Germany Divided, India Coal Strike, Fasten Your Smartbelts

Having fun on ice slides Monday at Harbin's Ice and Snow World in northeastern China.
Having fun on ice slides Monday at Harbin's Ice and Snow World in northeastern China.

Tuesday, January 6, 2014

A record 18,000 people gathered in the eastern German city of Dresden last night for a weekly “anti-Islamization of the West” march, while similar protests are spreading across the country in cities like Berlin, Cologne and Stuttgart. The protesters were met with smaller, opposing rallies denouncing PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) as racist and xenophobic, while lights were switched off at major sites in disapproval of the weekly demonstration. In the tabloid Bild, 80 public figures from the primary political parties and the media decried the anti-Islamization protests, with former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt calling for his country to “remain open and tolerant.”
Read more in English from Worldcrunch.


Joan of Arc was born 603 years ago today. Find out what else Jan. 6 has given us in
your daily 57-second shot of history.

The self-proclaimed ISIS caliphate in large areas of Iraq and Syria has published its first annual budget — $2 billion for 2015 with an anticipated $250 million surplus, making it the world’s richest terrorist organization, London-based al-Araby al-Jadeed reports. But Financial Times reports that people in the Iraqi city of Mosul are tired of their taxes and the lack of decent governing structures. “We’ve endured international sanctions, poverty, injustice. But it was never worse than it is now,” one man told reporters. With the price of bread in Syria now equivalent to a third of the daily income of most civilians under ISIS rule, the newspaper concludes that if the caliphate were official, “it would be a country of the poor.”

The months-long battle for Kobani, a Kurdish Syrian town on the Turkish border, continues, and Kurdish fighters said they had gained control of a key district, giving them control over 80% of the town. For more on this, here’s a Syria Deeply/Worldcrunch piece, Fighting ISIS In Kobani, A Syrian Kurd Tells His Story.


Asian stock markets have continued their slide for a second day, with Tokyo’s Nikkei suffering its biggest drop in 10 months amid growing concern over falling oil prices and the political situation in Greece. This follows similar trends in the West yesterday, particularly in Greece, Italy and France, as well as in the U.S., where both the Dow and S&P 500 registered losses as the price of crude oil fell under $50 per barrel. Read more from USA Today.

The political deadlock in Afghanistan continues, and the country is still without a government 100 days after President Ashraf Ghani was introduced and agreed to share power with his rival Abdullah Abdullah, prompting jibes from the Taliban.

Thousands of people have fled their homes in the north Nigerian state of Borno after Boko Haram fighters seized a second military base in a week. Many are feared dead in the attack, though no official figure has been released, and other residents are believed to have drowned as they tried to cross a nearby lake to safety. Read more from The Guardian.

“Minors today are like 007: They have a licence to kill.” — São Paulo’s newly appointed Police Chief Youssef Abou Chahin defended tougher legislation to curb skyrocketing crime by youths in Brazil’s most populated city, Folha de S. Paulo reports.

Coal workers in India are beginning a five-day strike today that news agency PTI describes as the biggest industrial action since 1977. Trade unions denounce the “disinvestment” in the state-owned company Coal India and are protesting legislation that would privatize the sector. The strike is expected to affect the production of 1.5 million tons of coal and may hit fuel supplies at power plants.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology released figures showing that 2014 was the country’s third hottest since records began in 1910, behind only 2013 and 2005, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. This comes as South Australia is facing its worst bushfires in decades amid soaring temperatures and strong winds.

As Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Charlotte Theile reports, the Swiss Haldigrat ski area became a family business when Kurt Mathis saw that a chair lift was for sale and fell in love with it. “Many ski areas have joined forces in recent years so they can offer more runs, comfortable lifts and perfectly prepared slopes. It's all very different at the Haldigrat, where there are no runs,” Theile writes. “At the valley lift station, there's a map showing areas skiers should avoid — for example, the woods where there is a wildlife reserve. Anybody who goes in and disturbs the animals is fined. The rest is up to the individual. ‘Everything is possible and nothing is certain,’ Mathis says. ‘It’s an uncontrolled skiing area, and you come here at your own risk.’”
Read the full article, Switzerland's No-Slope Anti-Resort For Freestyle Skiers.

Another Consumer Electronics Show has opened in Las Vegas, and this year’s event is poised to highlight wearables above all else. But news of a “smartbelt” that adjusts itself when you’ve eaten too much has prompted widespread mockery, most notably from The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker, who developed his own list of ideas for wearable tech. We, on the other hand, have long been prepared for the next step, The Internet of Bodies.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

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.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

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.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

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".

Finding culprits 

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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