Monday, October 31, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#240)

  • Pic: Your typical think tank at 6pm on Friday. 
  • Are national security think tanks being influenced by their mega donors?
  • David Sirota: Lots of people at Clinton think tanks telling journalists how they should report on Clinton.
  • More details of Clinton's tax policy plan emerge in think tank report.
  • Prominent Chinese businessman resigns as chairman of Sydney think tank following involvement in political scandal.
  • Think tank report says Trump would increase national debt by $5.3 trillion over 10 years.
  • George Osborne opens think tank.
  • Meet the world's newest free-market think tank: The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (FREOPP).
  • A conservative think tank flirts with authoritarianism for Donald Trump.
  • The nerds of Heritage Foundation. 
  • Think Tank Hub Geneva - providing a space for think tanks.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Leaked Emails Show Inside Operations of Influential Think Tank

The founder of one of the US's most influential think tanks was recently hacked and thousands of his emails have been released to the public, with many more to come.

John Podesta, the founder of the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP), who sits on the think tanks Board of Directors, is the Chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Here is some recent coverage of the hack:
  • Leaked emails highlight close ties between Clinton campaign and leading Democratic think tank. 
  • Washington Post: CAP officials have played prominent behind-the-scenes role assisting Clinton; Tanden offered CAP's resources; says advising campaign in her personal capacity.
  • Politico is liveblogging the email leaks.
  • Podesta said Russian spies hacked his email to sway the election.
  • Here is what CBS News has to say.
  • Daily Caller says that the "liberal media" is ignoring the leaks.
  • Washington Post reporter spiked info. about Podesta conflicts of interest.
  • Here is The Hill coverage on the leaks.
  • The Washington Examiner notes that John Podesta's brother, Tony Podesta, had special access to the White House.
  • Politico reports that Podesta accused Roger Stone of colluding with WikiLeaks. 
  • The Intercept: CAP advised Clinton team against $15 minimum wage. 
  • Washington Examiner: CAP head faces liberal wrath after email leak.
  • Daily Caller: ThinkProgress trashes a climate expert's career to appease a Hillary donor.
  • The Weekly Standard: Liberal think tank freaks out.
  • CNN's Jake Tapper rips into Podesta, ThinkProgress over "untrue" reporting.
  • Washington Free Beacon: Liberal think tank freaked out at SNL's criticism of donors.
  • Fox: Clinton think tank ally emerges in emails as scathing critic.
  • Podesta on Nicki Minaj: "Booty Equity."
  • Is the age of Neeras and Human upon us?
  • Washington Post's Dan Zak refers to CAP as "brain box." 
  • The Intercept: At Hillary's favorite think tank a doubling down on anti-Iran, pro-Saudi policy.
  • Greenpeace sought Podesta's help to reach out to India's Modi.
  • Leaks Lay Bare a Longtime Clinton Adviser's Unflinching Straight Talk.

The emails can be found on WikiLeaks, a number of which reference CAP.

Even with all the leaked emails, Politico said today that John Podesta still tops the list to be Clinton's chief of staff.  CAP's current president and CEO, Neera Tanden (described as Clinton's "go-to brain trust on domestic policy issues), is also near the top of the list for that position.

The Think Tanker Behind Huge DoD Robot Arms Race

A former top think tank official is behind the US Department of Defense's huge push into the robot arms race and what is known as centaur warfighting.

Here is more from The New York Times:
Almost unnoticed outside defense circles, the Pentagon has put artificial intelligence at the center of its strategy to maintain the United States’ position as the world’s dominant military power. It is spending billions of dollars to develop what it calls autonomous and semiautonomous weapons and to build an arsenal stocked with the kind of weaponry that until now has existed only in Hollywood movies and science fiction, raising alarm among scientists and activists concerned by the implications of a robot arms race.
 “China and Russia are developing battle networks that are as good as our own. They can see as far as ours can see; they can throw guided munitions as far as we can,” said Robert O. Work, the deputy defense secretary, who has been a driving force for the development of autonomous weapons. “What we want to do is just make sure that we would be able to win as quickly as we have been able to do in the past.”
Mr. Work, 63, first proposed the concept [of centaur warfighting] when he led a Washington think tank, the Center for a New American Security. His inspiration, he said, was not found in typical sources of military strategy — Sun Tzu or Clausewitz, for instance — but in the work of Tyler Cowen, a blogger and economist at George Mason University.
In his 2013 book, “Average Is Over,” Mr. Cowen briefly mentioned how two average human chess players, working with three regular computers, were able to beat both human chess champions and chess-playing supercomputers.
It was a revelation for Mr. Work. You could “use the tactical ingenuity of the computer to improve the strategic ingenuity of the human,” he said.

Although the article does not mention it, Think Tank Watch should point out that Tyler Cowen also hails from the think tank world, as General Director of the libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center. 

As for Mr. Work, he still has extremely close ties to the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and speaks there from time to time.  Robert Works' biography can be found here.

Michele Flournoy, who is Hillary Clinton's likely pick for Defense secretary if she becomes president, is Co-Founder and CEO of CNAS.  Her think tank biography can be found here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Trump Team Targets Think Tanks; Claims Sabotage

Here is more from The Washington Post:
Two of Donald Trump's senior policy advisers argue that powerful interests have aligned to rig a long-standing institution of American presidential elections against their candidate — a conspiracy that has nothing to do with campaigning or casting votes, and everything to do with economics.
Economist Peter Navarro of the University of California at Irvine and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross say Washington think tanks — the time-honored forecasters of how candidates' economic plans might change the country — have conspired to underrate the job-creation potential of the Republican nominee's proposals and overstate how much they would add to the federal debt.
The duo say those think tanks are acting to boost Democrat Hillary Clinton and to advance the interests of large corporations that fund their research, and that news reporters are playing along. The think tanks reject the claims, saying the Trump campaign is simply practicing bad economics.
[The Trump team] said the forces working against Trump include corporations channeling money to supposedly independent researchers to promote their business interests, journalists who lack "the ethics or responsibility" to report the truth on complicated policy matters and an organization that Navarro calls "the Darth Vader of globalism."
"There's no conspiracy," said Marcus Noland, executive vice president and director of studies at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a think tank Navarro dubbed "the Darth Vader of globalism" in the interview.

Among the other think tanks that the Trump team has issues with is the Tax Policy Center (TPC).

It should be noted, however, that the Trump team has also embraced certain think tanks, such as the conservative Heritage Foundation, and has a number of think tankers advising the campaign.

Think Tank Quickies (#239)

  • Saudis hired DC lobbyists to enlist think tanks to kill 9/11 victims bill? 
  • King Hussein of Jordan: Think tanks in the West seem to know better than we supposedly know ourselves.
  • Global think tank summit in Montreal.
  • Think tanks and good governance (English and Spanish).
  • Vermont think tank (Ethan Allen Institute) launches campaign against carbon tax.
  • The State Department's professional fellows think tank program.
  • How Mises Institute beats the DC think tanks.
  • Just because you're a think tank it doesn't mean you have to be boring.
  • Pic of India-Russia think tank summit.
  • Scottish Conservative MEP appointed adviser to Arnold Schwarzenegger's think tank.

Think Tank Presence Slim at Obama's Last State Dinner

It was the last chance for think tankers to get invited to a President Barack Obama state dinner, and only two think tankers made the cut to honor Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi to the White House.

The two who made it were Robert Kagan, a Senior Fellow with the Project on International Order and Strategy at the Brookings Institution, and Jane Harman, Director, President, and CEO of the Wilson Center.

It helps that Kagan is the husband of Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

Interestingly, Mae Podesta, the daughter of Center for American Progress (CAP) founder John Podesta, also made the list.  Perhaps Mr. Podesta was going to go but become a bit too preoccupied with his ongoing email issues.

Earlier in the year Think Tank Watch wrote about the likelihood of think tankers being invited to a White House state dinner.  Basically, it doesn't happen too often.

Why not?  Part of the reason is that the current president and those who advise him do not see eye to eye on a number of issues.  In fact, many at the White House refer to Washington's foreign policy elite (i.e., think tankers) as "The Blob."

But do not fret all you think tankers.  For if you you did not get your invitation these past eight years, a new administration will always bring more opportunities.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Major Think Tank Reports Seek to Influence New Administration

Think tankers are quietly writing a slew a major policy reports that will likely shape the future of US foreign policy for years to come.

Here is more from The Washington Post:
The Republicans and Democrats who make up the foreign policy elite are laying the groundwork for a more assertive American foreign policy, via a flurry of reports shaped by officials who are likely to play senior roles in a potential Clinton White House.
It is not unusual for Washington’s establishment to launch major studies in the final months of an administration to correct the perceived mistakes of a president or influence his successor. But the bipartisan nature of the recent recommendations, coming at a time when the country has never been more polarized, reflects a remarkable consensus among the foreign policy elite.
This consensus is driven by a broad-based backlash against a president who has repeatedly stressed the dangers of overreach and the need for restraint, especially in the Middle East. 
“The American-led international order that has been prevalent since World War II is now under threat,” said Martin Indyk, who oversees a team of top former officials from the administrations of Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton assembled by the Brookings Institution. “The question is how to restore and renovate it.” The Brookings report — a year in the making — is due out in December.
Taken together, the studies and reports call for more-aggressive American action to constrain Iran, rein in the chaos in the Middle East and check Russia in Europe.

The article notes that other think tanks (besides Brookings) have recently released or are set to release their own foreign policy prescriptions for the incoming administration.  One example is the Center for American Progress (CAP), which just released a report calling for renewed engagement with long-standing partners in the Middle East.

The article also notes that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is leading a bipartisan and international team looking at US strategy in the Middle East for the think tank Atlantic Council.

But many of these think tanks will wait a few more weeks to release certain reports because the Obama Administration will instantly dismiss them.  As Derek Chollet, a former top Obama Administration official and Counselor/Senior Advisor at The German Marshall Fund (GMFUS) said, "many inside the White House regularly dismissed calls for military force from the foreign policy establishment as the product of 'too much college and not enough knowledge.'"

As the Washington Post points out, some White House officials "derisively referred to Washington's foreign policy experts as 'The Blob.'"

Update: In response to the Washington Post article, a reader from Delaware asked in the newspaper's "Free For All" Section: "Who are the foreign policy elite?  How are they chosen?  How does one identify eliteness?  If elites want to urge the nation into any and all conflicts from the well-paid security of their 'think tanks' (and how many of those things are there anyway?), lest we be deemed not 'muscular' enough, shouldn't the rest of us at least be told what the criteria are to determine their eliteness?  And why do they always seem to be belligerent?  Do they need reassurance, or do they merely have books to sell?"

The First Rule of Getting a Job with Clinton: Know John Podesta

The first rule of getting a job in the Clinton Administration: Know John Podesta, the founder of the think tank Center for American Progress (CAP).

Here is more from Politico:
 If you're wondering how to get a job in a Hillary Clinton White House, start by reading campaign chairman John Podesta's hacked emails.

From a billionaire plugging a federal official for a cabinet appointment to Podesta himself plugging the daughter of a friend for an internship, the trove of Podesta’s correspondence posted by WikiLeaks is a portrait of Washington insiderism, showing powerful people turning into supplicants using connections and flattery.
A new president has 4,000 political appointments to dole out. And as Podesta went from running a think tank to serving as a counselor to Barack Obama to joining the Clinton campaign, everybody from high-ranking officials to college undergraduates jockeyed to get themselves or their friends onto his radar.
In 2014 Podesta himself appeared to put in a good word with his former Center for American Progress colleagues on behalf of the daughter of a friend who had recently applied to an internship at the think tank. She ended up getting the internship, according to the email.

As you can see, if also pays to know Mr. Podesta when you want to work at CAP, a think tank that houses many scholars who will likely soon be working in a Clinton Administration.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#238)

  • Executive from leading US think tank: Think tanks should be elitist.
  • Brookings on why checks don't clear instantly.
  • Lowy Institute analysis: US may become a rogue superpower under Trump.
  • Documentary on neocons permeating DC's think tanks.
  • Brookings scholars pitch their best ideas for fixing America's challenges; Calls on DOJ to embrace mass hacking.
  • Hundreds of think tank nerds descend on Nashville.
  • AEI's YouTube channel has around 100k followers (biggest of any think tank).
  • List of UK think tanks' Twitter accounts.
  • Conservative think tankers say vote for Trump.
  • Cato Institute documents the number of federal subsidy programs.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Think Tanks Trying to Influence Final Presidential Debate

Numerous think tanks have been working closely with presidential candidates offering policy papers, advice, and teams of scholars to quickly pen reports and opinions on the hottest topics of the day.

Think tanks have also been trying to get debate moderators to ask certain questions.  Here is the latest example from Politico:
Several think tanks have posted foreign policy and national security-related questions for the third presidential debate, including the Brookings Institution and the Center for a New American Security. Among the familiar themes: Military force in Syria (a topic the Bipartisan Policy Center also highlighted), Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Baltics and the terrorism fight.

Hundreds of think tankers are directly and indirectly advising both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and just like past debates, we anticipate a number of think tanks will be doing real-time fact-checking for this debate as well.

Here is a look at what some specific think tanks are doing for tonight's festivities:
  • Scholars from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) are live on Facebook discussing foreign policy and tonight's debate.
  • Brookings scholars are on the ground in Las Vegas where the debate is taking place. 
  • Cato Institute's list of scholars live-tweeting the debate.
  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is asking people to follow its Twitter feed for scholar reaction.

This is how think tankers are really preparing for tonight's debate.

Harvard: Journalists Need to do a Better Job Citing Think Tanks

Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy has just issued a new tip sheet to help journalists in citing think tanks.

The tip sheet was released in the wake of the damning New York Times pieces in August which called out a number of think tanks for their pay-for-play culture.

Only a handful of think tanks are truly unbiased, and thus, it is important for anyone quoting think tanks and think tankers to mention what biases may be present (political leanings, funding biases, etc...).

One important point the tip sheet explains is the use of "nonpartisan" that many think tanks have wrongly adopted to describe themselves, saying that there is "little legal criteria for adopting the rubric and a nonpartisan group could, in theory, still have a political leaning."

One example that immediately comes to mind in the ultra-liberal, union-backed think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which says it is "independent and nonpartisan."

The center-left Brookings Institution also calls itself nonpartisan but clearly leans Democratic and heavily supports President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.  [Here is the "nonpartisan policy" of Brookings from the think tank's Office of General Counsel.]

The think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) also calls itself "nonpartisan" when it is clearly conservative.

The tip sheet has, among other things, a definition of "think tank," examples of conflicts of interest, precautions to take when citing think tank rankings, Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) issues, and other resources for journalists.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Think Tank Quickies (#237)

  • Why college (and think tank) rankings are a joke.
  • New rules to put chill on think tank hiring of executive branch officials?
  • RAND Corp. analyzed the Trump and Clinton health plans.
  • Susan Rice to announce new Presidential Directive on Cuba Oct. 14 at Wilson Center. 
  • New Canadian think tank True North launches.
  • During 2nd presidential debate Brookings and Center for American Progress (CAP) did real-time fact-checking on Donald Trump.
  • Adam Johnson: Gonna start a sham think tank with a really generic but official sounding name (Center for World Policy) & hand out "fellowships" to my buddies.
  • Start-up think tank (Tax Revolution Institute, or TRI) on a mission to audit the IRS.
  • When think tanks get bored.
  • Bloomberg: Communist China turns to independent think tanks; Cheng Li says Xi Jinping emphasizes role of think tanks more than any leader in China's history.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Brookings Turns 100 And Pivots Amid Rocky Stretch

On October 1, 2016, as the venerable Brookings Institution turned 100, it issued "Brookings 2.0," a plan for its second century.

Brookings's new goals fall under five categories:
  1. Tightening its focus
  2. Enhancing its influence and relevance
  3. Promoting a culture of collaboration
  4. Advancing inclusion and diversity
  5. Reinforcing efficiency and sustainability

Among other things, the think tanks says it is reissuing Brookings Classics, books from the think tank's past that are relevant to some of today's issues.  A podcast celebrating Brookings centenary can be found here.

In conjunction with its big birthday, the think tank had announced an initiative to raise $600 million.

A timeline of Brookings, including all of its past logos, can be found here.  A showcase of the impact of the work by the think tank's scholars can be found here.

Brookings notes that it has come a long way since 1916, when it had only 13 staff members; that compares to the 500+ it has now.  Brookings has also joined Snapchat.

We should note that all is not birthday cakes and roses for Brookings.  After all, the think tank has received huge amounts of negative press about pay-for-play schemes and close ties to corporations and foreign governments.  And recent investigative reports show that the think tank has been unable to shake off this decades-old stigma.

The new book "Right Moves: The Conservative Think Tank in American Political Culture Since 1945," says that even in the 1950s Brookings was perceived as "anything but free from special interests."  It adds: "By the post-World War II period, Brookings had gained a reputation, especially among liberals, as a spokesman for big business."

The book also notes that Brookings played a key role in selling the Iraq war to the American public and government.  "The advocacy of think tanks like Brookings...helped create a consensus around the invasion of Iraq."

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

UPenn Think Tank Rankings Tainted by Brookings Connection

There is one more reason to put a little less faith in the much-anticipated think tank rankings put out by the University of Pennsylvania: The professor who conducts the rankings just had his new book published by the Brookings Institution, the very think tank that he has repeatedly ranked as the world's best think tank.

While there is not necessarily a quid pro quo going on, there is certainly an appearance of one.  After all, are you going to downgrade a think tank or give it unfavorable treatment if that very think tank is publishing your book?

The book, entitled The Fifth Estate: Think Tanks, Public Policy, and Governance, was written by James McGann, the Director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the University of Pennsylvania.  Dr. McGann, a passionate supporter of think tanks, publishes an annual ranking of the world's think tanks.

The latest rankings, released earlier in 2016, list Brookings as the world's #1 think tank.  Brookings touts this fact in its annual report and elsewhere, and UPenn touts this fact, saying that "the Brookings Institution's high quality think tank brand helped secure" the top global think tank ranking.

Earlier in the year, we wrote about how the University of Pennsylvania was paid by the very think tank it ranks for the study.

In August, when questioned on a radio show about his close connections to think tanks, Dr. McGann said it is "absolutely false" to say that his organization is funded or supported by think tanks.

Here is what he went on to say:
My salary is entirely paid by the University of Pennsylvania.  My office is paid by the University of Pennsylvania, and my principal responsibilities are teaching and research.  I have been doing this for 30 years.  Any funds that have been provided by think tanks have not come to me directly, with the exception of a $1,000 contribution [per think tank] from 25 or 30 think tanks for a study designed to focus on...think tanks.  There are funds provided, which I have helped raise for summits of think tanks in Africa and Latin America, but none of that goes to me.  It goes to the institutions to help convene think tanks and talk about these very issues.

In other words, contrary to his initial defense, Dr. McGann admitted that he does indeed receive money from think tanks.

To be fair, while not perfect, Dr. McGann's think tank rankings are by far the most comprehensive global think tank rankings available.  But putting trust in them is a different story...

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

New Book Describes Think Tank Panels

Eliot Nelson, a reporter for the Huffington Post, has just written a book called "The Beltway Bible: A Totally Serious A-Z Guide to Our No-Good, Corrupt, Incompetent, Terrible, Depressing and Sometimes Hilarious Government."

Here is an excerpt from the book about panels (including think tank panels):
The convening of experts in sofa chairs or on barstools to furrow their brows and prove how qualified they are to opine about emerging government transparency regimes in the Balkans.
Most panel titles follow a similar blueprint, featuring a catchy statement or question followed by a description of the event — something along the lines of “Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey? Examining Knobs in the 21st Century” or “You Say, ‘Potato,’ I Say, ‘Where’s the Lactation Room?’ Updating OSHA Regulations for Today’s Working Parents.”
Friends in Washington invite you to their panels the way friends everywhere else invite you to their improv shows. Do you feel compelled to attend? Yes. Will you enjoy it? No. Will your friend not shut up about it on social media? Of course not.

Check out past entries from Think Tank Watch for more commentary about think tank panels.