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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Pro basketball star Brittney Griner is expected back in the United States today.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Russian authorities released her from prison. They traded with the United States for the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The announcement brought celebration here in the U.S., also some criticism, though. The trade did not include U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who's also in Russian custody.

INSKEEP: So how does all this look from Moscow? We're going to find out from NPR's Charles Maynes, who is there. Hey there, Charles. Welcome back.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: We followed the story here in Washington. But what did you see there?

MAYNES: Well, you know, Bout is not a celebrity on the level of Griner. But state media here is certainly celebrating Bout's release.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: So this is the state Russia 24 channel. It went live last night with Bout's arrival to a Moscow airport a little after midnight, where he was greeted with flowers by his mother and his wife. Bout gave a brief interview in which he said he was given little warning about the trade from the U.S. officials, just a few minutes to gather his things. But, you know, for all of Griner's ordeals, the narrative here really has been that it was Russia, not the U.S., trying to negotiate this deal and that Bout is the real victim.

INSKEEP: The arms dealer?

MAYNES: The arms dealer, exactly.

INSKEEP: OK.

MAYNES: And Griner, Russian media figures point out, admitted to breaking the law. Bout never did. And yet, he was sentenced to 25 years for attempting to sell arms to a group the U.S. considered terrorists in a sting operation in Thailand. Russia has always argued that Bout was illegally extradited and tried in the U.S. And, in fact, last night, the foreign ministry issued a kind of greatest hits video to show Moscow had never forgotten him.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED RUSSIAN OFFICIAL #1: Viktor Bout.

UNIDENTIFIED RUSSIAN OFFICIAL #2: Viktor Bout.

UNIDENTIFIED RUSSIAN OFFICIAL #3: Viktor Bout.

UNIDENTIFIED RUSSIAN OFFICIAL #4: Viktor Bout.

UNIDENTIFIED RUSSIAN OFFICIAL #5: Bout.

UNIDENTIFIED RUSSIAN OFFICIAL #6: Bout.

UNIDENTIFIED RUSSIAN OFFICIAL #7: Viktor Bout.

UNIDENTIFIED RUSSIAN OFFICIAL #8: Viktor Bout.

MAYNES: So if you couldn't guess here, these are various Russian officials raising the issue of Bout's detention over the years.

INSKEEP: OK. So Bout goes free. Brittney Griner goes free. Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine, does not. He was not included in the deal. There's some disappointment about that here in the United States. How's it talked about in Moscow?

MAYNES: Well, again, a victory, you know? This is an example, Russia says, of standing firm against pressure from Washington in negotiations, you know? You want a deal, it's one for one. Or it's two for two. What you don't get is two Americans for one Russian. And Bout's release sends an important message to Russians in another way. Amid the conflict in Ukraine, a Russian rallying cry has been (non-English language spoken). It means Russia doesn't forget its own. And here now is Bout, all these years later, back in Moscow - living proof.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you mentioned the conflict in Ukraine because I understand that Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, has begun to admit what seems obvious to many other people, that this is going to be a protracted conflict at best.

MAYNES: Yeah. You know, Putin was fielding questions from a Kremlin-backed human rights council on Wednesday when he made this kind of rare admission that Russia's military had run into unexpected challenges. The campaign, Putin acknowledged, had become what he called a long process, even as he defended Russia's annexation of four regions of Ukraine as already a, quote, "significant result." Never mind that the international community has condemned those annexation moves or that Russia doesn't even control all the territories it now claims.

But, you know, this trade, Griner for Bout, you know, what's interesting is that prisoner exchanges seem to be an area - maybe the only area - for now where the U.S. and Russia can make some deals. And it's the same for Ukraine and Russia. You know, the conflict keeps grinding on. But Moscow and Kyiv have held multiple prisoner swaps, including one again this week, which is important to the families on both sides. And some suggest at least something to build on.

INSKEEP: Charles, thanks for your insights.

MAYNES: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: After their hiring spree during the pandemic, the tech industry now seems to be on a firing spree.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, layoffs in the tech industry have been piling up this year.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Big tech announcing a slew of layoffs. Amazon, Twitter...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Intel.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: Lyft.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #5: Opendoor.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #6: DoorDash.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #7: Stripe.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #8: Salesforce laid off hundreds of employees this week as demand weakened in...

MARTIN: Tens of thousands of job cuts have come near the end of the year, as we saw a lot of publicly traded tech companies plummet in value. So if you remember, around 20 years ago, this might conjure the dot-com bust, if you remember that. So is that the sort of thing we should be worrying about happening again?

INSKEEP: To get some historical perspective, we've brought in Adrian Ma, co-host of NPR's daily economics podcast the Indicator. Good morning.

ADRIAN MA, BYLINE: What's up?

INSKEEP: Yeah, thanks for coming by the studios. What happened some 20 years or more ago?

MA: Right. So the dot-com bust was preceded, actually, just a couple of years before by the dot-com bubble - basically, this period in the late '90s when the internet was just starting to take off. And it seemed like anyone with any money to invest was just dumping it into tech companies or, really, just any company with a website.

INSKEEP: Sounds familiar. But go on.

MA: Yeah (laughter). But that didn't last very long. By the year 2000, the bubble burst. Stocks tanked. Hundreds of companies went under. And people lost jobs. And even a mini, two-year recession followed.

INSKEEP: Could that be happening again, then?

MA: Well, I, you know, heard all these headlines about layoffs that I started to wonder this myself. So I reached out to a couple labor economists who basically told me to take a deep breath. We're a long way from there right now. One of the people I spoke to is Nick Bunker, who does econ research for the job site Indeed. And he put it like this.

NICK BUNKER: What we're seeing now sort of rhymes with the year 2000 in some sense. But I don't think it's at quite the scale.

MA: Right. And for a sense of that scale, during the dot-com bust, the Nasdaq, which has a lot of tech stocks on it, it fell by about 80%.

INSKEEP: Wow.

MA: And right now, so far this year, the Nasdaq exchange lost about 25% of its value.

INSKEEP: OK. So bad, but not nearly that bad so far, so far. Is there any reason, though, to think we've hit bottom, it won't get much worse?

MA: Right. So far is a good caveat. But there is a reason why we shouldn't necessarily worry about tech dragging down the rest of the economy right now. And that is because the job market is pretty strong. So another person I talked to is Julia Pollak. She's chief economist at ZipRecruiter. She says most employers want to hire, not fire, right now. And when you look at the data on all the sectors, not just tech, the economy is adding about 60% more jobs each month than it was before the pandemic.

INSKEEP: Wow.

JULIA POLLAK: The layoffs that are happening in tech are sort of tiny compared to the absence of layoffs everywhere else in the economy. So broadly, I think, if you zoom out from tech, weakness in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street is still largely being offset by strength on Main Street.

MA: And, of course, for people out of the job right now, it really stinks. But Pollak thinks a bunch of tech workers hitting the job market right now could also be a sort of silver lining for the broader economy, right? There's so many other sectors, like government and education and health care. They need tech talent, too. And this could be their chance.

INSKEEP: Oh, they could recruit better talent.

MA: Maybe they could poach some.

INSKEEP: OK. Adrian Ma from NPR's daily economics podcast the Indicator. Thanks so much.

MA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK. The 32 teams at the World Cup in Qatar are now down to eight.

MARTIN: Yeah. The quarterfinals begin today. And all eight teams playing can make a case that they are the ones who have a shot to win.

INSKEEP: Quarter for your thoughts? NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is following an evenly balanced tournament. Hey there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Who are the contenders?

GOLDMAN: Well, let's run them down, Steve. Croatia finished second at the 2018 World Cup - still very good - playing Brazil, winner of five World Cups, ranked No. 1 in the world. And they are Brazil. Then the Netherlands, three-time World Cup runner-up, against Argentina, also a three-time runner-up and two-time champion. But they've never won with Lionel Messi. You might have heard of him, Steve - little guy, scores a lot of goals, one of the all-time greats. This is his last dance at the World Cup, last chance to win it as well.

Then tomorrow, Portugal, with its all-time great Cristiano Ronaldo yanked from the starting lineup - and his team looked better for it in a free-flowing 6-1 beatdown of Switzerland. Portugal plays Morocco. Now, that's the surprise of the bunch but kind of not - very good team on a roll. They haven't been beaten here. They're very strong defensively. The only score against them has been an own goal. And they have a huge fan base. The Arab world has gone gaga for the Atlas Lions. And then finally, France, the defending champion, possessor of the fantastic player Kylian Mbappe, against England, which is loaded with talent and has the co-lead for most goals scored in the tournament. So there it is, your great eight.

INSKEEP: Wow. A whole lot of possibilities there.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: Let me ask about one of the possibilities. A couple of the great players that you mentioned, Messi and Ronaldo, is it possible that they could have a head-to-head matchup at some point?

GOLDMAN: There's been hope that that will happen. Technically, it is possible. They're on opposite sides of the draw. So they could play for a title. They could play for third place. Either way, any head-to-head matchup would be diminished since Ronaldo may be banished from the starting lineup for good after Portugal was so dominant without him. Messi, on the other hand, has been very important to Argentina. He's scored three goals. His first one really saved the team in a must-win group stage match against Mexico. Even if they don't meet head-to-head, this is the end - at the World Cup, at least - of an amazing time. You know, most of the last two decades, Messi and Ronaldo set the standard and were the two most famous players of a generation.

INSKEEP: Is a new generation rising?

GOLDMAN: Well, it is. So you know, interestingly, you're going to see some of that in the France versus England quarterfinal on Saturday. Kylian Mbappe, as I mentioned, was a teenage breakout star in France's World Cup title run in 2018. He's picked up here in Qatar as a 23-year-old. Currently, he has the scoring lead with five goals. He's blazing fast, deadly accurate as a scorer. Throw in a magnetic personality. He is quickly climbing to the top. And then, meantime, England's Jude Bellingham, he's 19. He's a teenage breakout star in this tournament. He's a dazzling midfielder with the ball at his feet. He really does it all. And people are marveling at his skill at such a young age.

INSKEEP: With all of this possibility, isn't Brazil still the favorite?

GOLDMAN: Brazil is, you know? They are the favorites. They're playing so well. They're dancing after goals. That's a worrisome and somewhat annoying sight for opponents.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: Whoever Brazil plays going forward, starting with Croatia today, it's going to be tough. But, yeah, they're expected to emerge, dancing or not, with a sixth title.

INSKEEP: Don't you normally dance at the end of your interviews on NPR, Tom? You do a little...

GOLDMAN: I'm dancing right now.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's great. That's great.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm glad you're able to keep the microphone in the proper range.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Goldman at the World Cup in Qatar. Thanks.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUS TOPP'S "D-BOUNCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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