07-24-2024  2:29 pm   •   PDX and SEA Weather

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NORTHWEST NEWS

Wildfires Threaten Communities in the West as Oregon Fire Closes Interstate, Creates Its Own Weather

Firefighters in the West are scrambling as wildfires threaten communities in Oregon, California and Washington. A stretch of Interstate 84 connecting Oregon and Idaho in the area of one of the fires was closed indefinitely Tuesday. New lightning-sparked wildfires in the Sierra near the California-Nevada border forced the evacuation of a recreation area, closed a state highway and were threatening structures Tuesday.

In Washington State, Inslee's Final Months Aimed at Staving off Repeal of Landmark Climate Law

Voters in Washington state will decide this fall whether to keep one of the country's more aggressive laws aimed at stemming carbon pollution. The repeal vote imperils the most significant climate policy passed during outgoing Gov. Jay Inslee's three terms, and Inslee — who made climate action a centerpiece of his short-lived presidential campaign in the 2020 cycle — is fighting hard against it. 

SneakerWeek 2024 Launches in Pioneer Courthouse Square July 26

The event brings together industry experts, BIPOC designers and sneaker enthusiasts.

Money From Washington's Landmark Climate Law Will Help Tribes Face Rising Seas, Climate Change

Tens of millions of dollars raised by a landmark climate law in Washington state will go to Native American tribes that are at risk from climate change and rising sea levels to help them move to higher ground, install solar panels, buy electric vehicles and restore wetlands. The Quinault Indian Tribe on the Olympic Peninsula is getting million to help relocate its two main villages to higher ground, away from the tsunami zone and persistent flooding.

NEWS BRIEFS

Dr. Vinson Eugene Allen and Dusk to Dawn Urgent Care Make a Historical Mark as the First African American Owned Chain of Urgent Care Facilities in the United States

Dusk to Dawn Urgent Care validated as the First African American Owned Urgent Care in the nation with chain locations ...

Washington State Black Legislators Endorse Kamala Harris for President

Members of the Washington State Legislative Black Caucus (LBC) are proud to announce their enthusiastic endorsement of Vice President...

Oregon Housing and Community Services Awarded More Than $11 Million to Increase Energy Efficiency in Affordable Housing

Part of a nearly 0 million Climate Pollution Reduction Grant awarded to Oregon ...

Merkley, Senators Urge VA to Expand Access to Medical Cannabis for America’s Veterans

Senators’ letter follows DEA’s recommended rescheduling of cannabis from earlier this year ...

Federal Appeals Court Declines to Restore Voting Rights in Mississippi

Thousands of Mississippians Face “Especially Cruel” Disenfranchisement Scheme ...

Oregon fire is the largest burning in the US. Officials warn an impending storm could exacerbate it

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A wildfire burning in Oregon that's kicking smoke into neighboring states is now the largest active blaze in the U.S., authorities said, and fire crews are bracing for a storm late Wednesday that's expected to bring lightning, strong winds and the risk of flash floods. ...

Wildfires threaten communities in the West as Oregon fire closes interstate, creates its own weather

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) — Firefighters in the West are scrambling as wildfires threaten communities in Oregon, California and Washington, with at least one Oregon fire so large that it is creating its own weather. Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon was closed in both directions Tuesday...

Chiefs set deadline of 6 months to decide whether to renovate Arrowhead or build new — and where

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — The Chiefs have set a deadline of six months from now to decide on a plan for the future of Arrowhead Stadium, whether that means renovating their iconic home or building an entirely new stadium in Kansas or Missouri. After a joint ballot initiative with the...

Missouri governor says new public aid plan in the works for Chiefs, Royals stadiums

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday that he expects the state to put together an aid plan by the end of the year to try to keep the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals from being lured across state lines to new stadiums in Kansas. Missouri's renewed efforts...

OPINION

The 900-Page Guide to Snuffing Out American Democracy

What if there was a blueprint for a future presidential administration to unilaterally lay waste to our constitutional order and turn America from a democracy into an autocracy in one fell swoop? That is what one far-right think tank and its contributors...

SCOTUS Decision Seizes Power to Decide Federal Regulations: Hard-Fought Consumer Victories Now at Risk

For Black and Latino Americans, this power-grab by the court throws into doubt and potentially weakens current agency rules that sought to bring us closer to the nation’s promises of freedom and justice for all. In two particular areas – fair housing and...

Minding the Debate: What’s Happening to Our Brains During Election Season

The June 27 presidential debate is the real start of the election season, when more Americans start to pay attention. It’s when partisan rhetoric runs hot and emotions run high. It’s also a chance for us, as members of a democratic republic. How? By...

State of the Nation’s Housing 2024: The Cost of the American Dream Jumped 47 Percent Since 2020

Only 1 in 7 renters can afford homeownership, homelessness at an all-time high ...

AFRICAN AMERICANS IN THE NEWS

Body camera video focused national attention on an Illinois deputy's fatal shooting of Sonya Massey

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A riveted nation watched video released this week of a sheriff's deputy fatally shooting Sonya Massey, a 36-year-old Black woman who called 911 for assistance, in her Illinois home. Sean Grayson, 14 months into his career as a deputy sheriff for Sangamon...

Puerto Rico bans discrimination against those who wear Afros and other hairstyles on diverse island

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor on Wednesday signed a law that prohibits discrimination against people wearing Afros, curls, locs, twists, braids and other hairstyles in the racially diverse U.S. territory. The move was celebrated by those who had long demanded...

Harris asks for 2024 support from women of color during an address at a historically Black sorority

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris told members of the historically Black sorority Zeta Phi Beta on Wednesday that “we are not playing around” and asked for their help in electing her president in November. “In this moment, I believe we face a choice between two...

ENTERTAINMENT

Book Review: East Texas P.I. turns vigilante in funny and savage 'Sugar on the Bones'

Minnie Polson was in some sort of trouble, so a friend recommended the private eye firm of Hap Collins, his wife Brett, and their pal Leonard Pine. But when they meet, Minnie doesn’t like their attitude, and they don’t like hers. Hours after they agree to part company, Minnie’s...

Book Review: The Knights of Camelot search for a new king in Lev Grossman’s 'The Bright Sword'

A rudderless nation, lost in uncertainty, searches for its next commander in chief. There’s an uneasy sense that the country’s glory days have passed, and that a monumental turn in history is coming — for good or for ill. How do you find a leader to unite such a fractured, polarized land? ...

Music Review: Glass Animals weave heartstring-tugging vignettes on new album

Love songs have existed for millennia but leave it to Glass Animals to give them a refreshing spin, where love isn't always a honeymoon phase or heartbreak — it's much, much more. The British indie-pop band, known for hits like 2014's “Gooey” or 2020's viral “Heat Waves," has...

U.S. & WORLD NEWS

This is one of the oldest games in North America. You've likely never heard of it

CHOCTAW, Miss. (AP) — As the drummers walk onto the field, the players behind them smack their hickory sticks to...

Can you guess Olympians' warmup songs? World's top athletes share their favorite tunes

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Curious about which songs are fueling the Olympians competing in Paris starting this month?...

Republican leaders urge colleagues to steer clear of racist and sexist attacks on Harris

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican leaders are warning party members against using overtly racist and sexist attacks...

Turkey plans to regulate a large stray dog population, raising some fears about mass killings

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish bill aimed at regulating the country's millions of stray dogs moved closer to...

Meta takes down thousands of Facebook, Instagram accounts running sextortion scams from Nigeria

Meta said Wednesday that it has taken down about 63,000 Instagram accounts in Nigeria running sexual extortion...

Puerto Rico bans discrimination against those who wear Afros and other hairstyles on diverse island

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor on Wednesday signed a law that prohibits discrimination...

James O\'Toole CNN Money

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Getting served with foreclosure papers made Lynn Szymoniak rich.

While she couldn't have known it at the time, that day in 2008 led to her uncovering widespread fraud on the part of some of the country's biggest banks, and ultimately taking home $18 million as a result of her lawsuits against them.

Szymoniak is one of six Americans who won big in the national foreclosure settlement, finalized earlier this year, as a result of whistleblower suits. In total, they collected $46.5 million, according to the Justice Department.

In the settlement, the nation's five largest mortgage lenders --Bank of America, Wells Fargo,JPMorgan, Citigroup and Ally Financial -- agreed to pay $5 billion in fines and committed to roughly $20 billion more in refinancing and mortgage modifications for borrowers.

A judge signed off on the agreement in April, and in May -- Szymoniak received her cut.

"I recognize that mine's a very, very happy ending," she said. "I know there are plenty of people who have tried as hard as I have and won't see these kinds of results."

Whistleblower suits stem from the False Claims Act, which allows private citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of the U.S. when they have knowledge that the government is being defrauded. These citizens are then entitled to collect a portion of any penalties assessed in their case.

The act was originally passed in 1863, during a time when government officials were concerned that suppliers to the Union Army during the Civil War could be defrauding them.

In 1986, Congress modified the law to make it easier for whistleblowers to bring cases and giving them a larger share of any penalties collected. Whistleblowers can now take home between 15% and 30% of the sums collected in their cases.

In the cases addressed in the foreclosure settlement, the whistleblowers revealed that banks were gaming federal housing programs by failing to comply with their terms or submitting fraudulent documents.

In Szymoniak's case alone, the government collected $95 million based on her allegations that the banks had been using false documents to prove ownership of defaulted mortgages for which they were submitting insurance claims to the Federal Housing Administration.

The FHA is a self-funded government agency that offers insurance on qualifying mortgages to encourage home ownership. In the event of a default on an FHA-insured mortgage, the FHA pays out a claim to the lender.

Szymoniak's case was only partially resolved by the foreclosure settlement, and she could be in line for an even larger payout when all is said and done.

As an attorney specializing in white-collar crime, the 63-year-old Floridian was well-placed to spot an apparent forgery on one of the documents in her foreclosure case, one she saw repeated in dozens of others she examined later.

"At this point, the banks are incredibly powerful in this country, but you just have to get up every morning and do what you can," she said.

The other five whistleblowers in the settlement came from the industry side, putting their careers at risk by flagging the banks' questionable practices.

Kyle Lagow, who won $14.6 million in the settlement, worked as a home appraiser in Texas for LandSafe, a subsidiary of Countrywide Financial. He accused the company in a lawsuit of deliberately inflating home appraisals in order to collect higher claims from the FHA, and said he was fired after making complaints internally.

Gregory Mackler, who won $1 million, worked for a company subcontracted by Bank of America to assist homeowners pursuing modifications through the government's Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP. Under HAMP, the government offers banks incentive payments to support modifications.

Mackler said Bank of America violated its agreement with the government by deliberately preventing qualified borrowers from securing HAMP modifications, steering them toward foreclosure or more costly modifications from which it could make more money. He, too, claims to have been fired after complaining internally.

There's also Victor Bibby and Brian Donnelly, executives from a Georgia mortgage services firm who accused the banks of overcharging veterans whose mortgages were guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, thereby increasing their default risk. Bibby and Donnelly won $11.7 million in the settlement; their attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.

Shayne Stevenson, an attorney who represented both Lagow and Mackler, said the two weren't aware of possible rewards when they first brought their evidence to his firm.

"The reality of it is that most of the time, whistleblowers don't even know about the False Claims Act -- they don't know they can make money," Stevenson said. Both his clients, Stevenson added, "just wanted the government to know about this fraud, so they deserve every penny that they got."

A Bank of America spokesman declined to comment on individual cases, but said the national settlement was "part of our ongoing strategy to put these issues, particularly these legacy issues with Countrywide, behind us." BofA acquired mortgage lender Countrywide in 2008, thereby incurring the firm's legal liabilities.

The other banks involved either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

While the whistleblowers in the settlement scored big paydays in the end, the road wasn't easy. Stevenson said his clients "were pushed to the brink" after raising their concerns, struggling to find work and beset by financial problems.

"They were facing evictions, foreclosure, running away from bills, trying to deal with creditors that were coming after them," Stevenson said. "This went on and on and on, and this is part and parcel of what happens to whistleblowers."

For Robert Harris, a former assistant vice president in JPMorgan's Chase Prime division, the experience was similar.

Harris accused the bank of failing to assist borrowers seeking HAMP modifications and knowingly submitting false claims for government insurance based on wrongful foreclosures. He was stymied when he tried to complain internally, and says he was fired for speaking out.

While Harris ended up with a $1.2 million payout in the settlement, the father of five says he's been blacklisted within the industry and exhausted by the ordeal.

"It completely turned my life upside down," he said. "I'm trying to raise my kids, recover from a divorce, recover from the loss of my career -- it just comes to down to surviving and putting this to an end."

"I guarantee the other whistleblowers, too, have sacrificed a lot," he added. "But to be able to sit back and sleep at night is worth it."