Thursday, August 31, 2017

Google-Critic Fired from Think Tank Funded by the Tech Giant

Rule No. 1 of think tank land: Don't mess with donors.   Rule No. 2?  Don't mess with donors.
Here is more from Kenneth Vogel of The New York Times:

In the hours after European antitrust regulators levied a record $2.7 billion fine against Google in late June, an influential Washington think tank learned what can happen when a wealthy tech giant is criticized.
The New America Foundation has received more than $21 million from Google; its parent company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt; and his family’s foundation since the think tank’s founding in 1999. That money helped to establish New America as an elite voice in policy debates on the American left and helped Google shape those debates.
But not long after one of New America’s scholars posted a statement on the think tank’s website praising the European Union’s penalty against Google, Mr. Schmidt, who had been chairman of New America until 2016, communicated his displeasure with the statement to the group’s president, Anne-Marie Slaughter, according to the scholar.
The statement disappeared from New America’s website, only to be reposted without explanation a few hours later. But word of Mr. Schmidt’s displeasure rippled through New America, which employs more than 200 people, including dozens of researchers, writers and scholars, most of whom work in sleek Washington offices where the main conference room is called the “Eric Schmidt Ideas Lab.” The episode left some people concerned that Google intended to discontinue funding, while others worried whether the think tank could truly be independent if it had to worry about offending its donors.

The article goes on to give a number of juicy details about the firing of Barry Lynn, head of the think tank's Open Markets initiative.  Emails reportedly suggest that the head of New America wanted to exile the entire team of the Open Markets initiative (around 10 full-timers and unpaid fellows).

NYT reports that Lynn is now starting a stand-alone nonprofit with the same team to continue the work of the Open Markets initiative.  The new entity does not yet have a name, but it almost certainly will not be receiving any funding from Google.  However, the tech giant continues to fund New America.

Here is New America's response to the New York Times story.  Kenneth Vogel (author of the NYT piece) says it is inaccurate and demands a correction.

Here is what Zephr Teachout, who has been a Fellow at New America since 2014, has to say about the incident for the Washington Post.  Here is more in The Intercept (and even more).

Here is what Matthew Yglesias of Vox has to say.

Here is what The Intercept has to say.

Here is The Wall Street Journal's take.

David Sirota sums up the situation succinctly.

New America Fellow Jesse Eisenger: This is deeply troubling.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is now criticizing New America for firing Barry Lynn.

Here is an updated NYT piece from Kenneth Vogel on how New America is facing a big backlash from the firing.

Here is what WIRED has to say about the issue.

Charles Kolb says that the controversy illustrates the value of transparency.

A statement from the Open Markets team.

The Federalist: Bullying a leftist think tank pierces Google's carefully cultivated "don't be evil" image.

Dan Drezner: Nothing to see here.  Think tanks are poised for a comeback.  (And a response from James Jay Carafano and Mike Gonzales of Heritage).

Anne-Marie Slaughter: When the truth is messy and hard.

Former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO): Google-New America shows why nonprofits should reject corporate funding.

Economist: New America falls into a familiar trap.

Barry Lynn: "A slow, creeping consolidation of power by big money over thinks tanks in US."

New America Co-Chair: Google didn't prompt critics ouster.

The Weekly Standard: The Do-Not-Think Tank.

John Judis (in New Republic): The credible think tank is dead.

The Week: The suspicious firing of a Google critic.

Till Bruckner of Transparify: How funder pressures can torpedo the credibility of research.

Barry Lynn doubles down on anti-monopoly crusade after being fired from New America.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trump Ain't No Think Tanker (Part IV)

Here is even more evidence that President Donald Trump is not reading your think tank report.  Says the Washington Post:

Trump had little time for in-depth briefings on Afghanistan’s history, its complicated politics or its seemingly endless civil war. Even a single page of bullet points on the country seemed to tax the president’s attention span on the subject, said senior White House officials.
“I call the president the two-minute man,” said one Trump confidant. “The president has patience for a half-page.”

Here are links to Part I, Part II, and Part III of "Trump Ain't No Think Tanker."  Most think tank reports are at least several pages long, with many of them running into the dozens or even hundreds of pages.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Secret $20 Million Gift Given to DC Think Tank

Here is what The Intercept is reporting:

The United Arab Emirates on pace to contribute $20 million over the course of 2016 and 2017 to the Middle East Institute, one of Washington’s leading think tanks, according to a document obtained by The Intercept. The outsized contribution, which the UAE hoped to conceal, would allow the institute, according to the agreement, to “augment its scholar roster with world class experts in order to counter the more egregious misperceptions about the region, inform U.S. government policy makers, and convene regional leaders for discreet dialogue on pressing issues.”
MEI was founded in 1946 and has long been an influential player in Washington foreign policy circles. It serves as a platform for many of the U.S.’s most influential figures, allowing them to regularly appear on cable news, author papers, host private briefings and appear on panels in between stints in government.
Think tanks in Washington play a role perhaps as important as K Street, though with far less public insight into their activity or sources of funds. While the political establishment is gripped by the question of Russia’s influence on the 2016 elections, Washington itself is awash in money from both foreign corporations and foreign governments.

The whole Intercept piece, authored by Ryan Grim, is worth reading in its entirety.  It has appearances by UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, think tanker Bilal Saab, UAE-based consultant Mac McClelland Jr., MEI President Wendy Chamberlain, Egyptian activist/scholar Ramy Yaacoub, Richar Mintz of The Harbour Group, Egyptian oligarch Naguib Sawiris, MEI board chairman Richard Clarke, Managing Director of Qorvis MSLGroup Michael Petruzzello, Barry Pavel of Atlantic Council, top lobbyist for Occidental Petroleum Ian Davis, former Center for a New American Security (CNAS) staffer Andrew Exum, think tank ECSSR, and many more.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch post on the UAE's influence at other think tanks in the United States.

Friday, August 11, 2017

NYT: Political Memes Now More Influential Than Think Tanks

Another big blow to think tanks from The New York Times:

Imagine you’re a millionaire or billionaire with strong political views and a desire to spread those views to the masses. Do you start a think tank in Washington? Funnel millions to a shadowy “super PAC”? Bankroll the campaign of an up-and-coming politician?
For a growing number of deep-pocketed political donors, the answer is much more contemporary: Invest in internet virality.
As TV, radio and newspapers give way to the megaphonic power of social media, today’s donor class is throwing its weight behind a new group of partisan organizations that specialize in creating catchy, highly shareable messages for Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms. Viral media expertise is emerging as a crucial skill for political operatives, and as donors look to replicate the success of the social media sloganeers who helped lift President Trump to victory, they’re seeking out talented meme makers.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch piece about other "threats" to today's think tanks.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#280)

  • RAND Corp. expands into Silicon Valley. 
  • Think tank in France (Fine Minds 4 Fine Wines, or FM4FW) discusses the future of "fine" wines.
  • CFR President Richard Haass gets birthday shout-out from Politico; reveals he went to Woodstrock, is addicted to golf, listens to country music, likes dry martinis, and walks to work.
  • Polls find faltering trust in American universities (and think tanks)? 
  • Laurel Miller, an analyst from the RAND Corp. who had been serving as Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at DOS, has departed
  • Why Myanmar needs foreign policy think tanks. 
  • As interest in Hong Kong affairs grows, time is ripe for local think tanks to shine.
  • Cato scholar Daniel Ikenson: US and China engaged in a low-profile, high-technology trade war. 
  • Alliance for Securing Democracy, housed within the German Marshall Fund (GMF), has new dashboard tracking Russian propaganda on Twitter.
  • Searchable map of 100 UK think tank locations.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Conservatives Attack McMaster for Work at Think Tank

Here is more from the conservative news site Breitbart:

White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster served at a UK-based think tank financed by a controversial, George Soros-funded group identified by the Obama White House as central in helping to sell the Iran nuclear deal tothe public and news media.
From September 2006 to February 2017, McMaster is listed as a member of International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), where he served as consulting senior fellow.  The IISS describes itself as a “world-leading authority on global security, political risk and military conflict.”
The IISS has been supportive of the Obama administration-brokered 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, and the group has repeatedly hit back against charges that Tehran has violated the agreement.
McMaster himself has been accused of purging the National Security Council of hardliners on Iran, and he is seen as a leading proponent of the Iran nuclear accord within the Trump administration. He has reportedly urged the White House to recertify Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal.
IISS’s website contains a list of groups, corporations and government entities that provide funding to the think tank, including during the period of McMaster’s work there. Curiously missing from the page of donors, however, is the controversial Ploughshares Fund, a grantmaking group identified last year by the Obama White House as central in helping to market the Iran nuclear deal to the news media.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on McMasters' various connections to think tanks.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Former Heritage Scholar a "Fixer" in Trump's Washington

Politico recently highlighted the work of Lisa Curtis, the former Senior Research Fellow in Asian Studies at the Heritage Foundation's Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, who is now in the Trump Administration.  Here is a clip:
It may not be President Donald Trump's list of problems to solve but the relationship with Pakistan has an unfortunate habit of flaring up, and doing so at the most inopportune times.
Tasked with making headway in the thorny and knotty relationship with Islamabad is Lisa Curtis, a longtime expert on Pakistan and counterterrorism who was recruited earlier this year to the White House's National Security Council to be its senior director for South Asia.

Curtis is one of dozens of scholars at the Heritage Foundation who either advised the Trump Administration during the presidential campaign or who has actually gone into the administration.

In related news, the Heritage Foundation continues to look for a new president after Sen. Ben Sasse reportedly turned down the job.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Meet the 28-Year-Old Think Tanker Frightening Amazon

Here is more from The Washington Post:

Amazon’s general counsel, David Zapolsky, had a lot on his mind last month when he and four members of his legal team visited the offices of New America, a liberal-leaning think tank in Washington. The retail juggernaut was days from announcing its $13.8 billion purchase of Whole Foods, a deal that would not only roil the grocery industry but also trigger a government antitrust investigation into the strategies and practices of the “Everything Store.” And, as Zapolsky was no doubt aware, no organization had been more dogged in raising those concerns than New America — and, in particular, a 28-year-old law student named Lina Khan.
Earlier this year, the Yale Law Journal published a 24,000-word “note” by Khan titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.” The article laid out with remarkable clarity and sophistication why American antitrust law has evolved to the point that it is no longer equipped to deal with tech giants such as Amazon.com, which has made itself as essential to commerce in the 21st century as the railroads, telephone systems and computer hardware makers were in the 20th.

Here is Lina Lina Khan's biography from New America, where she is a Fellow in the Open Markets program.

Think Tank Watch should note that Amazon is a donor to New America, giving between $50,000 and $99,999 to the think tank in the 2016-2017 period.  Other tech giants also help fund New America, including Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.

Think Tank Quickies (#279)

  • Obama's Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz starting low-carbon energy think tank.
  • Project 2049 Institute: China carries out think tank propaganda tour in US.
  • New think tank idea: Center for American ProgRock (via Timothy Noah).
  • New report on Armenian think tank industry.
  • Pic: Zbigniew Pisarski takes "beast" to DC for think tank visits.
  • First-ever think tank dedicated to college athletics.
  • New CSIS report on US-Carribean relations. 
  • CNAS launches future of sanctions task force.
  • Daniel Feehan, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness joins CNAS.
  • South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks at CSIS.
  • Third Way holds annual summer party at Long View Gallery with lots of lawmakers.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

CAP Gets Revenge Against Trump in New Report

The Clinton-friendly think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) suffered a big blow when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton for the presidency, but it is not giving up its battle to bring down Mr. Trump.  Here is more from BuzzFeed:

A major progressive think tank wants Democrats to stop being shy about accusing the Trump campaign of colluding with Russia.
The Center for American Progress has written a nearly 50-page report for Democrats in Congress, making the case for collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. The report, a draft of which was reviewed by BuzzFeed News ahead of its release Wednesday, makes the bold claim that “it is now clear there was collusion” and “this is the biggest political scandal in American history.”
CAP’s report, which includes several appendices linking to news reports and quotes from the Trump administration, does not include any new information, but it does represent a push for a dramatic change of tone for Democrats in Congress.
The draft of CAP’s report lays out everything the public knows about how the Trump campaign and Russia interacted during the campaign based on information gathered from press reports and congressional testimony. According to CAP, the evidence should be enough for Democrats to argue the campaign colluded with Russia.
CAP’s plan is to deliver the report to “key offices” on the Hill with the hope of giving Democrats the “confidence” to make a collusion argument. Jentleson said Democratic leadership, as well as members of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees in the House and Senate, will be receiving the report.

Update: Here is a link to CAP's new report, entitled "Russiagate: The Depth of Collusion," written by Max Bergmann.

Here is how Fox News describes the report.

Sen. Sasse Declines Top Job at Heritage Foundation

Although the salary would likely be more than six times as much as his current salary as a US senator, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) has declined an offer to lead the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation.  Here is more from Politico:

The Heritage Foundation has approached one of the Senate’s leading anti-Trump Republicans, Ben Sasse, to gauge his interest in serving as president — an indication the influential conservative think tank may turn away from its supportive posture toward the president.
Sasse, who was elected to his first term in the Senate in 2014, has swatted down the overtures from Heritage’s board of trustees, according to two sources familiar with the recruitment effort. The Nebraska senator rose to national prominence when he announced early in the primary calendar that he would support neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton, and he has been a persistent critic of Trump ever since.
The entreaties are one sign that Heritage may be looking to change course after the May ouster of its former president, Jim DeMint. In the Senate, DeMint was a leading antagonist of establishment Republicans, and at Heritage he suffered from the perception that the organization was becoming too political — and too reflexively pro-Trump — as its focus on scholarship fell by the wayside.
Kay Coles James, a member of the Heritage Foundation Board of Trustees' Presidential Search Committee, said in a statement that the group is considering more than 200 people for the job, "many of them nationally renowned. We have engaged a professional search firm and we look forward to reviewing the candidates they suggest.”
The organization’s interest in Sasse — sources say board members have been persistent to the point of irritating the senator — indicates that it is looking for a reset. Other conservative think tanks have been less explicitly pro-Trump than Heritage was under DeMint. While American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, for example, has sought to explain the source of Trump’s support, he has stopped short of expressing support for him.

Jim DeMint earned $1.1 million from Heritage in 2015, and US senators make $174,000 per year.  If Sen. Sasse took the job, his likely salary for one year (before taxes) would be approaching his entire net worth, which is estimated to be around $1.48 million.

In related news, here is what former Mr. DeMint is up to these days.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Former Heritage President Jim DeMint Launches New Institute

Former Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, who was ousted this spring from what is arguably the most influential conservative think tank in the US, is starting a new venture.  Here is more from Politico:

Former Sen. Jim DeMint will serve as chairman of the new Conservative Partnership Institute to fortify the presence of conservatives in Washington, he said in a news release Tuesday, adding that he thinks the status quo is hindering the development of conservative lawmakers and staffers.
Previously, DeMint served at the helm of the Heritage Foundation, a venerable conservative think tank that at times has had a turbulent relationship with the rise of Donald Trump. He was ousted in May after internal disputes over Heritage's mission.

Here is the Conservative Partnership Institute's (CPI) new website.

Here is a comprehensive Think Tank Watch guide to what happened at the Heritage Foundation that led to DeMint's ouster.

Think Tank Quickies (#278)

  • Think tank RethinkX says $25 oil is coming.
  • Exxon gave $1.6 million to think tanks and advocacy groups opposing climate change in 2016.
  • Ben Norton to AEI: Delete your think tank.
  • China criticizes Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) scholar Ely Ratner.
  • Center for American Progress (CAP) releases its own proposal to fix Obamacare.
  • Reactor Room: Very first think tank for adults with autism.
  • Chafuen: Cato and Heritage receive less than 3% of funding from corporations; average free-market think tank is 10%.
  • Balkan Think Tank Convention II, led by Turkish think tank SETA.
  • CNAS partners with The Washington Post.
  • Pic: A refurbished RAND Europe.