An "operating system for the brain" gets FDA approval - Axios
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An "operating system for the brain" gets FDA approval

Courtesy of MindMaze

Combining virtual reality and neuroscience may help a stroke patient's brain recover more quickly.

That's according to MindMaze, a Swiss company (with U.S. headquarters in San Francisco) that just received FDA approval to bring its virtual reality platform to the U.S. market, after already selling it in Europe. The "neurorehabilitation" platform, called MindMotion Pro, uses 3D motion tracking cameras to coordinate movement and brain function and then analyzes that data to tailor therapy, CEO and co-founder Tej Tadi told Axios.

Why it matters: A growing number of virtual reality use cases are in healthcare settings, for both medical training and assisting with therapy. Now that it is FDA-approved — a big win for any startup— MindMaze's virtual reality device will be among the first to be used in U.S. hospitals to assist with therapy after brain injury.

How it works: Using sensors and tracking cameras, MindMotion Pro maps a patient's movements of arms or fingers on a 3D avatar seen on the video-game-like platform. Even if a patient can't actually go through the motions, imagining that they are doing so through the avatar helps activate damaged areas of the brain trigger new neural activity.

Tadi calls it "an operating system for the brain," which can repair a damaged brain and enhance learning for a healthy one. Early partners include Stanford and University of California San Francisco.

It's not cheap: A hospital-grade device runs about $80,000, Tadi said.

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Gerrymandering gives GOP huge structural advantage

AP analysis of election data

Republican gains in statehouses during Obama's first midterm produced a priceless advantage when House districts were redrawn after the 2010 census, and AP has quantified that in a fascinating way:

"Republicans [last year] won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats over what would have been expected based on the average vote share in congressional districts across the country. That helped provide the GOP with a comfortable majority over Democrats instead of a narrow one."

That's the most striking finding of a project the AP has been planning with members for weeks, "Redrawing America: Imbalance of Power ... how gerrymandering benefited GOP in 2016," by David Lieb:

  • "The AP scrutinized the outcomes of all 435 U.S. House races and about 4,700 state House and Assembly seats up for election last year."
  • "The analysis found four times as many states with Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than Democratic ones. Among the two dozen most populated states that determine the vast majority of Congress, there were nearly three times as many with Republican-tilted U.S. House districts."
  • "Traditional battlegrounds such as Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia were among those with significant Republican advantages in their U.S. or state House races. All had districts drawn by Republicans after the last Census in 2010."
  • "[E]ven if Democrats had turned out in larger numbers, their chances of substantial legislative gains were limited by gerrymandering."
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Trump says he did call Republican health care plan "mean"

Screengrab via Fox News Channel

In an interview that aired Sunday on Fox and Friends, President Trump seemed to acknowledge he had called the Republican health care bill that passed the House "mean" — accusing Barack Obama of stealing "my term" while criticizing the plan. Other highlights:

On passing the plan: "It would be so great if the Democrats and Republicans could get together, wrap their arms around it and come up with something that everybody's happy with, but we won't get one Democratic vote."

On GOP holdouts of health plan: "I don't think they're that far off... I think we're going to get there.... The alternative is the dead carcass of Obamacare."

On Democrats: Trump said he's "open arms" if Dems are ready to cooperate, but, "their theme is resist. I've never heard anything like this, resist."
On Elizabeth Warren: "I actually think she's a hopeless case. I call her Pocahontas and that's an insult to Pocahontas."
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Senators claim illegal tactics being used to collect taxes

Steven Senne / AP

Elizabeth Warren and three other Democratic senators are accusing a company hired to collect federal taxes of making illegal and "extremely dangerous" suggestions to individuals in debt to the government — including that they pull from their retirement funds, take out a home loan or pay with credit cards, per the NY Times.

The background: The senators obtained call scripts from Pioneer, one of four companies hired by the I.R.S. to collect tax debt, and objected in a letter:
"Pioneer is unique among I.R.S. contractors in pressuring taxpayers to use financial products that could dramatically increase expenses, or cause them to lose their homes or give up their retirement security," they wrote.
The I.R.S told the Times it did not have a problem with the methods being used. The senators, meanwhile, claim they are a "clear violation" of the laws surrounding tax collection.
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"Matter of urgency" on post-Grenfell fire risks

Matt Dunham / AP

Testing on samples of tower block material following the deadly Grenfell Tower fire has produced uniformly dismal results, said U.K. Communities Secretary Sajid Javid per the AP:

  • "Britain's government is urging local officials across the country to submit samples of tower block cladding 'as a matter of urgency' after tests found that all cladding samples so far have failed fire safety tests.
  • "Javid said all 34 samples tested didn't meet fire safety standards. ... Officials at Camden Council in north London have evacuated hundreds of apartments in four tower blocks as a precaution..."
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The Democratic leanings of Bob Mueller's team

Evan Vucci / AP

Members of Special Counsel Bob Mueller's team leading the Russia investigation have donated almost exclusively to Democratic candidates, according to the FEC.

Why it matters: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrish tweeted it's "Time to rethink" if the Mueller-led investigation will be fair, given their donation history. But Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, said he sees no problem with the donations.

The donations:

  1. James Quarles: Donated almost $33,000 to Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He has also donated about $2,750 to Republicans — the only lawyer on Mueller's team to have done so.
  2. Jeannie Rhee: Donated more than $16,000 since 2008 to Democrats, including the maximum donation possible to Clinton in both 2015 and 2016. Rhee has also donated to Obama.
  3. Andrew Weissmann: Donated more than $4,000 to Obama in 2008 and $2,000 to the DNC in 2006.
  4. Elizabeth Prelogar: Donated $250 each to Clinton in 2016 and Obama in 2012.

There are no FEC filings for Aaron Zebley. It was not immediately clear whether Lisa Page had donated. The Michael Dreeben listed in the FEC database is not the same Dreeben Mueller hired, per CNN. Bob Mueller has not made donations.

Read more about the members of Mueller's team.

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Trump goes after Republicans who won't support health bill

Trump's latest health care tweet is yet another example of the president's penchant for tweet-shaming those who disagree with him. Axios reported this morning on the 8 Republican Senators who could make or break the Senate health bill, and Trump's tweet is not-so-subtly targeting them:

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Inside the Wall Street White House

There are four former Goldman Sachs execs helping out in Trump's White House in pretty prominent positions: Gary Cohn, Steve Mnuchin, Dina Powell, and Steve Bannon. Though they all share a Wall Street background, a new Vanity Fair piece reveals the internal conflicts among these bank-execs-turned-White-House-officials, and how their experience at Goldman might influence the way they approach their roles. The best part: the candid quotes from former Goldman colleagues who arguably know these four better than most.

The money quote: "I don't think [Steve] Bannon has jack sh*t of a Goldman Sachs pedigree," one former Goldman Sachs partner told VF's William Cohan.

Bottom line: These four have one very important thing in common that likely drew Trump's attention: money. "Trump likes alpha males that...have made a lot of money," one former Goldman partner said. This report gives one of the most thorough inside accounts of these key WH players and provides insight into what we can expect from the Trump admin moving forward.

Gary Cohn, chief economic adviser

  • A former Goldman partner explained to Cohan why he though Gary Cohn, a lifelong Democrat, would accept the offer to join Trump's WH staff: "This was an incredibly sort of convenient and opportune kind of thing that came along for Gary because—whether he was going to Washington or not—Gary was out."
  • Cohn reportedly became "overconfident" in his role at Goldman when he was filling in for his boss, who was undergoing lymphoma treatment, in 2015. He approached various board members about making him CEO of the company during this time, but it didn't work out — "there was a lot of loyalty" to Cohn's boss at Goldman.
  • Other Goldman colleagues dispute this account, saying that instead of making "power plays" for CEO, Cohn simply started hearing out the other offers coming his way, which included one from POTUS.
  • His WH role: A former Goldman partner who still talks with Cohn told VF that Cohn is "dedicated to making sure the U.S. doesn't start any ridiculous trade wars or do something 'crazy' on health care."

Steven Mnuchin, treasury secretary

  • "I think Steve Mnuchin's homework is being checked by Gary Cohn," a former Goldman partner told VF.
  • A Washington insider told Cohan about the friction between Cohn and Mnuchin, saying Mnuchin seems "insecure in his role."
  • "[Now] he's going around with ... Trump -like guys, which is really different than [who he was], which was a bit socially awkward, very smart, really into teamwork. I would have sworn he was a Democrat—a liberal Democrat."

Steve Bannon, chief White House strategist

  • Bannon isn't considered part of the Goldman Sachs crew at the White House, in part because he only spent four years there.
  • "What was unusual about him was he was a huge patriot and kept thinking the country was going to hell. He was really concerned about the United States of America. But I was never quite sure what he thought was wrong it. ...He was never quite able to articulate it in a way that I understood."

Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser

  • Powell is one of the WH Goldman members who's seen an almost meteoric rise.
  • "The most remarkable thing about Dina Powell is that she can manage up better than anybody I've ever seen in my entire life," one former Goldman colleague told Cohan.
  • As Cohan notes in his piece, Vogue recently referred to Powell as Trump's "right-hand woman."
  • She's credited as the person responsible for Trump's relatively successful Middle East trip, and she has prior WH experience.
  • "She's the best politician I've ever met in my life. She can work an organization better than anyone I've ever seen. Unlike the rest of us, she has prior White House experience, and she really knows how this place works," a Washington insider said.

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Charity orgs don't want to host banquets at Mar-a-Lago anymore

Andrew Harnik / AP

A new analysis by the Washington Post found that Trump's Mar-a-Lago club has consistently booked fewer charity banquets and events since his campaign announcement than in the seven years before. In 2014-15, just before he ran for office, Mar-a-Lago hosted 52 events — this year they've booked 25.

It's not like they're boycotting President Trump; one charity organizer said, "The decision was based on the disruption on getting into Mar-a-Lago, because of all the security and hassle."

Why it matters: WashPost found these charity banquets accounted for nearly half of the resort's $21 million annual revenue last year. They predict this could be the club's lowest season for charity rentals in nine years, meaning a key part of the Trump Organization could take a significant financial hit ("hundreds of thousands in lost revenue") — not a financial gain, as some might have predicted more guests would book now that he's president.

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Binary Capital delays fund close in wake of Justin Caldbeck situation

Binary Capital website

Binary Capital yesterday delayed its plans to close on upwards of $75 million in new capital for its second fund. This comes after co-founding partner Justin Caldbeck took an indefinite leave of absence in the wake of sexual harassment allegations by women entrepreneurs, Axios has learned.

Below is the note to investors, which was then followed by Caldbeck's longer statement about his leave of absence:

"I wanted everyone to be aware of two things: First we are not closing today given the recent press and secondly, I am issuing this statement immediately about the situation and my sorrow around it. I couldn't be more sorry for putting you in a bad position and will do everything I my power to rectify it."

The San Francisco-based venture firm originally raised $175 million for its second fund last summer, but was seeking additional capital after Lowercase Capital's Matt Mazzeo agreed to join as its third general partner. It is unclear how close Binary had gotten to its $75 million goal, nor what it plans to do next. A firm spokesman declined comment, while an investor says there are "lots of conversations ongoing."

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Mike Pompeo: Trump admin plans on "punishing" leakers

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Mike Pompeo was the first guest on Hugh Hewitt's new MSNBC show. As CIA director, Pompeo was brought on the show to answer vital questions about intelligence and how the White House plans on handling their continued issue with leakers revealing info.

"We, and I would say all of President Trump's government, is incredibly focused on both stopping leaks of any kind from any agency, and when they happen pursuing them with incredible vigor," Pompeo said, adding, "and I think we'll have some successes both on the deterrence side, that is stopping them from happening, as well as on punishing those who we catch who have done it."

Pompeo argued there's an almost obsession with leakers:

"In some ways, I do think it's accelerated. I think there is a phenomenon, the worship of Edward Snowden, and those who steal American secrets for the purpose of self-aggrandizement or money or for whatever their motivation may be, does seem to be on the increase."

And he detailed who's trying to access classified info:

"It's tough. You now have not only nation states trying to steal our stuff, but non-state, hostile intelligence services, well-funded — folks like WikiLeaks, out there trying to steal American secrets for the sole purpose of undermining the United States and democracy."

Pompeo described how Trump and Obama differ in the way they communicated with the intelligence community:

"President Obama consumed his intelligence in a different way. President Trump is incredibly demanding of the intelligence community, asks us incredibly difficult questions, and then counts on myself and other leaders in the IC to deliver those answers for him."

And he responded to criticism that some say Trump is "uninterested in facts":

"I cannot imagine a statement that is any more false than the one that would attribute President Trump not being interested in intelligence and facts when it comes to national security. He is an avid consumer of the products we provide, thinks about them, and comes back and asks great questions. And then, perhaps most importantly, relies upon that information."