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The News that Shaped the Month – March 2016

The University Life – by Olga Kowalska Have you thought that exciting news comes only from the big world of politics or business? You have no idea how many interesting things happen on our own playground! After the last year’s student protest at the UvA, aimed at bringing decentralization and more transparency to the decision-making process, the university seems to face another wave of the crisis. First of all, Hans Amman, the Vice President of Executive Board of the University, has resigned after just two years in this position. Amman was responsible for the financial decisions, of which the most important ones concerned allocation of money among the faculties and management of real estate property. Not only the news about Amman’s resignation was surprising but also the way it became known to UvA employees. The information was leaked to the media and NRC, a big Dutch magazine, was the first one to announce it. Second problem concerns the elections of the new Rector Magnificus. The elections take place again behind closed doors, without contribution from the students and employees. Folia has published issue with an article called ‘De Boobie Bible: feminism anno 2016’ and naked breasts on the cover. Nothing wrong, one may think. Apparently not for the management of HvA’s (Amsterdam University of Applied Science) two faculties, who removed the magazines from schools, claiming they would be inappropriate for the prospective students who visited HvA during its ‘open days’. You can find more on that here. Students were thrilled by the news that Science Park is facing the epidemic of scabies. Luckily, just one student experienced the annoying symptoms of the disease and two others, who shared with him a laboratory coat, may have become infected. So, I hope there is nothing to worry about! Economics Recap – by Daniel Koudijs While the Brexit is looming ever larger over Europe, two other parties across the canal have been moving closer together this month. The London Stock Exchange and Deutsche Bourse are in talks of merging their two businesses. They have tried to merge twice before but both times the deal has been rejected by the shareholders. Both companies have diversified their operations since and the potential gains from merging are more evident, making the deal more likely to succeed this time. Merger between the two would create the second biggest exchange (in market capitalisation) in the world. A less successful effort was made by the ECB, who on March 9th decided on more monetary stimulus for the Eurozone. Deposit rates were slashed further below zero and the quantitative easing programme extended. Markets were not impressed by Mr. Draghi’s announcement as the feeling the ECB is quickly running out of options became stronger. The measure of cutting rates even further below zero is a painful move for the European banks, but aims to signal the ECB’s dedication to doing whatever it takes to spur growth. Yet at the same time Draghi admitted this is as far as they will go. Firing all your impressive weapons at once and then saying that this was all your ammunition is not a very good way to boost confidence. Dutch Taxes – by Yoeri Min Since March 4th,  it is possible to fill in the Dutch tax return. This year, for the first time, people are able to fill in the tax returns on the IRS website or mobile app. Filling in the tax return using paper is still possible, although few people use it. Despite the increase in capacity to 42.000 users at the same time, queues and glitches cannot be avoided. Therefore, the Dutch Secretary of State Eric Wiebes has advised people to avoid to fill in their tax return during Easter.

The developments regarding the tax return are specifically interesting because of the upcoming changes in the tax system, initiated by Eric Wiebes. In 2015, large reformations in the tax policy were announced. However, the tax plan 2016 was toned down to a change in the wealth tax in ‘box 3’ and some general changes in tariffs, charges, and exceptions.

Business Recap – by Ioana Nicolau

If you are in doubt about where to put your entrepreneurial skills in practice, Forbes comes to the rescue as it recently launched its Top 20 best countries to do business in! Netherlands occupies the 9th place, two places higher than last year. For the fifth time in 8 years, Denmark swoops in at the 1st place, ranking excellent for its personal and monetary freedom as well as for its low corruption. New Zealand, Norway and Singapore are hitting the top spots of the chart as well.

Acquisitions added some dynamism to this month’s business environment. Blackstone came out to be the strongest contender to acquire Mphasis (IT solutions provider) from Hewlett Packard. Sources stated that the deal is worth over $1 billion. Further on, India’s larger online retailer, Flipkart, is considering selling itself to Amazon. This represents a twist in the startup tale with Flipkart being expected to go the full distance as an independent Internet giant.   Uber is seeking to buy self-driving cars, with Volkswagen, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz, BMW and car industry suppliers Bosch and Continental working on technologies for autonomous or at least semi-autonomous cars. Speaking about Volkswagen, only few people see the light at the end of the tunnel, given the “Dieselgate” affair and the following huge barrage of lawsuits. Google DeepMind Challenge Match – by Michael van Rhee Lee Sedol, the reigning world champion of the ancient Chinese board game Go, recently lost a highly anticipated encounter with a computer engine developed by Google DeepMind, called AlphaGo. Google DeepMind is a British artificial intelligence company founded in September 2010 as DeepMind Technologies. It was renamed when it was acquired by Google in 2014. The company has created a neural network that learns to play video games in a fashion similar to that of humans. Go, an abstract strategy board game for two players, had always been a particularly difficult game to learn for computer engines, seeing as players have often stated to rely a great deal on their intuition when deciding on a move, especially in complex situations. This ‘human’ way of thinking was always thought to be impossible to replicate, so this is a new pinnacle for artificial intelligence. As for the match itself: Sedol lost the match 4-1, having lost the first three games in a row (and thus settling the tie), but then saved his honour by beating the machine once in the remaining two games. Old Fashion Football with Modern Management Theory – by Brunno Fontanetti When I started looking into why and how Leicester City has such a big potential in English football, I have to admit I was expecting some kind of “Moneyball” – the movie tells the history of a bad baseball team that uses the ratings of the players to build a winning team from the scratch. However, to my surprise, what I found was a deep managerial insight of the club’s coach, Claudio Ranieri. Ranieri’s first step, when arriving in Leicester earlier this season, was analyzing and making a thorough report of Leicester City’s last games – a procedure used in the strategical analysis called diagnosis, which helps managers have a better understanding of the situation. Secondly, he decided to create an innovative tactic to solve the problems assessed in the diagnosis part: he realized that his players weren’t good in keeping ball possession and thus he decided to build a strong and solid defense with a fast and deadly counter attack. Again Ranieri uses the managerial theory – transformational leadership – to approach his situation: having the information of his team’s performance, he created an ingenious new system which relies on the communication and understanding of the players towards a collective goal. So far his strategic plan has been working perfectly: with less ball possession in all the games, Leicester only lost 2 games in the season, and it’s 5 points ahead of the second best team in the league, Tottenham. As a football fan, I hope more managerial skills are applied to it, especially if that means having the good competitive football back. Politics Recap – by Artur Rymer Since the beginning of the year we have seen a lot of turmoil in the world of global politics and March has followed the pattern. The biggest news in European politics is the agreement between the EU and Turkey, according to which refugees who reach Greece but do not apply for asylum or have their application rejected will be sent to Turkey. In return the EU will provide Turkey with €3 billion, lift visa restrictions to Schengen area for Turkish nationals and the country’s accession negotiations will be resumed. The deal has been heavily criticised as many doubt Turkey’s ability to comply with international standards of humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Donald Trump is leaving behind other Republican candidates in the US presidential primaries, with Marco Rubio dropping out from the race, while Hillary Clinton is trying to increase her lead over the other Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. In Brazil, more than a million (3,5 million according to some figures) protesters went to the streets in the country’s biggest cities to demand President Dilma Rousseff’s resignation in the wake of the poor economic state and the allegations of corruption on the highest levels of government.

On March 15th, the Syrian Civil War has entered its 6th year. More than 250,000 people have died and more than 11 million have been forced to leave their homes. Still, no immediate solution to the conflict seems to be in sight. A Fight Between Apple and the US Department of Justice – by Yana Chernysh US government is forcing Apple to provide them access to the data of the iPhone users, which company refuses to do. The reason for this claim is that the iPhone of a gunman Rizwan Farook (who killed 14 people in December) can contain evidence of his actions and links to other criminal groups. The company refuses to hack the phone, as it can lead to unlimited access to the data that can be used by both government and criminals.

In February, the court decided to force Apple to make a special programme that will give access to all the data to the government. Now, Apple is fighting against this decision, as it breaks the rights of the citizens and the company itself. Apple received the support of their action from Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others. A case is scheduled for the 22nd of March. Tim Cook said that he is willing to take this case to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Terrorist Attack in Ankara  – by Yana Chernysh

On the 13th of March, a car bomb has exploded in the commercial area of Ankara, which lead to the death of 37 people. The exact number of injured people is still unknown, however, more than 125 people are now in hospitals, some in critical condition. Citizens were immediately evacuated from the place of the explosion, as there was a chance that there was more than one bomb. It should be mentioned that Turkey has been under some serious terrorist attacks for the last 19 months, most of them are said to be organized by ISIS militants. The investigation of this particular attack is now in process. President Obama Nominates Supreme Court Justice – by Antoine Steen

U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the Washington appeals court, to the Supreme Court after the death of long-serving conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

Senate Republicans have vowed not to vote on any nominee picked by Obama for the lifetime position on the court, hoping that the position can be confirmed after the presidential election – and possibly under a Republican president.

Garland has earned praise from both Democrats and Republicans, and is seen as a moderate nominee. Should the nomination be confirmed, the Supreme Court will have a liberal tilt. Indeed, the leading Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, has warned that with four Supreme Court judgeships imminent, the court could be dominated by liberals for 50 years. At 63 years of age, however, Garland is the oldest nominee for more than 40 years.

North Korean Provocations – by Michel Mijlof In the last couple months, the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, tested and fired missiles that lead to a lot of fuss. Especially, South Korea did not like the provocations of the ‘supreme leader’. Officially, the two countries are still at war but they have had a ceasefire for more than 60 years. The United States of America also disliked the provocations from Kim Jong-un because the USA is supporting South Korea. The important question asked by South Korea as well as the US is: does Kim Jong-un have nuclear weapons? He declares that he is going to test missiles with a nuclear warhead. Scientists and other experts doubt the fact that he is able to use nuclear weapons. It is well known that the leader of the communist country has access to former Soviet Union military gear but many experts think that those weapons and other gear are very outdated. The overall conclusion, formed by the media/experts and, of course, USA and South Korea, is that Kim Jong-un is just acting like a tough guy to let the world know to not mess with him. It’s In the Water – by Raffaele Di Carlo

Protests are growing in Flint, Michigan, where the population has risen against Governor Rick Snyder with serious charges: criminal neglect and water poisoning. As a matter of fact, the newly elected mayor of Flint, Karen Weaver, had already started an investigation into the region’s infrastructure at the beginning of her term. What she discovered left the entire State, if not the entire country, in utter indignation: the levels of lead in the State’s water supply were well above the safety standards. The fact had already been stated by Professor Marc Edwards – now appointed as leader of the “Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee”, tasked with addressing the water crisis – over a decade ago, but at the time his claims had been dismissed with skepticism by both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Washington.

Today, the effects of the polluted water are visible all over the city, where there have been hundreds of reports of lead poisoning among the children: a long-term exposure can cause severe brain damage, including aggressive behavior, poor language skills and weak memory. The citizens of Flint are now helping themselves at their best, using bottled water and a supplementary line of supply from Detroit in order to avoid the contaminated water as a short-term solution while Mr. Edwards and his team address the problem. However, the situation in Flint has triggered a series of investigations all over the country that brought many similar cases throughout the US to the surface.

Sharapova’s Doping Exposure – by Magdalena Wiśniewska

On March 7th, the world’s best-paid tennis player, according to Forbes, Maria Sharapova, publically admitted to fail a doping test due to usage of substance called meldonium. She claimed to have taken the drug her whole career, while it has been finally banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) since the beginning of 2016. Sharapova argues that the situation was an accidental oversight, which happened due to lack of knowledge of the updated prohibited drugs list. Her future tennis career is unknown as she was imposed a four-year ban from the International Tennis Federation.

However, Sharapova is not the only athlete caught taking meldonium. On the list we can find as well Ekaterina Bobrova, an ice dancer with a gold Olympic medal, world champion speed skater Pavel Kulizhnikov, and a Georgian Olympic wrestling silver medallist Davit Modzmanashvili. Even though the substance is designed for people with heart conditions, it is also claimed to improve performance, rehabilitation, counteract stress and enhance central nervous system. After the above disclosures, the online sells of meldonium have reached a sharp peak.


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