Friday, August 19, 2016

Usain Bolt - Olympic Perfection

Usain Bolt completed his third triple in three consecutive Olympics as he combined with his Jamaican teammates to win the 4x100m relay. That makes it nine golds in three Olympics - without double the greatest sprinter we have ever seen. Bolt received his baton basically even with Japan and the US and then just sprinted away, leaving them in the dust. Japan held on for an unlikely and historic silver while the US looked like they had to settle for bronze. But a review of the race showed that the US had made the first baton pass too early, outside the passing zone, and were therefore disqualified, giving the bronze to Canada.

It was a lot better for the Americans in the women's 4x100, where they ran a fantastic race and took gold, with the powerhouse Jamaican team winning the silver and Great Britain taking the bronze.

But the star of the night was once again Bolt. We will never see anything like him again. Simply perfection.

Trump Trades One Crook For Another

Paul Manafort has been officially dumped. Manafort "resigned" earlier today after the latest revelations about his shady lobbying work on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych and pro-Russian forces inside the Ukraine. The revelations about nearly $13 million in secret cash payments to Manafort from a Ukrainian government off-the-books account were followed up by a story on Thursday showing that Manafort had organized a secret lobbying campaign in the US for those pro-Russian Ukrainian interests. Unfortunately, Manafort did not file any paperwork to comply with the Foreign Agents Registration Act that is required, but not diligently enforced, for lobbying activities of foreign governments. Failure to do so is clearly a criminal violation punishable by up to five years in jail. Normally, this may have just slid by. But Manafort's position in the Trump campaign and the Trump's reputed connections to Russian investors had made this much more high profile than a simple lobbying campaign. At some point, prosecutors will be forced to look at this and when an investigation like this starts who knows where it will end. His continued attempts to get Trump to stay on message probably meant he was bound to be dumped by Trump eventually. This scandal just hastened his eventual departure.

Of course, new campaign CEO (please tell me what that means) Steve Bannon hardly comes with no baggage either. Apparently Bannon had some difficulty keeping up with his taxes in the 1990s and had a lien put against him by creditor as recently as 2011. Between 1994 and 1998, Bannon had five federal tax liens against him totaling nearly $500,000. In addition, there were three state tax liens against him totaling nearly $120,000 in the same period. All those liens were released in 2000. Then in 2011, Bannon had a civil judgement lien of over $80,000 brought by creditors. As the article points out, liens do not indicate any criminal activity. But it is certainly in line with Trump's policy of not paying what he owes and then trying to either outlast his creditors in court or negotiate the amount due down. In that sense, he is a perfect match for Trump. And all this makes Trump's claims of fiscal discipline for our government an even bigger joke.

The Ugly Americans

Talk about playing to stereotype. Ryan Lochte, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, and Jimmy Feigen made a sensational claim earlier this week that they were robbed at gunpoint while out on the town in Rio after the swimming competition had ended. Unfortunately, subsequent investigation, including surveillance video, shows that the swimmers were just drunken hooligans confronted by armed security guards. The swimmers apparently stopped at a gas station where they broke down a bathroom door and vandalized the toilet before fighting with security guards that showed up. While it may be quite possible that the guards "extorted" some money from the athletes before letting them go, the swimmers were hardly innocent tourists stopped and robbed at gunpoint for no reason. In fact, they were playing to the typical stereotype of the ugly American who comes and trashes another country and then leaves. Their accusations certainly made headlines and further stained the already tarnished reputation of Rio with what was basically a lie. Sadly for Lochte, his brilliant Olympic swimming career will soon be forgotten while his lies and hooliganism will be remembered.

No Surprise Aetna Is Lying About Exchange Losses

I just wanted to follow up on the post about Aetna withdrawing from a number of Obamacare exchanges after the Justice Department blocked its merger with Humana on antitrust grounds. Aetna had contended that they were losing money on the exchanges which is why they were pull out. More cynical minds like myself believe it was payback for the Obama administration blocking the merger. As it turns out, one of the states that Aetna is abandoning is Pennsylvania. But the company's rate application to Pennsylvania regulators showed that the company made $6.4 million for the calendar year of 2014, $13.6 million for 2015, and projected profitability for 2016 and 2017. If the company is withdrawing from profitable exchanges, the only logical explanation is that this really is payback for the blocked merger. Why are we not surprised.

Uber Settlement Struck Down As Inadequate

A federal judge has struck down the $100 million settlement between Uber and its drivers, describing the deal as "not fair, adequate, and reasonable". The class action case revolved around Uber improperly categorizing drivers as contractors as opposed to employees, a typical tactic of gig economy businesses. The case involved nearly 400,000 Uber drivers in California and Massachusetts. The judge noted the proposed settlement reflected only 0.1% of the Uber's total liability if the plaintiff's won at trial and was therefore inadequate. The case has another angle as well in that the Uber's driver agreement included an arbitration clause that was originally ruled unenforceable but may be overturned on appeal. A win for Uber there would substantially reduce the number of drivers covered by this class action.

This case is a classic illustration of what's wrong with the US economy. Uber is classifying workers as contractors to avoid paying benefits while at the same time forcing them into arbitration where their rights can be curtailed. And Uber has made it even clearer that they consider their drivers a mere nuisance - today they announced their intention to become a leader in delivering self-driving cars with a trial run in Pittsburgh in the next few weeks. Of course, these are not entirely self-driving as Uber will have a driver sitting behind the wheel just in case something goes wrong. But I'm pretty sure those drivers will be considered contractors.

Rio Update - Bolt Makes History As Jamaica Dominates Sprints

Usain Bolt cemented his legacy as perhaps the greatest sprinter ever when he once again ran away from the field in the final of the 200m in Rio last night. In winning, Bolt has won the 100m and 200m in three consecutive Olympics, a feat that is truly unimaginable. And he makes it look so easy. In both races in Rio, Bolt had put clear distance between himself and his fellow competitors and could have coasted in the last few strides and still won - that is how dominant he was. Bolt's final event at these games, and, he insists, in his career, will be the 4X100 relay where he and his Jamaican teammates will be aiming to win for the third straight Olympics as well. They are the clear favorites. Although it will be impossible to fill Bolt's golden shoes, he looks to be handing the baton of best sprinter to Andre de Grasse of Canada who came in second in the 200m, having previously won the bronze behind Bolt and Justin Gatlin in the 100m. Christophe Lemaitre of France won the bronze in the 200m by a whisker in a photo finish between three runners.

Jamaica is producing the greatest sprinters in the world these days. On the women's side, Elaine Thompson also completed the double, winning both the 100m and 200m races. In addition, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price of Jamaica won the bronze in the 100m. An incredibly impressive result for a poor island nation of 2.7 million.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Chris Christie Doesn't Think Much Of New Jersey Citizens

Chris Christie delivered a double-whammy to the voters of New Jersey today. First of all, he issued an executive order that ordered the use of the state's general fund in order to pay for emergency road repair work. The reason this had to be done was that the transportation fund in New Jersey has run out due to the governor's veto of a 23 cent rise in the gas tax. New Jersey has one of the lowest gas taxes in the nation. Over $3 billion in road projects are currently on hold, creating even larger traffic problems than usual across the state. And now, of course, the money sucked out of the general fund will not be able to be used elsewhere and will also eventually have to be replaced. Christie commented that New Jersey roads were "fine". I'm not sure those drivers who are inconvenienced every day by the stalled road projects would agree.

Christie followed that up by also vetoing a bill that would have made it much easier for New Jersey citizens to register to vote. The bill would have instituted an early voting period, established on online registration capability, and automatically registered citizens when they got a driver's license or a state ID. New Jersey has a history of poor turnout in their elections. In vetoing the bill Christie said, "Is it really too much to ask to ask somebody to fill out a form to execute their right to vote? Is it really so much to ask people that if they’re in the state that they show up on Election Day and vote? The polls are open from six in the morning until eight in the evening." Christie may not be aware that people who make a 2 hour commute into New York City and back for their jobs may actually find it difficult to get to vote during those hours. Apparently, Christie doesn't really care about those people. In fact, it seems that he is more interested in making a lot of New Jerseyans' lives more difficult.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Gun Control Measures On Ballot In Four States

Gun control may be still be a non-starter in the US Congress, but progress continues to build in the individual states around the country. In November, four states will have some form of gun control on the ballot. In California, which already has some of the strictest laws in the nation, voters will have a chance to ban large-capacity magazines. In Washington, there will be a vote an restricting gun ownership for potentially dangerous citizens. And in Nevada and Maine, expanded background checks will be on the ballot. Voters usually have a more positive view of gun control than their legislators who are in the pocket of the NRA and these type of ballot measures have more often than not been successful. And the Supreme Court has usually found that most of these reasonable voter-approved gun control measure are actually constitutional. So, while the NRA may be winning the war in Washington, DC, the story in individual states around the country is quite different.

California Takes On Civil Forfeiture

I have previously posted about the unbelievable level of abuse of civil forfeiture laws, especially in poor and minority communities. Now, at least, one state may be trying to put a stop to these abuses. Under federal law, police can keep up to 80% of the profits from seizures, without even having to arrest or charge an individual with a crime. Because state forfeiture law in California offers more protections for citizens, police actually have an financial incentive to use federal law instead of state law. An ACLU study in that state showed that 85% of forfeiture gains come from communities of color; half of DEA seizures involve people with Latino surnames; and communities with higher seizure rates have lower median income. This has prompted a bill that prohibits California police from seizing an individual's assets if the person has not been convicted of a crime. The bill passed the California State Assembly and is now on its way to be considered by the State Senate, where it hopefully will be passed and signed into law. Civil forfeiture should NEVER be legal if the citizen has not been convicted of a crime.

Fed Keeps September Rate Hike On Table

The Fed released the minutes from its July meeting today and the biggest takeaway was that the committee believed that "developments during the intermeeting period as reducing near-term uncertainty along two dimensions discussed at the June meeting". Those two areas of uncertainty related to the risk of contagion from Brexit and worries about the strength of the labor market. Subsequent data has shown weak reports on inflation and retail sales but they were offset by stronger gains in industrial output and home building activity. William Dudley, president of the FRB of New York, came out on Tuesday and clearly put a September rate hike within the realm of possibility, citing the improving labor market and wage growth. Despite what Dudley says, I think that the majority on the FOMC still would like to see a few more data points, especially some real indication that the inflation rate was actually close to or even exceeding its 2% target before they actually raise rates. The Fed has been burned too many times by signaling a rate hike only to be burned by weak economic reports. The December rate hike last year was a disaster and the weak unemployment report in May killed the expected rate hike in June. I'm not sure they want to risk their credibility a third time without being absolutely sure that it is not too early.

As critics constantly point out, the Fed certainly has plenty of room to raise rates if the economy really does start to run too hot. Yet their continual focus on tamping down the economy at the first sign of wage growth, even as inflation remains benign, has always been unfathomable. It is not the 1970s anymore. But there is always a faction within the Fed that continues to act like it is.

Trump's New Team Designed To Alienate More Voters

I really try to not post about every Trump atrocity but it is really so hard because not only do they happen so continually but also because they are so egregious. Let's just recount yesterday's disasters. First, Trump has decided to get Roger Ailes to help him in his debate preparations. For a campaign that is hemorrhaging support among women, I'm thinking that hiring a guy who is a serial sexual harasser, if not worse, is probably not the best idea. Then, Trump apparently decided that staying on message and reading from a teleprompter were just not really his thing. I did not see Trump giving his teleprompted foreign policy speech but it was certainly apparent from just listening to it that he could barely stand sticking to the written script and not winging it. Combine that with the bad press about secret cash payments from Ukrainian dictators (with apparently more to come) and Paul Manafort was destined for the sidelines. Trump has decided that, if he's going to go down to defeat, it will at least be doing it his way. What else can explain bringing in Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart News, to become his campaign CEO, whatever that is. Kellyanne Conway, a longtime GOP PR flack will become campaign manager. Steve Bannon is a flamethrower who has a "pox on both their houses" when it comes to both the Republican and Democratic parties. According to an anonymous source within the Trump campaign, "Bannon will play to Trump’s worst sensibilities." And that's coming from a Trump supporter. Expect more outrages to come, possibly at an even more accelerated pace. The real question is whether there will be something, anything, that will force the cowards in the GOP leadership to finally repudiate Trump. Somehow I doubt it.

Trump Avoids Taxes And Christie Lets Him Settle For Peanuts

Donald Trump's casinos racked up millions of dollars in unpaid New Jersey state taxes from 2002 through 2006 by essentially not paying the alternative minimum tax. By the time Chris Christie became governor of New Jersey in January, 2010 that tax bill with interest had ballooned to nearly $30 million. By December of that same year, the state decide to settle with the Trump casinos for a mere $5 million, a pathetic 17 cents on the dollar that did not even cover the original tax bill, forgetting about the interest.

In 2002, the state of New Jersey instituted an alternative minimum tax specifically designed to prevent businesses from avoiding taxes through various accounting maneuvers. The Trump casinos somehow decided that the tax did not apply to them. In just the years 2002 and 2003, the state calculated nearly $9 million in unpaid taxes by those casinos. In typical Trump fashion, the casinos continued to fight paying these taxes in court and continued to fight even after bankruptcy in 2004. Subsequent investigations also showed some severe irregularities in the casinos' other filing with the state. For instance, for 2003, the casinos reported paying $2.2 million in taxes to the State Gaming Commission when, in fact, they had only paid $500.00. The case continued to drag on and by 2009 the total amount owed including interest came to $29.4 million. But, within a year of Christie's taking over as Governor, a deal was reached that reduced the payment to the mere $5 million. This was a much better deal that a subsequent tax amnesty plan that Christie offered in 2014 that offered delinquent taxpayers reduced penalties on the condition they caught up on back taxes and interest.

Christie claims he was unaware of the settlement and the details of how the agreement came about have not been disclosed. Christie and Trump became acquainted when Christie was a US Attorney in New Jersey in the early 2000s and they apparently became good friends over time. That friendship and the apparent mutual backscratching between the two helps explain Christie's early endorsement of Trump after his own Presidential bid ended in failure.

The whole incident is another example of Trump's modus operandi, which is simply not to pay what he is owed and force the creditor to pursue him for years in the court system. And it is also a prime example of another white-collar crime resulting in a weak punishment. It is hard to see how we can stop this kind of behavior if we continually allow people and businesses to essentially get away with it.

City Proposes Uber And Lyft To Replace Buses

I've already made my disgust with the gig economy and Uber in particular pretty clear. Their modus operandi is to go into an area, usually violating local rules and/or ordinances, and then dare local officials to shut them down. So it is really distressing to see Arlington, Virginia actually planning to supplant current public transport under a proposed plan with Uber and Lyft. The plan would involve using some kind of carpool service such as UberPool of LyftLine to service residents in more remote areas and deliver them to transit hubs such as rail or subway stations. In addition, certain bus routes that do not get substantial ridership as well as off-hours service on other routes would be supplanted by the carpool service under this plan. Even worse, Arlington is planning to subsidize these rides. Even with those subsidies, you have to wonder whether this service will cater to wealthier residents as opposed to lower income riders. Rather than using Uber or Lyft, perhaps Arlington could expand its taxi service or offer its own on-demand vans to accomplish exactly what Uber and Lyft would be providing. But, once again, it looks like another public good will be turned over to private enterprise.

Cohen Barred From Futures Is Another Slap On The Wrist

Steven A. Cohen, former head of SAC Capital, has agreed to refrain from any commodities activity until 2018 under an agreement he made with Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). SAC Capital was enormously successful hedge fund that was always suspiciously good at timing the market in certain stocks. As it turned out, that was largely because they were receiving insider information. In 2013, SAC agreed to plead guilty to criminal fraud charges and paid a $1.8 billion dollar fine. Mr. Cohen was never charged but was found to have enabled the misconduct at the firm. As part of the deal, SAC essentially dissolved and Cohen now basically invests his own ill-gotten money under the name of Point72 Asset Management. This another classic example of a white-collar criminal getting preferential treatment. This agreement will hardly bother Cohen in the slightest and in less that 18 months he can get back to business as usual. The continued weakness of securities law and the inability of regulators to give anything more than a slap on the wrist to even serial offenders only means that we should not be surprised when the criminal behavior on Wall Street continues.

Aetna Withdraws From Obamacare As Payback For Blocked Merger

Aetna has announced that it is pulling out of the Obamacare exchanges in 11 states. The states effected are Arizona, Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. This is unquestionably a serious blow for Obamacare as Aetna was and is a major player in exchanges around the country. Other health care providers such as United Healthcare have also announced that they were abandoning Obamacare, but those companies really were minimally players in the health exchanges.  Aetna claims that they were losing too much money because not enough younger, healthy people were signing up for their plans. But earlier this year, they painted a slightly more positive picture of their experience with Obamacare, indicating a possible expansion of their offerings. Overall, premiums for Obamacare have come in under Congressional Budget Office (CBO) initial estimates primarily because healthcare companies wanted to offer competitive rates in order to attract new customers, even of that meant operating at a loss. Aetna apparently felt that way earlier this year when they said on an earnings call, "We see this as a good investment, hoping that we have an administration and a Congress that will allow us to change the product like we change Medicare every year, and we change Medicaid every year."

What changed for Aetna in the intervening months was the Justice Department blocking the proposed merger of Aetna and Humana on antitrust grounds. In fact, Aetna specifically threatened pulling out of Obamacare in a letter to the Justice Department regarding the proposed merger. The letter stated, "[I]f the deal were challenged and/or blocked we would need to take immediate actions to mitigate public exchange and ACA small group losses. Specifically, if the DOJ sues to enjoin the transaction, we will immediately take action to reduce our 2017 exchange footprint .... [I]nstead of expanding to 20 states next year, we would reduce our presence to no more than 10 states .… [I]t is very likely that we would need to leave the public exchange business entirely and plan for additional business efficiencies should our deal ultimately be blocked. By contrast, if the deal proceeds without the diverted time and energy associated with litigation, we would explore how to devote a portion of the additional synergies ... to supporting even more public exchange coverage over the next few years."

Now the company claims that the second quarter results showed increasing losses on the exchanges and that is the reason for their pullout. But it is striking how their actions reflect almost exactly what they threatened to do in their letter DOJ.  So the real question is whether this is payback for the blocked merger or is Aetna really losing more money than they could handle on these exchanges. Certainly, the abrupt turnaround in the company's attitude from the first quarter until today indicates that payback is the more probable answer. Whatever the reason, this will give more ammunition to Republicans to do absolutely nothing to resolve some of the issues in Obamacare in the hopes that more companies drop out of the exchanges and that the program collapses because of that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

GOP Senator Actually Gets On Trump Train Wreck

The cowardice of Republican elected officials in the face of the atrocities of the Trump campaign is simply astounding. On a day when the co-chair of Trump's veterans coalition "clarifies' his remarks, saying that Hillary Clinton should not be assassinated but instead shot by firing squad for treason, Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado has endorsed Donald Trump. Gardner said, "A Republican president will make a difference, even a Republican president named Donald Trump." Well I guess no one can argue with that statement, although I'm not sure the kind of difference Trump will make is what Gardner or America needs. What's incredible about this endorsement is that Gardner is not up for re-election until 2020, so a courageous stand against Trump today probably would not hurt him four years from now when running for re-election, especially in a state whose demographics are changing dramatically. It really does show the depths to which the Republican party has sunk. And let's hope Colorado Democrats never let Gardner forget his incredible cowardice.

Abenomics Failures and Successes

Yesterday, Japan released another disappointing GDP number showing that the economy barely grew at all in the quarter ending in June, although the first quarter results were updated to about 2% annualized growth, a pretty robust number for a country that has struggled to grow more than 1% annually for the past two decades. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been trying to jumpstart the economy, primarily through government spending. And he recently announced a new stimulus package of about $275 billion, equivalent to almost 5% of GDP. Japan's debt-to-GDP ratio now stands around 230% but, despite the predictions of debt hawks around the world, there has been no run on the Yen. In fact, one of the reasons for the weak GDP growth in the last quarter was because of the strength of the Yen which suppressed exports by nearly 6% in the quarter. It just shows the power of having your own currency.

Meanwhile, there is one area in which Abenomics must be considered a success and that is employment. The employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) for Japanese ages 16-64 has actually increased by 2.5% since Abe took over in 2012 and now stands at 73%.

With this kind of increase in employment, at some point you have to think that growth will follow. In any case, Abenomics is proving to be a useful example of the struggles to escape a low-growth economy due to an aging population, liquidity traps, and deflation. Time will tell if it succeeds.

Renewable Energy Capacity Keeps Growing Worldwide

A new Financial Times study shows that the top 20 economies in the world have nearly doubled their renewable energy capacity, excluding hydropower, in the five years from 2010 to 2015. All together, the 20 economies generate only about 8% of their power from renewables but the differences within those 20 are quite dramatic. The European Union is by far and away the leader with nearly 18% of its electricity coming from renewable energy. Within the EU, Germany is the clear leader, using renewables over one-third of its power, while the UK comes in a distant second at just under 25% renewable with Italy and France not far behind.

This study shows only about 8% renewable energy produced in the US, although a recent study by FERC shows that number to closer to 15% to 18% including hydropower. But expansion of renewables has probably been slower than it should be in the US mainly due to climate-change deniers in the Republican party making things as difficult as possible for the country to move forward with an organized transition to renewables. We have no national plan for phasing out coal-powered facilities, relying on action by the EPA or Presidential executive order to basically regulate them into extinction - hardly an effective plan. Worse, we have done nothing to figure out how to properly allocate costs in a decentralized grid where energy can flow both to and from the utility. Homeowners who adopt solar have no certainty about their rate structure and how much they will be paid, if at all, for power they generate. And utilities are still required to provide energy at peak periods even as renewables make customers more self-sufficient. Solving these admittedly difficult problems would allow renewables to grow even more rapidly than they already are.

Appeals Court Freezes Out Labour Voters

An appeals court has overruled an earlier opinion that let Labour party members who joined after a "freeze" date to vote in the party's leadership election. This ruling, based on an appeal by Labour's National Executive Committee, effectively disenfranchises over 150,000 of their own Labour voters in the upcoming leadership battle. It is estimated that most of these disenfranchised voters are probably supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. However, it still seems quite likely that Corbyn will be able to hold his leadership position even without these new voters. Of course, the leadership vote will probably still not end the internal warfare that currently engulfs the party. The faction of the party that believes they can never win Parliament with Corbyn at the helm will keep on fighting him every step of the way. And the Corbyn supporters who are sick of the party being "Conservative-lite" will continue to fight back. It is hard to see how Labour can move forward until they resolve the civil war within their own ranks. And disenfranchising over 150,000 members of your own party is really not a positive step toward resolution.

Rio Update - 800m History, 400m Dive, Pole Vault, And Medals By Fingertips

These Olympic games are increasingly becoming pretty fantastic thanks to the incredible athletes from all over the world. It's not unusual for pre-Olympic press to be all about problems but once the Games begin, the incredible talent and heart on display overwhelms all the negatives. And it has happened again here in Rio, despite the shocking robbery of American swimmers earlier this week.

Last night, Kenyan David Rudisha became the first man in over 50 years to defend his Olympic gold medal in the 800m. Rudisha held his own in a blistering first quarter of the race and then pulled away from the field around the final corner and held on in the stretch to complete his Olympic double. That was followed by an incredible ending to the women's 400m where Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas literally dove through the finish line to just nip the legendary American Allison Felyx for the gold. The evening in track was completed when Thiago Braz Da Silva upset the reigning Olympic champion, Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie, with an Olympic record leap in the pole vault. Needless to say, the home crowd went crazy when Lavillenie missed his final jump, giving Da Silva the gold.

Earlier today, the men's 10K swim ended with a mad dash to the finish that left even the swimmers unsure of who had come in the medal positions. Incredibly, after nearly 2 hours of swimming, the top ten finishers all finished within 5 seconds of each other and places 3 through ten all finished within one second of each other. As it turned out, Ferry Weertman of the Netherlands just touched out Spyridon Gionniotis of Greece for the gold as they both had times of 1:52:59. Frenchman Marc-Antoine Olivier then barely touched out Zu Lijun of China for the bronze as they also both had times of 1:53:02. Imagine the heartbreak of swimming for 2 hours and missing out on a medal by a fingertip. But that is what makes the Olympics what it is.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Dujardin And Valegro Break Their Own Olympic Record In Dressage

Charlotte Dujardin won the Olympic gold in freestyle dressage today with a near-record score of 93.857, besting Germans Isabell Werth and Kristina Broring-Sprehe who took silver and bronze respectively. Just to show how dominant Dujardin was, Werth's score was 89.071 and Broring-Sprehe's was 87.142. This is the second gold in consecutive Olympics for Dujardin and her horse Valegro as they bested their Olympic record score from 2012. Dujardin and Valegro hold the current world record score in dressage with an unheard of 94.30 from an event in 2014. Dressage is an event for the wealthy as the horses alone cost tens of thousands of dollars. However, Dujardin does not come from a well-to-do family but has succeeded due to her remarkable talent nonetheless. She simply is able to communicate with horses in a way that other humans cannot. Her talent was spotted early on when she took a horse that an experienced dressage trainer had worked for months to get to piaffe, that is, jog in place, and had the horse trained in two days. And her connection to Valegro and the excellence of their work has taken the sport of dressage to a whole new level, just as Simone Biles has in gymnastics or Usain Bolt in the sprints. She is a revolutionary in a sport known for its staidness and conservatism. And even an untrained eye such as mine could see how superior her performance with Valegro was today. There was a wonderful piece on Dujardin and Valegro in the New Yorker that is well worth a read in order to get a flavor of dressage and what the pair of them has done for the sport. You really should check it out.

Olympic Update - Tennis, Sprints, And Medals For Brazil

In a tennis tournament filled with shocking upsets, the most unlikely winner of all was Monica Puig of Puerto Rico. Ranked 34th in the world coming into the tournament, she took down Gabriel Muguruza and Petra Kvitova on her way to the final. There she played an almost flawless match and outlasted Angelique Kerber in 3 sets. This was the first medal of any kind in history for a woman representing Puerto Rico and she truly earned it. Kvitova ended up taking the bronze. On the men's side, which went slightly more to form, Andy Murray picked up his second gold in singles by outlasting Juan Martin del Potro in four long, tough sets. Both men looked exhausted at different points in the match, but Murray's tenacious defense eventually wore del Potro into submission. In the bronze medal match, Kei Nishikori was rolling over the exhausted Rafael Nadal, up two breaks in the second after cruising through the first. And then the thought of an Olympic medal caught up to him. He through away the two breaks, serving to win the match both times, and lost the second in a tiebreak. But Nadal, who had played in both doubles as well, was just out of gas and Nishikori regained his composure to close out the third and take the bronze.

On the track, Usain Bolt won his third straight 100 meter gold medal with ease. Despite getting a terrible start, he cruised in the final few meters with Justin Gatlin, his only real challenger, trailing behind for the silver. He made it look so easy. The 400 world record, held for 17 years by Michael Johnson, was smashed by South Africa's Wayde van Niekerk by .15 second and nearly broke the 43 second barrier, registering an unbelievable time of 43.03. What is more incredible is that he did this while running from lane 8, traditionally the worst lane as you cannot see your opponents until the stretch.

In one of the more emotional moments of the night, Brazil managed to win a silver and bronze in the men's gymnastics floor exercise. Diego Hypolito, a world champion in the floor, had fallen in the last two Olympics while his compatriot Arthur Nory could not watch as the final competitor, American Sam Mikulak, did his routine. But Nory's place was assured when Mikulak stepped off the floor and had numerous big hops on his tumbling landings. Hypolito was already in tears as he was assured of a medal and Nory joined him when the score revealed he would take the bronze.

NBC gets a ton of abuse for its coverage, primarily due to the endless commercials and its US-centric focus. But another reason may be that sometimes they do a really poor job. Yes, Usain Bolt's win in the 100 meters last night was historic and clearly put him in the pantheon of great Olympians and probably the best sprinter ever, but it should not take over 4 minutes after the end of the race to let the audience know that the bronze medal went to Andre de Grasse of Canada. I know Canadians have long gotten used to the fact of being ignored by the US, but this was a little much.

Murdochs Pick Ailes' Insiders To Run Fox

Despite every indication that the culture at Fox News required a thorough house-cleaning, the Murdochs announced on Friday that two Ailes' loyalists and Fox News insiders, Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy, would be taking over the leadership of the company. Both men were management insiders at Fox and Shine is at least tangentially implicated in the abuse of Laurie Luhn, but both men apparently claim they were blissfully unaware of Ailes' sexual harassment and intimidation. That seems pretty hard to believe because it seems increasingly clear that most of the employees at Fox felt the fear and intimidation of Ailes' management style. The scandal has also moved beyond Fox News to 21st Century Fox because of their inability to detect the millions of dollars in hush-money payoffs that were being made to keep Ailes' scandals under wraps. The parent company had shown the same accounting blind spot when it came to News of the World payoffs in the British phone hacking scandal and, as this is the second time, you really have to wonder whether these were willful oversights.

Bill Makes Prosecutorial Misconduct A Felony

A new bill introduced in the California state legislature would now make it a felony for prosecutors to withhold of falsify evidence. The bill was a response to the egregious prosecutorial misconduct that was endemic in the Orange County District Attorney's office and the common use of jailhouse informants. The extent of the misconduct could lead to the unraveling of hundreds of cases in the county. This current bill has the same problem that bedevils many existing securities laws and that is that clear intent must be shown in order to get a conviction. As we've seen, if the paper trail is just vague enough, it is almost impossible to win a conviction. The other driving force for this bill is that prosecutorial misconduct is rarely reported by judges and even more rarely disciplined by the state bar. It is pretty sad that it had come to this, where prosecutors actually have to have the threat of a felony conviction hanging over them in order to do the right thing. But the revelations of rampant misconduct around the country as well as the failure of any effective discipline against those prosecutors may make a bill like this inevitable not only in California but across the country as well.

Unions Gain In United Settlement

Flight attendants at United Airlines have approved a new contract that would provide raises of 18% to 31% and also participation in a profit sharing plan. The new 5 year contract was approved by a slim 53% of the union. In addition, United also announced an agreement with the airline's mechanics, although the specific contract details have yet to be released. This is undoubtedly good news for United as these contracts finally bring the Continental workers acquired in the merger under one contract with United. The separate contracts for United and former Continental workers had created chaos at the airline for the last couple of years, resulting in some of the worst ratings in the industry. But the high level of raises for the flight attendants has to be a big win for the union and really shows how poorly the airlines had paid those employees for so long. And we will see whether the mechanics get a similar result when the details of the new contract are released.

PPI, Retail Sales Should Kill September Rate Hike

A couple of new data points came out on Friday that will give the Fed pause as they consider their next steps with regard to interest rates. First, retail sales came in basically flat for the month of July as opposed to a forecast rise of 0.4%. This was especially surprising considering the strong growth in employment this year and the accompanying increase in hourly wages. The question for the Fed is whether this is just a blip in the data like the disappointing May unemployment report or whether it really does signal a trend. Perhaps more disappointing was the Producer Price Index (PPI) which suffered its biggest drop since December of last year, falling 0.4% for the month of July. With this drop, the PPI has actually fallen 0.2% in the last twelve months. Both of these numbers indicate that deflation, rather than inflation, continues to be the more persistent problem in the economy and, despite it efforts, the Fed is still having a difficult time pushing inflation up to its desired 2 percent target. This should prevent the ever-present hawks on the Fed from pushing through a rate hike anytime soon as the doves will have the upper hand with this new data. A September rate hike seems totally out of the question at this point.