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Renee Montagne

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

On the shores of California one recent morning, female Marines were heaving heavy chains to secure amphibious assault vehicles that soon would roll into the waves.

The exercise was one part of a yearlong experiment aimed at settling the question of whether women can handle the punishing world of ground combat.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

OK, it's Black Friday, and you know what that means.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAMPEDING CUSTOMERS)

MONTAGNE: Stampeding customers crashing through doors, elbowing and shoving to get in on some incredible bargains.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Afghanistan is poised to enter a new era. For the first time in its long history, one elected president will hand over power to another. We do not know yet who that new president will be. There will likely be a runoff between the two top vote-getters next month.

Herat is one of the most graceful cities in Afghanistan. Its traditions go back to the Persian empire, with its exquisite blue and green glass, and its thriving poetry scene.

Now Herat is struggling with a darker side: drug addiction at a higher rate than almost anywhere else in the country.

In a dusty ravine on the outskirts of the city, Ahmad, a scruffy 20-year-old, is striking a match to inhale heroin.

It's a simple act he repeats throughout his day — heating a dark slab of heroin paste smeared on a bit of foil so he can smoke it.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The Supreme Court this morning, upheld a ban on using racial preferences in admissions to the public universities of Michigan. The ban was enacted by referendum as an amendment to the state constitution in 2006 and struck down by a lower court. Today, the justices voted 6-to-2 to say the federal courts could not do that and the ban had to stand.

It was particularly difficult to report from Afghanistan during the recent presidential election because members of the Taliban were trying to disrupt the voting. They were also targeting Westerners.

On Saturday, voters turned out in large numbers despite threats of Taliban violence. It will take weeks to learn who will become Afghanistan's next president. Hamid Karzai can't run for a third term

Morning Edition co-host Renee Montagne is in Afghanistan following the leading candidates in Saturday's presidential election. The top-two contenders are: Zalmai Rassoul and Abdullah Abdullah.

As Afghans prepare to choose a new president Saturday, it's hard not to notice a striking contradiction.

The three leading candidates are all urbane, Westernized men inclined to wear suits and ties in public. And yet, as they crisscross this impoverished, traditional country, they've all had to remake themselves to some degree, in their dress, their speech and even in the surprising choices they've made for vice presidential running mates, who range from notorious warlords to a woman.

Voters in Afghanistan will elect a new president this weekend. For the first time since America went to war there, President Hamid Karzai will not be on the ballot.

A scrap metal dealer bought a golden egg at a flea market for $14,000 and planned to melt it for a profit. But he discovered it was a Faberge egg — given by Alexander III to his empress in 1887.

In Brussels on Thursday, EU leaders will discuss stronger sanctions against Russia. Juan Zarate, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, talks about their options.

Starbucks is testing an evening menu that includes wine at more than 25 locations. Now, the company's chief operating officer says it plans to offer its nighttime fare at thousands of U.S. stores.

David Wessel of the Brookings Institution talks about Janet Yellen's first policy meeting and press conference since taking over as chairwoman of the Federal Reserve.

Host Renee Montagne talks with New York Times correspondent Ellen Barry in Moscow about what Vladimir Putin's land grab in Ukraine says about this moment in the post-Soviet history of Russia.

Host Renee Montagne talks to Erin Conway-Smith, southern Africa editor for GlobalPost, about the murder trial of Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius.

A U.K. seed company has taken the leafy look and peppery taste of kale and added the flavor of Brussels sprouts. You can buy BrusselKale now in Ohio and Pennsylvania; it debuts nationally this fall.

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Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne. Aspiring high school mathematicians gathered in New York for March Mathness. Even for kids who don't love sports, the professor leading the event told The Times there are a billion reasons to love brackets this year: Warren Buffett's reward for picking the winners for all 67 NCAA games. The math geeks are hoping linear algebra and complex computer codes will help them beat the odds: 9.2 quintrillion to one. It's MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Let's talk more about changes to the National Security Agency that President Obama is announcing as we speak at the Justice Department. And we're joined in our studio by Tamara Keith and Tom Gjelten. And let's just begin.

Tom, you told us earlier today that technology companies wanted greater transparency. They want the public to know more about what the NSA is doing. What is the president proposing today?

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Oscar nominations are in. They were announced this morning in Beverly Hills. And "American Hustle" and "Gravity" are the early front-runners. Each of them got 10 Academy Award nominations, including best picture. "12 Years a Slave" was close behind with nine nominations. For more, we're joined now by Linda Holmes, who writes and edits NPR's entertainment and pop culture blog Monkey See. Good morning.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Good morning to you.

A very cold winter storm is engulfing much of the Northeast, dumping more than 20 inches of snow in some areas and bringing strong winds along with it. Schools are closed in Boston and New York City. Thousands of flights have been canceled. Officials around the region are asking people to stay home and let road crews do their work.

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The situation in South Sudan is, in many ways, emblematic of the troubled year the continent of Africa has endured. After two decades of democracies taking root and economies growing, 2013 brought a series of seemingly intractable conflicts: flare-ups in Mali, Nigeria, the Central African Republic and, as we've just heard, South Sudan.

To get a sense of why this is happening now, we spoke to NPR's West Africa correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who shared her fears and hopes for a part of the world she holds dear. Ofeibea, welcome.

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Turkey's government is defending itself against a corruption scandal. That scandal has shaken a nation often described as the model for moderate Islamic democracy. The scandal reaches the highest levels of the government, and has sparked a strong backlash by Turkey's ruling party.

We reached NPR's correspondent in Istanbul, Peter Kenyon, to learn more about what's going on.

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New York City ushered in the New Year last night with its famous crystal ball, and also the swearing in of a new mayor. Just after midnight, Bill de Blasio was sworn into office in a private ceremony in the yard of his row house in Brooklyn. He's the first Democratic mayor in 20 years. His vision of the city could hardly be more different than that of his predecessor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who presided over what many will remember as a kind of gilded age.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

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