Jun. 24, 2012: Mitch Daniels is doing what, now?

Normally we don’t spend a lot of time focusing on local stories, but it’s also unusual for a local issue to make national headlines. So here we go: Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana, has just been named the 12th president of Purdue University. It’s a stunning shift for the longtime politician, who quickly climbed the Republican ranks as Indiana’s two-term governor and was even considered a potential Republican running mate for this November’s presidential election. This announcement virtually guarantees that Daniels will be out of the political game for quite some time… well, sort of.

It seems unlikely that Daniels would run for office while also serving in his new role at Purdue, particularly given his recent announcement that he “will recuse myself from any partisan political activities or commentary,” but one also has to consider why Daniels, of all people, was tapped as Purdue’s new president in the first place. Daniels is best known as a budget hawk, and supporters hope that he will bring similar cost-cutting practices to Purdue. But more to the point, Purdue’s annual state funding has fallen by almost $30 million in the last three years, from $262 million for the 2008-2009 school year to $233.9 million today. (Ironically, Daniels himself ordered the $150 statewide higher education funding cut in December 2009 to compensate for low state revenues, so that’s where Purdue’s funding went, among other Indiana universities.) Now that Daniels is on the other side of the fence, trying to manage the budget crisis he pushed upon Purdue, it’s conceivable that he might try to use his political ties to Purdue’s advantage, pushing whoever fills the governor’s seat next to be a little more generous toward his institution. After all, among Daniels’ many questions about his new role, the the one he seems determined to answer first is: can he lobby state lawmakers next year? State ethics rules normally require a one year cool-down period after leaving public office before lobbying politicians, but given that lobbying will be at the core of his new role, it’s unclear how Daniels’ situation will be treated. Given that Purdue has steadily increased its tuition costs over the last few years to offset its funding decline, if Daniels is unable to forcefully push for more state funding, that might hurt his ability to manage the budget situation as a whole.

Furthermore, given that Daniels seems to know little else about how Purdue actually operates or what its needs are, using their new president as a political insider increasingly appears to be Purdue’s primary goal in hiring Daniels. One has to wonder about the ethics of hiring someone with minimal experience and few academic credentials to run a university, especially if the hire was made on the basis of exploiting those political connections. That’s not necessarily a charge against Daniels, who needed to find some sort of work at the end of his second gubernatorial term in January anyway, but one could certainly be compelled to look upon Purdue itself with some skepticism amidst this very unorthodox move.

In the rest of the political world, the drama of the last four years is coming to a head, as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are squaring off while the Supreme Court decides several high-profile cases. It increasingly looks as though the Supreme Court will reject Obama’s coveted Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional; more specifically, the mandate that all Americans be compelled to purchase health insurance, which the administration fervently argued was the crux of the bill, appears likely to be erased from the document.

Even if the rest of the law stands, as most analysts believe it will, losing the key universal health coverage clause would be a huge blow to Obama and his mission to reshape the long-standing U.S. health care system. Some are already preparing to cast blame on the Obama legal strategy, approved by the president himself, as the reason for the government losing in the Supreme Court. After all, critics say, if lawyers had been more willing to cite similar cases dating back to George Washington as support for their argument, they might have gained the support of conservative justices, who tend to judge constitutionality by assessing the founding fathers’ intent instead of treating the Constitution as a “living document.”

In any case, though, Obama and Romney are jockeying to take advantage of the ruling, regardless of what it is. As Julie Pace and Steve Peoples of the Associated Press put it,

If the court upholds the law, Obama will get vindication for his signature legislative accomplishment. Romney will have a concrete target for his pledge to repeal it.

If the court rules against part or all of the law, Obama could blame Romney, congressional Republicans and a conservative-leaning court for denying health benefits to millions of people in the United States. Romney could claim victory for his assertion that the government overreached.

It’s also unclear how the stock market could shift amidst any of the high court’s potential rulings, particularly since any scenario has some industries and groups as big winners, others as big losers, and a few that are merely giant question marks. But with betting markets giving a 75% chance for the critical individual mandate to be overturned — yes, in case you’ve never visited Intrade, people really do gamble on such things — the outcome almost looks to be predetermined. It practically makes the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against union use of nonmember fees and the upcoming decision on Arizona’s controversial illegal immigration law seem insignificant.

Of course, some would say that the biggest story this week is former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s conviction for 45 counts of child sex abuse. The criminal trial, which began on June 11th, was relatively short compared to the three-year investigation including a two-year grand jury hearing, both of which began in 2009. In contrast, the jury needed only two days of deliberations to reach its decision.

Joshua Harper, one of the jurors, said that Sandusky did not seem surprised by the verdict, showing “no real emotion, just kind of accepting. You know, because he knew it was true.” Sandusky’s own lawyers concede that the disgraced figure is likely to face a life sentence, although they are planning to appeal the verdict, meaning that the process could drag on for years. (One possible appeal issue is the trial’s speed: Sandusky’s lawyers tried to quit the day before the trial, saying that they had not been given adequate time to prepare a case, but Judge John Cleland denied their request. The seven-month period between Sandusky’s November arrest and the June trial was shorter than most such cases in the state.) That is to say nothing of civil suits against Penn State for allegedly covering up the abuses, which are related to criminal cases against Tim Curley, the university’s former athletic director, and Gary Schultz, former vice president for finance and business. The pair face charges of perjury as well as failing to report the suspected abuse, so their trials may give a much clearer picture of how much the university knew about Sandusky’s activities. Penn State is already inviting victims to work with them in settling civil suits outside of the courts, a clear signal that they want to quickly put this matter behind the university, foregoing the traditional “deny, delay, defend” pattern of corporate insurance defense.

If there’s any irony in the case, it’s that the jury reached its verdict on the same day that a Philadelphia jury convicted Monsignor William Lynn of the Roman Catholic church for covering up claims of sexual abuse — another case in which power and prestige played a role in enabling and hiding child sex abuse — making him the first U.S. church official to be convicted for the cover-up.

In contrast to those serious trials, the filing of New Jersey woman Elizabeth Lloyd borders on absurdity. Lloyd was attending a Little League baseball game two years ago when 11-year-old catcher Matthew Migliaccio’s coaches told him to help one of his team’s pitchers warm up. On one of his throws back to the pitcher, Miglaccio threw off target, and the ball struck the unsuspecting Lloyd, who was sitting at a picnic table near the bullpen, in the face. As any decent boy would do, Miglaccio immediately ran to Lloyd and asked if she was okay, which she said she was. Likewise, Miglaccio’s father says his family was very concerned for the woman when it happened. It was unfortunate, to be sure.

But any sympathy the Miglaccios had for Lloyd evaporated when she began seeking retribution for the errant throw, starting with threatening letters to the child. As of an April 24 filing, those letters have escalated all the way to a $150,000 lawsuit against the child. (That’s just for medical costs; she’s also seeking an undetermined amount of money for pain and suffering.) Lloyd alleges, first, that the throw was intentional and reckless, that the boy “assaulted and battered” Lloyd, and that his throw caused “severe, painful and permanent” injuries. The second count claims negligence through “engaging in inappropriate physical and/or sporting activity” — despite him following the coach’s instruction in helping the pitcher warm up — while the third, filed by Lloyd’s husband, deals with the loss of the “services, society and consortium” of his wife. All this for a kid’s bad throw.

Naturally, Miglaccio’s father said that he would love to win the case in court, but that it would cost them tens of thousands of dollars to fight the legal battle and that he is reluctant to put his now-13-year-old son and his former teammates through the rigors of depositions and a trial. Worse yet, he says, Little League has offered no assistance in the matter, even though he spent hundreds of hours volunteering for the organization before the incident. While the boy still plays on three different baseball teams, his parents have stepped down from coaching and managing the concession stand amidst the conflict. Little League spokesperson Steve Barr wouldn’t comment on the litigation, but noted that while all local leagues have to have insurance, it only covers personnel and players, not spectators.

While Miglaccio’s inaccurate arm is at the center of that legal mess, a young Iowa woman is making much different waves with her athletic pursuits. Recent high school graduate Rae Heim is spending her summer, and much of the fall, running across the country. The twist? She’s doing it barefoot.

For a number of years, Heim got attention for her disdain for running. As she put it, even running around the bases in softball seemed like a punishment. But when she discovered that people believed she was actually physically incapable of running, she set out to prove them wrong, entering road races and eventually starting her wild cross-country trek.

Heim does don shoes for safety when necessary, such as when she had to protect her feet from the busted glass and nails littering roads in New Jersey. But aside from avoiding injury in New Jersey and on gravel roads elsewhere, Heim says she prefers to run barefoot, as “We are born to run barefoot.” Her personal quest has also inspired a larger fundraising mission for the charity Soles4Souls, which supplies shoes to needy children. Heim has raised $2,900 for the charity thus far, which equates to 2,900 pairs of shoes.

Still, Heim won’t be winning any pageants in the near future with the bottoms of her feet looking like, in the words of Des Moines Register reporter Mike Kilen, “slabs of leather.” The same cannot be said for Mugly, a rescue dog from the United Kingdom, who on Friday earned the title of World’s Ugliest Dog. Mugly, a Chinese crested, beat out 28 other ugly dogs from around the world to claim the top prize in the annual competition held in North Carolina. The eight-year-old pooch was named Britain’s ugliest dog back in 2005, so this was hardly his first time in the spotlight. For his prize, Mugly receives $1,000 and a year’s supply of dog cookies. His prizes also include a photo shoot and a VIP stay in the local Sheraton hotel.

Other articles of interest:
Greece seeks to soften bailout terms
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US Judge Dismisses Apple Patents Lawsuit Against Motorola
To Settle Lawsuit, Facebook Alters Policy for Its Like Button
Texas attorney general: Google withholds evidence
Facebook to require privacy policies for all apps in App Center
Don’t Delete Your Stupidity. Fix it. Facebook Rolls Out Comment Editing and Edit History
ICANN names new CEO as gTLD director resigns
Report: Microsoft Surface Tablets to Be Wi-Fi-only at First
Nintendo 3DS XL coming to U.S. this summer
Bullying of teachers more damaging in online era
Couple’s delivery of lost ring brings joy to Auburn woman
Stonehenge a monument to unity, new theory claims
Tumour op in womb saves foetus
Up in smoke: Tobacco taxes to rise Sunday
Parts of Mars Interior as Wet as Earth’s
NASA’s Kepler spacecraft discovers extrasolar ‘odd couple’
Celebrate Alan Turing’s Birthday and Check Out the Lego Turing Machine
LeBron James, Heat dominate Thunder to win NBA championship
LeBron James wins Finals MVP

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