Textbooks a Drag on Student Budget

By Andrea Jungels

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (UTC / The Loop) – Students spend hundreds of dollars every semester on textbooks.  And textbook costs are on the rise with no end in sight.

According to the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank composed of over 50 scholars who study and advocate for social issues, in 30 years student book costs have increased 812 percent.  That is well over the 559 percent increase in college tuition since that same time.

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University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s average cost for books is about 700 dollars a semester.  The campus bookstore is affiliated with Barnes and Noble so the major book-selling corporation will naturally seek a profit.  But are they just fleecing the students by charging exorbitant prices and taking advantage of their corner in the market?  Is this capitalism gone haywire playing at the nerves of students desperate to earn a degree and land a job in this shaky market?

Over 60% of the 20 million Americans attending college each year borrow money so a solution to curtailing book costs is necessary.

Do you think university textbooks are too expensive? Answer here!

One solution is to roll an estimated book cost into college tuition and each incoming freshmen will just be given their assigned book prior to the start of each semester.  This of course will require an oversight committee to ensure inflated prices are not abused.

To do this, UTC will have to consider other universities’ successes in implementing the inclusion of book costs.  And after researching over five other schools’ tuition breakdown, it looks like no other schools have attempted this so UTC would be groundbreaking in this implementation.

Students always have the option to buy the books used or rent them or even search out other places to buy them like Amazon.com.  But this is time-consuming and not always a guarantee of lower prices anyway.

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Student Charnele Box wrote an interesting commentary on her opinion of the high cost of books.

UTC junior Sidney Sadler also had a great post about the difficulty students face in selling back their textbooks.

One thing is certain, the cost of textbooks and pretty much everything affiliated with their purchase is creating huge headaches.

Attractive Woman with Her Books

Email your Chancellor to let him know you aren’t happy with the situation and maybe change will begin!

 

 

Unanimous Vote to Push Pension Plan Forward

By Andrea Jungels

CHATTANOOGA, TN (The Loop/UTC) – The debate has been raging for months and finally reached its culmination at last weeks city council meeting. The vote to amend Chattanooga fire and police workers’ pension fund passed unanimously and is one step closer to becoming reality.

Mayor Andy Berke says the cuts in funding are to save tax-payers money. Berke says roughly $227 million dollars are being trimmed.

Retired police officer Kirk Salter had passionate words about the decision.   “I’m hot and fired like a firecracker and I’m not through with them yet okay? From now on, I’m just telling you, Travis McDonough and Andy Berke are no friends to public safety and first responders. They made that straight from this point on.”

Officials with the Fire and Police Pension Board explain that the changes are”in line with what’s taking place all over the country.”  They defend the vote saying they will still be able to train and recruit high quality personnel for the police and fire departments.

City Council Approves Pension Task Force legislation

City Council Approves Pension Task Force legislation

Employee contributions are being raised nearly 40 percent and retirees’ cost of living adjustments are being cut.  The changes are all for a good cause, Berke and other officials reassure the community.

This vite was the first in three stages before the changes are implemented.

Please depend on us to keep you posted on all further developments in the pension debate.

 

Comment or questions?  Email Andrea Jungels

 

Woman Complains to Cops About Bad Pot

By Andrea Jungels

LUFKIN, Texas (UTC The Loop/AP) — Police in East Texas have arrested a woman after she called them to complain about the quality of the marijuana she had purchased from a dealer.

Lufkin police Sgt. David Casper said Monday that an officer went to the home of 37-year-old Evelyn Hamilton to hear her complaint that the dealer refused to return her money after she objected that the drug was substandard.

Casper says she pulled the small amount of marijuana from her bra when the officer asked if she still had it.

Should marijuana be legalized so charges like these aren’t pressed?  Click here to take survey.

She was arrested Friday on a charge of possession of drug paraphernalia.

Hamilton said Monday she spent $40 on “seeds and residue.” She says she called police when she got no satisfaction from the dealer’s family.

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Mexico Financing the Cartel

By Andrea Jungels

CHATTANOOGA/LAZARO CARDENAS, Mexico (UTC/AP) — Forget crystal meth. The pseudo-religious Knights Templar drug cartel in western Mexico has diversified to the point that drug trafficking doesn’t even rank among its top sources of income.

The cartel counts illegal mining, logging and extortion as its biggest moneymakers, said Alfredo Castillo, the Mexican government’s special envoy sent to restore the rule of law in Michoacan, the state controlled by the Knights Templar the last several years.

Iron ore “is their principle source of income,” Castillo told The Associated Press. “They’re charging $15 (a metric ton) for the process, from extraction to transport, processing, storage, permits and finally export.” The ore itself doesn’t go for that price; the cartel skims $15 for every ton arriving in port. While it’s long been known that Mexican cartels engage in other types of criminal activity, including trafficking of people and pirated goods, this is the government’s first official acknowledgement that a major organized crime group has moved beyond drugs. The Knights Templar and its predecessor, La Familia, started out as major producers and transporters of methamphetamine.

The implications are enormous that organized crime in general in Mexico stands to diversify and become even more entrenched.

“It’s a criminal organization like the mafia,” said Antonio Mazzitelli, the Mexico and Central America representative to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. “La Familia, the Knights Templar and, in part, the new, smaller cartels that have developed, like the New Generation Jalisco, are copying this new typology.”

Mexican authorities count at least 12 major cartels, but also talk of an untold numbers of smaller splinter groups. Federal prosecutors have not seen similar shifts in other cartels, according to an Attorney General’s Office official, who insisted on speaking anonymously because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the topic.

But experts disagreed. The Zetas cartel, with its strongholds along the U.S.-Mexico border, was among the first to change the business model from merely production and transport of drugs to migrant smuggling and controlling territory through terror. Though drugs still top their list, the Zetas likely make as much from kidnapping and extortion, said Samuel Logan, director of Southern Pulse security consulting firm.

“I’ve never looked at them as drug-trafficking organizations,” Logan said of Mexico’s cartels. “They’re multinational corporations that will react to market pressures and do what they have to do to stay in business.”

The Knights Templar took the model to another level, exploiting the main industries of the territory they control.

Alonso Ancira, president of the National Chamber of the Iron and Steel, recently told local journalists that he estimated drug cartels earned $1 billion in profits from selling iron ore in 2013. It was unclear if Ancira was referring only to the illegal mining done by the Knights Templar, and he didn’t respond to an interview request from the AP.

The federal government has issued 900 concessions in Michoacan to mine iron ore, Castillo said. In 2008, only 1.5 percent of the iron ore exports to China went through the state’s port of Lazaro Cardenas, but by 2012 nearly half of the exports to the Asian country were processed there.

As for extortion, Castillo said, information from victims led government experts to estimate that the cartel earned $800,000 to $1.4 million a week just from that crime. Much of its extortion demands were made on Michoacan’s lime and avocado producers, and the Knights Templar even controlled the wholesale distribution center where prices were set and growers sell limes to the rest of the world.

Former President Felipe Calderon warned against such a stranglehold when he first sent troops to Michoacan in late 2006 to fight La Familia, the predecessor of the Knights Templar. He said the cartel was trying to infiltrate all levels of society. By the time La Familia morphed into the Knights Templar in 2010, it seemed to control the entire state, including politicians and police who failed to act.

More than seven years of military-style strikes failed to dislodge them. Now the federal government seems to be having more success by going after the cartel’s financial resources. It took over the port of Lazaro Cardenas in November and named Castillo in January as a commissioner with special powers to try to clean up Michoacan.

Since then, authorities have seized 119,000 metric tons of iron ore stored at several yards in Lazaro Cardenas and say they have liberated the wholesale lime center by taking over the farming hub of Apatzingan.

The government also has arrested or killed much of the cartel’s leadership, but they did the same to La Familia, only to see that cartel remake itself into something even more menacing.

Because of financial hits, the cartel is now struggling to pay informants and assassins, Castillo said, though he didn’t explain how that’s known.

The Knights Templar hold was so tight that vigilante groups eventually formed and armed themselves to fight back. With fighting escalating between the cartel and the “self-defense” groups, federal security forces finally moved in early this year.

“The Zetas, La Familia Michoacan, the Knights Templar are, for the most part, predators and parasites that become rejected by the communities,” the U.N.’s Mazzitelli said.

That contrasts with traditional drug-trafficking cartels, which generate jobs and wealth for local people, buying loyalty and protection. The classic example is the Sinaloa cartel, the only pure drug-trafficking organization left in Mexico, even with the recent capture of its leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Hundreds of local residents protested his arrest.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

UTC Needs Native American Studies

By Andrea Jungels

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (UTC/The Loop) – The Trail of Tears is the name of the route Native Americans took on their forced removal from their homes in the 1830’s.  This path cuts right through the heart of Chattanooga and continues  all the way to Oklahoma.  The forced relocation of these people was nothing short of ethnic cleansing and remains a barbaric and heart breaking mark on early American history.  With such a substantive role in local history, it is shocking UTC doesn’t offer study programs to educate the community about the atrocious acts that happened right here.

The Native Americans lived on southeastern land rich in natural resources.  The government wanted to exploit these resources.  When the Native Americans refused to give up their land, the American government created a law called the Indian Removal Act.  Thousands of Native Americans from Cherokee, Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw tribes had days to gather a few meager belongings and begin the thousand mile walk to a reservation in Oklahoma.  Four thousand Cherokee alone did not make the journey, succumbing to disease and dying from exposure to the harsh elements.  A few hundred Cherokee hid in the mountains and their descendants now live on a reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina.

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“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  This famous quote from the poet George Santayana is a stern warning to the current “Generation Me”, a generation known for selfies and a new level of narcissism and entitlement.  UTC needs to start offering programs that educate the community about the Native American culture that thrived right here on the land the campus sits on, if not to understand their contributions to society, but so students can recognize how dangerous an unchecked government can be.

 

 

 

Russian Activist Publishes Sochi Corruption File

Olympic Park in Sochi, Russia

Olympic Park in Sochi, Russia

By:  Andrea Jungels

SOCHI, Russia (AP/The Loop) — An interactive website launched Monday by anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny paints a vivid picture of the suspected cost overruns and conflicts of interest at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Russia has spent about $51 billion to deliver the Sochi Olympics, which run Feb. 7-23, making them the most expensive games ever even though as a winter event it hosts many fewer athletes than summer games do.

Navalny claims that Russia spent twice as much as necessary to build at least 10 of the Olympic venues — including the Bolshoi Ice Palace, the Fisht Stadium for the opening/closing ceremonies and the speed-skating arena.

Allegations of corruption have dogged preparations for the Sochi Games for years, as reported by The Associated Press and others. Navalny’s new website — Sochi.FBK.info — combines data gathered during his own investigations along with media reports and other activists’ analysis.

Using colorful graphics, the website makes a wide range of data accessible in English and Russian.

“Athletes are not the only people who compete in Sochi,” Navalny, who finished a strong second in Moscow’s mayoral election last year, wrote on the website. “Officials and businessmen also took part in the games and turned them into a source of income.”

President Vladimir Putin has rejected claims about rampant corruption in Sochi, saying the inflated prices were due to the honest mistakes of investors who underestimated the costs.

“If anybody has got this information, please show this to us,” Putin said in a recent television interview. “But so far we haven’t seen anything except speculation.”

A 2012 report by the government’s Audit Chamber found about 15 billion rubles (about $500 million) in “unreasonable” cost overruns in the preparations for the Sochi Olympics.

Auditors found that the work of some staff members at Olympstroi, the state company in charge of Sochiconstruction, between 2008 and 2010 was “conducive to incurring unreasonable cost overruns.” At least three criminal investigations against Olympstroi employees have been opened, but none of them has reached court. Olympstroi has since changed its management.

The Sochi Organizing Committee would not comment Monday on Navalny’s new website.

When asked about it, Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said the IOC stands “against any form of corruption.”

“Whenever there have been concerns and accusations and information in the past, they have been passed on to the organizing committee,” Bach said.

Navalny does not seem to provide solid evidence of how money was stolen during the many Sochiconstruction projects. This has proven extremely difficult to do, because the games were not covered by Russian laws on tenders and procurement, making officials unaccountable for the money spent.

Olympstroi was given free rein by Putin to “determine the ground rules for selecting investors and contractors” for Olympic venues. This created fertile ground for corruption in the allocation of funds, according to Ivan Ninenko, deputy director of Transparency International in Moscow.

Olympstroi “is even less transparent than companies in (Russia’s) state-owned sector, where corruption is rife,” he told the AP.

The total amount of state contracts overseen by Olympstroi was about 700 billion rubles, or $22 billon, according to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, the government official in charge of the games.

A website Navalny set up in 2010, called Rospil, has monitored thousands of Russian state contracts and appealed to law enforcement agencies to get the murky ones annulled. Rospil has been successful in overturning nearly 130 contracts worth nearly $2 billion in taxpayer money. Not for the Sochi Games, though.

“Opportunities for public control are very limited” for Sochi contracts, said Konstantin Kalmykov, who works for Navalny. All it takes is a presidential or government decree to award a contract to a specific firm.

“If there were regular public control in place, that would be a big factor in saving funds and increasing efficiency of spending,” Kalmykov said.

Navalny’s new website lists several Sochi construction projects with evident conflicts of interest. In one of the most glaring examples, the Ice Cube curling stadium was built by a company controlled by businessman Alexander Svishchev, the father of Dmitry Svishchev, president of the Russian curling federation, the website said, citing public records.

One of the key beneficiaries of lucrative Olympic contracts was Putin’s childhood friend Arkady Rotenberg. Through a majority-owned subsidiary, Rotenberg holds nearly 39 percent of the Mostotrest company, which amassed a dozen Olympics-related state contracts to build nearly all of the highways in the area.

Mostotrest’s contracts in Sochi amounted to $3.1 billion, including a $1.6 billion bypass for Sochi, as well as tunnels, bridges and railroads, the company confirmed to the AP.

The Russian business daily Vedomosti in 2009 analyzed scores of tenders for Olympic contracts and discovered that the majority of bids were very close to the maximum the state said it would pay and in many cases bidders were barred from running, leaving one company to claim the contract.

Mostotrest won the $1.6 billion bypass contract after firms owned by tycoons Oleg Deripaska and Roman Abramovich dropped out of the competition in 2009. Mostotrest offered to build the road for 59.36 billion rubles, just barely below the maximum state price of 60.9 billion rubles.

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AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson contributed to this report from London.

 

For more on the misuse of Sochi funds click here .

For more on top Kremlin critique click here .

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.