Monday, November 3, 2014
EAST UKRAINE ELECTIONS
Eastern Ukraine’s rebel-held regions of Donetsk and Luhansk held their own elections yesterday, which Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called a “farce” and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini characterized as a “new obstacle on the path towards peace.” Despite Poroshenko’s calls to ignore the vote, Russian officials said they would “respect the will of the inhabitants of the Southeast,” noting that “the turnout was high.” That’s in stark contrast to the nationwide parliamentary elections in these regions last week, news agency Ria Novosti reports. Commenting on the two polls, French economist and Russia specialist Jacques Sapir warns that Ukraine as we know it is on the verge of breaking apart.
Daredevil Nik Wallenda broke two world records Sunday, walking a tightrope across the Chicago River in front of 60,000 people on live television.
ISIS CAPTURES SECOND SYRIAN GAS FIELD
ISIS fighters claimed via social media that they seized another Syrian gas field, the second in a week, after battles with Syrian government forces, Reuters reports. This came amid more grim news from Iraq, where the government said that the jihadist group had killed 322 members of an Iraqi tribe northwest of Baghdad, according to Gulf News. An online video also emerged showing ISIS fighters laughing while discussing the buying and selling of Yazidi women and young girls on a “slave market” in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The Iraqi army has been struggling to keep ISIS away from Baghdad since the terrorists launched their offensive in late spring, but The New York Times reports that security forces backed by American-led air power are planning to retake the territories lost by the end of 2015 after their own “major spring offensive.”
Haruki Murakami, one of Japan's best known writers whose work has been widely translated, chided his country for neglecting responsibility for both its World War II aggression and the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
ONE DEAD IN BURKINA FASO PROTESTS
At least one person died yesterday as Burkina Faso’s army opened fire at state TV headquarters to force thousands of protesters and journalists to disperse. It came two days after longtime leader Blaise Compaoré resigned and was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida, Reuters reports. An army spokesman said that “power does not interest us, only the greater interest of the nation,” and promised to create a “transition body.” The United Nations, meanwhile, reacted to the recent events in the former French colony by threatening to impose economic sanctions if the army doesn’t transfer power back to civilian rule.
As La Stampa’s Paolo Mastrolilli reports, while the “Obama factor” may hurt Democrats elsewhere, the Sioux tribe in South Dakota may tip the scales in the president's favor as control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance. “The Native Americans account for just 1% of the total U.S. population and, in general, political parties ignore them,” the journalist writes. “But in South Dakota, they make up 9% of the population and could wind up being the deciding factor. ...Obama himself forged a relationship with the tribes, proposing to end their disputes with a total compensation of about $3 billion, and he's now hoping the votes will swing his party's way.”
Read the full article, Where Native Americans May Decide U.S. Midterm Elections.
SUICIDE ATTACK ON PAKISTAN-INDIA BORDER
Pakistan and India have suspended a daily military ceremony in the border town of Wagah after a suicide blast on the Pakistani side killed at least 55 people and injured more than 150, The Times Of India reports. A terrorist organization called Jundullah and described as “loosely aligned” with the Taliban claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack in Pakistan in months. It is the first time that the ceremony, which attracts large crowds every day, has been called off since the war between the two countries in 1971.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
UN URGES END OF FOSSIL FUELS
In a report the BBC described as “stark,” the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that renewable energies will have to grow from representing 30% of the power sector, as they does now, to 80% by 2050. In its report, the IPCC explains that greenhouse gas emissions “should drop by 40% to 70% globally between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero or below by 2100” to limit global warming to 2° Celsius, the target set by governments. “Leaders must act. Time is not on our side,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, speaking at a conference in Copenhagen. The report also notes that much more money is being spent on finding new coal and petroleum reserves than the $400 billion spent globally every year to reduce emissions. Read more from The New York Times.
Europe has lost an estimated 421 million birds in three decades, and modern treatment of the environment is to blame, a study published today in the monthly scientific journal Ecology Letters reveals.
FRANCOISM DEFINED AS DICTATORSHIP
Presenting the 23rd edition of the Diccionario de la Lengua Española, Royal Spanish Academy director José Manuel Blecua told newspaper El País that the definition of “Francoism,” the authoritarian regime of Francisco Franco that ruled Spain from 1936 to 1975, has been changed from “political and social movement with totalitarian tendencies” to “dictatorship.” Two weeks ago, the Spanish Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory criticized the initial definition, arguing that it was “an insult to the victims” of the fascist regime.
Egyptian cinema icon Mariam Fakhr Eddine, who came to prominence in Back Again (1958), died at age 81 this morning at a military hospital in Cairo.
The perils of greeting friends in France are very real, as each region has its own kissing etiquette. Luckily, there’s now a map for that.
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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