Higher Out-of-state Tolls Draw Criticism

NEW YORK, Aug. 30 (UPI) — A New York assemblyman says New York and New Jersey toll agencies should stop charging higher EZ-Pass rates to out-of-state drivers.

Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, a Long Island Democrat, wrote a letter to the governors of both states calling for an end to the higher rates for out-of-state motorists and said millions of them should be refunded money, the New York Post reported Tuesday.

His office has been deluged with complaints, Sweeney said.

“They aren’t too happy about it,” he said.

He argued a decision by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to increase prices for users of E-ZPasses issued by other states runs counter to the purpose of the toll pass program.

“E-ZPass was created to be an efficient system over a multi-state area,” Sweeney said.

The increase also will hurt the economies of both states, Sweeney said.

“Adopting reciprocal discounts will encourage travel, commerce and industry,” he wrote in the letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The higher out-of-state tolls are expected to bring in $33 million this year for the MTA, which operates nine bridges and tunnels, and $16 million a year for the New Jersey Turnpike, the Post said.

The newspaper said other New York toll agencies, including the Thruway Authority and the Bridge and Tunnel Authority, give EZ-Pass discounts to out-of-state drivers.

U.S. Home Prices Up Quarter To Quarter

NEW YORK, Aug. 30 (UPI) — U.S. home prices rose from the first quarter of 2011 to the second, but remain down on an annual basis, a closely watched housing index showed Tuesday.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Index found prices rose 3.6 percent from the first quarter after dropping 4.1 percent from the fourth quarter to the first.

“With the second quarter’s data, the national index recovered from its first quarter low, but still posted an annual decline of 5.9 percent versus the second quarter of 2010,” the report said.

Nineteen of 20 cities monitored by the report were up in June compared to May with the exception being Portland, Ore., where prices were “flat,” the report said.

As of June, 12 of 20 cities in the study group have had price increases for three consecutive months. The 10-city study group and the 20-city-group have also seen increases for three consecutive months.

“This month’s report showed mixed signals for recovery in home prices. No cities made new lows in June 2011, and the majority of cities are seeing improved annual rates,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Indices.

Of the 20 cities studied, eight “bottomed out in 2009 and have remained above their lows,” the report said.

The cities where home prices hit bottom two years ago include Washington, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.


Consumer Confidence Slides Hard In August

NEW YORK, Aug. 30 (UPI) — Consumer confidence in the United States hit the lowest point in more than two years in August, the Conference Board said Tuesday.

“Consumer confidence deteriorated sharply in August, as consumers grew significantly more pessimistic about the short-term outlook,” Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said in a statement.

“A contributing factor may have been the debt ceiling discussions since the decline in confidence was well under way before the S&P downgrade. Consumers’ assessment of current conditions, on the other hand, posted only a modest decline as employment conditions continue to suppress confidence.”

After a slight improvement in July, the index that measures confidence levels “plummeted in August,” the Conference Board said. The index fell from 59.2 in July to 44.5.

The monthly Consumer Confidence Index, which includes a survey of 5,000 households, uses 1985 as a base year with an assigned value of 100.

In August, the number of respondents indicating economic conditions were “good” rose slightly from 13.5 percent to 13.7 percent. The percentage of respondents indicating conditions were “bad” rose from 38.7 percent to 40.6 percent.

The percentage of respondents indicating jobs were “plentiful” fell from 5.1 percent to 4.7 percent, while the number indicating jobs were “hard to get” rose from 44.8 percent to 49.1 percent.

Court Approves Lehman Brothers’ Exit Plan

NEW YORK, Aug. 30 (UPI) — A bankruptcy court judge in New York praised attorneys involved and approved a plan to return $65 billion to Lehman Brothers’ creditors.

There are 110,000 creditors involved in the Lehman Brothers case. They will have 60 days to vote on the plan that Judge James Peck said included work by attorneys that “borders on miraculous,” The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The case involves one of the largest New York investment banks, Lehman Brothers, that collapsed in September 2008. Its bankruptcy was a significant catalyst in the financial crisis with Lehman Brothers becoming an instant symbol of the financial fiasco that shook the largest banks in Europe and the United States.

Lehman Brothers said it plans to make payments to creditors early in 2012 if the plan is approved.

Chocolate Good For Heart Confirmed

CAMBRIDGE, England, Aug. 29 (UPI) — People who eat chocolate have reduced risk of heart attack and stroke but the benefit may be due to something else chocolate eaters do, British researchers say.

Dr. Oscar Franco and colleagues at the University of Cambridge conducted a review of seven studies involving more than 100,000 participants who did and did not have heart disease. For each study, they compared the group with the highest chocolate consumption against the group with the lowest consumption, Franco says.

The review finds the highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 percent reduction in stroke compared with lowest levels. No significant reduction was found in relation to heart failure.

Many studies have shown the heart benefits of eating dark chocolate but the studies that were part of the review did not differentiate between dark or milk chocolate and included consumption of chocolate bars, drinks, biscuits and desserts, Franco says.

Franco and colleagues say further studies are needed to test whether chocolate actually causes this reduction in heart risk or if it can be explained by some other unmeasured confounding factor.

The findings need to be interpreted with caution, in particular because commercially available chocolate is very high in calories and eating too much of it could lead to weight gain and an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, Franco says.

The review was presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Paris.


European Women Smoking, Dying Sooner

PARIS, Fla., Aug. 29 (UPI) — European women live longer than European men but the gender gap is decreasing due to more women smoking and drinking, researchers say.

Dr. Diego Vannuzzo of the Milan Centre for Cardiovascular Prevention in Italy says the total number of deaths is roughly similar for men and women in the 27 countries of the European Union — 2,416,786 men and 2,l418,048 women died in 2009 — and the trends are also similar, but women die older than men.

Life expectancy is the average number of years a person can expect to live, if in the future they experience the current age-specific mortality rates in the population, Vannuzzo says.

In 2008 the EU life expectancy at birth was 82.4 years in women and 76.4 years in men, a six-year gap, but it varies among the countries. A life expectancy at birth ranges in women from 77 years in Bulgaria to 84.8 in France, and in men from 66.3 years in Lithuania to 80 in Iceland.

However, a gender gap in life expectancy was present in each of the 27 countries, always favoring women, with a minimum of 3.3 years in Iceland and a maximum of 11.3 years in Lithuania.

The findings were presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Paris.

Inattention: Why ADHD Kids Don’t Graduate

MONTREAL, Aug. 30 (UPI) — A lack of focus, not hyperactivity, is the main reason students with attention-deficient hyperactivity disorder don’t finish high school, Canadian experts say.

University of Montreal researchers looked at data collected from the parents and teachers of 2,000 children during a period of almost 20 years. Attention problems were evaluated by teachers who looked for behavior such as an inability to concentrate, absentmindedness, or a tendency to give up or be easily distracted.

Hyperactivity was identified by behavior such as restlessness, running around, squirming and being fidgety, the researchers said.

The study, scheduled to be published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in November, found 29 percent of children with attention problems finished high school compared with 89 percent of children who did not manifest inattention problems. Forty percent of the students with hyperactivity completed high school compared to the 77 percent students who did not demonstrate this behavior.

After correcting the data for other influencing factors, such as socioeconomic status and health issues that are correlated with ADHD, inattention still made a highly significant contribution which was not the case for hyperactivity.

“In the school system, children who have attention difficulties are often forgotten because, unlike hyperactive kids, they don’t disturb the class,” Dr. Sylvana Cote, the study leader, said in a statement.

“However, we know that we can train children to pay attention through appropriate activities, and that can help encourage success at school.”

Poverty A Risk Factor For Heart Disease

DAVIS, Calif., Aug. 30 (UPI) — Poor people are more at risk than others for heart disease even after addressing risk factors such as smoking and high blood pressure, U.S. researchers say.

“Being poor or having less than a high-school education can be regarded as an extra risk when assessing a patient’s chances of developing cardiovascular disease,” lead author Peter Franks, a professor at the University of California, Davis, says in a statement.

“People with low socioeconomic status need to have their heart-disease indicators managed more aggressively.”

The researchers used data from 12,000 people age 45-64 living in North Carolina, Mississippi, Minnesota and Maryland. Participants reported their education and income levels in 1987, and were then tracked for 10 years for heart-disease diagnoses and changes in their risk factors, including cholesterol, blood pressure and smoking.

The study, published online in BMC Cardiovascular Disorders, indicated people with lower socioeconomic status had a 50 percent greater risk of developing heart disease than other study participants.

“It is known people with low socioeconomic status have a greater risk for developing heart disease and other health problems, the reason is often attributed to reduced healthcare access or poor adherence to treatments such as smoking cessation or medication,” Franks says. “This study showed for the first time that the increased risk endured despite long-term improvements in other risk factors, indicating that access and adherence could not account for the differences.”

NYC Officials Advise On Flood Cleanup

NEW YORK, Aug. 29 (UPI) — New York City health officials issued guidelines and practical advice to those impacted by flooding and power outages in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

The health department says when floods soak floors, walls, rugs and personal belongings, it is important to clean and dry affected items as quickly as possible to prevent mold growth.

If flood waters contain sewage, it is important to disinfect contaminated items and avoid contact with the sewage while clean them, the health department says.

Health officials also advise to:

— Wash and dry all clothing and other washable items, using detergent and water.

— Clean floors, furniture and other surfaces with detergent and water.

However, if the flood waters contain sewage:

— Remove visible contamination with detergent and water from surfaces.

— Disinfect by wiping surface with a bleach solution. Use a half cup of household bleach in a gallon of water. Non-bleach sanitizers can also be used, but never mix bleach with ammonia or detergents containing ammonia products, since dangerous gases may be created. Bleach may also damage some materials.

— Keep children, pets and people with compromised immune systems away until the area has been cleaned and disinfected.

— Wash your hands, body and clothing with soap and water after cleanup.

Baby Hawks To Be Released Into Wild

NOBLE, Okla., Aug. 29 (UPI) — More than 200 baby hawks saved from heat and drought in Oklahoma will be released back into the wild in September, wildlife rescuers say.

The Mississippi kites were found abandoned after jumping from their nests due to temperatures in excess of 100 degrees, The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain reported. Rescuers at the WildCare Foundation in Noble, Okla., rehabilitated the hawks with electrolytes and special raptor food after they were abandoned by the adult birds.

Foundation Director Rondi Large says the organization makes sure the animals are not domesticated so they can learn to hunt on their own.

“We specifically work very hard not to tame these animals,” Large said. “We want them to have their freedom back.”

Other wildlife throughout the area has also been affected by the heat. In Claremont, Okla., Wild Heart Ranch Director Annette Tucker says she has treated twice as many fawns this year.

“The animals are coming in this year in much worse condition than in the past,” Tucker said. “We used to look at that as the animal is diseased, but not this year.”