Bannon ally, helped lead it.
  • The Washington Examiner reports that President Donald Trump praised Jim DeMint as news started to circulate about his likely departure from the think tank.  The newspaper also noted that the think tank's board of trustees will meet May 2 to decide the final outcome for DeMint.
  • WND says that Heritage "is going establishment again" and says the think tank's board leans heavily toward "big money establishment conservatism."

Saturday (April 29)
  • On Saturday Philip Wegmann of the Washington Examiner reports a "major shakeup" at Heritage, saying that DeMint loyalists have starting clearing their desks and the entire staff "remains officially in the dark."  He also reports that Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham had offered "an olive branch" to DeMint by offering to switch jobs with him.  He also reported that board member Todd Herrick has resigned his post.
  • John Hart wrote a piece for Forbes entitled "The Political Assassination of The Heritage Foundation's Jim DeMint." 

Sunday (April 30)
  • On Sunday Fox New's Chris Wallace asks Michael Needham if Steve Bannon will take over Heritage after DeMint leaves, and Needham remained mum.  That leads to speculation that Rebekah Mercer is trying to install Bannon as the new president of the think tank.  Heritage staffers reportedly react to the rumor with a "mix of hilarity and hysteria."
  • Philip Wegmann of the Washington Examiner reports that conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill rally behind Jim DeMint in a new letter praising him.  He also reported that one of the branches of Heritage that DeMint founded during his tenure, the Policy Services Department, began scaling back outreach to congressional offices.

Monday (May 1)
  • Think tank watcher Daniel Drezner suggests that Michael Needham will become the next president of the Heritage Foundation.
  • Philip Wegmann reports that sources say Michael Needham didn't want to become president of the Heritage Foundation.  Sources describe the scene at Heritage Action as one of "misery and uncertainty."
  • Philip Wegmann reports that group vice president and DeMint loyalist James Wallner was placed on administrative leave without explanation on Monday evening.
  • Stephen Moore says he is not sure if Bannon will take over as president of the Heritage Foundation.

Tuesday (May 2)
  • Rosie Gray and McKay Coppins write a piece on the fight for control of the Heritage Foundation. 
  • Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist reports that millions of dollars in previous pledges and commitments to the Heritage Foundation have been rescinded.  She notes that Feulner's and Needham's strongest allies on the board are Tom Saunders (Chairman) and Nersi Nezari (also on Heritage Action board).
  • The Heritage Foundation board of trustees starts meeting at 9:30am on the 8th floor of the think tank to decide Jim DeMint's fate (without DeMint in the room).  Vote on DeMint was supposed to have occured at 10:30 but delayed until afternoon.  Around 12:30 DeMint is invited in the room (his wife has been spotted in the building) and he left the room around an hour later.
  • Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng report that a group of staffers loyal to DeMint plan to leave Heritage in anticipation of DeMint getting axed. Five staffers have reportedly pledged to leave and the eventual number could be as high as between 15 and 30.  Staffer Wesley Denton, a longtime DeMint aide, has been told to resign under threat of being fired.
  • Politico publishes piece on the "real" reason DeMint is being forced out, saying that Feulner and Needham became convinced the DeMint was incapable of renewing the think tank's place as "an intellectual wellspring" of the conservative movement.  Politico says that board members are expected to announce DeMint's removal "around mid-afternoon."
  • Ed Feulner called for a 4:30pm all-staff meeting to discuss the DeMint situation. 
  • At around 4:45pm, the Heritage Foundation board released a statement saying that by unanimous vote, it had asked for and received the resignation of Jim DeMint.  The board has elected Ed Feulner as president and CEO while it conducts a search for his successor. The reason for forcing Demint out: "significant and worsening management issues that led to a breakdown of internal communications and cooperation."
  • At 5:40pm the Daily Beast reports that several of DeMint's loyalists were purged from the think tank, including EVP Bret Bernhardt, VP of Communications Wesley Denton, VP of Policy Promotion Ed Corrigan, and Cameron Seward, DeMint's Chief of Staff.
  • In the evening, through a spokesman (and numerous bullet points), DeMint argues that be benefited the think tank greatly, reports Politico. 
  • Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorial on how Heritage "went wrong." (And letter to the editor.)

Wednesday (May 3)
  • Ed Feulner finally breaks his public silence on Steve Bannon and says that he will not be the next president of the Heritage Foundation, and that the think tank needs a CEO who can "come in here and run a $90 million business with 350 employees."  The Examiner noted that Feulner will remain as president of the think tank for six months while a permanent replacement is chosen.
  • Washington Examiner: Heritage shows the feds how to write a press release.
  • Slate's Reihan Salam explains what is going on at the Heritage Foundation. 
  • The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin opines about what is going on at the Heritage Foundation. 
  • The Federalist's Ben Domenech writes a piece on what comes next for Heritage after the coup. 
  • Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ) considers what comes next for Heritage.
  • Tevi Troy writes a piece on how to make Heritage great again.

Thursday (May 4)
  • Vox's Andrew Prokop explains the "bitter, nasty, chair-throwing" Heritage Foundation shake-up.
  • Feulner says that the Heritage Foundation will still be Donald Trump's favorite think tank.

  •  The Weekly Standard on the Heritage Foundation's sudden shake-up.
  • Examiner: After DeMint, Heritage will develop a "much closer and tighter relationship" with lobbying arm.
  • Roll Call: Heritage touts recent fundraising.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#268)

  • Think tank land is alive and well.
  • The serious role of gaming at RAND Corp.
  • Impact of institutions on foreign policy think tanks in France and Denmark.
  • A little-known think tank churns out doctored studies that portray an America under siege by immigrants, says New Republic.
  • This think tank studied Russian humor and Russia thought it was hilarious.
  • 6 ways think tanks can overcome angst about impact, via Sarah Lucas .
  • Daniel Kahneman talks at Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
  • H.R. McMaster's time at IISS creates clear conflict of interest?
  • Top Democrats urged libertarian think tank to stop mailing climate change skeptical materials to teachers.
  • Map of AEI scholars now at Trump White House.
  • Chinese think tank: Dalai Lama's successor must have China's endorsement.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Next President of Heritage Foundation: Steve Bannon?

With Jim DeMint being forced out as head of the Heritage Foundation, there is lots of speculation about a possible long-term replacement.  Here is one possibility being floated:

Will blistering populist Steve Bannon replace fiery conservative Sen. Jim DeMint as the next president of the Heritage Foundation? Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham won't say.
Asked by Chris Wallace whether Heritage would be Bannon's "safety net as he's forced out of the White House," Needham demurred on "Fox News Sunday." "I can tell you," Needham replied, "there's a lot of speculation in the room and in the media that never misses a chance to divide and attack conservatives."
With that non-answer, speculation over the fate of Heritage Foundation will no doubt reach a new fever pitch. News of DeMint's ouster has already sent shockwaves throughout the think tank and reverberations through right wing circles in Washington, D.C.
Bannon has a close relationship with Heritage board member Rebekah Mercer, the wealthy daughter of a conservative hedge fund manager. Together they helped reshape the conservative political field, backing Trump when others wouldn't. Now they might be preparing to remodel the conservative ivory tower.

Here is more on Rebekah Mercer's ties to think tank land.  She has peppered conservative think tanks with tens of millions of dollars over the past several years.

Rumors were that Mr. Bannon had launched his own internal think tank within the White House, but some say that the think tank never really got off the ground.

With Bannon losing power within the White House, Rebekah Mercer (who has given millions to Breitbart News) urging him not to quit, and never having gotten a chance to run his own think tank, it is certainly conceivable that Mercer could be trying to orchestrate a Bannon move to Heritage.

Mercer is currently embroiled in a huge Internal Revenue Service (IRS) fight over billions of dollars, and having Bannon at Heritage could help in that battle.

In related news, Sebastian Gorka, a prolific think tanker who apparently served on Bannon's internal think tank, reportedly will be moving to a federal agency (and there is still a chance he could join Heritage).

Interestingly, in the past, Gorka has been funded by Thomas Saunders III, the current Chairman of the Heritage Foundation.

Update: Conservative lawmakers are now rallying to support Jim DeMint, and have released a letter praising him.  The letter is co-written by Mark Walker (R-NC) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).

Update II: Daniel Drezner, a longtime think tank watcher, suggests that Mike Needham would become the next president of the Heritage Foundation.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Heritage Foundation Collapsing After DeMint Ousted

After the shocking news that Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint is being forced out of the influential think tank, things are starting to get ugly.

Now, Philip Wegmann of the Washington Examiner is reporting a major shakeup at Heritage.  Here is more:
Jim DeMint just got capped and the right wing is still reeling. Since news broke that the Heritage president was getting sacked, many DeMint loyalists have started cleaning out their desks, the entire staff remains officially in the dark, and one board member has already resigned in protest.

The board member who has resigned is Todd Herrick, and more may soon leave the 22-member board.

Here is more information about the Jim DeMint purge.

John Hart has a new piece for Forbes on the "political assassination" of DeMint.

Think Tank Watch prediction: DeMint will start his own competing think tank with staffers who leave with him and get initial funding from board members who resign in solidarity.

Stay tuned to Think Tank Watch for the latest updates on the Heritage Foundation chaos.  We will be posting several times each day on the latest developments.

Coup at Heritage Foundation Brings Down Leader

A coup engineered by powerful voices on the Heritage Foundation's Board of Trustees has led to a decision to fire Jim DeMint as the think tank's president, just 100 days into the new Trump Administration that Heritage has helped advise and staff.  Here is more from The New York Times:

The anticipated shake-up, which was confirmed by two people with knowledge of the fraught internal dynamics, comes at an inopportune time for the group, with several major pieces of conservative legislation on the agenda in Congress. The budget, a tax overhaul and health care are all issues that Heritage has tried to influence, with varying degrees of success.
Mr. DeMint’s abrupt ouster, described by people as a “coup” against him, was the result of a larger debate among conservative donors who fund the group. One of its board members is Rebekah Mercer, a reclusive donor who has helped propel the White House chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, in his effort to dismantle aspects of the political establishment.
Ms. Mercer was described by people with knowledge of the events as helping drive the effort toward a shake-up. Another person close to the discussions, who asked not to be identified, said that Mr. DeMint was not seen as sufficiently pro-Trump by some members of the board.
A likely candidate to take over, said one person with knowledge of the situation, is Edwin J. Feulner, a former president of Heritage who has worked closely with the Trump administration.
Under President Barack Obama’s administration, Heritage shifted to become more engaged in direct political combat. After decades of producing mountains of high-fiber white papers, the think tank became more defined by a political arm that sought to hold Republican lawmakers accountable rather than just supplying them with the raw materials for legislation.
But to some Heritage board members, this shift toward activism represented a disturbing drift from the organization’s core mission as a research institution, according to two senior aides to Republican lawmakers close to Heritage and a longtime conservative public relations strategist. To these board members, the research suffered.

Politico offers some additional details, saying that some board members of the think tank think that DeMint brought in too many Senate allies and made the think tank "too bombastic and political."

Politico also notes that DeMint had been in contract negotiations, which are expected to be cut short.  DeMint, whose contract expires at the end of 2017, makes around $1.1 million per year as head of the think tank.

Politico also notes that "a handful" of staffers close to DeMint, who came over from the Senate with him, are expected to leave the think tank in what some say is a "purge."

This news has been a surprise to many, including to those within the think tank who had no idea any of this was happening under the surface.

According to the Washington Examiner, the Heritage board will meet again on Tuesday to decide the final outcome of DeMint.  Here is more:
When the board asked DeMint to step down last weekend, the fiery conservative refused and has tried lobbying board members to keep his job. If he doesn't go quietly into the dark, the board can vote him out as soon as Tuesday when they convene in Washington, D.C.

Another Washington Examiner piece says that when some junior staffers heard on the news after reading Politico, they "broke down in tears."  They also report that DeMint lost his job "in large part for crossing" Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham.  Here is more on that:
While Needham helped bring DeMint to Heritage in 2013, their relationship began to fray during the presidential election. It reached a breaking point, two separate sources confirmed, after DeMint suggested making major changes to Heritage Action or abolishing it altogether.

WND says that Heritage "is going establishment again," and notes that the think tank's board "leans heavily toward big money establishment conservatism."

Sean Davis, co-founder of The Federalist, says that DeMint transformed Heritage from "a white paper factory to an influential powerhouse."

Daniel Shuman notes that in his four years as Heritage president, DeMint earned 22.8 times the amount that a US senator did (not counting severance and benefits).

Friday, April 28, 2017

New America Scholar Named "2017 Tech Titan" by Washingtonian

The May edition of the Washingtonian has its 2017 list of "Tech Titans" - top technology talent in the Washington, DC area - and think tanker Kevin Bankston has made the list.

Mr. Bankston, a digital-rights lawyer, is the Director of the Open Technology Institute (OTI) at New America, a Washington think tank.  The Washingtonian notes that Mr. Bankston is studying policy ramifications in areas such as encryption, online surveillance, and net neutrality.

Here is Mr. Bankston's think tank biography, and here is a link to OTI.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

AEI Scholar Tried to Hide Trump Attacks to Snag White House Job

Here is more from The Washington Post:

Leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Andrew Bowen, like many scholars in Washington, predicted Hillary Clinton would surely win.
Bowen, then a global fellow in the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center, wrote a weekly column in Arab News, an English-language outlet based in Saudi Arabia. In his columns before the election, Bowen frequently criticized Donald Trump, denouncing his temper and xenophobic remarks and calling him “a man not often suited to the responsibilities of the presidency.”
Like many others, Bowen was shocked on Nov. 8. But within days, his tone changed, calling for a “new beginning” under President Trump.
Now, months later, Arab News says that Bowen requested that it delete his earlier, pre-election columns, stating he needed “to be cleared” for a possible job with the Trump administration’s State Department.
Arab News initially refused to take down the articles, and fired back — publicly. In an unapologetic post on its website, Arab News announced Tuesday it would be discontinuing Bowen’s column, explaining Bowen’s request and blasting it as “unprofessional journalistically, particularly given that there were no factual errors or libelous comments that require a redaction or correction.”

Here is what Foreign Policy has to say about  this incident.  As Think Tank Watch previously noted, any attacks on Trump by think tankers have made it nearly impossible for them to get jobs in the Trump Administration.

Bowen was reportedly recommended for the State Department post by Brian Hook, co-founder of the John Hay Initiative, a group of former Mitt Romney foreign policy advisors.

Andrew Bowen is now a Visiting Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), focusing on the Middle East.  His biography says that he concurrently advises Greenmantle (an economic/geopolitical advisory firm) and writes a weekly column for Al Arabiya English.

He was previously a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center and Senior Fellow and Director of Middle East for the Center for the National Interest.

Think Tank Quickies (#267)

  • Will Jared Kushner get eaten by the think tank "Blob."
  • Foundations, which pay out at least 5% of their total assets each year to maintain their tax-exempt status, to drop think tank funding over "mission-related investments" (MRIs)?
  • Libertarian think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) urges Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
  • University of Maryland professor prohibiting students from citing Heritage and Cato?
  • Todd Park, former US Chief Technology Officer, joins Board of Directors at New America.
  • A metaphor for beautifully-researched think tank policy papers in the Trump era.
  • The billion-dollar game designer who joined a DC think tank.
  • New report: Innovation in think tanks.
  • Third Way and Cato Institute scholars talk marijuana.
  • Andrew Selee of Wilson Center selected as President of Migration Policy Institute (MPI).
  • Tony Abbott appointed as director of new think tank to promote western civilization.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

German Think Tanks Hit By Cyber Attacks Ahead of Elections

Think tanks both in the US and elsewhere continue to be big targets for cyber attackers trying to steal information or influence election outcomes.

Here is more from Reuters:
Two foundations tied to Germany’s ruling coalition parties were attacked by the same cyber spy group that targeted the campaign of French presidential favorite Emmanuel Macron, a leading cyber security expert said on Tuesday.
The group, dubbed "Pawn Storm" by security firm Trend Micro, used email phishing tricks and attempted to install malware at think tanks tied to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Feike Hacquebord said.
Hacquebord and other experts said the attacks, which took place in March and April, suggest Pawn Storm is seeking to influence the national elections in the two European Union powerhouses.
Pawn Storm set up a fake computer server located based in Germany at kasapp.de to mount email phishing attacks against the CDU party's Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) and a server located in the Ukraine at intern-fes.de to target the SPD's Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES).

As Think Tank Watch has widely documented, cyber attacks on think tanks are becoming more prevalent, and nearly every major think tank has faced multiple attacks.

Protestors Try to Shut Down Heritage Foundation

The typically calm world of think tanks received a bit of excitement yesterday after a mob of protestors stormed the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank with close ties to President Donald Trump.

Here is more from the Washington Examiner:
Around 200 protestors flooded into Heritage's Capitol Hill headquarters an hour before noon Tuesday, screaming that they were going to shut down the think tank. While opposition to Trump's budget was the headline of the demonstration, they didn't let that stifle their creativity. "Our solution to pollution is the people's revolution," they chanted before switching over to the more succinct, but no less vague, cadence of "water not walls."
Regardless of the mixed messaging, the bottom line was simple. They swarmed into Heritage because they didn't like the ideas the think tank produced. And instead of trying to help reach consensus with traditional protest, they tried intimidating the opposition.
The flash anarchy strategy appears to be organized by an organization called the People's Action Institute. And while that group certainly has great passion they demonstrated very little endurance. They were in and out in less than 20 minutes.
That was just long enough for the whole stunt to ironically backfire. Heritage ran a full court press on the protest. They posted a live stream of the protest, used the event to plug a policy paper, and their staffers offered a dozen snarky takes on Twitter. The Daily Signal (where I used to work) will no doubt flood the zone with coverage.

Here is what Brietbart had to say on the incident, including pictures from inside and outside the think tank.  Here are a few videos of the event from The Federalist.

Here are some statements from the Heritage Foundation about the incident.

Protests inside of think tanks are extremely rare, and the only recent parallel that Think Tank Watch remembers is from last year when violence erupted on "Think Tank Row" as Turkey's President was speaking at the Brookings Institution.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Putin's Think Tank Planned US Election Attack?

Here is what Reuters is reporting:

A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.
They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies [en.riss.ru/], after the election.
The institute is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin’s office.
The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.
It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.

Russia, however, is denying the Reuters report that RISS drew up a plan to sway the US election.

The New York Times is reporting that RISS is known in Russia as a "semiretirement refuge" for former intelligence officers.

Leonid Bershidsky says that many are "seriously overestimating" the power of the think tank.  He notes that until 2009 it was part of the SVR, Russia's intelligence service.

According to the University of Pennsylvania, Russia has 122 think tanks.