Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Mon, May 21, 2012

2 Baton Rouge public high schools make 'America's Best' list of 1,000

Of the 1,000 public high schools across the country ranked by The Daily Beast on its "America's Best High Schools 2012" list, seven are located in Louisiana—with just two of them in Baton Rouge. Only one Louisiana school, New Orleans' Benjamin Franklin, cracked the top 100, at No. 76. Baton Rouge Magnet got the best ranking of any Baton Rouge school, at No. 285. The University Laboratory School on the LSU campus is ranked No. 377. One school each in Jefferson, Metairie, Natchitoches and Gretna also made the list. The Daily Beast says, "Our ranking highlights the best 1,000 public high schools in the nation—the ones that have proven to be the most effective in turning out college-ready grads." The list is based on a composite of six components provided by school administrators on graduation rate, college matriculation rate, AP/IB/AICE tests taken per student, average SAT/ACT scores, average AP/IB/AICE scores and AP courses offered. Check out the complete list here.

Small businesses in La. still pessimistic about economic recovery

Louisiana businesses have more faith in the local economy than in the national economy when it comes to expectations for improvement, according to a new survey conducted by Capital One Bank. In its quarterly "Market Pulse" survey, the bank says large businesses are reporting better financial performances than a year ago. While national economic trends are not expected to change, 23% of small businesses in the state anticipate them to worsen. Companies in the service industry take the most pessimistic view, while businesses in the wholesale and utilities industries are optimistic, according to the survey. Of the 300 Louisiana small businesses surveyed by the bank, 22% reported their business is worse compared to 17% who said the same nationwide. Yet consumers continue to report a steady upward trend in business conditions, with 34%—mainly between the ages of 45 and 54—saying they are "excellent" or "good," while 62% say they are "only fair" or "poor." Two in five Louisianans say jobs are easy to find, while 51% say they are hard or "nearly impossible to find." At the same time, Louisiana residents with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 say jobs are hard to find, indicating that supporting a middle-class lifestyle in Louisiana can be more difficult than is sometimes represented. The bank says small businesses are not ready to hire, and more large businesses—60%—have no plans of adding employees.

New animal alliance director outlines focus on shelter improvements

In an open letter to the community released this morning, the Companion Animal Alliance's new director Kim Sherlaw says, "Much work must be done to provide a clean, comfortable, safe, species-appropriate, stimulating and enriching environment" at the East Baton Rouge Parish Animal Control Center. To that end, Sherlaw says, several initiatives will be undertaken or completed at the shelter in the next several weeks, including: completion of repair work on the 30-year-old kennels in the dog enclosures; standardization of protocols and training for staff and volunteers to improve shelter cleanliness, customer service and the promotion of healthier, happier and more adoptable dogs and cats; and improvement of partnerships with community rescue groups, animal advocates and spay and neuter resource groups in the area. "As the former director of both a No Kill shelter in Norfolk, Virginia, and an open-access community shelter in Bermuda, I know how challenging it will be to achieve our vision of a permanent home for every adoptable animal," reads Sherlaw's letter. "I also know that we can be successful." Sherlaw took over as CAA director in late April, replacing Laura Hinze, who resigned as director in September after being on the job less than two months.

Chinese company to buy U.S. movie theater chain AMC

Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group Co. announced this morning it's buying a major U.S. cinema chain—AMC Entertainment Holdings—for $2.6 billion in China's biggest takeover of an American company to date. The Beijing-based company says the deal will create the world's biggest movie theater operator. AMC's American management will remain in place, with headquarters to stay in the Kansas City area, and AMC's 18,500 employees won't be affected. Founded in 1988 and privately owned, Dalian Wanda Group operates hotels, department stores, tourism businesses and other interests, and says it had 2011 revenue of $16.7 billion. The company counts 86 theaters in China among its assets. Dalian Wanda says it will invest an additional $500 million in AMC's development. AMC operates 346 cinemas, mostly in the United States and Canada. There are just five AMC theaters in Louisiana, according to its website, though none in Baton Rouge. The deal is the third-largest Chinese corporate investment in the United States, according to financial research firm Dealogic. It ranks behind investments by Beijing's sovereign wealth fund, the China Investment Corp., of $5 billion in Morgan Stanley and $3 billion in Blackstone Group, both for minority stakes in 2007. Chinese companies had invested $34.8 billion in the United States by the end of 2011. Globally, outbound mergers and acquisitions by Chinese companies total $16.8 billion so far this year, up 6% from the same period last year. The Associated Press has the full story here.

Troubles roil biodiesel credit-trading market

In recent months, the tax credit-trading market for the biodiesel industry has been rattled by fraud allegations, plummeting confidence and numerous lawsuits. The Houston Chronicle reports the EPA has identified more than 140 million fraudulent credits across the country, a sizable figure considering that 1.6 billion credits were generated last year. The turmoil has raised concern about the EPA's system for subsidizing production of biodiesel, which has transformed into a complex web of trading in largely unregulated financial instruments. The EPA is now taking action against several companies around the United States. Just this month, it notified Houston-based Green Diesel it is accusing the company of generating more than 60 million invalid credits, known as Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs, in what is the largest alleged transgression to date, the EPA says. The number of active biodiesel producers fell from about 150 last year to 40 this year, likely because of the challenges many of them have faced in selling their RINs, says Eric Rubury, president of Ocean Connect, a RINs aggregator and dealer that is suing the EPA for failing to effectively crack down on biodiesel fraud. Since 2007, federal regulators have overseen the growth of the biodiesel industry, which converts discarded animal fats, used cooking oil and other materials into fuel that can power cars, bulldozers and heavy-duty trucks. Read the full story here.

Congressional discourse a grade level lower than in '05, study says

Congress now speaks at almost a full grade level lower than it did just seven years ago, with the most conservative members of Congress speaking on average at the lowest grade level, according to a new analysis from the nonprofit, nonpartisan government watchdog group Sunlight Foundation. Today's Congress speaks at about a 10.6 grade level, the analysis says, down from 11.5 in 2005. By comparison, the U.S. Constitution is written at a 17.8 grade level, the Federalist Papers at a 17.1 grade level, and the Declaration of Independence at a 15.1 grade level. The Gettysburg Address reflects an 11.2 grade level, and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech a 9.4 grade level. Most major newspapers are written at between an 11th and 14th grade level. You can find more comparisons here. Of course, what some might interpret as a dumbing down of congressional discourse others will see as more effective communication. And lawmakers of both parties still speak above the heads of the average American, who reads at a level between eighth and ninth grades. According to the analysis, of the 535 voting members of Congress, Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina speaks at the lowest grade level, at 7.9. Louisiana's representative with the lowest speech level reported in the analysis, Republican Jeff Landry, is ranked No. 12, with an 8.6 grade level. See the speech-level rankings of all members of Congress here.

News roundup: Yahoo to sell half of its Alibaba stake for $7.1B … FBI warns about hackers targeting hotel guests … Reports: Nasdaq 'embarrassed' about Facebook delay

Rebooted: Struggling Internet company Yahoo Inc. has secured a lifeline after agreeing to sell half of its prized stake in Chinese e-commerce group Alibaba for about $7.1 billion, with most of the cash going to shareholders. The deal, announced Sunday in the United States, will see Alibaba Group buying back half of its 40% stake from Yahoo Inc. for $6.3 billion cash and up to $800 million of Alibaba preferred shares. The announcement caps at least a year of rocky on-and-off talks as Yahoo tried to sell the stake as part of efforts to turnaround its business. Money from the sale will give Yahoo the financial firepower to return cash to disgruntled shareholders, many of whom are still upset after it squandered an opportunity to sell itself to Microsoft Corp. in May 2008 for $33 per share, or $47.5 billion. Yahoo's stock has sagged since then, trading at $15.42 at the opening bell this morning. Get the full story from The Associated Press here.

Checking in: The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning travelers to be careful of computer hackers when logging on to the Internet through a hotel connection, The Los Angeles Times reports. The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center recently issued a warning to travelers using these systems to look out for bogus access points and pop-up windows used by hackers to steal information and infect computers with viruses. Hackers can create wireless access points, which on laptops resemble the Internet service of a hotel; once a hotel guest signs on to the bogus access point, the hacker can read all the information the hotel guest types into a computer. To prevent such problems, one expert recommends hotel guests plug their laptops directly into the hotel system with a cable or "follow to a T whatever the access instructions are at the hotel."

Fumbling the kickoff: The CEO of the Nasdaq stock exchange says it is "humbly embarrassed" by its bungling of Facebook's hugely anticipated debut as a public company on Friday. Robert Greifeld tells news media there's no indication the delay contributed to the underwhelming performance of Facebook's stock, which ended at $38.23—23 cents above where it began. Facebook's stock was expected to start trading at 11 a.m. but didn't open until 11:32 a.m., and some investors didn't learn for hours whether their orders went through. Greifeld says late order cancellations caused a glitch, according to reports published Sunday. He says Nasdaq's board met Saturday and plans to change its IPO auction process. The Securities and Exchange Commission says it is investigating.

Today's poll question: Do you want the Metro Council on Wednesday to approve a long-stalled, $1.5 million contract to design a new downtown library through a joint venture by WHLC Architecture of Baton Rouge and Boston-based Schwartz/Silver Architects?

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