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5 things to know for March 21: Ukraine, Supreme Court, Covid-19, Gas tax, Myanmar

By Alexandra Meeks, CNN

More than 20 million people across the Southeast US are bracing for extreme weather this week — including tornadoes, damaging winds and very large hail. The severe storms will be felt across the Gulf Coast region, but portions of Louisiana and Mississippi are expected to be hit the hardest.

Here’s what you need to know to Get Up to Speed and On with Your Day.

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1. Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is appealing for ceasefire talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but US and NATO officials say Putin has not backed off his original demands. Last week, Putin laid out several issues to achieve a ceasefire with Ukraine, including a demand for Ukraine’s neutrality — or an assurance that Ukraine would not become a NATO member. Zelensky has indicated that he is willing to consider a neutrality policy under certain conditions to help bring an end to the violence. However, Ukrainian and Russian negotiators have met four times since the start of Russia’s invasion with no major resolution on Putin’s other demands. Russia had set a deadline for authorities in Mariupol to surrender the city, but that deadline has passed, with Ukrainians rejected that ultimatum. Russia is now likely to prioritize attempting to encircle Kyiv over the coming weeks, the UK defense ministry said. Separately, four journalists have so far been killed reporting on the war and many more are injured or missing.

Want to help? Learn how to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine here. CNN’s audience has contributed more than $6.3 million to the humanitarian relief work according to Public Good, the online donation platform partnering with CNN.

2. Supreme Court

Confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson are set to begin later today. Jackson, who is poised to be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, will be formally introduced during televised hearings at 11 a.m. ET today, followed by two days of questioning and one day of testimony from additional witnesses. President Joe Biden chose Jackson to succeed retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. She is a former federal public defender who has sat on lower US courts for nearly a decade. The Harvard Law graduate also served early in her career as a law clerk to Breyer. Democratic leaders have set a goal of reaching a final Senate vote by early April. Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was admitted to a hospital late Friday “after experiencing flu-like symptoms,” the court’s public information office said, adding that he does not have Covid-19.

3. Coronavirus

A new study found that the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine remains durable and effective, even through the surge of cases caused by the Delta variant. The research, outlined in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, found that the J&J shot was 76% effective in preventing Covid-19 infections and 81% effective in preventing Covid-related hospitalizations. The study also showed that it provided lasting immunity at least six months after the shots. A CNN analysis of information collected by the CDC showed the J&J vaccine also had the lowest breakthrough infection rate of all the vaccines since the week ending December 25, 2021. On the other hand, breakthrough infections during the Omicron surge were highest among those who received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, followed by those who got the Moderna vaccine, the same study shows.

4. Gas Tax

As many Americans struggle to deal with the swift and sudden rise in gas prices, some states are temporarily suspending their gas tax to help drivers save several dollars at the pump. Lawmakers in California, which has the highest gas tax in the country at 51-cents-per-gallon, are proposing a $400 gas tax rebate, after state Democrats previously shot down a gas tax pause. Lawmakers say the rebate will cover the cost of the current gas tax for a full year for most drivers. Two states have already enacted laws suspending the gas tax and more states are expected to follow. Georgia announced a suspension of its $0.29 cent tax per gallon on regular fuel. In Maryland, lawmakers passed a gas tax holiday for 30 days starting Friday, ending April 16. The national average gas price currently stands at $4.25 per gallon.

5. Myanmar

The Biden administration has formally determined that Myanmar’s military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority encompassing about 1 million people. Later today, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will publicly announce the determination — a move which human rights groups have been advocating for years. Until now, the US had stopped short of declaring the atrocities — including mass killings and rape — committed in 2017 against the Muslim minority Rohingya population a genocide. The violence forced nearly a million people to flee, and the United Nations recommended that top military officials face genocide charges. To date, Myanmar views the Rohingya as illegal immigrants and intruders from across the border. Current laws in the region discriminate against the Rohingya, and infringe on their freedom of movement, education and employment, according to Human Rights Watch.


Annual list of most popular dog breeds

Hint: Husky didn’t make the list this year! Do you think you can guess the most pawpular dog breeds?

Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher raise $30 million in donations for Ukrainian refugees

Fun fact: Mila Kunis was born in Ukraine in the 80s. Major props to this celeb duo for organizing such a massive relief effort.

All-Black women’s World War II unit to be awarded Congressional Gold Medal

Bet you didn’t know that a group of Black women sorted millions of pieces of mail during World War II. View these images to experience a flashback in time.

Michigan man wins $4 million on scratch-off lottery game

Wow, if only we were this lucky!

Kanye West was pulled from performing at this year’s Grammys due to “concerning online behavior”

You never know what to expect when Kanye posts on social media


Chinese airliner carrying 132 people crashes in southern China

A China Eastern Airlines jetliner carrying 132 people crashed in the mountains in southern China’s Guangxi region earlier today, according to China’s Civil Aviation Administration. The Boeing-737 was en route from the southwestern city of Kunming to Guangzhou when it lost contact over the city of Wuzhou. Rescue teams are en route to the accident scene, where there is fire visible, but the casualties are unknown, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported.



That’s about how many acres have burned across Texas in the past week due to more than 175 wildfires, the state’s forest service said yesterday. At least one person has died as a result of the flames.


“The live performance in our park did not reflect our core values, and we regret it took place.”

— A Disney spokesperson, condemning a performance at its Orlando theme park by a high school cheerleading squad after it received backlash for the routine’s depictions of Native Americans. In a widely circulated video, the Port Neches-Groves High School “Indianettes” from Texas are dancing and chanting “scalp ’em Indians, scalp ’em” in a performance that appears to appropriate Native American culture in a parade at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. A spokesperson from the school defended the routine, saying the cheerleaders had performed the same moves at Disney before with no issue.


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Happy World Poetry Day!

Imagine spoken word poetry… but without spoken words! Check out these talented poets who perform in American Sign Language. (Click here to view)

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