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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

President Biden and the leaders of 30 other NATO countries are wrapping up their annual summit in Lithuania today.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Biden will meet with Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a day after NATO agreed that Ukraine would be allowed to join the transatlantic military alliance eventually. But the current members didn't say when or exactly how.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us now from the summit filing center in Lithuania's capital, Vilnius. Eleanor, Ukraine will likely dominate the day. Take us through what got us here.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Yeah, absolutely, A. You know, yesterday, NATO put out a communique saying Ukraine's future is in the alliance. And Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO would be issuing an invitation for Ukraine to join when allies agree and the conditions are met. And it's clearly not going to happen while this war is raging. Ukraine wants a timeline and assurances now. It says it's fighting a brutal Russian attack on its people and land. And Ukrainians say Russian President Vladimir Putin can just keep the war going and use it as a kind of veto for Ukraine getting into NATO.

Analysts say it's actually the U.S. exercising the most caution. President Biden has made it clear he doesn't want to get into a direct conflict with Russia. Of course, the allies are pledging assistance to keep Ukraine fighting as long as it takes. Biden and the G-7 leaders will outline a long-term commitment that will, you know, help Ukraine defend itself and deter future attacks. They say this will send a strong message to Russia that time is not on its side.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, you mention Ukraine wants a timeline and insurances right now. How has President Zelenskyy reacted?

BEARDSLEY: Well, he arrived yesterday here with his wife, and they were given a hero's welcome by tens of thousands of people in a park in downtown Vilnius as leaders met at the summit site outside the city. Let's hear what that sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: Thanks, Lithuania. Thank you very much.

(CHEERING)

BEARDSLEY: So, yeah, you hear how he thanked Lithuania for its courageous support. But he tweeted before arriving that NATO's failure to set up a timeline was absurd. Zelenskyy has always said that Ukraine doesn't have time. So he's clearly piqued. He wants something more concrete. Nothing replaces NATO membership with Article 5 - an attack on one is an attack on all, meaning your allies will fight alongside you. Still, Zelenskyy has also said that he's grateful for NATO's support during this war. He's meeting with Biden today. We'll see what they say.

MARTÍNEZ: And when you think about it, Lithuania used to be a Soviet republic. So what's the mood like there as people watch Russia wage a war on Ukraine, which also was a former Soviet republic?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it just feels so close, A. This is nothing like the summit in Madrid, where it was held last summer. Lithuania is one of the three Baltic nations that were occupied for 50 years by the Soviet Union. And the idea of NATO's collective defense is not some esoteric concept. It's about real protection from what they view as a clear and present danger - Russia. And Baltic leaders are much more gung-ho about Ukraine getting into NATO very soon. Let's listen to Estonia's prime minister, Kaja Kallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER KAJA KALLAS: Ukraine is using the equipment that the allies are giving and the ammunition, so it is already ticking those boxes. So what more can we do in order to really go to that membership?

BEARDSLEY: So, you know, the people in the Baltic states, they really consider themselves on NATO's front line. They see Ukraine as the only buffer between them and Russian forces. And the quicker the allies can do everything to help Ukraine defeat Russia, the better.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Lithuania, thanks for checking in.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: Americans have been wrestling with high inflation for more than a couple of years now.

MARTIN: Like many people, Alexandra Kloster is getting tired of prices for everything going up - everything from rent to groceries and gas.

ALEXANDRA KLOSTER: It's just - has been really difficult to try to raise a family and to get ahead. It feels like two step forwards and one step back.

MARTIN: Kloster and her family, along with the rest of us, may finally be getting a breather. When the government's cost of living report for June comes out this morning, it's expected to show an annual inflation rate of around 3%. That would be the lowest since the spring of 2021.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now with a preview of today's report. Scott, good news to hear that inflation is coming down because high prices have been really tough to budget for. How are folks making do?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, people are definitely looking for ways to economize, A. We've heard from a lot of people who've adjusted their grocery buying habits, maybe cut back on entertainment expenses. Kloster told me she's turned to a secondhand store to find shoes and bluejeans for her two growing children. It is summertime though. Many people are still eager for a getaway. Kloster, who works in a medical office, and her husband, who's a full-time student, are spending this week at a cabin in northern Wisconsin. She says it's nice to get out of their cramped apartment in Milwaukee, but they are still watching their pennies.

KLOSTER: We're definitely not doing as much going to town or doing the tourist things. We're just trying to find free things to do, like walking, fishing. I'm trying to keep my kids entertained, but also trying to keep our budget low.

HORSLEY: Some good news - forecasters think we may see a break in some travel costs, things like airfares and hotel rooms. Even though there's a lot of demand for summer travel, airline capacity has pretty much caught up now, which is very different than where we were last summer. Jet fuel prices are also down, so that's helping as well.

MARTÍNEZ: Where else are we seeing a break in inflation?

HORSLEY: Gasoline prices have certainly come down a lot from this time last year. Of course, last year, gasoline hit a record high in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Grocery prices have also eased up a little bit as supply chains have normalized. We've talked in the past about egg prices, which took off and then came back to Earth. We'll see what happens with rent in today's numbers. You know, we know that new leases being signed now are generally showing smaller rent increases than has been the case in the past. And over time, that filters into the government's cost of living statistics, but it doesn't happen right away.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, Scott. So I'm going to do a little if this, then that. If inflation is cooling off, does that mean the Fed will stop raising rates?

HORSLEY: Not just yet. The Fed is still expected to raise interest rates at least once more, maybe twice. Even at around 3%, inflation's still above the Fed's target, which is 2%. And if you strip out food and energy prices, which bounce up and down a lot, so-called core inflation is still up around 5%. So there's still a ways to go. But Mark Hamrick, who is a senior economic analyst at Bankrate, says inflation is moving in the right direction, especially compared to the nine-plus percent rate we saw this time last year.

MARK HAMRICK: We are not yet at the promised land, where the Federal Reserve can say mission accomplished, that that 2% target has not only been met, but has been sustained. But we are surely on the journey.

HORSLEY: Still, Fed policymakers think it could take another couple of years to get that back down to 2%. So in other words, the last mile could be slow going. Earlier this week, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released a survey that shows people are feeling a little better about inflation in the short run. But they also think inflation is still going to be up around 3% five years from now. So inflation might be a less urgent problem than it used to be, but it's being seen as kind of a chronic irritant that was going to be with us for a while.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks a lot, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: All right, just before midnight tonight in Los Angeles, the contract between Hollywood studios and the film and TV actors union, SAG-AFTRA, will expire.

MARTIN: That means the actors could go on strike, joining screenwriters who walked off the job in May.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Mandalit del Barco has been reporting on Hollywood labor news. Mandalit, it seems like we were just here a couple of weeks ago.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Yeah, that's right. The two sides agreed to an extension back then. And now coming down to the wire, the union has agreed with the studios represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to call in federal mediators.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, federal mediator. So what have been the main sticking points of the negotiations?

DEL BARCO: Well, you know, both sides have a media blackout. But we understand they're still very far apart on at least two key issues - that is residuals and AI. Actors want to get paid more residuals from the streaming platforms, especially if their movies or series are hits. They want to tie their compensation to the number of views. And there still may be disagreement over the use of artificial intelligence on work done by actors. They want to control where their likenesses are used. They don't want to be replaced by computer-generated images. These are very similar issues to what the Writers Guild of America has been fighting over in their strike. And, you know, I should note that many of us here at NPR are members of SAG-AFTRA, but broadcast journalists have a very different contract than the Hollywood actors.

MARTÍNEZ: Mandalit, you and I drive around LA all the time. We see people, you know, all around the studios on strike. So what's been the mood like in Los Angeles? Because it's hard not to think about this story, living here.

DEL BARCO: That's right. You see the picket lines all over the place, and there's a lot of nervousness and some excitement over how this could go. This could be the first time Hollywood actors and writers walk off the job together since 1960. Ninety-eight percent of SAG-AFTRA's members already voted to authorize a strike if their demands aren't met. And a lot of big-named actors, including Meryl Streep. And Fran Drescher, the president of the union, signed a letter urging negotiators not to cave in to the studios.

You know, I was outside Amazon Studios yesterday and I found Jamila Webb. She's an actor you may have seen on "Family Reunion" on Netflix or "Reboot" on Hulu. Well, like a lot of actors, she's been picketing in solidarity with the writers.

JAMILA WEBB: We're ready to go on strike, but we don't know if it is going to come to that. I know sometimes Hollywood and entertainment can feel like we're in our own bubble, but this is an opportunity to really get the message out to people who are like, hey, are my show's coming out in the fall? No. And this is why. Ultimately, the goal is - right? - to get a great contract. That's what we want. And if it comes to that, me and my friends, we're ready. We're ready.

DEL BARCO: Webb says she's prepping to be a strike captain. But already, the writers strike has closed down almost all production. Shows and films are delayed, so the union actors haven't been working anyway. And the writers say they're still waiting for the studios to return to their negotiations, too.

MARTÍNEZ: So, OK, if they do strike, what happens first?

DEL BARCO: Well, we might see a lot of movie and TV stars on the picket lines. But union actors won't be able to promote their shows or movies that they're in. The Emmy Award nominations are coming out today, and the actors won't be able to do press for that. They won't be able to show up at next week's Comic-Con to promote their projects. They won't be interviewed or photographed on the red carpet. There are reports that SAG-AFTRA met with 140 Hollywood publicists this week to advise them about what the actors will and won't be allowed to do. These folks are reportedly very nervous about the possible strike - panicked is the word I've seen.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

DEL BARCO: The whole Hollywood machine is really on pins and needles today.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Mandalit del Barco, thanks a lot.

DEL BARCO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. 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 NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is co-host of Morning Edition, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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.
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