Monday, October 23, 2017

Think Tanks and Corporations: Fact of the Day

This is from a New York Times piece entitled "Amazon Lobbyists Ramp Up Charm Offensive in Capital," which discusses the company's increased activities in Washington:
In 2016, Amazon gave more than $10,000 each to 66 think tanks, lobbying groups and political organizations.  More than a dozen organizations were new to its sponsorship roster...

Here is the 2015 list of Amazon's payments to think tanks and other entities.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post on the 28-year-old think tanker that is frightening Amazon.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Flournoy Stepping Down as CEO of CNAS to Start New Firm

Michele Flournoy, Co-Founder and CEO of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), will be stepping down from her position to start a new strategic advisory firm.  Here is more from a CNAS press release:

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Board of Directors today announced that former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson; former commander of U.S. Strategic Command Adm. Cecil D. Haney, USN (Ret.); Vice Chairman, Investment Banking (USA) for Credit Suisse Frederick O. Terrell; and CNAS CEO Michèle Flournoy will join the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors also announced that Flournoy will transition from her current position as CEO to the Board of Directors effective December 31, 2017.

CNAS said that is board has established a CEO search committee to identify and recruit a new CEO.

Flournoy, who was undersecretary of defense for policy during the Obama Administration, was considered the favorite to be defense secretary in a Hillary Clinton Administration.

She was also under consideration for the #2 defense post in the Trump Administration, but faced stiff resistance and ultimately opted against taking the job.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Heritage Foundation Narrows Down Search for New President

Earlier in the year, after a major shake-up at the conservative Heritage Foundation that led to the ouster of its president, Jim DeMint, the think tank announced that it would begin a broad search for a new president.  Here is an update from The Washington Post:

The Heritage Foundation has narrowed its search for a new president down to a shortlist of finalists, a group that includes Todd Ricketts, a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, and Marc Short, a senior Trump White House official, according to three people familiar with the discussions.
In addition to Ricketts and Short, Heritage’s board of trustees also has expressed interest in Lisa B. Nelson, the chief executive of the American Legislative Exchange Council, and David Trulio, a vice president at Lockheed Martin, the people said on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. 
The conservative think tank’s trustees, however, remain torn over their decision. Kay Coles James — a Heritage board member who served as the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management under President George W. Bush and is close to Heritage founder Edwin J. Feulner — has been mentioned by several associates as someone who could serve in a temporary capacity if the board cannot settle on a candidate.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and a Trump ally, was another person considered in earlier talks inside Heritage, although Meadows made clear to several people close to the think tank that he preferred to remain in Congress, a person familiar with the discussions said.
J.D. Vance, the best-selling author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” a memoir about his upbringing in Appalachia, was also floated early in the process as a possible high-profile, younger recruit.

The articles goes on to note that talks to choose a new president have stalled a bit as Heritage trustees "debate the future of the think tank."

As Think Tank Watch previously reported, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) was being considered but he declined an offer to lead the think tank.

Here is a piece by Philip Wegmann in the Washington Examiner entitled "Senior White House Strategist, Marc Short, Won't Say if He Will Dump Trump for Heritage Foundation."

On October 17, President Trump spoke about tax reform at Heritage's annual President's Club meeting (full speech here).

President Trump was the fourth sitting US president to speak to Heritage members since its founding nearly 45 years ago.   The other three were Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, former Heritage president Jim DeMint, who recently launched the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), is saying that he took Heritage "to new heights of influence" during his four-year tenure.

From his CPI biography: "Under DeMint’s direction, Heritage played a major role in the Trump transition, with the policy series 'Mandate for Leadership' used as the basis for the President’s first budget...Heritage [also] partnered with the Federalist Society to create a list of possible Supreme Court judicial nominations that culminated in the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch."

DeMint has hired several former Heritage staffers for his new outfit, including Wesley Denton, Matt Buckham, Rachel Bovard, and Megan Tubb.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

New Tank Quickies (#289)

  • Are think tanks running out of ideas?
  • AEI and Opportunity America publish new research brief on marriage.
  • Are partisan think tanks writing less for the partisan faithful? 
  • Russian think tanks and soft power (Susanne Oxenstierna and Carolina Vendil Pallin).
  • Brookings: Are the self-employed happy entrepreneurs?
  • Brookings advice to economic development officials on Amazon HQ2.
  • Cheng Li at SAIS: Rising Influence of Thinkers and Think Tanks in China.
  • Anthony Weiner finds female fan in psychiatrist at Washington think tank.
  • Milena Rodban: Every think tank event = panelists that say nothing new, everyone pretends they're impressed, they're all just there for free coffee.
  • Top Chinese think tank sets up in Hong Kong in bid to boost Beijing's understanding of city.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Brookings: Trump Likely Obstructed Justice by Firing FBI Director

Several powerful think tanks continue to work at a furious pace to end the presidency of Donald Trump.  Here is more from The Hill:

President Trump "likely obstructed justice" and could possibly face impeachment for firing FBI Director James Comey if special counsel Robert Mueller reaches the same conclusion, a new analysis from The Brookings Institution found.
In a report released Tuesday, the left-leaning think tank said that Trump had authority to fire the FBI chief, but not if his motives for doing so centered around hindering the ongoing Russia probe.

The 108-page Brookings report, entitled "Presidential Obstruction of Justice: The Case of Donald J. Trump," was written by Barry Berke, Noah Bookbinder, and Norman Eisen.

Berke is co-chair of the litigation department at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, and a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

Bookbinder is Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and formerly worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee and US Department of Justice.

Eisen is a Senior Fellow at Brookings and was the chief White House ethics lawyer in the Obama Administration.  He is also chair and co-founder of CREW.

The report concludes that if special counsel Robert Mueller comes to the same conclusion as Brookings, Trump could be impeached.

Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post says that the Brookings report "amounts to an amicus brief" for use by special counsel Mueller and his team., and "should scare the daylights" out of Trump supporters.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch post which notes that James Comey is a longtime friend of Brookings scholar Benjamin Wittes.

During the summer, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released its own lengthy report making the case for collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Atlantic Council Trying to Secure Future US Elections

An influential US think tank has been teaming up with other institutions in order to help secure future US elections from manipulation.

Here is more from Reuters:

Hackers are joining forces with U.S. governors and academics in a new group aimed at preventing the manipulation of voter machines and computer systems to sway the outcome of future U.S. elections, a source familiar with the project said on Monday.
The anti-hacking coalition’s members include organizers of last summer’s Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas, the National Governors Association and the Center for Internet Security, said the source, who asked not to be identified ahead of a formal announcement due to be made on Tuesday.
The Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank and several universities are also part of the project, the source said.
The coalition will be unveiled as Def Con organizers release a report describing vulnerabilities in voting machines and related technology that were uncovered in July.

The Atlantic Council has a Digital Forensics Research Lab (DFRLab) which, among other things, studies disinformation campaigns.

Today, the think tank is hosting an event for the release of a new report on cyber vulnerabilities in US election equipment, databases, and infrastructure.

RT, an international television network funded by the Russian government, recently called Atlantic Council "NATO's propaganda arm" and bashed a Sept. 26 event the think tank held entitled "Transatlantic Forum on Strategic Communications (Stratcom)," which discussed various disinformation campaigns.

More details will be coming soon.

Think Tank Quickies (#288)

  • Sugar and corn syrup lobby bypass traditional lobbyists for think tanks.
  • As career opportunities in academia dwindle, doctorate holders look to think tanks.
  • After Neomi Rao, founder of Study of the Administrative State at George Mason, left the center to join the Trump Administration (OIRA), Adam White of Hoover took over.
  • Alice Rivlin of Brookings was a high-profile supporter of Vincent Gray's run against then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, hosting a fundraiser in her Forest Hills home.
  • Google a big supporter of conservative and libertarian groups, including Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and Cato Institute.
  • Cybersecurity savant: Jim Lewis of CSIS.
  • Prince Charles uses his think tank, the International Sustainability Unit, to seek solutions to challenges such as creating food and water security.
  • Koch Equity Development "operates like a high-level think tank."
  • Why China's think tanks are captivated by Europe. 
  • Christensen Institute: Think tank dedicated to disrupting the world through disruptive innovation.

Monday, October 9, 2017

DOJ Steps In After Cyber Attack on Hudson Institute

Chinese cyberattackers allegedly crashed the website of the Hudson Institute as the think tank was about to host an event with a Chinese political dissident that the Chinese government considers to be a criminal.

Here is more from The Wall Street Journal:

A suspected Chinese cyberattack on the website of a prominent Washington think tank drew a complaint from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week in a meeting with top Chinese government officials.
The website of the Hudson Institute crashed earlier this week, shortly before the organization was scheduled to host an event with Guo Wengui, a fugitive Chinese businessman and political dissident who has alleged corruption within China’s leadership.
The Institute had several days earlier detected a Shanghai-based attack aimed at shutting down access to its website, according to a spokesman. The spokesman said the attack was foiled, and he attributed the website’s problems to a maintenance issue instead. The Wednesday event was called off.
Mr. Guo’s speech would have coincided with a high-level visit to Washington by Chinese government officials. On Wednesday, Mr. Sessions confronted them about the cyberattack on the Institute’s website, according to a Justice Department spokesman. He added that China “pledged to cooperate” when the issue was raised. 
In the days leading up to his canceled appearance at the Hudson Institute, the Chinese embassy made phone calls to Institute staff warning the think tank not to give Mr. Guo the opportunity to speak, according to several staff members who received such calls.
One scholar with a pending visa application to visit China received a phone call about his submission and was asked to send his colleagues a request from Beijing. “They want Hudson to cancel the Guo Wengui event because he is a criminal and tells lies,” he wrote in a message received by several Institute staffers that was reviewed by the Journal.

Here is a link to the event which says that it was "postponed."

The Chinese government is denying that it has any links to the Hudson attack.

On Oct. 2, the think tank held an event entitled "Defense Cooperation in the West Pacific: Countering Chinese and North Korean Threats."

And on Oct. 12, Hudson is scheduled to hold an event on the late Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

We should note that the Hudson Institute has good relations with the Trump Administration and congratulated Jeff Sessions on his attorney general nomination back in November.

As Think Tank Watch has reported, every major US think tank has been hit with cyberattacks, many coming from foreign governments.

Update: Guo Wengui reportedly planned to disclose three internal Chinese government documents during the Hudson event, but instead burned the documents after the event was canceled.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Think Tank Groupthink

Anyone who has been to even just a handful of think tank events knows that groupthink is rampant at these brain trusts.

Gerald Seib, Washington Bureau Chief of The Wall Street Journal, recently wrote a piece about Washington groupthink, its dangers, and how to overcome it.  Here is an excerpt:

Conventional wisdom emerges with particular ease in Washington—a small, one-industry city in which politicians, journalists, analysts and lobbyists spend a great deal of time talking to one another. “A lot of people in this town spend a lot of time thinking about what other people in this town think,” says Jeff Weaver, who ran Sen. Bernie Sanders’s decidedly unconventional 2016 Democratic presidential campaign. “Anybody who has a contrary idea runs the risk of being ridiculed by others in the commentator community.”

Here is a 2016 ZeroHedge piece entitled "Too Many 'Think Tanks' Are Just Kool-Aid Fueled Group-Think."

Here is a 2015 Think Tank Watch post which mentions groupthink at think tanks.

Here is a 2012 piece on groupthink at think tanks from On Think Tanks.

Here is a 2009 piece by Nathan Hodge in Wired discussing groupthink and think tanks.

Here is a 2008 piece from Outside the Beltway on think tanks and groupthink.

One person even calls think tanks "groupthink tanks."

Has Jared Kushner already been sidelined by DC think tank groupthink?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Has a Think Tank Just Sunk the Tax Reform Bill?

A think tank specializing in tax policy is causing a massive stir with an analysis it recently released about the Republican tax reform framework.  Here is more from The Hill:

The hottest feud in Washington is between Republicans and the Tax Policy Center (TPC).
Some prominent GOP lawmakers and conservatives are outraged with the wonky joint venture of the left-leaning Urban Institute and Brookings Institution. The group released a study Friday that said the GOP’s tax reform framework would mostly benefit the rich, increase taxes on some middle-income people and lower federal revenue by $2.4 trillion over a decade.
The study was widely covered in the press, drawing front-page stories in The New York Times and Washington Post. The coverage ran counter to the White House’s messaging, which labeled the tax plan the “middle-class miracle.”
Republicans have responded by going after the Tax Policy Center, arguing the group is biased and used inaccurate assumptions to reach its conclusions.
Republican animosity toward the TPC goes back several years. They were highly critical of an analysis the group did in 2012 that found then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s tax plan would benefit the rich.
The group “essentially sandbagged a Romney tax proposal,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.

In response to TPC's tax analysis report, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said, "It's odd...that the analysis came with a disclaimer that it was expressing only the views of the authors, not the think tank itself.  Even more unusual, no specific authors were listed on the analysis, probably because no respectable academic or researcher was willing to have their name associated with something so haphazardly cobbled together."

TPC's Director, Mark Mazur, said the paper was listed as authored by TPC staff "because there were a large number of people who worked on the report."

Mazur, who served in former President Barack Obama's Treasury Department, also noted that some at the think tank have been involved with Republican administrations.  However, it is unclear if any Republicans worked on the paper.

Kevin Hassett, the new Chair of the White House's Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) and a former scholar at American Enterprise Institute (AEI), slammed the TPC report.

The Wall Street Journal said that even though the media routinely labels TPC as "nonparitsan," its "record of hostility to any Republican tax reform that cuts tax rates shows the opposite."

TPC definitely gets little love from conservatives.  Here is a 2012 report from the Heritage Foundation saying TPC had a "skewed analysis" of Gov. Romney's tax plan.

Even back in 2016 Trump advisers were accusing the TPC of bias.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#287)

  • Has the US killed expertise at think tanks?
  • US colleges lose luster in global rankings.  Will US think tanks follow?  Should you boycott think tank rankings?
  • Michael Elleman of IISS traces North Korea's missile success to Ukraine plant in new report.
  • Report on revamping US State Department requested last year by Congress and compiled under the auspices of Atlantic Council.
  • Former CIA Director John Brennan skips think tank land and becomes a distinguished fellow for global security at the Fordham University School of Law's Center on National Security.
  • Tax-exempt think tanks fueled climate pact exit (featuring CEI).
  • Fortune: Think tanks part of political-industrial complex rigging the game for their benefit.
  • Can think tanks survive the Trump era? 
  • CNAS 2016 annual conference (done jointly with Washington Post) sponsored by PenFed, Morgan Stanley, Boeing, Airbus Group, The Boston Consulting Group, Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, Generaly Dynamics, FedEx, etc...
  • Actor Richard Gere attended speech by the Dalai Lama at USIP.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Amid Decline, Brookings Names John Allen New President

The Brookings Institution has just announced that retired US Marine Corps four-star general John Allen will become the new president of the think tank.  The news comes as Brookings's reputation has suffered a serious blow after numerous pay-to-play schemes at the well-known think tank were recently uncovered.

Naming a former high-level military official may be an attempt by the board to send a message that discipline is needed to help "clear the swamp."

Here is more from a Brookings press release:

The Brookings Institution announced today that John R. Allen, a retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general and former commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, will become the eighth leader in the Institution’s 101-year history.
Allen currently serves as a Brookings distinguished fellow in the Foreign Policy program and as chair, Security and Strategy. On November 6, he will succeed Strobe Talbott, who will step down as president after more than 15 years of service.

Strobe Talbott will remain at Brookings as a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program.

Brookings has been searching for a new president ever since Talbott announced his intent to resign back in January.

At that time, a search committee to find a replacement, reporting to the Board of Trustees, was formed.

And no, NBC News's Jonathan Allen is not the new Brookings president.

John Hudson of BuzzFeed notes that there was an internal push for Martin Indyk to become president, but Allen won out.

Think Tank Watch has noticed that very few in the media covered the news, which may indicate a lack of attention being paid to many major think tanks these days (particularly ones that are out of favor by the current White House).

CFR President Says Tillerson Should Resign

Does the head of one of Washington's most powerful foreign policy think tanks want to become Secretary of State?

In uncharacteristically direct language, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) President Richard Haass is calling on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to resign.  Here is more from The Hill:

Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass slammed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a tweet on Wednesday, calling for him to step down from the nation's top diplomatic post.
"Rex Tillerson has been dealt a bad hand by the Potus & has played it badly. For both reasons he cannot be effective SecState & should resign," the think-tank's president said.
Haass's comments come as tensions appear to mount between Trump and Tillerson. 
NBC News reported on Wednesday that Tillerson had mulled leaving his post this summer, and that top Trump administration officials, including Vice President Pence, urged him to stay in his post despite his growing frustration with Trump.

As readers may recall, Haass, who is an acquaintance of Tillerson, was in the running to become President Trump's Secretary of State back in December.

Tillerson came into office with fairly good relations with think tank land.  Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about Tillerson's strong ties to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Think Tank Quickies (#286)

  • Iran conducting surveillance on US think tanks. 
  • Boris Johnson launching "hard Brexit" think tank (Institute for Free Trade).
  • Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) praises Brookings study for revealing tragic state of civic education.
  • PJ O'Rourke: The thing that makes Cato different from the rest of the think tanks in Washington is its determined nonpartisan status.
  • With Harvard dean canceling Chelsea Manning fellowship, will he go to think tank land? 
  • The Allen Institute: An AI think tank founded by Microsoft founder Paul Allen.
  • Role of think tanks in Iran.
  • Turkey's Erdogan tries (and fails) to censor an American think tank? 
  • High hopes for new think tank launched in Shenzen.
  • What's a think tank and what do people actually do there?  (from Belfast Post)

Heritage Foundation Buying Trump Voter Data

Here is more from The Daily Beast:

Three weeks after Donald Trump was elected president, a data company owned by one of his wealthiest supporters began cashing in.
The company, Cambridge Analytica, inked a deal with the nation’s leading conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, for the purpose of hitting up Trump voters for donations.
The marrying of the two institutions was made easier by a shared principle. Cambridge Analytica is run by Rebekah Mercer, who with her father provided major cash infusions for Trump and groups supporting him during the 2016 campaign. Mercer is also a board member of the Heritage Foundation, the nation’s flagship conservative think tank.

The article notes that Heritage has used Cambridge Analytica in the past, including from late 2015 to June 2016 when the firm provided "statistical models to identify new donors" and developed digital ads for the think tank.

Even though Heritage already has a large donor base (having collected nearly $80 million from donors in 2016), Cambridge Analytica thinks it can provide the think tank with another 600,000 new potential donors.

Earlier in the year, Heritage had a huge shakeup which led some to speculate that the think tank could lose a big chunk of its donor support.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Bannon Objected to Think Tank Head Pick at DoD

Here is a juicy tidbit from The New York Times about Michele Flournoy, Co-Founder and CEO of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), who was being considered for a top defense slot in the Trump Administration:

Shortly before inauguration, Mr. [Jim] Mattis signaled he intended to pick Michele A. Flournoy, a hawkish Democrat who would most likely have been Hillary Clinton's defense secretary, as his chief deputy [at DoD].
The pick stunned Mr. Trump's advisers.  Stephen K. Bannon, then the president's chief strategist, warned that it would infuriate longtime loyalists of the president and influential conservative senators, such as Tom Cotton or Arkansas.  Ms. Flournoy, according to people with direct knowledge of the exchange, told the new secretary he would lose the fight, but Mr. Mattis, a veteran combat commander, assured her that he would win - and he prevailed, gaining Mr. Bannon's unlikely blessing.
Ultimately, Ms. Flournoy opted against taking the job...

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about why Flournoy turned down the job.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

EU Uses Atlantic Council to Lobby US on Iran Deal

European Union (EU) countries have been pouring money into powerful US think tanks for years in order to influence US policy in a number of area.  Here is a recent example from The New York Times, which shows how European countries are trying to preserve the Iran nuclear deal:

...Europe is far closer to Iran and at much greater risk than the United States should it develop nuclear weapons. 
On Monday, the ambassadors to the United States from Britain, France, Germany and the European Union met on a stage at the Atlantic Council in Washington to reinforce that message.
Gérard Araud, the French ambassador, said that it was not just the Europeans who refused to renegotiate but also Iran as well as China and Russia. Their position, he said, was, “‘No way. There won’t be any reopening of the agreement. The agreement is working as it is.’”

Here is a link to that Atlantic Council event, which included a conversation with the French Ambassador to the US, German Ambassador to the US, United Kingdom Ambassador to the US, and the EU Ambassador to the US.

European countries that give money to Atlantic Council include the UK, Norway, Sweden, Latvia, Montenegro, Cyprus, Slovakia, Lithuania, Finland, Poland, and Luxembourg.