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Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for The Two-Way, NPR's breaking news blog. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

Merrit joined NPR in Washington, D.C., in December 2015, after seven years living and working in Egypt. She started her journalism career at the beginning of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and chronicled the ouster of two presidents, eight rounds of elections and numerous major outbreaks of violence for NPR and other news outlets. She has also worked as a reporter and television producer in Cairo for The Associated Press, covering Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Sudan.

She grew up in Los Angeles, the Middle East and places in between, and holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master's degree in international human rights law from The American University in Cairo.

The Supreme Court says it will not take up a challenge to a Mississippi law that allows businesses and government officials to deny services to LGBT people if doing so would conflict with certain "sincerely held" religious beliefs.

By rejecting the cases, the top court leaves in place a federal appeals court decision that allowed the 2016 law to take effect. It came into force in October.

The Trump administration is proposing dramatic changes to policies on offshore leasing for oil and gas, opening the door to radically expand drilling in waters that were protected by the Obama administration.

It's the "largest number of lease sales ever proposed, " Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters. The proposed plan to sell offshore drilling leases in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic over a five-year period was detailed Thursday.

Ethiopia's prime minister has announced that the country will free all of its political prisoners, pardon them and close a notorious prison.

It's a surprising turnaround for a government that has launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent and had not previously admitted that it is even holding political prisoners.

The U.S. unveiled its roster for the men's Olympic hockey team on Monday.

And the joyful, emotional moment when forward Bobby Butler told his dad that he made the team was caught on video.

It shows Butler skating up to the side of the rink as his father walks in. The two men shake hands, then Butler breaks the news. His dad immediately throws his arms around him as his teammates cheer.

Watch, it will probably brighten your day:

There were no fatalities on commercial passenger jets in 2017, according to two groups that track airplane crash data, making it the safest year in modern aviation history.

There were two fatal accidents in passenger airliners involving small turbo-prop planes, according to To70, a Dutch aviation consulting firm.

New Year's Eve celebrations are just hours away. And police departments around the country have been preparing for months for the celebrations. New York and Las Vegas, the sites of recent attacks, will see more security than they have in years.

It's been three months since an attacker shot dead 58 people from a hotel window in Las Vegas.

The city of Flint, which has been reeling for years over lead seepage from its pipes into its tap water, is accused of violating the terms of a major settlement agreement aimed at improving its water quality. Advocacy groups say the city is failing to disclose information about its efforts to replace its lead pipes.

They have filed a formal motion asking for a federal judge to force the Michigan city to comply with the agreement.

On a normal night, dozens of tourists would be gaping at the glowing sea life on Mosquito Bay, a cove named after a legendary pirate ship in Vieques, Puerto Rico. But on a night in mid-December, it's empty. The loudest sounds are the frogs croaking in the mangroves.

On an island eight miles off Puerto Rico's coast, homes sit destroyed on hillsides and many of its nearly 9,000 residents still wait for federal aid. Vieques' hospital is operating out of tents in a parking lot. And the island is facing the prospect of six more months without electricity from Puerto Rico's main grid.

The island's bleak trajectory epitomizes the unevenness of the disaster relief effort in the hurricane-devastated U.S. territory, where metropolitan areas such as San Juan are showing clear signs of recovery.

Nearly three months after Hurricane Maria, parts of Puerto Rico are showing clear signs of recovery. But in Vieques, a remote island with nearly 9,000 residents eight miles off the main island's coast, recovery is a long way off. There, some live in dingy conditions as they wait for help to rebuild, while others gather what they can to do it themselves.

Gregorio Velazquez Rivera, an 81-year-old who is blind, has left his destroyed home — which is totally unlivable — virtually untouched in the months since the hurricane.

Outside Puerto Rico's capital, a three-story-high mountain of debris and waste sits smack in the middle of what was a suburban soccer field before Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

Blue bleachers peek out from the edge of the trash pile, as a line of trucks rolls in to dump even more tree branches and moldy furniture. Workmen wearing yellow hard hats operate diggers to add the new waste to the growing pile in the center of the field.

A jittery group of middle-schoolers is about to start the first day of classes since September, when Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico and totally disrupted the island's school system.

The vast majority of the island's public schools — more than 98 percent — are open for at least part of the day, according to Puerto Rico's Department of Education.

In 2006, the U.S. military purchased $12.1 million worth of inspection equipment for five border posts in Afghanistan in an effort to crack down on illicit drug smuggling and boost customs duty revenues to the Afghan government.

After operation, training and maintenance costs, the total investment for the equipment to date is estimated at up to $62.6 million.

A cache of hundreds of eggs discovered in China sheds new light on the development and nesting behavior of prehistoric, winged reptiles called pterosaurs.

Pterosaurs were fearsome-looking creatures that flew during the Lower Cretaceous period alongside dinosaurs. This particular species was believed to have a massive wingspan of up to 13 feet, and likely ate fish with their large teeth-filled jaws.

Researchers working in the Turpan-Hami Basin in northwestern China collected the eggs over a 10-year span from 2006 to 2016.

Federal investigators say that construction damage was likely to blame for an oil spill earlier this month from the Keystone pipeline in South Dakota.

The Keystone Pipeline is a 2,687-mile crude oil pipeline that runs from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska, where it then splits, with one portion running to Illinois and the other to Texas. It is owned by TransCanada, the same firm that is seeking to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The delicate art of paper folding is playing a crucial role in designing robotic artificial muscles that are startlingly strong. In fact, the researchers say they can lift objects 1,000 times their own weight.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take up a case challenging the use of a Confederate emblem on the Mississippi state flag.

Carlos Moore, an African-American lawyer from Mississippi who petitioned the court, had argued in court documents that the flag, visible in state buildings, courts and schools, symbolically expresses support for white supremacy. The flag incorporates the Confederate battle flag in its upper left corner.

The Department of Justice has opened a probe into the role of race in Harvard University's admissions policies and is threatening to sue unless Harvard turns over documents by a Dec. 1 deadline, according to correspondence obtained by NPR.

Della Reese, a performer and pastor best known for her starring role on the CBS spiritual drama Touched by an Angel, has died at 86.

"Her signature television role came late in life," NPR's Eric Deggans reported. "Reese already had been famous for decades as a gospel-influenced R&B performer, TV guest star and talk show fixture."

After a Japanese man was killed early Sunday in a car crash involving a U.S. service member, U.S. forces in Japan are prohibited indefinitely from purchasing or drinking alcohol.

NPR CEO Jarl Mohn is going on medical leave for at least one month.

It comes less than a week after the ouster of NPR's head of news, Michael Oreskes, over sexual harassment allegations by multiple women.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is calling for an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan.

The scope of such an investigation isn't clear, but it could have the potential to involve U.S. troops. Fatou Bensouda said in a statement that she has decided to request authorization to open a formal investigation. ICC judges would then decide whether the situation meets the court's criteria.

Updated at 4:15 p.m. ET

A military judge has ruled that Bowe Bergdahl, who has pleaded guilty to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, should serve no prison time.

During a hearing Friday in Fort Bragg, N.C., Bergdahl was sentenced to dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of $1,000 in pay per month and a reduction in rank from sergeant to private, according to a statement from the Army.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors made their closing arguments at the sentencing of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, with prosecutors seeking 14 years in prison and defense lawyers asking for no prison time and a dishonorable or bad conduct discharge.

During the last two weeks of the sentencing hearing at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, the military court has heard about three soldiers who were wounded while searching for Bergdahl after he walked off his military post in Afghanistan in 2009.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. ET

NPR's senior vice president for news, Michael Oreskes, has resigned following allegations of sexual harassment from several women.

The accounts of two women, first published by The Washington Post, describe Oreskes unexpectedly kissing them during meetings in the late 1990s, while he was Washington bureau chief for The New York Times. An NPR employee has also come forward publicly about harassment that allegedly occurred during a business meeting-turned-dinner in 2015.

Updated on Nov. 2 at 5:45 p.m. ET

The majority of U.S. funding for Afghanistan reconstruction has gone to supporting the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces, totaling more than $63 billion.

But it's now going to be significantly harder for the public to understand how the U.S.-supported Afghan forces are faring in the fight against the Taliban.

Updated at 5:15 p.m. ET

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl took the stand at his sentencing hearing Monday and offered a lengthy, emotional apology to the current and former service members who were wounded searching for him after he walked off his military post in Afghanistan in 2009.

Danish police say that inventor Peter Madsen has admitted to dismembering Swedish journalist Kim Wall, who was researching a story in August on board a submarine he built. He denies killing her and maintains that her death was an accident, authorities say.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces have agreed to temporarily pause their fighting.

This has the potential to open the door for talks, NPR's Jane Arraf reports, after Iraqi forces moved to wrest territory from the Kurds, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

The Kurdish autonomous region held a non-binding independence referendum last month, despite the opposition of Iraq's government and other regional and international powers. Voters overwhelmingly approved the proposal.

The head of Kenya's electoral commission says just one-third of registered voters cast ballots yesterday in a controversial rerun of the presidential election.

That's far lower than the reported nearly 80 percent turnout the first time the election took place, in August.

The poll was met by clashes and violence in some areas of the country. The electoral commission tweeted that 5,319 polling stations "either didn't open or did not manage to send the 'we've opened signal,' " while 35,564 opened as usual.

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