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[00:00:02]

President Trump threatens to cut funding needed for mail in voting and then backs away. Well, California Senator Kamala Harris hits the campaign trail as Joe Biden's running mate. I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro. And I'm Scott Simon. And this is up first from NPR News.

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The president said that withholding funds needed by the Postal Service would effectively cripple a universal mail in ballot for November's election.

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We'll tell you why he switched course.

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Also, gator gate, are those neck tubes effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus? Maybe, maybe not. Don't throw them away just yet.

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And tensions escalate between the U.S. and Iran after the U.S. seized a massive shipment of Iranian fuel headed to Venezuela. Please stay with us. We got the news.

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You need to start your weekend support for this podcast. And the following message come from Integrative Therapeutics, creator of Physicians Elemental Diet, a medical food developed by clinicians for the dietary management of IBS, IBD and SIBO under the supervision of a physician. President Trump continues to offer conflicting statements about wide scale voting by mail as many voters request ballots they don't have to line up at polling places in November.

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Earlier this week, the president appeared to acknowledge that blocking the funds from the U.S. Postal Service would help him politically. But by Friday, he had started to backtrack.

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White House correspondent Franco Ordonez joins us now to talk about that and Kamala Harris, first few days on the campaign trail. Franco, thanks so much for being with us.

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Hi, Scott. Is it clear to you if President Trump is going to support additional money to to help the election infrastructure before people start voting?

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It's really not. I mean, what we do know is that it's a major hang up in the latest round of negotiations over a coronavirus relief package.

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As you noted, the president acknowledged in an interview with Fox Business that the Postal Service couldn't handle mail in voting without the additional money, and that created a bit of backlash.

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The president later adjusted his position.

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And look, the Postal Service is already having issues with delays and disruptions. And now it's warning almost every state in the country that mail in ballots might come in too late to be counted. That's according to The Washington Post. So this really has the potential of being a very big deal.

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And, of course, let me put it this way. The president was very expansive about Joe Biden's pick for vice president, Senator Kamala Harris. What did he say?

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Right. He and his campaign took very sharp aim at Harris very quickly, calling her a phony and a radical, amplifying baseless conspiracy theories and more.

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So I watched those debates that were very boring. But there were debates nevertheless. And I watched, you know, pretty good parts of them. And she treated Viju worse than anybody else by far. There was nobody, including Pocahontas.

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Nobody treated her so badly as Kamala Harris, who is a strong woman of color being in this presidential race. So you don't see her as you know?

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None whatsoever. No, not at all.

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You know, this could all serve as kind of a preview of future attacks from Trump as well as the campaign. It's it's really likely to be a tough race.

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Frank, tell us about the news the president did have to announce from the Middle East. Right. Israel and the United Arab Emirates are working toward normalizing ties. The two have been working together behind the scenes. But the Trump administration did help move it along to broker a deal where the two nations are now working toward normalizing diplomatic relations.

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Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fully normalize their diplomatic relations. They will exchange embassies and ambassadors and begin cooperation across the board and on a broad range of areas, including tourism, education, health care, trade and security.

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Now, this deal didn't get as much attention because of all the domestic news. And I should note, it's not the Middle East plan, but it is a big deal. And Trump, you know, also this week, on Friday, he kicked off his briefing, noting a former FBI lawyer, Kevin Kleinsmith, is pleading guilty to altering email related to the surveillance warrant for former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. President Trump as expected as touting this as more evidence that the Russia investigation was politically motivated and he promises more to come.

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White House correspondent Frank Raudonikis, thanks so much. Thank you.

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And you can find more reporting from the White House, the Capitol and the campaign by subscribing to the NPR Politics podcast.

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You all know this, public health officials have been reminding us for months how important it is to wear masks or other face coverings during this pandemic.

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We've been told they reduce the spread of the coronavirus. But as apparently has written in the U.S. Constitution, all face coverings are not created equal.

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And this week, there was confusion over reports that a certain kind known as the neck gator could actually encourage the spread of the coronavirus.

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What is going on here is NPR science correspondent Richard Harris to give us some clarity. Good morning.

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Good morning. All right. Tell us the story of this now. I can't believe I'm saying this word. Controversial face covering. They're made of thinner fabrics and seem to be especially popular with runners.

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That's right. And, you know, the story is about a fabric tube that you can wear around your neck and you can pull it up over your mouth and nose. And the misunderstanding about this actually comes from a paper published in the journal Science Advances by a team at Duke University.

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A doctor there wanted to give away masks, but he was hoping to figure out which ones worked best. So he sent a bunch of different products down to the physics department there, Professor Martin Fisher and a team, including, as a matter of fact, his undergraduate daughter, Emma, set out to devise a way to see how effective masks were at blocking respiratory droplets.

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The aim of the study was never to do a systematic study of all mask types and mask materials mask very all over the place.

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He just wanted to develop a testing technique that he could share. And in the process of doing that, Fisher ran 14 different masks through this process just to see how well the system he devised would work. A volunteer would say stay healthy people five times into a device, including a laser smartphone and apparently some duct tape. So far, so good. In 95, those respirator masks did find and most of those layered cotton masks he tested were pretty efficient.

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OK, that seems pretty straightforward. So why did this kind of routine lab study become and I'm going to use the word again, controversial?

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Well, it turns out that one of the face coverings in this pile that he was asked to test was the gator or neck tube, whatever you want to call it, bump bump.

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The one that we tested was a 92 percent polyester, eight percent spandex blend. It was single. Or you can stretch it out and you look at it to hold it against the sun and you just see light going through it and you can easily blow through it.

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And the test itself involved a single test and a single volunteer, hardly what you'd call a rigorous study of this garment in particular, or certainly not neck gators in general.

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But some reporter picked up on this finding and decided to write a story focusing on this single outcome and saying that Nikitas don't really work as face coverings.

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So that doesn't seem to be the end of the issue. Are these gators actually useful in this pandemic, aside from covering any blotches on your neck?

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Well, not much, and that's for sure. In general, we know that materials that you can see through and that can easily blow through aren't really likely to be very effective as compared to a denser material for a mask. But, you know, of course, the denser the material it is, the harder it is to breathe. So everyone would like to find that sweet spot where it's not too hard to breathe, but the face covering is still blocking particles.

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What about those masks that have, you know, those vents to help you breathe out? They look so useful and you can breathe easier in those.

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That's true. And in fact, the sample in the study didn't do too badly. But, you know, the CDC advises people not to use them. They're actually designed to protect the person who's wearing them from inhaling bad stuff, not exhaling things like, say, a virus.

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And that really defeats the purpose of wearing a mask because we want to control the spread of the of the coronavirus.

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Of course, let's remember that the main reason that health officials are telling us to wear masks is many people who have coronavirus don't know it. So we're mostly protecting people around us when we wear a mask.

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I will say there's also some evidence that they protect the wearer as well. But I would say don't count on that.

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NPR science correspondent Richard Harris breaking it down for us. Thank you so much, Richard. Happy to be with you, Lulu.

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Now, let's move to the Persian Gulf, where we're watching to see how Iran responds to dramatic moves by the U.S., The Justice Department says that the U.S. has seized four tankers carrying Iranian fuel to Venezuela.

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These are both countries the U.S. has been trying to isolate. Last night, the Trump administration tried and failed to pass an arms embargo on Iran at the U.N. Security Council.

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NPR's Jackie Northam has been following the story and she joins us now. Good morning. Good morning, Lulu.

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What can you tell us about what happened with these ships? Well, the Justice Department said that it seized four Greek owned ships carrying Iranian fuel that was destined for Venezuela. As you said, the order to seize the ships and confiscate more than a million barrels of the cargo was issued by a U.S. district court. And the DOJ said the action was carried out with the help of foreign partners, although it did not name which countries took part. The fuel is now on its way to the US, where it will be sold and some profits will be given to a fund for victims of state sponsored terrorism.

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But it's unclear what happened to the four tankers. We don't know where they are now.

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I'm sure Iran views this as an escalation. What has been their response so far?

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Well, Iran's ambassador to Venezuela slammed the U.S., not surprisingly, saying the seizure and the confiscation was, quote, fake news and that the four tankers really had nothing to do with Iran. I talked with some shipping analysts and they say actually this is all part of a broader move by the U.S. to put pressure on shipping companies and their insurers not to do business with Iran.

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And if they do, the U.S. is going to come after them. You know, make no mistake, Iran needs oil sales. Its economy has been badly by the U.S. sanctions. And the Trump administration is warning other countries that if they do business with Iran, they'll get cut off from the U.S. banking system. Now, some countries like Venezuela and China have either been able to skirt or just really simply ignore those threats from the U.S. But many others have not.

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And it's hurting Iran. You know, its deepening its economic crisis.

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This is a very complex story. And there were a few other developments this week. As you mentioned, just last night, the U.S. failed to pass an arms embargo on Iran at the U.N. Security Council last night of 15 members of the council, only two voted in favor, the U.S. and the Dominican Republic.

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I mean, that's got to have been pretty humiliating for the U.S. The embargo is set to expire in October.

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That's right. I mean, this vote was seen as an embarrassment or even, as you say, a humiliating defeat for the U.S. You know, the Trump administration had put a lot of pressure on other nations allies to extend a ban on the sale of conventional weapons to Iran, and it failed. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the result inexcusable and said the U.S. would continue trying to prevent Iran from getting conventional weapons. But, you know, Russia and China didn't even have to use their veto powers because fewer than nine members voted in favor.

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And this gives you a sense of how isolated the U.S. has become when it comes to Iran. And that's something the Iranian ambassador to the UN Majid Chakravarti pointed out. He immediately tweeted that the results showed the Security Council's rejection of, quote, unilateralism.

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But Jackie, also this week, we saw that the U.S. brokered an agreement between two U.S. allies, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, who are establishing diplomatic relations that are likely to counter Iran's moves in the region. So is there once again a concern that an incident like this could spark some sort of confrontation between the U.S. and Iran?

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The U.S. says we've already seen some retaliation. Shortly after these four tankers were seized in the fuel confiscated, Iranian forces boarded another ship in the Persian Gulf and tried unsuccessfully to take its soil. But certainly we could see more. Iran has retaliated before. You know, it was just a year ago when it seized a British oil tanker and its 23 crew members in the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for British forces detaining an Iranian tanker. And around that same time, Iran was accused of using mines to attack ships in the Gulf.

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So this seizure this week by the U.S. could very well provoke some sort of new confrontation or retaliation by Iran. And we'll certainly watch for that. NPR's Jackie Northam, thank you so much.

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Thanks, Lulu. And that's a first for Saturday, August 15, 20, 20. I'm Scott Simon. And I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro. Up first is back Monday with news to start your week, follow us on social media.

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We're up first on Twitter and keep an eye on this feed for the occasional special episode and for more news interviews and just plain fun, you can find us on the radio.

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Black voters play a crucial role for any Democrat who seeks to win the White House, but some big divides amongst that bloc and some serious ambivalence could determine who is elected president this November. Listen now on the Code Switch podcast from NPR. This message comes from NPR sponsor Apple TV, plus with Boys State and Apple original film about a high school program whose alumni include a Supreme Court justice winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. Watch exclusively on Apple TV plus rated PG 13.