A piece of advice after BERSIH 5.0


November 24, 2016

A piece of advice after BERSIH 5.0

by Azly Rahman

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Malaysians, we need to come back to our senses. Our strength will still come from diversity and the respect and cultivation of talent. We should rejoice and celebrate the achievements of this nation for that beautiful concept of unity in diversity; not to organise any rally that spews hatred and invoke the horrors of the May 13, 1969 tragedy.

 

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The recent yellow-shirt 60,000 strong-mass rally in Malaysia, urging cleaner elections and the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak ended in both warring parties winning – the protesters got their message across for the fifth time and the government got to test-drive the 2012 Special Offences Act (Sosma), its new anti-terrorist law, for the first time.

The leader of BERSIH (‘Clean’ in Malay), Maria Chin Abdullah, a long-time human rights activist, is now in solitary confinement, detained like a suspected Islamic State (IS) terrorist while investigations on her alleged links with the American intelligence-gathering-legit-government agency, the CIA, are being carried out. Exactly how she is linked will be a puzzle and a mystery, like those of the world-famous money-laundering and high-profile case of the Malaysian 1MDB.

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But the government, as always, is winning. I attribute this perpetual victory to one concept – hegemony. Rousseau and Gramsci have written a lot about this idea of ‘common sense’. The control over Man, machinery, media, and money.

The former Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled Malaysia with an iron glove for 22 years mastered this concept. Today he marches with the BERSIH protesters, outside of the real of hegemony he created, and trying to figure out how to play the game of counter-hegemony and feels what it is like to play with authority.

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Najib learned politics from Mahahtir Mohamed

Ironically, the authority he is trying to bring down was a child of his own creation – his Frankenstein. Or rather, culturally speaking, his Badang. It is a tough and complicating act and one which seemingly has no poetic justice in sight.

Recently, in a US-based publication, I wrote about the representation of the Malays on the eve of the red-shirt-yellow-shirt confrontation:

“ … Aren’t Malaysians tired of seeing the Malays being represented as buffoons, stupid, amok-prone, close-minded, rempits, kris-kissing fools, Ali Baba forty-thieves, rejects, religious fanatics, red-shirts, whatever shirts… it is a clever production and reproduction of the Malay ruling class, both feudal and wannabe-feudal… so that the Jebat aspect of the Malay – the amuck, the wannabe-sultan, the misogynic, the sex-maniac-royal groper and rapist of ancient Malacca, the royal-jet-setting-good-for-nothing-ancient-kings, the hedonistic, the grotesque epicure, the gangster, the absurd – is pushed forward and propagated to strengthen the Tuah aspect – the fool that followed the foolish orders of the foolish and idiotic Malacca sultan, the womaniser-cum-religious leader – the bad hombre of Malay culture – these are the twin representation of the Malays. A laughing stock – the Malays are made to become…” Source here.

So – how now brown cow? What are Malaysians to do after yet another rally? After yet another governmental pounding on the protesters with arrests a la Machiavelli?

The way forward

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Dr. Azly Rahman–An Educator for Peace

As an educator for peace and an advocate of long-haul bloodless revolutions focusing on changing consciousness through education and self-reflection, through living an ethical, morally-compassed, and intelligible life for the collective-good of society, I would suggest the following as a long-term plan for a radical change:

It is better to focus on raising your children well in adjusting to a changing, globalising, and very diversifying Malaysian and global society. We must work harder to improve race relations, be stronger to fight corruption and power abuse, and be more intelligent in designing policies that will benefit the poor, the marginalised and the powerless.

We must teach our children to focus on ways to understand others, improving their English language skills, perfecting their moral compass, encouraging them to think well and good about children of other races and religion, to encourage them to make friends with people of other races, to be grateful that schools offer the great opportunity to love and respect teachers of different races.

Teach them to learn about the dangers of generalising, stereotyping, and projecting hate that would lead to mass deception, to encourage each child to learn about other cultures and religion, and to teach them that all of us in Malaysia are now Malaysians and not this or that group of immigrants.

We all are migrants in time and space and in history and that all of us are human beings with emotions, struggles, challenges, history of joy and despair, memory of pain and pleasure of living, and that all of us are merely of differing skin colour tone and born to speak different languages and to believe in different things about salvation and that we are all travelers in this life.

We cannot allow Malaysia to come to a point in which riots such as those race-based against the police to take root. We cannot allow the Malaysian version of #BlackLivesMatter to be the impetus for urban violence.

We are all these and will not need moments of history where we cultivate hate for the bigger picture of oppression we do not understand. We may all be pawns in this great political game of big-time plunderers and multi-ethnic robber-barons skilled at mass deception and distractions. Today, the level of corruption and the growing cases of mass corruption and power abuse that are going unpunished have made Malaysia a critically ill nation.

We should be grateful that we are still alive and breathe daily and that we must think happily and joyfully like Malaysians in order for each and every one of us to prosper in peace. We cannot travel the path of America in which racism is on the rise and of late especially in places such as Texas, Islamophobia is brewing.

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Malaysians, we need to come back to our senses. Our strength will still come from diversity and the respect and cultivation of talent. We should rejoice and celebrate the achievements of this nation for that beautiful concept of unity in diversity; not to organise any rally that spews hatred and invoke the horrors of the May 13, 1969 tragedy.

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Let us design a safer journey towards a progressive and harmonious Malaysia, beyond for example, the red T-shirt red-river of blood march of some mangled manufactured propaganda of Malay dignity.

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My Thanksgiving wish is to see a saner and more peaceful America as well as Malaysia – two countries I have loved and will continue to love. On that note: Have a blessed Thanksgiving, my fellow Americans!

Nationalism in Malaysia in Extremis


November 17, 2016

The Edge logo

Nationalism in Malaysia in Extremis

by Dr. Ooi Kee Beng

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Malay Nationalism or Tribalism ala Ku Kluk Klan

One thing that shocked me when I first went to Sweden for my studies 35 years ago was how dirty a word “Nationalism” was in Western Europe. This reaction, I realized, was very much a reflection of how the concept was positively implanted in my mind while a schoolboy in Malaysia; but it also demonstrated how greatly human experiences can differ in different parts of the world.

More importantly, it revealed to me how strongly we are intellectually captured by the language use of our times and our location.

But the Swedes are very proud of their country, so how come nationalism is frowned upon so badly? The same thing applied throughout Europe, at least until recently. Excessive immigration over the last two decades, coupled with declining economic fortunes and waning self-confidence has buoyed the ascendance of ultra-rightists groups in all countries throughout the continent.

So why was Nationalism so despised? Europe is after all the home continent of the Nation State.

For starters, Europe was always a place of endless wars often fought ostensibly for religious reasons between feudal powers. The arrival of the Nation state ideology helped to lower the frequencies of these tragedies, but only to replace it soon after with non-religious types of rationale for conflict. The American Revolution and French Republicanism added the new phenomenon of “government by the people”. The French case also brought into the equation the Left-Right Dimension that would define politics and political thinking for the next two centuries.

This conceptual division between Popular Mandate and Elite Rule expressed sharply the rights of common people on the one hand, and the role of the state on the other. Once this gap was articulated, conflating the two poles anew became a necessary task.

The three major articulations in Europe of this mammoth mission to bridge the divide and achieve a functional modern system were Liberal Democracy, Communism and Fascism. While the Anglo-Saxon world championed the first, Stalin’s Soviet Union perfected the second and Adolf Hitler developed the third to its insane conclusion. In Europe, it was basically these three actors who fought the Second World War.

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Malay Tribalism in Action

In Asia, Japan’s brand of state fascism ran riot throughout the region, rhetorically championing nationalism in the lands it took from the European colonialists.

While the National Socialism of the Third Reich died with Hitler, Fascism lived on in Franco’s Spain until 1975 and Nationalist Communism of Stalin continued in Eastern Europe until the early 1990s.

Nationalism in the rest of Europe after 1945 came to be understood with disdain as the longing of the Nation State for purity and autonomy taken to pathological lengths. It is after all always a defensive posture, as is evidenced today in its return in the form of right-wing anti-immigrant groups.

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Maruah Melayu dijual ka-Cina untuk membela masa depan politik Najib Razak–Jualan Aset 1MDB

In Malaysia, nationalism was—and for many, still is—the most highly rated attitude for a citizen to adopt.There are obvious reasons for this, given the historical and socio-political context in which Malaysia came into being. Constructing a new country out of nine sultanates, the three parts of the Straits Settlements, with Sabah and Sarawak on top of that, was a more daunting task than we can imagine today. Furthermore, the contest was also against other powerful “-isms”, especially Communism and Pan-Indonesianism. These threatened to posit what are Malaysia’s states today in a larger framework, and would have diminished these territories’ importance and uniqueness.

Putting a new regime in place of the retreating British required a rallying idea; and what better than the very fashionable image of a new nation to whom all should swear allegiance. Malayan nationalism was thus born.

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For Inclusive, Liberal and Progressive Malaysia–Escaping the Nationalism Trap

It is no coincidence that the path to independence became much easier after Malaysia’s major political party, UMNO, decided under Tunku Abdul Rahman to change its slogan from the provincial “Hidup Melayu” [Long Live the Malays] to the inclusive “Merdeka” [Independence].

But already in that transition, one can see the problem that Malaysia still lives with today. Is Malaysia the political expression of the prescriptive majority called “Melayu” [later stretched to become “Bumiputera”], or is it the arena in which the multi-ethnic nation of “Malaysians” is to evolve?

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Nationalism in essence, and most evidently so in its narrow ethno-centric sense, is defensive and fearful, and understood simplistically and applied arrogantly very quickly show strong fascist tendencies. The issue is therefore a philosophical one.

What Malaysia needs today, is to accept the regional and global context that sustains it, and work out as best it can a suitable balance between Popular Mandate and Elite Rule which is clearly less belaboured and less painful than the cul-de-sac alleyway it has backed itself into.

OOI KEE BENG is the Deputy Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute) and the Editor of the Penang Monthly (Penang Institute). He is the author of the prizewinning The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (ISEAS 2006).

“Inspiration lurks around every corner”


November 17, 2016

“Inspiration lurks around every corner”

By Ooi Kee Beng

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One of the first things that any undergraduate learns is that when writing a scientific text, he or she must provide references. In fact, without such references, a text is not considered scientific.

This referencing behaviour is meant to show that the student has been reading the correct material; and that he has been digesting the words so thoroughly that he can now include the thoughts in his own writing. Now, what a Malaysian student will end up doing is provide references to books and articles written by professors based in faraway universities and colleges.

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Dr. Ooi Kee Beng, ISEAS (Yusuf Ishak Institute, Singapore

My argument is not with this jarring asymmetry in global knowledge. It has always been the case in human history that in every period of time, knowledge is concentrated and generated at certain centres much more than at others. At the moment, much first appears in the English language and in countries using that language. What’s more, the spread of new knowledge is also strongly overseen by a global network based on that language.

Sanskrit, Latin and Chinese, among others, have played that role before. But none has the global reach and the amazing speed and width of dissemination that English today commands. The soft power that America enjoys today – and no other culture comes close to the reach of its soft power – is not merely of its own doing; it rides on the back of hundreds of years of English imperial strength and colonial mastery, during which the English language and its cultural preconditions penetrated the farthest reaches of the world.

My concern is with a serious side effect of the sharp imbalance in knowledge generation in our times. What happens is that people outside the English-speaking world are left nursing a lack of confidence, not only in themselves but also in those in close proximity to them. Their behaviour where the transfer and generation of knowledge are concerned becomes rather warped.

In writing a scientific text, for example, it is much more probable than not that a Third World person will refer an idea or train of thought to a known person from a distant land even when that idea may have come to him through some other more immediate and personal channel. This is because he had learned to assume that he gains more points among his peers by referring to the politically and academically correct person; and that his own ideas are merely approximations of that bigger idea expressed better by others.

But if we contemplate the matter and observe what actually happens in our daily life, we should realise that inspiration comes most of the time from proximate impulses and from individuals in our surrounding.

Given the habit of referring distantly, the chances of us giving credit to those around us are also diminished, and complimenting things and people in our immediate surrounding – for referencing someone is indeed a high form of compliment – is rendered suspect.

The competition among students and scholars of showing that they know something that their peers have as yet not gotten around to knowing cultivates in them the tendency to be stingy with praise and to be secretive about their immediate sources of inspiration.

This is an impoverishment of the soul and of our culture; where we withhold praise and admiration from those close to us and give generously of the same to distant and often dead persons.

Note that I am merely using academic referencing to initiate a debate on a more general matter. In my experience, inspiration can come from anywhere at any time, but if I were to inform people around me of personal epiphanies, I would not get as good a hearing as I would if I referred whatever idea I just had to some distant knowledge authority.

Perhaps this explains why prophets always come from distant lands speaking exotic languages; and sometimes bearing superior arms. Those who dare to be prophets in their homeland are forced to flee into exile or are crucified in one way or another.

Catholic hymns are sung in Latin, Japanese Buddhists chant in Chinese, and Muslim thoughts are preferred in Arabic. In the secular sphere, Coolness wears an American accent. Indeed, we seem tobe talking here about something generically human.

We tend not to join clubs that will accept us as members. Since you know me, you cannot possibly be a significant person. But I am being far too categorical here; I am not being generous. Come to think of it, there are two ideal types of people. There are those who cannot imagine that people they come into contact with can be important; and then there are those who treat all coming into their orbit as meaningful and significant. Most of us are sometimes the one, and sometimes the other.

My basic point is that, epiphanies are always waiting to happen and inspiration can come to us at any time and place. We just have to let this take place by not imagining that profundity dwells far away, and are foreign to us.

We just have to realise instead that inspiration lurks around every corner, and is present at every meeting.

This article is republished in Merdeka for the Mind: Essays  on Malaysian Struggles in the 21st Century by Dr Ooi Kee Beng (Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Centre, 2015). pp 9-11.

 

 

New Mindset required to uplift varsity standards


September 24, 2016

New Mindset required to uplift varsity standards, says my  Academic Friend, Dr. James Gomez@Bangkok University, Thailand

by Pratch Rujivanarom
The Nation

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/national/Universities-face-hard-test-to-lift-standards-30293472.html

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Bangkok University’s Dr. James Gomez
ACADEMICS have highlighted the challenges that higher education institutions within the region face in trying to meet international standards, including syllabus problems, system diversity, a lack of international staff and limited government support.

With the ASEAN Economic Community officially set up this year, improving the quality of education remains one of the community’s main goals.  This topic was the focus of a forum titled “Can Asean be a Global Higher Education Destination?” at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand recently.

Prof James Gomez from Bangkok University said many universities in ASEAN were restructuring to become international institutions to improve the quality of education and, more importantly, rebrand themselves to attract more students.

“Many university administrators chose internationalisation for increasing the university brand value, because it ensures the financial viability of the institutions by attracting more students,” Gomez said.

However, he said most universities usually directly translated syllabuses from the national language into English, so the curricula were not truly internationalised. He said another issue was that syllabuses were usually drafted by nationals, which resulted in a focus on issues particular to the home country instead of a truly international emphasis.

“From my experience in the field, most of the international university staff typically work in the language institutions or international colleges of the universities and are not stationed at the main faculties or executive positions that can guide the university’s policy,” he said.

Assoc Prof Nantana Gajaseni, Executive Director of the ASEAN University Network, said there was great diversity and disparity between educational systems in ASEAN states, so it was hard to harmonise a standardised system within the region.

‘Diversity makes credit transfers hard’

“The major challenge of internationalisation of higher education in Asean is the system diversity and quality recognition of the education. This disparity is making student and credit transfers among [ASEAN countries] and beyond the region hard,” Nantana said.

Gomez added that there was a lack of international staff in the region because of low salaries, the lack of research grants and government regulatory barriers. “There is the income gap between the rich countries in the region, such as Singapore and Malaysia, and the rest of the region. This income gap makes fewer international staff choose to work in these [lower-income] countries,” he said.

“Another barrier is the limitation of research grants. For instance, Malaysia limits applicants for its grants to Malaysian citizens only. Furthermore, consideration for research scholarships usually focuses on the national perspective only and it is hard for the researchers to apply for funds to study the international perspectives.”

Wesley Teter, UNESCO senior consultant for the Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, related his experiences teaching in China, where government regulations could be a barrier for international staff. In his case, strict information restrictions imposed by the Chinese government made academic research more difficult, reducing the appeal for international researchers.

Nantana said another big problem for internationalisation was budgetary. She said high-income countries in the region such as Singapore and Brunei had an easier time encouraging the internationalisation of their universities, but for poorer countries the task was difficult.

“There are many problems from shortages of budgets in low-income countries such as the lack of infrastructure. Even in Thailand, the state has just let public universities rely on themselves to find revenue and does not grant governmental support anymore,” she said.

“However in my view, an abundant budget does not ensure quality education and successful internationalisation … I believe that the mindsets of university administrators and professors need to change as well to suit global education.”

In Books on Donald Trump, Consistent Portraits of a High-Decibel Narcissist


August 27, 2017

by Michiko Kakutani

http://www.nytimes.com

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Over the last year, we’ve been plunged into the alternate reality of Trumpland, as though we were caught in the maze of his old board game, “Trump: The Game,” with no exit in sight. It’s a Darwinian, dog-eat-dog, zero-sum world where greed is good, insults are the lingua franca, and winning is everything (or, in tangled Trumpian syntax, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!”).

To read a stack of new and reissued books about Mr. Trump, as well as a bunch of his own works, is to be plunged into a kind of Bizarro World version of Dante’s “Inferno,” where arrogance, acquisitiveness and the sowing of discord are not sins, but attributes of leadership; a place where lies, contradictions and outrageous remarks spring up in such thickets that the sort of moral exhaustion associated with bad soap operas quickly threatens to ensue.

That the subject of these books is not a fictional character but the Republican nominee for president can only remind the reader of Philip Roth’s observation, made more than 50 years ago, that American reality is so stupefying, “so weird and astonishing,” that it poses an embarrassment to the novelist’s “meager imagination.”

Books about Mr. Trump tend to fall into two categories. There are funny ones that focus on Trump the Celebrity of the 1980s and ’90s — a cartoony avatar of greed and wretched excess and what Garry Trudeau (“Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump”) calls “big, honking hubris.” And there are serious biographies that try to shed light on Mr. Trump’s life and complex, highly opaque business dealings as a real estate magnate, which are vital to understanding the judgment, decision-making abilities and financial entanglements he would bring to the Oval Office.

Because of Mr. Trump’s lack of transparency surrounding his business interests (he has even declined to disclose his tax returns) and because of his loose handling of facts and love of hyperbole, serious books are obligated to spend a lot of time sifting through business and court documents. (USA Today recently reported that there are “about 3,500 legal actions involving Trump, including 1,900 where he or his companies were a plaintiff and about 1,300 in which he was the defendant.”) And they must also fact-check his assertions (PolitiFact rates 35 percent of his statements False, and 18 percent “Pants on Fire” Lies).

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Perhaps because they were written rapidly as Mr. Trump’s presidential candidacy gained traction, the latest of these books rarely step back to analyze in detail the larger implications and repercussions of the Trump phenomenon. Nor do they really map the landscape in which he has risen to popularity and is himself reshaping through his carelessness with facts, polarizing remarks and disregard for political rules.

For that matter, these books shed little new light on controversial stands taken by Mr. Trump which, many legal scholars and historians note, threaten constitutional guarantees and American democratic traditions. Those include his call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and the “extreme vetting” of immigrants; his talk of revising libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations over critical coverage; an ethnic-tinged attack on a federal judge that raises questions about his commitment to an independent judiciary; and his incendiary use of nativist and bigoted language that is fueling racial tensions and helping to mainstream far-right views on race.

Some of these books touch fleetingly on Mr. Trump’s use of inflammatory language and emotional appeal to feelings of fear and anger, but they do not delve deeply into the consequences of his nativist rhetoric or his contempt for the rules of civil discourse. They do, however, provide some sense of history, reminding us that while Mr. Trump’s craving for attention and use of controversy as an instrument of publicity have remained the same over the years, the surreal switch of venues — from the New York tabloid universe and the world of reality TV to the real-life arena of national and global politics — has turned formerly “small-potatoes stakes,” as one writer put it, into something profoundly more troubling. From WrestleMania-like insults aimed at fellow celebrities, Mr. Trump now denigrates whole racial and religious groups and questions the legitimacy of the electoral system.

A “semi-harmless buffoon” in Manhattan in the waning decades of the 20th century — as the editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick, terms the businessman in a foreword to Mark Singer’s book “Trump and Me” — has metamorphosed into a political candidate whom 50 senior Republican national security officials recently said “would be the most reckless president in American history,” putting “at risk our country’s national security and well being.”

Two new books provide useful, vigorously reported overviews of Mr. Trump’s life and career. “Trump Revealed,” by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher of The Washington Post, draws heavily on work by reporters of The Post and more than 20 hours of interviews with the candidate. Much of its material will be familiar to readers — thanks to newspaper articles and Michael D’Antonio’s 2015 biography (“Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success”) — but “Trump Revealed” deftly charts his single-minded building of his gaudy brand and his often masterful manipulation of the media.

It provides a succinct account of Mr. Trump’s childhood, when he says he punched a teacher, giving him a black eye. It also recounts his apprenticeship to a demanding father, who told him he needed to become a “killer” in anything he did, and how he learned the art of the counterattack from Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s former right-hand man, whom Mr. Trump hired to countersue the federal government after the Justice Department brought a case against the Trump family firm in 1973 for violating the Fair Housing Act.

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Donald is not Ronald Reagan

“The Making of Donald Trump” by David Cay Johnston — a former reporter for The New York Times who has written extensively about Mr. Trump — zeros in on Mr. Trump’s business practices, arguing that while he presents himself as “a modern Midas,” much “of what he touches” has often turned “to dross.” Mr. Johnston, who has followed the real estate impresario for nearly three decades, offers a searing indictment of his business practices and creative accounting. He examines Mr. Trump’s taste for debt, what associates have described as his startling capacity for recklessness, multiple corporate bankruptcies, dealings with reputed mobsters and accusations of fraud.

The portrait of Mr. Trump that emerges from these books, old or new, serious or satirical, is remarkably consistent: a high-decibel narcissist, almost comically self-obsessed; a “hyperbole addict who prevaricates for fun and profit,” as Mr. Singer wrote in The New Yorker in 1997.

Mr. Singer also describes Mr. Trump as an “insatiable publicity hound who courts the press on a daily basis and, when he doesn’t like what he reads, attacks the messengers as ‘human garbage,’” “a fellow both slippery and naïve, artfully calculating and recklessly heedless of consequences.”

At the same time, Mr. Singer and other writers discern an emptiness underneath the gold-plated armor. In “Trump and Me,” Mr. Singer describes his subject as a man “who had aspired to and achieved the ultimate luxury, an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.” Mr. Kranish and Mr. Fisher likewise suggest that Mr. Trump “had walled off” any pain he experienced growing up and “hid it behind a never-ending show about himself.” When they ask him about friends, they write, he gives them — off the record — the names of three men “he had had business dealings with two or more decades before, men he had only rarely seen in recent years.”

Mr. Trump likes to boast about going it alone — an impulse that helps explain the rapid turnover among advisers in his campaign, and that has raised serious concerns among national security experts and foreign policy observers, who note that his extreme self-reliance and certainty (“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain”) come coupled with a startling ignorance about global affairs and an impatience with policy and details.

Passages in his books help illuminate Mr. Trump’s admiration for the strongman style of autocratic leaders like Russia’s Vladimir V. Putin, and his own astonishing “I alone can fix it” moment during his Republican convention speech. In his 2004 book, “Think Like a Billionaire,” Mr. Trump wrote: “You must plan and execute your plan alone.”

He also advised: “Have a short attention span,” adding “quite often, I’ll be talking to someone and I’ll know what they’re going to say before they say it. After the first three words are out of their mouth, I can tell what the next 40 are going to be, so I try to pick up the pace and move it along. You can get more done faster that way.”

In many respects, Mr. Trump’s own quotes and writings provide the most vivid and alarming picture of his values, modus operandi and relentlessly dark outlook focused on revenge. “Be paranoid,” he advises in one book. And in another: “When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.”

The grim, dystopian view of America, articulated in Mr. Trump’s Republican convention speech, is previewed in his 2015 book, “Crippled America” (republished with the cheerier title of “Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America”), in which he contends that “everyone is eating” America’s lunch. And a similarly nihilistic vision surfaces in other remarks he’s made over the years: “I always get even”; “For the most part, you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect”; and: “The world is a horrible place. Lions kill for food, but people kill for sport.”

Once upon a time, such remarks made Mr. Trump perfect fodder for comedians. Though some writers noted that he was already a caricature of a caricature — difficult to parody or satirize — Mr. Trudeau recalled that he provided cartoonists with “an embarrassment of follies.” And the businessman, who seems to live by the conviction that any publicity is good publicity, apparently embraced this celebrity, writing: “My cartoon is real. I am the creator of my own comic book.”

In a 1990 cartoon, Doonesbury characters argued over what they disliked more about Mr. Trump: “the boasting, the piggish consumption” or “the hideous décor of his casinos.” Sadly, the stakes today are infinitely so much huger.

A version of this article appears in print on August 26, 2016, on page C19 of the New York edition with the headline: A Tower of Trump Books, at High Volume 

Researchers or Corporate Allies? Think Tanks Blur the Line


August 7, 2016

WASHINGTON — As Lennar Corporation, one of the nation’s largest home builders, pushed ahead with an $8 billion plan to revitalize a barren swath of San Francisco, it found a trusted voice to vouch for its work: the Brookings Institution, the most prestigious think tank in the world.

The new $100 million office of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington. Credit Greg Kahn for The New York Times

“This can become a productive, mutually beneficial relationship,” Bruce Katz, a Brookings vice president, wrote to Lennar in July 2010. The ultimate benefit for Brookings: $400,000 in donations from Lennar’s different divisions.

The think tank began to aggressively promote the project, San Francisco’s biggest redevelopment effort since its recovery from the 1906 earthquake, and later offered to help Lennar, a publicly traded company, “engage with national media to develop stories that highlight Lennar’s innovative approach.”

And Brookings went further. It named Kofi Bonner, the Lennar executive in charge of the San Francisco development, as a senior fellow — an enviable credential he used to advance the company’s efforts. “He would be a trusted adviser,” an internal Brookings memo said in 2014 as the think tank sought one $100,000 donation from Lennar.

Think tanks, which position themselves as “universities without students,” have power in government policy debates because they are seen as researchers independent of moneyed interests. But in the chase for funds, think tanks are pushing agendas important to corporate donors, at times blurring the line between researchers and lobbyists. And they are doing so while reaping the benefits of their tax-exempt status, sometimes without disclosing their connections to corporate interests.

Thousands of pages of internal memos and confidential correspondence between Brookings and other donors — like JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank; K.K.R., the global investment firm; Microsoft, the software giant; and Hitachi, the Japanese conglomerate — show that financial support often came with assurances from Brookings that it would provide “donation benefits,” including setting up events featuring corporate executives with government officials, according to documents obtained by The New York Times and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

Similar arrangements exist at many think tanks. On issues as varied as military sales to foreign countries, international trade, highway management systems and real estate development, think tanks have frequently become vehicles for corporate influence and branding campaigns.

“This is about giant corporations who figured out that by spending, hey, a few tens of millions of dollars, if they can influence outcomes here in Washington, they can make billions of dollars,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, a frequent critic of undisclosed Wall Street donations to think tanks.

Washington has seen a proliferation of think tanks, particularly small institutions with narrow interests tied to specific industries. At the same time, the brand names of the field have experienced explosive growth. Brookings’s annual budget has doubled in the last decade, to $100 million. The American Enterprise Institute is spending at least $80 million on a new headquarters in Washington, not far from where the Center for Strategic and International Studies built a $100 million office tower.

The shift has occurred as non-profits in general have been under increasing pressure from their donors to meet specific goals. But for think tanks, that pressure can threaten their standing as independent arbiters in policy debates in Congress, the White House and the news media.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the greatest generation, in the post-World War II era of philanthropy, where they said, gosh, ‘Here is $1 million; spend it how you wish,’” Kimberly Churches, the Managing Director at Brookings, said in an interview.

Think tank executives reject any suggestion that they are tools of corporate influence campaigns and say they are simply teaming up with donors that have similar goals, like helping cities with economic development.

“We do not compromise our integrity,” said Martin S. Indyk, Brookings’s Executive Vice President. “We maintain our core values of quality, independence, as well as impact.”

But he acknowledged that the arrangement to appoint the Lennar executive as a senior fellow had created the “appearance of a conflict of interest.” And he said that Brookings, in the interest of transparency, had recently decided to prohibit corporations or corporate-backed foundations from making anonymous contributions.

At think tanks like Brookings, the majority of reports and events, with titles like “Five Evils: Multidimensional Poverty and Race in America” or “India at the Global High Table,” have no obvious link to corporate donors.

Still, the benefits afforded to corporations looking to cloak themselves with the authority of think tanks are strikingly evident, according to a review of documents from more than a dozen institutions.

The likely conclusions of some think tank reports, documents show, are discussed with donors — or even potential ones — before the research is complete. Drafts of the studies have been shared with donors whose opinions have then helped shape final reports. Donors have outlined how the resulting scholarship will be used as part of broader lobbying efforts. The think tanks also help donors promote their corporate brands, as Brookings does with JPMorgan Chase, whose $15.5 million contribution is the largest by a private corporation in the institution’s history.

Despite these benefits, corporations can write off the donations as charitable contributions. Some tax experts say these arrangements may amount to improper subsidies by taxpayers if think tanks are providing specific services.

“People think of think tanks as do-gooders, uncompromised and not bought like others in the political class,” said Bill Goodfellow, the executive director of the Center for International Policy, a Washington-based think tank. “But it’s absurd to suggest that donors don’t have influence. The danger is we in the think tank world are being corrupted in the same way as the political world. And all of us should be worried about it.”

A group of Democratic state attorneys general is investigating whether Exxon Mobil worked with certain think tanks in past decades to cover up its understanding of fossil fuels’ impact on climate change, in part by financing reports questioning the science, a suggestion the company rejects.

Executives at Brookings, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and other think tanks say they have systems in place to ensure that their reports are based on scholars’ independent conclusions.

“We strongly believe in our model of seeking solutions to some of our country’s most difficult problems,” John J. Hamre, the chief executive at C.S.I.S., said in a written reply to questions. “We gather stakeholders, vet ideas, find areas of agreement and highlight areas of disagreement.”

Yet researchers at think tanks are seeing corporate influence firsthand. Rachel Stohl, a senior associate at the Stimson Center in Washington, said she had been quizzed by potential donors as she tried to raise money for research on the military’s use of armed drones.

“‘Are you going to say drones are bad?’” she recalled one potential financial backer asking. “‘We are not interested in funding something that says drones are bad.’”

Donations and Rewards

The confidential Brookings spreadsheet had an unassuming title: Corporate Overviews Tracking. It listed nearly 90 corporations, from Alcoa to Wells Fargo, providing a glimpse of the vast electronic file that Brookings maintained on donors and prospects, and the benefits it might offer.

The database, along with thousands of pages of emails, solicitations for money and memos on meetings with corporate officials, highlighted Brookings’s practice of assuring that donors would see results from their contributions.

The Brookings Institution, which operates on a $100 million annual budget, twice what it was a decade ago.Credit: Greg Kahn for The New York Times

The files included company priorities and a tally of donations. General Electric wanted to fund work on rail networks and clean energy programs — both critical parts of its business — and Brookings then featured G.E. executives, joined by officials from the White House and Congress, at events that focused on these industries.

In 2004, Brookings established its Metropolitan Policy Program, devised to stimulate economic growth in cities. As the country was emerging from recession, Brookings bolstered its ties to corporate donors in 2010 by naming Marek Gootman, a lobbyist from Patton Boggs, as its first director of strategic partnerships. He was assigned to work with “a national network of elected, business and civic leaders engaged in city and metropolitan area policy development and implementation.”

From the start, the program blended a variety of insights on urban matters, including from corporate, nonprofit and government sources. And Mr. Indyk noted that any reports issued were made public.

Donations to the program exploded, from $4.3 million in 2005 to $12.5 million in 2013, nearly 20 percent of Brookings’s overall program spending that year.

K.K.R., after starting special funds around 2010 to invest in real estate and other infrastructure projects, donated $450,000 to Brookings, some of it as the institution agreed to set up meetings for a top K.K.R. executive with community leaders in Philadelphia and Detroit, where the company was considering real estate projects. Brookings separately produced a report, published on K.K.R.’s website, promoting one of the company’s infrastructure projects in New Jersey, after the company executive suggested such a piece.

In advance of a 2014 event Brookings officials attended with corporate executives including Henry R. Kravis, a co-chairman of K.K.R., one memo marked as confidential noted: “K.K.R. has given a total of $350K to Brookings. Last gift came in on 3/27/2014 for $150K to Metro; Henry has donated $75K to Brookings, most going to the individual unrestricted fund.”

The tally demonstrates the important distinction that Brookings makes between “unrestricted” donations, which the think tank can spend on any research, and project-based funding restricted to specific topics that the donor has a particular interest in.

Lennar joined Brookings’s Metropolitan Leadership Council, established for the program’s top donors, in July 2010. That month, the company won approval to redevelop Hunters Point in San Francisco, turning the area into a more than 700-acre mix of housing, education and commercial development.

Brookings would later name the project one of the three most “transformative investments in the United States.”

The San Francisco project generated controversy from the beginning, with critics concerned about toxic waste left by the former Navy shipyard.

Lennar joined with Brookings as protests were escalating in 2010. One complaint, filed by area residents with the Environmental Protection Agency, said the San Francisco Health Department was “conspiring with Lennar Corporation to conceal the health threats of asbestos-laden dust.” The company was busy at the time looking for investors to help it complete the project, known as the San Francisco Shipyard.

A spokesman for Lennar, Glenn Bunting, disputed claims that the company had donated to Brookings out of self-interest — and said the alliance was not related to the protests.

“There was nothing needed in the way of assistance for Lennar to ‘buy’ from Brookings,” Mr. Bunting said in an email. Brookings, though, continued to promote the project.

“San Francisco’s Shipyard project is both physically and economically transformative for the Bay Area and globally significant,” Mr. Katz, the Brookings vice president, said in a news release issued by San Francisco’s mayor in 2011 as Lennar’s hunt for major investors intensified. “This project promises to set a new paradigm for successfully conceiving, financing and delivering transformative infrastructure projects in the United States.”

Follow-up memos were more explicit: Brookings, as it sought an additional $50,000 from Lennar in 2014, said it was prepared to “use our convening power, research expertise, network connections and knowledge of innovative practices to help further drive the ultimate impact and success” of Lennar’s project and to “provide public validation of San Francisco’s efforts through national and local media coverage.”

The think tank soon delivered.

Mr. Katz made appearances alongside Mr. Bonner, the Lennar executive, to promote the project to government officials and business leaders in California. In 2014, around the time the think tank sought an additional round of money from Lennar, Brookings invited its new nonresident senior fellow, Mr. Bonner, who has a master’s degree in architecture and is a former government planner for several California cities, to appear at an event at its headquarters.

“I am working in San Francisco in a fabulous property,” Mr. Bonner said at the event, referring to Lennar’s Shipyard project.

In March, at an international conference of real estate developers and investors in Cannes, France, Lennar sponsored a session in which Brookings researchers helped the company highlight the Shipyard.

“Kofi is what I would describe as the quintessential city builder,” Julie Wagner, a Brookings nonresident senior fellow, said as she introduced Mr. Bonner at an event where projects with no connection to donors were also featured.

At least some of the $400,000 Lennar has donated to Brookings since 2010 has come from its SunStreet Energy division, which sells rooftop solar systems, at the same time that Brookings’s metropolitan program has published research on the rooftop solar industry.

Martin S. Indyk, the Brookings Institution’s Executive Vice President, said the think tank’s collaboration with Lennar to redevelop Hunters Point in San Francisco reflected a shared goal to revitalize cities. “We do not compromise our integrity,” he said. Credit T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

Mr. Indyk said the collaboration simply reflected shared goals of revitalizing cities. Brookings scholars promoted other real estate projects, he said, involving local governments, universities or even developers that were not donors — including one in Detroit backed by Dan Gilbert, the founder of Quicken Loans, and one in Seattle backed by Paul G. Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft.

But Mr. Indyk acknowledged that naming Mr. Bonner, who declined to be interviewed, a Brookings nonresident scholar had “created the impression that because Lennar was giving money, he was getting the title.” His post, which was unpaid, was not renewed.

Hitachi has been another large donor to the metropolitan program, giving a total of $1.8 million to Brookings over the last decade, according to Brookings documents. The think tank reviewed the company’s corporate marketing and sales strategy targeting the United States, an internal memo shows. Brookings also organized public events that featured top Obama administration officials and allowed Hitachi executives to promote their products.

“Metro has held nine meetings and several conference calls in the past six months with executives from Hitachi’s water, transportation and data business lines and are collaborating more fully on defining what it means to be a ‘Smart City,’” a confidential Brookings memo said.

Officials at Brookings said they had not lobbied for Hitachi, and they provided examples of reports that they said included conclusions challenging the company’s position. “Helping a corporation’s for-profit agenda is not in any way our agenda,” Ms. Churches, the Managing Director, said.

Yet Ms. Churches also said the contract language with donors like Lennar and Hitachi was “inelegant,” although not improper. When asked if the documents read like a fee-for-service agreement, she said, “It could be misconstrued.”

Mr. Indyk said Brookings had recently changed its policies so that “today, there is no way in which those words would be used in our documents.”

‘Growing the Economy’

When JPMorgan offered a major donation to the metropolitan program in 2011, Brookings created the Global Cities Initiative, complete with a new logo that called it a “joint project of Brookings and JPMorgan Chase.”

The project was premised on a common interest between the bank and the think tank. Brookings wanted to promote economic growth in cities by encouraging international trade, and JPMorgan wanted to gain new business by offering loans to companies in the same markets.

In contract documents, Brookings emphasized that it would control the conclusions of its reports and said it would “not directly or indirectly communicate with any party” to help get JPMorgan business.

Mr. Indyk and executives from JPMorgan said the company and the think tank simply agreed on a worthy agenda.

“This was about growing the economy, and we are incredibly proud of the results of this initiative,” said Peter Scher, the head of the corporate responsibility program at JPMorgan. “We believe it’s had a huge impact in more than 30 cities that are involved.”

At the same time, hundreds of pages of memos — status reports to JPMorgan, internal reports by Brookings staff to prepare for meetings with top bank executives, and formal documents soliciting more money — make clear that Brookings saw the Global Cities Initiative as a branding effort that could help JPMorgan bankers bolster their standing in cities.

“Bottom line: Growing metro economies is good for the nation and for JPMC; also, many U.S. cities are JPMC clients — motivation to support them and their clients,” said one Brookings document dated July 2011, as officials from the think tank met with top bank executives to discuss a planned donation that eventually totaled $15 million.

The Global Cities Initiative, another document written by a Brookings senior fellow explained, “must mean a marriage between JPMC corporate interests” and “Brookings continued thought leadership.”

JPMorgan, in a document dated a month before the agreement was signed, said the pending donation to Brookings “deepens/extends relationships with important client base among business and civic leaders both in the U.S. and abroad.”

And Brookings was ready to do its part.

“Our events, which in part target these audiences,” said an internal 2014 Brookings memo, referring to the Global Cities Initiative and federal and state leaders, “have yielded 100+ media hits, with 97% of them referencing GCI and 90% referencing JPMorgan; by the end of this year, we will have held events in 13 domestic markets and 9 international markets.”

At times, Brookings officials seemed worried they were not doing enough for the bank.

“No one wants to create overt marketing opportunities for JPMC, but we need to carve out roles and thought leadership opportunity for market presidents,” said a 2013 Brookings memo, referring to a dinner with the bank’s executives. “We need to do a better job tying it back to JPMC.”

It remains difficult to assess whether the relationship helped the bank’s business, but Mr. Scher said that was not the goal.

“If the Global Cities Initiative strengthens the economic competitiveness of cities, it’s a win for small businesses, job creation and everyone involved in these communities, including us,” Mr. Scher said in a statement.

Donations from the corporations to Brookings are tax exempt based on the premise that the think tank’s work benefits the public good, not a company’s bottom line.

But two lawyers who specialize in non-profit law — Miranda Perry Fleischer, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, and Clifford Perlman, a partner at a New York-based firm — said Brookings’s agreements raised questions.

“Tax deductions are subsidies that are paid for by all taxpayers,” Ms. Fleischer said. “And the reason the subsidy is provided is that the charitable organization is supposed to be doing something for the public good, not that specifically benefits the private individual or corporation in the form of providing them goods or services.”

Mr. Indyk said that opinion was “totally unfounded,” noting that Brookings had retained its own lawyers to review the documents and found no problems.

“Brookings’s conclusion that all of these activities it engaged in with these donors primarily benefited the public rather than the donors is consistent with the applicable federal tax standards,” Douglas Varley, one of the lawyers for Brookings, said in a statement.

Close Partnerships

Other think tanks have been even more closely aligned with corporate agendas.

FedEx teamed up with the Atlantic Council — a think tank that focuses on international relations, with annual revenue that has surged to $21 million from $2 million in the last decade — to build support for a free-trade agreement the company hoped would increase business.

Six months before the Atlantic Council report was issued, FedEx and the think tank worked on plans to use the report as a lobbying tool.

“The impact and reach of the report would be maximized by a rollout event” including a “public report launch with member(s) of Congress from one of the relevant committees,” said a two-page summary drafted by the Atlantic Council months before the study had been completed.

FedEx and the Atlantic Council, working with the European American Chamber of Commerce, also told companies being asked to participate in the study that the goal was to “emphasize the positive impact that a comprehensive agreement would have on American and European small businesses.”

When the report came out in late 2014, its conclusions mirrored arguments FedEx had been aggressively pushing on Capitol Hill, including recommending a reduction in trans-Atlantic tariffs and allowing more duty-free shipments.

An executive vice president at FedEx, Rajesh Subramaniam, attended an event at Atlantic Council headquarters in Washington to celebrate the release of the final report. So did a key supporter, Representative Erik Paulsen, Republican of Minnesota.

“This is very exciting,” Mr. Subramaniam said at the event, referring to the potential for more trade. “The upside opportunity is quite large.”

Frederick Kempe, the Atlantic Council president, said that FedEx had donated just $20,000 to help fund the effort and that the staff at the Atlantic Council had handled the research.

“There is no doubt the work of think tanks has more credibility than the work of lobbyists, but the only way we preserve it is through intellectual independence,” Mr. Kempe said.

‘We Do Not Lobby’

A Predator drone manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. General Atomics helped fund a study that led the United States to ease restrictions on sales of drones to governments overseas.Credit.Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times

General Atomics, the California-based manufacturer of Predator drones, had a clear problem. Prospects for sales were falling as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wound down. The company wanted the Obama administration to change its policy to allow for sales to other countries, a lucrative proposition.

“When the budgets are going down in the U.S., you would like to be able to export more,” Frank Pace, the president of the company’s aircraft systems group, told a Reuters reporter in late 2013 at an air show in Dubai.

At about that time, the industry turned to the Center for Strategic and International Studies for help, providing money that the think tank used to conduct a study on drone policy, including exports.

While defense contracting giants like Lockheed Martin and Boeing have cumulatively donated at least $77 million since 2010 to two dozen think tanks, disclosure records show, General Atomics’s contribution to the Center for Strategic and International Studies was quite small — in the tens of thousands of dollars.

C.S.I.S. set up confidential meetings at its headquarters with company representatives, inviting top officials from the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, the State Department and the office of the defense secretary, according to emails and other documents obtained by The Times through open records requests.

“Our series will be unique in convening a much broader group of stakeholders than is typical,” Samuel J. Brannen, the think tank’s lead scholar, wrote in an email to Aaron W. Jost, one of the State Department officials in charge of regulating drone exports.

As a think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies did not file a lobbying report, but the goals of the effort were clear.

“Political obstacles to export,” read the agenda of one of the closed-door “working group” meetings organized by Mr. Brannen that included Tom Rice, a lobbyist in General Atomics’s Washington office, on the invitation lists, the emails show.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin, drone makers that were major C.S.I.S. contributors, were also invited to attend the sessions, the emails show. The meetings and research culminated with a report released in February 2014 that reflected the industry’s priorities.

“I came out strongly in support of export,” Mr. Brannen, the lead author of the center’s study, wrote in an email to Kenneth B. Handelman, the deputy assistant secretary of state for defense trade controls.

But the effort did not stop there. Mr. Brannen initiated meetings with Defense Department officials and congressional staff to push for the recommendations, which also included setting up a new Pentagon office to give more focus to acquisition and deployment of drones. The center also stressed the need to ease export limits at a conference it hosted at its headquarters featuring top officials from the Navy, the Air Force and the Marine Corps.

Mr. Brannen, who has since left C.S.I.S., declined to comment. The think tank insisted that its efforts to influence administration policy were not lobbying.

“C.S.I.S. will not represent any donor before any government office or entity, including congressional lawmakers and executive branch officials,” Mr. Hamre, the Chief Executive, said in his statement to The Times. “We do not lobby.”

One thing is clear: The result was a victory for General Atomics.

In February 2015, almost one year after the C.S.I.S. report was issued, the State Department announced a clarification of its rules, easing final approval that month for General Atomics’s long-planned sale of unarmed Predator drones to the United Arab Emirates, the first such sale to a non-NATO nation. The think tank report was just one of many voices pushing for the change.

A State Department spokesman said that while the government officials involved in the review had received opinions from think tanks and industry officials, “at the end of the day, this is a considered U.S. government policy.”

Huntington Ingalls Industries had an equally clear objective: to create an elaborate public relations and lobbying campaign to convince Congress that the nation needed to confront an emerging threat from China by building more nuclear-powered aircraft carriers — at a cost of about $11 billion each. The clear beneficiary? Huntington, the lone builder of the ships.

As part of a broader communications effort, Huntington helped finance a think tank report that enhanced the company’s argument for more funding. Bryan McGrath, a former naval officer who had commanded a guided-missile destroyer, approached Huntington Ingalls and offered to write a study on a fee-for-service basis as a private industry expert. The company turned down his offer.

Later, after he had joined the Hudson Institute and helped create the Center for American Seapower, he approached Huntington officials again, and they were interested.

“A think tank has more prestige,” Mr. McGrath said.

Huntington Ingalls paid $100,000 to fund the work, a critical commitment for Mr. McGrath, who said he was paid by Hudson only if he could successfully solicit donations to support his research. Mr. McGrath said he had always been a strong proponent of aircraft carriers — so the company was not buying his opinion.

“The Hudson Center makes no secret about being very pro-sea power,” he said. “If a company came that wanted us to write a piece that advocated for something other than that, the answer would be no.”

In exchange for Huntington Ingalls’s support, company officials were given regular briefings on the research and the opportunity to suggest revisions to early drafts, Mr. McGrath said.

“We have an iterative process already laid out in which we will sit down with them and go through drafts and discuss where we are going,” Mr. McGrath said. He added that he had not accepted all of the company’s suggestions.

The report was released in October at the Rayburn House Office Building. Mr. McGrath received an introduction from one of the industry’s most important boosters, Representative J. Randy Forbes, Republican of Virginia, the chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee that oversees the Navy.

The report did not mention that Huntington Ingalls had helped pay for it. Asked about the failure to disclose the contribution, John P. Walters, Hudson’s chief operating officer, called it a mistake. The report was subsequently revised — months after it was released and the congressional event held — to disclose the donation.

A second industry-funded report, prepared by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, came out a month later with a similar urgent call for more money to build more ships and to base more ships abroad, although it did not mention that it had been funded by the Navy League of the United States, a nonprofit group whose large corporate donors include Huntington Ingalls.

“This report is yet another important tool for Navy Leaguers to use in the field when educating local leaders and lawmakers,” Skip Witunski, the Navy League president, wrote to the group’s members late last year.

The strategy — lining up think tank reports as lobbying tools that echoed each other — was backed up with a series of letters to the editor, dozens of posts on Twitter and Facebook, and op-ed pieces.

Mr. McGrath said he, too, wondered if this storm of industry-funded work might be threatening the integrity of the process. “I see a lot of stuff that comes out in Washington,” Mr. McGrath said, “and I got to scratch my head and say, ‘That guy must be on the payroll.’”

Brooke Williams is a reporter at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, which collaborated with The New York Times on this series. Audrey Stuart contributed reporting from Cannes, France. Kitty Bennett contributed research.