May 30, 2019

Lawyers fighting a proposed census citizenship question have claimed it would dilute congressional representation for Democrats and Hispanics. New evidence suggests that was the question's intention all along.

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Commerce Department's proposed addition sent a letter to District Court Judge Jesse Furman on Thursday alerting him to new evidence in the case. That evidence revealed the GOP's "Michelangelo of gerrymandering" Thomas Hofeller "played a crucial role in the Trump administration's decision" to add the question, The New York Times reports. And Hofeller made that suggestion because, in his own words, it "would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites."

Hofeller, a storied Republican consultant, died last summer, and his daughter unearthed his hard drives containing data she thought would aid in a case against North Carolina's gerrymandered districts. But they also revealed he had studied Texas' legislative districts and concluded that, if they were based on a count of voting-age U.S. citizens instead of a total population, they "would exclude traditionally Democratic Hispanics and their children from the population count" and "translate into fewer districts in traditionally Democratic areas," the Times writes.

All that couldn't happen "without a question on citizenship being included on the 2020 Decennial Census questionnaire," Hofeller continued. So, as a Trump transition official in charge of census issues testified, Hofeller encouraged the incoming Trump administration to add it.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the addition of a question of citizenship on the 2020 census last March to help enforce the Voting Rights Act. Several lawsuits have since challenged that explanation, and several judges, including Furman, have so far blocked the question from being added. The Supreme Court heard arguments on the case in April, and is expected to deliver a decision in June. Kathryn Krawczyk

8:21 a.m.

A frequent critic of President Xi Jinping has been detained in China.

Chinese police have arrested Xu Zhangrun, a professor who was "one of the last voices within China's besieged intellectual circles who dared to openly and persistently criticize" Xi, The Washington Post reports.

Xu, the Post notes, published an essay in February in which he blasted "the worst political team to have run China since 1978" and called for Beijing to "respect the basic universal rights of our citizens," additionally calling for an independent investigation into "the origins of the coronavirus epidemic, to trace the resulting cover-up, identify the responsible parties, and analyze the systemic origins of the crisis." He acknowledged in this essay this may "be the last thing I write." Xu was previously banned from teaching and research Tsinghua University, The New York Times reports.

Police, according to the Times, raided Xu's home in Beijing on Monday morning and took away his computer and papers. "The neighbors described about 10 police vehicles and two dozen officers who blocked and entered his house, and took him away," businesswoman Geng Xiaonan told the Times. "Xu Zhangrun said he was mentally prepared to be taken away. He kept a bag with clothes and a toothbrush hanging on his front door so he would be ready for this. But it's still a shock when it really happens." Brendan Morrow

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

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