August 24, 2015

Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is one of the most acclaimed graphic novels of the decade, so it's no great surprise that Duke University chose it as one of the summer reading selections for its incoming freshman class. But the selection has also sparked controversy among some students who have refused to read Fun Home, citing personal religious and moral beliefs.

The Duke Chronicle profiled a number of students who objected to being asked to read Fun Home, which depicts Bechdel's experience coming out as a lesbian, as well as her father's own closeted homosexuality. "I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it," wrote freshman Brian Grasso in a much-discussed Facebook post.

Grasso's post sparked a public debate, with fellow incoming freshmen coming down on both sides. One called the book's images "pornographic." Another said it shook her faith in Duke's judgment: "I thought to myself, 'What kind of school am I going to?'"

In an interview with the Duke Chronicle, Grasso elaborated on the reasoning behind his post, and said he has since received many private messages expressing support. "There is so much pressure on Duke students, and they want so badly to fit in," he said. "But at the end of the day, we don’t have to read the book." Scott Meslow

4:25 p.m.

The U.K.'s Labour Party suspended its former leader Jeremy Corbyn after a watchdog found "serious failings" with how Corbyn dealt with anti-Semitism within the party.

Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission found political interference in complaints of anti-Semitism, failure to train people to handle complaints, and harassment, CNN reports. Current Labour Leader Keir Starmer accepted the report's consequences, saying "we have failed Jewish people," but "never again will we fail to tackle anti-Semitism and never again will we lose your trust."

In response to the allegations under his leadership, Corbyn condemned anti-Semitism, but contended the problem was "dramatically overstated for political reasons." Corbyn's "failure to retract" those comments led to his suspension, a Labour spokesperson said. Corbyn then promised to "strongly contest" the party's "political intervention to suspend me."

Corbyn was the Labour Party's leader until earlier this year, when he stepped down after British voters re-elected a Conservative government. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:32 p.m.

President Trump has received a dose of good polling news days ahead of the election — but it may not be enough to turn his fate.

In polls wrapping just a week before Election Day, Democratic nominee Joe Biden has posted no new gains in the swing states of Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, a Quinnipiac University survey out Thursday reveals. Meanwhile Trump's support has grown in Florida, Iowa, and Pennsylvania — and enough so in Florida and Iowa to be well in contention of winning.

In Florida, Biden has 46 percent to Trump's 42 percent, the poll of likely voters showed. That's a 6-point loss for Biden and a 2-point gain for Trump from Quinnipiac's poll earlier this month, in which Biden posted a massive 11-point lead. Biden also lost 4 points in Iowa as Trump gained 2, enough to give the incumbent a narrow 47-46 lead. Biden meanwhile maintains a solid 51-44 point lead in Pennsylvania and a 48-43 lead in Ohio, where Trump slid 4 points from earlier this month.

Analysts say a loss in Florida for Trump will likely cost him the whole election, but Biden has enough support in the midwest to override a Florida slump. A CNN poll out late Wednesday — its last before election day — gives Biden a 12-point lead over Trump nationally, also a gain of 4 points for Trump from CNN's previous poll.

Quinnipiac surveyed between 1,186 to 1,324 likely voters from Oct. 23–27 in each of the states, with margins of error between 2.7 and 2.9 percentage points. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:11 p.m.

At least one swing state may be spared the political controversy of a late absentee ballot count seemingly changing its 2020 election results.

Every U.S. state is receiving a boatload more mail-in ballots than it usually does during a typical election year, and four of them — Alabama, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — won't even be able to open those ballots until Election Day. This almost guarantees a delayed result from those four states, but Wisconsin is confident it'll have everything set by the morning after the election, local election officials tell NBC News affiliate WTMJ Milwaukee.

Wisconsin's electoral votes will be critical in determining the winner of the 2020 election, as the previously Democratic state went for President Trump in 2016. County clerks all say they'll count ballots nonstop until they're finished, and expect results at 9:30 p.m. at the earliest. Waukesha County, the third most populous in the state, says its count will wrap around 3 a.m. And Milwaukee County, home to nearly a million people, expects to be done by 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) is preparing for a long haul, including pushback from Republicans. The state accepts all absentee ballots that were mailed before Election Day even if they arrive later, meaning a count to finalize the swing state's results could take days. Shapiro fears Republicans may use these late ballots "as a hook to challenge all mail-in ballots," and a court may then halt the count of all absentee ballots while the challenge is considered, he told The Washington Post. So to prepare, Pennsylvania officials will separate late-arriving ballots in hopes of avoiding a total counting shutdown.

Find when every state expects to count its absentee ballots at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:26 p.m.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top coronavirus expert, said Wednesday he believes the Trump administration needs to instate a nationwide mask mandate. "If we don't get one, then I would hope that the governors and the mayors do it locally, if it's not done nationally," Fauci told CNBC's Shepard Smith on his Wednesday evening show.

But Smith was confused by Fauci's "hope," asking if he was "still in the president's ear." "I haven't spoken to the president in quite a while about the situation with regard to the outbreak," Fauci said, again saying the U.S. needs, "mandate or not," to wear masks.

Fauci's recommendation comes as COVID-19 hospitalizations hit record highs in 13 states. The U.S. also recorded 80,662 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, close to a new high as well. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:27 a.m.

America just posted its biggest annualized and single-quarter GDP growth of all time. It isn't that impressive.

The U.S. GDP jumped at a 33.1 percent annualized rate in the third quarter, a growth of 7.4 percent from Q2, Commerce Department records released Thursday reveal. But as Gregory Daco, the chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, put it in a tweet, that growth is both "record-breaking and meaningless at the same time."

It's true that the 7.4 percent GDP rise from Q2 to Q3 is a record. But it also comes after a record contraction from Q1 to Q2, and a total loss of 10.3 percent throughout 2020, so it doesn't even come close to making up what was lost amid the pandemic. In fact, the 3.5 percent total GDP shrinkage during 2020 "means we are still down almost as much as we were during the height of the Great Recession," tweets Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton.

Economist Justin Wolfers meanwhile debunked the 33.1 percent growth rate the entire Trump family was touting Thursday morning. Looking at annualized growth reveals how much bigger the economy would be if it "grew at this rate for the next three quarters," Wolfers tweeted. "But there's no chance that will happen, so the annualized rate answers a question no one is asking." And if that wasn't convincing enough, Wolfers had another way of looking at it. Kathryn Krawczyk

Kathryn Krawczyk

10:03 a.m.

Unemployment claims are continuing to sink, but they're still far above even pre-pandemic records.

Around 751,000 Americans filed unemployment claims for the first time last week, Labor Department numbers released Thursday revealed. That's down 40,000 from the week before, marking a continuing slide in the final jobs report before the election.

Jobless claims hit an overwhelming record high in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and have largely decreased since then. But their decline has slowed over the past few months as the pandemic continues — and starts to worsen again. Congress has also failed to agree on a COVID-19 relief package that could extend loans to businesses that would let them rehire workers, as well as boost the amount of benefits unemployed people receive.

Also growing in the past week are the number of people applying for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for the first time. More than 360,000 people filed for PUA benefits, which Congress created to help gig workers, the self-employed, and others not eligible for typical unemployment. Meanwhile continued jobless claims decreased 709,000 to 7.8 million in the week. Kathryn Krawczyk

8:45 a.m.

COVID-19 continues spreading in the U.S. at a pace that alarms public health experts. "If things do not change, if they continue on the course we’re on, there’s gonna be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases and hospitalizations, and deaths," Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNBC's Shepard Smith on Wednesday evening.

The U.S. recorded about 80,000 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday — by NBC News' tally, the 80,662 new cases signified a new record, topping 80,000 for the first time; the COVID Tracking Project and Johns Hopkins University both registered about 83,000 new cases on Friday and Saturday, and just under 80,000 Wednesday. By any count, these are the worst numbers since the previous peak in July. U.S. COVID-19 deaths are up to about 1,000 a day, also, and hospitalizations hit new highs in 13 states on Wednesday.

A South Dakota resident, for example, was nearly 40 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than someone in Maine on Wednesday, Bloomberg's Steven Dennis noticed. Overall, about 228,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and 8.9 million have tested positive for the new coronavirus. Peter Weber

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