20 Years of Fighting Corruption
December 12, 2013 by
Two decades ago, corruption was the problem that no one talked about. “You couldn’t use the words ‘bribery’ or ‘corruption’” at institutions like the World Bank, said Michael Hershman, who helped found Transparency International in 1993. CONTINUE READING
CIPE Development Blog
Property Outlook Conference 2014
December 12, 2013 by
Are you a property investor and interested to find out the property market outlook in 2014? If you are, Property Outlook Conference 2014 will be an exiting event for you. The event will be from 11th to 12th January 2014 in Hotel Istana, Kuala Lumpur. The conference organizes by Wealth Mastery Academy, and they line […]
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Mid-sized firms can reap the benefits of globalization by putting in place anti-corruption compliance programs that give the firms better access to multi-national companies’ global value chains.. One of the benefits of this approach to reducing corruption is that it is simple and narrow. CONTINUE READING
CIPE Development Blog
TOO LATE, IT APPEARS THESE PREMIUM INCREASES ARE PART OF THE BUDGET DEAL TO BE ANNOUNCED SHORTLY
Remember those famous words, if you like what you have … If you are one of the relatively few Americans with a traditional pension, budget negotiators in Washington may be putting your pension in jeopardy once again by giving plan sponsors yet another reason to terminate their plans.
Perhaps you have never heard of the PBGC, Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, but your employer has. Pension plans pay a hefty premium to the PBGC for each participant and the PBGC provides insurance in the event a pension plan is terminated with insufficient funds to pay promised benefits. On the surface that seems like a reasonable deal. However, the increasing premiums are also an increasing burden on employers.
You have heard about the possible death spiral from adverse selection in health plans, well this is similar. Poorly funded pension plans pay more in premiums thereby making them more costly to maintain; in turn causing them to be terminated and then leaving fewer plans to pay premiums to the government.
A conference committee of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives is in negotiations to reach a final compromise on a budget for Fiscal Year 2014 by December 13. It is likely that such a budget agreement will require new federal revenue to offset other costly priorities.
PBGC premium increases are “in play” and could well be included in the final recommendations. The exact amount of these increases is still unclear. The American Benefits Council reports hearing that over the 10-year budget period, the increase could be in the billion to billion range, but the numbers can change on a day to day basis.
In addition, it is possible that the premium increase will be based on the financial soundness of the plan sponsor. Both the Senate Democrats’ budget blueprint and the White House have suggested establishing risk-based premiums for companies with underfunded pension plans.
In a November 15 news release, Council President James Klein stated that raising PBGC premiums “would further discourage plan sponsors from remaining in the system when the current low interest rate environment is already forcing employers to pour more money into plans that may never be needed. As more companies are forced to exit the system, the universe of plans from which premiums are collected further shrinks. That certainly does not serve the PBGC’s interests.”
It may not serve your interests either. As pension plans become more costly to fund (a low interest environment and now possible increasing PBGC premiums) more sponsors are going to be forced to assess their viability… that’s your pension going out the window.
Here’s your chance to speak up. Contact your members of Congress and tell them “Budget agreements should not include revenue items that have the unintended consequence of providing more incentives for employers to discontinue sponsoring defined benefit pension plans because of increasing costs such as higher PBGC premiums” You can reach your members of Congress using this tool.
Filed under: Government, Retirement Tagged: budget talks, PBGC, pension funding, unfunded pension plans
A Vancouver convenience store operator’s attempt to force Imperial Tobacco to offer it lower prices was filtered out by the Competition Tribunal. Safa Enterprises Inc. operates “My Convenience Store”. Its competitor, New Hasty Market, pays less than it for tobacco products under Imperial’s Preferred Pricing Program. New Hasty Market is thus able to sell cigarettes [...]
The Litigator – Affleck Greene McMurtry, LLP
Endemic corruption is one of the biggest hurdles facing the developing world on its path to economic property and a blight on the lives of its citizens. This week, in honor of International Anti-Corruption Day, the blog will focus on how the CIPE approach is effectively combating corruption in countries around the world — including exciting new efforts focusing on value chains. Stay tuned!…
CIPE Development Blog
From the start of Lebanon’s celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week, the Development for People and Nature Association (DPNA), with the support of CIPE, has been actively advancing the tenets of entrepreneurship across various segments of Lebanese society. CONTINUE READING
CIPE Development Blog
Of Tattoos and Miracles
December 8, 2013 by
Like all good little cradle-Anglicans of my day, when I reached the age of 12 I signed up for Confirmation class. We met crammed into a too-small but oddly symbolic “upper room” off the church balcony. I remember exactly two things from my weeks of Confirmation prep. The first is the lesson where we read and discussed the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. The minister who taught the class took it upon himself to challenge us with some liberal theology, and pressed the point that perhaps there was more than one way to make a miracle. Perhaps Jesus didn’t conjure extra loaves and fishes out of thin air after all. Perhaps when the members of the crowd observed one person sharing the provisions he had brought, they were inspired – or shamed— into digging into their packs and bringing out their own secret stash of snacks to share. It had never before occurred to me that people might be invited to participate in the making of miracles. Indeed that we might be expected to participate. That perhaps that was how miracles really happened.
I also recall learning about the sacraments. I learned that Roman Catholics recognize seven sacraments, but that Anglicans observe a sort of “sacraments light”—zeroing in on Baptism and Eucharist. Mostly I can still hear the priest repeatedly intone—“a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual grace.” Kind of like sharing your picnic lunch with your neighbors to show that you are a community.
After Confirmation I promptly stopped attending church for most of my teen years. There was no noisy rebellion on my part—mostly I just had lots of other ways to spend my time that seemed far more relevant and interesting than my parents’ church. As a young adult I found my own way into a faith that was mine, not just a parroting of my Sunday School and Confirmation lessons. And I grew to appreciate more and more what it meant to do things that were visible and external as a reflection of what was going on invisibly and spiritually within.
When I turned 40 I had a huge celebration. Forty is a milestone birthday at the best of times, but it is often celebrated with a wry sense of doom and despair. (“Oh no I’m getting old…”) For me, 40 was a really big deal because I wasn’t dead. I had, by contrast, spent my 38th birthday in galloping kidney failure, being readied for what was very nearly a one-way transfer into intensive care. Through a series of miracles supported by the participation of various members of the medical profession, I did make it back out of intensive care and into the world, but not before I had battled temporary vision loss, taught myself to walk again, and recovered from brain trauma.
Catastrophic as that particular illness was, it was not the first time my body betrayed me. The truth is my body has a long and tiresome history of betraying me. I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of two, and spent most of elementary school sidelined in gym class with painfully inflamed knees. After a teaser of a remission period during my teens, the arthritis came back in full force just as I was poised to graduate from university and start a teaching career. As if my bodily betrayal was not enough, one of my professors heaped coals on the fire of my frustration by musing to my face that “perhaps I should consider a less physically demanding profession” than the one in which I had just invested five years of preparation.
Then, in a whole new set of bodily betrayals, my attempts to have a child were thwarted by repeated failure. My first two pregnancies ended in early miscarriage. Surgery for an ectopic pregnancy went wrong, and I nearly bled to death from an internal rupture. My fourth pregnancy ended in fetal death at 12 weeks, but I didn’t miscarry. Apparently my body couldn’t even get miscarriage right. While I did eventually succeed in carrying two children to term, my eldest was born after an extraordinarily long and difficult labour that resulted in a caesarean. The technical term for this particular bodily betrayal was labour that “failed to progress.”
So by the time I hit 40, my relationship with my body was strained at best. But in spite of all the trouble it had caused me, I was still alive. That seemed worth celebrating. I wanted to make peace with this body that had failed me so many times, but that had also rallied from so many close calls. Like an old Timex watch it took a licking and kept on ticking.
So I got a tattoo. I had been contemplating the notion of a tattoo for about three years, but took a while to decide when, what, and where. Having decided on my milestone birthday as a perfect “when,” I found the “what” while gazing around my living room one evening are realizing that ALL the artwork on my walls bore the images of loons—a creature that has always held significance for me. I chose the image of the adult loon with its baby riding on its back—an image that reflected for me the extent to which my body—and my life—had been marked by my journey to, and through, motherhood.
As to “where,” I opted for a spot halfway up the side of my right calf. I reasoned that in this position I could show off the tattoo without getting half naked, but could keep it hidden if that was appropriate in a professional context. I assumed, in fact, that I would want to keep it hidden at work. It oddly didn’t dawn on me at the time that hemlines might rise.
To my surprise, I gradually became less and less concerned with when it might be “appropriate” to let my tattoo be visible. I started wearing shorter skirts to work and not caring who saw the tattoo. Somehow, making my body a canvas for this work of art made me more comfortable in my own skin.
I didn’t think about the tattoo as a sacrament at first. Over time I began to realize that what had felt at first like an act of belated adolescent rebellion held a much deeper significance to me. Curious about what motivated other tattoo bearers, I read and heard deeply touching stories—tattoos marking the death of a loved one, tattoos marking a significant life event or choice, tattoos remembering a lost friend, tattoos marking a battle with disease or addiction, tattoos enshrining a powerful memory. I came to understand that I had marked my body in this way as an outward and visible sign of a truth that I couldn’t really put into words, but that I carried deep within me.
Between my 40th and 45th birthdays, my inner truths underwent a profound transformation that culminated with the outward sign of divorce. Searching for the right ritual to mark this transition, I knew it was time for another tattoo.
This time I approached the tattoo more consciously as sacrament. This time I also knew immediately and intuitively what the image would be. Another loon, but in the aggressive stance—wings upraised—of a loon that is charging an enemy. I’ve been charged just so by a loon, while inadvertently canoeing too close to her nest. They are powerful creatures—and bigger than you think—especially at close quarters in their threatening “don’t mess with me and my babies” posture. This tattoo is quite large, and is centred between my shoulder blades. I have to twist and crane in the mirror to see it myself, but I am always conscious of it—always sensing that it pushes me forwards and gives me strength.
Someone once remarked that the image reminded them of a phoenix rising—an apt coincidence, since the inner transformation that the image was crafted to represent was very much a rising from the ashes of my failed marriage—an emergence of new life in the wake of grief and loss.
Now into my 50’s, I continue to negotiate a tenuous truce with my unreliable body. Most recently, my left hip joint has betrayed me utterly, and for its troubles been banished from my body once and for all in favour of a slick new titanium and ceramic replacement.
It’s hard not to call the outcome of this surgery a miracle. After taking painkillers day and night for I don’t know how long, within two weeks of being rolled out of the operating theatre I no longer needed any pain medication. None. Is it a miracle that the research has produced a prosthetic hip that works and an effective process for inserting it? Is it a miracle that my surgeon was skilled, or that his team provided me with such a comprehensive preparation?
I went into the surgery knowing exactly what I would need to do to contribute to my healing: I would need to haul out my own resources and apply them to my healing process. Provide my own loaves and fishes. Perhaps it’s enough of a miracle that after all the times my body has said “I quit,” those resources are still there.
Maybe I should get another tattoo.
Honestly Daily Prompt, I sometimes feel like you are stalking me. This is not the first time you have posted a prompt just AFTER I have posted something relevant to that prompt. So although this was originally posted on November 23, I am linking it to the December 1 Daily Prompt: “Tattoo…You?”
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It’s common knowledge that the Affordable Care Act changed the rules on health insurance for children by requiring coverage eligibility to age 26 without regard to dependent status. Plans have complied with that requirement for several years.
However, an additional rule kicks in on January 1, 2014. Before then, plans grandfather under the ACA can deny coverage to a under age 26 child if the child had coverage available through his or her own employment. However, beginning January 1st that is no longer permitted.
So, even if a child is married, not living at home, is employed and has health insurance available, is not financially dependent on the employee, ALL plans must permit enrollment under the parents coverage beginning in January.
Employer plans with the better benefits and lower employee cost sharing may find they are a magnet attracting enrollment of such children, especially if the child is required to pay a high premium through his or her employment.
The logic of all this escape me, but I’m not a politician.
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I’ve always been pretty good at math. Not trigonometry, or arithmetic, or whatever people are usually thinking of when they’re like, “Oh, you must be smart! I hate math!” But, combinatorics and graph theory and proving things and figuring out how to put hats on prisoners – I love that stuff. I went to three different high schools, and I did math team at all of them. When I was ten or eleven and my parents needed me to shut up at dinner parties, they bribed me with books of math puzzles. No joke.
During my sophomore year of college, I was dating a Computer Science major, and I took some CS classes out of curiosity. To my surprise, CS wasn’t different from math at all. I took my Intro class in Java, so there was some mumbo-jumbo that you put at the top of your programs that went “public something void main something something”, but once you got that nonsense out of the way, it was all sorting lists and putting stuff in matrices and traversing trees. Easy stuff. And once the CS department switched to Python, it got even easier.
So I became a math and CS double-major at my tiny liberal arts school in Minnesota, and my senior year, I started looking for jobs. Turns out, only actuarial firms want to hire people who are really good (but not, like, PhD good) at nothing except figuring out how many ways there are to distribute hats from a coat check so that everyone gets the wrong hat back. So, software engineering it was.
After some research and a couple bad interviews and no small amount of panicking, I found a startup in San Francisco that looked awesome. I interviewed, expecting the worst. But for some reason, my interviewer asked me to find the shortest path between nodes A and B in a graph. (Essentially. I think he said some stuff about Kevin Bacon.) I did so. He asked if I could do better if I knew that A and B were exactly six degrees apart. Yep! Breadth-first search from both ends. Oh wait, you should do that anyway, even if you don’t know how far apart the nodes are! Cool. They flew me out for a full-day onsite interview, where they asked me a bunch more questions that involved sorting things and memoizing things and traversing things, and then they gave me an offer. The entire interview process from beginning to end took six days, and I wrote exactly zero lines of actual code.
Some more relevant things they could’ve asked me, but didn’t:
How comfortable are you with Unix?
I can change directories, list things, and run Python programs. Oh! And rename files. Probably.
Describe how Ajax calls work.
Umm, isn’t that what Gmail uses? It’s like, refreshing the page without refreshing the whole page?
What version control systems are you familiar with?
Oh, we used SVN for our senior thesis project. I accidentally triggered a conflict one time. Someone fixed it for me.
How would you implement a [deck of cards, public garage, hotel reservation system] using object-oriented design?
Variables. Variables everywhere. With counts. And maybe some strings.
Absolutely anything at all about databases.
Listen, the very last thing I want is to sound ungrateful. At that first job, I learned all of those things I listed, and more, because the senior engineers patiently sat with me and put up with my stupid questions and never got frustrated with me, even when I got frustrated with myself. But it took me more than a year. And I’ve worked at three jobs since then, and interviewed at many, many more places, and I’ve found that my first startup’s interview style wasn’t a weird fluke. It’s actually extremely common practice. People ask math puzzles to determine programming ability. Why?
In a particularly egregious example of this, when I was interviewing for my second job out of college, I was asked to come up with an algorithm to eventually sink a submarine with unknown (but integral) position and velocity that was somewhere on a number line. (Spoiler alert: to solve this problem, you need to know how to enumerate the rationals.) Once again, zero lines of code. Two weeks into my new job, they told me to write them a consumer iPhone app. Needless to say, I had never encountered Objective-C. I’d written perhaps twenty lines of C in a group project in my programming languages class in college, and all I remembered was that it was terrible and you had to do your own garbage collection or something. My new startup gave me a book called The C Programming Language, pointed me to where I could install the newest version of Xcode, and off I went. Three weeks later, my CTO had a talk with me where he was like, “You’re not getting up to speed as quickly as we expected.” I redoubled my efforts. A week after that, we had the same conversation, but harsher. And then there was a holiday break, and the day after it, I was fired.
I was pretty devastated. I mean, nobody had ever called me a slow learner before. And I had a ton of software engineer friends, and they could all do this stuff. How hard could it possibly be? Why couldn’t I get it?
I promptly repressed my experience at that second startup, talked to nobody about it, joined my third startup (they asked me something about Markov chains), and proceeded to quietly freak out every time I had a 1-on-1 with my new CTO, wondering if I was about to hear that I wasn’t contributing enough, that I’d somehow tricked them into hiring me, that they’d thought I’d be so much better at this.
Recently, a close friend of mine began learning to code, and I found myself explaining stuff to her. Pretty basic stuff, like the difference between static and instance variables, and how inheritance works. And it dawned on me that I was using all these words like “class” and “object” and “method”, and I knew what they meant, intrinsically, without having to think about it, because I’d been using those words and those concepts for years. But every time I said one of those words, I saw her trying to remember what it meant, what properties it had, and how it fit with what I was saying, because somebody had just written the definitions of all those things on a blackboard for her not two weeks ago. And I realized (it took me that long to realize) that I couldn’t just transfer three years of software engineering experience to her by building and building on stuff I’d already explained. Brains, apparently, don’t work that way. Not like codebases.
It seems like a lot of interviewers think that CS theory and problem-solving skills are the important things, the difficult things, and if you know them, everything else is easy. It makes sense that they think this, because a lot of them have been coding since they were twelve, and they get how to code the same way I get how to solve puzzles. And they probably didn’t learn the theory side of it until college. But me, I’ve been practicing problem-solving since I was ten. So I feel like I’m in a pretty good position to say: programming is fucking difficult. Just as difficult as problem-solving, if not more so. And just because I breeze through your common-elements-in-unsorted-lists and linked-list-cycles and paths-through-grids problems, doesn’t mean that I’ll learn all the new coding stuff I need to know in my first few weeks on the job.
I mean, I’m getting better at it. I feel like I’m finally on the other side of the sheer confusion in the beginning. But I’ve been doing this for over three years now. And there’s still a long, long way to go before I’m anywhere near as good at programming as I am at solving math puzzles. So please, future interviewers, ask me a coding question. You’re trying to figure out if I can code. And I’m not trying to trick you! I want you to know! So there is absolutely no reason for this roundabout nonsense.
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