Friday, November 11, 2011

For Bank Of America, Debit Fees Extend To Unemployment Benefits

CORDOVA, S.C.-- Shawana Busby does not seem like the sort of customer who would be at the center of a major bank's business plan. Out of work for much of the last three years, she depends upon a $264-a-week unemployment check from the state of South Carolina. But the state has contracted with Bank of America to administer its unemployment benefits, and Busby has frequently found herself incurring bank fees to get her money.
To withdraw her benefits, Busby, 33, uses a Bank of America prepaid debit card on which the state deposits her funds. She could visit a Bank of America ATM free of charge. But this small community in the state's rural center, her hometown, does not have a Bank of America branch. Neither do the surrounding towns where she drops off her kids at school and attends church.
She could drive north to Columbia, the state capital, and use a Bank of America ATM there. But that entails a 50 mile drive, cutting into her gas budget. So Busby visits the ATMs in her area and begrudgingly accepts the fees, which reach as high as five dollars per transaction. She estimates that she has paid at least $350 in fees to tap her unemployment benefits.

"It really boggles my mind," she said. "This bank is taking little bits of money out of thousands of pockets, including mine."

Bank of America recently aborted plans to charge ordinary banking customers $5 a month to use their debit cards in the face of national outrage. But the bank has quietly continued to mine another source of fees: jobless people who depend upon the bank's prepaid debit cards to tap their benefits. Bank of America and other financial firms -- including U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase -- have secured contracts to provide access to public benefits in 41 states. These contracts typically allow banks to collect unlimited fees from merchants and consumers.
In short, the same banks whose speculation delivered a financial crisis that has destroyed millions of jobs have figured out how to turn widespread unemployment into a profit center: The larger the number of people who are out of work and dependent upon the state for sustenance, the greater the potential gains through administering their benefits.
"It's absolutely ridiculous," said Sue Berkowitz, director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, a Columbia nonprofit that represents low-income people facing foreclosure, food insecurity and other problems. "It should not cost you any more to use a debit card than if they had issued you a check."
For the state, handing Bank of America responsibility for unemployment benefits secured cost savings, said Berkowitz, but they have come at vulnerable people's expense.
"When it comes to ordinary people getting the benefits they have earned, the benefits they need, they don't seem to spend a lot of time worrying," she said.

Bank of America asserts that its prepaid debit cards are a good deal for everyone -- from state taxpayers to people drawing unemployment benefits.
"We have provided prepaid card programs to government agencies for many years," said Jefferson George, a Bank of America spokesman based at the company's Charlotte headquarters. "Clients value the cost savings and increased efficiency and individuals appreciate the ability to receive their benefits payments more quickly and securely."
South Carolina officials say their state's current arrangement with Bank of America, launched in July 2010, has proven a good value for taxpayers. The South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce, which oversees unemployment benefits, expects to save as much $5 million in check printing and mailing costs annually through its contract with Bank of America, said an agency spokeswoman, Adrienne Fairwell.
She said the state was also attracted to the debit cards as a means of helping jobless people who do not have bank accounts avoid the fees they must pay to cash checks. Roughly one tenth of all South Carolina households -- about 182,000 families -- did not have a bank account as of last fall, according to a recent Pew Research Center report.
But some banking experts say the relevant cost savings are accruing to the banks themselves. New federal regulations cap what banks can collect from merchants when consumers swipe ordinary debit cards at store cash registers. The new swipe fee limits will cut Bank of America's revenues by $2 billion this year, according to Richard Bove, an analyst who follows Bank of America for Connecticut-based brokerage and research service Rochdale Securities.
"Most banks are aiming to recoup 30 to 50 percent through other methods," which include prepaid card fees, said Nancy Bush, an analyst with NAB Research, LLC, a a New Jersey-based investment consulting company, who monitors Bank of America.
Those limits do not apply to most prepaid debit cards, making them particularly attractive to banks, say experts. Prepaid cards are still a small business for banks, but the sector is quickly growing, experts say.
South Carolina now distributes half of all unemployment benefits using Bank of America prepaid debit cards, according to the state department of employment and workforce, with most of the other half delivered through direct deposit.
Neither the state nor Bank of America would disclose the details of their contractual arrangement. A bank spokesman termed the deal "confidential." When The Huffington Post asked the state for for the details of the contract, the spokeswoman required the submission of a formal Freedom of Information Act request. Yet one week after that request was lodged, the state has not provided the contract terms.
But The Herald, a Rock Hill, S.C. newspaper, reported in 2009 that South Carolina pays the bank a 3 cent fee for each transfer it facilitates on a prepaid debit card. The bank collects the same fees from the state for handling direct deposit of unemployment benefits, a state spokesperson said.
Banking experts say the real money lies in the fees the bank collects for a range of services. When the state first contracted with Bank of America, the list of potential fees the bank was allowed to collect included a $1.50 charge when a customer visited a bank ATM or teller more than once per week, a $1.50 charge for use of an out-of-network ATM, a $1.50 charge for speaking to a customer service operator more than once per month, and 50 cents for entering the wrong PIN number at an ATM more than four times or requesting more funds from an ATM than remained on the card.
In May, the National Consumer Law Center named Bank of America prepaid debit cards issued to unemployed people in California and New Jersey the best in the nation. But unemployed card holders in those states don't face the same list of potential fees that exist in South Carolina. One example: California and New Jersey's contracts allow card users to conduct a limited number of free transactions at other banks' ATMs.
After learning about the options that Bank of America gave people using its prepaid cards in other states, South Carolina asked the bank for changes, Fairwell said. In July, unemployed individuals gained unlimited free withdrawals at Bank of America ATMs and one free withdrawal per week at a bank teller anywhere the VISA logo is displayed.
But some fees remain. Bank of America charges prepaid debit card holders in South Carolina $1.50 to visit an out of network ATM. Bank of America also levies a 50 cent fee when a customer uses an ATM to try to withdraw more money than they have in their account more than once in a single week.
"It's not what we would like to see," said Lauren Saunders, managing attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. "It is not as if the bank can legitimately argue it costs them something not to let someone take money out of an ATM."
The state asserts that people who are prudent, timing their withdrawals while adhering to the limits, can secure all of their funds without charge.
"With careful use, South Carolina cardholders can avoid paying any fees," said Fairwell.

But people who rely on such cards to collect their benefits have a difficult time hewing to polite language when they hear such characterizations.

"That's bullshit," said Sandra Gortman, 55, a Columbia resident who says she incurred some $10 in fees within the first weeks of using her card. "Excuse me. But, really, there is no way given the way you have to live when you have very, very little money and copious amounts of stress, to avoid paying fees."

In 2008, Gortman, a long-time bill collector, temporarily left her law firm job to work for the Obama campaign. When the campaign ended the law firm could not afford to keep her on staff, so she started searching for work. In January 2009, she enrolled in the state's unemployment benefits program. At first, her benefits were direct deposited to her Bank of America checking account.
In August 2010, unemployment officials summoned Gortman for a benefits review during which she says she was strongly encouraged to sign up for a prepaid debit card. Gortman resisted. Fearful that the agency would delay her benefits if she did not submit, she says, Gortman signed the form. A few weeks later the card and a brochure came in the mail. The potential fees were disclosed in the fine print, she says, but she initially missed them.
The first week she had the card, Gortman used it to purchase $25 worth of gas at a Columbia gas station. The station held $75 as a deposit while she filled up, and did not refund the balance -- $50 -- until three days later. She says she discovered the charge later when she checked her balance. When Gortman noticed this additional charge, she called Bank of America's automated customer service twice seeking explanation, incurring a $1.50 charge for the second call, she says. When the automated system failed to explain the missing money, Gortman spoke to an operator, incurring an additional 50 cent fee, she said. In July, the bank eliminated customer service fees.
"When you are living on $325 in unemployment benefits a week, believe me, you need and notice every penny," said Gortman. "So I called, I know one week, three or four times before I realized those calls were costing me money. I was, well let's just say, utterly outraged."
In the town of Cordova, where traffic lights are outnumbered by pickup trucks, Busby and her family have been largely dependent on unemployment benefits since June of 2008, when her husband was laid off from a job at a tractor company. The following month, she lost her own job teaching welfare recipients life skills. When their weekly unemployment checks arrived in the mail, she drove north to Columbia or west to Orangeburg, some 35 miles away, to deposit them in their checking account.
The following year, her husband found a full-time factory job, and she secured a temporary position with the Census. But when her job ended in May 2010, Busby went back to the unemployment office to sign up for benefits anew. She received a few checks, and then the state sent her a debit card, though says she has no recollection of applying for one.
Even now that she is cognizant of the fees, she is afraid to switch to direct deposit, fearing a resulting gap in her weekly benefits. Her family's finances are so tight, she says, that any delay puts them behind on the bills.
"There is always, something due -- a light bill that has to be paid, car insurance, the phone," she said. "I get my benefits and that's when we buy food, that very day. There's just a very delicate balance at our house. Nothing, I mean nothing, can go wrong."

Riverside County, California To Charge Prisoners $142 Per Day Of Their Stay

In one southern California county, prisoners will soon have to pay for the privilege of staying in jail.
Riverside County, California will start charging prisoners $142.42 per day of their prison stay, CNNMoney reports. The county's board of supervisors approved the measure on Tuesday as a way to save an estimated $3 to $5 million per year. Not every prisoner will be forced to pay up, however. The county will review each prisoner's case individually to determine if they can afford the fee.
The fee comes as the California correctional system continues to struggle with budget woes. Last month, in an effort to save money, the state transferred responsibility for lower-level drug offenders, thieves and other convicts to counties. The "prison realignment" is one of many measures the state has taken in recent years to close its budget gap. The California Supreme Court is considering this week whether the state broke the law when it used re-development funds to close a shortfall a few years ago, according to the Wall Street Journal.
But at some prisons, there still may be room for cost cuts. A California prison nurse was paid a salary of $269,810 in 2010 after working thousands of hours in overtime. Indeed, the five highest-paid California state employees all work in the prison system, according to LA Weekly.
California isn't the only state coping with cuts to its budget and prison system. Jefferson County, Alabama filed for the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history Wednesday after amassing massive debt and contending with a huge budget shortfall.
Other states have also considered extreme measures in order to cut prison-related costs. In Washington, corrections officials are considering leaving unsupervised thousands of former prisoners currently on parol in an attempt to cut costs, according to the Seattle Times. Thousands of prisoners in Texas have been eating two meals a day on weekends since April in a bid to save the prison system money. In Camden County, Georgia, officials mulled the idea of sending prisoners to work as firefighters to cope with budget woes.
But some have pushed back against the trend. In Minnesota, department of corrections officials argued in April that proposed cuts to the state's prison system were so deep that they would endanger public safety, according to CBS Minnesota. While in New York, the State Corrections Officers Union, told Gov. Andrew Coumo in February that his proposal to cut 3,500 prison beds would put guards who look over violent inmates in danger, the New York Daily News reported.

Though the lingering effects of the recession only made worse the budget woes of many prison systems, the problem wasn't born out of the financial crisis. The number of offenders serving life sentences in prison quadrupled between 1984 and 2008, USA Today reports.
And while state prisons may be suffering, federal prisons are filling that same pinch. President Obama's combined budget requests for fiscal years 2011 and 2012 included a 10 percent increase in funding for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, bringing the total to more than $6.8 billion, according to Mother Jones.

Fossils From Animals And Plants Are Not Necessary For Crude Oil And Natural Gas, Swedish Researchers Find

"There is no doubt that our research proves that crude oil and natural gas are generated without the involvement of fossils. All types of bedrock can serve as reservoirs of oil," says Vladimir Kutcherov. (Credit: Image courtesy of Vetenskapsrådet (The Swedish Research Council))

ScienceDaily (Sep. 10, 2009) — Researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm have managed to prove that fossils from animals and plants are not necessary for crude oil and natural gas to be generated. The findings are revolutionary since this means, on the one hand, that it will be much easier to find these sources of energy and, on the other hand, that they can be found all over the globe.

“Using our research we can even say where oil could be found in Sweden,” says Vladimir Kutcherov, a professor at the Division of Energy Technology at KTH.
Together with two research colleagues, Vladimir Kutcherov has simulated the process involving pressure and heat that occurs naturally in the inner layers of the earth, the process that generates hydrocarbon, the primary component in oil and natural gas.
According to Vladimir Kutcherov, the findings are a clear indication that the oil supply is not about to end, which researchers and experts in the field have long feared.
He adds that there is no way that fossil oil, with the help of gravity or other forces, could have seeped down to a depth of 10.5 kilometers in the state of Texas, for example, which is rich in oil deposits. As Vladimir Kutcherov sees it, this is further proof, alongside his own research findings, of the genesis of these energy sources – that they can be created in other ways than via fossils. This has long been a matter of lively discussion among scientists.
“There is no doubt that our research proves that crude oil and natural gas are generated without the involvement of fossils. All types of bedrock can serve as reservoirs of oil,” says Vladimir Kutcherov, who adds that this is true of land areas that have not yet been prospected for these energy sources.
But the discovery has more benefits. The degree of accuracy in finding oil is enhanced dramatically – from 20 to 70 percent. Since drilling for oil and natural gas is a very expensive process, the cost picture will be radically altered for petroleum companies, and in the end probably for consumers as well.
“The savings will be in the many billions,” says Vladimir Kutcherov.
To identify where it is worthwhile to drill for natural gas and oil, Vladimir Kutcherov has used his research to arrive at a new method. It involves dividing the globe into a finely meshed grid. The grid corresponds to fissures, so-called ‘migration channels,’ through underlying layers under the surface of the earth. Wherever these fissures meet, it is suitable to drill.
According to Vladimir Kutcherov, these research findings are extremely important, not least as 61 percent of the world’s energy consumption derives from crude oil and natural gas.
The next step in this research work will involve more experiments, but above all refining the method will make it easier to find places where it is suitable to drill for oil and natural gas.
Vladimir Kutcherov, Anton Kolesnikov, and Alexander Goncharov’s research work was recently published in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience.

Sovereign Debt: The Next Crisis - Marc Faber

Fannie Mae Taps Treasury For $8 Billion More, Bailout Grows To $112 Billion

I've been covering the Fannie Mae bailout for 3 years and I'll keep posting something on it every quarter until it's over, which I don't anticipate happening anytime soon.
WASHINGTON, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Fannie Mae , the biggest source of money for U.S. home loans, on Tuesday said it needed a further $7.8 billion in federal aid to stay afloat as a shaky housing market widened its third-quarter loss to $5.1 billion.
The government-controlled firm also attributed the deeper cash drain to losses on derivatives used to hedge its exposure to interest-rate swings and on expenses related to home loans made prior to the 2008 financial collapse. In the year-earlier quarter it had a loss of a $1.3 billion.
Fannie Mae has now drawn $112.6 billion in bailout funds from the Treasury Department since being seized by the government in 2008 as mortgage losses mounted, and it has returned $17.2 billion to taxpayers in the form of dividends.
"There is certainly a lot of pre-2009 loans that we need to work through and that is certainly driving the credit losses you saw in this quarter and over the last several years," Fannie Mae Chief Financial Officer Susan McFarland told Reuters.
Given the crucial role the two play in U.S. housing finance, owning or guaranteeing about half of all mortgages, the government has pledged unlimited funds to keep the firms afloat through the end of 2012. Combined, they have cost taxpayers around $169 billion.
Continue reading...

Catherine Austin Fitts: The Black Budget And The Leveraged Buyout Of The World Using Stolen Money

Catherine Austin Fitts said we are witnessing a Leveraged Buyout of the world that will permanently end democracy. The elite has bought all the politicians and the media. They have stolen enough money to earn 2 trillion dollars a year from their investments. She said 2 trillion dollars a year is sufficient to fund a world government.
Wall Street and the City of London have been given more money in Bailouts than the total amount of money the United States spent on all of its wars. Wall Street was also allowed to steal 4 trillion dollars from federal spending that we are not allowed to audit. When she was Housing Commissioner in the first Bush administration, she once saw on one city block ten government guaranteed loans on buildings that never existed.
Separately from that Jim Willie has said when the Federal Reserve sells Treasury bonds, they sell more than the deficit. This fraud has added trillions more to the LBO Buyout fund.
As I have said previously, the banks are allowed to launder a trillion dollars a year in drugs, 400 billion dollars a year in illegal weapons and 500 billion dollars in political bribes.
Catherine has written and spoken often of mortgage fraud. The bankers were allowed to sell each mortgage ten times. The Federal Reserve has been busy buying fraudulent mortgage backed securities to keep the bankers out of jail.
She said we were all heartened when the House voted against the Bailout in 2008. The bankers reversed that decision through three methods. They were able to donate money and give bribes which most voters are aware of. They are not aware of Control Files which have all the blackmail information on politicians. But with government databases run by private military contractors and smart meters reporting on activities inside our homes to IBM the bankers now have Control Files on everyone. They also have the right to kill anyone with impunity.
Catherine said this right to kill with impunity must be taken away from them.
The hardest thing for her to accept is to live with people who try to pretend there is no evil force out there. But she added more people are waking up every day.
She has suggested basic reforms. One would be for the government to release all expenditures by zip code. This would eliminate a lot of fraud. Another would be to end the practice of allowing defense contractors to form subsidiaries that pay and audit contracts awarded to their parent corporations. She aid that centralizing power in the hands of the elite is counter productive and and makes us all poor. She emphasized that as soon as those centralizing controls were lifted, we would have a rapid recovery.
Catherine urged us to accept this fact:
There are worse things than being killed by the criminals who have stolen your government and your money.
Related Articles:
This essay is about Jim Willie and the missing trillions.
LOL!! I Stole 3.5 Trillion Dollars From You. I Dare You To Do Something.
Michael Hudson: Go Beyond Left And Right To An Anti-Banker Party
America Is Now A Criminal Enterprise And That Is The Good News

Experts Suggest the CIA, Not Kim Jong-il, is Counterfeiting Dollars

“Sources allege that the CIA prints the falsified ’Supernotes’ at a secret facility near Washington to fund covert operations without Congressional oversight.”
By Klaus W. Bender
Translated By Armin Broeggelwirth
JPEG - 50.3 kb
The American $100 dollar bill: Is the CIA printing fake currency to fund its covert operations?
The American secret service, the CIA, could be responsible for manufacturing the nearly-perfect counterfeit 50 and 100-dollar-notes that Washington pins on the terror regime of North Korea. The charge comes after an extensive investigation in Europe and Asia by the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Sonntagszeitung of Frankfurt, and after interviews with counterfeit money experts and leading representatives of the high-security publishing industry.
The U.S.-dollar forgeries designated "Supernotes," which are so good that even specialists are unable to distinguish them from genuine notes, have circulated for almost two decades without a reliable identification of the culprits. Because of their extraordinary quality, experts assume that some country must be behind the enterprise.
The administration of George W. Bush officially accused Pyongyang of the deed in the autumn of 2005, derailing Six-Party Talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. Since then, tensions on the Korean Peninsula have increased considerably. America charges that North Korea is financing its rocket and nuclear weapons program with the counterfeit "Supernotes."
North Korea is one of the world’s poorest nations and lacks the technological capability to produce notes of such high quality. According to the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Sonntagszeitung, North Korea is at present unable to even produce the won [the North Korean currency]. The sources, which do not wish to be identified, allege that the CIA prints the falsified "Supernotes" at a secret facility near Washington to fund covert operations without Congressional oversight.
(Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, January 6, 2006)

Morning Joe Team Points Out Obama Hypocrisy On Wall Street

Army veteran and his wife die in tragic 'suicide pact' after becoming 'too poor to live through the winter'

  • Every month the couple walked 12 miles to a soup kitchen to get free food

  • Charity said they 'slipped through the net'

  • Mark and Helen Mullins kept food in plastic bags in their garden because they couldn't afford a fridge

  • Driven to despair at having to live off £57.50 a week

  • Poverty-stricken pair found dead at home last Friday

  •  A newly married couple forced to live on £57 a week killed themselves in despair after being 'abandoned' by social services, their friends claimed yesterday.
    The bodies of Mark and Helen Mullins were found lying side by side at their run-down home in an apparent suicide pact.
    News of the tragedy emerged yesterday as friends told how they had been forced to live 'hand to mouth', making a weekly 12-mile trip to a soup kitchen on foot after Mrs Mullins' benefits were stopped 18 months ago.
    Mark and Helen Mullins: Lived in just one room of their run-down home
    Mark and Helen Mullins: Lived in just one room of their run-down home
    Tragic: Mark and Helen Mullins could not face another freezing winter on the poverty line, according to neighbours
    Tragic: Mark and Helen Mullins could not face another freezing winter on the poverty line, according to neighbours
    Military man: Mr Mullins served as a PE teacher in the Army but fell on hard times after leaving the service
    Military man: Mr Mullins served as a PE teacher in the Army but fell on hard times after leaving the service
    The couple were given free vegetables at the soup kitchen in Coventry each Sunday, which they boiled into a broth on a camping stove.
    They lived in just one room of their terraced house to save on heating costs and could not afford a fridge so kept their food in plastic bags in the garden.
    They are believed to have killed themselves after 18 months of struggling to survive on the £57.50 Jobseeker's Allowance payment Mr Mullins, a 48-year-old former Army physical training instructor, was able to claim.
    Their heart-breaking plight was revealed yesterday, five days after their bodies were discovered at their council house in Bedworth, Warwickshire.
    Charity workers who befriended the couple said society had allowed them to 'slip through the net'.
    Mrs Mullins, 59, suffered from learning difficulties and social services are understood to have taken her 12-year-old daughter away last year after she was considered to be incapable of looking after her.
    As a result, her child benefits were stopped but she was ineligible to claim Jobseeker's Allowance because she was not deemed fit to work.
    She was also told she did not qualify for incapacity benefit because she had not been officially diagnosed with a medical condition.
    Mr Mullins was his wife's full-time carer. He fought to get a carer's allowance but was told he could not claim until she was diagnosed with a disorder.
    Run-down: The property that Mark and Helen Mullins shared as they lived on £57.50 per week
    Run-down: The property that Mark and Helen Mullins shared as they lived on £57.50 per week
    Officers discovered their bodies after neighbours reported they had not been seen for some days. Kervin Julien, who runs the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Coventry used by the couple, said: 'The question needs to be asked – why was it they felt they had no one else to turn to?
    'It's sad that in this day and age we have still got prehistoric services that are not meeting the needs of the people who need them.'


    Mark and Helen Mullins were left living on a measly £57.50 per week in a run-down property which has now been boarded up.
    They would have received an additional £20.30 per week in child benefit before their 12-year-old was taken off them.
    Helen was not eligible for disability benefit despite having learning difficulties because they feared she would be put into care if the full extent of her problems were known, friends said.
    Mark had not been in the forces for long enough to claim a pension.
    Mr Julien, who appeared in TV programme The Secret Millionaire, added: 'They walked everywhere hand in hand, like young lovers.
    'Mark talked about the authorities taking Helen's daughter away from her but not acknowledging her mental health problems.
    'They had been staying with relatives and friends to try and avoid the authorities, as they believed they wanted to section Helen. They just wanted support.'
    It is understood the couple married in July last year, shortly after they appeared in an online documentary about people living below the poverty line in Warwickshire.
    Mr Mullins said in the interview: 'The job centre decided Helen couldn't sign on as she was incapable of employment as she has no literacy and numeracy skills.
    Coventry city centre: With more than 10,000 looking for work in the city, Mr Watson and Ms Derrig expected more than the two responses they received
    Mr and Mrs Mullins were forced to walk ten miles each week into Coventry city centre to a soup kitchen where they could get free vegetables
    'However, the incapacity people wouldn't recognise her disabilities. We're in a catch 22 situation. We're living hand to mouth.'
    One neighbour said: 'The authorities turned their back on them.
    'They obviously couldn't face another freezing winter and felt they had no other choice but to kill themselves.'
    Police said they were not looking for anyone else in connection with the deaths. Warwickshire County Council refused to comment because the couple are yet to be formally identified.
    A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: 'The couple in question had been receiving weekly benefits from the department since February 2010 - these included money for disability and caring responsibilities as well as out of work support.
    'We had not received any complaint from them about their benefit claim.'
    • For confidential support call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see for details

    Tube suicides increase by 74 per cent as recession worries hit home

    The number of people attempting suicide on the London Underground has soared over the last 10 years, the Standard can reveal.
    Transport for London figures show 80 people threw themselves in front of Tube trains last year compared with 46 in 2000 - a rise of 74 per cent in a decade.
    Tube passengers have suffered a total of 29 days of delays in the last 10 years because of people killing themselves across the network.
    There has been a marked increase since the global financial crisis in 2008. In 2007, 61 people threw themselves in front of Tube trains. By 2009 the annual figure had soared to 82, a 34 per cent increase.
    Paul Castle, 54, a Mayfair property tycoon who played polo with Prince Charles, threw himself in front of a train at Bond Street station last November after he saw his multi-million pound empire suffer in the recession.
    The worst affected station was King's Cross St Pancras with 18 suicides over the last decade.
    The next highest was Mile End with 17 self-inflicted deaths, more than at much larger stations such as Victoria and Liverpool Street.
    The Northern line saw the most suicide attempts, with 145 over the last 10 years. Last year, London's busiest Tube line dealt with 20 people under trains compared with just six in 2000.
    Other badly affected lines over the last 10 years were the Central line with 99 suicides, the Piccadilly line with 92 and the District line with 81.
    The Jubilee line recorded the lowest number of suicides with just 27 during the decade. Last year, Tube commuters were delayed by 89 hours in total by suicides, a 137 per cent rise over the last 10 years.
    The Northern line suffered the most delays with 29 hours last year, an increase of 131 per cent compared with the year before. The Central line was also badly affected with 17 hours of delays, and the District line suffered 11 hours.
    Last year, months in which suicides peaked were May and June which each saw nine attempts across London Underground.
    A TfL spokesperson said: "London Underground carries over 3.5 million people across the capital safely each day.
    "Person under a train incidents are thankfully rare. Each incident is traumatic for everyone involved, the families, friends, Underground staff and the emergency services."

    Ala. county to file largest municipal bankruptcy

    Alabama's most populous county filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history Wednesday, years after being plunged more than $4 billion into debt by a corruption-riddled sewer project.
    Just two months after it seemed Jefferson County could stave off embarrassment by striking a deal with creditors, talks broke down over about $140 million, said Commissioner Jimmie Stephens, who made the motion to file for the protection. Since 2008, commissioners have tried to avoid the move to settle the debt, which resulted mostly from a mix of outdated sewer pipes, the lagging economy, court rulings and public corruption.
    The filing does not wipe out the whole $4.1 billion, said commission president David Carrington, who wasn't certain how much the county will have to pay back. A plan would have to be worked out in bankruptcy court and approved by a judge and at least one group of creditors, Carrington said. The bankruptcy's financial burden for residents and employees likely won't be known until that plan is in place, he said.
    Still, the four men and one woman on the board in their 4-1 vote decided it was time to bring the issue to an end and remove the cloud hanging over the county, home to Birmingham, the state's largest city, commissioners said.
    "Jefferson County has, in effect, been in bankruptcy for three years," Stephens said.
    The county of about 658,000 residents struck a preliminary deal with Wall Street bankers in September, but, despite that being a hopeful sign, there was always the possibility that bankruptcy would be necessary.
    The deal required state lawmakers to approve a mix of local tax hikes, budget changes and other legislation to resolve the debt. However, Republican Rep. Paul DeMarco of Homewood, co-chairman of the Jefferson County House delegation, said the governor never called the Legislature into special session to find a resolution because there never was a final plan.
    The Republican governor said he was ready to call that session but was never given the chance.
    The settlement proposal with Wall Street investors led by JPMorgan Chase & Co included the lenders agreeing to forgive about $1 billion in debt, the county refinancing about $2 billion, and a series of sewer rate increases.
    "JPMorgan worked very hard with the county and other creditors to avoid a bankruptcy filing," the financial company said in a statement. "We offered very substantial financial concessions to make the deal happen while keeping sewer rates within the parameters proposed by the county. While we're disappointed by the county's decision to file, we will continue to work toward a fair and reasonable solution."

    Carrington said the filing was not a negotiation ploy. Also, he said consumers likely would be saddled with rising sewer rates to help pay off the debt, but he wasn't sure how much.
    If Jefferson County's bankruptcy is approved, it would overshadow the one filed by record-holder Orange County, Calif., in 1994 over debts totaling $1.7 billion.
    Pennsylvania's capital city of Harrisburg recently sought bankruptcy protection under similar circumstances as it struggled with about $300 million in debt from a trash incinerator that began operating in 1972.
    In the 1990s, a federal court forced Jefferson County — home to both Alabama's largest city, Birmingham, and its medical and financial centers — to begin a huge upgrade of its outdated and overwhelmed sewer system to meet federal clean-water standards. Officials used bonds to finance the improvements. Outside advisers suggested a series of complex deals with variable-rate interest that were later shown to be laced with bribes and influence-peddling. Besides the sewer debt, the county faces a separate shortfall of as much as $50 million in its operating budget because courts struck down a major local tax as unconstitutional.
    The bankruptcy filing likely won't affect other municipal bond rates much, if at all, said Matt Fabian, managing director at research firm Municipal Market Advisors.
    "Big investors — mutual funds, insurers, banks— have been assuming the worst all along," he said. "If another county had filed, that would be a different story."
    The market has been on edge for a while, with investors worried about rising defaults from local governments borrowing more to maintain services because of plunging tax receipts during the terrible economy. The doomsayers have been wrong — so far. Widespread defaults never materialized.
    Still, for individual investors, the default could make them want to stay away from the bonds in general, he said.
    "They think they've been misled about the risk of default. This doesn't help," Fabian said.
    Still, Gov. Robert Bentley said the filing would hurt the entire state, not just the Birmingham area.
    "By filing for bankruptcy, the county commission now relinquishes control of its affairs into the hands of a federal bankruptcy judge," Bentley said in a statement. "The Jefferson County sewer debt crisis has been an impediment to economic growth in the state, and the bankruptcy filing will now be an even greater challenge to overcome."

    Jefferson County's problems multiplied when loan payments rose quickly because of increasing interest rates as global credit markets struggled. Soon the county could no longer afford its payments. Meanwhile, a string of elected officials, public employees and business people were convicted of rigging the transactions that helped put the county in so much trouble.
    Bentley said his administration has worked closely with commissioners, creditors and legislators to hammer out the best deal possible for county residents and ratepayers. He said he is fundamentally opposed to bankruptcy.
    "I believe if you borrow money you need to pay your debts," he told reporters while attending a state school board meeting. He said he had offered to call the Legislature into special session to pass anything needed to complete an agreement with creditors.
    "We had put everything in place to help them solve their problem," Bentley said. "These banks have to be paid."

    New York - Rabbi Helps Lead Off Occupy Protesters March From NYC to DC

    Michael Glazer, of Chicago, leads other demonstrators affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement at the start of a march from the encampment at Zuccotti Park to Washington DC,  Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011 in Jersey City, N.J.  (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)Michael Glazer, of Chicago, leads other demonstrators affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement at the start of a march from the encampment at Zuccotti Park to Washington DC,  Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011 in Jersey City, N.J.  (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
    New York - Flanked by police scooters, about two dozen Occupy Wall Street protesters started a two-week walk from New York to Washington on Wednesday.
    The activists left Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, marched past the World Trade Center site and boarded a ferry to New Jersey. The group planned to stay overnight at a private home in Elizabeth, N.J., and resume their walk on Thursday morning.

    “Everything is going well so far, everyone is in good spirits” Kelley Brannon, the walk’s main organizer, said during a phone interview Wednesday night, shortly before they arrived in Elizabeth. “We’re doing well and looking forward to our travel.”
    They plan to walk through Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland and arrive in Washington by Nov. 23 — the deadline for a congressional committee to decide whether to keep President Barack Obama’s extension of Bush-era tax cuts. Protesters say the cuts benefit only rich Americans.
    Michael Glazer, a 26-year-old actor from Chicago, smiled as he boarded the ferry across the Hudson River, cheered by supporters shouting, “Thank you!” Walking in well-worn boots, he said: “I’ve had these for years and years, and they’ve served me well for many miles of marches.”
    They hope to pick up other participants along their 240-mile march and have likened the effort to long-distance walks during the civil rights era. They say they’ll overnight by camping or at volunteered accommodations.
    Among those seeing off the Occupy marchers was Rabbi Chaim Gruber, 42, the self-appointed “resident rabbi” of the New York protest.
    “Anyone need a sleeping bag?” he asked the group, handing over two — along with a bag containing shampoo and extra socks.