First Thing: unprecedented wildfires hit Alaska and Europe suffers record heat | US news

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Good morning.

Alaska has experienced more than 500 forest fires since the beginning of April, which have forced the evacuation of mining camps, villages and remote cabins.

By 15 June, more than 1m acres (405,000 hectares) in the state had already gone up in flames, about the area that would normally burn in an entire fire season. By mid-July, more than 3m acres of land had burned, putting the state at risk of breaking its 2004 record of 6.5m acres (2.6m hectares) burned.

Today, 264 individual fires are burning across the state. “It’s unprecedented,” said Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the International Arctic Research Center in Fairbanks, of this year’s fires.

Meanwhile, firefighters continued to battle blazes in southern Europe as searing temperatures moved north and Britain braces itself for what could be its hottest day on record, with experts blaming the climate crisis and predicting more frequent extreme weather to come.

  • Is it really all down to the climate crisis? Thoman says the rising temperatures are playing a big part. “It’s not only Alaska,” he says. “Across the board in the Arctic and the sub-Arctic, you’re seeing this increase in fires. Taking into consideration the lightning, the drought, the early snowmelt – there’s just no doubt the warming planet is playing a huge role in this.”

  • What’s happening in France? Meteorologists have warned of a “heat apocalypse” in western France as more than 8,500 further people fled their homes to escape a large wildfire sparked by a searing southern European heatwave that has already caused hundreds of deaths.

Steve Bannon appears in court as contempt-of-Congress trial begins

Steve Bannon leaves court after appearing on charges of contempt of Congress.
Steve Bannon leaves court after appearing on charges of contempt of Congress. Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP

With jury selection nearly complete, opening arguments are expected to take place on Tuesday in the federal trial against Steve Bannon, the top former Trump strategist charged with contempt of Congress after he failed to comply with a subpoena from the House January 6 committee.

Bannon appeared in federal court on Monday as his trial formally opened in Washington. The far-right provocateur – one of the principal architects of Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election – is attempting to argue that he did not wilfully fail to comply with the subpoena, which sought documents and testimony.

The DC district court judge Carl Nichols is expected to proceed to opening arguments in the contempt trial once the final 12-person jury, with two alternates, is seated from a group of 22 prospective jurors, which was whittled down from an initial pool of 60 DC residents.

  • What has he been charged with? Bannon is charged with two counts of criminal contempt of Congress. He was referred to the justice department by the House of Representatives after his failure to testify and turn over documents as demanded by a subpoena from the select committee late last year.

  • Why did the panel want Bannon to testify? The panel noted he spoke to Trump the day before the Capitol attack and helped the Trump “war room” at the Willard hotel strategize on how to stop the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election win.

Pro-Israel hardliners spend millions to transform Democratic primaries

Representative Donna Edwards of Maryland.
Representative Donna Edwards of Maryland. Hardline groups have spent millions to oppose her primary bid. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Pro-Israel lobby groups have poured millions of dollars into a Democratic primary for a Maryland congressional seat, in the latest attempt to block an establishment candidate who expressed support for Palestinians.

A surge in political spending by organisations funded by hardline supporters of Israel, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), has reshaped Democratic primaries over recent months even though debate about the country rarely figures as a major issue in the elections.

Critics accuse Aipac and its allies of distorting Democratic politics in part because much of the money used to influence primary races comes from billionaire Republicans.

Aipac has spent $6m on Tuesday’s contest in Maryland, more than any other organisation, to oppose Donna Edwards, who served eight years as the first Black woman elected to Congress from Maryland before losing a bid for the Senate in 2016.

  • Why do they want Edwards to lose? She angered some pro-Israel groups during her stint as a representative for failing to back resolutions in support of Israel over its 2011 war in Gaza and other positions. She also backed the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran when it was strongly opposed by the Israeli government and therefore Aipac.

In other news …

Waves crash over two-storey buildings in Hawaii.
‘Historic’ waves crash over two-storey buildings in Hawaii. Composite: Isabella Sloan via Storyful
  • Towering waves on Hawaii’s south shores crashed into homes and businesses, spilled across highways and upended weddings over the weekend. The large waves, some more than 20ft (6 metres) high, came from a combination of a strong south swell, particularly high tides and rising sea levels.

  • Thieves in California stole millions of dollars’ worth of jewelry and gemstones after breaking into an unattended security vehicle on its way back from a jewelry show, police said. The robbery took place in a remote rest stop in southern California last week after the vehicle’s two armed guardsleft.

  • Vladimir Putin has arrived in Tehran on his second visit outside Russia since the start of the Ukraine war, where he will hold talks on lifting the Ukrainian grain blockade, the future of Syria and the chances of reviving the Iran nuclear deal with his Turkish and Iranian counterparts.

  • Police in Japan are searching for a wild monkey that has attacked 10 people in the space of a fortnight. The attacks began on 8 July in the Ogōri district of Yamaguchi prefecture in the south-west. In the most serious incident, it badly scratched an infant after invading a family home.

Stat of the day: £187m of British royal family wealth hidden in secret wills

Left to right; King Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor, Alexander William George Duff, Duke of Fife, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and Princess Margaret
Left to right; King Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor; Alexander William George Duff, Duke of Fife; Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; and Princess Margaret. Composite: Hulton Archive/W and D Downey/Tim Graham Photo Library/Kypros/Getty ImagesGetty Images

Generations of the royal family have concealed details of assets worth more than £180m through a series of legal applications that have been granted in total secrecy. The assets are outlined in 33 wills that were drawn up by members of the Windsor family over more than a century. The family have been able to keep secret the contents of the wills by securing a special carve-out from a law that normally requires British wills to be published, enabling them to avoid the public seeing what kinds of assets – such as property, jewels and cash – have been accumulated.

Don’t miss this: 50 years later, the truth behind American Pie

Don McLean in 1974.
‘This film was a concerted effort to raise the curtain’ … Don McLean in 1974. Photograph: Michael Putland/Getty Images

Throughout the years, journalists have subjected American Pie to a Talmudic level of scrutiny, while its songwriter, Don McLean, has doled out dribs and drabs of insight into his intent. By contrast, a new documentary offers the first line-by-line deconstruction of the song’s lyrics, as well as the most detailed analysis to date of its musical evolution. “I told Don: ‘It’s time for you to reveal what 50 years of journalists have wanted to know’,” said Spencer Proffer, who has produced a comprehensive new documentary about the song. “This film was a concerted effort to raise the curtain.”

Climate check: this heatwave has eviscerated the idea that small changes can tackle extreme weather

Firefighters try to control a forest fire in Louchats, south-west France.
Firefighters try to control a forest fire in Louchats, south-west France. Photograph: Thibaud Moritz/AFP/Getty Images

“Can we talk about it now? I mean the subject most of the media and most of the political class has been avoiding for so long. You know, the only subject that ultimately counts – the survival of life on Earth,” writes George Monbiot. “We have seen nothing yet. Dangerous heat is already becoming normal in southern Europe, and would be counted among the cooler days during hot periods in parts of the Middle East, Africa and south Asia, where heat is becoming a regular threat to life. Systems need to urgently change – and the silence needs to be broken.”

Last Thing: standing up for asylum seekers: refugees learn the art of comedy

Microphone on a stage
‘Comedy is a way you can send strong messages to people without them feeling bored.’ Photograph: Edward Herdwick/Alamy

In Athens, a handful of novice standups are at the mic after taking part in a series of comedy workshops. Migration is the uncharacteristically hilarious topic at the heart of this comedy show, which is performed by refugees and asylum seekers as part of Refugee Week. Explaining its appeal, one of the organisers, Vasileia Vaxevani, says: “The conversation is always: ‘Oh, that poor immigrant or refugee, poor Afghan, poor Syrian.’” But these amateur comedians are “real people, they have interesting stories, they’ve had whole, funny lives”, he says.

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