Today’s Headlines: Russia attacks Ukraine

By Elvia Limón, Laura Blasey and Amy Hubbard

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

TOP STORIES

Putin says he is proceeding with a military operation in Ukraine

While the U.N. Security Council was meeting to avert war, several loud explosions were reportedly heard outside the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, early Thursday, as Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his forces were conducting a military operation to disarm the country but not take it over, Business Law.

The move was a stunning — if expected — play from a leader who for weeks has massed his troops on Ukraine’s borders while brandishing threatening rhetoric and snubbing diplomacy.

Huge traffic snarls formed in Kyiv as residents tried to flee the Ukrainian capital. Video showed Russian armored vehicles advancing into mainland Ukraine from Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow illegally seized eight years ago. Ukrainian air-traffic controllers sealed off the country’s airspace “due to the high risk of aviation safety for civil aviation.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law in his embattled nation and encouraged his compatriots to take up arms.

The latest incursion shatters nearly three decades of relative peace in Europe and is certain to elicit a forceful response from the U.S. and NATO. Both Washington and its transatlantic allies have promised to impose even harsher sanctions than those enacted just days ago.

But Putin, who vowed to protect the Russia-backed separatist eastern region of Ukraine, was unbowed and belligerent, warning other countries to stay out of the conflict or risk “consequences they have never seen.”

President Biden swiftly condemned Russia’s attack and said he would be meeting with other world leaders on Thursday to discuss a response, Business Law.

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More on Ukraine

L.A. County establishments can drop mask rules with vaccine verification

Individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be able to shed their masks in certain indoor settings in Los Angeles County starting at 12:01 a.m. Friday. The revised rules will make masking optional indoors at establishments, businesses or venues that screen the vaccination status of their visitors or patrons, according to a statement from the county Department of Public Health.

According to the county, establishments that want to allow fully vaccinated customers to go maskless indoors can do so — as long as they verify that all customers are either fully vaccinated or have recently tested negative for the coronavirus.

Unvaccinated individuals would still need to wear masks indoors. That rule is in place statewide. And places without vaccine verification will remain subject to the county’s standing indoor mask mandate, which applies to all residents regardless of vaccination status.

More top coronavirus headlines

  • Nearly two-thirds of California voters, including a majority of parents, support mask and vaccine mandates in K-12 schools, according to a poll conducted this month by the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley and co-sponsored by the L.A. Times.
  • Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline say data from a trial show that two doses of their belated COVID-19 vaccine have 100% efficacy against severe illness and hospitalizations and 58% efficacy against any symptomatic COVID-19 disease.
  • Although Omicron has spread quickly and infected millions of people, experts say it’s not likely that the variant, or any other strain, will lead to herd immunity.

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

Permit problems stall Huntington Beach oil spill investigation

A federal investigation into the October oil spill that tarred the Orange County coast has been stalled for several months while officials wait for permission to cut apart, remove and analyze a portion of the ruptured pipeline. That analysis, which was expected to start in 2021, could help determine how long ago the damage to the pipeline occurred, a key factor in determining responsibility for the disaster, Business Law.

Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board investigators currently must rely on video captured during underwater inspections of the pipeline. Without more detailed forensic examination of the damage in a laboratory, investigators won’t know if they should continue pursuing their initial line of inquiry or shift the probe in a new direction.

O.C. Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer defends repeating the N-word when quoting hate speech

Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer is facing increasing scrutiny after a video of his saying the N-word while describing two racist incidents surfaced this week. Spitzer repeated the slur during a speech he delivered to the Iranian American Bar Assn. in November 2019, outlining the rise in hate crimes in Orange County and describing several cases his office had recently prosecuted. The presentation was recorded and posted to YouTube.

The video comes on the heels of racist comments Spitzer allegedly made while discussing the case of a Black murder defendant. Spitzer, who is running for a second term as Orange County district attorney against two challengers, has faced a loss of political support and calls to resign since the alleged comments came to light last week.

More politics

  • A group of truckers similar to those whose defiant blockades have shut down border crossings into the U.S. and Canada for weeks are bringing their protests over COVID-19 mandates to California.
  • Tuesday night’s Los Angeles mayoral debate at Loyola Marymount University didn’t offer much in the way of fireworks from the stage. However, plenty of fireworks came from the audience.

Sign up for our California Politics newsletter to get the best of The Times’ state politics reporting and the latest action in Sacramento.

El Salvador president’s Bitcoin experiment is costing his nation millions

A power-hungry populist who brands himself the “CEO of El Salvador,” President Nayib Bukele has become one of the world’s foremost Bitcoin evangelists since pushing a law through Congress that requires businesses to accept the cryptocurrency for goods and services. His grand plan has so far produced tepid results.

El Salvador is believed to have lost as much as $22 million in reserves thanks to dramatic plunges in the cryptocurrency’s value. Fraud targeting users of the country’s official Bitcoin wallet, known as Chivo, has been widespread, with at least 1,000 people reporting that their identities were stolen through the app.

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PHOTO OF THE DAY

A rare twos-day. Lucky numbers and palindromes are big business for the wedding industry. County clerks offices in Southern California held extended hours due to high demand on Tuesday — 2-22-22. Carlos Lira, left, of Chino Hills, and Precious Rodriguez-Lira were among couples who tied the knot at the Old County Courthouse in Santa Ana.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

CALIFORNIA

A Dodgers fan says he was partially blinded by an LAPD projectile at World Series celebration. In a lawsuit, Isaac Castellanos said he was peacefully celebrating the Dodgers’ win near what is now called Crypto.com Arena in downtown Los Angeles when an LAPD officer fired a projectile at him during an unruly celebration.

L.A.’s $1.2-billion bond measure may not be enough to tackle homelessness, an audit finds. Costs for Proposition HHH-funded projects continued to rise — with the most expensive one coming in at $837,000 per housing unit — and only half the projects are scheduled to be ready for occupancy by 2023, the audit found.

California officials approve a plan to crack down on microplastics polluting the ocean. State officials move to limit single-use plastics, and to filter out the toxic pollutants before they reach the oceans. The policy again puts California in the world’s vanguard for environmentalism.

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NATION-WORLD

Prosecutors in charge of Manhattan district attorney’s criminal probe of Trump resign. The two prosecutors in charge of the Manhattan district attorney’s criminal investigation into former President Trump suddenly resigned Wednesday, throwing the future of the probe into question.

A Manhattan judge says Sarah Palin is seeking a new trial in her New York Times defamation lawsuit. Palin, a former Republican vice presidential candidate, claimed in her 2017 lawsuit that the newspaper libeled her the same year with an editorial about gun control. The New York Times maintained that it quickly corrected any errors in the editorial and had made an “honest mistake” that was never meant to harm Palin.

Out of the global spotlight, a revived Iran nuclear deal appears imminent. After months of negotiations in Vienna, the various sides have indicated that a new deal is close, perhaps in the coming days. But instead of the “longer, stronger” agreement originally promised by the U.S., the deal is expected to do little more than reinstate the original pact.

Methane emissions are far higher than what countries claim, world energy agency says. The International Energy Agency said Wednesday that its analysis shows emissions are 70% higher than the official figures provided by governments worldwide.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Women who starred with Jerry Lewis in the ’60s have accused him of sexual misconduct. With no settlements to be had, no apologies to be heard, a number of women who were up-and-coming in Hollywood in the 1960s are speaking out against the late powerful performer who they say sexually harassed them in his prime.

“Jihad Rehab” started a furor at Sundance. But the problem is bigger than one film. The issue at the core of the maelstrom is not so much the text of the film as the fact that it was made by a white, non-Muslim filmmaker and arrived at a moment in which the debate over who is allowed to tell whose story was already at a boiling point, writes The Times’ Lorraine Ali.

The husband of the cinematographer killed on the “Rust” movie set blames Alec Baldwin, safety violations for his wife’s death. Earlier this month, Matthew Hutchins filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Baldwin and others linked to the production.

BUSINESS

After years of pollution violations, Tesla is fined $275,000 by the EPA. The agency noted Tesla’s use of toxic chemicals in its paint shop and cited “failing to collect and keep all required records associated with the calculation of hazardous air pollutants emission rate” among the violations.

SPORTS

Five storylines to watch in the Clippers’ final seven weeks before the playoffs. The team resumes play without its two All-Star forwards yet still has a chance to make the postseason.

Michael Lynch announces his retirement from coaching after winning 10 CIF championships. He spent the last seven years at Pasadena La Salle. He’s a retired police detective who went into coaching, helping to mold teenagers into good students and good people.

A rare Kobe Bryant card sells for a record $2 million. The card shows Bryant, wearing No. 8, passing a basketball in front of an emerald background. The card doesn’t have an autograph nor is it a rookie card.

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OPINION

No, homeless people are not everywhere. Just ask someone counting them. Volunteering for the annual homeless count in Los Angeles does not mean you will definitely see homeless people.

FDA should pull the ineffective pregnancy drug Makena until we know it works. The FDA determined that Makena, a drug to prevent premature births, doesn’t work. Until the company presents strong evidence otherwise, pull the drug.

ONLY IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Urban forests are in peril, but “Garden Bro” is here to help. With his tousled black hair and heart-melting smile, Gabe Verduzco certainly has the looks of an influencer. But he’s making his mark on social media by posting pictures of insects and native flowers, or himself in an orange workman’s vest climbing a massive oak tree in search of tiny beetles threatening our urban trees.

His main gig is as a research associate for the UC Cooperative Extension’s Agriculture and Natural Resources division, crawling around big urban trees like oaks and sycamores searching for the invasive shothole borer and the goldspotted oak borer — rice-size beetles that have killed many thousands of Southern California oaks, sycamores, willows and other trees since they were discovered less than 20 years ago and could well destroy many of our urban trees if left unchecked.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

A group of young people and several older men stand next to a train with the U.S. seal on its side.

Feb. 24, 1948: Former Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson, in the center of a group of young people, awaits a tour of the Freedom Train during its Los Angeles stop.

(Los Angeles Times)

Seventy-four years ago today, the Freedom Train stopped in Los Angeles. The train had begun a nationwide trek in September 1947, carrying a whole trove of irreplaceable U.S. historical documents. It was a postwar effort at boosting national pride. The 126 documents were priceless, and yet they were insured. They included the Bill of Rights (insured for $225,000), the Emancipation Proclamation ($60,000) and Washington’s own copy of the Constitution ($10,000), according to the National Archives.

At the White House kickoff for the journey, concerns were raised about “the contradictions between some of the documents the train would carry and the practice of segregation.” It was determined that there would be no segregated viewing of the documents, which proved a problem when the train swung into the South. Birmingham, Ala., and Memphis, Tenn., refused to comply, so the train passed them by. It wound up its 413-day tour on Jan. 22, 1949.

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