February 9, 2018

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly instructed White House officials to propagate a story about his reaction to credible domestic violence allegations against staff secretary Rob Porter that many say isn't true, The Washington Post reports. Kelly's version of events "contradicts both the public record and accounts from numerous other White House officials in recent days as the Porter drama unfolded," the Post adds.

Kelly hired Porter and apparently kept him on even after learning of the abuse allegations more than a month ago. In a statement Tuesday, Kelly went so far as to deny the accusations on Porter's behalf, saying: "Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can't say enough good things about him … I am proud to serve alongside him."

Senior White House staff claim they were told to say that Kelly "took action to remove Porter within 40 minutes of learning that abuse allegations from two ex-wives were credible," The Washington Post reports. Kelly also allegedly told the staff "to convey to other White House aides that he cares about domestic violence." Jeva Lange

7:35 a.m.

The U.S. government is planning to fund three 30,000-subject phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trials starting this month, and Pfizer is recruiting for its own similarly large vaccine trial. "Quickly lining up all the subjects for so many studies at the same time poses several challenges," The Wall Street Journal reports. "We not only have to find the number of volunteers," National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins explained, "but they need to be in an area where the virus is currently spreading, otherwise you learn nothing about the effectiveness of the vaccine."

The volunteers also need to be healthy and include sufficient high-risk groups that regulators can be sure the vaccines will be safe and effective in the broader population. That means COVID-19 hotspots are seen as fertile ground for recruiting, the Journal reports:

Among the areas being targeted in the U.S. and outside the country, industry officials say, are places where people generally aren't following preventive measures like social distancing or wearing masks. Some testing sites for Pfizer's vaccine trial will be in states that have seen recent increases in infections, such as Florida, Arizona, and Texas, Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla said during a recent online event hosted by the Milken Institute. [The Wall Street Journal]

The need to quickly procure volunteers that meet these criteria has effectively created competition between vaccine trials. Vaccine developers and recruitment organizations are using novel techniques to find such volunteers, including working with churches and community groups, trawling testing centers and pharmacies, using algorithms, and asking employees to reach out to friends and family.

There are about 150 COVID-19 vaccines under development, and the three large late-stage trials being funded by the U.S. government this summer are for Moderna's vaccine candidate, the U.S. trial of a drug developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca that's already being tested in Britain, and Johnson & Johnson's vaccine effort. Peter Weber

7:30 a.m.

Uber Technologies has agreed to acquire restaurant delivery service Postmates in a $2.65 billion all-stock deal, Bloomberg reported Monday, citing people familiar with the matter. The takeover is expected to be announced as soon as Monday morning, according to Bloomberg. Uber Eats head Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty is expected to run the combined business, although Postmates CEO Bastian Lehmann will continue to manage Postmates as a separate service, one Bloomberg source said. The acquisition will help Uber compete with DoorDash, the leader of the food deliver market in the United States. Postmates will give Uber Eats a stronger position in Los Angeles and the Southwest. Uber and Postmates had discussed a deal on and off for four years, but the talks picked up after Uber's failed bid for GrubHub. Harold Maass

5:44 a.m.

Phoenix is the epicenter of Arizona's growing COVID-19 outbreak, and Mayor Kate Gallego (D) said Sunday she's being hamstrung by Arizona's governor and the dearth of testing in Maricopa County. Lines to get tested are so long in Phoenix, she said, people are running out of gas while waiting in their cars, despite months of work on the city's part to increase testing capacity. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, for example, has rebuffed her testing help requests since April, Gallego told The New York Times.

"We are the largest city not to have received this type of investment," Gallego said, pointing to FEMA's community testing aid to Houston, Los Angeles, and other metropolitan areas. More than 20 percent of people tested in Arizona test positive for the coronavirus, she said, and "public health officials tell me that when you're doing the appropriate amount of testing, it should be around 2 percent."

An aide told the Times that FEMA most recently informed Gallego's office it is "getting out of the testing business," a point Gallego brought up on ABC News Sunday: "We were told they're moving away from that, which feels like they are declaring victory while we're still in crisis mode."

"This is not just a Phoenix problem," Gallego said. "I think many communities and people across both parties would like to see the federal government play a role." She dismissed assertions from the Trump administration that testing is readily available to anyone who wants it, but did have "one hopeful note," she told the Times on Sunday afternoon. After she raised the issue on TV, "the White House reached out and said they're interested in more information, and would try to see what they can do." Peter Weber

4:22 a.m.

Ennio Morricone, the prolific Italian film composer probably best known for his iconic scores of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and other Sergio Leone Westerns, died early Monday at a hospital in Rome. He was 91, and died of complications from a fall last week in which he broke his femur, his longtime lawyer tells The Associated Press.

Morricone scored more than 500 films. He won an Oscar for his score of Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight (2015), an honorary Oscar in 2007 for his "magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music," a Grammy for his soundtrack to Brian de Palma's The Untouchables (1987), plus 11 David de Donatello Awards, Italy's top cinematic honor. His other famous scores include Cinema Paradiso (1988), The Mission (1986), and The Battle of Algiers (1966). He also got an international hit with "Chi Mai," the theme for the 1981 BBC drama The Life and Times of David Lloyd George.

But it was The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and his other six films for Leone that put Morricone on the cinematic map — and set the musical template for "spaghetti Westerns" and cowboy movies in general.

Morricone was born in Rome in 1928, the son of a trumpet player. He began writing music at age 6 and met Leone for the first time when he was about 8, The Hollywood Reporter reports. He studied composition at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory and got his start in film after World War II, in the Italian film Renaissance at Rome's Cinecittà. "Most of these scores were very ugly, and I believed I could do better," Morricone explained in 2001. "I needed money, and I thought it would be a good thing to write film scores."

Morricone used harmonicas, church bells, whistles, whips, animal noises, clocks, and other non-traditional instruments in his scores. "All kinds of sounds can be useful to convey emotion," he said. "It’s music made up of the sound of reality." But his scores were also often lush and melodic, like his Cinema Paradiso soundtrack and The Mission.

Morricone's "music is indispensable," said Leone, who died in 1989, "because my films could practically be silent movies, the dialogue counts for relatively little, and so the music underlines actions and feelings more than the dialogue." Peter Weber

3:23 a.m.

It's no secret President Trump had a long and friendly relationship with late indicted pedophile and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein and his alleged main accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell, had ties to many powerful people, as Eric Trump briefly pointed out on Twitter after the FBI arrested Maxwell on Thursday.

There are so many photos of Donald Trump and Maxwell together that Fox News even used one Sunday in a report on the various civil and criminal cases against Maxwell.

Embed from Getty Images

Except they cropped Trump out, as a Twitter user name Scott Croker noticed and Raw Story found on video.

Given the ample space on either side of the photo, it wasn't cropped to fit the screen. But if Fox News was trying to save Trump from embarrassment, it was an odd choice to leave first lady Melania Trump in the photo, especially in such a way it appears she is hanging off Epstein. Peter Weber

2:22 a.m.

Two planes collided over Lake Coeur d'Alene in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, on Sunday afternoon, with authorities confirming that two bodies have been recovered from the crash site.

The Kootenai County Sheriff's Office believes that as many as eight passengers and crew members were on board the single-engine planes — a Cessna TU206G and a de Havilland DHC-2. Lt. Ryan Higgins said the planes have been located by sonar at 127 feet below the lake's surface, but because Kootenai County divers do not have the right equipment to go that deep, a commercial company will likely have to come in and search the wreckage for additional victims and evidence.

The crash occurred near Powderhorn Bay, and witness Patrick Pearce told The Spokesman-Review he saw the planes coming toward each other, about 800 to 900 feet above the water. Based on the engine sounds he heard, Pearce believes the planes were traveling at a high rate of speed when they collided. Catherine Garcia

2:11 a.m.

Back in mid-March, Tomas Pueyo famously predicted that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic would be a complicated balancing act he called "the hammer and the dance" — the hammer being lockdowns followed by more localized restrictions and the dance being periods of relative freedom where the outbreak would worsen. Most of the U.S. is in some form of dance right now, but several states — or parts of states — that were probably too eager to ease up on restrictions and too quick to dance too freely are getting hammered.

Collectively, the U.S. reported its 27th straight day of record high coronavirus cases Sunday, based on a seven-day average. Florida, Texas, California, and Arizona are recording alarming numbers of new cases every day, but they aren't alone — 13 states just reported new highs, including Montana, Delaware, West Virginia, and Alaska, The Washington Post reports.

The raw numbers are bad, but they aren't the only troubling indicator. In Texas, Austin Mayor Steve Adler (D), Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D), and the top elected official in Houston's Harris County, Judge Lina Hidalgo (D), warned Sunday that hospitals in their cities are 10 days to two weeks away from crisis as ICU beds fill up and medical personnel are stretched too thin. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) required masks to be worn in public starting Friday, enforced by $250 fines.

Turner said about 25 percent of people tested in Houston tested positive, versus 10 percent a month ago. More than 20 percent of people tested in Arizona and Florida's Miami-Dade County are positive, too, officials said.

On a positive note, the seven-day average of COVID-19 death's fell to 485, from 562 a week earlier. Public health officials attribute the falling fatalities to a higher proportion of younger people getting infected, improved treatment drawn from experience, and the weeks-long lag between rising infections and rising deaths. They also warn that the disease is brutal even on many who survive it.

Hidalgo said she appreciates Abbott's mask mandate but "as long as we're doing as little as possible and hoping for the best, we're always going to be chasing this thing, we're always going to be behind, and the virus will always outrun us."

"The hardest in terms of the economy is the hammer," Pueyo explained a few weeks after his Medium post went viral. "But the hardest to pull off is the dance." Peter Weber

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