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The News That Shaped the Month – June 2016

UvA Inside – by Yoeri Min

Around the University of Amsterdam’s Roeterseiland campus, stunts for the American action-comedy film “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” will be recorded recorded from the 26th until the 28th of June.  On the 8th of July, actors will be welcomed to the University of Amsterdam to record to some of the movie dialogues. Actors playing in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” include Samuel L. Jackson, Ryan Reynolds, Elodie Yung, Gary Oldman and Salma Hayek.

On Thursday the 23rd of June, from 16:30 until after sunset, the Summer Festival at Roeterseiland is organized. The programme includes performances of De Nachtdienst, 45ACIDBABIES, Couleur Café, Faut Haut, DJ OHMS and Boom Chicago. More than 1.200 students and employees already told they will be coming.

On the 10th of June, the complete University of Amsterdam Supervisory Board resigned. The seven members of the Supervisory Board quit, as the student council and works council threatened to give a declaration of no-confidence in the chairman Atzo Nicolaï and other board members.

Business Recap – by Michel Mijlof

In the last month, two companies,  Basic-Fit and A.S.R., joined the stock exchange in Amsterdam with an initial public offering (IPO). Basic-Fit is a nation-wide fitness concern which is willing to expand their business to more countries in Europe. That is also one of the reasons behind the IPO, in which they are offering between 25% and 50% of their shares. The managers of Basic-Fit are positing it as a potential growth share because their dividends will not be very high compared to other countries on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange (AEX). Their value is estimated around 1 billion euro. The other company, A.S.R., is a Dutch insurance company which was a part of the former Dutch-Belgian bank Fortis. Therefore, they are brought back to the AEX by the government. Fortis went bankrupt due to the last financial crisis and A.S.R. was nationalized by the Dutch government to save it. The government bought it for 3.6 billion euro and, with the IPO, they sold 35% of the shares which gained them around 1 billion euro. There was a big difference between the two shares who went public on the same day, which is that A.S.R. did it a lot better compared to Basic-Fit. A.S.R. was almost 5% above their initial price while Basic-Fit was closing at 3,3% lower than their initial price.

The War of the Titans – Walmart Canada Stopped Accepting Visa Cards – by Ioana Nicolau

Walmart – which filled a heavily redacted complaint against Visa Inc in New York state’s court in May this year – has recently taken the extreme action of stopping accepting Visa cards in its Canadian stores. The world’s largest retail chain argued that the chip and pin payment protocol is more secure than the actual use of signature verification for debit transactions. Company spokesperson Randy Hargrove stated that: “Walmart believes Visa’s position creates unacceptable risk to customers and its actions and rules are inconsistent with federal law.” Walmart went further and explained that the reason behind the issue is that Visa stands to make more money (5 cents more/transaction) by impelling signature verification. A Visa spokeswoman responded that “We are disappointed that Walmart chose to put their own financial interests ahead of their own consumers’ choice.”

Canadian retailers have long criticised the perceived high interchange fees they pay to credit card companies. Two years ago, Visa and MasterCard Inc said they would cut down Canadian transaction rates to an average effective rate of 1.5 percent, given that serious complaints about their fees almost resulted in government intervention. Apparently, this was not enough.

Economics Recap – by Daniel Koudijs

Once again the ECB is raising the stakes. This month, Frankfurt expanded its existing programme of quantitative easing (QE): the buying of bonds and asset papers from the market in in exchange for cash. Their QE programme now also includes corporate bonds (debt issued by companies). So far, all efforts to spur inflation have been largely disappointing. By buying corporate bonds the ECB hopes to reduce the lending costs for companies. As a result companies are expected to take on more debt which they will invest and spend: driving up inflation in the process. A fairly reasonable expectation, but as the ECB keeps expanding QE, economist have started to warn about the dangers of unlimited QE. Steadily buying bonds and assets from the market, will cause their prices to inflate “unnaturally”. Market value is supposed to be derived from market expectations and the underlying fundamentals of a company such as profit, revenue and investments. QE is driving a wedge between market value and these real fundamentals, potentially creating hazardous financial bubbles. At the same time, central banks around the Eurozone are having an increasingly hard job finding suitable bonds to buy. All parties agree on one thing: it is about time for QE to show its merits.

Autobahn – by Nando Slijkerman

The German government wants to partially privatize the well-known “Autobahn”, the highway with unlimited speed limits. People who cross the borders of Germany often know that these ways are not properly maintained. Unfortunately, Germany does not want to make this investment, so this could be an option to maintain the quality of the German highways.

According to the Finance Minister, this would be a great chance for pension funds and insurers to invest in. Because of its long-term and illiquid nature, it would be an attractive investment for those kind of investors. Also, because German treasury bonds have a really low return, investing in infrastructure with a low risk profile would be a great alternative. The quality of the highways would increase, and investors could have a relatively safe investment. That would be great, right?

However, state governments have different opinions. They think that the government will lose its say, and they doubt whether the privatization provides any benefits. To support this statement, they mention the German railways back in the nineties, who got themselves into financial difficulties.

MSCI Emerging Market Index and China – by Hải Đăng Vũ

Chinese mainland A-listed share application into MSCI Emerging Market (EM) index was again postponed after its two prior failed attempts since 2014. The move was described as a “rushed attempt” after Beijing tried to establish sufficient evidence for its shares to be included into one of the most valuable non-US equity market index. MSCI EM index currently represents 10% of the world market capitalization, consisting of 24 emerging economies around the world.

In an official statement released by MSCI on the 15th of June, the committee pinpointed the restriction on each investor repatriation withdrawal value. This curtailment prevents liquidity movement and proves to be a significant obstacle for investors who “honor redemption value from their clients”. Another impediment that MSCI would want China to address is the pre-approval process by stock exchanges, which possibly delays overseas transactions on Chinese shares up to 24 hours. MSCI thus wants to enable more accessibility of shares and hopes for more alignment of these shares to international standards, but also highlights “significant improvements” about the reforms commitment by Chinese authorities. Reactions of fund managers and investors are mixed, but all are optimistic about its potential inclusion in the near future, the earliest being summer 2017.

Politics Recap – by Raffaele Di Carlo

The world of international politics is still mourning the loss of Jo Cox, British Member of Parliament for the Labour party, who was stabbed and shot to death on the 16th of June, when the MP had scheduled a meeting with her constituents. The alleged culprit, a 52-year-old Scottish man named Thomas Mair, finally arrested and charged with murder and other offences, was found involved with far-right organizations of the neo-Nazi and white supremacist kind. It has been speculated that the killer might have tried to make a political statement with his actions, especially considering the approaching referendum for EU membership in the United Kingdom.

The possibility of Britain remaining within the European Union is seen by many British citizens as a risk for their country to relinquish its sovereignty and independence in favor of an organization which they consider at the very least uncaring of British interests, a view strengthened by the recent rise of the UKIP party and its propaganda. British nationalists have also been alarmed by the recent proposal of Jean-Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg and now President of the European Commission, to create a common European army as a pledge of mutual defence between member states. A vast majority of British political forces, including Prime Minister David Cameron, dismissed the proposal, claiming that defence should be a national responsibility and that NATO is a sufficient diplomatic infrastructure for the current state of the European Union.

The Bleeding Rainbow – by Artur Rymer

On the 12th of June, once again, the world had witnessed and was left shocked at what human hate and fundamentalism can do. In Orlando, Florida, a 29-year-old Omar Mateen, who claimed to have been a Daesh (ISIS) member, entered the gay nightclub Pulse and opened fire, killing 49 people (their names can be found on this website) and wounding 53 more in what was the worst mass shooting in US history. The attacker was later shot dead in the club by the police. The Orlando shooting has spurred a new wave of discussion on so many big issues of the modern world at the same time: rights of the LGBT people and the prevalent discrimination against them, the gun laws in the US, terrorism, attitudes of religions towards LGBT rights as well as prejudice against Muslims in the West.

Messages of love and equality have been sent to Orlando and the LGBT community from all over the world, while peaceful gatherings have been held in many cities and famous landmarks have been lit with the colours of the symbolic rainbow flag, including the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. Some of the most heart-warming responses to the attack were the hacking of Daesh’s Twitter accounts and uploading there rainbow flags and gay porn by the Anonymous group and the project of Seriously TV, which will pay $1 to the shooting’s victims for each homophobic comment under this video of gay couples kissing. If anything good came out of this tragic event, it is the rising awareness of the threats posed by homophobia, hate, fundamentalism and unrestricted access to firearms. Whether a real change will follow remains to be seen, however, the change starts with us – we should always fight discrimination around!

English and Russian Fans Riots – by Yana Chernysh

After the match between Russia and England on the 11th of June, fans got too emotional and a series of riots appeared. With more than 16 injured and at least 36 arrested, French authorities warned Russia and England that both teams can be banned from the tournament because of their fans.

Three of Russian fans were sentenced to 24, 18 and 12 months in prison for extreme violence during the riots. Several English fans were sent to jail as well. Others received lighter punishment – both English and Russian fans were deported from France and cannot attend further matches. Now, there is already one case of death, and more than 30 people taken to hospital, because of these fan fights.

French authorities are doing their best to prevent this, like closing all bars before midnight, however, it does not has the desired effect now.

Last Month Two Tragic Events Took Place – by Magdalena Wiśniewska

On the 21st of May, a vulnerable, 16-year-old girl was a victim of a mass rape in the poor neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro. Six men and a boy are charged with the rape – among them a boyfriend of the girl, whom she was visiting. Two other two men are supposed to be charged with posting of the tragedy’s recording to Twitter. The girl woke up naked and wounded the day after the assault, with no recollection of what has happened, in a strange house still filled with the attackers. Initially 30 men were suspected to take part in the attack, however, the number was reduced during the investigation.

In January 2015, a freshman from Stanford University named Brock Turner, a champion swimmer aspiring to compete during Olympics, sexually assaulted an unconscious woman during a campus party. The victim was visiting her sister; they both have been under the influence of alcohol. The offender was stopped by two cyclists passing by. At the beginning of this month he was sentenced to 6 months in county jail and probation, due to the judge‘s fear that a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner. Here you can read a statement of the woman, who was a victim of the attack.

It is painful to lean over those event collectively, even more than when you consider them as separate cases. When events like the one in Rio take place and the judiciary still dear to address situations like one at Stanford in a lenient way, it feels like a slander into the face of every woman.

Dutch Girl in Qatar – by Leonie Ernst

That there are some huge differences between the Islamic culture and our Dutch culture is nothing new, but last week the Dutch citizens were quite astonished when these differences came into contact with each other. On social media people expressed their surprise and indignation concerning the 22-year-old Laura who was kept in Qatari prison since March. The Dutch woman was sent to jail after she reported being raped during her vacation in Qatar. She was arrested for having extramarital sex and drinking alcohol, which are both seen as a serious crimes in this Islamic country.

Last Monday, Laura was convicted to a one-year suspended sentence and a fine of €750. The man who the woman said had raped her, was convicted to 140 lashes. The Dutch embassy acted quickly after the lawsuit, and got Laura back to The Netherlands. However, she still had to pay the fine. Laura is not allowed to enter Qatar within the three coming years, but at least does not have to go to jail. The travel advice to Qatar remains unchanged after the incident, since the Dutch government argues it is already clear that in Qatar Dutch people will face different standards and laws.

Ramadan Gets Underway – by Michael van Rhee

June 7th marked the start of this year’s Ramadan, which sees prayer, fasting, and giving to charity become the main focus of 1.6 billion Muslims (22% of the world population) for an entire month. Ramadan is the ninth month of Islam’s lunar calendar, a system which sees each month begin at the sighting of the new moon. Because lunar months are shorter than solar months (which are used elsewhere), the month moves back by around ten days each year. According to some scholars, the month is said to be the one in which the Qur’an was first revealed, making it the holiest and most sacred month for Muslims. It’s the period when Muslims fast every day from sunrise to sunset, and is one of the five pillars — or duties — of Islam. Not only do Muslims abstain from food and drink, it’s also a time of deep contemplation, prayer to Allah, and charitable generosity. All able-bodied Muslims are required to take part in Ramadan. Although there is some debate over the age at which young Muslims should begin to take part, it’s typically at around ten to twelve years old. Good luck!


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