Friday, April 27, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#311)

  • Tyler Cowen: Are libertarian think tankers smarter?
  • Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH): Think tanks should be a key component of Global Engagement Center (GEC).
  • John Glaser of Cato: "Academic expertise should guide US foreign policy.  Unfortunately, it does not really work that way."
  • Afghanistan's national security advisor visits US think tanks.
  • Dinesh D'Souza: Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) better suited as a policy wonk at a think tank.
  • The Economist summarizes new RAND report on the balance of forces on Europe's borders with Russia.
  • Joshua Rosner: Should Brookings and Urban Institute be taking Wells Fargo money?
  • Why Jeremy Corbyn needs a think tank.
  • US Ambassador to India Ken Juster hosts reception for Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
  • Mike Pompeo a "great friend" of the Hudson Institute.
  • Fact of the week: Eurasia Group's Ian Bremmer served on the faculty of the Hoover Institution where, at 25, he became the think tank's youngest ever National Fellow.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

New RAND Study: AI Could Lead to Nuclear War by 2040

A new RAND Corporation study warns that artificial intelligence (AI) could lead to nuclear war by 2040.

The study, entitled "How Might Artificial Intelligence Affect the Risk of Nuclear War," is part of a special project within the think tank, known as Security 2040, to look over the horizon and anticipate coming threats.

The report, co-authored by Edward Geist and Andrew Lohn, is already getting a lot of media attention, including from CNBC, Newsweek, New York Post, and many others.

As Think Tank Watch recently reported, think tanks are getting very serious about studying AI, with a number of policy shops jockeying to take the lead as the go-to source for AI.

Rise of Philanthropy Creating Ultra-Rich Think Tanks

As philanthropy both in the US and abroad continues to grow, think tanks are increasingly becoming the beneficiaries of that generosity, often times raking in tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Here is more about the state of philanthropy from Scott Sherman in Lapham's Quarterly:

Seventy thousand individuals have assets of $30 million or more, and five thousand households have assets of over $100 million. The superwealthy have a choice: they can allow the IRS to tax their money at 40 percent, or they can dispose of their fortunes via philanthropy. Consequently, in the past fifteen years, thirty thousand new private foundations have been established. There are now more than ninety thousand private foundations, whose assets total $700 billion. These foundations supply money to more than a million tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations. Some of these nonprofits are financially secure, but many chafe under immense anxiety as they await annual grants from their masters in the foundation suites.
Of the top eighty American foundations, only twenty-six post detailed information about their current grant making on public databases.

But while money is flowing to think tanks from philanthropic organizations and foundations, many have begun to question the motives behind that money, which is often used as a tool to buy influence and power and to steer political debate in a particular direction.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Think Tank Bashed for Response to Sexual Harassment Claims

Here is what BuzzFeed is reporting about the liberal think tank Center for American Progress (CAP):

One of Washington's leading liberal institutions grappled with a divisive internal battle over sexual harassment during and in the aftermath of the 2016 election, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News and interviews with 19 current and former staffers.
The Center for American Progress, the politics and policy hub for the Democratic establishment, has put out four different policy proposal papers on handling sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as data on how pervasive the issue is “across all industries.”
But only an hour after the Access Hollywood tape was made public, top officials at CAP received an exit memo from a young woman who'd just quit detailing the sexual harassment she experienced from Benton Strong, a manager on her team — harassment, she wrote, that management already knew about — and how she faced retaliation for reporting it.
In the email, the junior staffer, who asked that BuzzFeed News refer her to as Mary, which is part of the woman’s formal name, wrote that “on several occasions, myself and others on the team felt as if reporting had been a mistake and that the retaliation, worsening of already tenuous team dynamics, and treatment by supervisors outweighed the seemingly positive act of reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Documents obtained by BuzzFeed News and interviews with 19 current and former staffers describe a chaotic internal culture in which, according to a July 2016 memo written by CAP’s employee union, there were “several incidents of sexual harassment against several members of our unit.” The documents and interviews pull back the curtain on a culture in which young staffers felt there was a gap between the organization’s mission and its everyday realities.

Sexual harassment within the think tank world is extremely common, and a number of incidents have come to light in the wake of the #MeToo movement.  Here is our recent piece on a sex scandal at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Update: BuzzFeed in now reporting that CAP President Neera Tanden named the anonymous harassment victim in an all-staff meeting.  Here is more from ThinkProgress.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#310)

  • Following in Bernanke's footsteps, Janet Yellen maintains think tank job at Brookings while getting paid by Wall St. elite. 
  • Paul Manafort authorized secret media operation on behalf of Ukraine's former president, featuring "black ops" PR campaign that included fake think tanks.
  • Think tanks among those who provided input to US government on Chinese tariffs.
  • Robert Wright: How think tanks and media impede the perspective-taking that can help prevent war.
  • Google spends tens of millions on think tanks that back its policies.
  • Prospect Magazine: "You have the male heads of think tanks being put on panels, but asking their younger female colleagues to provide speaking notes."
  • 80% of think tanks in the US and Europe founded by men?
  • Greater China female experts' directory.
  • Majority of think tanks taking China's side in US-China trade war? 
  • Ruth Levine: Think tank annual reports.  Stop the madness!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

New Study: Influence of Think Tanks on Congress

A new study has found that more extreme think tanks are more frequently cited in congressional floor speeches, but more moderate think tanks are called more often to testify.

Here is the abstract of the study, by Dr. Joshua Lerner:
Skirting the lines between academic, promotional and advocacy organizations, think tanks spend an inordinate amount of time and money attempting to influence policy debates, all the while being legally barred from lobbying. Think tanks, unlike interest groups, do not bring with them electoral constituencies to advocate on behalf of, so the ways in which they persuade legislators to adopt their opinions cannot simply be electoral in nature. Using a dataset of think tank citations from congressional floor speeches and committee testimony records, I compare the influence of think tanks based on a new measure of their ideologies and, in doing so, show that think tanks engage in strategic ideological positioning to maximize their influence. An additional hypothesis examined is the relationship between think tank members’ previous work experiences in government with the organizations’ overall prominence. By treating think tanks as strategic actors in legislative politics, I show that think tanks’ ideological positioning affects directly how members of Congress engage with them, both by citing them in floor speeches and in calling them to testify, with more extreme think tanks being cited more frequently in floor speeches and more moderate think tanks called more often to testify.

Dr. Lerner is a Postdoctural Research Fellow at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Rumor: Paul Ryan Could Become Next President of AEI

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced this week that he will not seek re-election, meaning that he is in the hunt for a new job.

It just so happens that American Enterprise Institute (AEI) President Arthur Brooks recently announced his intention to step down as president of the think tank in the summer of 2019.

Many rumors are floating around that Ryan, a conservative policy wonk, could succeed Brooks as head of AEI.

After all, Ryan has made numerous visits to the think tank over the years, and it would allow him to use his deep connections within the US Congress to continue to build up the reputation and clout of AEI while maintaining contact with the legislative branch.

If all the timelines are kept and Ryan leaves Capitol Hill around late December, that would give him around six or seven months to enjoy a post-Speaker "retirement" as he prepares to transition into think tank land.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about Ryan's connections to think tanks.

Stay tuned...

White House Visitor Logs Show Lots of Think Tank Visits

Here is more from Politico:

President Donald Trump has kept White House visitor logs under wraps after eight years of transparency from President Barack Obama, but beginning this week voters will get a peek, at least, at the comings and goings on campus, POLITICO’s Lorraine Woellert reports. The Secret Service released a set of heavily redacted visitor logs Wednesday as part of a legal settlement between the Trump administration and watchdog group Public Citizen, which had sued under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain records of four agencies housed inside the White House compound: the offices of Management and Budget, Science and Technology Policy and National Drug Control Policy, and the Council on Environmental Quality.
The logs track visitors for the month of February, which included conservative think-tank types Myron Ebell and Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, David Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation and Jim Tozzi of the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness. Trump administration loyalist C. Boyden Gray dropped in twice to chat with Mark Paoletta, the former veep chief counsel who’s now at OMB. Ellen Lurie Hoffman of the National Housing Trust paid a visit to OMB’s civil service wing.

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch post about how more than 125 Trump staffers have come from think tanks.

Think Tank Quickies (#309)

  • Daily Caller: Outgoing National Security Advisor McMaster worked for foreign think tank funded by China and Russia; sought Clinton Foundation funding.
  • Flashback: Stephen Hawking joined anti-robot apocalypse think tank (Cambridge Project for Existential Risk).
  • Tomáš Valášek: Think tanks need to update the way they communicate.
  • Why Jeremy Corbyn needs a think tank.
  • Free market think tanks, persuasion, and big data.
  • Uzbek-American think tanks to carry out joint research.
  • 2018 ranking of free-market think tanks measured by social media impact. 
  • VOA video: The influence of think tanks in US policy.
  • Think tanker Alan Romberg, a China expert, passes away.
  • How a creative think tank in Austin is developing a new generation on interactive storytellers.
  • Think tank Tokyo Foundation changes name to Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Think Tank-Related Job of the Week

This one is for a well-known pharmaceutical-related trade association that wants someone to act as a liaison with the think tank community:

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) is seeking an Associate Vice President for its International Advocacy team to develop policy positions, strategies, and analysis to improve patient access to innovative medicines. The individual will work collaboratively across the organization and with member companies, trade associations, and other stakeholders on international market access policy priorities. Specific policy issues include government pricing and reimbursement, health technology assessment, health care financing, and trade-related market access barriers. The Associate Vice President will: Develop innovative policy positions, strategies, and analysis to advance international market access policy priorities in conjunction with International policy team lead; Collaborate with member companies and other stakeholders, including senior leaders, to build consensus and advance policy proposals that help solve patient access barriers in key overseas markets. This will include advising and providing appropriate counsel to stakeholders; Lead research projects and manage consultants to ensure high quality, timely, and impactful work products; Serve as the face of PhRMA and represent the organization at meetings with US and foreign governments, member companies, trade associations, academia, think tanks, consultants, and other stakeholders.

The full job posting can be found here.

China Daily Recuiting US Think Tankers to Influence China Policy?

Translations from a Chinese government document have surfaced which purportedly show that Chinese state-run newspaper China Daily has recruited scores of think tankers overseas to help portray China in a positive light.

Here is one unofficial translation:
Let China’s positive energy “go out” and consolidate and expand the team of overseas commentators. Through cooperation with the United States Bogleun Institute, Canadian Global Governance and Innovation Research Center, Australian think tank Lowy International Policy Institute and other think tank institutions, we have absorbed nearly 200 overseas think tanks as China Daily special commentators, over the past year Published more than 300 of their signature review articles, allowing these “influential people” to influence more overseas audiences and explain Chinese stories.

Obviously, the translation is not perfect.  For example, the "Bogleun Institute" is actually referring to the Los Angeles-based Berggruen Institute.

Here is the original document in Chinese, via the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Think Tank Creates Bingo Game for Facebook Hearing

This is from the conservative think tank R Street Institute:

Background and rules:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be testifying before Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday. So join us in playing ZUCKERBINGO!

Step 1: Use the following words to fill out your own BINGO board. Make sure it’s 5 squares by 5 squares, and that you have a free space – paid for by ads – in the middle.

Step 2: As congressmen and Zuckerberg say the words, mark them off.

Step 3: Tweet us at @RSI with an image of your board when you have BINGO!

The first player to win will get a “No Step on Snek” mug. Other winners will be randomly selected to win prizes.

Tweet us as you hear the ZUCKERBINGO words for extra credit!

Tip: If you like that game, you may want to print out this think tank event bingo sheet.

Pic: Every Think Tank Conference Needs This

This is from Imogene Dudley, a doctoral candidate at the University of Exeter:

Monday, April 9, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#308)

  • Graph: How the income of the 20 largest US think tanks developed over the last few years.
  • Beijing think tank described the White House as a tribal battleground dominated by the "Trump family clan."
  • The technology think tank everyone wants to be a part of in 2018.
  • Dan Drezner: Has Twitter tainted the public intellectual?
  • Middle East scholar: "People like me who do this kind of work...they all get money from think tanks - and universities are the same thing - all financed by the Saudis."
  • Dr. Christopher Rastrick on think tanks.
  • Nearly all think tanks founded by men?  7.4% of think tanks in US/EU founded solely by women.
  • Will big pharma soon have to disclose payments to think tanks? 
  • Jorge Guajardo: "The world's best universities, think tanks, academics, media, deliberative forums, and the country ends up with Peter Navarro and Trump."
  • Josh Barro was a think tanker (i.e., Manhattan Institute).

Sunday, April 8, 2018

South Korea Blacklisting Think Tank Scholars for Criticizing Its North Korea Policy?

Foreign governments often demand a lot from the US think tanks they donate to.  In return for hundreds of thousands (and often times millions) of dollars each year, those foreign nations expect (and often demand) in return a specific outcome from the think tank product.  When a think tank does not tow the line, they often try to force out specific scholars, and, as a last resort, cut funding.

Here are a few excerpts from the One Free Korea blog, which is authored by Joshua Stanton:

The Chosun Ilbo and the Joongang Ilbo now report that the South Korean government directed the Korean Institute for International Economic Policy (KEIP) to cut most of its funding to Johns Hopkins University's US-Korea Institute (USKI), except for some Korean language and Korea studies training.  KIEP calls itself a "government-funded think tank," but it is a certain creation of South Korean law and has a "" web address.  And as you're about to see, it clearly takes its direction from the South Korean government.
Paradoxically, USKI is best known for publishing the reliably soft-line, anti-anti-North Korean, pro-"engagement" 38 North blog.  It's the last outlet you'd think Moon Jae-in's people would mess with.  USKI was founded in 2006, the year after the Korea Foundation pulled its funding from AEI.  According to USKI's website, it receives "generous support from the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP)," among others.  The Joongang Ilbo also reports that USKI runs a Korea training program for students entering the US State Department, which sounds like a great way to plant the seeds of long-term influence over our government's policies.
Not surprisingly, USKI and the KIEP have different explanations for KIEP's funding decision, and by the end of this post, you'll see why.  KIEP says the National Assembly demanded the cut over questions about transparency of USKI's budget.  But Robert Gallucci, the Director of USKI, says the real reason is that the Blue House wanted him to fire Jae Ku, one of the few right-of-center thinkers at USKI.  Later, Gallucci says the Blue House also told him to fire Jenny Town, a co-founded of 38 North.
Separately, a column in the Joongang Ilbo reports that the Moon administration has been blacklisting Korean and American scholars for criticizing its North Korea policy.  According to the column, the Sejong Institute's new management forced out David Straub, a highly respected Korea scholar, author, and former diplomat as a Visiting Researcher...Evidently, the Blue House objected to Straub's warnings that policy differences between Moon and Trump could lead to a "decoupling" of the US-Korea alliance. 

Johns Hopkins houses a variety of think tank and think tank-like entities, including the the Center for Transatlantic Relations and the the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI).

The following are some other Korea-related stories we've recently reported on:
  • Meet the one-man think tank on North Korea. 
  • Three of the top think tanks (Brookings, CSIS, Heritage) have former high-ranking CIA/intelligence officers running their Korea programs.
  • Following his canceled nomination as US Ambassador to Korea, CSIS's Victor Cha joins MSNBC team as a Korean affairs analyst.
  • A US spy agency is partnering with NGOs and think tanks to track North Korea.
  • North Korea is reaching out to think tanks to understand President Trump. 

Update:  The Associated Press (AP) is now reporting that USKI, which was receiving $1.8 million each year from the Korean government, will close after it rejected South Korean demands to change its leadership.  Officials at Johns Hopkins said up to eight people could lose their jobs.

The Washington Post's Anna Fifield has some more interesting details about the situation.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Mueller Probing Russian Investments in US Think Tanks

Several large US think tanks are likely under federal investigation after it was revealed that US Special Counsel Robert Mueller is scrutinizing their ties to Russia.

Here is more from Vanity Fair:

Mueller’s team has stopped two Russian oligarchs who recently made trips to the United States, searching at least one, and has made an informal overture to a third requesting an interview and documents, CNN reported Wednesday. According to multiple sources familiar with Mueller’s tactics, the special counsel is focused on the potential flow of money from Russia to Trump’s campaign and inauguration. He’s particularly interested in Russian investments in think tanks and political-action committees that donated to Trump’s campaign, and in “straw donors,” or American citizens who fielded Russian money to skirt campaign finance laws.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece entitled "Mueller Probe Witness Linked to Shady Think Tank Payments," which discusses how United Arab Emirates (UAE) money circuitously made its way to a couple of Washington think tanks.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

How a Conservative Think Tank is Trying to Tackle Climate Change

Here is more from the Washington Post:

While President Trump is systematically rolling back his predecessor’s efforts to combat climate change, the conservative Hoover Institution is trying to address the reality of rising temperatures, higher sea levels and more extreme weather.
The center-right think tank, which is affiliated with Stanford University and home to GOP grandees like Condoleezza Rice, is pursuing a host of initiatives that treat climate change as a pressing national security challenge and a market failure that requires government intervention.
It’s a striking contrast to Washington, where the Paris accord has been abandoned, skeptics of established science hold some of the most important jobs in government and congressional Republicans long ago eschewed promises to seriously confront environmental disruption.
But here, the spirit of innovation that defines Silicon Valley trumps the ideological rigidity that reigns in the capital.
George Shultz, who served as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, embraces the idea of a carbon tax. He says this would free up private firms to find the most efficient ways to cut emissions. The 97-year-old chairs an energy policy task force at Hoover that, among other solutions, advocates for expanding nuclear power. “Let’s take out an insurance policy to protect against the risk of climate change,” Shultz said.
Gary Roughead,  the former chief of naval operations, studies the consequences of global warming in the Arctic. This is causing polar ice caps to melt and, for all intents and purposes, opening a new ocean. That means trade routes will soon exist that are now blocked by ice. The retired admiral, one of only two people to ever command both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets, believes the U.S. must prepare for and capitalize on this. That will require checking Russia’s expansionary push in the northern sea lanes.
James Mattis, who spent almost four years at Hoover between retiring from the Marines and leaving to becoming secretary of defense, has also described climate change as a national security threat, citing the rising sea levels and desertification. Lake Chad, for example, has shrunk by about 90 percent since 1990, causing the instability that fueled the rise of the Boko Haram terrorist group.
Hoover has even hired an alumna of Barack Obama’s White House to focus on climate change. Alice Hill was a special assistant to the president and the senior director for resilience policy on the National Security Council. Before that, she served as a judge and led a climate change task force at the Department of Homeland Security.

The article goes on to say that Hoover "is not monolithic," and there are several scholars at the think tank who are essentially climate change deniers.

Notes the article: "But for those looking for solutions, the focus is on market innovations more than government mandates - naturally, for a think tank where Milton Friedman spent three decades as a research fellow."

Monday, April 2, 2018

Think Tank Quickies (#307)

  • 2005 flashback: War of Ideas: Why mainstream and liberal foundations and the think tanks they support are losing in the war of ideas in American politics (by Andrew Rich).
  • 2007 flashback: Think tank confidential (by AEI's Christopher DeMuth).
  • 2003 flashback: The corruption of think tanks (by Steven Clemons).
  • 2002 flashback: The role of think tanks in Chinese foreign policy (by He Li).
  • 1999 flashback: The think tank as flack: How Microsoft and other corporations use conservative policy groups (by David Callahan).
  • 1997 flashback: RNC ex-chief details funds for think tank.
  • 1997 flashback: The Manhattan Institute has nudged New York to the right.
  • 2005 flashback: Think tank (USIP) is moving up in the world.
  • 2001 flashback: "Ted Halstead's New America Foundation Has It All: Money, Brains and Buzz."
  • 1988 flashback: Think tank (Urban Institute) survives lean times.