Merrit Kennedy

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

Kennedy joined NPR in Washington, DC, 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 ousting 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.

Oakland passed a resolution to effectively decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms and other psychoactive plants and fungi in a unanimous City Council vote on Tuesday.

That makes it the second U.S. city to do so – last month, Denver voters approved a similar ballot initiative that decriminalizes the "magic" mushrooms.

The cruise line giant Carnival Corporation and its Princess subsidiary have agreed to pay a criminal penalty of $20 million for environmental violations such as dumping plastic waste into the ocean. Princess Cruise Lines has already paid $40 million over other deliberate acts of pollution.

U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz approved the terms of the deal during a hearing Monday in Miami. She had appeared to grow increasingly frustrated as the company continued to flout environmental laws during the course of the years-long case.

A years-long government inquiry says human rights abuses "perpetrated historically and maintained today by the Canadian state" has led to violence against Indigenous women and girls that amounts to genocide.

It's the conclusion of more than two years of research involving at least 2,380 people who shared their stories or artwork with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Shipping containers of Canadian trash have moldered in the Philippines for years, in a situation so irksome to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that he threatened to personally sail it back to Canadian waters.

Now, much of the trash that arrived in 2013 and 2014 is on its way back to Canada. The Canadian government says that 69 shipping containers of rubbish have left the Philippines and are expected to reach Canada by the end of June.

Thad Cochran, the Republican senator from Mississippi who served for some four decades, has died at the age of 81, his successor, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, said on Thursday.

Cochran used his considerable influence, especially while serving as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to direct billions of dollars to Mississippi.

A lawyer for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told a U.K. court Thursday that he was too ill to appear via video link at an extradition hearing about possible transfer to the United States.

Lawyer Gareth Peirce told Westminster Magistrates' Court in London that Assange was "not very well." The United States is pursuing a range of criminal charges against Assange, including a violation of the Espionage Act.

WikiLeaks said in a statement that it has "grave concerns" about the state of Assange's health.

The family of a man who died in a Milwaukee jail after the water in his cell was shut off for seven days has been paid a $6.75 million settlement, according to the family's lawyers.

Terrill Thomas, 38, died of dehydration in Milwaukee County Jail in April 2016. The payment was made by Milwaukee County and Armor Correctional Health Services, a company that was contracted to provide medical care for inmates at the jail.

There's good news for fans of Jeopardy! and its beloved host, Alex Trebek.

He says that his doctors say his stage 4 pancreatic cancer is in "near remission," in an interview published in People and shared on the show's official pages.

A telecom merger that has been years in the making is poised to clear a major regulatory hurdle.

Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission chairman, said Monday that he endorses the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, a $26 billion deal. This came after the companies agreed to various concessions, including a pledge to not raise prices for three years.

For nearly two decades, a doctor at The Ohio State University sexually abused at least 177 male students, according to an exhaustive independent investigation commissioned by the university. Most of the doctor's abuse happened under the auspices of providing the students with medical treatment.

Early-morning commuters in Oklahoma City on Wednesday may have caught a harrowing sight: a window-washing basket swinging wildly at the top of the tallest building in the state.

A video posted by the Oklahoma City Fire Department shows the basket, connected to a crane but suspended some 50 floors up from street level, extending and spinning over the street, then flying back toward the building.

Updated at 1:08 p.m. ET

Missouri's Senate has passed a bill that would ban abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy or later, except in cases of medical emergency. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

It's the latest in a series of sweeping abortion restrictions passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures aimed at pushing abortion challenges to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If the government's new plan works, the number of robocalls you receive may go down in the near future.

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to push phone companies to "block unwanted calls to their customers by default."

If enacted, the proposal would not compel phone companies to impose default call-blocks. But it would shield telecom providers from legal liability for blocking certain calls.

This high-velocity maneuver is a nightmare if you're a fly.

There's a type of spider that can slowly stretch its web taut and then release it, causing the web to catapult forward and ensnare unsuspecting prey in its strands.

Triangle-weaver spiders use their own web the way humans might use a slingshot or a crossbow. Scientists from the University of Akron say this is a process called "power amplification," and they published their research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

Former President Jimmy Carter is recovering after falling and breaking his hip this morning, according to a statement from the Carter Center.

The center said Carter was preparing to go turkey hunting when he fell in his home. It added that he is now "recovering comfortably" after undergoing surgery at the Phoebe Sumter Medical Center in Americus, Georgia. His wife, Rosalynn, is with him at the medical center.

A well-known Afghan television journalist was shot dead in broad daylight in Kabul over the weekend, prompting an outcry from women's rights advocates.

Mina Mangal, who worked for several Afghan television channels and later became an adviser in Afghanistan's parliament, was apparently en route to work early Saturday morning when she was attacked.

Police spokesman Basir Mujahid told Reuters that she was killed near her Kabul home by two unknown men on a motorbike.

Two major craft beer companies are joining forces.

Dogfish Head Brewery and The Boston Beer Co. — the maker of Samuel Adams Boston Lager — announced Thursday that they have reached an agreement to merge. The deal, which is expected to close late in the second quarter of this year, is valued at about $300 million in cash and stock.

U.S. authorities announced on Thursday that they have taken control of a coal ship North Korea was allegedly using to evade international sanctions.

The ship, called the M/V Wise Honest, was first held by Indonesian authorities more than a year ago and is now being moved to American Samoa.

Pope Francis has issued new rules obligating priests and nuns to report incidents of abuse or cover-ups to church authorities, saying, "The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful."

The sweeping new regulations are Francis' latest effort to combat sexual abuse involving the church, a long-running and painful issue that has cast a shadow on his papacy.

Updated at 12:34 a.m. ET Thursday

Do ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft make a city's traffic worse or better?

In San Francisco at least, the answer is decidedly worse, according to a newly published study in the journal Science Advances.

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