Monday, August 31, 2015

Are Any Presidential Candidates Running to Start a Think Tank?

Between Democrats and Republicans there are now 22 candidates running for president in 2016, and some think that future career moves - including the desire to start a think tank in the future - may be part of the reason that so many candidates are running now.  Here is more from Ron Faucheux The Hill:
Post-election career prospects may also play a role. Which of today's candidates are angling to be vice president, a Cabinet member or an ambassador? Which ones want to start advocacy groups, think tanks or host TV shows? Which ones intend to cash in on newfound fame by fattening up speaking fees and book royalties? These considerations, sometimes as much or more than actually getting elected, can shape presidential candidate behavior.

So, which presidential candidate is most likely to get involved with think tank land after he/she drops out of the race?  Is it Donald Trump, who has been talking and consulting more with think tankers?  Is it Rick Perry who has been hiring lots of think tankers?  Is it Jeb Bush, who has a virtual army of think tankers working to help defeat Hillary Clinton?  Or could it be Hillary Clinton herself, someone who has been hogging all the Democratic think tank talent?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Dick Cheney to Give Major Iran Speech at AEI

The conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has just announced that former Vice President Dick Cheney will give a major speech on the nuclear deal with Iran on September 8.  The event will last one hour and will be moderated by AEI Senior Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies Danielle Pletka.

Cheney, who is a member of AEI's Board of Trustees , has given numerous speeches at the think tank, including one in 2014 on 9/11 and the future of US foreign policy.  In 2009 he gave a speech at AEI on the ongoing threat terrorism poses to the US, and in 2003, he delivered a speech at the think tank on the "war on terror."

CNN says that Cheney's speech will "hammer" President Obama's Iran nuclear deal, and Politico says that he will speak out against the deal.

We should also note that Cheney's wife, Lynne Cheney, is a Senior Fellow at AEI, specializing in culture and education.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Thinks Tanks Have Deep Ties to Fortune 500 Companies

The University of California at Santa Cruz has put together a "Power Elite Database" showing the deep relationship between think tanks and corporations.  Here is an excerpt:
After the trustees of these 33 think tanks were added to the corporate network, we first looked at the relative centrality of Fortune-500 companies and think tanks in the combined database. (The six general business groups were excluded for the moment.) This analysis revealed that nine mainstream think tanks, such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Institute for International Economics, and combined think tanks/policy-discussion groups, such as the Atlantic Council and Council on Foreign Relations, were among the 15 most central organizations in the network, with the ultraconservative and liberal think tanks that remained in the database more peripheral. To make this point with one good comparison, 38.3% of the trustees of The Brookings Institution, a prestigious centrist think tank that goes back to the 1920s, are Fortune 500 directors, as compared to only 9.1% of the trustees for the ultraconservative Heritage Foundation, which was founded in the early 1970s and is not considered to be reputable by most mainstream scholars.

A map of the corporate world's connection to think tank's can be found here.

The think tanks with the deepest connections to the most powerful corporations were:
  1. Brookings Institution
  2. Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS)
  3. Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE)
  4. Atlantic Council
  5. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  6. Aspen Institute
  7. American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
  8. RAND Corporation
  9. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
Among other things, the study concludes that its findings "cast doubt on any claim that think tanks are a unique independent sector."  It adds: "The idea that think tanks have a considerable degree of independence becomes even more questionable when it is added that they receive a significant share of their funding from wealthy individual donors and various foundations.  The authors of the study say that think tanks can basically be characterized as "subsidiaries of the corporate community."

The study goes on to note that between 2003 and 2011, 1,260 foundations gave $1.9 billion via 10,549 individual grants to the 41 most prominent think tanks.  Moreover, the 25 largest foundations accounted for over 71% of the total donations.

Think Tank Quickies (#187)

  • China-backed think tank (Madariaga-College of Europe Foundation) exits Brussels.
  • Chinese defense think tanks face enormous challenges.
  • India's most influential think tanks.
  • Leader of Korea's ruling Saenuri Party, Rep. Kim Moo-sung to visit think tanks such as Wilson Center and Brookings during 7-day trip.
  • Conservative think tanks wants the White House Science Czar's private emails. 
  • Guyana needs more think tanks.
  • Renaming a think tank in Singapore.
  • Ideological divide between US and Russian think tanks? 
  • Jimmy Carter's grandson to take over as chairman of Carter Center.
  • What's the point of development think tanks?
  • CFR map on vaccine-preventable outbreaks.
  • Who says the summer doesn't have cool think tank events?  See Hudson Institute's August 3 event Cyber-Enabled Economic Warfare - An Evolving Challenge, and Atlantic Council's July 29 event Rethinking Commercial Espionage.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Vietnam Event at Prominent US Think Tank Causes Stir

Although most think tank events go off without a hitch, there is often lots of behind-the-scenes scurrying to help avoid a whole host of obstacles that can cause potential problems for a think tank and/or its attendees.  But even the best of think tank event planning is often not enough.  Highlighting that fact is a recent event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) which reportedly caused quite a stir.  Here is more from The Rushford Report:
...When Dr. Binh T. Nguyen, a prominent Vietnamese-born physician (and an American citizen) showed up to hear the secretary general’s speech [referring to Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam Secretary General of the Communist Party], she was informed that she was persona non grata.
Binh, an invited guest, cleared CSIS security at the entrance, as she had on several previous occasions. But when she went upstairs to join the audience, a CSIS senior fellow was waiting. Murray Hiebert, accompanied by a CSIS security guard, insisted that Binh leave the premises. An obviously uncomfortable Hiebert explained that he was so sorry, but the communist security operatives simply would not permit Binh to hear Trong’s speech. The apologetic Hiebert told Dr. Binh that he had tried his best to reason with the Vietnamese security officials, but to no avail. They were not interested in negotiating, and were adamant that Binh would not be allowed to hear Trong’s speech, Hiebert related.
Hiebert apologized sincerely to Binh, admitting that it was wrong for CSIS to have given into the pressure. Ejecting her had ruined the event for him, Hiebert told the doctor. I spoke with Binh twice, for nearly an hour, going over the facts carefully, in great detail. Subsequently I was able to substantiate that the doctor’s account was the same as how Hiebert explained the incident to one of his colleagues at CSIS, Benjamin Contreras, the program director for CSIS’ Southeast Studies section.
Dr. Binh told me that Hiebert was characteristically polite. Still, it was intimidating that he had a guard with him to make sure she left the premises, the doctor added. Binh said she does not seek publicity, and looked forward to being invited to future CSIS events. She asked not to be quoted directly in this article.

More of the details can be found here.  The piece notes that the Vietnamese government is a fairly large donor to CSIS, and paid for a recent study favorable to the government of Vietnam.

Here is a link to the video and transcript of the July 8 event mentioned above.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Parody Paper Creates New Brookings Study on the US Dollar

Satirical newspaper The Onion has published has a new article citing a made-up Brookings Institution study showing it is "now easier than ever for American dollars to rise into the upper class."  Here is an excerpt:
Citing “nearly unlimited” opportunities for the nation’s currency, an encouraging study released Tuesday by the Brookings Institution found that it has never been easier for U.S. dollars to enter the richest segment of American society.
The study, which followed the legal tender over a 40-year period, confirmed that trillions of dollars have been able to move from the lower and middle classes into the upper class, indicating a significant rise in the upward mobility of American money.
“In comparison to earlier generations, today’s U.S. dollars are ascending the economic ladder much faster, and in far greater numbers,” said economist and lead researcher Hannah Rodrigues, emphasizing that it is much easier for money to escape the ranks of the poor now than it was just 10 years ago. “We have never seen this much money moving into the highest income brackets, and the trend is only getting stronger.”

This is not the first time that The Onion has used Brookings in its stories.  For example, last year, it had a story quoting a fake 85-page Brookings study saying that there is no need to produce any new chairs in the United States.  The Onion also ran a story in 2014 quoting another fake Brookings study saying that 47% of Americans should think before talking.  [We at Think Tank Watch thought this was one of the better think tank studies of the year, even if fake.]

One of Think Tank Watch's favorite Onion stories comes from 2013, when they cite a fake 10-year Brookings study saying that Americans, on average, have five to seven good shirts and eight or more "not-good" shirts.  We also like the 2011 Onion story citing a fake Brookings study saying that fax machine technology is pretty impressive.

Brookings is not the only think tank that The Onion writes about.  Last month, it wrote a fake story about how officials at the Heritage Foundation lowered retired Republican senator Saxby Chambliss into a giant vat of conservative policy experts.

Update: Here is an Onion story from 1996 about a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) think tank.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tiny Think Tank FDD More Influential Than Its Bigger Brothers?

Can a small, narrowly-focused think tank be considered more influential than its bigger, more well-funded think tanks brothers and sisters?  Slate has just made the case that in some respects, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a small, conservative (some say neoconservative) think tank may be running circles around bigger think thinks.  Here are some excerpts from a story entitled "The Little Think Tank That Could":
...Opponents of the [Iran] deal, if they are to carry the day, need crisp talking points and plausible arguments; they need credible experts who will back up their position in congressional hearings, on opinion pages, and on TV and radio. And no organization has been better at providing this kind of intellectual firepower than the little-known Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a relatively small Washington think tank that is devoting itself to defeating the Iran deal.
During the last 18 months, FDD’s experts have testified 17 times before Congress in opposition to the interim and now final agreement. By contrast, experts from the Heritage Foundation, whose budget—$113 million in 2013—is more than 15 times the size of FDD’s, and which also opposes the agreement, have not appeared at all. Critics of the agreement from the American Enterprise Institute, whose budget is more than eight times as large, have testified only once.
In the wake of the agreement’s announcement, FDD experts have appeared on Fox News, CBS, CNN, PBS, and other television outlets at least 35 times to oppose it. 

The Slate article goes on to note that pro-Israel think tank "is no longer a public relations group for Israel," and over the years, it has "become much more of a conventional think tank than an advocacy group."

Will Washington's Think Tank Events Become More Upscale?

Think tanks typically don't hold great parties (there are exceptions, of course), but some seem to be studying up on how to put together a better, swankier shindig.  Here is more from The Washington Post:
Though most of Washington is still in vacation mode, plans for fall fundraisers, Halloween promotions and yes, even Christmas parties, are already in full swing. You see a “save the date” and think, “Free drinks!” To your hosts — political campaigns, think tanks, corporations, charities, trade associations, NGOs — the Evite is the first step in a carefully calculated strategy to grab your time and attention.
The very important people of Washington are short on time and easily bored. Which is why, during the dog days of summer, almost 400 people gathered last week at the Ronald Reagan Building for Elevate, a conference for Washington event organizers. Their goal: learning how to make their events more memorable, attract the right guests and do it all on a politically correct budget.
It’s not enough to throw free booze at people anymore, although that never hurts. The old formula of cocktails, dinner and endless speeches is giving way to artisanal menus, designer mixologists and charging stations. Plus hashtags, live Instagram feeds and anything else that will transform another boring evening into a talker.

But remember, think tank events come with a cost.  The Post notes that a basic, two-hour reception is roughly $75 to $125 per person, plus tax and gratuity.  Seated dinners, they point out, can range from $150 to $375 per guest.  The paper also notes that renting a location is an extra cost.  They note that the Library of Congress is $35,000 for a corporate host, but only $17,500 for a non-profit such as a think tank.  Fortunately, many think tanks have ample space to hold a decent-sized party, thus leaving more room for their food budget.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Think Tankers Caught in Ashley Madison Data Dump?

It has just been reported that a data dump of users using the "affair-oriented" website Ashley Madison includes 15,000 email addresses hosted by US government and military servers.  That got us wondering how many think tank-linked accounts are included.

There are likely a number of them, as Washington, DC, the city with the highest rate of membership to Ashley Madison, happens to have the largest amount of think tanks of any city, at 396 and counting.

If you are a think tanker and want to see if your data has been compromised, or, if you want to check to see if your think tank spouse has been cheating on you, you can search this site.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Brookings Head Has "Direct Line" to Hillary Clinton

New reporting about the ongoing saga of Hillary Clinton's emails while at the State Department has uncovered some interesting nuggets about Clinton's close ties to think tankers.  One of her closest ties is with Strobe Talbott, the current head of the Brookings Institution.  Here is an excerpt:
The emails underscored the privileged status of having Mrs. Clinton’s direct address. Strobe Talbott, the former deputy secretary of state who now heads the Brookings Institution, wrote to her directly, expressing concerns that “time-sensitive messages” were not getting through Ms. [Cheryl] Mills’s State Department email.

Mr. Talbott became friends with Bill Clinton when both were Rhodes Scholars at the University of Oxford. Talbott went on to become Deputy Secretary of State under Mr. Clinton.

Interestingly, Strobe Talbott's wife, Brooke Shearer, also had access to Hillary Clinton's email address.  Shearer was a former aide to Hillary Clinton.

Moreover, Center for American Progress (CAP) President Neera Tanden also had access to Hillary's email address.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Trump Consulting With Think Tanks

Donald Trump seems to be his own man, but that does not mean that he does not lean on think tanks for help.  Here is more from Robert Costa of the Washington Post:
[Donald] Trump came out with an immigration paper today. He expects in early September, in the next few weeks, to come out with one on taxes. He's talking to different people at think tanks. He doesn't want to lose the edge he has.

Juleanna Glover, a corporate consultant and Republican policy and communications adviser who has co-hosted fundraisers for Jeb Bush, says that right-leaning think tanks would not pledge to support Trump if he became the Republican Party nominee for president.

So, which think tank does Donald Trump like and which think tank likes Donald Trump?

Heritage Foundation has done a "10 Facts About Donald Trump" piece and has written other fact-based pieces on Trump, but writers for Heritage have also criticized Trump.  And as Think Tank Watch noted before, Trump is one of the only Republicans presidential candidates who does not follow Heritage President Jim DeMint on Twitter.

Scholars at American Enterprise Institute (AEI) are worried that Trump could disrupt the 2016 elections.  They have also bashed Trump for his "disparaging comments" about women.

That said, Trump just came out saying that he is has been seeking advice from John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations and a Senior Fellow at AEI.

The libertarian Cato Institute has just come out bashing Trump's new position paper on immigration policy.

We have found evidence of state-level think tankers who support Trump.  One example is Ed McMullen, co-chair of Trump's South Carolina campaign, and president of the conservative think tank South Carolina Policy Council.

On the Democratic-leaning side of think tank land, here is a Brookings Institution assessment of Donald Trump, here is a Brookings piece on how to beat Trump in the debates, and here is a Brookings piece on why you should stop laughing at Trump.

By the way, remember when Dana Milbank of the Washington Post compared Jim DeMint running the Heritage Foundation to the equivalent of Donald Trump running AEI?

Think Tank Watch should note that none of the top 10 members of Trump's inner circle appear to have any deep ties to think tanks.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Think Tank Quickies (#186)

  • Brookings in a year-long development and redesign of its website to a top news site.
  • Defense think tank CSBA, which just went through major shake-up, is on a hiring spree.
  • Iran debate illustrates think tanks' niche in policy ecosystem.
  • Paul Maley wins 2015 Lowy Institute Media Award (and $20,000).
  • Many prestigious think tank refuse to pay their interns? (via USG official)
  • "What are think tanks saying (and who's paying)?" via Michael Harris at Guerilla Wire.
  • On Think Tanks organizing international online conference on think tank research methods.
  • Hong Kong think tanks can play a positive role, if their quality is up to scratch.
  • If fish tanks make you think happy thoughts, do think tanks?
  • DC, home to our nation's most impressive and frequently cited think tanks (pic).
  • Think tank launches summit to reshape Arab region.
  • The corporate community, think tanks, policy-discussion groups, and government, via UCSC.
  • Think tanks, lobbyists and the need for independent ideas in planning, via Chris Hale.
  • Think tanks and universities have a complementary role to play (from Stimson Center talk).
  • Jim Gilmore asked why he's running for president instead of doing something like running a think tank, and notes that he does head a think tank (i.e., Free Congress Foundation).
  • The role of think tanks in the EU policy process remains largely uncharted territory for political scientists.