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Le Pen’s National Rally is likely to be tied with “lobbyists close to the American government,” the French president claimed as polls show his party is losing support just days ahead of the European Parliament vote.

Recent polls show Macron’s party La République En Marche (LREM) is trailing behind Le Pen’s right-wing National Rally and the president chose to lash out once again at its main rival.

Macron’s fresh rant was triggered by the figure of Steve Bannon, a former Trump’s advisor, whom French media suspect of backing the National Rally’s campaign. Bannon, who is currently visiting Paris, insists he came as an “observer” but the president clearly feels it is not the whole story.

“I see for the first time a collusion between the nationalists and foreign interests, whose objective is the dismantling of Europe,” Macron said on Monday, adding that Bannon is a “lobbyist close to the American government.”

Macron’s words were preceded by harsh remarks by his fellow party members. Nathalie Loiseau, LREM’s top contender for the upcoming election earlier said that Bannon “absolutely does not hide his desire” to interfere into the elections while National Rally members are trained according to the “Bannon method” which implies “disinformation” and “lies.” Apart from this Macron’s former political consultant and number six in the LREM list Stéphane Séjourné called Bannon’s actions “an attack on the sovereignty of elections.”

Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen (while admitting that she previously used Bannon’s services as a political adviser) indicated that he “plays no role” in the current campaign. Bannon, for his part, clarified that at times he acts as an “informal adviser” who only “makes remarks to certain parties and gives advice on fundraising,” but doesn’t get paid for that.

Pressure on Eurosceptic parties across Europe is high in the final days of the electoral campaign. On Monday, a prominent liberal EP lawmaker and former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt accused Marine Le Pen and four other right-wing politicians of being “paid by Putin” to destroy the EU.

The politician also urged to support the pro-European parties in order not to let “our continent become a playground for Trump & Putin’s puppets.”

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A corruption scandal has Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s grip on power slipping by the day. With a no-confidence motion likely, can Austria’s right and left wings team up to boot the 32-year-old leader from office?

In a matter of days, Kurz has accepted the resignation of former coalition partner head Heinz-Christian Strache, and sacked Interior Minister Herbert Kickl. In the wake of Kickl’s dismissal, members of his Freedom Party (FPO) vacated their seats in Kurz’s cabinet, and Federal President Alexander Van Der Bellen filled these posts on Wednesday with a mix of Austrian People’s Party (OVP) and Social Democrats (SPO) officials and neutral technocrats.

The scandal erupted on Friday when German media published a video showing Strache negotiating a quid-pro-quo deal with the supposed niece of a Russian oligarch in Ibiza in 2017.

©  Der Spiegel and Sueddeutsche Zeitung via REUTERS

Strache called the video a “targeted political assassination,” but resigned a day later regardless. Kurz claimed Kickl’s sacking was necessary because as interior minister and FPO member, Kickl was not in a position to investigate his own party leader impartially.

A snap election is expected in September, but Kurz will first have to survive a motion of no confidence, likely in parliament on Monday. Neither the FPO nor the SPO has enough seats in parliament to carry such a motion on their own, and speculation has mounted over whether the SPO will enter into a Faustian pact with the FPO to boot Kurz from office.

“For the Social Democrats, this is a dilemma,” Gerhard Mangott, a political science professor at Innsbruck University told RT. “On the one hand hey would love to pass a motion of no confidence in Chancellor Kurz, because relations between the SPO and the Austrian People’s Party (OVP) have been very bad.”

The Social Democrats have bitterly opposed the Kurz government since the 32-year-old chancellor took office in 2017, regularly sniping at the OVP/FPO coalition’s hardline immigration policies. “If it does not vote for a no-confidence motion this time it will not be seen as credible,” Dr. Heinz Gaertner, a political science professor at the University of Vienna, told RT.

Both sides have their own selfish reasons to remove Kurz from office too. For the FPO, simple revenge is a possibility. Kickl hinted at this after his dismissal, telling news website Oe24 that “It would be almost naive for Kurz to assume that we, the FPO, have no distrust of him following his distrust in us,” and adding that if a vote were to be held: “those who give distrust get distrust.”

Voting against the center-right chancellor may also please the SPO’s left-wing voter base, Mangott said, but with an election coming, the party will need to “appeal to the broader public who don’t want more instability.”

A blessing in disguise

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz attends a meeting of his new cabinet in Vienna © Reuters / Lisi Niesner

If Kurz were to survive a no-confidence vote, the chancellor could emerge from the current turmoil strengthened. In 2000, then-OVP leader Wolfgang Schussel became chancellor despite coming in third place in Austria’s 1999 elections. Schussel entered into a coalition with the FPO, who had won more votes. After a schism within the FPO led to the resignation of several key ministers in 2002, snap elections were called and Schussel’s OVP won 40 percent of the vote before re-entering a coalition with a dramatically weakened Freedom Party.

“For Freedom Party voters who no longer want to vote for the party, the Social Democrats are not a real alternative,” Mangott told RT. “They will turn their backs on the Freedom Party and vote for the other right-wing, anti-immigrant party.”

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“The scenario of 2002,” Gaertner added, “is what Kurz is hoping for.”

Before the Austrian electorate goes to the polls, Kurz will first have to weather the likely vote on Monday. Federal President Alexander Van Der Bellen said on Tuesday that he “expects” Kurz to remain in power until September. Mangott views this as a message to parliament: “Don’t pass a no-confidence vote, because this will bring more instability.”

On a local level, the Social Democrats are already taking advantage of the breaking of the coalition. The SPO governor of the eastern Burgenland province, Hans Peter Doskozil, officially severed ties with the Freedom Party on Sunday and called fresh elections. Cooperation with the right-wing FPO had been a sore spot for Doskozil, and the latest scandal gave the socialist governor the chance to clean house.

“These provincial governments have local reasons as well to get rid of the Freedom Party and have seized the opportunity,” Gaertner said.

“It’s all open,” the professor added. “I would say Kurz’s chances are not too bad.”

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Default feminine voices used in AI assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri promote gender stereotypes of female subservience, a new UN report has claimed, prompting the internet to ask the question: “Can you harass code?”

The report, released Wednesday by the UN’s cultural and scientific body UNESCO, found that the majority of AI assistant products – from how they sound to their names and personalities –were designed to be seen as feminine. They were also designed to respond politely to sexual or gendered insults from users, which the report said lead to the normalization of sexual harassment and gender bias. 

Using the example of Apple’s Siri, the researchers found that the AI assistant was programmed to respond positively to derogatory remarks like being called “a bitch,” replying with the phrase “I’d blush if I could.”

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“Siri’s submissiveness in the face of gender abuse – and the servility expressed by so many other digital assistants projected as young women – provides a powerful illustration of gender biases coded into technology products,” the study said.

The report warned that as access to voice-powered technology becomes more prevalent around the world, this feminization could have a significant cultural impact by spreading gender biases.

However, many have responded with ridicule to the UN report on social media, asking questions like “how can you sexually harass code?” and accusing the UN of assuming Siri’s gender.

Others lamented the futility of the report, pointing that as long as the voice is changeable, they don’t see how it could be made into a problem.

Meanwhile, Amy Dielh, a researcher on unconscious gender bias at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania suggested that manufacturers should “stop making digital assistants female by default & program them to discourage insults and abusive language.”

But the UN’s calls for gender-neutral digital assistants may already be becoming a reality. In March, researchers unveiled Q, a voice that can be used by AI assistants and smart speakers and developed to sound “neither male nor female.” In an eerie introductory video, Q says it’s been created “for a future where we’re no longer defined by gender, but rather how we define ourselves.”

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Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon gave an impassioned account of what is driving the US war on Chinese tech firm Huawei… and trade has little to do with it. The US wants to destroy its competitor, for good.

Bannon, often credited with putting Trump in the White House, said that driving Huawei out of the US and Europe is far more critical than any trade deal with Beijing, the South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday.

Taking a page from the administration’s playbook (which he admittedly helped to create), he called Huawei “a massive national security issue” and “a threat,” but failed to provide any kind evidence.

‘Stupid economics’: Attack on Huawei tells world to avoid doing business with US – Prof. Wolff

Earlier in the month, Washington placed Huawei and its affiliates on a trade blacklist which will make it harder for the firm to access US parts and components. Google, following suit, later suspended its licenses and product-sharing agreements with the Chinese telecom company, effectively shutting Huawei out of its services including the Google Play store.

Alleged security concerns and fear of the phones serving as spy devices for Beijing have been promoted by the US, who claim that Huawei has links to China’s ruling Communist Party. Both Huawei and the Chinese government have challenged this claim, but Washington has stuck to its guns despite lack of evidence.

Not only has the US government pushed the private sphere into meeting its demands, now it wants Europe to ban the company as well. So far, however, most of Washington’s allies remain unfazed. The UK and Germany both said that there isn’t sufficient evidence to suspect Huawei of any wrongdoing.

Regardless of the reasons the US provides for putting the mobile giant on its blacklist, at least some of their real motivations are clear. Huawei is one of China’s most advanced tech companies and the world’s leading pioneer of upcoming 5G technology. As US firms struggle to compete with their Chinese counterparts, some say the US is taking extra-market action to try to even the playing field… something Trump has even hinted at himself.

Bannon’s threats went beyond Huawei. He called for Chinese companies to be restricted from accessing capital markets “until [they agree to] fundamental reform.” While his outlook of fundamentally clashing civilizations is often viewed as extreme, his comments are actually in keeping with Brendan Carr of the Federal Communications Commission, who said that companies that want access to US markets need to first prove they “share Western values.

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Gwyneth Paltrow’s infamous wellness empire Goop is expanding its visionary mission of selling overpriced hemorrhoid creams to insecure women: Now the scam will target men, too. Gender equity!

World-renowned for hawking $100 ‘enriching’ face oils and $66 jade eggs that give your vagina Harry Potter powers, Goop has bravely debuted a podcast called ‘Goopfellas’ in the hopes of seducing men to embrace the prohibitively expensive, pseudo-cult Goop lifestyle. The podcast, which will be complemented by a newsletter and a men’s clothing line, will focus on a variety of topics, including mental health, self-care, toxic and modern masculinity, relationships, health and food, and probably which extremely affordable Goop products you should purchase in order to remedy all which ails you.

The Goopfellas podcast is designed to be a “proverbial dinner table,” Dr. Will Cole, Goopfellas podcast co-host, told fashion site Glossy. “We envisioned it as a conversation that isn’t a formal interview but rather a riffing and discussion,” he said. “Men are more private, so this podcast and other Goop initiatives are designed to help them understand that they can get in on the wellness conversation.”

Orifice eggs sold separately, of course.

Founded by actress Gwyneth Paltrow, Goop has come under scrutiny from consumer watchdogs and the US government for its hilariously false marketing claims. For example, last year the company was fined $145,000 after it was determined that Paltrow’s vagina eggs didn’t actually “balance hormones, regulate menstrual cycles, prevent uterine prolapse, and increase bladder control” as advertised.

The company was similarly humiliated a year earlier, when NASA called shenanigans on a line of “healing stickers” allegedly made of the “same conductive carbon material” that the US space agency uses to “monitor an astronaut’s vitals.”

Mark Shelhamer, a former chief scientist at NASA’s human research division, called the claims “a load of BS,” adding that even if NASA used this material it would be for adding strength to the suit and not for monitoring vital signs.

Despite these party-pooping realities, Goop is still valued at $250 million, proving that there are at least dozens of people on earth who will spend $72 on a scented candle. Some of them might even be men. 

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The US is quietly upgrading its Aegis Ashore missile defense site in Romania, possibly to allow it to launch offensive Tomahawk cruise missiles, military analyst Mikhail Khodarenok has learned.

This could be the first time in decades Tomahawks return to Europe. 

A low-key modernization effort is taking place at Deveselu, where Aegis Ashore is stationed in Romania. Once it’s complete, there’s a high probability of Tomahawk cruise missiles being delivered to the site, according to RT’s military analyst Mikhail Khodarenok.

According to Khodarenok, the Pentagon is sending two guided-missile destroyers equipped with the Aegis combat system with SM-3 missile interceptors aboard and deploying Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems to Romania. The reinforcement of the base’s defenses may suggest that the US military want the THAADs and the ship-based missiles to take over the defensive functions and free up the land-based site for something else, the analyst believes.

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“Thus, the Deveselu site now can provide for the deployment of Tomahawk cruise missiles in Europe for the first time since the end of the cold war.”

The Aegis Ashore upgrades in Romania started just a few months after the Trump administration announced the US’ unilateral withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). The 1987 agreement banned the US and Russia (then USSR) from having ground-based missiles with a range between 500km and 5,500km.

The Tomahawks, nuclear-capable missiles with a range of up to 2,500km, saw action during two Iraq campaigns and the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. They were among the hardware covered by the INF treaty, and the US’ hands aren’t tied anymore now that Washington has quit it.

Aegis Ashore is a land-based variation of an anti-missile system installed on the US warships. It’s armed with 24 interceptor missiles, which are fired by the Mark 41 vertical launching system. It can use different types of ammunition, but was initially designed with Tomahawks in mind.

Russia deploys Tu-22M3 bombers & Iskanders to Crimea in response to US missile launchers in Romania

Khodarenok is convinced that the modernization of the Deveselu site poses a real threat to Russia which should not go unanswered and Moscow has a wide range of counter-measures available.

One option he names is ramping up the Russian military presence in Crimea, deploying supersonic MiG-31BM jets able to carry state-of-the-art Kinzhal hypersonic missiles. The analyst believes the secretive weapon gives Russia an edge over potential adversaries, as there are no known defenses against it yet.

Another option Khodarenok believes worth considering is the deployment of seaborne Kalibr missile systems off the Crimean shores, or stationing of Tu-22M3M long-range bombers in the peninsula.

Moscow has long been opposed to the US missile shield being erected close to its borders, arguing that it undermines security in Eastern Europe. Russia believes those compounds could easily be converted into launch pads for offensive missiles.

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The Irish internet privacy watchdog is investigating whether Google’s collection and use of personal data on its Ad Exchange platform violates EU laws, potentially putting the tech giant on the hook for millions of euros in fines.

The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) opened a probe into the search behemoth’s compliance with the sweeping data protection regulations passed into law across the EU almost exactly a year ago. The inquiry concerns Google’s massive Ad Exchange platform, which operates real-time online auctions in which highly-sensitive information about users is gleaned from their browsing history and traded by companies which use it to create behavioral profiles for ad targeting.

At issue is how Google retains personal data, its practices regarding transparency and minimization of data collected, and how that data is processed. Ad Exchange auctions can involve hundreds of third parties haggling over users’ private data, attaching behavioral ‘tags’ to their traffic without their knowledge – an operation which seems to run afoul of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirement that companies obtain explicit consent before dealing in sensitive information.

The DPC could fine Google up to 4 percent of its global revenues or €20 million, whichever is higher, if the company is found to be in violation of GDPR. It could also impose “corrective measures” on the California-based company. As Google’s European HQ is in Ireland, the DPC’s decision could serve as a blueprint for other European data regulators wishing to levy their own fines. French data regulator CNIL has had something of a head start, fining Google €50 million for “lack of transparency, inadequate information and lack of valid consent regarding ads personalization” in January.

The Irish investigation is based on a complaint filed by digital rights organizations, including the no-track browser Brave, last fall. Google was singled out for particular scrutiny in that complaint owing to the invasive nature of its ad-targeting categories – markers such as “AIDS & HIV,” “male impotence,” and “substance abuse” are subject to special protection under GDPR. Another of Google’s ad-targeting categories, ironically, is “privacy issues.”

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US Central Command has asked the Pentagon to send up to 10,000 additional troops to the Middle East, citing threat from Iran even as the Trump administration boasted about having successfully ‘deterred’ Tehran already.

A CENTCOM request for 5,000 troops was reported by Reuters on Wednesday, citing two anonymous US officials. The reinforcements would be “defensive in nature,” one of the officials reportedly said.

AP reported soon thereafter that the Pentagon will present plans to send “up to 10,000 troops” to the Middle East, also citing unnamed officials.

Washington has already sent a carrier strike group, a number of B-52 strategic bombers, and a unit of Patriot missile defense batteries to the region, citing intelligence warnings of an “imminent threat” by Iran. Many US diplomats and their families were evacuated from the neighboring Iraq as well.

On Tuesday, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters that the deployments have had the desired effect, deterring the Iranian attack and putting Tehran’s plans “on hold.”

The newest reported troop request is but a fraction of the 120,000 soldiers that Shanahan reportedly discussed deploying to the Middle East with President Donald Trump last week – at least according to a New York Times story, which also relied on anonymous sources.

Trump himself quickly dismissed the report as “fake news.”

“Would I do that? Absolutely, but we have not planned for that,” Trump told reporters on May 14. “Hopefully, we’re not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”

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As the last season of the hit series Game of Thrones continues to get flak online, one Russian artist has come up with a bold plan to reshoot the fantasy epic… starring beloved Soviet Russian cartoon characters instead of actors.

Whether you like the finale or not, the Game of Thrones is now officially over. It’s not clear when the original books by George R.R. Martin are going to be finished, while the upcoming HBO prequels are to be set in a different era entirely, and the notorious petition to re-film the controversial last season of the show with better writing seems to be little more than a cry in the depths.

But fear not, as creative geeks online have already come up with a thousand ways to save the show – at least in someone’s imagination. For one, a Russian artist nicknamed Prokky has proposed to shoot a remake of the HBO fantasy drama using the characters from Soviet animation classics.

READ MORE: GoT petition to remake season 8 with ‘competent writers’ hits 1 million signatures

In his sketches for the series remake, he dubbed “Game of Toons,” Prokky portrayed the Hound and Arya Stark as the wolf and the hare from “Well, Just You Wait!” – a Soviet take on “Tom & Jerry.”

The cute big-eared character Cheburashka, which already enjoys a large fandom in Japan, would star as the mother of dragons, Daenerys Targaryen. Cheburashka’s friend, Gena the Crocodile, got a bit of a boost to become the fire-spitting Drogon.

Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet tried on the black armor of the Night’s Watch to turn into Samwell Tarly and Jon Snow. The resemblance is striking.

Tyrion Lannister gained the superpower he always needed, as propeller-sporting, roof-dwelling hero Karlsson-on-the-Roof was picked for the role, switching his addiction from jam to wine in the process. A lot more bizarre was the transformation of Karlsson’s underage pal into the villainous young king Joffrey Baratheon.

While the lead characters of the “Princess and the Cannibal” were uncannily fitting for Sansa Stark and her sadist husband, Ramsay Bolton.

Baldheaded Varys was portrayed as Vodyanoy, a mystical water creature, who sang a sad song about a lack of friends in a 1979 cartoon. Sure everybody knows that Varys was a merman.

The ex-King of Westeros, Robert Baratheon, grew very fat in his later years, so an even fatter cat from “The Return of the Prodigal Parrot” was a perfect match for him.

As for the Night King and his Army of the Dead, Prokky compared them to the flamboyant hockey teams from the 1964 masterpiece “Shaibu! Shaibu!

With all those characters in one cast, this definitely seems like a must-watch show. Shall we launch a petition to make it happen?

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A French reporter who exposed cronyism in President Emmanuel Macron’s administration has been summoned for questioning by domestic intelligence, the fifth journalist subjected to the chilling treatment within a month.

Le Monde journalist Ariane Chemin has been directed to appear before the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) next week, according to the paper’s editorial director. Chemin was the first to write about Alexandre Benalla, a security aide and member of President Emmanuel Macron’s inner circle who was caught on film beating a protester while impersonating a policeman. The story opened a window into extensive corruption within the Macron government, leading to several more stories and multiple officials resigning in disgrace, turning what has become known as the “Benalla affair” into a millstone around Macron’s neck.

Chemin is accused of “committing or attempting to commit the offense of revealing or disclosing, by any means, any information that could lead, directly or indirectly, to the identification of a person as a member of special forces” and could face jail time, according to the Washington Post, which was given a copy of the police summons. The law, adopted in April 2016 during the “state of emergency” declared following a series of terrorist attacks in 2015, has never before been used against a journalist.

‘Making an example of us’: French journalists face jail for exposing govt lies about Yemen war

A February story about a contract for “protection services” Benalla allegedly negotiated between former French air force officer Chokri Wakrim and a Russian tycoon suspected of ties to organized crime triggered the backlash against Chemin, according to Le Monde editorial director Luc Bronner. A corruption probe has been opened against Wakrim, while his wife was forced to resign as head of security for the Prime Minister.
It’s a very bad climate for the press,” Chemin told the Washington Post, adding that in her 24 years in journalism, “this is the first time the press is being treated in such a way.”

The summons comes less than a month after three journalists from investigative news site Disclose were called into DGSI over a story exposing how France knowingly sold weapons, tanks, and ships to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for the purpose of waging war in Yemen, in violation of a 2014 arms treaty. The story was based on a classified Directorate of Military Intelligence briefing and the journalists were threatened with up to five years in jail under a 2009 law prohibiting “attacks on national defense secrets” for merely handling the classified document without authorization. On Wednesday, Disclose revealed a fourth journalist had been summoned by DGSI.

Macron’s government has cracked down hard on journalists exposing corruption within its ranks, raiding the offices of Mediapart, another outlet that reported on the Benalla affair, in February without a warrant. In 2018, a law was passed allowing the government to shut down any news agency deemed to be under “foreign influence” four months before an election.

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