Archive for October, 2011

ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Cardinals capped a postseason nobody figured they’d be part of by defeating the Texas Rangers 6-2 Friday night in Game 7 of the World Series. The resilient Redbirds couldn’t be vanquished.

In the waning days of August, St. Louis had a 0.2 percent chance of reaching the playoffs, according to AccuScore, a company that calculates probabilities by running thousands of game simulations. Expressed another way, the Cardinals faced 1 in 500 odds.

And that was to make the playoffs. Their chances of winning the World Series were minuscule, like a speck of Midwestern dust somehow reaching Manhattan or Malibu. It might have been the greatest comeback in baseball history.

The Cardinals squeaked into the playoffs the last day of the regular season, earning the wild-card berth primarily because the Atlanta Braves folded down the stretch. Once in, they proved they belonged, beating the Philadelphia Phillies in five division series games and the Milwaukee Brewers in six championship series games.

After falling behind three games to two in the World Series by losing Games 4 and 5 in Arlington, Texas, the Cardinals were on the brink of elimination. Twice in Game 6 they were down to their last strike, only to rally.

And Friday night in front of an adoring sellout crowd donned in red, the Cardinals celebrated the 11th Series championship in the storied history of the franchise. Talk about flying high.

[Related: David Freese wins World Series MVP, gets cool car]

Catcher Yadier Molina(notes) leaped into the arms of closer Jason Motte(notes). Albert Pujols(notes), playing perhaps his last game as a Cardinal because he will be a free agent, ran over from first base and joined what quickly became a joyous scrum.

“We believe in ourselves, from the bullpen to the starting pitchers to our offense,” Pujols said. “When everyone was thinking we were done, we bounced back. It was incredible. A lot of things are going through my head, and a few weeks from now I’ll sit down and say, wow, look how far we came.”

David Freese(notes), the local St. Louis kid who was the hero of Game 6 and doubled in the first two runs in Game 7, was selected Most Valuable Player. Freese batted .348 with five extra-base hits in the Series and set an MLB record with 21 RBIs in the postseason.

“To win it is an incredible feeling,” Freese said. “I’m just full of joy.”

He wasn’t alone. Manager Tony La Russa has taken teams to the postseason 14 times and is one of only two managers to win the World Series in both leagues. This was still special – especially after he was heavily criticized for questionable moves during the losses in Texas.

“It’s truly a dream come true,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine it actually happened.”

The game didn’t live up to the forehead-slapping incredulity of the Cardinals’ 11-inning Game 6 win. Then again, how could it? Allen Craig(notes), one of several unlikely stars who emerged this postseason, supplied the winning run in the third inning with his third home run of the Series. The Cardinals tacked on two runs without a hit in the fifth and another in the seventh.

Meanwhile, the Rangers went quietly for a change, losing consecutive games for the first time since Aug. 25 and losing the Series for the second year in a row. They were the team of gritty catcher Mike Napoli(notes), wispy-mustached left-handed pitcher Derek Holland(notes) and sluggers Josh Hamilton(notes), Adrian Beltre(notes) and Nelson Cruz(notes).

But they couldn’t muster enough to beat the Cardinals in Games 6 or 7. A Series that began with both managers lauded for their quick hooks and liberal use of relievers ended with the Rangers’ Ron Washington watching his bullpen become a Halloween house of horror.

[Related: Rangers had nothing left for Game 7]

Starter Matt Harrison(notes) staggered through four innings, giving up three runs. Washington took a deep breath and went to Scott Feldman(notes), who promptly put himself in trouble by walking Craig and hitting Pujols with one out. Lance Berkman(notes) advanced the runners with a ground out, so Feldman walked Freese intentionally. But he gave Molina a free pass on a full count to force in a run and was replaced by C.J. Wilson(notes).

Wilson, the Rangers’ ace who started Games 1 and 5, hit Rafael Furcal(notes) with his first pitch, extending the Cardinals’ lead to 5-2. After all their slugging, they’d scored two pivotal runs without the benefit of a hit.

“One thing in this World Series that I’ll look back on is it being so close, just having one pitch to be made and one out to be gotten, and it could have been a different story,” Washington said. “But, you know, when you’re a champion you keep fighting, and St. Louis fought, came back … and they deserve it.”

Meanwhile, Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter settled down after giving up two runs in the first inning and put up zeroes through the sixth. Starting on only three days rest for only the second time, he exited after David Murphy(notes) led off the seventh with a ground-rule double. The Cardinals’ bullpen, shaky for days, did the job, tossing three scoreless innings.

This was the 11th World Series Game 7 played by the Cardinals. They’ve won eight, the first in 1926 with Hall-of-Famer Rogers Hornsby serving as player-manager.

Combing through the list is a delightful exercise in bird-watching. Frankie Frisch and Pepper Martin led the 1931 seven-game title team. Dizzy Dean was a 30-game winner when they did it in 1934. The 1946 post-WWII champion was stocked with stars: Stan Musial, Marty Marion, Enos Slaughter and Red Schoendienst. The 1964 and ’67 teams that needed seven games to win featured Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Curt Flood. And the most recent seven-game series before Friday was 1982, manager Whitey Herzog’s club that featured speedsters Ozzie Smith and Lonnie Smith, and Bruce Sutter out of the bullpen. (The Cardinals also the won the Series in 2006, but that went only five games.)

Baseball lore is a pleasure to revisit, and someday the manner in which the tail end of the 2011 season unfolded will be recounted in reverent tones.

Game 7 concluded one of the most entertaining stretches in baseball history. It began with the final day of the regular season, when the Red Sox and Braves culminated colossal collapses by losing their last games and their hold on the wild-card berths. The Rays eclipsed Boston by overcoming a seven-run deficit against the Yankees and winning in the 12th inning on Evan Longoria’s(notes) home run. The Cardinals blanked the Astros and learned they’d made the playoffs two hours later when the Braves lost to the Phillies in 13 innings.

Game 7 also was the 38th game of the postseason, only three short of the maximum possible and equaling the record for the most games required to crown a World Series champion, set by the 2003 Florida Marlins. Three of the four division series went a maximum five games (the Rangers needed only four to beat the Tampa Bay Rays) and both championship series went six games.

This was the fourth unforgettable Game 6 to lead to a Game 7 in recent memory. In two of the others, the crushing Game 6 loss led to a pitiable effort in Game 7, almost as if the players were unable to shake off the disappointment of getting close enough to taste a title only to be thwarted.

2002 Game 6: The Angels scored three in the sevnth on Scott Spiezio’s home run and three in the eighth to overcome a 5-0 deficit. An error by left fielder Barry Bonds enabled Garret Anderson(notes) to advance to second, and he scored the winning run on a double by Troy Glaus(notes).

Game 7: The Giants were numb, seemingly beaten before they showed up at the park and the Angels won 4-1.

1986 Game 6: The Mets won with three runs in the bottom of the 10th, immediately after the Red Sox had taken a two-run lead, and the enduring memory is of Boston first baseman Bill Buckner letting a ground ball slip between his legs to allow the winning run to score.

Game 7: The Red Sox took a three-run lead in the second inning but couldn’t sustain the energy, wilting in the last three innings and losing 8-3.

1975 Game 6: One of the most famous images in Series history is of Carlton Fisk willing his fly ball fair as it flew over the left-field wall in the 12th inning to give the Red Sox a 7-6 win over the Reds.

Game 7: The Reds refused to wilt, overcoming a three-run deficit with two runs in the sixth, one in the seventh and one in the ninth. Diehard Reds fans remember that Joe Morgan drove in Ken Griffey Sr. with a single in the top of the ninth for the deciding run. Everyone else remembers Fisk’s blast a day earlier.

Early on Friday, it was like Game 6 never ended. The Rangers jumped on Carpenter immediately, scoring two runs in the first inning. The damage could have been worse except that Ian Kinsler(notes) was picked off first by catcher Molina after opening the game with a single. Andrus walked and Josh Hamilton and Michael Young(notes) followed with RBI doubles.

And, of course, the Cardinals answered with two runs. Who had the big hit? Take three guesses, and the last two don’t count: Yep, Freese doubled with two out to bring home Pujols and Berkman and tie the score. Freese had homered and tripled in his last two at-bats of Game 6.

“I’m trying to soak this all in,” Freese said. “You have to because you never know if it’s going to be your last attempt at a title. It’s going to take a little bit to realize what we’ve accomplished.

“To win it is an incredible feeling.”



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Cat LOL’s

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Big Banks Blink on New Card Fees

A month after Bank of America got pummeled by consumers and politicians for introducing plans for new debit-card fees, most other big U.S. banks are steering clear of imposing similar charges.

Following eight months of consumer testing, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (JPMNews) has decided that it won’t charge customers who use their debit cards to make purchases, according to a person familiar with the bank’s plans. The New York bank’s Chase retail unit is one of the largest U.S. consumer banks, with 26.5 million checking accounts and 5,300 branches.

J.P. Morgan joins U.S. Bancorp (USBNews), Citigroup Inc. (CNews), PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (PNCNews), KeyCorp (KEYNews) and other large banks that have said in recent days that they won’t impose monthly fees on debit cards. None of those banks said they made their decisions because of the outcry over Bank of America’s fees.


“We looked at all options and quickly decided it didn’t fit with our overall strategy,” said David Bowen, who runs the consumer-product business at Cleveland-based Key, which ranks among the 20 largest banks in the country.

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Banks are loading fees onto customer accounts in an attempt to recover billions of dollars in revenue that will be lost from new restrictions on debit cards, credit cards and overdrafts. Most big banks have already eliminated free checking for customers who don’t meet certain criteria on their accounts, such as minimum balances or a certain number of direct deposit transactions.

Bank of America Corp. (BACNews) has begun laying plans to charge millions of customers $5 a month if they use their debit cards to make purchases. The bank is still working out details of its plans, which likely won’t affect all customers, according to a person familiar with the situation. SunTrust Banks Inc. (STINews), Atlanta, is also tacking a $5 monthly fee on some debit-card users, while Regions Financial Corp. (RFNews) of Birmingham, Ala. is charging $4 a month on some accounts.

Wells Fargo & Co. (WFCNews) is testing a $3 monthly debit-card fee in five states.

The debit-card fees stem from a provision in last year’s Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law that reduced by roughly half the amount that banks are permitted to charge merchants for debit-card transactions. Merchants had long complained that they were being charged too much to accept debit cards, which are typically used instead of cash and checks.

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Banks are expected to lose more than $6 billion in annual revenue as a result of the new rules, according to industry estimates.

The debit-card fees have sparked an outcry among politicians—including members of Congress and President Obama—as well as customers, who have threatened to close their bank accounts and move to other institutions.

Community banks and credit unions are tapping into that fury by encouraging consumers to move to small institutions that don’t charge such fees. Bethpage Federal Credit Union in New York, for example, said this week it signed up 1,500 customers—twice its normal rate—since Bank of America’s plans became public.


Other big banks say they determined debit-card fees would cost them as well. “Our customers said that would be a massive source of irritation for them,” said Stephen Troutner, Citigroup’s head of consumer and small business banking. “Any time you hear that kind of emphatic feedback from customers, you’ve got to listen to them.”

Many banks will likely increase charges in other areas to make up the lost revenue but some banks said they will focus on winning over more customers and convincing them to sign up for more financial products.

Todd Barnhart, head of retail products at Pittsburgh-based PNC, said debit cards are essentially an extension of checking accounts and that consumers don’t view them as a separate product.

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“I generally think customers don’t want to be nickled and dimed,” he said.

Indeed, consumers expressed relief that the debit-fee trend is not spreading widely.

“It’s not about the money. It’s about ‘are you kidding me?'” said Amanda Peterson of San Francisco, who banks with U.S. Bancorp. She said she would have “immediately” switched banks if the Minneapolis-based lender had started charging for debit cards.

Chase was one of the first big banks to explore monthly fees on debit cards. The bank began testing monthly fees of $3 in Wisconsin and Georgia in February. Those tests are scheduled to end in mid-November and won’t be renewed or expanded for now, said the person familiar with the bank’s plans.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), who wrote the provision which reduced merchant debit-card fees, sent a letter to Wells Fargo Chief Executive John Stumpf last week complaining about the bank’s new charges. “It is certainly surprising that your bank would pursue this fee strategy in light of the consumer reaction that has been prompted by Bank of America’s recent imposition of a monthly debit fee on its customers. If you were hoping that your new fee would go unnoticed, it has not,” he wrote.

In a statement, Wells Fargo said, “We regularly review our pricing and take into account the needs of our customers, industry trends, the market competition and our cost of doing business.”


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Chaz Bono accepts GLSEN 2011 Hero Award

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Young boy wishes to join Girl Scouts

Bobby Montoya is a 7-year-old boy from Denver. Unlike a lot of young boys, Bobby has no desire to join the Boy Scouts. Instead, he wants to be a Girl Scout.

We first saw Montoya’s story over at 9news.com. The NBC affiliate reports that when the boy’s  mother, Felisha Archuleta, tried to sign her son up for Girl Scouts, a troop leader told her no.

Archuleta spoke with 9News about the incident. “I said, ‘Well, what’s the big deal?’ She [the troop leader] said, ‘It doesn’t matter how he looks; he has boy parts, he can’t be in Girl Scouts. Girl Scouts don’t allow that, [and] I don’t want to be in trouble by parents or my supervisor.'”

Reporters with 9News contacted  Girl Scouts of Colorado about Montoya’s application, which prompted the group to release a statement: “Our requests for support of transgender kids have grown, and Girl Scouts of Colorado is working to best support these children, their families and the volunteers who serve them. In this case, an associate delivering our program was not aware of our approach. She contacted her supervisor, who immediately began working with the family to get the child involved and supported in Girl Scouts. We are accelerating our support systems and training so that we’re better able to serve all girls, families and volunteers.”

We placed a call to Rachelle Trujillo, vice president of communications at Girl Scouts of Colorado, for further clarification. She replied with this statement: “Girl Scouts is an inclusive organization, and we accept all girls in kindergarten through 12th grade as members. If a child lives life as a girl and the family brings the child to us to participate in Girl Scouts, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her. Girl Scouts of Colorado respects the privacy of all girls and families we work with. When a family requests membership for their daughter, we do not require proof of gender, we respect the decisions of families.”

So it would seem that Bobby will get his wish. Gender-identity issues are becoming more common, especially among young children–which makes it more likely that the policy of the Girl Scouts will face future tests in the months and years ahead.




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WASHINGTON, DC-In a blow to activists seeking to stop anti-gay bullying, two proposals to address the issue in schools were left out of an education reform bill approved by a U.S. Senate committee Oct. 20. And a proposal to explicitly prohibit anti-LGBT bullying was stripped out. But senators who support the efforts have promised to try to insert language once the full education bill reaches the floor.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions approved revisions to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the key federal statute governing primary and secondary education, in a 15 to 7 vote. The version of the Act implemented by Congress at the behest of President George W. Bush was better known as “No Child Left Behind.” President Obama has said reform of the Act is one of his highest priorities.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement that the annual reauthorization of the Act “was the best opportunity the Senate will have in this Congress to address the problem of bullying faced by LGBT students” and that he was “disappointed” the Committee did not do so.

The two primary anti-bullying measures that LGBT advocates have hoped would be part of that bill are the Student Nondiscrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

SNDA would prohibit elementary and secondary schools from discriminating against students on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in any program or activity receiving federal funds. “Discrimination” would include harassment, bullying, intimidation, and violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Safe Schools bill would require schools and districts receiving federal funds to implement and report on anti-bullying programs. It would require that anti-bullying programs specifically address bullying and harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, among other attributes.

A 2009 survey of students by GLSEN found that students are more likely to report problems and staffers are more likely to help them, where school policies explicitly prohibit bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

During the committee hearing, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced, but then withdrew, SNDA as an amendment. In withdrawing it, Franken said there were some members who felt that including the language at this point would take bipartisan support away from the whole reauthorization bill.

Franken, in an eight-minute statement before the committee, explained that SNDA would protect students like Justin Aaberg, Seth Walsh and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, who each died by suicide after suffering relentless anti-gay bullying.

He placed SNDA in the context of previous civil rights bills that addressed discrimination on the basis of race and gender. SNDA, he said, “follows a long precedent of Congress stepping to protect the most vulnerable members of American society when they face pervasive discrimination.”

Franken said committee Chairman Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has promised to help him get a vote on an SNDA amendment when the education bill goes to the Senate floor. And he said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) agreed to work with him to “find compromise language that he can support as a co-sponsor before we bring this vote to the floor.” Kirk is the lone Republican co-sponsor of SSIA.

Like Franken did for SNDA, Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) introduced but then withdrew the Safe Schools language.

A third measure that was incorporated into the original education bill was “Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students,” which Harkin himself had introduced as a stand-alone bill last May. It seeks to give states grants to develop programs that support student health, prevent bullying, violence, and drug use, and promote “safe and supportive schools.”

Local education agencies applying for the grants would, among other things, have to establish policies prohibiting conduct that creates “a hostile or abusive educational environment.”

But the version of that program that was approved as part of the education bill Oct. 20 stripped out language that would have required participating schools specifically to prohibit bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

A Harkin spokesperson said that, if the SNDA provisions are approved as an amendment, they would require all schools receiving federal funds, including those receiving Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students grants, to establish enumerated, LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policies.

The spokesperson said Harkin is hopeful the full Senate will approve the SNDA provisions as a floor amendment. She confirmed that “Chairman Harkin is committed to working with Senator Franken to ensure that happens” and that Harkin will also work with Senator Casey so that “all students are given the opportunity to succeed free from harassment or discrimination.”

Senator Casey also issued a statement saying that he would work “to see enumerated protections added to [the education bill] when it comes to the Senate floor.”

But passage of such amendments through the floor vote will be more difficult.

All 12 of the Democrats (and one Independent, Bernard Sanders of Vermont) on the 22-member committee are co-sponsors of SNDA, which would have given it enough votes for passage in committee.

Ten Democrats, plus one Republican, are co-sponsors of Safe Schools — one shy of a majority.

Overall, SNDA has 35 sponsors. None are Republicans. Safe Schools has 33 sponsors in total, including Kirk.

Neither the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee spokesperson nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office could confirm when the full Senate might hear the education bill.


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Over the weekend, Sean Lennon, Rufus Wainwright, “and a whole bunch of other people” joined the ever-increasing list of artists — which thus far has included the likes of Talib Kweli, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum, members of the punk band Anti-Flag, and folk legends Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie— to perform for the protesters taking part in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

On Sunday night, Lennon alerted his Twitter followers (as so many celebrities, like Alec Baldwin and Russell Simmons, have been doing) that he was en route to the downtown Manhattan park, which has become home for many of those involved with OWS. The singer, perhaps following in the footsteps of mother Yoko Ono — who was one of the first famous faces to show her support for OWS (she tweeted after her visit, “I love #OccupyWallStreet As John said, “One hero cannot do it. Each one of us have to be heroes.” And you are. Thank you”) — posted photos of his visit and wrote, “The revolution is televised!”

But it was Lennon’s performance with other artists and friends, including fellow son-of-rock-music-royalty Rufus Wainwright, that will, undoubtedly have some fans coping with some serious wish-I’d-been-there envy. As Lennon previously promised on Twitter, he’d be performing during his time at OWS, but no one could have guessed it was going to be a spirited, acoustic cover of Madonna’s pop — albeit seemingly non-political — anthem “Material Girl.”

Watch the full performance below. But, if you want to skip over the arguably grating OWS “human microphone” (which was brilliantly covered by John Oliver on The Daily Show last week), the song starts around the 8:45 mark:



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