Monthly Archives: December 2015

Charity watchdog removes Clinton Foundation from its watch list

THANKS: December 22 at 4:50 PM


From left, talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, former president Bill Clinton former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, the vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, appear onstage during a student conference for the Clinton Global Initiative University in 2014 (Matt York/AP)

Charity Navigator, one of the nation’s two largest watchdog groups for charities, has removed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation from its “watch list,” lifting a cloud from the global philanthropy.

The organization had placed the foundation has its watch list in April. The foundation contested the ranking at the time, and Charity Navigator indicated that an organization’s appearance on the list did not necessarily indicate problems. Instead, it said that charities are placed on the list if media coverage raises questions about their operations that might be of interest to potential donors.

Even so, the Clinton Foundation’s ranking on the list served as a black eye on the time, coming in the weeks just after Hillary Clinton announced she was stepping down from the charity’s board to run for president. Increased scrutiny showed overlaps between Bill and Hillary Clinton’s personal and political supporters and donors to the charity. In addition, The Washington Post revealed in February that the foundation had accepted millions of dollars in donations from foreign governments while Clinton was secretary of state, including one donation that came in violation of an ethics agreement with the Obama administration.

[Foreign government dollars continued to flow to foundation while Clinton at State Department]

In a note posted to its website, Charity Navigator indicated that tax information made available by the Clinton Foundation, including four years of returns amended by the organization last month, as well as a public memo submitted by the group, met Charity Navigator’s requirements for removal.

Charity Navigator will continue its practice of offering the Clinton Foundation no formal rating, indicating that it has an “atypical business model” that cannot be “accurately captured” by the group’s current rating methodology. However, the Clinton Foundation received an “A” earlier this year for financial performance from the American Institute of Philanthropy’s Charity Watch, the nation’s other leading watchdog organization for charities.

The Clinton Foundation was formed by Bill Clinton before he left the White House, first to raise funds for his presidential library and then to serve as a vehicle for his post-presidential charitable ambitions. It has grown into a $2 billion empire that employs 2,000 people and works to improve health care, education and economic development all around the globe. Hillary Clinton joined the organization after she stepped down from the State Department in 2013. Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton has also taken on an increasingly larger role at the organization in recent years and now serves as its vice chairman.

[The inside story of how the Clintons built a $2 billion global empire]

The foundation’s work had largely received bipartisan praise before the presidential campaign began. But this year, its operations have been the subject of significant Republican criticism, particularly from those who believe that donors to the organization might have sought special access to Clinton’s State Department or might be hoping for special favor if Hillary Clinton is elected president. The Clintons and foundation officials have rejected those suggestions and have sought to demonstrate the charity’s work has continued uninterrupted, even amid the campaign year scrutiny.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy first reported the Clinton Foundation’s removal from the list.

“The Clinton Foundation is committed to making a difference across the globe, excellence in our operations, and remaining accountable to our supporters and the public,” said Clinton Foundation President Donna Shalala. “Today’s action by Charity Navigator affirms that commitment. We are well positioned to build on our successes and expand our impact in the years ahead.”


How Panama Is Becoming The Next Luxury Hot Spot

Vaniceseasonal's Blog

Panama’s Cityscape (Credit: Panama Tourism Authority and Copa Airlines)Forbes-Panama-CityView-PanamaTourismAuthorityCopaAirlines

Panama’s Cityscape (Credit: Panama Tourism Authority and Copa Airlines)

THANKS;Jennifer Kester, Contributor

Panama may be best known for its canal, but the country isn’t merely a convenient passageway between east and west—it’s a destination made up of a unique mix of city, rainforest and beaches. One of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America, Panama is on the cusp of becoming a hot luxury travel spot.

April 2015 saw the unveiling of Soho Panama mall, a new luxury epicenter in downtown Panama City. Not only did it bring shops from the likes of Chanel, Versace, Burberry and macaron masters Ladurée, but the mall also will house The Ritz-Carlton, Panama when the 220-room hotel (with two swimming pools, a spa and four dining venues) opens in late 2016. The Ritz-Carlton company will follow up its Panama debut with a second hotel in the…

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How Panama Is Becoming The Next Luxury Hot Spot

Panama’s Cityscape (Credit: Panama Tourism Authority and Copa Airlines)Forbes-Panama-CityView-PanamaTourismAuthorityCopaAirlines

Panama’s Cityscape (Credit: Panama Tourism Authority and Copa Airlines)

THANKS;Jennifer Kester, Contributor

Panama may be best known for its canal, but the country isn’t merely a convenient passageway between east and west—it’s a destination made up of a unique mix of city, rainforest and beaches. One of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America, Panama is on the cusp of becoming a hot luxury travel spot.

April 2015 saw the unveiling of Soho Panama mall, a new luxury epicenter in downtown Panama City. Not only did it bring shops from the likes of Chanel, Versace, Burberry and macaron masters Ladurée, but the mall also will house The Ritz-Carlton, Panama when the 220-room hotel (with two swimming pools, a spa and four dining venues) opens in late 2016. The Ritz-Carlton company will follow up its Panama debut with a second hotel in the country; its Reserve boutique brand will open an outpost on Pearl Island, a pristine private island about 45 miles south of Panama City, in 2018.

The country also is making it easier to travel to and within Panama. It launched Central America’s first subway in 2014 and plans to add a second line that will connect Panama City to Tocumen International Airport in the future. Speaking of which, the airport is building a state-of-the-art second terminal to nearly double its capacity in 2017 (Tocumen is still in transition, but you can peruse several luxury shops, like Carolina Herrera and Valentino). Even the canal is seeing improvements—a $5.25 billion expansion, the largest canal project since it was constructed, will double its capacity when it wraps up in 2016. While many changes await for Panama, here’s why our Forbes Travel Guide editors think you should beat the crowds and go now.


InterContinental Miramar (Credit: InterContinental Hotels and Resorts)

Where to Stay

Opened in 1997, InterContinental Miramar Panama is one of the city’s stalwart hotels. As part of an ongoing renovation, the cream marble lobby recently was refreshed and the modern, neutral rooms were upgraded with new flooring, beds and more. For the best views, book accommodations facing the water and gain access to the fifth-floor Club Lounge (which is slated for a makeover in 2016), where you can glimpse the city though big-picture windows at sunrise with breakfast and coffee and at sunset with appetizers and wine. The Bella Vista hotel sits along Cinta Costera, a 2.5-mile stretch lining Panama Bay where you can walk, jog or bike along a palm-framed path while taking in skyline panoramas. Follow the path south and you’ll hit the Mercado de Mariscos, or seafood market, where you can see fish mongers displaying local catch like corvina and locals popping by the no-frills outdoor booths for a helping of fresh ceviche.

If you’re looking to explore a less touristy part of the city, try Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower Panama in Punta Pacifica, a tony residential neighborhood. The 70-story sailboat-shaped building stands out on the city skyline. But what’s more impressive are the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows in the waterfront hotel’s chic guest rooms, the sexy deck where you can choose among five pools or simply sprawl out on a chaise lounge in front of an infinity pool that seems to drop off into the ocean, and the casino, whose 66th high-roller floor affords stunning vistas.


Our Panamanian obsession: Riesen’s vegetable root crisps topped with national cheese, dried cherry tomatoes and avocado (Credit: Jennifer Kester)

Where to Eat

As Panama modernizes, segments of the capital city remain charmingly stuck in the past. Casco Viejo (aka Casco Antiguo), the city’s historic district that was established after 1671, landed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for this reason. It recalls Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan with brick streets and colorful Spanish colonial buildings with upper-floor balconies running the length of the structures. Even buildings with peeling rosy paint or a chipped-away straw-colored façade bearing “Me encanta tu piel” (“I love your skin”) in cursive graffiti look romantic rather than rundown.

Casco is the spot to visit for cuisine. One of the hottest restaurants is Manolo Caracol, where chef Andrés Morataya leads the charge in using hyper-local ingredients by any means necessary. About 70 percent of the menu (such as rice and cacao) comes from the restaurant’s own farm. Lobster and octopus are sourced from free divers. A team drives through villages scouring for chicken to buy them piecemeal. Morataya then turns these fresh items to modern dishes (order the tasting menu for a feast). Of course, the selection varies depending on what seafood, produce and such he can secure that week. But expect to savor dishes like a flavorful seafood soup with achiote and coconut, silky bone marrow covered with caramelized onions, or crispy patacónes (fried plantain slices) topped with prawns.

Venture outside of Casco to the bawdier El Cangrejo neighborhood for a meal at Riesen. After winning the annual Panama Gastronomica competition, chef Hernan Correa Riesen used the prize money to convert part of his family home into a small restaurant. Don’t let the modest dining room fool you—Riesen’s creative cuisine deserves your attention anyway. The chef incorporates Panamanian ingredients and modernist techniques to craft dishes like the addictive housemade vegetable root crisps topped with dabs of national cheese (soft and creamy, it has the consistency of ricotta), dried cherry tomatoes and avocado slices. Entrées include a filling grilled octopus with peach palm and coconut, and a tender 48-hour braised beef tongue.

While Morataya and Riesen represent a new, younger generation of chefs in the city, you’ll still find traditional Panamanian favorites. At lunch, follow the locals to an oversized seafoam-green window on Avenue B that looks nondescript, save for a blackboard that says “Menu” with a few dishes listed underneath it. The namesake chef at La Cocina de Rosita serves to-go plates out of that window. For a mere $3.50, enjoy authentic dishes like guacho, a Panamanian version of risotto, or almojábanos, fried cornmeal with cheese that’s pure comfort food.

A visit to Panama wouldn’t be complete without a raspao, a snowcone made with condensed milk and fruit. You’ll run into vendors throughout Casco hawking raspao, but seek out the shiny silver cart of El Viejo Talentoso (typically parked in the Plaza de Francia). The raspao whiz puts on a show, scraping shards off of a large ice block. We opted for the coconut, so our refreshing treat came with coconut milk, condensed milk, a honey drizzle and a sprinkle of shredded coconut.

For something a bit stronger, head to the hip lobby of American Trade Hotel (Ace’s first foray into the high-end hotel market) for a mojito or seco, the country’s potent national liquor made of fermented sugar cane. Order seco like a Panamanian—with milk and on the rocks. American Trade also serves as a jazz hot spot; Wednesday to Thursday nights, it hosts Danilo’s Jazz Club with Grammy-winning jazz pianist-composer Danilo Pérez, featuring local and international musicians.


Panama Viejo (Credit: Panama Tourism Authority and Copa Airlines)

What to See

To see the city’s origins, head to Panama Viejo, where you can wander through grassy grounds, exotic trees and the 16th-century ruins of the first European settlement on the Pacific Coast of the Americas. The cathedral is the best preserved among the stone remains. Climb up 72 feet in its bell tower for expansive views of Panama in all directions. It once served as a lookout post for pirates.

Discover another side to Panama at Gamboa Rainforest Resort, which is a half hour from Panama City. Skip the resort and go straight for the forest, which is relatively young due to deforestation from the building of the canal. An aerial tram will raise you 280 feet above the rainforest floor for prime photo ops of the lush flora, including trumpet trees, mountain figs and balsa trees, along with wildlife. With the help of our tram guide, we spotted baby sloths, a chestnut-mandibled toucan and a flurry of butterflies (Panama has more than 16,000 species) during the 20-minute ride. As you glide through the treetops, you may hear drumming in the distance—there’s an indigenous Embera village nearby that performs for visitors.

Upon landing, you’re left to make your way up a 10-story observation tower (it’s all inclines, no steps, which makes it a breeze to walk to the top) to take in more rainforest vistas, and then you can catch the open-air tram back in the other direction.

Gain a deeper understanding of the importance of Panama’s biodiversity at the Biomuseo, which opened in 2014. The building’s misshapen roof panels in saturated hues like yellow, blue and red are enough to draw you to the museum, renowned architect Frank Gehry’s only work in Latin America, as is the lovely park surrounding it along the water. But step inside to learn how there are more tree species in 2.5 acres of Panamanian forest than all of North America combined. And if being in the rainforest wasn’t enough for you, the “Panamarama” audiovisual exhibit puts you in an immersive space plastered with 10 screens that offer an extreme close-up of the unique local ecosystem. The south wing hosts traveling exhibitions, but the goal is to fill it with permanent exhibits, including two aquariums, one representing the Pacific Ocean and the other the Caribbean Sea. Like the rest of this up-and-coming country, the museum has big plans for the future.

Energy transitions, renewables and rational energy use: A reality check

Thanks;Originally published at


©Marcelo Del Pozo/Reuters Source: OECD Observer

Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba, Canada

There is nothing new about energy transitions, though until the 19th century they unfolded very slowly. With the exception of the UK (where coal had already become the dominant fuel by the mid-17th century) all major Western societies remained predominantly wood-fuelled economies energised by traditional biomass, until the latter half of the 19th century. Coal began to supply more than half of French energy by the early 1870s, and more than half of the US demand by the mid-1880s. But in global terms the 19th century was still dominated by wood and the world began to use more coal than wood only at the very beginning of the 20th century.

By 1950 traditional biomass fuels supplied about 27% of the world’s energy (and most of the energy in both China and India), and fossil fuels (mainly coal) provided about 72%, with hydroelectricity delivering just over 1%. By the end of the 20th century modern civilisation became even more dependent on fossil fuels: in absolute terms their extraction had more than quadrupled between 1950 and 2000, and they delivered about 78% of the world’s primary energy. But traditional biomass fuels still provided nearly 12%, so if we count only modern primary energies, then coal, crude oil and natural gas supplied 90% of the world’s energy in the year 2000, declining to 86% by 2015. We have always known that our reliance on fossil fuels would be a temporary affair, and that long before we would exhaust their immense resources, coal recovery from deep and thin seams and oil and gas production from small fields in extreme environments would become too costly to handle. A shift to nuclear energy or to modern conversions of renewable energy flows was always inevitable. If fuel resources and technical abilities to recover them at affordable price were the only limitations, we could anticipate at least another century or more of coal, oil and gas. Global warming has made the transition to non-carbon energies a matter of some urgency, but we must nevertheless be realistic about the size and speed of such a shift.

By 2015, the largest non-fossil contribution came from hydroelectricity (about 6%), and while large-scale opportunities to develop water power are still available in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, resource limitations and environmental consideration dim the prospects of even a doubling of this contribution. Nuclear fission now supplies less than 5% of the world’s primary energy and while there are some bold plans for its expansion in Asia, its use in OECD countries has been stagnating or declining, making it highly improbable that it could become a leading source of non-carbon energy in the near future.

Solar, wind and modern biofuels now supply no more than 3% of the world’s primary energy, and in 2014 China, which has seen years of record-setting additions of solar and wind capacities, derived less than 2% of its energy from these conversions. Wind and solar electricity are much more prominent in some EU countries, but even Germany, the country that forced an accelerated adoption of new renewables through its Energiewende, produced about 15% of all electricity from wind and solar, compared to about 55% from fossil fuels in 2014. Going further, say to 40–50%, will be challenging technically and cost-wise, since producing higher shares of intermittently available electricity will require higher reserve capacities for night-time demand, and for overcast and calm days; better high-voltage interconnections; and more extensive electricity storage, including for entire cities, now home to more than half of the world population.

However, generating higher shares of electricity from wind and solar conversions is less challenging than displacing fossil fuels for transportation. Biofuels are an obvious alternative but very few countries can afford to divert so much of their cropland to their cultivation as the US has done, where biofuel still only supplies less than 8% of all of its transportation energy. Global production of modern biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) is now equivalent to just 3% of nearly 2.5 billion tonnes of oil equivalent used by land, water and air transport. Low power densities, low energy returns, water demand and environmental degradation are among the most obvious limits on biofuel production, and the much touted second generation of such fuels (converting waste phytomass) has yet to reach large-scale commercial stage.

Most importantly, there are large segments of modern energy consumption where we do not have any readily available alternatives of the required scales of billions or hundreds of millions of tonnes. Worldwide, about a billion tonnes of coal goes to make coke, the critical raw material for producing iron, while direct reduction of iron accounts for only 5% of the metal’s total output (and it is mostly energised by another fossil fuel, natural gas). Non-energy uses of fossil fuels are also critical: more than half a billion tonnes of crude oil and natural gas are used as feedstocks to produce a wide array of plastics, fertilisers and other chemicals, and more than 100 million tonnes of crude oil end up as lubricants and paving materials (asphalt).

  Slim that waste line So there is work to do. A combination of subsidy changes–removing them from fossil fuels, enhancing them for new renewables–mandated production targets and intensified R&D could accelerate the transition to renewables, but it is unlikely to displace all fossil fuels in a few decades, particularly as many low-income countries will rely on them for their development. While fossil fuels will still dominate the global energy supply by 2050, their absolute consumption should be steadily declining, particularly in OECD countries and if we commit ourselves to a more rational energy use.

Mass adoption of the best available conversion techniques is not enough: after all, we now use more fuel by flying more frequently in better airplanes and moving more goods in more efficient ships and trucks. High-income economies simply have to find ways to reduce their average per capita energy use, such as by cutting their extraordinarily high food losses (about 40%), and rationalise their wasteful transport. Such actions would increase well-being and improve trade balances as well, while steadily reducing CO2 emissions.

We should not forget that the environmentally least disruptive action is not to turn to new technical solutions to produce more energy in different ways, but simply to do with less. “Less is more” has never been more desirable than in the case of tackling the rising levels of atmospheric CO2.

*Vaclav Smil is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Member of the Order of Canada and the author of nearly 40 interdisciplinary books on energy, environment, technical advances, food and population. For more on the topics of this essay see his Energy Transitions (2010), Harvesting the Biosphere (2013) and Power Density (2015).

Smil, Vaclav (2006), “21st century energy: Some sobering thoughts”, in OECD Observer No 258–259, December 2006, OECD Publishing.