Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Prospect Mag's 2015 Think Tank Awards Issued

The United Kingdom's Prospect Magazine has just announced the 2015 winners of its annual think tank awards.

Here is who won for the US side:

*Best economic/financial think tank: Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC)
(Reason and Peterson Institute for International Economics were on the shortlist)

*Best social policy think tank: New America Foundation (NAF)
(RAND Corp. and Brookings were on the shortlist)

*Best energy/environment think tank: RAND Corp.
(Brookings and World Resources Institute were on the shortlist)

*Best international affairs think tank: Brookings Institution
(Migration Policy Institute and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace were on the shortlist)

For the UK, the "think tank of the year" award went to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. 

There have been various questions about how the awards, which are underwritten by oil giant Shell, are actually chosen, including some speculation that they may be rigged.

We should also mention that a think tank has to actually enter to win.  Think Tank Watch conclusion: lame.

Pro-Kremlin "Think Tank" in New York Shuts Down

From Rosie Gray at Buzzfeed:
A pro-Kremlin think tank based in New York City is shutting down, an official with the group told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday.
“I can confirm that the Institute is closing its operations,” Nikolay Pakhomov, an associate at the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, said.
Russian news site Gazeta.ru reported on Sunday that the organization is shutting down and that its director, Andranik Migranyan, is returning to Russia. Migranyan told the site that the group is stopping its work because its mission of monitoring human rights in the U.S. has been “accomplished,” because “The human rights situation has improved in the United States.” The institute would publish reports detailing human rights issues in the U.S. Sources told Gazeta that the institute was in fact closing its doors due to a lack of financing.
Migranyan used the institute to function as a kind of unofficial spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government. Migranyan told the Associated Press in 2008 that the creation of the institute had been approved by the Kremlin, but that it was funded privately through business donations.

The Institute for Democracy and Cooperation in New York is not to be confused with a different think tank in Paris with the same name.  Both were funded by the same Russian lawyer and a group of NGOs but have since gone their separate ways.

Former CIA Officer and Convicted Felon Joins Think Tank IPS

Think Tank Watch has learned that former CIA officer turned whistleblower John Kiriakou has been hired by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a liberal/progressive think tank, to work on penal-system issues.  He apparently got the job after posting on Facebook that he needed employment.

Kiriakou served 23 months in prison for confirming the name of a CIA operative to a reporter.  He apparently got the job while still incarcerated, and since the Bureau of Prisons said it was inappropriate to talk about prison reform while he was still officially incarcerated, his start date for the job was delayed until May, when his sentence ended.

Kiriakou is now officially an Associate Fellow at the think tank, and his writings can be found here.

Last year, Think Tank Watch wrote about an IPS scholar who was fired from his position due to his stance on climate change.

Here is a Think Tank Watch list of former spies and intelligence officers who now work at think tanks.

Monday, June 29, 2015

AEI Trying to Shape 2016 Presidential Elections

From the Washington Post's PowerPost:
Best known for housing foreign-policy hawks and the high priests of supply-side economics, the American Enterprise Institute has long been a regular, if low-key stop for Republican presidential candidates, be it for a hand with their white papers or huddles with resident scholars like John Bolton.
But for 2016, Arthur C. Brooks — AEI’s 51-year-old, French horn-playing president — is positioning the think tank on 17th Street to be a bigger player in the presidential campaign by putting itself in the middle of its biggest debates.
Instead of hosting scattered briefings on Iraq or tax policy — and leaving it at that — Brooks envisions AEI as an engine for refashioning conservatism for a weary electorate.
Nowhere is Brooks’s approach more evident than on addressing the rising gap between the rich and the poor — and the failure of many Republicans to speak cogently about income inequality and the stagnation of the middle class.
If Brooks and AEI can help give Republicans a persuasive argument, then they might be able to take their case to Democrats and independent voters disenchanted with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The article goes on to note that a variety of former AEI scholars have started working with 2016 presidential candidate, including Abby McCloskey, who recently left the think tank to join former Texas Gov. Rick Perry's policy shop.

Interestingly, the article says that when presidential candidates show up at AEI, they are often steered toward a meeting with Robert Doar, an AEI fellow in poverty studies.

Arthur Brooks said that the most called-upon AEI experts on poverty also include tax economist Kevin Hassett, and labor scholars Andrew Biggs and Michael Strain.  The article notes that James Pethokoukis is "plugged in" with GOP strategists.

The article also notes that AEI will co-host a Republican presidential debate, and Arthur Brooks and Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Preiebus are currently working on the details of that.

Earlier this year, AEI was ranked as the world's 24th best think tank by the University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings.  It was ranked as the 12th best think tank in the United States.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Think Tank Quickies (#182)

  • Conservative think tanks are dead.
  • Urban Institute report projects home ownership rate in US to fall until 2030.
  • Are French better thinkers and think tankers than Americans?
  • Should think tanks have tenure?
  • Think tanks scramble to address possible loss of Obamacare subsidies.
  • A century of international affairs think tanks in historical perspective.
  • Will leaked Saudi documents show extent of Saudi government funding of US think tanks?
  • League table of UK think tanks on Twitter, via Jimmy Tidey.
  • AEI attacks Heritage Foundation on free trade.
  • New directory of think tanks in Pakistan.
  • Analysts from four major think tanks met in Indonesia to discuss security issues.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

European Officials Prefer Lobbyists Over Think Tanks

A new analysis released today by Transparency International shows that European officials hold many more "lobbying" meetings with corporate interests than think tanks.
Analysis of the 4,318 lobby meetings declared by the top tier of European Commission officials between December 2014 and June 2015 shows that more than 75% were with corporate lobbyists. This compares to 18% with NGOs, 4% with think tanks and 2% with local authorities.

Think Tank Watch analysis: no surprises here.  So without further ado, here are the top European think tanks that held lobbying meetings with European Commission officials during the past six months:
  1. Centre for European Policy Studies
  2. Bertelsmann Stiftung
  3. Bruegel
  4. European Policy Centre
  5. Policy Network and Communications Ltd.
  6. ETP ZEP
  7. Centre for European Reform
  8. Open Europe

The full report can be read here.  And Transparency International's new interactive lobbying tool, called EU Integrity Watch, can be found here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bernanke Slams Hamilton Demotion on $10 Bill in Brookings Post

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, a Distinguished Fellow in Residence at the Brookings Institution, slammed Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's decision to remove Alexander Hamilton from the ten dollar bill.

We at Think Tank Watch wonder if Bernanke's love of Hamilton has anything to do with the fact that his think tank houses The Hamilton Project, an economic policy initiative launched in 2006 that produces policy proposals on how to create a growing economy that benefits more Americans.

The Project is indeed named after Alexander Hamilton, who the think tank says "laid the foundation for the modern American economy."

The Hamilton Project is full of big-name economists, although Bernanke is not directly affiliated with it.

In related Hamilton Project news, Jane Dokko, who recently became Policy Director at Hamilton Project after a stint at the Council on Economic Advisers, just got married to Jonathan Rose, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

Think Tank Quickies (#181)

  • How Jeb Bush started his think tank: Foundation for Florida's Future.
  • AEI weighs in on NFL, finding Wells Report deeply flawed.
  • In the Loop on Sen. Cotton's invite to CNAS.
  • Think tanker Robbie Gramer asks the hard-hitting questions.
  • Democratic senators use conservative think tank (AEI) to promote a carbon tax.
  • Online conference on insights into think tanks, via On Think Tanks.
  • CNAS currently on a hiring spree.
  • PS21 announces governing board.
  • Think tanks need to reevaluate their publishing strategy, via Mike Connery.
  • "How Government Think Tanks Enslave America," via Infowars.com.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Think Tank Sought to Block Pope's Climate Encyclical

Last week Pope Francis released a much-anticipated statement about climate change, but not before at least one think tank attempted to prevent the statement from ever entering the public realm.

Here is more from The Washington Post:
In late April, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a free-market group that serves as a hub of skepticism regarding the science of human-caused global warming, sent a delegation to the Vatican. As a Heartland news release put it, they hoped “to inform Pope Francis of the truth about climate science: There is no global warming crisis!”
Heartland’s activists were not part of the invited contingent, either, Heartland communications director Jim Lakely said.
“It was a side event,” he said. “We were outside the walls of the Vatican. We were at a hotel — literally, I could throw a football into St. Peter’s Square.”
Seven scientists and other experts gave speeches at the Heartland event, raising doubts about various aspects of the scientific consensus on climate change, even as several also urged the pope not to take sides in the debate. It’s impossible to know how that influenced those in the Vatican working on the pope’s document — which one Vatican official said was at “an advanced stage.” But Lakely said his group did not see much of its argument reflected in the final document.
One member of the Heartland delegation was E. Calvin Beisner, a theologian and founder of an evangelical group called the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. In April, the group launched an “open letter” to the pope, signed by more than 100 scholars and theologians, arguing that climate-change models “provide no rational basis to forecast dangerous human-induced global warming, and therefore no rational basis for efforts to reduce warming by restricting the use of fossil fuels or any other means.”
Beisner said he thinks that “between a quarter and a third” of the signers were Catholic. He said he is not totally unhappy with the pope’s encyclical — he appreciates the sections on the need to help the poor and “the sanctity of human life.” But as for the climate section, he said, Francis is “writing in an area that is not his own background, and it looks to me as if he was poorly served by his adviser.”

Other think tankers were not happy about the Pope's climate statement, including Paul Knappenberger, a climate scientist at the libertarian Cato Institute.  He said that the Pope "goes too far in the perception that the changing of the climate leads to bad outcomes and necessarily needs some sort of immediate reaction."

But a variety of think tanks did offer praise for the Pope's climate statements.  Neera Tanden, head of the liberal Center for American Progress, issued a statement in support of the encyclical.

Timmons Roberts, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution, also praised the Pope's encylcial.

Here is what Jeffrey Mazo of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) had to say about the encyclical.

Robert McMahon, Editor of CFR.org, conducted an interview entitled "How to Read Pope Francis on the Environment."

Friday, June 19, 2015

State Dept. to Blame for Lack of Russia Specialists at Think Tanks?

A new Foreign Affairs article titled "The Decline of International Studies" suggests that the US State Department's elimination of funding for advanced language and cultural training on Russia, which supported a variety of think tankers, is one of the contributing factors to the problems we currently have with Russia.  Here is an excerpt:
In October 2013, the U.S. Department of State eliminated its funding program for advanced language and cultural training on Russia and the former Soviet Union. Created in 1983 as a special appropriation by Congress, the so-called Title VIII Program had supported generations of specialists working in academia, think tanks, and the U.S. government itself. But as a State Department official told the Russian news service RIA Novosti at the time, “In this fiscal climate, it just didn’t make it.” The program’s shuttering came just a month before the start of a now well-known chain of events: Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the descent of U.S.-Russian relations to their lowest level since the Cold War. The timing was, to say the least, unfortunate.
The end of the United States’ premier federal program for Russian studies saved taxpayers only $3.3 million—the cost of two Tomahawk cruise missiles or about half a day’s sea time for an aircraft carrier strike group. The development was part of a broader trend: the scaling back of a long-term national commitment to education and research focused on international affairs.

The article, written by Charles King, a professor at Georgetown University, goes on to note that democratic societies depend on having a "cadre of informed professionals" outside government - people in universities, think tanks, museums, and research institutions "who cultivate expertise protected from the pressures of the state."  In explaining the importance of think tanks, the article says: "Many countries can field missile launchers and float destroyers; only a few have built a Brookings Institution or a Chatham House."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

French Ambassador Angers US With Atlantic Council Speech

French Ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud is not shy, and has less of a filter than many other diplomats.

The latest example can be found in a recent visit to the Atlantic Council, where he created some waves and angered some pretty powerful people with him frank comments about the Iran nuclear negotiations.  Here is more from The New York Times:

...John Kerry was angry at Araud’s bluntness. Still, the ambassador doubled down at a recent panel at the Atlantic Council think tank, asserting that there had been too much focus on Iran’s “chest-banging” and demands at the start of the negotations, and predicting: “It’s very likely that we don’t have an agreement before the end of June, or even after June.” That made news and drew a rebuke from the State Department’s lead negotiator.

“Wendy Sherman called me, and she was livid. ‘GĂ©rard, what do you say?’ ” Araud told me, with a charming smirk. He sent out a dutiful tweet, clarifying that he simply meant that the Iranians would wait until the last minute, as they have done before.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on how Amb. Araud loves partying with think tankers.  Perhaps he is looking for a post-diplomatic career at a Washington, DC think tank?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Think Tank Quickies (#180)

  • Are lobbying shops competitors to think tanks?  (via Douglas Ollivant)
  • Think tankers going to annual Bilderberg meeting.
  • Cato's Gene Healy on think tanks and the Iraq War.
  • Think tank softball league up and running again for another season.
  • Glenn Greenwald: "Many of the worst people on the planet are found in DC think tanks."  Ouch.
  • The Cato Institute and the libertarian movement.
  • Wilson Center EVP (and think tank expert) Andrew Selee discusses 2015 Think Tank Summit.
  • New piece on think tank management by Raymond Struyk.
  • FP: Think tank pundits see threats around every corner.  Don't fall for it.
  • Foreign policy think tanks in China and Japan: Characteristics and current profile.
  • Who are the most influential EU think tanks on Twitter?

Friday, June 12, 2015

South Korea Deepens Its Think Tank Game

The Wilson Center has just announced the creation of the Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy, being support by Hyundai Motor Co. and the Korea Foundation.

Here is more:
The Korea Center will provide a coherent, long-term platform for improving historical understanding of Korea and frame the public policy debate on the Korean peninsula in the United States and beyond. The Hyundai Motor Company Center for Korean History and Public Policy is part of the History and Public Policy Program (HAPP) directed by Dr. Christian Ostermann.

Hyundai reportedly donated $2 million for the new center and the Korea Foundation donated $1 million.

Pictures of the launch can be found here.

Other US think tanks have strong ties to the Koreans.  For example, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has an International Affairs Fellowship in South Korea, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has a Korea Chair.

Here is an informal list of Korea-related think tanks.

Flashback: Remember when South Korean intelligence was reportedly giving the Heritage Foundations millions of dollars back in the 1980s?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Think Tank Uses Public Intel to Show Russia's Activities in Ukraine

The Atlantic Council has recently released an investigative report revealing where and how Russians weapons are entering Ukraine.

The report, entitled "Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin's War in Ukraine," was the result of an Atlantic Council Working Group launched to examine direct Russian military involvement in Ukraine.

Here are the five key findings:

  1. Satellite images confirm the movement of Russian troops and camp buildups along the Ukrainian border.
  2. Russian training camps stationed along the Ukrainian border are the launching points of Russia's war in Ukraine. These camps are the staging ground for Russian military equipment transported into Ukraine, soon to join the separatist arsenal, and for Russian soldiers mobilized across Russia to cross into Ukraine.
  3. Commanders order Russian soldiers to conceal the identifying features of military vehicles, remove insignia from uniforms, and travel across the border to join separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.
  4. A variety of Russian manufactured arms and munitions—not used by the Ukrainian military—have appeared in the hands of separatists, including shoulder launched surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), various types of rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles, landmines, and various small arms.
  5. During key offensives, Russian forces in Ukraine have received cover from Russian territory. A combination of satellite data, crater analysis, and open source materials confirms that many attacks originated in Russia.

Here is what Politico had so say about the report.  The New York Times called it an "unusual investigative report" since it used publicly available videos, smartphone photographs and satellite images to make its case.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Think Tank Quickies (#179)

  • RAND: Companies are making cybersecurity a greater priority, but hackers still winning.
  • Pozen Director's Chair established at Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center (TPC); Leonard Burman will be the new director.
  • Shivshankar Menon, former national security adviser to India's prime minister, named Distinguished Fellow in Foreign Policy at Brookings.
  • IMF's chief economist Olivier Blanchard appointed the first C. Fred Bergsten Senior Fellow at PIIE.
  • CSIS launches Missile Defense Project to be lead by Dr. Thomas Karako; establishes US-Philippines Strategic Initiative (USPSI).
  • Madeleine Albright and Stephen Hadley to lead Atlantic Council's new Middle East Strategy Task Force (MEST); joins US Water Partnership (USWP); has new Afghanistan initiative; former SecDef Chuck Hagel returns to Atlantic Council as Distinguished Statesman.
  • New America Foundation (NAF) launches new database of drone regulation and civil use of drones.
  • NAF's VP and OTI Director Alan Davidson joins Commerce Department.
  • USIP to hold biannual PeaceGame to focus on countering rise of global extremism.
  • New RAND Corp. board members: Malcolm Gladwell, Soledad O'Brien, Lionel Johnson, & Gerald Parsky; former SecDef Chuck Hagel elected to Board of Trustees.
  • Publish or perish: NBER and others look to make a splash.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Think Tank Quickies (#178)

  • New Hillary gear includes "think tank."
  • The role of think tanks in the US security policy environment.
  • Think tank expert Thomas Medvetz on Charles Murray and think tanks.
  • Win $100,000 for your think tank via Templeton Freedom Award.
  • New socialist power in Spain creates need for array of free-market think tanks?
  • Think tanks should spend less time thinking and more time twerking.
  • Cato describes itself in 3 words: "LIBERTARIAN (not conservative!) think tank."
  • Pic: Right-wing think tank in action, via Bruce Bartlett.
  • Asian Development Bank (ADB) holds gathering of think tanks during Knowledge Partnership Week.
  • Think tanks need to rethink accountability, via VOA.
  • Former members of Congress lobby current members of Congress via think tanks.