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News brief: OPEC and the WTO, Ukraine's Gains in the East, NPR/Marist Poll

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Ukrainian troops are engaged in counteroffensives in the country's south and east to reclaim more towns and villages occupied by Russian forces.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

That's despite Moscow's recent illegal annexation of the areas. One strategically important town that was recently retaken in the east is Lyman, in the region of Donetsk. The Ukrainian army had nearly encircled thousands of Russian troops there and then drove them out over the weekend.

FADEL: NPR's Kat Lonsdorf was in Lyman yesterday, and she joins us now from Dnipro, Ukraine. Good morning.

KAT LONSDORF, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

FADEL: So, Kat, tell us what people you met in Lyman were saying about what it's been like for them.

LONSDORF: Yeah. People were really on edge, I will say. A lot of people didn't want to talk on the record. You know, they were worried that the Russians might come back. The fighting is still really close. The towns around there were just completely destroyed. One man I talked to said, you know, this just isn't the time to say anything. And another woman laughed a little and said, first, we have one group in charge and then another, before shrugging and hopping on her bike.

But I did talk to one man, 33-year-old Mikhail (ph). He was out riding his motorbike and stopped to talk. And he told me, sure, it's good that the Ukrainians are back in charge, but what they really need is electricity. They've been without it for seven months, he said. And it means that they haven't had any access to any information. So I asked him, did he know that Russian President Vladimir Putin had declared Lyman part of the Russian Federation last week?

MIKHAIL: (Non-English language spoken).

HANNAH: No, I haven't heard that.

LONSDORF: You didn't hear that?

HANNAH: (Non-English language spoken).

MIKHAIL: (Non-English language spoken).

LONSDORF: You can hear my interpreter, Hannah (ph), there. And you can also hear how surprised Mikhail is. He had no idea. He said he hadn't seen any referendum voting. He hadn't even heard about it.

FADEL: Wow. So people are really living in the dark. Now, you've said that people are worried the Russian forces could come back. Is that a real concern here?

LONSDORF: I've heard that a lot in these recently liberated places but this area especially. You know, it was taken by Russia in 2014, and then the Ukrainian army won it back, only to be taken again in 2020, won back again. You know, and of all the liberated places I've been in, both north of Kyiv and around Kharkiv a few weeks ago, this area in Donetsk seem to have the most signs of Russian influence. I saw copies of the local Russian-language propaganda newspaper sitting around. There was a bus stop painted with the Russian flag, lots and lots of Russian tanks and armored vehicles left behind. And the fighting is still really close. While I was talking to Mikhail, I was in the middle of asking him a question, and there was this big explosion.

Did you live here in 2014, when...

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

LONSDORF: And people around us started ducking, running into their homes. And he just started up his motorbike and said, you know what? I should probably go. And then he looked at me and said, you see; this is how we live. And then he drove off.

FADEL: Wow. This is how we live. Well, I'm glad you're safe. But for now, the Ukrainians are making headway in both the east and the south. What are we watching for next?

LONSDORF: Well, Putin has been trying to mobilize hundreds of thousands of Russian reinforcements who are supposed to be making their way to the front lines soon. Ukraine is trying to take back as much land as they can before that happens, if that happens. We've been hearing about extremely low morale in those who have been mobilized for Russia and just poor preparation, lack of equipment. And Putin is still saber-rattling about the use of nuclear weapons if Ukraine attacks what he sees as Russian soil, which is how he considers these four regions of Ukraine. Nobody really knows if he's bluffing. But meanwhile, the Ukrainians continue to retake more land.

FADEL: NPR's Kat Lonsdorf in Dnipro, Ukraine. Thanks, Kat.

LONSDORF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: The World Trade Organization is warning of a sharp slowdown in global trade next year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA: The picture for 2023 has darkened considerably.

FADEL: That's WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

MARTINEZ: A decision on Wednesday by some of the most powerful oil producers around the globe to cut oil production has angered U.S. and European leaders. The move will increase pressure over energy costs for many countries.

FADEL: Paul Hannon of The Wall Street Journal joins us now with more context on this economic outlook. Hi, Paul.

PAUL HANNON: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So, Paul, let's talk about why the World Trade Organization is warning of a global recession and how much of this is about oil prices now that OPEC+ has decided to reduce oil production.

HANNON: Well, the World Trade Organization issued its warning before the OPEC+ decision. But one of the things the WTO was worried about was high energy prices because when the price of essentials like energy and food are very high, households have much less money to spend on other goods, and that means that economic growth more broadly weakens. So the OPEC+ decision makes a global downturn a more likely outcome and will likely keep inflation higher for longer.

FADEL: OK, so this is all really hard news for people already struggling with the inflation that's here now. Are there some silver linings?

HANNON: I think the silver lining is probably in the inflation outlook. If trade flows are beginning to ease, if the global economy is beginning to cool, that should have an impact on inflation rates, which central banks have been raising their interest rates to contain. There are some indications already that inflation may have peaked at a global level. The global inflation rate has been pretty unchanged since June, although at a really high level. So, yes, there may be some relief on the way, but it's probably going to take quite a few months before people feel a return to a normal kind of level of inflation.

FADEL: And what are the biggest challenges for G-7 policymakers as they think about how to deal with this?

HANNON: It's a balancing act for them. On the one hand, they've clearly prioritized inflation as their, you know, enemy No. 1. This is the thing that economic policymakers need to get on top of for fear of a repeat of what happened in the 1970s. On the other hand, rising interest rates, do, you know, eat into household budgets. They do lead to higher mortgage payments, higher payments on loans of all kinds. So that can sort of double-down on the hardship that households feel and potentially make any recession deeper.

FADEL: Paul Hannon of The Wall Street Journal. Thanks, Paul.

HANNON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: President Biden's approval ratings have risen to 44%, according to a new NPR/Marist poll out today.

MARTINEZ: Democrats could hear that as good news. However, voters also say inflation is the most important issue ahead of next month's midterms.

FADEL: Joining us now to discuss the poll is NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning. Great to be here.

FADEL: So what are some of the big takeaways here?

MONTANARO: Well, you noted Biden's improvement there. I mean, back in July, he'd bottomed out at 36%. And that's been steadily on the rise since then. Gas prices have been declining. Democrats have gotten some legislative wins. And the president's really been out there more, touting some of those things. And the improvement, you know, is coming from base Democrats mostly and also independents. Both groups had really not been very excited about his presidency to that point.

Now, being in the low to mid 40s for approval rating is not exactly great for an incumbent party. And remember, the president's party usually loses a significant number of seats in a president's first midterm, historically, as it is. But this will stop at least some of the nail-biting I've been hearing from Democratic strategists about just how much their candidates need to overperform the president, which is a pretty hard thing to do.

FADEL: Now, we're just weeks away from the midterms, where turnout has traditionally been low. Is that likely to be the case this time around?

MONTANARO: Well, lower than a presidential election, for sure, but signs are pointing to high turnout, actually, for a midterm. For example, there seems to be very high enthusiasm from both Republicans and Democrats. More than 8 in 10 registered voters who responded in this survey say they definitely intend to vote - might not be that high, but that's pretty high to be saying that they will. Republicans slightly higher than Democrats, but that's to be expected, but not really by a lot. And the groups, though, that are the least enthusiastic about voting this fall are Black voters and young voters who, of course, are pillars of the Democratic base. So a warning sign there for Democrats.

Some of this, though, cuts across party lines when you look at enthusiasm and is more about socioeconomics. The people who say they're most interested in these elections are college-educated whites and baby boomers, older voters. Among the least interested, in addition to young voters and Black voters, are people making less than $50,000 a year, parents of children under 18, those who live in small towns and those without college degrees. There's a pretty substantial gap here, by the way, between women without college degrees and men without them. Women without degrees say they have much less interest in this election. Meanwhile, the converse is true for women with degrees, who are among the most likely to vote.

FADEL: Now, during this cycle, Democrats have really focused on the Supreme Court's abortion decision, while Republicans have hammered them on inflation and crime. How are these issues resonating with voters?

MONTANARO: Well, abortion is certainly up there for Democrats in particular. It's certainly a big motivating issue for them. It's second, Democrats say, behind preserving democracy for them. But as you noted, inflation remains a top issue. And that's true of independents, who are so key in swing districts, and of course, for Republicans. But even Gen Zers and millennials, who are also among the most likely to approve of the job Biden's doing and want a Democrat elected to Congress, also say that inflation's their top issue, too.

Lots of swing-district democrats have been arguing that the party can't put all of its eggs in a one-issue basket but also need to make the case on the economy as well. You know, it's a lot easier to motivate people with anger and fear. And the ones angry about inflation right now, frankly, are Republicans, and undoubtedly, Democrats and many independents are angry about abortion rights no longer being guaranteed. So these are likely still to remain much of the focus in this election and where we're seeing millions of dollars being spent.

FADEL: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Police in Thailand say more than 30 people have been killed in a shooting at a day care center in the northeast of the country. NPR's Michael Sullivan reports.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Details of the tragic event remain sketchy, but police say that many children are among the dead. Authorities say the man who carried out the attack was a former police officer who burst into the day care center in Nongbua Lamphu and began firing. Police say the man later killed his wife and child before killing himself. Mass shootings are rare in Thailand, but the rate of gun ownership in the country is higher than in many other countries in the region, augmented by large numbers of illegal weapons smuggled in across porous borders. The last mass shooting here occurred in 2020, when a soldier, angry over a property deal that went bad, killed more than two dozen people at an army base and, later, a mall.

FADEL: That was NPR's Michael Sullivan in Thailand. And NPR will be following this story throughout the day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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