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ARLINGTON For 6 1/2 years, Curtis and Kelly Rookaird feel their lives have been derailed by Burlington Northern Sante Fe. But Curtis said he hopes a federal judge will stop them in their tracks next month.
The Rookairds recently won a $1.66 million lawsuit against BNSF, but you wouldnt know it by listening to them.
Its so big; the evil empire, Kelly said of BNSF. They think theyre above the law. Its hard to believe we got a verdict.
The Rookairds lost everything when Curtis was dismissed from his job as a BNSF conductor Feb. 23, 2010. They lost their dream home in Snohomish worth about $1 million. It had a swimming pool and a 1,200-square-foot, high-ceiling living room. It had a tree fort for sons Roman, now 11 1/2, and Reese, 11, whom they had just adopted from Russia. They used to ride go-carts on the three acres.
The Rookairds had to sell a one-of-a-kind Mustang for next to nothing, Kelly said. Plans were dropped for a Suncadia cabin. Theres no longer money in the bank for the boys college. They even had to borrow money from the First Presbyterian Church of Snohomish.
If not for a complete stranger, Colleen Byrum, who heard about the case 2 1/2 years ago, we would have been homeless, Kelly said. Byrum set up an online GoFundMe account that raised a few thousand dollars, without which they wouldnt have gotten into the home theyre in now. That rental in Gleneagle is dilapidated, the oldest in the development, Kelly said. Our entire lifestyle was thrust away from us, she said.
The Rookairds havent been able to help the boys with special needs as much as they would have liked, Kelly said. We struggle to pay the bills, she said, adding they can only afford medications periodically.
They have been selling items, such as Curtis wedding ring and a family heirloom, just to make ends meet, and Kelly had to put off eye surgery. They said they even could have lost their boys back to Russia because of their financial woes. On top of all that, Curtis said they owe their lawyers $500,000.
They had to go on welfare. He couldnt find anything for a job, Kelly said, adding being a conductor is not a position people job-hop from. Its a thing you retire from.
Eventually Curtis was retrained and got a commercial drivers license. He now drives tanker truck, delivering jet fuel in Seattle.
Its one-third the pay and more dangerous, Kelly said.
Rookaird was working near Seattle in 2010 when he and two other crew members were instructed to pick up 40 Hazardous Materials cars containing propane and butane residue. They decided they needed to perform a transfer train air brake test.
Kelly interjected, Safety should always come first.
They were contacted over the radio by a supervisor, who questioned why the test was being done, but didnt give them specific orders, Kelly said.
He wanted them to just push the cars along, Kelly said.
At the time, Curtis said he and his co-workers thought, It was the craziest thing, a trap. He said BNSF sometimes tests workers like that to make sure workers are doing their job right. So he, the brakeman and engineer continued to test the brakes.
But BNSF officials ordered all three home before they could complete their shift. Following a 13-hour investigation, BNSF fired Rookaird and issued record suspensions to the other two one year for the brakeman and three for the engineer.
Curtis said BNSF claims the trio was milking the job for overtime because they had just been switched from 12- to eight-hour shifts and that we were upset because of our new financial hardship.
In court, Rookaird contacted the Department of Labor in 2010. Following a three-year investigation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that BNSF had violated administrative law by firing Rookaird because of the air brake safety test. The DOL ordered that Rookaird be immediately reinstated and awarded damages of approximately $136,000.
If BNSF would have accepted that ruling, the Rookairds would not have lost the house. Actually, because of the ruling, they were able to hang on to it for four more years because the mortgage company figured at some point it would get its money. However, during foreclosure, the house was bought out from under them.
Kelly blames BNSF. They just wanted to stall paying, she said.
So the Rookairds contacted one of the best whistleblower lawyer firms in the country, Yaeger and Jungbauer, which moved the case to federal court.
Last month, a jury awarded the Rookairds $1.66 million. That included $200,000 in punitive damages because the railroads actions were malicious, oppressive or in reckless disregard of (Rookairds) rights.
Kelly is worried their fight isnt over. BNSF has indicated it is disappointed in the verdict and is contemplating an appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
Curtis doesnt think the case will go to appeal. He said the judge, who has 26 years experience, knows the case well.
He said BNSF claims it wasnt able to present all of its evidence at trial, but he wasnt either. Its edited. Certain things are thrown out. There are 8,000 pages of evidence, he said.
Curtis said the issues with BNSF are political. There are not enough federal rail inspectors, he said. As a result, BNSF has to look like it regulates itself. By making moves like dismissing Curtis, it looks like BNSF is watching its employees. Many have lost their jobs that way, he said. If federal inspectors were more involved there would be citations.
Another problem is management bonuses. If railroad cars dont move, higher-ups can lose that performance money, he added.
Curtis said his whistleblower case could lead to many ex-employees getting their jobs back.
Kelly went to Washington, DC, and testified with several others about BNSF to the DOL. OSHA has since come up with a program that if there are three whistleblower complaints against anyone they are put on a naughty list, Curtis said.
Curtis, who worked for the railroad for six years, said he became a conductor after just 15 weeks of training, which he said is scary. It takes years to really learn that job.
They dont care about their employees, he said. Do you think they care about their communities?
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President John Dramani Mahama has refuted claims that his government is intensely borrowing to undertake development projects in the country.
President Mahama described such claims as either "deliberate misinformation or actual misinformation," on the part of naysayers.
Addressing party supporters during his 'Accounting to the People' tour in Accra, the President said his government depends only on tax payers' money for development projects and not loans as being purported.
Citing the Beach road in the Ledzokuku Krowor Municipal Assembly (LEKMA), President Mahama retorted that it "was built by the government of Ghana from your tax payers' funds.
It was not built by any shopping mall. That road was built by the Ministry of Roads and Highways, Urban Roads Department."
He also bemoaned the fact people were discrediting road works done by government in Takoradi and attributing it to the Japanese government.
"It is the same thing in Takoradi. I went and cut sod for asphalting of 25 KM of roads in Takoradi and somebody went telling the people of Takoradi that it is the government of Japan that is putting asphalt on it. What does Japan care about coming to put asphalt on Takoradi roads?"
President Mahama took the opportunity to assure Ghanaians of the continued development of road infrastructure by his government.
"As I speak, we are going to begin major road works in Tema, in Ashiaman, in Kpone, in Teshie in Nungua. We are starting with 20km of asphalt in Tema Township," he added.
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I have examined many of the economic arguments about why Britain will suffer if they exit (including severe recession), and find few of these credible. It's not like trade between the UK and the EU will cease. In fact, the UK will be freer to negotiate trade deals than it is today under EU rules, and likely will end up with better ones. The only real short-term economic question is whether or not Brexit itself will have psychological consequences on the population and businesses which might negatively impact consumption and investment decisions. Let me be the first to point out that Brexit psychology may actually have a positive impact.
Due to the unexpected shock of Brexit, we can expect higher levels of market volatility, at least for a week or two, and a move toward safer haven assets, including the dollar and US Treasury securities. If there is a dramatic and permanent strengthening of the dollar as a result of the flight to safety, there could be a renewed negative impact on US manufacturing exports, but worse, it could start another round of currency devaluations (especially the Chinese yuan). Whether or not any of this occurs is highly speculative, and really not worth more than a mention so that we are cognizant of the possibilities. Once the markets accept Brexit as a reality, volatility will calm, and the move toward safer haven assets will likely reverse.Recognition shock at the Fed
Recognition shock also occurred at the Fed in mid-June. Economists have always relied on historical patterns when analyzing data or making forecasts. Not anymore! Since the recession, there have been epic changes in the way people move around, spend money, borrow money, get married, have children, etc.; and this, together with the aging population, has played havoc with economic modeling, expectations, and market volatility. We have had zero interest rates for eight years, and the Fed, using models based on historical data, has been consistently wrong about the future path of the economy. As a result, it has, of late, roiled markets with its threats of raising rates. Suddenly, in June, after seven years of faulty forecasts, they have finally recognized that future economic growth will be slower than what their models were predicting, and, therefore, interest rates will be lower for longer. Going forward, we can expect less volatility around Fed meetings, as it is more likely that Fed economic forecasts will more closely mirror what the market sees. It appears that the Fed and markets are now in agreement that 1 to 2 percent growth is the "new normal" for the US
Recognition shock is rare. Sometimes it roils markets and increases volatility, like Brexit. Sometimes it calms markets and reduces volatility, like the Fed's recognition of the new normal economic growth rate and the consequences for future interest rates.
Robert Barone (PhD, Economics, Georgetown University), an adviser representative of Concert Wealth Management, is a Principal of Universal Value Advisors (UVA), Reno, NV, a business entity. Advisory services are offered through Concert Wealth Management, a Registered Investment Advisor. Robert is available to discuss client investment needs. All inquiries welcomed. Call him at (775) 284-7778.
Statistics and other information have been compiled from various sources. Universal Value Advisors believes the facts and information to be accurate and credible but makes no guarantee to the complete accuracy of this information. A more detailed description of Concert Wealth Management, its management and practices is contained in its Firm Brochure (Form ADV, Part 2A) which may be obtained by contacting UVA at: 9222 Prototype Dr., Reno, NV 89521. Ph: (775) 284-7778.
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Payday loans have been disastrous for many low-income households. The default rate is about 20 percent and many borrowers are forced to renew with additional fees. Borrowers could end up with a debt that includes more fees and interest than the original amount of the loan. Now the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposes restrictions to require that lenders establish the borrower's capacity to repay the loan.
Corporations and financially sophisticated individuals often borrow money. Debt is a significant aspect of American capitalism. However, there are rules governing the process. One basic principle is that the interest rate ought to be less than the projected percentage of profit from the investment of the loan. Different types of loans will have customary interest rates, such as "the prime rate" that banks charge their most credit-worthy customers. The Wall Street Journal prime rate is now about 3.5 percent, a far cry from the rate charged on payday loans.
It was once considered to be imprudent for an individual to create credit card debt to finance consumer purchases, but that principle is now considered to be archaic. In 2015 US consumers amassed a credit card debt of $731 billion, with the average household owing $15,762. The largest personal loan category is for mortgages, $8.25 trillion or $168,614 per household, but real estate is an asset with the potential of increasing in value. Regulators are concerned about the payday loan industry, which has grown to about $46 billion primarily to pay for ordinary living expenses.
The credit card industry developed to assume liability for consumers who wanted to pay by check for goods or services. The retailer had no way of knowing whether a customer really had sufficient funds in the bank so that the check would be honored when deposited. At the end of the month the customer would receive an invoice from the credit card company for his purchase. It was not necessary to pay the debt all at once. Monthly payments could be made at a substantial rate of interest.
Credit card companies issue their cards to credit-worthy applicants. The payday loan industry has developed to serve those whose credit might not meet the standards of a credit card company. Consequently, the lender requires collateral. So the borrower must arrange for the lender to appropriate his next paycheck if he is unable to pay the outstanding balance of the loan. The term of the loan is only until the next paycheck, usually two weeks.
What usually happens is that the borrower is unable to repay the loan when due so he or she must roll it over, at a substantial fee. A small loan could balloon in size with fees. Annual interest would be in the hundreds. The amount of the loans is small and the fees incurred are often not inappropriate for the administrative time spent, but when calculated on an annual interest basis the rate can soar.
Regulations imposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will only mollify the issue. The real problem is systemic poverty. About 46 million Americans live below the federal poverty levels and about 88 million have no banking relationship. They are therefore required to pay substantial fees for any financial services that they require.
The American banking system does not adequately service those with limited income. Therefore, the Community Development Financial Institutions, a division of the US Treasury, ought to develop a more effective solution.