Geopolitics

The Obama Conundrum: A French Glance Toward Election Day

Editorial: Barack Obama’s bid for re-election in 2012 could be smooth sailing, but is he chipping away at America’s leading role in the world?

Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Alexenia Dimitrova

Less than six months after the Democrats' expected but still memorable midterm shellacking, Barack Obama seems to be back in control of his country. Almost no one in Washington today seems to foster any serious doubts about his chances to win a second term in 2012.

Many things can change, of course, during the 18 months left before the next election day, and it appears obvious to many that the president's strength today comes as much from his adversaries' weakness as from his own merits. The fact that America now seems bent on keeping him in the White House does not mean that people there are happy with their political leaders and prefer to go with political continuity. The reality is that, with unemployment rates stuck at "European levels," the United States is a more dispirited nation than ever, profoundly unsatisfied with the present and worried about the future.

By announcing his 2012 re-election bid fairly early, and stirring up talk about his becoming the first billion-dollar candidate, the president has made a deft political move and made a step towards consolidating his apparent advantage over the divided and seemingly lost Republicans. The party still does not have an obvious presidential frontrunner who seems capable of being a credible rival to Barack Obama. As the social effects of the economic crisis linger on, the visceral hostility of the GOP towards the "Big Government" is not exactly appealing to America's embattled middle class, who know they need to get more, and not less, from the State.

And finally, the fracture within the Republican Party seems today to run a lot deeper than among Democrats. It is true that, by keeping close ties with the financial world of Wall Street, President Obama has lost the support of the most liberal Democrats (in France, the proper expression would be those most to the left). But the division seems paltry compared with the abysmal fracture provoked by the Tea Party's ultra-populist views inside the Republican Party.

Fractures within America's two political parties cannot hide divisions within the American society itself. This might result in 2012 in a "cohabitation à l'américaine": a Democrat in the White House and Republicans at the helm of both houses of Congress. This scenario does not augur well for the United States' capacity to make the transformations it needs and to play a constructive role in the world. The truth is that Barack Obama needs to show a whole lot of "caution" in the way he handles foreign affairs, if he does not want to damage his chances of being reelected.

On the Libyan question, it is easy to distinguish two schools of thought in the president's entourage. The first, represented by the American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, Samantha Power from the National Security Council and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been at the heart of the president's initial engagement against Colonel Gaddafi's regime.

On the other side, Obama's political advisers such as Bill Daley, the new White House Chief of Staff, and his National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, have pointed out the political risks linked to Washington embarking on a new and extremely perilous military adventure. It is this second school of thought that seems to have won in the end, even if the administration's strong words somewhat compensate its lukewarm actions.

Has the United States become slightly more cautious or is it becoming more "provincial" than ever, influenced by one of its most open-minded and cultivated presidents? In light of the Arab spring the question seems more worthwhile than ever. Hasn't the Congress recently taken the time to indulge itself into a typically Washingtonian psychodrama over the budget that lasted more than 48 hours, while events in the Middle East were as fluid as they could be?

At the same time, a number of high profile Chinese visitors in Washington were praising the Chinese vision of the world. The American vision may be wider and the European one deeper, they said, but can they compete with China's which is longer? Barack Obama may have taken control of his country, but the United States is farther away than ever of doing the same in the world.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Dana Beveridge

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Economy

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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