Thursday, March 31, 2016

Violence Erupts on Think Tank Row Amid Visit by Turkish President

The usually subdued think tank row in Washington, DC erupted into violence today as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was visiting the Brookings Institution.

Erdogan was giving a keynote speech at the think tank entitled "Global challenges and Turkey's goals for the year 2023."  A video can be watched here.

Foreign Policy has done an excellent job of covering all the chaos that occurred.  Here are some excerpts:
A planned speech by the controversial Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan descended into violence and chaos Thursday, with one journalist physically removed from the event site by Turkish security personnel, another kicked by a guard, and a third — a woman — thrown to the sidewalk in front of a Washington think tank where he was to speak.
A small group of protesters gathered across the street from the Brookings Institute near Dupont Circle in Washington, with one holding a large sign reading “Erdogan: War Criminal On The Loose,” while another used a megaphone to chant that he was a “baby-killer.”
When the protesters tried to cross the street, Washington police officers blocked traffic and physically separated them from Turkish personnel. A Secret Service agent standing nearby told a colleague that “the situation is a bit out of control.”
Later, a shoving match between what appeared to be a Brookings Institute worker and Turkish security broke out. “I am in charge of this building,” the apparent Brookings employee shouted as the two tangled. A Foreign Policy reporter and others holding cameras outside the event were also scolded by Turkish security.  One cameraman was chased across the street by Turkish guards.
There were also confrontations between Turkish security and D.C. police. The Turkish officials wanted police to remove protesters, and the cops refused.
In a statement late Thursday, Brooking’s spokesperson Gail Chalef said that the think tank did its “best to ensure that journalists and other guests who had registered in advance for the event were able to enter.” She added that she believes all journalists who registered were able to attend.

The full, must-read Foreign Policy piece can be read here (make sure to watch the embedded videos).  We told you that think tank events aren't ALWAYS boring.

Ironically, in 2013, Turkey blamed the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for protests in Turkey.  We wonder if Turkey will blame Brookings for protests on US soil...

Update: Foreign Policy in now reporting that Brookings threatened to cancel the Erdogan speech after his security personnel "pushed, threatened, and kicked both Western and Turkish journalists" and protestors in front of the think tank.  FP says: "In a tense exchange, Brookings President Strobe Talbott told a Turkish official that the organization was prepared to call off the visit even though Erdogan's motorcade was already en route to the event."  FP adds that the cancellation of the event would have been an embarrassment for both Brookings and Erdogan because the speech had been heavily publicized and attracted an overflow crowd.

Think Tanks Increasingly Important to Policy Campaigns

Here is more from Politico:
Outside organizations such as think tanks and pressure groups are increasingly important to policy campaigns, according to Brunswick Insight's new survey of 19 public affairs heads from advocacy groups, think tanks, trade associations, and companies. On issues including the Ex-Im Bank, SOPA-PIPA, sentencing reform, oil exports, fiduciary rule and trade promotion authority, outside groups were crucial. Campaigns now need vectors besides shoe-leather lobbying: As one respondent put it, "the lobbyists in direct communications with staff and members is probably the most minor element."

Respondents said outside groups are critical allies but can be hard to find and even harder to control. Think tanks like Brookings, the Heritage Foundation and the Center for American Progress lend credibility, but they're expensive and academic freedom makes them hard to keep on message. Advocacy groups such as Americans for Tax Reform and Human Rights Campaign have strong expertise in narrow and specific issues but can be purists loath to compromise and eager to take credit. Ideological groups such as Heritage Action or Americans for Democratic Action also have sway but can be polarizing.
The Readmond Group commissioned the survey.

So remember, for your policy goals to be implemented, you need both lobbyists AND think tanks.  Or, you can hire shops like Podesta Group, a lobby firm that will help you lobby think tanks so they can lobby the government and other groups.  It doesn't get any more Washington than that.

Will Think Tanks Control President Trump's Policies?

Will think tanks play a big role in a Trump Administration?  According to Justin Vaughn, Associate Professor of Political Science in the School of Public Service at Boise State University, they very well might.  Here is more:
The president today is arguably more of a manager than ever before, overseeing thousands of staffers and millions of bureaucrats. Sure, the president generally sets the White House’s agenda, chooses many of the individuals tasked with achieving it and ultimately serves as what George W. Bush called The Decider. (Or, if you prefer, as Harry Truman suggested, the president remains where the buck stops.) But what they are not is deeply involved in the minutiae of the policy proposals they attempt to get through Congress, or even many of the unilateral policy actions such as executive orders, signing statements and memoranda that the White House routinely issues.
Instead, a great deal of what is included in these bills and actions comes not only from the president’s chosen advisers, but also from relevant government agencies, think tanks, private industry and previous versions of failed legislation.
In fact, research I’ve conducted with José Villalobos and Julia Azari shows that when the president stresses the influence that bureaucrats and policy experts have had on a policy the White House is pushing, the legislation is more likely to pass than if they instead emphasize that a bill is a priority of the president, that it is something popular with the public, or even that the bill is the result of bipartisan cooperation.

A number of think tankers are very concerned about a Trump presidency because it appears that he would not rely as much on think tanks and think tankers compared to past presidents, the current president, and other possible future presidents such as Hillary Clinton.

Richard Reeves, Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution expresses those exact concerns here.  A scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said that everyone is turning to Google to find out about Trump's new team.

As Jack Caravelli recently reminded us, competition for the president's attention is keen, particularly in a city like Washington, DC that is full of think tanks.

Of course, think tanks have been bashing Mr. Trump for months, so it is no surprise that there may be some tension.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#210)

  • Should all think tank research be free?  Is it?
  • Former White House aide Will Jawando is running for a congressional seat in Maryland, and his wife Michelle (who earned $65,000 in the 1st half of 2015) works at Center for American Progress.
  • Why a Silicon Valley funder is doubling down on a Beltway think tank (CGD).
  • PS21 sponsors March 28 event: Think Tanks - What Do They Really Contribute?
  • Jennifer Rubin: Heritage Foundation gives Trump legitimacy.
  • China launches joint South China Sea think tank with Indonesia's CSIS; will invite other Southeast Asian think tank to join.
  • Max Abrahms Twitter poll: Why did Western think tank pundits get basic facts of Syria so wrong?
  • What is the Cato Institute's role as a think tank? (via Ed Crane and others)
  • Women in think tanks reading list, via On Think Tanks.
  • CFR on challenges of the world's oceans.
  • HUD Secretary Julian Castro and DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx do Brookings.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Pivot: French Ambassador Now Hates Think Tankers

At one time, Gerard Araud, French Ambassador to the United States, loved to hang out and party with think tankers.  Now, after a year and a half in Washington, DC, it looks like he has had a bit of a falling out with think tankers.

Here is more from Moises Naim in The Atlantic:
Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States, has said, in the words of the Financial Times, that Washington “is mostly about ‘PR’” and that he feels like a prisoner in the city. The ambassador also mocked Washington’s men and the city’s mores. He feels, in the FT’s words, that in D.C. “men wear suits three sizes too large for them, and dinners always start too early. Socializing with Washington’s politicians, journalists and ‘think-tankers’ takes more out of him than bargaining with adversaries.”

As a remedy, Mr. Naim actually suggests that Amb. Araud embrace think tanks even more, saying that he "could participate in one of the dozens of talks, conferences, and panel discussions held daily at the 393 think tanks that are just minutes away from his embassy."  Think Tank Watch is not sure if that was meant to be or joke or not...

Why the hate?  Is it because he has created some waves at certain think tanks?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Likelihood of a Think Tanker Being Invited to a State Dinner?

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's recent visit to Washington got Think Tank Watch thinking about how often think tankers get invitations to presidential state dinners.

Fortunately, The New York Times has done much of the leg-work, analyzing the previous nine state dinners to come up with an answer.  Here is the breakdown of who gets invited:

  • Wall Street and business sector: 35%
  • Intelligentsia: 17%
  • Media: 16%
  • Hollywood and arts: 14%
  • Sports, tech, and health: 12%

In other words, around 17% of state dinner guests are from "intelligentsia," which includes the think tank world.  However, that category also includes authors, professors, and others in similar fields.  That means the chances of a think tanker securing a coveted state dinner invite are probably harder than getting into Harvard or Yale.

NYT notes that think tank guests for state dinners under President Obama have included Robert Kagan and Strobe Talbott of Brookings, and George Shultz of the Hoover Institution.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ted Cruz's National Security Team Abounds With Think Tankers

Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has announced a national security team that is filled with conservative think tank power players.  Following are a few examples:

  • Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy
  • Fred Fleitz of the Center for Security Policy
  • Clare Lopez of the Center for Security Policy
  • Jim Hanson of the Center for Security Policy
  • Elliott Abrams of Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  • Ilan Berman of American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC)
  • Katharine Gorka of the Council on Global Security
  • Steven Groves of The Heritage Foundation
  • Mary Habeck of American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
  • Michael Ledeen of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD)
  • Charles Stimson of the Heritage Foundation
  • Jim Talent of AEI
  • Daniel Vajdich of the Atlantic Council

Here is the latest Think Tank Watch post on Donald Trump's reliance on think tanks and think tank scholars.

Trump Loves CFR's President

Donald Trump is not the biggest fan of think tanks, but he does have affection for at least one think tanker: Richard Haass, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Reuters has previously reported this:
Asked who he trusts on national security, Trump had warm words for three men with world views that differ from one another, and who diverge sharply on some key issues from Trump himself. They are former diplomat Richard Haass and retired U.S. Army officers Gen. Jack Keane and Col. Jack Jacobs.
Haass is a centrist foreign policy thinker and president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank seen as a fixture of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. The State Department's policy planning director at the time of the Iraq invasion, he wrote later that he was largely against the war.
A spokeswoman for Haass, Iva Zoric, said that he briefed Trump on foreign policy in August 2015. In a tweet late on Thursday, Haass wrote: "I do not endorse candidates. What I have done is offered to brief all candidates, & have briefed several, D(emocrat) & R(epublican) alike."

When recently asked by Fareed Zakaria about working in a Trump Administration, Mr. Haass declined to answer directly, saying that CFR has offered briefings to all of the presidential candidates and many have taken the think tank up on its offer.  Mr. Haass added that he spent about one hour together with Mr. Trump during their August 2015 meeting.

As Think Tank Watch has previously reported, Donald Trump has been consulting with think tank scholars for months.  Is this how Trump sees think tank land?

In early March 2016, a number of scholars, including think tankers, penned an open letter to Trump in opposition of his presidency.

That letter has 120 signatories, including Robert Zoellick of the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), David Adesnik of Foreign Policy Initiative, Michael Auslin of American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Robert Blackwill of CFR, Daniel Blumenthal of AEI, Max Boot of CFR, Ellen Bork of Foreign Policy Initiative, Anna Borshchevskaya of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), Joseph Bosco of Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and many others.

So basically, the entire conservative think tank establishment is against Trump, leaving only slim pickings in the think tank world.  That is probably why on March 21, when Trump revealed part of his foreign policy team, there were few mainstream think tankers to speak of on the list.  Of course, there was Walid Phares (a former senior fellow at the conservative think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies), George Papadopoulos (former researcher at the Hudson Institute), and Joseph Schmitz (who has ties to the Center for Security Policy).

However, Mr. Trump just met with Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint and others at the Washington law firm of Jones Day in Washington, DC.  DeMint and staffers at the Heritage Foundation have reportedly met with numerous candidates in the past year, including current and former 2016 presidential candidates.

Here is what a Heritage spokesman said:
Heritage spokesman Wesley Denton stressed that DeMint’s role in the meeting was restricted to discussions about policy and avoided more political topics.
“As a section 501(c)(3) organization, Heritage cannot participate in any political campaign in support of or in opposition to any candidate for public office,” Denton said in an emailed statement.

The article also notes that  the Heritage Foundation's lobbying arm (Heritage Action) has reportedly expressed the desire to work with Trump "to advance its policy goals" if he wins the Republican nomination and November’s general election.

Also, with the help of the Heritage Foundation, Trump has been making a list of Supreme Court nominees he would choose if he becomes president.

In related news, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has recently announced his national security team.  It is heavy with think tankers from conservative think tank outfits.

Monday, March 21, 2016

AIPAC Conference Filled With Think Tankers

Dozens of think tankers from Washington's most powerful think tanks and beyond will be speaking at this year's annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, DC.  Among them include:

  • Elliott Abrams of Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
  • Ghaith al-Omari of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP)
  • Yaakov Amidror of JINSA's Gemunder Center
  • Dan Arbell of the Brookings Institution
  • Ilan Berman of the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC)
  • Michael Breen of Truman Center and Truman Project
  • Shawn Brimley of Center for a New American Security (CNAS)
  • William Burns of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP)
  • Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institution
  • Soner Cagaptay of WINEP
  • Mike Doran of the Hudson Institute
  • Mark Dubowitz of Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD)
  • Charles Dunne of Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Zack Gold of the Atlantic Council
  • Lawrence Haas of AFPC
  • John Hannah of FDD
  • Michael Herzog of WINEP
  • Oren Kessler of FDD
  • Emily Landau of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS)
  • Matthew Levitt of WINEP
  • Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution
  • Alan Makovsky of WINEP
  • Tara Maller of New America
  • William McCants of the Brookings Institution
  • Aaron David Miller of the Wilson Center
  • Emanuele Ottolenghi of FDD
  • Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council
  • David Pollock of WINEP
  • Dennis Ross of WINEP
  • Michael Rubin of American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
  • Natan Sachs of the Brookings Institution
  • Jonathan Schanzer of FDD
  • David Schenker of WINEP
  • Randall Shriver of the Project 2049 Institute
  • Vance Serchuk of CNAS
  • Brenda Shaffer of Atlantic Council
  • Michael Singh of WINEP
  • Eric Trager of WINEP
  • Dmitri Trenin of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Alex Votanka of MEI
  • Benjamin Weinthal of FDD
  • Leon Wieseltier of Brookings
  • Sarah Yerkes of Brookings
  • Neri Zilber of WINEP

More about the 2016 conference can be found here.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#209)

  • FYI: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests do not apply to think tanks.
  • Rush Limbaugh: Nobody puts think tanks on TV because nobody wants to watch them. (C-Span?)
  • Center for American Progress (CAP) released booklet highlighting ideas for the future of the global progressive movement; contributions from Bill Clinton, Justin Trudeau, and Matteo Renzi.
  • Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) on retirement from US House offers advice: "You can get caught up in the Washington Beltway think tanks.  You've got to stay connected to your local district."
  • Lugar Center and Georgetown University release 2015 ranking of how partisan each Member of Congress is.
  • Think tankers such as Jeremy Barofsky (Brookings), John Holahan (Urban Institute), and Alex Brill (AEI) sign Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease open letter to presidential candidates.
  • The 2015 New Establishment Summit hosted by Vanity Fair in association with the Aspen Institute, brought in the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Bob Iger, Elon Musk, Jared Leto, and Lena Dunham.
  • The problem with Turkey's think tanks. 
  • Book review of "How Think Tanks Shape Social Policy Development.
  • Flashback: MSNBC's Chris Hayes spars with Employment Policy Institute over think tank moniker.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Former DC Mayor Fighting Powerful DC Think Tank

While the Brookings Institution, Heritage Foundation and other think tank behemoths battle each other over policy priorities, an enormous amount of policy battles are taking place under-the-radar at state-level think tanks across the country.

The Washington Post details one battle that is going in within Washington, DC:
[Former DC Mayor Anthony Williams's] preference for staying out of the limelight seemed to fit perfectly with his job at the Federal City Council, the historically insular group of business executives, when he took the helm in 2012. The idea was to influence policymaking behind the scenes, building on a tradition of guiding ambitious civic projects that can reshape the city over a generation or longer. The group has pushed for school reform, for example, and long ago championed the building of the Metro system.
But in an era of hashtags, viral videos and online petitions, Williams is stepping out from behind the curtain again. This time, it’s to expand the group’s mission to push out research and lobby on behalf of big business in front of D.C. Council.
His group has sized up a powerful rival in the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, a think tank on local issues that was established by the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
To the chagrin of Williams’s executives, the District has advanced a series of the think tank’s priorities, passing a major increase to the minimum wage and proposing family leave and other worker protections that, if approved, would rank among the strongest – and maybe most expensive – in the country.

Here is the homepage of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI).

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Heritage Engaging in Supreme Court Nomination Fight

Heritage Action, the lobbying arm of the think tank Heritage Foundation, is weighing in on the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Antonin Scalia.  Here is more from The Washington Post:
The conservative activist group [Heritage Action] is engaging in a high court nomination fight for the first time, as Obama’s two previous Supreme Court nominees, Sotomayor and Kagan, had already been confirmed by the time Heritage really got off the ground in 2010.
At the beginning of this year, though, the group began laying the groundwork for the current battle. Its leaders met with a number of senators — they declined to name specific offices — urging them to block the confirmation of several Obama appointees to the federal courts who were later confirmed.
“Part of the reason we were so active early on was the thought of, something could happen on the Supreme Court and it would be a defining moment for the Republican Party in how it responded,” said Dan Holler, head of communications for Heritage Action. “It was time to begin framing the debate on judicial nominees.”

Here are some talking points from Heritage Action on the Supreme Court battle.  Among other things, they are calling for the US Senate to refuse to consider any Supreme Court nominee that President Barack Obama puts forward.

Dead Ex-Putin Aide Was in Town for Think Tank Event

Mikhail Lesin, a former aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was found dead last fall in a hotel near think tank row in Washington, DC in what some consider a possible murder, apparently was in town for an event sponsored by a well-known think tank.  Here is more from The Washington Post:
On Nov. 3, two days before his body was found, Lesin was expected at a fundraiser honoring a philanthropist and chief executive of the largest private bank in Russia, along with a Washington socialite and patron of the arts. It was organized by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, which works to build ties between Russia and the West.
Caroline Scullin, a spokeswoman for the institute, confirmed that Lesin had been invited but did not pick up his place card for a table of 10 that cost at least $10,000.

The above-mentioned fundraiser was, more specifically, the Wilson Center's Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Awards Dinner, which took place on November 3, 2015 at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, DC.  It was honoring Petr Aven, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Alfa-Bank Holding.

Sponsorship of that dinner starts at $10,000 and goes all the way up to $100,000.

The Kennan Institute was founded as a division of the Wilson Center in 1974 through the joint initiative of Ambassador George F. Kennan, then Wilson Center Director James Billington, and historian S. Frederick Starr.  The Institute was named in honor of Ambassador Kennan's relative, George Kennan, a nineteenth-century explorer of Russia and Siberia.

Kennan Institute works to improve American expertise and knowledge about Russia, Ukraine, and other states in the region.  In addition to its Washington, DC office, it also operates and office is Kiev, Ukraine.

In 2014, the Kennan Institute shut down its Moscow office amid increased tensions between the US and Russia.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#208)

  • RAND examines threats facing US and how to address them.
  • Nassim Taleb: Think tanks are literally BS vendors.
  • Hoover Inst. fellow Gen. Mattis hosted roundtable with senior military fellows from DC think tanks.
  • Jeffrey Lewis: It's a bad sign when you only hear about a think tank when it changes its name.
  • How Gulf States have used British think tanks.
  • Think tank (New America Foundation) taking aim at federal student loans. 
  • Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer attended events at Brookings...who paid and did he report it?
  • J.W. Mason of progressive Roosevelt Institute supports Bernie Sanders-like big fiscal stimulus, while other liberal economists (such as Austan Goolsbee of CAP) are vehemently against it.
  • China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi visits CSIS. 
  • CNAS proposes bipartisan national security agenda for an election year.

Headhunter to Conservative Think Tanks

How do think tanks get top talent from a large pool of candidates?  At least for conservative think tanks, they have a secret weapon: the recruiting firm called Talent Market.  Here is more from The New York Times:
Over the last year, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a Milwaukee group that has financed decades of research into curbing the power of public sector unions, hired three new staff members: a fund-raiser, an administrative aide and a program officer.

It enlisted a recruiting outfit called Talent Market, which helps staff free-market advocacy groups, think tanks and foundations.
Unlike many long-established job placement services on the right and the left, which devote most of their efforts to posting ads or advising job-seekers, Talent Market is essentially a full-time recruiting operation.
...Talent Market says it has helped over 160 organizations find personnel since its founding in 2009, including prominent ones like the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Charles Koch Foundation.
Job-matching networks that serve a particular ideological niche have been around since at least the 1980s, when the Heritage Foundation created what became a widely trafficked database of jobs with conservative organizations and politicians.

Talent Market currently lists a number of think tanks openings, including at the Acton Institute, Mercatus Center, and a number of state-level think tanks.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Should More Women Run Think Tanks?

A new study ties female leaders to a rise in company profits, leading us to wonder if more women should be running think tanks.  Here is more from the New York Times:
Companies pondering the incentives for increased gender diversity in their executive ranks may need to look no further than the bottom line.
Having women in the highest corporate offices is correlated with increased profitability, according to a new study of nearly 22,000 publicly traded companies in 91 countries.
The study, released Monday by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a nonprofit group based in Washington, and EY, the audit firm formerly known as Ernst & Young, found that despite the apparent economic benefits, many corporations are lacking in gender diversity.
Almost 60 percent of the companies reviewed had no female board members, and more than 50 percent had no female executives. Just under 5 percent had a female chief executive.

The study found that female C.E.O.s did not significantly underperform or overperform when compared with male chief executives. While it found some indications that having more women on boards was correlated with higher profitability, Marcus Noland, the institute’s director of studies, said that “in statistical terms that evidence is not robust.”
But the data was clear about women in top management positions. An increase in the share of women from zero to 30 percent would be associated with a 15 percent rise in profitability, Mr. Noland said.

And just for the record, the Peterson Institute, the think tank that conducted the above-mentioned study, does not have and never has had a woman leader.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece about women rating their think tanks poorly.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Obama Disses Think Tanks

Now that President Barack Obama is less than a year away from leaving office, he can start to speak his mind and let off some steam.  And what is on his mind about think tanks is not pretty.  The truth: He really doesn't like many of them.

In a lengthy piece about President Obama, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg reports this:
By 2013, Obama’s resentments were well developed. He resented military leaders who believed they could fix any problem if the commander in chief would simply give them what they wanted, and he resented the foreign-policy think-tank complex. A widely held sentiment inside the White House is that many of the most prominent foreign-policy think tanks in Washington are doing the bidding of their Arab and pro-Israel funders. I’ve heard one administration official refer to Massachusetts Avenue, the home of many of these think tanks, as “Arab-occupied territory.”

Foreign Policy highlighted this quote in a piece entitled "Obama, Uncensored: National Security Edition."  Under the subtitle "Rage Against Think Tanks," FP notes that a common theme throughout The Atlantic article is President Obama's "frustration with Washington's pundit class, which Obama said seeks to enforce a 'playbook' to world events that often involves 'militarized responses.'"

Think Tank Watch finds it a bit ironic that President Obama dislikes a number of think tanks while many of his top foreign policy aides were hand-picked directly from think tank land, including the Brookings Institution, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and Center for American Progress (CAP).

Here is a Think Tank Watch list of Obama Administration officials who have taken the "revolving door" from government work into the think tank world.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on President Obama's "favorite" think tank.

Now that President Obama will be staying in Washington, DC for at least a couple of years, will he be joining a think tank or starting his own?  Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on that very question.

Our guess is that he won't be living anywhere near think tank row...

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Think Tanks Salivate at Nike Leaders' $400 Million Pledge

The head of Nike, Philip Knight, has pledged to give $400 million to Stanford University.  Think Tank Watch hears that think tank fundraisers are drooling at the prospect of such a large money haul.

Here is more:
Philip H. Knight, the co-founder and chairman of Nike Inc., said on Monday that he had pledged to give Stanford University $400 million to recruit graduate students around the globe to address society’s most intractable problems, including poverty and climate change.
The gift to the new Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program, which is modeled on the Rhodes scholarships, matches one of the largest individual donations ever to a university, the $400 million that John A. Paulson, the hedge fund tycoon, gave to Harvard last year to improve its engineering school. The Stanford project is meant to improve the world.
These kinds of megagifts to elite universities have their critics, who argue they are more about prestige and ego than academic excellence.
According to the Council for Aid to Education, less than 1 percent of the nation’s colleges received 28.7 percent of all gifts in 2015.

Of course, Knight already gives money to think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, where he sits on the Board of Trustees.  And of course, there is the Philip Knight Chair in Japan Studies at Brookings, which was established by a "generous gift" from Philip Knight (as well as a grant from the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership).

But in general colleges and universities get the really big money gifts from millionaires and billionaires, while think tanks are left with the crumbs...

In this article, think tank scholar Elizabeth Baylor, Director for Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress (CAP), analyzes the gift to Stanford.

Should big name philanthropists like Mr. Knight worry about how history will just their gifts?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Think Tank Watch Exclusive: UPenn Paid by the Think Tanks it Ranks

Here is another reason to take the University of Pennsylvania annual think tank rankings a little less seriously: The think tank program that conducts the study is taking money from the think tanks it ranks.

Think Tank Watch has learned that the University of Pennsylvania's Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP), which conducts and produces the much-anticipated annual think tank rankings, has taken money from a number of think tanks that it ranks in its annual rankings.  Furthermore, TTCSP does not disclose this fact anywhere in its annual report.

We find it quite ironic that TTCSP is now launching the "Assuring Quality, Integrity, and Independence (QII) Project" when it appears that TTCSP has none of that.

According to an email sent to Think Tank Watch, think tanks that have given money to TTCSP include Atlantic Council, Brookings Institution, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School, Bruegel, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Hudson Institute, Urban Institute, and the Wilson Center.

While it is unclear if there is any type of "pay to play" going on, we would note that all of those think tanks get extremely high rankings in numerous categories in UPenn's think rank rankings.  Manipulation of data, favoritism, and pay to play schemes are quite prevalent across the globe.

TTCSP has suggested to Think Tank Watch that no funny business is going on, noting that donations to the QII project were capped at $1,000 "to ensure that no one think tank could be advantaged."  TTCSP also noted that donation requests were made to 7,000 think tanks, and thus, nearly all the world's think tanks had a chance to give TTCSP money.  We should add that TTCSP has not responded to questions about other potential funding it has taken from think tanks.

In the past, Think Tank Watch has written about a number of flaws with UPenn's think tank rankings.  Nevertheless, it is still considered the world's most comprehensive ranking of think tanks, and it is sometimes touted as the "think tank Oscars."  Oh, and Think Tank Watch finds them quite useful, even with all of its deep flaws.

Update: The best tweet summarizing what UPenn's think tank program is saying comes from Joe Miller, who had this to say:

Monday, March 7, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#207)

  • Did former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli spy on think tanks?
  • NoMa neighborhood in DC, home of think tanks, has an affinity for nerds?
  • Washington region to get professional counseling from Brookings and JPMorgan Chase to boost exports.
  • New CSIS study says balance of military power in Asia-Pacific region tilting against US.
  • Local Progress, club behind a blitz of new laws in US cities, first met at Center for American Progress.
  • AEI scholars weigh in on the 2016 presidential debate.
  • CSIS sponsors new commission on violent extremism (CSIS Commission on Countering Violent Extremism) with former British PM Tony Blair and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. 
  • CSIS: China may be installing radar system in disputed islands.
  • How do free-market think tanks rank on social media?
  • Think tanks do government thinking on TPP.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Franklin Foer Defends Think Tank Land

Franklin Foer, a Fellow at the New America Foundation (NAF), has recently come out in defense of Washington, DC and its think tank community:
...Ignore, for a minute, the folks who make law on Capitol Hill.  They come and go.  Instead, consider mandarin Washington, the permanent denizens of the think tanks and interest groups, consulting shops and law firms.  There are charlatans in all of those locales, of course,  But they're exceptions.  The city attracts idealists more than any other place.  And over their career, these idealists can become experts.  They come to understand how systems work, how problems can be solved.
Yes, their stock-in-trade is abstractions: statistics, seminars, social science.  But those abstractions - that out-of-touchness, if you will - are the very things that help our technocrats rise above parochialism.  They don't worry about the effects of policies on their neighbor or on the business around the corner.  Sure, our wonks have a point of view, an ideology even.  But they cast their arguments in terms of national interest, and they mean it.

Mr. Foer is currently writing a book about the threat that big technology companies pose to the future of thinking.  He was previously the editor of the New Republic magazine, and has been a staff writer at Slate and New York magazine.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Women Rate Their Think Tanks Poorly

A new website called InHerSight allows women to rate their workplace in order to help other women find and improve workplaces.

Think Tank Watch has conducted a search of major think tanks in Washington, DC, and the results do not shine a positive light on think tanks.  Following are some of the findings:

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) was rated a 1.8 out of 5 by women.
  • Brookings Institution was rated a 2.4 out of 5.
  • RAND Corporation was rated a 3.6 out of 5.
  • Urban Institute was rated a 3.9 out of 5.
  • Center for American Progress was rated a 4.4 out of 5.

As of our analysis, many think tanks were not on the list, including Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), and Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch post on a new group that is highlighting diversity problems at think tanks.