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The State Department’s new ambassador: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton named a new cultural ambassador today: the NBA all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

"I am excited and honored to serve my country as a Cultural Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State," Abdul-Jabbar said after his Wednesday meeting with Clinton at the State Department. "I look forward to meeting with young people all over the world and discussing ways in which we can strengthen our understanding of one another through education, through sports, and through greater cultural tolerance."

Next week, he will travel to Brazil to put on basketball clinics with disadvantaged youth there -- using that as a means to talk about education, social and racial tolerance, and cultural understanding in Salvador and Rio de Janeiro.

The State Department notice on his appointment said that Abdul-Jabbar touted his soon-to-be-released documentary "On the Shoulders of Giants," and his Skyhook Foundation, which works to improve children's lives through education and sports.

In June 2011, Abdul-Jabbar was honored at the White House by President Barack Obama and received the Lincoln Medal from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The medal honors Abdul-Jabbar's commitment to education and equality which reflects the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln.

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The Cable

Brookings tops 2011 think tank rankings

The Brookings Institution was selected today as the "top think tank in the world" by an academic program that evaluated over 5,000 think tanks from across the globe.

That's the second year in a row that Brookings has topped the "Global Go To Think Tanks Rankings," compiled by the Think Tank and Civil Societies program at the University of Pennsylvania and published by the Diplomatic Courier. The project considered the views of 793 experts, 150 journalists and scholars, 55 current and former directors of think tank programs, 40 public and private donors, hundreds of think tanks, 25-30 intergovernmental organizations, and 120 academic institutions.

Other U.S.-based think tanks also fared well. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace held its spot from last year, staying put at #3 on the list, while the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) dropped two slots from last year, coming in at #4. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) jumped up two spots to #5, the RAND Corporation held its place at #6, and the Peterson Institute for International Economics kept its #10 position.

Non-U.S. think tanks that made the top 10 were Chatham House (#2), Amnesty International (#7) ,  Transparency International (#8), and the International Crisis Group (#9).

Conservative and libertarian think tanks took a hit in 2011: The Heritage Foundation dropped five places since last year, coming in this year at #13. CATO dropped from #12 last year to #14 this year, and the American Enterprise Institute dropped in the rankings from #13 to #17. Meanwhile, the liberal Center for American Progress made its first appearance on the top 25, coming in at #19. Human Rights Watch was ranked #22 in the world, down six spots compared to last year.

Some U.S.-based think thanks were singled out as the best in specific regions or functions. CSIS was ranked #1 in international affairs and security research. The Carnegie Moscow Center and the Carnegie Middle East Center were ranked as the top think tanks in their region. Brookings was ranked #1 in international development research, and the Carnegie Endowment was named as the think tank with the most innovative policy ideas.

Google Ideas, the "think-do tank" led by former State Department official Jared Cohen, was named the best new think tank established in the last 18 months. CFR was named as the best think tank in the world in the use of digital and social media.

5,329 think tanks were nominated and then ranked overall and in 30 different regional and functional sub-categories. This year, the process was changed to  include "expert panels" that evaluated the data, incorporate categories for smaller think tanks, and expand the participation of organizations in developing countries, especially in the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China).

The United States by far has the most think tanks in the world (1,815!), followed by China (425), India (292), Britain (286), and Germany (194). Washington alone has 393 think tanks. Other leading states include Massachusetts, with 176, and California with 170.

The think tanks were rated by their access to resources, how much content they put out, and their impact on policy and politics.

"There are a number of major political, economic, social, and technological trends that are converging at this moment in history and that have a profound impact on governments and the institutions that serve them," reads the beginning of the report. "It is essential that think tanks understand these trends and be ahead of them so that we are all not buried by them."