Today’s Headlines: Biden administration formally accuses Russia of war crimes

Dead bodies are put into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine
Bodies are put into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine, this month as people cannot bury their loved ones because of the heavy shelling by Russian forces.
(Evgeniy Maloletka / Associated Press)

By Elvia Limón, Laura Blasey and Amy Hubbard

Hello, it’s Thursday, March 24, and here are the stories you shouldn’t miss today:


Biden administration formally accuses Russia of war crimes

As President Biden headed to a Europe with large-scale battles raging at its edge, his government formally declared that Russian forces have committed war crimes in their brutal attacks on civilians and others in Ukraine. The besieged port of Mariupol was cited as one of the main pieces of evidence.


Ukraine said Russian forces hijacked aid missions headed to the devastated city, where one of the worst humanitarian crises of the escalating conflict has unfolded with hundreds of civilians killed and scarce supplies of food, water and medicine.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken noted deadly Russian attacks on apartment buildings, hospitals, schools and shopping malls and, in Mariupol, on a maternity ward and theater said to be sheltering children.

More on Ukraine

  • People displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine seek aid in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine. Lviv is a way station for Ukrainians headed abroad, and a haven for the legions who hope to remain in their homeland but fled fighting in their areas.

For Black women, Ketanji Brown Jackson’s hearing feels familiar

For weeks, Black women supporting Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination have awaited her confirmation hearing with excitement and dread, eager to see history be made but concerned her critics would play into racist and sexist tropes.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee seemed aware of that, taking pains to insist in their opening statements that scrutinizing Jackson’s record was not the same as attacking the first Black woman ever picked for the high court.

But as Jackson entered her third day of hearings, many Black female lawyers and scholars say some of their fears have been realized. Republicans, they say, have engaged in a series of political stunts and character attacks.

Newsom’s gas price relief would send $400 payments to vehicle owners

Gov. Gavin Newsom released the long-awaited details of his tax refund plan to send $400 to Californians for each registered vehicle, a move that would put more money in the pockets of families that own more cars — even the state’s wealthiest residents — and exclude those without cars from receiving the payments.

The plan would include $750 million in grants for free or substantially reduced public transit fare, but Californians who don’t own a registered vehicle would otherwise not receive a refund. The governor would cap payments at $800 for any person with more than one registered vehicle.

Newsom’s plan would be subject to approval by the state Legislature and could set him up for a potential battle with leaders of the Senate and Assembly, who introduced their own proposal last week.

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L.A. moves to roll back vaccine verification

Los Angeles took another step toward rolling back its COVID-19 vaccine verification requirements for indoor restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and other businesses even amid concerns that circulation of the “stealth” Omicron subvariant, BA.2, might fuel an increase in cases this spring.

The City Council voted 13 to 1 to make it voluntary for such businesses to verify that people patronizing their indoor areas are vaccinated. The changes would also remove such requirements for big outdoor events. Because the vote was not unanimous, the proposed ordinance altering the city rules will undergo a second, procedural vote next week.

More top coronavirus headlines

  • For the first time since the pandemic shut down Los Angeles school district campuses in March 2020, students and staff went about a normal day inside a classroom without a face covering.
  • Months after Los Angeles rolled out a vaccination requirement for city workers, the city said it terminated 24 employees for violating those rules, including a dozen workers at the Los Angeles Fire Department.
  • Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine works in babies, toddlers and preschoolers, the company said. In the coming weeks, the company will ask regulators in the U.S. and Europe to authorize two small-dose shots for children under 6.
  • The number of new coronavirus cases globally increased by 7% in the last week, driven largely by rising infections in the Western Pacific.

Stay up to date on variant developments, case counts and vaccine news with Coronavirus Today.

How corruption spoiled reparations for Armenian genocide victims

By many estimates, a million Armenians died in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1920, one of the first genocides in a century that would be defined by mass killings. Ignored by most of the world and denied by the Turkish government, the Armenian slaughter was considered for generations a “perfect genocide,” its victims forgotten, its perpetrators unpunished.

Then, in the mid-2000s, court cases in Los Angeles, home to one of the largest Armenian communities outside Armenia, delivered a measure of justice that history had long denied. Three Armenian American attorneys sued to collect life insurance policies on victims of the genocide, and came away with a pair of class-action settlements totaling $37.5 million. Finally, in an American courtroom, the genocide was treated as fact.

In the decade that followed, however, the much hoped-for reparations devolved into a corrupted process marked by diverted funds and misconduct that even the lawyers involved characterized as fraud, The Times found in an investigation that drew on newly unsealed case filings, other court documents, official records and interviews.

Can melatonin gummies solve family bedtime struggles? Experts advise caution

Throughout history, parents have searched for the secret to a smoother bedtime. In recent years, melatonin supplements have become a common child sleep aid that in the U.S. requires no prescription and is only lightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

In 2021, Americans spent $1.09 billion overall on melatonin supplements, according to data provided by NielsenIQ. Meanwhile, the number of reports of melatonin poisoning involving young children more than doubled from 2017 through 2021, according to the American Assn. of Poison Control Centers.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends against the use of melatonin for chronic insomnia in both adults and children and will soon release a health advisory stating that it should not be used in children without a physician’s supervision.

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A woman holds a baby close.
Inside a makeshift nursery in Ukraine. Svetlana Stetsiuk, on the nursing staff, tries to comfort an infant at a nursery underground on the outskirts of Kyiv this week. More war photos from Marcus Yam.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)


Former Cal State Northridge President Jolene Koester is named interim CSU chancellor. Koester, 74, will assume the role on May 1 and serve for 12 months while the Board of Trustees searches for a permanent chancellor after last month’s abrupt resignation of Joseph I. Castro, who was under scrutiny over how he handled allegations of sexual misconduct by a top administrator.

CSU officially drops SAT and ACT admissions requirements. Trustees of the largest four-year university system in the nation agreed to permanently drop the SAT and ACT standardized tests in the admissions process, solidifying the state’s national role in eliminating the high-stakes exams because of equity concerns.

All LAUSD first-graders now have a college savings account. Will families use them? The program, Opportunity LA, is aimed at encouraging families to begin saving early by removing barriers like paperwork and eligibility concerns. But a study found fewer Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and Native American families made deposits than white families, especially after the first year.

A year after Echo Park Lake encampment’s removal, few are in permanent housing, a report finds. Researchers analyzed data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and found that of the 183 people who were on the “Echo Park Lake placements list,” only 17 were placed in some form of long-term housing, including subsidized rentals and permanent supportive housing.

A planned aerial gondola at Dodger Stadium sparks fears of accelerated gentrification. The California Endowment filed a writ of mandate in Los Angeles County Superior Court contending the Metropolitan Transportation Authority fast-tracked the project without public vetting in a “sweetheart deal” with former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt’s Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transit Technologies.

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Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. secretary of State, dies at 84. A native of Prague, Marie Jana Korbelova came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1948 and steadily rose to become one of America’s chief policy shapers. President Clinton chose Albright as America’s top diplomat in 1996.

Taliban cancels education for girls beyond sixth grade, despite its pledge not to. The decision came at the start of the new school year in Afghanistan. It is bound to disrupt the Taliban’s efforts to win recognition from potential international donors, at a time when the country is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Trump advisor Paul Manafort is removed from a plane for a revoked passport. Manafort, 72, led Donald Trump’s campaign for several months during the 2016 presidential race but was ousted in August of that year after revelations about his business dealings in Ukraine.


‘Licorice Pizza’ made Asians a ‘punchline.’ And the fallout is bigger than the Oscars. Paul Thomas Anderson‘s shaggy ‘70s coming-of-age dramedy has garnered more than 125 award season accolades. But the film, which is up for best picture, director and original screenplay Oscars, has also faced accusations of anti-Asian racism.

Here’s how the Oscars red carpet will change for this year’s controversial TV plan. This year, the film academy has thrown a wrench into preparations for the big night: Organizers want everyone to get there early. And in a town that practically invented the concept of “fashionably late,” that’s no small thing.

Directors Guild orders members off ‘Rust’ producer’s new movie. In a recent note to members, the union said it had pulled its backing of the project, citing safety concerns. The decision in effect bars directors, assistant directors and unit production managers from working on the Georgia production.


That big tech exodus out of California turns out to be a bust. Stories of discontented California entrepreneurs decamping for up-and-coming new hubs are common fodder in the news. But new studies found that the largest established hubs as a group “slightly increased their share” of national high-tech employment, business columnist Michael Hiltzik writes.


After a ‘crash course’ in the outfield, the Dodgers’ Gavin Lux is preparing for a utility role. After blossoming in a utility role at the end of last season, Lux understood it was something he needed to do — adding outfield work into his offseason routine.

How Jaime Jaquez Jr. became the UCLA Bruins’ toughest player. Jaquez hails from a competitive Mexican American family, which explains how he manages to push through injuries to play.

U.S. and Mexico soccer will play in a World Cup qualifier at Azteca, possibly for the last time. If the heat, the altitude and the passionate fans at Mexico’s iconic fortress home don’t get you, the smog will. But with changes ahead to the current qualifying format, the match could be the last of its kind between the two intense rivals.

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Only Karen Bass knew Rule No. 1 in the mayoral debate: Don’t help Rick Caruso steal the show, writes columnist Mary McNamara. It took only a few minutes for the Los Angeles mayoral debate to turn the spotlight to Caruso, and Councilmen Kevin de León and Joe Buscaino and City Atty. Mike Feuer did it for him.


Belle Dankongkakul waters plants at Stuff
Belle Dankongkakul waters plants at Stuff, with Hollywood Boulevard in the background.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Belle Dankongkakul left her corporate job as a visual merchandiser three years ago and did what she refers to as a “classic millennial plant pivot.” She asked her mom if she could take over the storage space next to Torung, the family’s Thai-Chinese restaurant in L.A. She now works two full-time jobs: running her new plant shop, Stuff, during the day and cooking, waiting tables, even washing dishes, at Torung most nights till midnight.

At Stuff, tropical plants and succulents are displayed alongside gifts and ceramics by Los Angeles artists, writes The Times’ Lisa Boone: handmade weavings and velour macramé planters by Dapper House Menagerie, delicate ceramics by L.A.-based Thai ceramicist Echo Azure and Concrete Geometric, as well as affordably priced vintage clothing and plant accessories. Dankongkakul’s sense of style and humor comes through in products such as tiny planters dripping with sparkling disco balls, miniature grab-and-go succulents and a discounted “Sad Plants Sale.”


Aerial view of a large valley, with wispy clouds above.
The view north of the Owens Valley from high on Horseshoe Meadow Road above Lone Pine in May 2015.
(Los Angeles Times)

Saturday marks the 150th anniversary of the Owens Valley earthquake. It struck at 2:30 a.m. March 26, 1872, and was centered in a sparsely populated region south of Yosemite. According to a UC Berkeley seismology blog in 2019: “Although no seismographs recorded the 1872 quake, modern calculations assign it a magnitude of 7.8 to 7.9,” and it could have exceeded 8. That would make it stronger than the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake. A Sierra College publication reported in 2006: “At Big Pine … a large fissure opened from 50 to 200 feet wide and 20 feet deep, running close along the base of the Sierra Nevada. Along several sections of the road the earth was thrown up five to ten feet.”

The mining camp of Lone Pine, where structures were mostly made of adobe bricks, took the brunt of the destruction: 27 people were killed — more than 10% of the population — and 52 of 59 buildings were destroyed. On April 6, 1905, The Times recalled the quake, including an anecdote about one Lone Pine survivor with a happy outcome. William Covington was sleeping in a “large store, crowded with goods” when it collapsed with the quake and a fire ignited near powder kegs, where the store owner was “held fast in the wreck. … Covington made his way to his friend, managed to extinguish the fire and got the powder kegs covered securely from sparks. He then got [the owner] free from the ruin and conveyed him to a place of safety.”

Naturalist John Muir is said to have dashed out of his remote Yosemite cabin when the earthquake struck: “I ran out of my cabin near the Sentinel rock, both glad and frightened, shouting, ‘A noble earthquake!’ … The shocks were so violent and varied and succeeded one another so closely, one had to balance in walking as if on the deck of a ship among the waves.”

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