Election 2020: All eyes on North Carolina as mail voting kicks off

Mail voting gets underway in North Carolina on Friday amid heavy scrutiny after President Donald Trump suggested that voters test their state’s election system by voting once by mail, then trying to vote a second time in person. Voting twice in the same election is illegal, and doing so in North Carolina is a felony “with intent to commit a fraud to register or vote at more than one precinct or more than one time, or to induce another to do so, in the same primary or election, or to vote illegally at any primary or election.” Polling shows Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a decisive mail-voting advantage: The former vice president’s supporters are twice as likely to vote by mail than those of Trump. Democrats worry that misleading signals could emerge on election night if Trump builds an initial lead with in-person votes even as he lags Biden on mail ballots, which take longer to count. 

Coronavirus pandemic: What will August jobs report tell us now?

The Labor Department’s closely watched August jobs report will be released Friday morning, and it is expected to show continued modest signs of improvement. Those figures are expected to show that 1.4 million workers returned to work last month, according to Oxford Economics. That would leave about one out of two laid-off workers still unemployed. The unemployment rate is expected to fall below 10% to 9.7%. That is down from 10.2% in July. The labor market has continued to show signs of improvement in recent months, although the pace of progress has likely slowed further from the strong initial bounce in May and June, which economists warn is a worrisome sign for the recovery. Over 833,000 Americans filed first-time applications for unemployment insurance during the week ending Aug. 29, the Labor Department reported Thursday, a small rise from the prior week.


Here’s why there’s a backlog of claims for unemployment and why it’s only getting worse.


One month after Beirut blast, Lebanon sees rise in COVID-19 cases

Friday marks one month since the massive explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut, killing at least 191 people and leaving more than 6,000 injured. Since the blast on August 4, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) aid organization says the nation has seen a more than 220% rise in COVID-19 cases “and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.” Matias Meier, country director for the IRC said in a statement this week: “Almost every day, 500 to 600 new cases are being confirmed, and there are multiple clusters, which is making it even harder to slow the spread. This is on top of everything else that people have to contend with.” The blast was apparently caused by the ignition of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used for explosives and fertilizer, that had been stored at the port since it was confiscated from an impounded cargo ship in 2013. Authorities have detained 25 people in connection with the explosion, most of them port and customs officials. On Thursday, the Lebanese military discovered another four tonnes of ammonium nitrate near the port, the Associated Press reports. There were no details on the origin of the chemicals or their owner. 

Driving this holiday weekend? You might be in luck

Labor Day gas prices are set to be lowest since 2004, just in time for your road trip Friday. “With Hurricane Laura now behind us and many refineries returning to service, gas prices will begin to head lower just in time for the Labor Day weekend,” GasBuddy said in a statement. The fuel price monitoring platform predicts a national average of $2.19 per gallon on Monday. That’s the lowest Labor Day price since 2004’s $1.82 per gallon average. While the prices at the pump may be alluring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that since the coronavirus pandemic is still in full effect, people who are sick or at risk for COVID-19 should stay home as much as possible.  

Who is Yifei Liu? Meet Disney’s new ‘Mulan,’ on Disney+

After four pandemic-related delays, “Mulan” will finally be released on Disney+ Friday  — with a $30 surcharge. Disney’s $200 million live-action adaptation of the 1998 animated film about a female warrior who pretends to be a man to fight in the Imperial Army, started in 2017 with a worldwide search for the perfect Mulan. Enter Yifei Liu. “I realized that we weren’t just looking for an actress with all this unusual skill set, but we were actually looking for Mulan,” said director Niki Caro in an interview with USA TODAY in March. “And we found her.”  


USA TODAY’s Bryan Alexander chatted with “Mulan” star Yifei Liu about how she brought the iconic character to life.


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