Iran's Deadline, Spacecraft Launches, Cairo Roller Derby

The Soyuz capsule launches from Kazakhstan
The Soyuz capsule launches from Kazakhstan

Monday, November 24, 2014

Last-minute talks in Vienna hold little hope that Iran will reach an agreement with world powers today, the deadline, about the country’s nuclear program and the lifting of economic sanctions. U.S. officials admitted yesterday that negotiations might be extended for a second time, The New York Times reports. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that all sides would make “one last push,” although he acknowledged that they were “still quite a long way apart, and there are some very tough and complex issues to deal with.” A source close to the negotiations told Reuters that they were expected to adjourn and resume in Oman next month.

A capsule carrying three astronauts from Russia, the United States and Italy launched into space from Russia's manned space facility in Kazakhstan early this morning, docking less than six hours later with the International Space Station above the Pacific Ocean, near the coast of Ecuador.

ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq are abducting children as young as nine and brainwashing them to turn them into fighters, the UN secretary-general's special representative for children and armed conflict told AP. Although the Free Syrian Army and the al-Nusra Front have also been reported to use children in the Syrian war, ISIS goes beyond anything seen before — and in a “systematic and organized way.”

The Guardian reports that U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria are bringing even moderate rebel fighters closer to ISIS, with some forging alliances or even defecting to the terrorist group.

A fierce battle in Iraq’s Anbar province, west of Baghdad, is unfolding as Iraqi military are resisting ISIS attempts to seize the province capital Ramadi. At least 37 people have died since the battle started Friday, according to CNN.

"The state of Texas should not execute severely mentally ill people. It’s barbaric and unbecoming of a civilized society," the Dallas Morning News wrote in an editorial today as the Dec. 3 execution of Scott Panetti, a mentally ill man convicted in 1995 for murdering his in-laws, approaches.

At least 45 people were killed Sunday in Afghanistan during a suicide explosion at a volleyball match. It happened just after the country’s parliament approved deals allowing NATO and U.S. troops to remain in the country after the withdrawal of most foreign troops next month. It also emerged over the weekend that U.S. President Barack Obama has approved plans to extend the American mission in Afghanistan. Read more from The Washington Post.

Russia is suffering losses at a rate of about $40 billion per year because of Western sanctions and $90 billion to $100 billion from the drop in the oil prices, Reuters quoted Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov as saying today.

During what The Jerusalem Post describes as a “stormy cabinet meeting in which shouts were repeatedly heard from the room,” the Israeli cabinet approved a bill officially defining the country as the nation-state of Jewish people, emphasizing its Jewish character above its democratic nature, The New York Times reports. Rights group branded the bill, which requires the parliament’s approval, as racist, and there are fears that it might further inflame tensions with the Arab-Israeli minority. Observers believe it may also pose a risk to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, although government ministers against the bill did not commit to voting against it in the parliament on Wednesday.


Security researchers at Symantec have discovered an “extraordinary” computer malware that has been used at least since 2008 in “spying operations against governments, infrastructure operators, businesses, researchers, and private individuals,” the company said. Nicknamed “Regin,” the malware is similar, though more advanced, than Stuxnet, which was used to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program and is believed to have been created by the U.S. and Israel. Symantec suggested that the “significant investment of time and resources” into making Regin meant that “a nation state is responsible.” According to the Financial Times, telecom companies in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Ireland and Iran were among the targets.

As Die Welt’s Britta Nagel reports, the award-winning Milan building Bosco Verticale has the equivalent of 2.5 acres of forest built into it. “The Bosco Verticale could be described as an attempt to bring the forestland Milan so urgently needs back to the built-up city,” the journalist writes. “The 20,000 shrubs and 800 trees on the balconies, covering a total surface of 8,900 square meters, incidentally serve aesthetic purposes, but they are primarily meant to ensure a better micro-climate in the apartments, filtering dust particles from the air and producing oxygen.”
Read the full article, Bosco Verticale, The Forest Living In A Milan Highrise.

While the town of Ferguson, Missouri, was awaiting the grand jury decision on the police killing of teenager Michael Brown Saturday, police shot and killed a 12-year-old black boy who was playing with a toy gun. According to CNN, the attorney for the victim’s family, Tamir Rice, doesn’t believe the shooting was racially motivated. The two officers, who were responding to a 911 call about a “probably fake” gun, shot the teenager twice after he allegedly refused to put his hands up. “He had his whole life ahead,” the boy’s father told NBC News. “To be 12 years old — he doesn't know what he's doing. Police, they know what they're doing.”

Egypt may be in the grips of a military regime that is silencing speech and arbitrarily arresting its citizens, but it’s not all fear and oppression. We give you the Cairo women’s roller derby team.

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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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