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Today: In Syria, the World’s War … and a Mad Scramble

Syrian residents of the rebel-held town of Douma, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, break their fast with the "iftar" meal on a heavily damaged street during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. (Hamza Al-Ajweh / AFP/Getty Images)

I’m Davan Maharaj, editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Times. Here are some story lines I don’t want you to miss today.

TOP STORIES

In Syria, the World’s War … and a Mad Scramble

Russia. The United States. Iran. Nations of the Middle East. The Syrian government. And a ragtag bunch of rebel groups. Together they have made Syria a theater for world power politics. On Monday, tensions between the U.S. and Russia escalated. The Russian government warned that its forces would target U.S. warplanes flying in a conflict zone of Syria after an American fighter shot down a jet belonging to Syria’s government, Russia’s ally. Iran added to the volatility when it launched its first missile strikes on Syria on Sunday. One expert said it was part of the scramble for Syria’s eastern provinces, which hold much of the country’s oil and gas wealth.

Behind Closed Doors?

How many people will be without healthcare when Senate Republicans are done with their version of a bill to repeal Obamacare? What’s the future of Medicaid for millions of other Americans? No one knows because the Republicans are working in secret. Senate Democrats launched a protest Monday against the secrecy surrounding the healthcare bill being crafted by Republican lawmakers, unveiling a plan to slow down the chamber’s work until the GOP holds a public debate on the bill. The strategy is mostly symbolic, since the Senate’s schedule is relatively open this week. Times columnist Michael Hiltzik writes that possible Medicaid spending cuts in the Senate GOP bill underscore “the necessity of putting a stop to the Senate GOP’s intention to ram their version of Obamacare repeal through to a vote without a full public airing.” Republicans are hoping to finish their bill before their Fourth of July recess.

The Hermit Kingdom’s American Victim

The University of Virginia student, who was held prisoner in North Korea for more than 17 months before he was released in a coma last week, died Monday afternoon at the age of 22. American doctors said Otto Warmbier had suffered some sort of brain damage before his release. “Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today,” Warmbier’s family said in a statement. “There’s no meaning here,” Fred Warmbier had told Fox News last week. “This is a rogue, pariah regime. They’re terrorists. They’re brutal. There’s no sense to anything here.”

Carrie Fisher’s Autopsy Reveals a Cocktail of Drugs

The Los Angeles County Coroner’s report was blunt: "How Injury Occurred: Multiple drug intake, significance not ascertained.” “Star Wars” star Carrie Fisher had traces of cocaine, methadone, MDMA (better known as ecstasy), alcohol and opiates in her system when she went into cardiac arrest on an L.A.-bound flight in December and later died, according to a Los Angeles County coroner’s report released on Monday. Fisher’s brother, Todd Fisher, responded to the official cause of death. His sister’s battle with drugs and bipolar disorder “slowly but surely put her health in jeopardy over many, many years,” he said. “I honestly hoped we would grow old together, but after her death, nobody was shocked.”

Supreme Court Considers Partisan Gerrymandering

In 2020, lawmakers around the U.S. will sit down for the momentous task of redrawing the nation’s state and congressional districts. Naturally, Democrats and Republicans would prefer to draw the maps in a way that makes seats more easily winnable. But the U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether partisan gerrymandering — the process of carving up voting districts in a way that favors one political party over another — has devolved into unconstitutional election-rigging. “The Wisconsin case of Gill vs. Whitford, to be heard in the fall, could yield one of the most important rulings on political power in decades,” reports The Times’ David G. Savage.

OUR MUST-READS FROM THE WEEKEND

— You may have seen the video of David Eubank, a former U.S. Special Forces operative turned aid worker, dodging bullets in Mosul, Iraq, to rescue a child stranded in a cluster of dead bodies. Eubank’s rescue work in one of the world’s worst war zones is driven by his faith in God. “I thought, ‘If I die doing this, my wife and kids would understand.’”

— Jeanie Buss, the controlling owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, has become the most powerful woman in sports. Her next challenge: reviving the NBA’s glamour franchise, which has missed the playoffs the last four years.

— A shopkeeper returns to the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, once a tourist hotspot, now a bullet-riddled haunt for Syrian and Russian soldiers. “I believe in Palmyra,” says Issa Khateeb, 50, one of only a few dozen residents who have returned to the war-ravaged town. “This is my home.”

— Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne examines how New York’s rising trend of “supertall” towers looks from the 92nd floor.

— Times columnist Steve Lopez says Los Angeles has become too successful for its own good: “Our attractiveness has created a housing affordability crisis with no end in sight.”

MUST-WATCH VIDEO

— A family seeks answers in disabled boy’s death: Moises Murillo, 8, fell backward in his chair at school on May 31 and died five days later.

— Truck drivers and workers who service the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports have gone on strike.

— The Clippers held a news conference to announcing the hiring of Jerry West.

CALIFORNIA

— A heat wave that’s breaking temperature records in parts of Southern California is supposed to peak on Tuesday.

— Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck voiced his support Monday for a bill that would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from carrying out immigration laws.

— Billionaire Tom Steyer has spent tens of millions funding Democratic candidates and liberal causes in California and across the country. Now he has to decide whether he wants to make the jump and run for public office.

— Uncertainty over the Trump administration’s immigration policies has made demand soar at the University of California Immigrant Legal Services Center, which provides free legal aid to students without legal status and their families.

— Liberal activists are flocking to Santa Clarita, Simi Valley and the Antelope Valley to beef up Democratic voter registration drives as the party seeks to unseat GOP Rep. Steve Knight.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— “Star Trek: Discovery,” a 15-episode prequel to the original “Star Trek” series, will launch on CBS on Sept. 24.

— The pop-up Museum of Ice Cream has extended its tenure in Los Angeles through Oct. 16. Each time new tickets have come up for sale, they’ve sold out in less than 24 hours.

— “Fantastic Four” star Miles Teller was arrested in San Diego and charged on suspicion of public drunkenness Sunday. A police officer said Teller was slurring his words and losing his balance and became uncooperative after he was taken to a detox center.

CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD

With his bowl haircut, Moe Howard was the eye-poking, pie-throwing ringleader of the Three Stooges comedy team. He was born Moses Harry Horwitz on June 19, 1897, and died May 4, 1975.

NATION-WORLD

— American involvement in the Syrian war has escalated since President Trump took office, but the administration still hasn’t laid out a long-term strategy for the conflict.

— In addition to being poorer than previous generations of women, young American women are more likely to commit suicide and be shut out of high-paying tech jobs, according to a new report by the Population Reference Bureau.

— The kidnapping of the 276 “Chibok girls” in Nigeria in 2014 sparked a global outcry that drew the attention of celebrities and former First Lady Michelle Obama. But they are only a fraction of the thousands of people who have been taken by the jihadist group Boko Haram.

— Did you know? Psychiatrists are not supposed to publicly give their opinions about politicians they haven’t examined, according to the American Psychiatric Assn. It’s called the “Goldwater rule.”

BUSINESS

— Megyn Kelly’s decision to interview conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on NBC created a storm of controversy, but viewers didn’t turn on the TV to see what the fuss was about. “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly” averaged 3.53 million viewers, the lowest figure since the program premiered earlier this month.

— Times TV critic Lorraine Ali gives low marks for Megyn Kelly’s performance in her Sunday night segment on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones: “Without much of any original reporting of her own, Kelly let tough questions just be tough questions, rather than seek accountability from Jones in his answers.”