How Finland rebuilt its tech economy despite a smaller Nokia - Axios
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How Finland rebuilt its tech economy despite a smaller Nokia

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Though not as widely known as Web Summit or other international tech conferences, the Slush conference manages to draw 20,000 techies to Helsinki even in the cold and dark of late November. Walking the halls, you see all manner of Finnish startups, ranging from a sleep-tracking ring to a hub for virtual travel tours.

Why it matters: It's a testament to how Finland has tried to rebuild its tech sector, an area once dominated by Nokia. After missing out to Apple and Google in the smartphone race, Nokia shed its phone business and went through round after round of layoffs. It's remade itself as a network equipment maker, but only employs 6,000 people in Finland, down from 20,000 at its peak.

Background: Helsinki's startup culture, while vibrant, is a relatively new phenomenon. Peter Vesterbacka, who helped start Slush 10 years ago, said he was inspired to do something after asking a crowd of 600 students at Aalto University in 2007 how many wanted to start their own business. Only three hands went up.

Fast Forward: The Finnish startup scene is thriving due to a variety of factors, including lots of angel money from former Nokia workers, copious funding from the government and a significant talent base. And when Vesterbacka went back to Aalto five years later, half of the students could imagine themselves as entrepreneurs.

A few of the hottest areas:

  • Gaming: Already well known for Rovio and Supercell, Finland continues to be a big center for game companies.
  • Education: There are about 300 education-related startups just in Helsinki, according to Vesterbacka, who started Lightneer, which aims to apply game characteristics to subjects like chemistry and physics. At Slush, Fun Academy is hosting a pop-up Kindergarten.
  • VR: Drawing on its heritage in imaging, there are plenty of Finnish companies working on virtual and augmented reality, including Varjo, which aims to build a headset with far greater resolution than current displays. Although the company is still a year away from releasing devices commercially, it announced Thursday it has raised $6.7 million in fresh funding and shipped prototype units to early customers including 20th Century Fox, Airbus, Audi, BMW, Technicolor and Volkswagen.

The Finnish government has worked hard, investing in Slush and other efforts, in order to both support its startups and convince large multinational corporations to set up R&D centers here.

"One indication of the global interest is the international money is flowing in," said Pekka Soini, CEO of Tekes, an investment arm of the Finnish government. For the first time last year, more money was invested in early-stage Finnish companies by foreign VCs than came from the Finnish government. "Finland is on the radar screen," Soini said.

Still a big hole: The startup boom notwithstanding, Finland lost a lot with Nokia's decline. A further blow came with the sale of Nokia's phone business to Microsoft. The software giant changed CEOs as the deal was pending. New chief Satya Nadella began unwinding the effort almost as soon as the deal closed, eventually laying off most of the more than 4,000 Finnish employees gained through the acquisition.

One remnant: Microsoft still has about 200 employees here and provided the funding to turn the former Nokia executive parking lot into an IoT incubator.

Meanwhile, Finland has worked hard to bring outside interest to its tech scene, both to partner with and fund its startups as well as to lure multinational companies to have R&D centers here. Huawei has one of the biggest of the such outposts, with GE Healthcare and Rolls-Royce among the recent companies to begin operations.

Making lemonade: Kimmo Isbjornssund, who worked at Nokia in various roles for 12 years before exiting in 2012, says he now looks at the end of its mobile phone business as a positive for the country's tech industry.

Isbjornssund worked for several startups after leaving Nokia and now runs a just-announced startup accelerator run by the European Space Agency in conjunction with Aalto University.

"Nokia has actually done a great service for Finland... It hired and trained an army of people that had vast experience in international business." — Kimmo Isbjornssund
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New Yorker cuts ties with Ryan Lizza over alleged sexual misconduct

Lizza. Screengrab via PBS on YouTube.

The New Yorker has cut ties with Ryan Lizza — a prominent political reporter at the magazine who is also a CNN analyst — over "improper sexual conduct," per Politico's Michael Calderone.

The statement: "The New Yorker recently learned that Ryan Lizza engaged in what we believe was improper sexual conduct. We have reviewed the matter and, as a result, have severed ties with Lizza. Due to a request for privacy, we are not commenting further."

Lizza responded, saying the New Yorker's decision was "a terrible mistake."

The law firm representing Lizza's accuser, Wigdor, LLP, put out the following statement, per the Daily Beast: "In no way did Mr. Lizza's misconduct constitute a 'respectful relationship' as he has now tried to characterize it. Our client reported Mr. Lizza's actions to ensure that he would be held accountable and in the hope that by coming forward she would help other potential victims."

Lizza's controversial interview with then-White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci led to Scaramucci's resignation.

CNN says Lizza will not appear on air will it looks into the allegations.

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Alabama polls show wildly different results on election eve

Brynn Anderson/AP

One day before Alabama's closely watched Senate special election between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, two new polls were published — one from Fox News showing Jones leading by 10 points and another from Emerson showing Moore up by 9 .

Background: Since the Washington Post first reported about alleged sexual misconduct by Moore, polls in Alabama have been going back and fourth between both candidates. So who's really leading? The old addage applies: it all comes down to turnout.

What to keep in mind: As the Washington Post's Philip Bump points out, pollsters use various indicators such as historic results and enthusiasm shown by voters in prior polls, to figure out who will turn out on Election Day. There are also other factors that make it tough to determine who's going to turn out, he added:

  1. This is a highly contested statewide contest with few precedents on which to base estimates.
  2. It's happening under the most polarizing president in modern history.
  3. Moore was already an unusual and controversial candidate prior to the allegations.

Worth noting: There's also speculation that there's a pool of voters who won't admit to pollsters they're voting for a man who's facing allegations of sexual misconduct.

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NYC terror suspect in custody after subway blast

The scene following an explosion near Times Square on Monday. Photo: Andres Kudacki / AP

27-year-old Akayed Ullah is in custody after he intentionally detonated a low-tech pipe bomb in a subway station near Times Square on Monday. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the explosion was "an attempted terrorist attack."

The Department of Homeland Security said Ullah came to the U.S. in 2011 after presenting a passport displaying an F43 family immigrant visa. Ullah "is a Lawful Permanent Resident from Bangladesh who benefited from extended family chain migration," said DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton.

Details of attack:

  • The New York Police Department said the explosion occurred in an underground walkway that runs through the Port Authority bus terminal and Times Square along 42nd Street.
  • NYC Police Commissioner James P. O'Neill said during a press conference that Ullah had attached the "low-tech" pipe bomb to himself with a “combination of Velcro and zip ties." It's unclear whether Ullah was attempting a suicide bombing.
  • O'Neill also said Ullah acted alone and no other devices had been found.
  • Following the blast, Ullah was taken into custody and transported to Bellevue Hospital where he was treated for severe burns to his hands and abdomen. NYPD said three others suffered minor injuries.
  • No formal announcement has been made on what's next, but both federal and local law enforcement officials have indicated that Ullah will be prosecuted in federal court in Manhattan, reports the New York Times. The attack is also being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

What they're saying:

  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: "This is New York. The reality is that we are a target for people who would like to make a statement against democracy, against freedom. We are not going to allow them to disrupt us."
  • Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen: The Trump administration is taking “appropriate action to protect our people and our country ... The administration continues to adopt significant security measures to keep terrorists from entering our country and from recruiting within our borders."
  • White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders: : "We know that the president's policy calls for end to chain migration .. had [Trump's] policy been in place, then the attacker would not have been allowed to come into the country."
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White House says Trump accusers' "false claims" are politically motivated

Rachel Crooks, left, Jessica Leeds, center, and Samantha Holvey have all accused President Trump of sexual misconduct. Photo: Mark Lennihan / AP

Three women who have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct spoke out again today in an NBC interview with Megyn Kelly and in a press conference hosted by Brave New Films, saying they hoped their allegations would be treated differently given the momentum of the #MeToo movement. The White House, which has disputed the claims before, issued this statement Monday in response:

"These false claims, totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year’s campaign, and the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory. The timing and absurdity of these false claims speaks volumes, and the publicity tour that has begun only further confirms the political motives behind them."
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Sen. Gillibrand says Trump should "immediately resign"

Gillibrand. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called Monday in a CNN interview for President Trump to "immediately resign" over the allegations of sexual harassment and abuse, and called for a congressional investigation if he declines to do so.

The backdrop: Three senators — Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley and Cory Booker — have called for Trump's resignation since Sen. Al Franken announced last week that he would be stepping down over groping allegations. Three of Trump's 16 accusers spoke out Monday, calling for an investigation.

Full quote:

"These allegations are credible, they are numerous, I've heard these women's testimony and many of them are heartbreaking. President Trump should resign his position, whether he will ever hold himself accountable is something you really can't hold your breath for and so Congress should have hearings, they should do their investigation, they should have appropriate investigations of his behavior and hold him accountable."

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White House repeats that allegations against Trump "answered" in election

Sanders listens to reporter's question during a White House briefing. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday the president has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct in response to Megyn Kelly's Monday interview with three accusers. "This all took place before the election, she said. "We feel like these allegations have been answered."

Trump thinks "it's a good thing for women to feel comfortable in coming forward in general, but he also feels strongly that a mere allegation shouldn't determine the course" of an election, she added.

  • On the Pentagon's decision to allow transgender individuals to enlist in the military: "They are simply complying with a court order."
  • On the attempted terror attack in New York: "We must move to a merit-based system of immigration."
  • Some journalists "purposefully mislead the American people," Sanders said, commenting on Trump's criticisms of "fake news" and Washington Post journalist Dave Weigel on Twitter.
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In early trial, new drug silences Huntington’s disease gene

An experimental drug could slow the spread of Huntington's disease, giving hopes to patients suffering from uncontrolled movements and mental confusion associated with the disease, reports The Guardian. An early-stage trial of the drug was conducted with 46 patients in the UK, Germany and Canada.

Why it matters: Huntington's disease is an inherited condition resulting from a genetic mutation. Current treatments can only help minimize the symptoms, instead of slowing it down.

Professor Sarah Tabriz at UK's University College of London said in a statement on Monday that the drug has lowered the level of the “toxic disease-causing protein in the nervous system, and the drug was safe and well-tolerated. The key now is to move quickly to a larger trial to test whether the drug slows disease progression.”

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Judge warns Manafort to stop discussing his case with media

Paul Manafor leaves the federal courthouse in November. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

District Judge Amy Berman Jackson chided Paul Manafort on Monday for ghost-writing an op-ed for a Ukranian newspaper, told him not discuss his case with the media, and warned that any similar behavior moving forward will be considered a violation of his gag order, per Reuters.

What didn't happen: Despite Mueller's team arguing that the op-ed is grounds to deny Manafort's request to post $11.65 million in exchange for taking him off house arrest, Jackson said she will determine whether to ease those restrictions at a later date.

Behind Jackson's warning: Jackson argued that even though the op-ed was not published in the U.S., it still could have tainted a local jury given the accessibility of global media.

“All that has to happen is for that favorable article, which is going to ... look on its face to be entirely independent, but is actually in part a message crafted and shaped by you ... is to have somebody you know post it on Facebook, Twitter or a blog, and you have accomplished your goal, given the power of retweeting,” she said.

Go deeper: Mueller weaponizes Microsoft Word; How the Russia probe closed in on Manafort.

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Chef Mario Batali takes leave after sexual harassment allegations

Chef and restaurateur Mario Batali has been accused of sexual harassment by four women. Photo: Andy Kropa / Invision via AP

Celebrity chef Mario Batali is stepping away from his show "The Chew" and his restaurant empire after four women anonymously accused him of sexual misconduct. The allegations, which span at least two decades, were detailed in a report published by food website Eater on Monday.

Batali did not deny the allegations, and apologized for his behavior in a statement to Eater: "... [M]uch of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends and family.”

The allegations: Four women, three of whom had reportedly worked for Batali in some capacity, said the chef touched them inappropriately:

  • One woman who never worked for Batali said the chef rubbed her breasts "with his bare hands" after someone spilled wine down her chest.
  • Another accuser told Eater that Batali touched her inappropriately on several occassions while working for him in the 1990s. She detailed one instance when she says he approached her from behind at the restaurant and "put his hand on half of my butt and he squeezed it.”
  • Another former employee said Batali repeatedly grabbed her from behind and pressed her body against his.
  • A fourth accuser alleged that Batali grabbed her breasts at an industry party.

Backlash:

  • The Food Network said in a statement Monday that it is putting plans to relaunch Batali's “Molto Mario” show on hold.
  • An ABC spokesperson also said the network has asked Batali to step away from “The Chew” while reviewing allegations.
  • B&B Hospitality Group, which represents 24 Batali-owned restaurants, said it took the allegations “very seriously” and agreed with Batali that "he will step away from the company's operations."
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Treasury admits tax plan won't pay for itself

U.S. Treasury Sec. Steve Mnuchin. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. Treasury Department today released a one-page analysis of the GOP's proposed tax reform plan.

Bottom line: The report acknowledges that the tax plan will not pay for itself via increased economic growth, despite Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin having regularly made such a claim. Instead, getting into the black would require both the tax plan and "a combination of regulatory reform, infrastructure development, and welfare reform."

Moreover, the analysis uses the White House's previous economic growth estimates (made before the tax plan was written) and works its way backwards into the math, rather than analyzing how the actual tax plan would affect economic growth.

The back story: Mnuchin spent months talking about a detailed Treasury analysis of the GOP tax plans, but the NY Times reported in late November that no such analysis actually existed.

Today's release is an apparent remedy, although a single page feels pretty skimpy for an analysis that is supposed to help justify the most significant tax code changes since 1986.