Friday morning news – August 14, 2020

Jobless claims drop for a second straight week » The number of Americans applying for jobless benefits dropped for the second straight week. The Labor Department said Thursday that applications fell to 963,000—down from 1.2 million the week before. 

PNC chief economist Gus Faucher said the 20 percent drop in claims was much better than expected. 

FAUCHER: That’s the first time it’s been below 1 million since the pandemic started, so certainly that’s good news. However, if we go back to the beginning of the year, claims were about 200,000 per week, so they’re still extremely high. 

The drop signals layoffs are slowing, which is welcomed news for the economy, even as lawmakers remain deadlocked over a new coronavirus relief bill. 

Wildfires rage in three states » Firefighters are battling wildfires in three states that have now destroyed more than 73,000 acres. 

An enormous plume of smoke was visible across much of Southern California Thursday. And officials have ordered evacuations in parts of Los Angeles County threatened by the so-called Lake Fire near Lake Hughes. Deputy Fire Chief Dave Richardson… 

RICHARDSON: There are currently over 300 Los Angeles County firefighters here providing structure defense along with perimeter control in battling this fire. Keep in mind, this is a major fire.  

Richardson said the blaze has been spreading surprisingly fast, considering wind in the area has been very light. It has quickly spread to more than 10,000 acres. 

In western Colorado, the Pine Gulch fire had scorched roughly 70,000 acres by Thursday afternoon. And the Grizzly Creek Fire about 200 miles west of Denver had burned more than 6,000 acres. 

Appeals court upholds male-only draft » A federal appeals court has ruled that a men-only military draft system is constitutional. WORLD’s Anna Johansen reports. 

ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: The decision by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned a ruling from a federal judge last year.

The National Coalition for Men and two men had sued to challenge the male-only draft. They argued that the 1981 Supreme Court ruling on the matter was decided at a time when women were largely absent from combat. And a federal judge in Texas agreed. 

The appeals court acknowledged that the facts underpinning the high court’s decision have changed. But the judges said, “only the Supreme Court may revise its precedent.”

Plaintiffs in the case could seek a rehearing before the full 17-judge appeals court or go to the Supreme Court. 

Earlier this year — after the arguments before the 5th Circuit — a federal commission recommended including women in the military draft system.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen. 

Hong Kong criticizes U.S. plan for ‘made in China’ labels » The United States will soon begin labeling imports from Hong Kong as ‘Made in China.’

That follows Beijing’s recent crackdown on freedoms in what is supposed to be a semi-autonomous region. 

But Edward Yau Tang-wah, Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce and economic development, took exception to the move. 

TANG-WAH: It is a deliberate attempt to sort of undermine Hong Kong’s separate custom territory, which is a very important pillar for Hong Kong’s international trading center, which is well recognized by all members of the WTO. 

The Trump administration no longer recognizes any separation between Hong Kong and mainland China. 

This week, Hong Kong authorities made two high profile arrests under the new, so-called national security law Beijing imposed on the city. Police arrested the pro-democracy founder of a local newspaper, as well as an influential pro-democracy activist. 

U.S. designates the Confucius Institute as foreign mission of Chinese Communist Party » Also, on Thursday, the Trump administration designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a foreign mission of the Chinese Communist Party. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin has more. 

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: U.S. officials say the program to help teach Chinese language classes in America has a more strategic purpose to promote Beijing’s propaganda in classrooms. 

The designation requires the Confucius Institute to submit reports to the U.S. government about its funding, personnel, curriculum and other activities.

In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said—quote—“The People’s Republic of China has taken advantage of America’s openness to undertake large-scale and well-funded propaganda efforts and influence operations in this country.”

GOP Senator Ben Sasse praised the move. He said Confucius Institutes also allow the Chinese Communist Party to spy on Chinese students studying in the free world.

The State Department says roughly 500 kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms are affiliated with the Confucius Institute.

Some universities have closed the institutes because of fears that they were spreading communist propaganda information, but they remain on about 65 U.S. campuses. 

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin. 

New Zealand coronavirus outbreak spreads » A puzzling new outbreak of the coronavirus in New Zealand’s largest city grew on Thursday. National Health Director General Ashley Bloomfield reported more than a dozen new cases. 

BLOOMFIELD: There are 13 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 to report in the community. They are all in Auckland, and they are all linked to the four people who we reported as confirmed cases yesterday and the day before.

Officials warned that more new cases are likely. And a lockdown in Auckland designed to halt the outbreak could be extended well beyond an initial three days.

It was a turnabout from Sunday, when the nation marked 100 days without any cases of local transmission. The only cases for months had been a handful of returning travelers who were quarantined at the border.

Health officials say they’re stumped as the source of the new outbreak. 

Bloomfield said genome testing has not yet matched the new cluster with any infections that have been caught at the border.

(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu) A firefighter works against the Lake Hughes fire in Angeles National Forest on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, north of Santa Clarita, Calif. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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