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Today: Phantom army. Power puzzle.

Hello. I'm Davan Maharaj, the editor of the Los Angeles Times. Here are some story lines you shouldn't miss today.


TOP STORIES

Cruz altitude

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas needed a lift, and he got it as he shot out of the gate first in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Polls suggest he's near the bottom of a crowded Republican field, but he's hoping an unapologetic far-right message resonates with his base. At the very least, it could prompt some of his rivals to tack farther in his direction.

Russia's phantom army

Vladimir Putin says he hasn't sent troops to Ukraine. That doesn't mean they aren't there. Money's on offer for volunteers, and evidence suggests hundreds have signed on, including veterans and Russian soldiers on leave from their units. It turns out some aren't getting paid; others are coming home in coffins. Today's Great Read is the story of one family left behind.

Power puzzle

It's the Holy Grail of power generation: Storage for excess electricity when demand is low. It could be central to Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal that half of California's energy comes from renewable sources by 2030. The problem is, peak demand doesn't always coincide with the brightest sunshine and strongest winds. Read what the industry is trying to do about that.

Tricks of trade

Crunch time is nearing on a trade pact with Pacific Rim nations. President Obama dearly wants it. Even many Republicans who hate to support him on anything are warming up to it. This time it may be liberal Democrats, worried about domestic jobs, who get in the way -- specifically an 83-year-old congressman from the Motor City who knows a thing or two about trade and jobs.

 CALIFORNIA

-- A proposed "Sodomite Suppression Act" adds a cruel twist to California's history of bizarre ballot initiatives.

-- Plans started after the 9/11 attacks to improve emergency police and fire communications hit a new snag in L.A. County: cell towers.

-- California Commute: Toll lanes are filling up -- and slowing down.

-- Former NFL player Darren Sharper could serve nine years in prison in a plea deal on charges that he drugged and sexually assaulted women.

NATION-WORLD

-- Police in Virginia say they could find no evidence of a rape at a University of Virginia fraternity as described in a Rolling Stone article.

-- Supreme Court justices seem reluctant to force Texas to issue a specialty state license plate with a confederate flag.

-- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologizes for election eve remarks that upset Arab citizens.

-- City of Haze: Paris, choking on pollution, moves to reduce vehicle traffic.

BUSINESS

-- Fresh & Easy is selling 30 stores in Southern California (list at the end).

-- The Paley Center for Media looks to reinvent itself for the digital age.

SPORTS

-- Learning to share is a big part of UCLA's run to the Sweet 16.

-- Bill Dwyre on the 30th anniversary of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays being exonerated of their gambling connections and let back into baseball.

-- The latest scores and stats. NCAA tournament bracket.

ENTERTAINMENT

-- Architect Peter Zumthor's plan for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art undergoes a significant makeover.

-- Room rates skyrocket for the Coachella music festival.

Passings: Gregory Walcott, 87, an actor whose credits include Clint Eastwood films, TV westerns and "Plan 9 From Outer Space"; Ib Melchior, 97, writer and director known for 1950s and '60s science fiction films.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

-- "The Jinx": Where does journalism end and entertainment begin?

--  Ways to keep your sanity while using Twitter.

-- How David Geffen's $100-million Lincoln Center gift came together.

ONLY IN L.A.

Love is in the air, or at least in the water. The grunion will be running soon. It's a startling sight: silvery fish leaping out of the ocean at high tide to fertilize eggs on the beach. It's not everyone's kettle of fish, but experts do offer advice on grunion-run viewing. And the state fish and wildlife folks even post projected times of runs.  

Please send comments and ideas to Davan Maharaj.


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