Louisiana named the least peaceful state in the U.S.
Make it 11: That's the number of years in a row now that Louisiana has been ranked the least peaceful state in the Institute for Economics & Peace's annual United State Peace Index. Releasing the 2012 index this morning, the institute defines peace as "absence of violence," and Louisiana's notoriously high violent crime rate just can't offset its more peaceful attributes. Maine is ranked the most peaceful state. Overall, the index shows the United States is a more peaceful place than at any time during the past 20 years; it was first issued in 1991. The five criteria used in the ranking are the number of homicides per 100,000 people, number of violent crimes, incarceration rate, number of police employees, and availability of small arms. The latest survey finds that the United States improved in all five categories over 2011, including a 3.2% drop in homicides and a 5.5% dip in violent crimes; however, it also finds that the decrease in officially recorded violence has been partially offset by increases in violence in prison. New Orleans is ranked as the second-most violent U.S. metro area in the index; Detroit bears the distinction of being the nation's most violent city. See the interactive global and U.S. peace index here.
Big Monday pushes BR Walls Project over its fundraising goal
People will begin to see some bare walls downtown revitalized with murals in the coming months now that the BR Walls Project has reached its fundraising goal of $25,000 before a Thursday deadline. Not only did a flood of donors push the project over its goal on Monday, they pushed it over $30,000—with roughly more than $10,000 contributed during the one day. A week ago, the fundraising effort was still $15,000 short of the goal. "It just began to snowball yesterday morning—and not coincidentally right after Daily Report went out with a mention about it. I was always confident we'd reach the goal, but that kind of momentum was fairly unexpected," says Casey Phillips, co-curator of the project along with Kathryn Thorpe. "A lot of people said we couldn't get it done, but we did it, and I think it says a lot about what this community wants and is willing to get behind. We're thrilled." Phillips says organizers will begin meeting with artists today to plan the first of the murals, which will be created on buildings including those housing Buzz Cafť, Harrington's Cafť and Mentorship Academy. The fundraising effort will continue to add more walls to the project list, Phillips says, and a daylong telethon slated for Thursday will also go on as planned. "This campaign was really about getting the public support, but we're also beginning our corporate and business outreach," he says. Raising Cane's on Monday pledged to fully fund one of the walls if the $25,000 was met. You can track the fundraising effort and make a donation here; and read a recent 225 feature to learn more about the project here. —Steve Sanoski
WAFB apologizes for prematurely calling CATS tax wrong on Saturday
One of the first local news alerts to go out on Saturday after the polls closed on the controversial property tax proposal for the Capital Area Transit System came from WAFB Channel 9. It said the CATS tax was projected to fail, and it spread like wildfire on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. While the tally at the time of the news release was indeed tilted toward the tax failing, it ultimately ended up passing in Baton Rouge and Baker, while it failed in Zachary. "When our political team projected the CATS vote would fail, 71 of 185 precincts (38%) were reporting. At that time, the numbers stood at 65% 'no' and just 35% 'yes,' " reads a statement the news channel provided to Daily Report on Monday. "It turns out those early numbers were deceiving and the vote dramatically shifted as more precincts came in." WAFB says it corrected the initial report by the time of its 10 p.m. newscast, and also texted a correction to everyone who had received an incorrect news alert. "We pride ourselves on our extensive record of accurate political reporting and projections," the station's statement concludes. "We apologize for the mistake and are dedicated to doing better in the future."
Timeline for applications to newly approved voucher program set
The Louisiana Department of Education has announced application timelines for the statewide school voucher program created when Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an education reform bill last week, The Times-Picayune reports. The statewide program expands upon an option that had been available only in Orleans Parish, allowing students from low-income families who attend low-rated schools to leave for private schools or higher performing public schools. About 950 out of 1,300 Louisiana public schools enrolling a total of 450,000 students have overall grades of "C," "D" or "F," meaning their students can seek one of the scholarships to other schools, says a statement by the department. The application period will open May 22 and close June 29; applications will be available on the state's Internet site or at participating schools. The Education Department will use a lottery system to identify the scholarship winners in July and notify recipients by July 31. Meanwhile, state officials are sending registration packets to schools that qualify as receiving sites; schools will be notified about their eligibility within a week after they submit an application. The department will provide a continually updated list of eligible schools on its website.
Fed likely to hold steady on rates and bond buys
The Federal Reserve will have plenty to say about the economy Wednesday, when its two-day policy meeting ends with a statement, updated forecasts and Chairman Ben Bernanke's latest news conference. Whether all that information will signal any shift in the Fed's outlook or the prospect of further steps to boost the economy is far from clear. The central bank will likely repeat its plan to keep short-term interest rates at record lows through 2014. It may also signal that it won't likely launch any new program to lower longer-term rates unless the economy weakens. That would be a switch from three months ago, when Bernanke and his colleagues ended their January meeting with hints that they were edging closer to a third round of bond buying. The Fed's bond purchases have been intended to drive down long-term rates to encourage borrowing and spending. But since then, signs have suggested that the U.S. economy has strengthened. And the European debt crisis looks less dire than when the year began, though France's presidential race has muddled the outlook. Those developments make a further round of Fed bond buying less likely, many economists say. "This will be a wait-and-watch meeting," says David Jones, chief economist at DMJ Advisors. "Despite all the theatrics with a Bernanke press conference and new economic forecasts, I think we will get a very predictable outcome—no change in policy." Get the full story from The Associated Press here.
U.S. consumer confidence unwavering in April
Americans' confidence in the economy held steady in April from the previous month despite rising gas prices and falling home values, says a private research group. The Conference Board says its Consumer Confidence Index now stands at 69.2, down slightly from a revised 69.5 in March. Economists were expecting a reading of 70, according to a FactSet poll of analysts. The current level is below February's 71.6, which is the highest level it has reached in a year. Consumer confidence is widely watched because consumer spending accounts for 70% of economic activity. Though the April reading is significantly below the level of 90, which indicates a healthy economy, it is well above the 40 the index hit last October.
News roundup: B.R. political consultant nets highest national industry honors … Baton Rouge Zoo says it's among the top 10% in U.S. … La. lawmakers dub their latest 'boudin capital'
The votes are in: Renowned Baton Rouge political consultant Roy Fletcher has been recognized by the American Association of Political Consultants with silver and bronze Pollie Awards for his work with the Penn Schoen Berland firm. The Pollie Awards annually honor the best work by political consultants at the national and international levels. Fletcher got a silver Pollie in the Public Affairs Campaign category, and a bronze Pollie in the Nationwide Public Affairs Radio campaign. To see the full list of winners and more details, visit the AAPC website here.
Leading the pack: With recent re-accreditation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo says it remains among the top 10% of all zoos in the nation. Of the more than 2,500 zoos across the country with a license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just 225 are AZA accredited. The Baton Rouge Zoo was the first in Louisiana to get the accreditation in the state and has held it since 1977. Accreditation requires a thorough review to ensure the zoo is meeting ever-rising standards for animal care, veterinary programs, conservation, education and safety. Zoos and aquariums must undergo this process every five years to remain accredited. "When our guests visit the Baton Rouge Zoo, they are visiting a facility that meets the very highest standards of animal care," says Phil Frost, the zoo's director. "As an AZA-accredited facility, our zoo, and our community, can proudly say we are a part of America's largest wildlife conservation movement."
It fills you up: Louisiana now has two cities designated the "Boudin Capital of the World." Lawmakers have given final passage to a measure that crowns the south central Louisiana city of Scott with the title. Years ago, the Legislature placed that crown on Broussard. Carencro Rep. Stephen Ortego says Scott is planning to start a boudin festival and wants to strengthen its ability to market its culture. Five boudin businesses in the city sell more than 1.3 million pounds of the Cajun sausage each year, totaling $5 million, according to the legislation. But the city of Jennings still has Scott beat. At one point years ago, the Legislature dubbed Jennings "Boudin Capital of the Universe."
Today’s poll question: Of the names being mentioned, who do you think would be the best running mate for presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney?