As he embarks today on what is expected be his last major trip abroad as president â€" with stops in Greece, Germany and Peru â€" Barack Obama might find himself thinking back to that remarkable visit he made to Germany in August 2008 as Democratic nominee.
It was an unprecedented event that included a jam-packed speech near Berlinâ€™s Brandenburg Gate, marking the beginning of "Obamania" around the world, recalled German author Richard Herzinger recently in Die Welt. "The boundless euphoria ignited by the man onto whom we had pinned our hopes â€" even we Germans â€" even before he was elected for the first time," Herzinger wrote.
Fast forward eight years, and the man coming to Berlin now will be missing a certain sparkle in his eye, after Hillary Clintonâ€™s stinging defeat last week to Donald Trump â€" which was also a major final blow to Obamaâ€™s own legacy. Herzinger notes the first African-American presidentâ€™s failure â€œto stop the disintegration of political and societal institutions or the increasingly dangerous polarization of American society.â€
But the legacy of the outgoing president is also a reminder of the limits of even the most powerful man on Earth. La Stampaâ€™s Massimo Gramellini wrote last Wednesday, â€œBarack Obama was supposed to change the world; instead the world kept changing on its own accord, as if he didn't even exist.â€ Looking ahead to four (or eight) years of President Trump, we can only wonder how much â€" and in what ways â€" he will manage to change his country and our world.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY
- U.S. Congress begins â€œlame duckâ€ session.
- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be interrogated at the Ecuadorean embassy in London by Swedish prosecutors over longstanding rape accusations.
- Trial begins of Thomas Mair, the man accused of murdering British lawmaker Jo Cox in the days before Brexit referendum.
TRUMPâ€™S CABINET TAKES SHAPE
President-elect Donald Trumpâ€™s administration is starting to take shape, with the appointment this weekend of Washington insider Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff and of the right-wing outsider Stephen Bannon as senior counselor. In his first prime-time television interview since winning Tuesdayâ€™s election, Trump said he would deport undocumented immigrants â€œthat are criminal and have criminal record,â€ adding this could mean two to three million people. Meanwhile, anti-Trump protests continued yesterday for a fifth consecutive day. See the front page of Mexican daily La Jornada.
EU FOREIGN MINISTERS DISCUSS U.S. RELATIONS
Foreign ministers from European Union nations met yesterday and are expected to continue to discuss today on the future of the unionâ€™s relation with the U.S. after Donald Trumpâ€™s victory. â€œBoth sides should start at zero and give each other a chance,â€ European Parliament President Martin Schulz told German newspaper Bild, adding he believed that â€œPresident Trump will be a different man than candidate Trump.â€
â€" ON THIS DAY
A prince was born, and more, in your 57-second shot of history.
â€œIt feels like weâ€™re sitting on jelly,â€ a winery owner told The New Zealand Herald after a violent earthquake and major aftershocks hit New Zealand. At least two people have died, and many towns were cut off by close to 100,000 landslides.
IRAQI TROOPS RETAKE ANCIENT TOWN OF NIMRUD
Iraqi government forces have recaptured the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud from ISIS terrorist fighters in the ongoing battle for Mosul, CNN reports. The archaeological site, which was founded in the 13th century BC, was largely destroyed by the jihadists last year in what UNESCO said was a â€œwar crime.â€
ISIS CLAIMS PAKISTAN BOMBING
ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing of a shrine that killed at least 50 people and wounded about 100 on Saturday in central Pakistan. This comes amid reports that the terror organization is increasing its presence and recruiting fighters in the region.
Nicaragua's once revolutionary president, Daniel Ortega, has won reelection, this time with his wife Rosario Murillo as VP. It's an accumulation of power and money that makes their own supporters squirm, this editorial in Colombian daily El Espectador argues: â€œAfter steamrolling over potential opponents with the connivance of Parliament, the Supreme Court and a discredited Supreme Electoral Council, Ortega has set about modifying laws to allow indefinite presidential reelections while gradually grinding the parliamentary opposition into oblivion. He has forged a single-party system in spite of the presence of various political parties and movements that pose no actual threat to the Ortega regime â€" so sure of their power, the government even finances some of its opponents. This all goes a long way to explaining the government's flat-out refusal to allow foreign observers to monitor the elections.â€
Read the full article, Ortega Ambitions, Nicaraguaâ€™s First Couple Edges Toward "Dynastic Rule."
â€" MY GRAND-PEREâ€™S WORLD
A Grand Sunrise â€" Grand Canyon, 1987
PRO-RUSSIAN CANDIDATE WINS IN BULGARIA
Voters in Bulgaria elected yesterday Socialist candidate Rumen Radev, a Russia-friendly newcomer to politics, with more than 58% of the vote, inflicting a stinging defeat on the ruling center-right party. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, whose ally candidate Tsetska Tsacheva couldnâ€™t obtain more than 35%, is expected to resign and trigger early general elections.
MORE STORIES, BROUGHT TO YOU BY WORLDCRUNCH
- German Fears Of New "Axis Of Evil" â€" Trump, Putin, Erdogan â€" Süddeutsche Zeitung
- Trump Shock, The Blindness And Naivety Of The U.S. Media â€" The Washington Post
- Trump Victory: Weâ€™ll Never Talk About Globalization The Same Way Again â€" Le Figaro
MILLENIA-OLD MUMMY FOUND
Spanish archaeologists have discovered a mummy believed to be at least 2,500 years old in â€œa very good conditionâ€ near the Egyptian city of Luxor, AFP reports.
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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