Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Think Tank Fact of the Day: Canadian Think Tanks

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#221)

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

2016 Election Sparks Firings at Think Tanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think Tanks Suckered Into White House Talking Points on Iran?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#220)

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Few Think Tankers at Nordic State Dinner

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hackers Targeting Think Tanks Amid 2016 Election Season

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Congressman: "Think Tanks Exist in a Fake World"

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

New Brookings Study on "Sextortion"

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

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

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

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

Think Tank Quickies (#219)

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

Think Tanker Disinvited to Speak at University

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

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Stimson Center Abounds in Partnerships

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

All Think Tankers Need to Take the "Bubble Quiz"

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

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

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

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