Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Think Tank Chief Turns Down No. 2 Job at DoD

Michele Flournoy, the Co-Founder and CEO of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), has reportedly turned down the No. 2 job at the Department of Defense.

Here is some more from Business Insider:

Michèle Flournoy met with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in December about coming on board as his deputy, but she ultimately turned down the job. 
A roundtable discussion in Politico Magazine published on Monday finally reveals why: Her own conscience would have made it difficult.
"When [Mattis] called me to ask me to consider ways to help, I had to give it due consideration," Flournoy told Politico's Susan Glasser. "But I also knew that he needed a deputy who wouldn't be struggling every other day about whether they could be part of some of the policies that were likely to take shape."
Flournoy, a cofounder of the Center for a New American Security, has served in a variety of top roles within the Pentagon in the past, and was considered a top pick for Secretary of Defense if Hillary Clinton had won. She most recently served during the Obama administration as undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon, a highly-influential job that Mattis is still trying to get filled.

While there may be some policy differences and too many uncertainties about the Trump Administration, one thing is clear - she would have taken a significant pay cut if she switched jobs.  In 2014 she made $282,208 at the think tank, but the DEPSECDEF job only pays about $185,000.

Think Tank Quickies (#256)

  • Ukraine's foreign minister held meetings with leading US think tanks, including Atlantic Council and Heritage Foundation.
  • Will it take a miracle to fix West Virginia, or just a think tank?
  • Should think tanks buy ads on Morning Joe to get attention?
  • Keep track of ongoing conflicts with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) "Global Conflict Tracker."
  • AEI holds annual West Coast Policy Summit.
  • Foreign policy think tank exchange.
  • Tension at Pakistan event at Hudson Institute (including yelling!).
  • Dr. James McGann (UPenn rankings) speaks at IASS in Potsdam on think tanks in a changing world.
  • NYT pledges to avoid citing opaque think tanks.
  • Brookings scholar Norm Eisen offers to help Nordstrom, others sue President Trump.
  • LSE event on March 2: "Has Trump 'Trumped' Think Tanks and the Political Establishment?"

Monday, February 27, 2017

More Whispers About the White House's Internal Think Tank

Little has been publicly said about the White House's new internal think tank, but details have been slowly spilling out publicly.

Here is more from Josh Rogin of The Washington Post:
The Strategic Initiatives Group grew out of [Stephen] Bannon's admiration for the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, the internal think tank that is meant to consider long-term, over the horizon strategic challenges, the official said. In a four-year presidential term, long-term may be only months, but the Strategic Initiatives Group is not designed to fight the day-to-day battles over issues in the news.

Some call the Strategic Initiatives Group Bannon's internal think tank. It's led by Christopher Liddell, a former General Motors executive who hails from New Zealand. Goldman Sachs executive Dina Powell is also heavily involved, along with Baltimore real estate developer Reed Cordish. On the national security side is Sebastian Gorka, a controversial pundit and analyst with strong views on how to fight the war against Islamist extremism.

Here is the previous Think Tank Watch post on the White House's internal think tank, which is also being referred to a the "shadow National Security Council."

The only person on the Strategic Initiatives Group (SIG) with previous think tank experience is Sebastian Gorka, who is known as Trump's "Jihad Whisperer."

Gorka worked at the RAND Corporation but left after less than one year to establish his own think tank, the Center for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy.

Later, he and his wife established The Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security (2003-2008).  He was also one of the founding members of the Council on Emerging National Security Affairs (CENSA).

From 2009-2014 he was a Military Affairs Fellow for the National Security Fellowship Program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), and a member of the Strategic Advisers Group at Atlantic Council from 2008-2010.

In 2014 he took a teaching job at Marine Corps University (part of the Defense Department), where his academic chair was funded by Thomas Saunders III, a major Republican Party donor and Chairman of the Heritage Foundation.

Gorka's wife, Katharine Gorka, is currently the President of the think tank Council on Global Security.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

AEI Scholar Hassett to Head Trump's CEA

President Donald Trump continues to fill top White House positions with think tankers, with the latest announcement being that he has chosen Kevin Hassett, a Resident Scholar at American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the think tanks' Director of Research for Domestic Policy, to be the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA).

Here is more from Politico:
President Donald Trump is close to nominating conservative economist Kevin Hassett to be chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, people familiar with the matter said.
The selection of Hassett, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and strong advocate for a corporate tax cut, would come after a long wait for the president to pick someone to lead an office that will play a key role in crafting economic projections for the administration’s tax and budget plans.

Hassett, who is also the think tanks' State Farm James Q. Wilson Chair in American Politics and Culture, has previous experience with the executive branch, having served as a policy consultant to the US Department of Treasury during the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.

His think tank biography says that he also served as an economic adviser to the George W. Bush 2004 presidential campaign, a senior economic adviser to the McCain 2008 presidential campaign, and an economic adviser to the Mitt Romney 2012 presidential campaign.

Hassett, like most others at AEI, is considered a "fairly mainstream free-market conservative."

A good analysis of Hassett has been done by Vox.

All of Hassett's think tank writings can be found here.  

Jason Furman, the CEA under President Barack Obama, recently landed in think tank land, as a Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE).

A few days ago President Trump appointed another think tanker, H.R. McMaster, to be his National Security Adviser.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Why Your Think Tank Report Will Never Get Read

Human attention spans may be shrinking rapidly (Microsoft has noted that our attention spans are down to eight seconds), but that is not the only reason why your think tank report likely will never be read.

Here is more from Joe Miller, the Director of Digital Media Strategy at Eastern Research Group, Inc. (ERG), who was formerly at the Century Foundation, Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and FactCheck.org:

  • If you work anywhere near D.C., you’re probably pretty good at producing reports. In 2015, the U.S. Congress alone officially requested around 4,300 written reports. Tens—perhaps even hundreds—of thousands more are generated inside federal agencies, government contractors, think tanks, and other nonprofits.
  • The Internet has broken traditional publishing models. The gatekeepers are gone. Your report now competes with a billion publishers creating content across a million channels.
  • The Internet is so much faster at finding answers that we’ve grown a bit impatient. We want answers on the first click, and we don’t want to have to do a lot of reading once we make that click.  That means users don’t much like PDFs.
  • If your content is inside a PDF, it's probably not going to get read.  In 2014, the World Bank conducted a study of its website traffic to determine how people were using its reports.  What they found is that 1/3 of its reports had never been downloaded.  Indeed, only 13% of all World Bank reports were downloaded more than 250 times.
  • PDFs are hard to scan.  And on the Internet, users love to scan text.  A Nielson study found that users read only about 20% of the text on a given page.

We should note that even if people are reading your report or scanning it (whether PDF or other format), it is very likely that they will still only read just a small portion of the document.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch report on the overabundance of think tank reports.  [This pic describes how Think Tank Watch feels poring through all of them.]

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on why Donald Trump will probably never read a think tank report during his time in office.

Does this all mean that think tank reports should be shorter?  Do they need to upgrade their products?

Does this mean that think tanks are dead, or just obsolete?

Think Tank Quickies (#255)

  • World Resources Institute holds third annual Food Tank DC Summit.
  • The think tanks influencing President Trump's energy agenda.
  • Think tanks look to influence Trump with economic message on immigration.
  • Nassim Taleb: "Just as 'political science' doesn't have any science, 'think tanks' are for people who don't and can't think."
  • China shuts website, social media accounts of liberal economics think tank.
  • CEI criticized NYT story on EPA chief Scott Pruitt.
  • Asia Society event: Policymaking in turbulent times - the role of think tanks.
  • Wilson Center head Jane Harman moderates panel at Munich Security Conference.
  • William Antholis, former Managing Director at Brookings, now runs Miller Center "think tank" at the University of Virginia (UVA).
  • Some post-docs pay more than think tank gigs?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

US-North Korea Talks Being Organized by Think Tanker

Former US government officials plan to hold talks with the North Koreans in the United States, and the meeting is being organized by a think tanker.  Here is more from the Washington Post:
The planned talks are being organized by Donald S. Zagoria of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, who served as a consultant on Asia during the Carter administration and has organized previous rounds of such talks. Zagoria declined to comment on the preparations.
The talks would be run independently of the State Department, where officials have privately questioned the utility of such discussions. But if the administration issued the visas, it would be an implicit seal of approval. And if the discussions go well, they could pave the way for official talks.

Zagoria, who works at NCAFP, used to work at RAND Corporation, a think tank deeply connected to the US governemnt.  His biography also notes that he is "actively involved" with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York.

Update: The talks have reportedly been cancelled.

Harvard's New Tool to Search 600+ Think Tanks

Want to know what hundreds of think tanks are saying about a particular issue?  Instead of going to each think tank site individually, there are now several tools that allow you to search those think tanks with the click of a button.

Harvard University is the latest entity to provide such a tool.  Called "Think Tank Search," it allows users to freely search 670 think tank websites using keywords.

Others that provide a similar search feature include the University of Oregon's "American Policy Directory," as well as Find Policy, a side project of Transparify that allows users to search think tank sites grouped by topic (such as climate, economy, and foreign policy).

As Tenure is Targeted, Will More Academics Become Think Tankers?

Republican lawmakers are targeting tenure at universities, which leads Think Tank Watch to wonder if more professors may choose to move to think tanks for more safety (and money?).

Here is more from The Wall Street Journal:
For decades, tenured professors held some of the most prestigious and secure jobs in the U.S. Now, their status is under attack at public and private colleges alike.
In states facing budget pressures such as Missouri, North Dakota and Iowa, Republican lawmakers have introduced bills for the current legislative sessions to eliminate tenure, cut back its protections or create added hoops that tenured faculty at public colleges must jump through to keep their jobs. University administrators, struggling to shave their costs, are trying to limit the ranks of tenured professors or make it easier to fire them.
The institution of tenure—which provides job security and perks like regular sabbaticals—began in the U.S. early in the 20th century as a bulwark against interference from administrators, corporate interests and politicians who might not like professors’ opinions or agree with their research.
Attacks on tenure have become commonplace in the wake of the recession as reductions in public support for colleges led to steep tuition increases that have driven up student debt and magnified scrutiny on the business practices of universities. Conservative lawmakers also have expressed mounting displeasure with university professors, saying they indoctrinate impressionable students with a liberal point of view.

Think tanks typically don't have a tenure-track, although at many think tanks it takes quite an effort to be fired.

For any professors thinking about moving to think tank land, here is a piece from Ted Bromund (Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation) about moving from academia to a think tank.

It seems as if some Ph.D. students are already thinking the tenure track and considering jobs at think tanks.

Some have also noted that many colleges and universities have become "inhospitable" to certain viewpoints, and thus, they are choosing to become think tankers.

This Wisconsin think tank is urging significant reform in university tenure rules.

Some have said that tenure is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for intellectual boldness.

Does anyone remember the incident in the 1980s when a dispute over granting tenure was seen as a threat to Stanford's think tank (Center for International Security and Arms Control)?

Here is a podcast on leaving tenure to set up an international trade think tanks.

Don't forget to check out Think Tank Watch's think tank salary guide here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

How the Heritage Foundation is Shaping President Trump

Alex Shephard of the New Republic has a new piece entitled "D.C. Think Tank Behind Donald Trump: How the Heritage Foundation is Shaping the President's Playbook."

Here are some of Think Tank Watch's favorite quotes:

  • "No group is more responsible for helping craft Trump's agenda than the Heritage Foundation."
  • "The Heritage-Trump alliance is one of the more improbable developments in an election season that was full of them.  A year ago, Heritage’s political arm dismissed Trump as a distraction, with no track record of allegiance to conservative causes. Today the group’s fingerprints are on virtually every policy Trump advocates, from his economic agenda to his Supreme Court nominees."
  • "The partnership between Trump and the Heritage Foundation represents a return to prominence for the conservative think tanks."
  • "Under George W. Bush Heritage's influence began to wane.  Unlike his father, the younger Bush favored the neoconservative ideas of the Project for the New American Century and the American Enterprise Institute."
  • "With the election of Barack Obama, however, Heritage came roaring back. It sprang into action as a prominent supporter of the Tea Party, paying for demonstrations and staging town hall outbursts that fostered an intense anti-Obama mood among Republicans."
  • "Although the group initially opposed Trump, [Heritage President Jim] DeMint quietly reached out to the candidate last year, offering his group’s assistance."
  • "Now, two decades after it fell from conservative grace, Heritage has regained its standing in the White House."

If you just can't get enough of the Heritage Foundation and President Trump, Think Tank Watch has written numerous pieces about Heritage and the new Trump era, including pieces here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Think Tank Quickies (#254)

  • Why many think tank scholars are fretting about Donald Trump.
  • Think tank cartoon by Cathy Wilcox.
  • Pic: How Think Tank Watch feels poring through think tank reports.
  • "What was Sen. Elizabeth Warren's childhood like?  She grew up in a small liberal think tank in rural Oklahoma" (via The Onion).
  • Brookings scholars: Chinese think tanks - a new "revolving door" for elite recruitment.
  • Time magazine's David Von Drehle: Most modern presidents chart their opening moves with the help of a friendly think tank or a set of long-held beliefs.
  • Do think tankers live longer?
  • How think tanks become engines of royal propaganda (and what their French origins, and their waning and rising relevance to the power structures over the centuries, say about the new Washington).
  • Half of think tanks in UPenn think tank rankings do not exist?
  • A think tank (Berggruen Institute) that looks to Socrates and Confucius for help with today's crises.

Trump Chooses Another Think Tanker for Top Security Post

President Donald Trump continues to rely on think tankers for his top ranks in the Administration, and his newest pick for the National Security Adviser post, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, is a longtime think tanker.

McMaster was a National Security Affairs Fellow at the Hoover Institution from 2002-2003, and is a Visiting Fellow at the think tank, which is housed within Stanford University.  His think tank writings can be found here.

McMaster is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and was formerly a Senior Consulting Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London.

He has also given speeches at a number of other think tanks, including this 2013 event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), this 2014 event there, and another one at that think tank in 2016.

Here is a statement from Hoover Director Tom Gilligan on the appointment of McMaster to the Trump Administration.

McMaster is not the only one from Hoover who now has a top post in the Trump Administration.  For example, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was also affiliated with the think tank.

President Trump Ain't No Think Tanker (Part II)

There is basically zero chance that President Donald Trump is going to read any think tank report during his time in office.

The reason comes from the New York Times:
While Mr. Obama liked policy option papers that were three to six single-spaced pages, [National Security Council] staff members are now being told to keep papers to a single page, with lots of graphics and maps. 
"The president likes maps," one official said.

If only think tank papers were kept to a single page, then we wouldn't have to deal with this.

Part I of "President Trump Ain't No Think Tanker" can be found here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#253)

  • Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal has access to White House press briefings AND gets called on. 
  • Cato Institute issues 8th edition of its bible: Cato Handbook for Policymakers (Reps. Justin Amash and Jim Jordan came to the launch party).
  • Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass has new book: "A World in Disarray."
  • Common Good, a "think tank favoring looser federal regulation."
  • Did you know that the Hudson Institute has a Kleptocracy Initiative?
  • Climate change conference that CDC canceled before President Trump inauguration is now on and will be held at Carter Center.
  • RAND Corp. study: Sleeplessness cost the economy $411 billion a year in lost productivity.
  • US dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016, according to an analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR); 2015 analysis can be found here
  • Transparify: Secret funding for UK think tanks.
  • Think tanks as a supplement to policymaking, via China Daily. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Shady Pharma Lobbyist Had Dirty Think Tank Dealings

The Wall Street Journal has a new piece entitled "The Rise and Fall of a K Street Renegade" which details the scandalous activities of a top lobbyist for pharmaceutical giant Roche/Genentech, including shady activities related to think tank land.

Here is an excerpt:
In one example, Mr. [Evan] Morris hired Mr. Courtovich’s Sphere Consulting in 2012 for $880,000 to do policy work with think tanks, according to documents viewed by the Journal. Genentech paid Sphere two payments of $440,000 each on Nov. 1 and Dec. 1.
On Dec. 10, Mr. Courtovich’s firm sent a payment of $448,986.22 to Mr. Morris’s personal bank account.
Eric Lewis, a lawyer for Mr. Courtovich and Sphere Consulting, said the payment was to reimburse Mr. Morris for personal funds that he said he used for an event with the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. Mr. Lewis provided the Journal with an AEI invoice for $448,986.22 that Mr. Morris gave Sphere.
An AEI spokeswoman said the invoice was falsified.

Here is a picture of the fake AEI invoice.  While it is unclear if AEI ever got any money from Roche/Genentech, Think Tank Watch does know that the company did pay other think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, which received between $500,000 to $999,999 in 2014 from the company.

The pharmaceutical industry's donations to think tanks - both Republican and Democratic - have been well-documented (also here and here and here) and numerous of pharmaceutical companies give generous donations to a number of think tanks in both the US and elsewhere.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

NSC Official Axed After Bashing Trump at Wilson Center

Everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  But everything that happens in a think tank does not necessarily stay in the think tank.

Here is more from Politico:
The White House abruptly dismissed a senior National Security Council aide on Friday after receiving reports that he had publicly laced into the president and his senior aides, including son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump at an event hosted by a Washington think tank.
The aide, Craig Deare, was serving as the NSC's senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Earlier in the week, at a private, off-the-record roundtable hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center for a group of about two dozen scholars, Deare harshly criticized the president and his chief strategist Steve Bannon and railed against the dysfunction paralyzing the Trump White House, according to a source familiar with the situation.
He complained in particular that senior national security aides do not have access to the president -- and gave a detailed and embarrassing readout of Trump's call with Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto. 

Think Tank Watch has seen many think tank scholars fired over the years, but this is the first time in memory that an Administration official has been fired for comments made at a think tank.

In related NSC/think tank news, it looks like John Bolton, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), is now in the running to be President Trump's next National Security Advisor.  He had previously been in the running to be Deputy Secretary of State.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Businessman Threatens to Sue Atlantic Council Over Russia Claims

As if think tanks didn't already have enough to worry about, now there is a new nuisance to agonize over: being sued for defamation.

This is from The Guardian:
Arron Banks, a Ukip donor, has threatened to sue a Washington-based thinktank and three Conservative MPs over claims he is a “pro-Russian actor”. The businessman, who helped bankroll the Brexit campaign, issued a press release saying he was taking legal proceedings against Atlantic Council over its report entitled The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses.
The report mentions him under a heading of “pro-Russian actors” along with figures such as the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and Ukip’s former leader Nigel Farage. A spokesman for Banks would not name the three Tory MPs who have also been issued with proceedings.
A spokesman for Atlantic Council said: “We are unaware of any pending legal complaint from Mr Banks. In keeping with our policy on intellectual independence, Atlantic Council reports represent the views of their authors, and not the Atlantic Council as an institution. That said, the Atlantic Council stands by this heavily sourced report.”

The above-mentioned report, The Kremlin's Trojan Horses: Russian Influence in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, can be found here.  It was written by Alina Polyakova, Marlene Laruelle, Stefan Meister, and Neil Barnett.

Dr. Polyakova, Deputy Director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, appears to be the only one of the four authors who has a direct relationship to the Atlantic Council.  Dr. Laruelle is affiliated with the George Washington University (GWU); Dr. Meister is affiliated with the German Council on Foreign Relations; and Mr. Barnett is affiliated with Istok Associates Ltd.

Think Tank Watch will watch this closely, but the only definitive thing we can say for now is that the 27-page think tank report is heavily sourced, with 89 footnotes.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#252)

  • Top 10 most popular Brookings content pieces of 2016; top Brookings videos of 2016; best Brookings infographics of 2016; 10 things learned at Brookings in 2016.
  • Arlington think tank National Foundation for American Policy: A little more than half of US start-ups that are estimated to be worth more than $1 billion were founded by immigrants. 
  • Group of South Asia think tank experts recommends Pakistan be put on state sponsors of terrorism list. 
  • Washington, DC think tank Asia Policy Point (APP) releases "Morse Target" of Washington's movers and shakers in the Trump Administration shaping Japan policy. 
  • East-West Center (EWC), which got a new president in January (Richard Vuylsteke), launches Trump Administration and US-Asia Pacific Relations Tracker.
  • Think tankers join Washington Post's Global Opinions project, including: Sebastian Mallaby (CFR), Carl Bildt (CIGI), Constanze Stelzenmuller (Brookings), Michael McFaul (Hoover), and Judey Dempsey (Carnegie Europe).
  • Coalition, including legal think tank Brennan Center for Justice, is drafting a lawsuit and preparing regulatory complaints on guns.
  • Essay from former editor of Politico (Susan Glasser) for Brookings: Matt Drudge changed everything.
  • The ambassadors who visit and serve at Brookings.
  • SCMP: China's think tanks overflow, but most still think what they're told to think.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Democratic Powerhouse Think Tank Faces Uncertain Future

The liberal think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) has some soul-searching to do.

Here is more from National Journal:
As CAP and its sister advocacy group, the CAP Action Fund, dig in for battle, their role and stature on the Left are less certain after the embarrassing failure of a presidential campaign so closely associated with the group’s past and current leadership. The organization is deeply tied to the Clinton orbit and the Democratic establishment more broadly, and was widely thought to be a staging ground for a future Hillary Clinton White House. CAP founder and former president John Podesta was the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, served as chief of staff in her husband’s White House, and was an adviser to President Obama.

CAP's current position in think tank land is very different from that of its arch nemesis, the Heritage Foundation.  Here is a recent Wall Street Journal piece on Heritage's new clout, and a Politico piece on how Heritage is a "driving force" as Trump staffs up.

Here is a Politico piece on how CAP is focusing on its anti-Trump efforts.  Here is a CNN piece on CAP's "reorganization" efforts in the new Trump era.

Here is CAP Action Fund's "Trump Transition Tracker" - a digital guide to resisting Trump.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Trump Ain't No Think Tanker

The New York Times reminds us that President Donald Trump is not exactly a think tank lover:
He [Donald Trump] will linger on the opulence of the newly hung golden drapes, once used by Franklin D. Roosevelt - for a man who sometimes has trouble concentrating on policy memos, Mr. Trump was delighted to page through a book that offered him 17 window covering options.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece on how Trump supporters may be killing off traditional think tanks.  And don't forget to check out the Heritage Foundation's recent event on the "death" of think tanks.

To be sure, think tanks will be around for awhile.  After all, the White House is starting its own internal think tank.  And the think tank revolving door is alive and well.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Dems Go Ballistic Over Third Way Involvement at Retreat

Here is more from The Washington Post:
The House Democrats gathered here for their annual policy retreat are scheduled to attend a session Wednesday on “Rumors, Truths and Reality.” Later, they’ll discuss “Fighting for Our Principles” with leaders of major activist groups. And then they’ll hear “Perspectives” from the vice president of Third Way, a prominent centrist think tank.
That last session, showcasing a wing of the party that dominated Democratic politics for much of the past two decades, would not typically gain much notice. But those days are over: Progressive groups are incensed that lawmakers will be hearing “perspectives” that they argue have been thoroughly discredited in the wake of last year’s election.
“For House Democrats to seek advice from a Wall Street-funded think tank that preaches timidity, that shows them learning the exactly wrong lesson in the Trump era,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “I think Democrats need to fight more strongly, with backbone, and not let Trump steal the mantle of economic populism.”
Jim Kessler, Third Way’s senior vice president for policy, is set to address the retreat Wednesday evening during a half-hour session where, according a senior Democrat familiar with his planned remarks, he will make the case that the Democratic Party needs to grow geographically, demographically and ideologically — not move decisively to the left — to regain power. That is a strain of thought that represented Democratic orthodoxy in the 1990s, when the business-friendly Democratic Leadership Council held sway.
But it has since fallen out of favor, especially among progressives who believe Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would have better captured voter anger toward the political establishment as the 2016 Democratic president nominee. And now, they say, Third Way’s politics are not what Democrats need to hear.

As noted in the article, other Democrats who spoke at the retreat include think tank scholars from the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Demos.

Here is more about Third Way's presentation at the retreat from CNN.  Here is what Politico had to say about Third Way's presence at the retreat.

Politico recently wrote a piece about Third Way's launch of a campaign to reconnect Democrats with voters who abandoned them.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Think Tank Revolving Door Spinning Fast in New Trump Era

Top officials from the Obama Administration are being scooped up by powerhouse Washington think tanks, while the Trump Administration continues to bring in (and consider) a number of think tank scholars.  Some recent examples include:

  • Jason Furman, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) in the Obama Administration, who has just joined the Peterson Institute of International Economics (PIIE) as a Senior Fellow.
  • Michael Froman, the US Trade Representative (USTR) under President Obama, has joined the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) as a Distinguished Fellow. 
  • Penny Pritzker, the former US Secretary of Commerce under President Obama, is joining the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  • Mark Calabria, Director of Financial Regulation Studies at the Cato Institute, has been hired as Vice President Mike Pence's chief economist.
  • Paula Dobriansky, who sits on the Board of Directors at Atlantic Council, is being considered for the position of Deputy Secretary of State.  [Elliott Abrams, a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at CFR, and John Bolton, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), had been in the running for the No. 2 slot at State but that idea was nixed a few days ago.] 

As CNBC has noted, economists are visibly missing in Trump's Cabinet.  Are Trump supporters killing off Trump's connection to think tanks?  Does the White House even need think tanks if they are starting their own internal think tank?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Think Tank Watch Cited Widely

A few recent citings of Think Tank Watch by various entities and publications:

Colleges/Universities:
  • Harvard's guide to writing about think tanks.
  • George Washington University (GWU): "Think Tank Watch is a valuable site worth tracking."
  • Stanford Law School: Think Tank Watch listed as a top think tank resource. 
  • Emory University: Think Tank Watch a "recommended resource" on think tanks.
  • Ohio State University (OSU): Cited as a top think tank source.
  • Fordham University: Citation.
  • Baruch College: Cited as key source.

Think Tanks:
  • Brookings Institution: Lawfare Blog.
  • Heritage Foundation's 2016 year in review (here).
  • Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) top research links.
  • Stimson Center (here).
  • Truman Center (here).
  • World Resources Institute (here).
  • Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI): Cited in report.

Books/Magazines:
  • Stealth Communications: The Spectacular Rise of Public Relations (here).
  • Obama and the World: New Directions in US Foreign Policy (here).
  • Knowledge Actors and Transnational Governance (here).
  • Northern Lights: Exploring Canada's Think Tank Landscape (here).
  • National Review (here).

Monday, February 6, 2017

Fake Think Tank Raises Alarm for Think Tank Scholars

A new nuisance is emerging for think tanks and think tank scholars that has the potential to severely damage their brands and reputation: fake think tanks touting fake news.

Brian Mefford, a Senior Nonresident Fellow at the Eurasia Center of the Atlantic Council recently wrote a blog post on a "think tank" that, among other things, appears to be posting fake articles and publishing them using bylines of real think tank scholars, without permission.

Here is more from Mr Mefford:
A few weeks ago, a colleague asked why I was a part of an organization called the Center for Global Strategic Monitoring (also known as the CGS Monitor). Despite working in foreign policy for seventeen years, I had never heard of this organization. Imagine my surprise when I discovered my photograph and biography listed on the CGS Monitor website as one of their “experts.”

I immediately began searching the website for contact information to request that my name be removed. However, it became clear that there was something fishy about this website. Not only was no mailing address given; the only email contact to be found was a ubiquitous “info@” address. My email requesting that my name be removed has never been answered and the website continues to list me as one of their experts.
The Center for Global Strategic Monitoring website appears to be an impressive and thoughtful news and opinion site at first glance. However, one does not have to dig deep to discover that the organization is phony. Here’s how they do it: First, the website re-publishes analysis and opinion pieces from real, respectable research institutions (apparently without permission). Then these legitimate pieces are mixed with “news” from Russian-controlled sources without attribution. Worse yet, the website even posts some fake articles under the names of distinguished think tank scholars. As a result, the website contains an assortment of good analysis from actual think tanks, pseudo intellectual drivel produced by propaganda outlets and conspiracy theorists, and fake opinion pieces camouflaged as the handiwork of foreign policy experts.

The website for the Center for Global Strategic Monitoring (CGS) can be found here.  The site says that CGS is a "nonprofit and nonpartisan research and analysis institution dedicated to providing insights of the think tank community publications."  In other words, it says it is a think tank promoting the work of other think tanks.

A number of US and non-US think tank scholars are listed on the site as "experts," including those from Chatham House, Brookings Institution, Cato Institute, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Atlantic Council, and American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Here is what Michael Isikoff has uncovered about CGS.

Think Tank Watch recently wrote that fake think tanks are quite fashionable these days.  Well, that is becoming the biggest think tank understatement of 2017.

Update: After Think Tank Watch's story, Vanessa Williamson and Norman Eisen of Brookings published a piece entitled "We Were the Victims of Fake News," which notes Brookings is exploring different options to address the "hijacking" of its scholar's reputations.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#251)

  • John Meacham: President Donald Trump thinks "think tank" is a show on TV.
  • RAND Corp. experts studied how to fight Russia's "firehose" of propaganda.
  • Who wants to work at a think tank in Papua New Guinea?
  • New CSIS satellite photos show weapons build-up by China on dispute islands.
  • Shama Hyder: The rise of the modern-day think tank.
  • Think tanks do a lousy job at predicting because their mission is to sell policies, not make correct predictions.
  • Think tanker at Brookings: Think tankers don't have monopoly on foreign affairs wisdom.
  • Chatham House alum: Chatham House full of MI6.
  • Brookings on why Trump will not bring back America's lost manufacturing jobs.
  • The billions that go into the "misinformation machine" of think tanks.
  • Are Chinese think tanks ready to go global?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Brookings President Steps Down Amid Rocky Time at Think Tank

It is the year of presidential transitions.  First it was Donald Trump.  Now it is Strobe Talbott, the leader of the liberal Brookings Institution, who just announced his resignation after 15 years at the think tank's helm.

The announcement comes at a very rocky time for the think tank, which took a huge beating in the past few years for various pay-to-play schemes that many say weakened its credibility and stature.

While maintaining its ranking as the world's No. 1 think tank in the just-released University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings, it was revealed that the professor who conducts the study had his new book published by Brookings - a bewildering move that further deflated the credibility of the think tank's standing.

Nevertheless, Brookings is still a prolific fundraiser, having recently raised more than $650 million in its Brookings 2.0 campaign.  And according to the most recent tax records, Brookings still has assets of close to half a billion dollars.

Mr. Talbott, who was floated as a possible Secretary of State in a Clinton White House, will step down in October.  In the meantime, a search committee, reporting to the Board of Trustees, has been formed to find a successor.  Brookings says that it will conduct a "global" search.

Talbott was paid a base salary of $606,140 in 2014, so Think Tank Watch images that many people will be applying for the job (even though traditional think tanks may be severely weakened in the new Trump era).

Stay tuned for much more, including reactions and more details of the search for a new president...