Friday, August 12, 2016

North Carolina Gerrymander Ruled Unconstitutional But No Remedy For 2016

North Carolina's state legislative maps have been ruled unconstitutional due to racial gerrymandering. This follows the state's congressional districts also being ruled unconstitutional for the same reason. Unfortunately, the court ruled that to change the map at this late date would result in too much confusion so that the unconstitutional districts will remain in place for this fall's election. Partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina has allowed Republicans veto-proof majorities in the North Carolina legislature despite Democrats winning the popular vote across the entire state. And, incredibly, unconstitutional districts will have been in place for three of the five election cycles this decade in the state. This seems to be the new modus operandi for American politics and business. Go ahead and break the law and by the time the legal system catches up it is already too late. That is certainly the way Uber and Airbnb have worked. And the Republicans in North Carolina are doing the same. Unfortunately for Republicans, relying on these partisan and illegal gerrymanders only hides the fact of their party's increasing unpopularity. And when fairer districts are eventually redrawn and the impact of the 2020 census is also taken into account, Republicans may find themselves as a significant minority party. And they will only have their anti-democratic selves to blame. For those citizens living in these unconstitutional districts, their must and should be some fury is knowing that your constitutional right to have your vote count in 2016 has been seriously abridged and that the court is offering no remedy whatsoever. It really is just another disgrace and more shame for the ridiculous voting system we have in what is supposed to be a great democracy. And it is yet another example of the truly awful decision of the Supreme Court to roll back the Voting Rights Act.

Astronomy Adventure - More Sunspots

In between the clouds and the rainout of the Perseid meteor shower late last night, I was able to get another pretty good photo of the Sun. This time four sunspots are clearly visible in the mid and lower left quadrant of the star.

Gas Prices Predicted To Drop Under $2 Per Gallon This Fall

I know that we are in the dog days of summer but the Energy Information Administration just released its Short Term Energy Outlook and it indicted we might get a nice Christmas present throughout the fall and into December. The outlook predicts that from October, 2016 to February, 2017 average retail gasoline prices including taxes will fall below $2 per gallon. It's hard to imagine those days not too long ago when we were paying nearly $5/gallon. I don't think things have changed so much since prices were that high in 2011 - do you think undue speculation might have had a lot to do with the price back then? I do too.

Goldman, Another Serial Offender, Pays Fine For Stealing Info From Fed

Speaking of serial offenders that are members of an oligopoly, Goldman Sachs announced earlier this month that it had paid a $36.3 million fine for stealing, using, and distributing confidential regulatory information including documents and upcoming enforcement actions. The case involved two Goldman employees who received this confidential material and then used it to enhance Goldman business activities. Needless to say, Goldman was happy to put this incident in the rear view mirror as the fine represents only 0.1% of their 2015 earnings. That's a pretty nice return for stealing information from the Federal Reserve. I repeat, when are we going to finally do something, anything, that will keep the serial offender companies from continuing to break the law.

More Abuse At Tyson Foods

There are so many problems with industrial food production these days and the degree of animal abuse has been documented many times. So you would think by now some of these companies would have gotten the message and cleaned up their act. Apparently Tyson Foods is not one of them. A new undercover video shows shocking animal abuse of chickens at Tyson breeding facilities in Virginia. And this wasn't just unsupervised workers abusing these animals, it was managers and supervisors as well. As the director of the group Compassion Over Killing that released the video points out, this is not the first time Tyson has been caught abusing animals and claims that this recent release shows "that there is a culture of cruelty at Tyson Foods." Tyson was also the company that so restricted bathroom breaks at their processing plants that workers took to wearing diapers in order to stay at their station. Tyson is also part of the oligopoly that 80% of the beef and 65% of the pork slaughtered in this country, as well as 60% of the chicken market. I have written about this before, but there really needs to be some sort of "death penalty" for these companies like Tyson that are serial offenders, where they either have to divest some business or withdraw from a particular market for a period of time as punishment. Nothing short of that seems to stop their continued lawless behavior.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Democrats Do Have Anti-Poverty Plan, It's Just Not Presented That Way

The New York Times has an article today noting that neither Presidential candidate is really talking about poverty and the poor. And, as Kevin Drum also points out, Bernie Sanders didn't really talk about that much either. It's certainly not unusual for the Republican party not to talk about poverty - their usual position is that it's the poor's fault anyway - although the Times still feels obligated to mention Paul Ryan's bogus anti-poverty plan as somehow showing Republicans' equivalent concern. As far as the Democrats go, I have to agree with Drum that they have concluded that poverty is not a winning economic message, especially with a declining middle class that is feeling constantly under pressure. But that doesn't mean they don't have policies to address poverty - after all, raising the minimum wage is a pretty big anti-poverty measure as is Clinton's affordable child care plan. Affordable health care and free college education are also part of the package. And Democrats also realize that everything they can do to raise middle class standards of living will also flow down to poorer citizens as well. And if not mentioning that fact or detailing specific proposals without calling them an anti-poverty plan perversely helps them with the electorate, then so be it.

Suit Challenging Education Funding In Connecticut Moves Forward

Connecticut is not the only state that has disparities in educational outcomes depending on which school district you are in. But I would venture to say that is probably does have some of the largest. The Connecticut Coalition For Justice In Education Funding is now in court trying to force the state to do something about this. Their suit alleges that the state has failed to meet its constitutional mandate to provide equal education for all students. The suit recognizes that the state provides significantly more funding to poorer school districts but claims that the current state remedies are clearly not enough. "What we are arguing here is for the court to find that the system is unconstitutional because it is inadequately funded and inequitably administered," said Joseph Moodhe, the lawyer representing the Coalition. Believe it or not, the Coalition has been fighting this case or one like it for over a decade - so long that former Governor Jodi Rell is the named defendant for the State. Needless to say, the Court is probably loathe to have to make a judgement on what level of spending would be fair as well as define an adequate education. But it could conclude that the disparities are so great that the state must make additional efforts to remedy the situation. And, of course, the State is opposed to changing the education funding mechanisms especially in light of the current budget situation. But something must be done to fix the educational opportunities and outcomes for poorer and disadvantaged students throughout the states. Hopefully, the Court will prod the State into action. That would be good for Connecticut and might also provide a template for other states with the same issue.

Height Of Perseid Meteor Shower Next Two Nights

The Perseid meteor shower reaches its peak after midnight tonight and tomorrow night. The shower, which is debris of the Swift-Tuttle comet entering the earth's atmosphere, happens annually and the "source" of the meteors is located in the constellation Perseus, hence its name. The expectation is that this year's show could be pretty fantastic with at least one meteor or more per minute. Hopefully, the skies will be clear and the show will be spectacular. Get out and take a look!

Christie "Flat-Out Lied" About Staff Unaware Of Bridgegate

In a pretty substantial blow to whatever little credibility Chris Christie has left on the Bridgegate scandal in New Jersey, a senior aide to the Governor accused Christie of lying when he told a press conference that neither his senior staff or campaign manager had any knowledge of or involvement in the bridge closures. Christina Renna, Christie's director of intergovernmental affairs, texted a Christie campaign staffer contemporaneously with one of Christie's initial news conferences after the scandal broke, writing, "Are you listening? He just flat out lied about senior staff and Stepien not being involved". Stepien is Bill Stepien who was Christie's campaign manager at the time. Renna continued, "But he lied. And if emails are found with subpoena or ccfg emails are uncovered in discovery if it comes to that it could be bad". Yesterday, Christie shrugged off this report by saying, "There's nothing new to talk about." Unfortunately for Christie, this is something new as this is the first contemporaneous document that indicates Christie was lying in his press conference. Even worse, Renna deleted the text message after the New Jersey Legislature issued subpoenas in the matter and also did not mention it in her appearance before a joint investigative panel. Meanwhile, the dispute between Christie and Senate President Sweeney over tax cuts to offset the necessary increase in the gas tax has halted pretty much all road repair work in New Jersey as the transportation fund is basically depleted. It is really no wonder that nearly two thirds of Jersey voters disapprove of Christie's performance.

Ailes' Scandal At Fox Keeps Getting Worse

I've already noted that the Roger Ailes' scandal at Fox News is growing beyond just his disgusting inappropriate sexual behavior and harassment. It is becoming more and more apparent that other Fox News executives were well aware of Ailes' behavior and did nothing to stop it. In fact, they were complicit in helping Ailes cover up his behavior, either through intimidation or essentially paying hush money. One of those payments, an over $3 million payment to Laurie Luhn, was paid with Fox News funds, apparently without the knowledge of Rupert Murdoch's parent company, now 21st Century Fox. As a source to this Politico story points out, that may amount to a willful manipulation of financial documents which is a clear violation of securities law. The story also goes on to report that Ailes threatened to "send people to beat the shit" out of Gabriel Sherman who was writing an unauthorized and unflattering book on Ailes and Fox News. The Politico source also goes on to suggest that, as part of a multi-pronged campaign to discredit the author, Ailes may have illegally obtained Sherman's phone records, reminiscent of Murdoch's phone hacking scandal in England. This would also expose Ailes and Fox News to potential criminal charges if it turns out to be true. It is important to note that the source in the Politico story remains anonymous and none of the charges have been corroborated. But those charges seem well within the range of "normal" behavior for Ailes and the way he ran Fox News.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Man Climbing Trump Tower In NYC

As of this moment, a man is climbing up the outside of Trump Tower in New York using some large suction cups. Obviously, the climber looks very experienced and the only reported motivation for his climb is that he wants Trump to see it or him. So far, the NYPD is showing the proper restraint, though it should be noted that he is wearing a reasonably sized backpack which must be of concern to the authorities. Hopefully, the climber is making a political statement and this will end peaceably, as many other similar climbs in New York have ended in the past.

Needless to say, there are plenty of people in Ferguson and Baltimore and Cleveland and Miami and elsewhere who are wondering and wishing why the police in their area couldn't have shown a similar restraint. I'd venture to say that the cops who are brought into these type of situations in New York are some highly trained specialists. Besides the racial element, a specific lack of training, or, worse, the wrong kind of training, for most police officers in this country contributes to these devastating shootings of unarmed citizens.

Republicans Finally Agree That Families Need Government Help With Child Care

Before Donald Trump's latest outrage, he actually gave a real speech, reading from his teleprompter and not off the cuff, that detailed his economic plan. About the only thing new in the speech was the fact that he did not go off script. It was the usual failed bromides that Republicans have been spewing for the last 30 years. Huge tax breaks for the rich, cuts in corporate taxes, allowing companies to repatriate profits at a reduced tax rate, cut regulations on corporations and Wall Street, and, of course, providing no detailed spending cuts that might indicate how this will all be paid for without blowing another hole in the deficit and adding to the national debt. All of these have been tried and shown to fail spectacularly. But there was one proposal that actually does dovetail with Democratic priorities and that is the idea that child-care expenses could be deducted on their tax returns. Of course, by couching this as a tax deduction as opposed to a tax credit, Trump's proposal pretty much eliminates any benefit for poor parents while providing substantial help to rich ones. But this is, after all, a Republican proposal so we shouldn't expect anything less. Still, Democrats should take this ball and run with it. If Republicans now agree that we need to mitigate the costs of childcare through some type of government program or change in the tax code, then all that remains is figuring the best way to do that. Of course, it will be much harder than that. Right now, the government allows a credit of $3,000 per child with a maximum credit of $6,000.  Since it is estimated that over half of America's families spend over 10% of their income on child care, these credits are hardly sufficient. Shockingly, in 33 states child care costs actually exceed the cost of in-state college tuition. Hillary Clinton has proposed capping child care costs at 10% of income and, although full details have not been released, it is likely that that will be accomplished through a tax credit of about $14,000 per child that would be distributed to eligible parents on a monthly basis during the year but paid directly to the child-care provider. In any case, the larger point is that Republicans finally agree that American families need help from government with child-care costs. That alone is progress..

Bad Night For Democratic Establishment In Bridgeport Primaries

It looks like the anger over the latest property tax increase in Bridgeport has cost Tom McCarthy dearly, as he was clobbered by Marilyn Moore in the Democratic primary race for the State Senate. McCarthy was the City Council President who oversaw the tax increase and pretty much rubber-stamped the budget that went along with it. For some reason he decided to run for the State Senate against the incumbent Marilyn Moore in a district that included Black Rock, the area most negatively effected by the property tax increase. Perhaps he reasoned that he wouldn't survive his next election for the City Council and this was his way out. He had a friend in Democratic Town Chairman Mario Testa, who finagled McCarthy the official Democratic endorsement over the incumbent Moore, as well as the support of the Trumbull Democratic Town Committee . But none of that mattered, as Moore clobbered him in most areas of Bridgeport and over-performed in suburban Trumbull and Monroe which are also included in the district. Bad as the night was for McCarthy, it was even worse for Testa as incumbent State Senator, Ed Gomes, beat back another Testa-backed challenger, Dennis Bradley. And a third endorsed candidate, Charlie Stallworth barely defeated perennial outsider Maria Pereira for State Representative, despite outspending her nearly two to one. With results like these, maybe the Democratic party establishment will start listening to their voters instead of treating the party like their own little fiefdom. And maybe Democratic voters will stay sufficiently engaged to make sure that happens. Let's hope so.

Serena Out Of Rio In Another Shocker

Serena Williams' shocking 6-4, 6-3 loss to Elina Svitolina ends a disastrous Olympics for the Williams sisters.  It was always going to be interesting to see how Serena recovered from the shocking loss in doubles and she was clearly not entirely herself, apparently due to a shoulder injury. She also had the misfortune of the slow court in Rio and a roadrunner in Svitolina.  That combination meant there were balls that came back to Serena here that would have been clean winners elsewhere. And, just like Venus in her loss, Serena had way too many balls she could attack that ended in errors, some of them shocking. But give credit to Svitolina who didn't seem to get tight and kept attacking until she closed it out. The number three seed, Garbine Muguruza, was also upset earlier in the day although that is not too much of a surprise as she really has been playing pretty terribly since winning the French Open. With Novak Djokovic eliminated on the men's side, the medals in both singles competitions are truly up for grabs.

Silence From GOP Leaders Re Trump Assassination Comment Is Deafening

Yesterday's comments by Donald Trump about assassinating Hillary Clinton present yet another challenge and opportunity for Republican leaders to prevent their party from falling into the abyss by repudiating Donald Trump once and for all. The silence from Mitch McConnell is deafening. And Paul Ryan had these truly pathetic and shameful words to say, "I’ve been a little busy today. I heard about this Second Amendment quote. It sounds like just a joke gone bad. I hope he clears it up very quickly. You should never joke about something like that." It is now apparent that the GOP leadership is going to ride with Trump all the way to November no matter what he says or does, because they have no interest in doing what's best for the country, but only in maintaining their own political power at all costs. The calculation has clearly been made that their only hope of keeping control of the House and the Senate is to rely on the hard-core Trump supporters to come out and vote for the Republican party up and down the ballot. Ryan is particularly disgusting and shameful as gerrymandering has pretty much guaranteed a lock on the House for Republicans until the next census and redistricting in 2020, yet he still lacks the political courage to take on Trump. The stench that Donald Trump is leaving on the Republican party will take a generation to wash way and the stain on those Republicans who refuse to repudiate him will remain with them for the rest of their lives. And we should never let them forget.

Trump Advocates Assassinating Hillary

Yes, Donald Trump really did go there. Yesterday, he said that if Hillary Clinton gets elected, perhaps there could be a Second Amendment remedy. Advocating the assassination of your political rival who, in his phrasing, would be President of the United States is a new low even for Donald Trump. Take a look at the video yourself.

There is no sense that this was a joke - ha, ha. It was a said in a straightforward and serious manner and, even if it was a throwaway line, it really has no place in American political discourse. But it is typical of the language of a tin-pot dictator that is Trump's style and modus operandi. Trump and his handlers can try to spin this forever, but his words are clear and we all know what he meant. What's most depressing is that we all know that Trump will somehow find a new low that even tops this - we have another 2-1/2 months of his claptrap to endure.

Ever since the Gingrich revolution in the mid-1990s, the Republican party has coarsened the public sphere with its rhetoric. It has continually broken the norms of governing - the government shutdowns, impeachment over the personal or political, the refusal to advise and consent on judges and political appointees, and much, much more. Trump is the culmination of years of Republican rhetoric and governance. And still a huge majority of the party continues to at least publicly support his candidacy. History is watching.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Anti-Corbyn Faction Of Labour Proves To Be Anti-Democratic

The Labour party in Britain seems to have gone completely off the rails. One of Jeremy Corbyn's achievements when he took over the leadership position was to make it substantially easier for someone to become a Labour party member, bringing that total to over 500,000 which surpasses the prior peak under Tony Blair's leadership. Many of these new members were clearly Corbyn supporters although, more recently, the anti-Corbyn faction has also been active in recruiting new members. Incredibly, the National Executive Committee, the rules-making body in the party, actually instituted a "freeze date" beyond which any newer member would not be allowed to vote in the leadership election. A number of members then sued in court to be allowed to vote and yesterday they seemingly won an important victory as the court ruled that there was no indication they would not be allowed to vote when they joined the party.

It is hard to describe the insanity the drives a party to try to prohibit their own members from voting. But that is where the hatred for Jeremy Corbyn has taken a certain segment of the Labour party, many of whom have more of a Blairite vision of the party. Corbyn will never be a Prime Minister - in fact it is doubtful he will even want to run. But if the Blair wing of the party ever wants to maintain their credibility within the party, perhaps they ought to craft policies and positions that address the concerns of the members of their party and the voting public. The Blair position of Conservative-lite has been rejected in both of the last two elections. If they continue with that policy, they might find themselves in the same position as Blue Dog Democrats - that is, nonexistent as a political force.

Astronomy Adventure - The Sun

In addition to the new 6.3mm lens, my wonderful wife also provided me with a solar filter. So I took it out for a spin the other day and got a couple of photos. The one above is still overexposed and the one below probably a little underexposed as I brought the ISO way down. But I wanted to try and capture a couple of small sunspots that I could see that day, as shown by the arrow.

Ailes Mess At Fox Keeps Growing

It has become more and more apparent that Roger Ailes ran Fox News more as his personal fiefdom than as a businessmen. Recent reports indicate that Ailes had a team of people on the Fox News payroll whose only job was to investigate and collect information on those individual with whom Ailes had a vendetta or whom he considered enemies. Some of those investigated were apparently other Fox News employees as well as journalists and others with whom Ailes feuded. It also appears that there were other Fox executives who clearly knew of Ailes' improper behavior but stayed silent either out of fear of retaliation or the fact they were being paid rather handsomely to ignore it. Ailes ran the company using fear and intimidation mixed with a heavy dose of sexual harassment. And anyone who challenged that culture in any way was either intimidated or paid off handsomely to keep quiet, as the recently revealed $3.15 million settlement with Laurie Luhn shows. While those payoffs are not nearly as egregious as the acts that provoked them, they may be a bit of a concern to NewsCorp, now 20th Century Fox, shareholders who might wonder how much of Fox News' money went to pay to cover up Ailes own personal misconduct. And it tends to indicate that the whole corporate structure at Fox is so rotten that it may need to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Susan Collins Jumps Off The Trump Train

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine has come out and publicly stated she will not be voting for Donald Trump. In a blistering op-ed in the Washington Post, Collins states, "I had hoped that we would see a 'new' Donald Trump as a general-election candidate — one who would focus on jobs and the economy, tone down his rhetoric, develop more thoughtful policies and, yes, apologize for ill-tempered rants. But the unpleasant reality that I have had to accept is that there will be no “new” Donald Trump, just the same candidate who will slash and burn and trample anything and anyone he perceives as being in his way or an easy scapegoat. Regrettably, his essential character appears to be fixed, and he seems incapable of change or growth."

Collins' public posture is always a bellwether for which way the political winds are blowing. But in the end, she usually always supports the party line. Her favorite tactic is to create compromise bills that are carefully crafted to win just enough of those Republicans threatened on a particular issue but not enough to actually win passage. When those amendments go down to defeat, the threatened Senators and Collins can say they tried and then vote the Republican line. She made noises about supporting Obamacare, but ended up voting against it. In the latest attempt at gun control earlier this summer, she again crafted a compromise that ended up failing, with the result that no legislation was passed. So it is a pretty big deal that she has come out so forcefully against Trump. This will certainly open the door for other Senators and House members, especially those facing tough elections this fall, to also come out and repudiate Trump.

Primary Day Here In Connecticut

It's primary day here in Connecticut as some state and local candidates vie for their party's nomination. So get out and vote! Here in Bridgeport, as in other areas of Connecticut and elsewhere, many of these primaries occur in essentially one-party districts. This means that the only real choice you may have is in the primary election, as the winner is the de-facto winner come November. So that makes it even more important to get out and vote! Polls are open from 6am to 8pm today.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Trump Faces Challenges In Florida, A State He Must Win

Nancy Letourneau has a nice analysis of the critical importance that Trump win Florida in order to have any hope of winning the election which is countered by the fact that the current situation if Florida belies much of Trump's message. Basically, the growing Hispanic population in the state poses an increasing demographic challenge for Trump. And the booming economy, especially in South Florida, puts a lie to Trump's economic message, especially when that economy relies on international trade and tourism. Read the whole piece for her complete analysis.

More Unforeseen Consequences Of Climate Change

Following up on my previous post re climate change, it is becoming more and more apparent that there are huge unforeseen consequences of global warming that go way beyond what scientist are already anticipating. And here is one particularly frightening example. During the height of the Cold War in 1959, the US military started looking for possible nuclear missile launch sites in the Arctic. One of those locations was in the northwest of Greenland where the US built a base called Camp Century. The base was closed down in 1969 and the military buried fuel and low-level radioactive coolant deep into the Greenland glacier, where, they thought, it would be entombed forever in ice. Of course, as the ice sheet in Greenland melts away, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the hazardous chemical, biological, and radioactive material will eventually be released into the neighboring environment. As of now, the material is still over buried by over 100 feet of ice. But at some point in the future, as the ice continues to melt, an expensive remediation process is going to have to occur or we will have another disaster on our hands. Beyond the climate change issue, this is yet another example of the trail of pollution that the US military leaves behind. There are 114 Superfund sites in US that are military installations, nearly 10% of the entire total, and the Pentagon is dealing with 9,000 contaminated sites in just the US alone. As the situation in Greenland shows, that trail of pollution stretches around the entire globe.

The Myth Of GOP Fiscal Responsibility

Somehow, ever since the 1980s, Republicans have managed to pull off this scam where they have always been treated as the party that believed in fiscal discipline. Yes, they always talk about balanced budgets and "living within our means", especially when Democrats are in power. But their actions have always spoken more loudly than their words - and those actions show the exact opposite. Ronald Reagan blasted Jimmy Carter for nearly doubling the budget deficit and slightly increasing our national debt. And then Reagan went out and, via massive tax cuts, added more debt than any other President from World War II until the financial crisis in 2008, more than tripling it. G. H. W. Bush was virtually abandoned by his own Republican party for raising taxes in an attempt to staunch the red ink that Reagan created. George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus from Bill Clinton and a national debt that had basically flat-lined for the prior 3 years. All of a sudden, the Republican line went from "we're bankrupting our children and grandchildren" to "it's your money - you should be able to keep it." For Bush, the national debt was no reason not to offer more massive tax cuts that nearly doubled the national debt in his eight years in office. And he left the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression which only added to that debt long after he left office.

So the myth of Republican fiscal responsibility is exact that - a myth. What is more surprising is how that mind-set has apparently filtered down to the individuals within the party. Donald Trump has left a massive trail of unpaid bills and frivolous legal actions to avoid paying what he owed. And on Friday, Newt Gingrich, that paragon of virtue and author of the Contract With America that called for a balanced budget amendment, reached a final debt settlement to terminal his unsuccessful 2012 Presidential election campaign. And the settlement basically consisted of paying nothing to 144 debtors that were owed a combined total of $4.6 million. The really disgusting part of this is that Newt probably has the means to pay these debts off if he really wanted to either through sales of another book or speaking fees. But apparently he can't be bothered to do so. When it comes to fiscal responsibility and paying his own bills, Newt's actions speak for louder than his words. And the same holds true for the party Gingrich belongs to.

Olympic-Sized Upsets In Tennis

There were a few pretty big upsets in the first round of the Olympic tennis tournament. It started with Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium upsetting Venus Williams in a third-set tiebreak. That match showed that the Olympic court was incredibly slow and shots by Venus that normally might been winners were tracked down by Flipkens here. And Flipkens was constantly making Venus generate all the power which resulted in way too many unforced errors. It was a marathon match but those errors turned out to be the difference.

The next day, the Williams sisters lost their opening doubles match to Czech Republic's Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova by the score of 6-3, 6-4. Venus was still out of sorts due to a reported illness and her prior three-set loss in singles and the sisters really did not play very well. But Safarova and Strycova are both accomplished doubles players although they usually play with other partners, not as a team. Even so, it was a pretty stunning upset as the Williams sisters had never lost an Olympic doubles match. Serena Williams will still be the odds-on favorite to win the singles, however, although the pressure on her will probably be a little bit greater now.

Finally, last night, Novak Djokovic was defeated by Juan Martin Del Potro 7-6, 7-6, in a truly classic match. Del Potro is easily a top-ten player but has been fighting injuries for the last few years, hence his poor ranking that had him playing Djokovic in the first round. Unfortunately for Novak, Del Potro is healthy and in the same form that won him the 2009 US Open. It is a credit to Djokovic's tenacity and defense that both sets went to tiebreakers as Del Potro was clearly the dominant player on this night. Djokovic never had a break point opportunity the entire match while Del Potro was never able to capitalize on the couple of handful of opportunities he had. Once again, the slow Olympic court played a factor as it gave Del Potro time to get in perfect position to hit his devastating forehand. Djokovic was forced to continually hit to the Del Potro backhand because virtually every booming Del Potro forehand ended the point. It was an incredible display of awesome power from the forehand side.

What had started out as a dream season for Djokovic has turned sour in the last month. After finally winning the French Open and completing the career Grand Slam, he seemed on his way to possibly winning the calendar Grand Slam as well. But a disappointing loss to Sam Querrey of all people at Wimbledon put that idea to rest. But he still came into the Olympics as the clear favorite, especially with Nadal not at 100% and Federer not competing at all, both due to injury. And, by adding the Olympic gold to his career Grand Slam, he would join only Andre Agassi and Rafa Nadal as winners of the Golden Slam. But it was not meant to be. It will be interesting to see how this summer's defeats effect Novak when he play the US Open where, once again, he will still be the favorite.