2014 Watch
July 15, 2014
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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] Eric Kleefeld

This just in
8:25 a.m. ET
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U.S. Park Police and the Metropolitan Police Department are responding to reports of gunmen at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., WUSA9 reports. The buildings are on lockdown, and there are no known casualties. The U.S. Navy in a tweet confirmed the lockdown, but said, "No incident can be confirmed as of yet." WUSA9 adds that Navy Security is reporting two shooters, one white and one black male.

In 2013, gunman Aaron Alexis killed 12 at the Navy Yard. Across the nation, security has already been heightened ahead of potential threats during the July 4th weekend.

This is a breaking story. Check back for updates. Jeva Lange

Fire Starter
8:13 a.m. ET
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Never one to underachieve, Billy Joel played his 65th show at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, surpassing Elton John's record for the most concerts performed in the 20,000-person venue.

"I didn't know I'd be here 65 times," Joel modestly told the crowd.

During Joel's record-breaking performance a banner boasting his achievement was raised in the stadium. Joel already had a banner in MSG for most consecutive shows — 19.

But there was no ill will toward John, whose 64 shows were being topped. Joel tipped his hat to his friend by playing John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" in tribute, in addition to his own hits — including "Only the Good Die Young," "We Didn't Start the Fire," "Uptown Girl," and "It's Still Rock 'n' Roll to Me."

A Bronx-native, Joel played his first show at MSG in 1978; last year he began a residency at the Garden, announcing he'd play a show a month for "as long as there is demand." Tickets to his August through December shows are available on Ticketmaster, but best be quick: all five are almost sold out. Jeva Lange

Stars and Bars
8:13 a.m. ET
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There's been a tectonic shift in the politics of the Confederate battle flag since the murder of nine black worshippers at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church on June 17. But there hasn't been much of a shift in how Americans view the flag, according to a June 26-28 CNN/ORC poll released Thursday. Overall, 57 percent of Americans say the Confederate flag is more a symbol or Southern pride than racism — about the same as in 2000 — but that number hides some sharp racial divides.

Among white respondents, 66 percent picked Southern pride, versus 17 percent of blacks. On the other hand, 72 percent of black respondents saw more racism than pride in the flag, as did 25 percent of whites. In the South, the split was starker: 75 percent white and 11 percent black favoring Southern pride, 75 percent black and 18 percent black calling it a symbol of racism. Among all whites, those with college educations were more likely to see racism than whites without a college education, the poll found.

When it comes to what actually happened in the South after the shooting, majorities of all respondents approve: Removing the Confederate flag from (non-museum) government property wins 55 percent to 43 percent, and 50 percent backs the decisions of private companies to stop selling or manufacturing the flag, versus 47 who oppose the decision. You can find more numbers at CNN. Peter Weber

Train Trouble
7:29 a.m. ET
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Over 5,000 residents in Maryville, Tennessee, have been evacuated after a freight train carrying "highly flammable and toxic gas" ran off the tracks and caught fire, NBC reports. The evacuation zone, which has been established just outside of Knoxville, has a radius of over two miles and could be in place for up to 48 hours, the fire department said.

The train was carrying acrylonitrile, which is used to manufacture acrylic fibers. When inhaled, the gas can cause membrane and kidney irritation, headaches, and nausea. Three train cars burst into flames after the derailment; seven officers were hospitalized after breathing the fumes. Jeva Lange

Airline Tragedies
6:53 a.m. ET

On Thursday, Taiwan's Aviation Safety Council (ASC) released a more detailed preliminary report on the Feb. 4 crash of TransAsia Airways Flight 235 into Taipei's Keelung River, and though the report doesn't assign blame, the plane's pilot, Capt. Liao Jian-zong, doesn't come out looking very good. Forty-three people died in the crash, including Liao and the copilot, and 15 survived.

Liao, 41, switched off the ATR 72-600's only working engine right before it crashed, the ASC reports, and didn't recognize his mistake in time. "Wow, pulled back the wrong side throttle," Liao was heard saying on the voice recorder seconds before the plane clipped a highway and crashed into the shallow river. The final words on the recording are from a junior officer: "Impact, impact, brace for impact."

In May 2014, Liao had failed flight simulator training after instructors found that he often failed to complete preflight procedures and checks and had poor "cockpit management and flight planning" skills, Reuters reports. He passed the test a month later, earning his promotion to captain, but instructors noted during training a week later that he was "prone to be nervous and may make oral errors during the engine start procedure." Last November, an instructor advised that Liao "may need extra training" regarding engine failures after takeoff, the ASC found. The ASC's final report will be released next April, with a draft coming out this November. You can learn more in the Reuters video below. Peter Weber

Noted
5:47 a.m. ET

Polygamist Nathan Collier, who has appeared on the TLC reality show Sister Wives, said Wednesday that he had applied for a marriage license with his second wife, Christine, claiming he was inspired by last week's Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. The reality TV star and his wives Victoria and Christine applied in Billings, Montana. Collier said he would sue if the application is turned down. "It's about marriage equality," he said. "You can't have this without polygamy."

Collier says he asked the ACLU of Montana to help him if he decides a lawsuit is necessary. ACLU legal director Jim Taylor tells The Associated Press that while he hasn't seen Collier's request and had no opinion about his case, the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling "is about something very different." Harold Maass

Maritime disasters
5:13 a.m. ET

On Thursday, a ferry carrying 173 passengers and 16 crew sank minutes after leaving Ormoc city on Leyte Island in the Philippines, killing 36 people and leaving 118 survivors; 19 passengers are still missing. The MBCA Kim-Nirvana was en route to Camotes island, about 27 miles to the south, when its bow hit a big wave and the ferry capsized, survivors tell The Associated Press.

Maritime accidents are unfortunately common in the Philippines, a populous archipelago made up of 7,100 islands. Peter Weber

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