This was my first week here in Jefferson City, and let me say that this is the real deal. I had only gone to two Broadcast one classes before my first day, and they expected me right off the bat to produce four wraps of a story that were going on NPR the next morning. I only got two done, but the one I was most proud of, my boss didn't like since it had some speculation and I didn't have a Republican source. He canned it, and it never reached the air, with all my hard work being in vain. Thats the real world I guess.
Anyway, on my second day of work, I was told to do a story by my assignment editor based on McCain's allegation that the media is unfairly treating the candidates of this years election. The first thing that popped into my mind was that my Democratic sources would say that he is just complaining of all the scrutiny his running mate is receiving because of her short time in the media spotlight, and the Republicans would say she is receiving this scrutiny because of her gender. As I went about interviewing various legislators from both parties though, I found a bipartisan agreement between them. Though the Democrats felt that the attention to her was needed, they felt overall that the types of questions were unfair and sexually biased. As for the Republicans, they kept to the story of Gov. Palin being unfairly treated because of her being a woman, but they stuck more to the types of questions that the media is asking, such as concerning her parenting and her clothing styles. One Republican legislator even went as far to say that the treatment of women in this campaign extended all the way to Hillary when she was still running.
When I presented this new slant to my editor, he loved the story, and in my first week I was assigned a feature. Ill finish the sound bytes today, and then on Tuesday I will write it to be ready for the four O'Clock news.
This last week I did a story on the credit crisis and how it is effecting the state subsidized student loans. I interviewed the the chief executive of Mohela (Missouri Higher Education Loan Association) and learned that the student loan business is in dire straights. The way Mohela is able to give out loans is that investors buy bonds from them with students loans being the asset backing the loans. Mohela then uses the investors money to buy up student loans from private loan companies, and uses the interest payments from those loans to pay dividends on the bonds and to offer their own low interest loans for low-income students. Traditionally, this has been a very strong enterprise, as students have been paying back their loans and investments have been stable. With the sub-prime mortgage crisis though, investors are afraid of any asset-based investments, including student loans. Now, Mohela is down on the year and hardly breaking even each month. I am on the wrestling team at Mizzou, and through small talk I told my coach about this story. He was really dismayed by this news. Wrestling is not a full scholarship sport, with only nine scholarships for a team of forty. What coaches do then is split up the scholarships, giving one athlete a thirty percent ride and another ten percent and so forth. Even with the partial scholarships, half of the wrestlers on the team need to talk out student loans in order to pay for school. If students aren't able to receive loans, a lot of my teammates won't be able to be here. It truly is amazing how a major problem in society can percolate into so many facets of our life.
Last week I was introduced to a group called "The Silver Haired Legislature." This group is comprised of Missouri citizens over the age of 60 who run for an elected position in their district and reside in either a silver-haired senate or house. What the legislative bodies do is discuss issues pertinent to the elderly, and then pass legislation which is then given to the real house and senate for a vote. The issues of the day covered a wide array of subjects.Some of the most interesting ones were consumer protection and state guardianship. The consumer protection legislation focused on protecting the elderly from mail-ads that mislead them into signing up for long term contracts and entering into credit agreements. These mailings look like checks the elderly would receive from their bank or the government, and upon depositing them unknowingly enter into an unwanted contract. I never thought about this being a problem, as I throw away most of the stuff I receive in the mail except for pizza coupons. I can see though for an elderly person who sits down everyday and methodically goes through the mail how a seemingly innocent check could developer into a world of trouble.
State guardianship garnered a full half-hour of debate among the senators. The bill that was in contention would establish a state office that would provide training for guardians and hold a central registry of all guardians in Missouri. During the debate I heard much controversy over the pros and cons of the bill. The pro side stated harrowing anecdotes of elders being abused by their guardians, like one women who's son became her guardian and then pulled all of her money and ran off to Texas. Additional stories cited instances of elders unable to receive guardianships unless they had substantial savings; people uninterested in serving them unless there was a monetary incentive. The proponents felt that the creation of a council would help curtail these instances of abuse or the inability to receive care. Opponents of the bill felt that the council would actual be detrimental to the state guardianship program. They felt that the bill was unclear of how compulsory the training for guardians would be. Those speaking said that most of the time the guardians of the elderly are family members and offspring, and if they were to be forced to undergo training would be less likely to take on the responsibility. This would then increase the already large need for guardians. It seemed that the helpfulness of a council was not in contention, but rather the ambiguity of the bill in its actions. In the end the bill did not pass. For me, this highlights a constant conundrum within politics. It seems that when any legislation is drawn up, there is a constant battle for a balance between the ambiguous and the precise in order to attain the best possible chance of a bill passing. If a bill resonates well with a body of voters except for one little stipulation that rubs a large amount of people the wrong way, an otherwise quality bill will fail because of the author's laying out of by lines that could be hammered out by the council that would supervise the bill's actions once passed. On the other hand, a bill that is devoid of precise language but encompasses a sound idea can be dismissed as not accomplishing anything, and so proving to be a waste of time and money.
I did a story on a decades old bill requiring the state to provide adult English language instruction through state agencies. The story had relevance because of the proposed English only constitutional amendment on the ballot this election. If the amendment were to pass, it would be pertinent to know how the state had been preparing the non-English speaking population, as required by law, to conform to an English only government. I talked to the department of education who had been required to give funding and support to English instruction programs. They said that they had been in compliance with the bill even before it was passed, always being avid supporters of teaching English as a second language. Representing the opposing side was the executive director of the Missouri Immigration and Refugee Advocates. She said that the quality of the programs is good, but that there are not enough programs to meet the demand. The real problem was the lack of assistance given to students while they were learning. What she meant by this was the students needed help functioning in society. This focused on having interpretors for political events, community events, or things as simple as understanding a teacher in a parent/teacher conference. I could never imagine moving to a foreign country with a different language and trying to just begin a new life. Yeah, I would probably pick up enough to get by, but to ever get involved in the community like the director of the MIRA was citing, I think the frustration would be unbearable. It's sad that a language barrier can cancel out an otherwise equal voice, especially one that could give a whole other perspective as an outsider coming in to a community.
Deregulation. This week I discovered the word contains more connotations than the word "sex". To some it means opportunity, competition in a free market unfettered by government interference. It's a word that entails a survival of the fittest, where the strongest competitor rises to the top and offers its clients the best possible price. To others it means fear, fear of giant corporations muscling out the competition with low prices and then, when no one is left, price gouging and letting the comfort of no competition let product quality slip. AT & T of Missouri just became deregulated, and the other telecommunication companies in the state are following suit. The long standing corporate giants say this is needed in order to compete with the telephone services offered by wireless, cable, and the Internet.This may be, but I talked to the head of the Missouri Public Service Commission who says he imagines in ten years AT & T being the only phone service provider in the state. I don't know if that will happen, or if it does what the effects will be, but I am a firm believer that competition keeps companies honest, whether the industry is deregulated or not.
So I recently did a story on the director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources stepping down from his position. Doyle Childers was in government for over twenty years, and was quitting because he and the new governor don't get along. During both of their times in Jefferson City they got in some very vocal and very public fights over such things as the removal of the Katy Trail bridge and the Taum Sauck reservoir dilemma. It's sad that this is happening. The key to a Democratic government is having diverse opinions. That way a decision that best serves the majority of people can be reached through compromise. Childers says that when two people don't agree as fervently as he and the governor-elect do, they simply cannot work together. That may be so, but it is sad when the reality of social truths gets in the way of free government.
I finally finished my feature on the state of the Missouri auto industry. It was over two weeks in the making, mostly due to the fact no one wanted to speak about getting laid off. Well, I finally got someone who was willing to talk, but he did it for a reason. He's the head of his United Auto Workers local, and the majority of people in his union, including him, lost their job when the plant in Fulton closed. He seemed to be speaking on behalf of everyone of his union, and took the opportunity to speak to the press to say what he thinks is wrong with the auto-industry. He said that it all stemmed from international trade policy. He says the US follows a free market model where there are little taxes on imported goods, forcing American companies to compete with foreign goods. The problem is that foreign countries don't follow the same model, and have heavy taxes on American goods bought on their land. He says American cars aren't being bought world wide because the foreign governments make them too expensive, and low manufacturing costs and no taxes make foreign cars sold in the US a better deal. I think there is truth to this, but I feel that even with the taxes, foreign cars will be cheaper regardless because of the low wage of foreign Asian workers. Even if there were no import taxes in foreign countries on American cars, how do we know foreigners would then buy them?
The Miissouri electoral college met today to official cast Missouri's vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin. You know, there has and always will be talk of how the electoral college is an unneeded vestige of the first US election, and actually shortchanges the American people by making their vote not count. Well, I think there is something to be said for tradition. Every one of the electors voted the way of the popular vote regardless of what they themselves voted in the popular election. In England, the queen still must sign every bill in order to make it law, but in practice she is just a figurehead and leaves the lawmaking to elected officials. The half-hour ceremony isn't really needed today, but to see the pride of the electors as they took part in the American democratic process in front of family and friends and to see a part of our American heritage before my eyes tells me the government covering the travel costs for the college is worth it.