2014 Watch
July 15, 2014
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A new pair of NBC News/Marist polls shows Democrats ahead for two Senate seats, which the party must hold onto if they are to retain their Senate majority.

In the Colorado Senate race, incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall leads his Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, 48 percent to 41 percent.

In the Michigan Senate race, where longtime Democratic Sen. Carl Levin is retiring, Democratic Rep. Gary Peters leads his Republican opponent, former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, 43 percent to 37 percent.

NBC's analysis points out that the two Democratic candidates are being aided by their strong margins among women voters, with Udall ahead by 12 points among women, and Peters up by 13 points:

The Democratic path to survival in this very difficult midterm season for the party is through women. And that's especially true after the Hobby Lobby decision. There's no doubt Democrats are going to win women voters in the fall; the questions are by how much and whether it will be large enough to save the party's Senate majority. [NBC News]

Bergdahl
11:36 a.m. ET

Former Taliban prisoner Bowe Bergdahl was charged with desertion by the Army this week, nearly a year after he was returned to the United States in a controversial prisoner swap. Now, Bergdahl's lawyer is claiming that his client was not deserting his post so much as he was "absent without official leave," temporarily leaving the base to "bring what he thought were disturbing circumstances to the attention of the nearest general officer."

Bergdahl's lawyer Eugene Fidell told BloombergView that Bergdahl "had concerns about certain conditions in the unit" and that the soldier left the base to find an officer in charge to whom he could report these concerns. Bergdahl did not simply tell one of his supervising officers, Fidell says, because some of them were party to the "disturbing" behavior in question. Fidell also says Bergdahl fully intended to return to the base, but was instead captured by the Taliban shortly after leaving.

The Army charged Bergdahl with one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy this week, the latter of which carries a potential life imprisonment sentence. If Fidell is successful in proving Bergdahl was simply AWOL, his client could instead only face one month of confinement.

no business like show business
11:19 a.m. ET
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Clinton the Musical will debut off-Broadway this spring in New York, featuring dancing reporters and Lewinsky scandal prosecutor Kenneth Starr singing a number called "Sexual Relations."

The show includes plenty of jokes about Hillary Clinton's then-future political career. "That's part of the fun of doing something that's set in the past where people know what's going to happen in the future but the characters in the past don't know what's going to happen," said writer and composer Paul Hodge. "That's an opportunity for comedy."

But perhaps the most interesting feature of the 1990s retrospective musical is its inclusion of two different actors playing Bill Clinton, "one a wholesome, intelligent Clinton, and another a randy, rogue one." Hillary Clinton is the only character who can see both.

Discoveries
10:56 a.m. ET

Plenty of churches contain relics of saints, but not many of those relics were found in excavations from sixth-century churches.

Archaeologists at a medieval fortress site in Burgas, Bulgaria, found a lead vessel, which contains some of the ashes from the alleged grave of John the Apostle, in a reliquary that dates to the sixth century C.E. The reliquary, which was once part of an early Christian basilica, is named for Saint John the Theologian, who is considered one of Jesus' apostles. The vessel, which is less than an inch long, is decorated with crosses.

Milen Nikolov, director of the Burgas Regional Museum of History, said that early Christians would have believed the relic had healing properties. John the Apostle's grave in Turkey was also a pilgrimage site for early Christians seeking healing, Ancient Origins reports. Nikolov said the reliquary was "one of the most important discoveries" in the museum's history.

In addition to the relic, the archaeologists also uncovered a 10th century Bulgarian royal seal at the fortress site.

i am jack's cruel and unusual punishment
10:50 a.m. ET

The father of an inmate at a San Francisco jail blew the whistle on four guards who were forcing prisoners to fight each other on threat of torture while the guards placed bets on their performance. At this point it is unknown how long the fight club continued, but investigators suspect other prison employees were aware of it even if they did not directly participate.

"Deputy's betting against me and forcing me to fight and if I don't fight, then he's basically telling me that he was going to beat me up, cuff me, Tase me all at once," said one prisoner, Ricardo Palikiko Garcia, who was required to fight a man more than twice his weight.

The public defender involved in the case has noted that Garcia and all of the other prisoners made to fight are minorities, while the four guards are all white.

Only in America
10:48 a.m. ET
(AP Photo/Cathleen Allison, File)

A Nevada lawmaker claimed racism was no longer a problem in the U.S., then used a racially offensive term to describe a black colleague. While defending a proposed voter I.D. law, Republican assemblywoman Michele Fiore referred to Democrat Harvey Munford as a "colored man" shortly after imploring people to "stop using the race card."

Coming Soon
10:17 a.m. ET

Last year, the internet went wild over a picture of Jake Gyllenhaal in the upcoming boxing drama Southpaw. In order to convincingly play a middleweight boxing champion, the actor put on 15 pounds of muscle, resulting in a ripped physique that's miles away from the emaciated creep he played in Nightcrawler. Now, with the first Southpaw trailer, audiences can actually see Gyllenhaal in action:

Southpaw also stars Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, and 50 Cent. It hits theaters on July 31.

Quotables
9:32 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may have just announced his retirement, but he's still full of zingers.

In an interview with The New York Times about why he isn't running for re-election, Reid admits that pushing Democratic ideas in the Senate did take its toll on him.

"Like a fool, I kept coming back," Reid said of the Senate, while describing his continuous attempts to push healthcare reform. "I am so happy that we were able to get the health care bill passed," Reid said.

Reid also told the Times that he was proud to see more female senators, saying that having both male and female perspectives has "changed the dynamic of the Senate."

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