Friday, February 28, 2014

Offseason of change: CC stronger than ever

One year ago, Yankees ace CC Sabathia weighed in at Spring Training camp at 275 pounds. This spring, he tipped the scales at exactly the same weight.

But camp has been buzzing about Sabathia's physical transformation, because it does indeed appear to be nearly as dramatic as his initial drop from 320 pounds. The Internet has been all aflutter with posts about his svelte appearance. Many of them have been negative, calling him "really skinny," "gaunt-looking" and "shockingly thin."

Sabathia has called the criticism "hilarious."

The six-time All-Star is still sporting the same ultra-baggy pinstripe pants he's worn in years past, and they do accentuate his lankiness. But take a look at him in workout gear and it's obvious his 6-foot-7 frame is considerably more toned than it has ever been.

Sabathia has basically done what every dieter in America dreams of doing; instead of merely dropping pounds, he has replaced fat with lean muscle, dropping his body fat percentage from nearly 25 percent to around 17 percent in just four months. According to trainer T.J. Lopez, Sabathia has added seven to 12 pounds of muscle.

How? By working out like he never has before.

In offseasons past, Sabathia has always struggled in a down-to-the-wire race to weigh under 300 pounds by the time pitchers and catchers report, as his contract mandates. That scramble included lots of long cardio sessions and calorie counting.

"It was like I was on 'The Biggest Loser,'" Sabathia said. "But this year I was already at the right weight and I was only worried about getting stronger."

Everyone knows 2013 was a disappointing year for the big lefty, who posted a 14-13 record and a career-worst 4.78 ERA in 211 innings. Sabathia admitted to feeling tired after four or five innings in his starts, and his fastball has also dropped a few miles an hour in velocity -- from 95 mph to around 92 mph -- in recent years.

Some of Sabathia's troubles last season could be attributed to muscle weakness, fatigue and loss of power that can be caused by rapid weight loss.

"He didn't have the leg strength he usually does," said Lopez. "So this offseason, it was all about getting him to a facility with the proper equipment to develop core, leg and total body strength."

Sabathia has trained with Lopez since 2010, but they had always worked out at Sabathia's New Jersey home, using mostly resistance bands, dumbbells and medicine balls. This winter, though, Lopez got Sabathia into a real gym, five or six times per week from mid-October through mid-February, so he could train using Olympic lifts and other exercises to add muscle and increase strength, explosiveness and power.

Sabathia always warmed up with mobility and core exercises. Workouts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays focused on strength exercises, including deadlift, squat and power clean variations -- all of which involve moving heavy weight on a barbell -- and box jumps, broad jumps and other lateral and linear bounding exercises to train explosiveness. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays were dedicated to sprints and sled work, some conditioning and the shoulder and rotator cuff maintenance exercises nearly every pitcher includes in his training program.

With the elbow issues Sabathia battled in 2012 a not-so-distant memory, this offseason also included a visit to Dr. James Andrews' biomechanics lab at American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala., for a full analysis of Sabathia's pitching motion. Dr. Andrews' team also tested Sabathia's shoulder girdle and rotator cuff strength, and gave Lopez manual resistance, rotational and rhythmic stabilization exercises to incorporate into Sabathia's shoulder maintenance program.

"We got a lot done when we were training in CC's house, but this year I wanted to change the plan a bit and get him out of his comfort zone," Lopez said. "We obviously weren't trying to create an Olympic athlete, but we did want to develop the extension and power he needs to be more explosive in his sport, and he loved it."

Sabathia, who was a high school quarterback in Vallejo, Calif., also loved Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild's suggestion for his offseason throwing program. From mid-October to mid-February, Sabathia and Lopez played catch with a football four times per week to redevelop and maintain arm strength.

Sabathia began throwing a baseball again in mid-January, moving from soft toss and long toss to throwing off a mound by the beginning of February.

Sabathia's diet has also been completely revamped. When he was trying to lose weight, Sabathia eliminated all carbohydrates, which left him feeling weak and depleted.

"I felt like garbage," he said. "I had no energy. I lost the weight pretty quickly, but given how terrible I felt, I don't think that was the right way to do it."

Now, Sabathia eats four to five smaller meals per day, which include some carbohydrates, along with one protein shake.

"CC has a personal chef who will cook whatever [Sabathia] wants," Lopez said. "We've made sure to add more whole foods, fish and lean protein and more vegetables."

Because he is maintaining his target weight, Sabathia also no longer has to obsess about "cheat meals" and can indulge whenever he wants. That is, if he wants a slice of pizza or a cheeseburger, he'll go for it.

Sabathia, 33, is now entering his 14th season in the big leagues and claims this is the best he's felt in Spring Training in years.

"I have great energy and I feel strong, even just throwing bullpens and batting practice," he said. "And the arm is definitely coming quicker."

Sabathia is also reaping the rewards of his healthier lifestyle and stronger physique off the field. In the past, he had trouble keeping up with his four children, ages 10, 8, 5 and 3.

"I've got them now," he said, "and I'm going to make sure I can continue to sprint after them."

The Yankees agree that Sabathia's changes have been for the better.

"CC has done a great job of getting in better shape than he's ever been in, health-wise, and now he's also stronger and tighter," said general manager Brian Cashman. "He had excess weight that it was best for him to lose."

How Sabathia's new physique will affect his performance and velocity over the course of another long baseball season remains to be seen.

"The proof is on the field," Lopez said. "If it works, it works. And if it doesn't, so be it. But either way, CC is in a better position to succeed this year than he was last year, and he's never been more excited for a season."

Ex-Cowboys coach: ‘I’d never recruit a white quarterback’

It’s a good thing for Johnny Manziel that Barry Switzer isn’t the general manager of the Texans. It’s a good thing for the Texans, too.

After saying earlier in the week he thought the Texas A&M quarterback — and potential top overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft — was “an arrogant little p–ck,” Switzer managed to make matters worse Friday.

While apparently attempting to compliment Manziel during an interview with Nashville radio station WNSR, Switzer — who was the head coach with the Cowboys and University of Oklahoma — fueled the controversy by adding he needed his quarterbacks to be great runners: “I’ve always said I’d never recruit a white quarterback. The only way I’d ever recruit a white quarterback to play for me was if his mom and daddy would have to both be black, and that’s the only way I would do it.”

He then went on to list off some of the black quarterbacks he coached in college, including Jamelle Holieway and J.C. Watts, leaving out Troy Aikman, who is white, and played at Oklahoma before transferring to UCLA. Aikman also played for Switzer in Dallas, where they won a Super Bowl together.

Despite the criticism of Manziel, who left Texas A&M a year early to go pro, Switzer insisted he liked him as a player.

“I would go to Johnny and I would spend time with him,” Switzer said, “and I’d find out and base my decision on what he has to say in my interview and my gut feeling about him then.

“This guy has got a little crap in his neck, but I’ve had a lot of renegades … every football team does. That doesn’t mean he ain’t going to be a good player and help win you some championships.”

Weekend Bridge and Street Closures – March 1-2

One lane on the Queens Plaza South main roadway and one lane on the service roadway between Crescent Street and 28th Street will be closed on Saturday and Sunday from 2 am to 9 pm to facilitate NYC Transit # 7 subway line overhead track work.

The following streets in Queens will be closed on Saturday from 1 pm to 5 pm for the Queens County St. Patrick’s Day Parade:
  • Newport Avenue between Beach 140th Street and Beach 116th Street;
  • Beach 116th Street between Newport Avenue and Rockaway Beach Boulevard;
  • Rockaway Beach Boulevard between Beach 116th Street and Beach 102nd Street;
  • Beach 102nd Street between Rockaway Freeway and Shore Front Parkway.

The following streets will be closed on Sunday:
  • Skillman Avenue between 43rd Street and 56th Street, 56th Street between Woodside Avenue and Skillman Avenue, and Woodside Avenue between 56th Street and 61st Street in Queens will be closed from 1 pm to 3 pm for St. Patrick’s Day for All.
  • Ft. Washington Avenue between 168th Street and 169th Street, 168th Street between Broadway and Ft. Washington Avenue, and Ft. Washington Avenue between 169th Street and 190th Street in Manhattan will be closed from 9 am to 10:30 am for the Washington Heights Salsa Blues & Shamrocks 5K Run.
  • Hart Boulevard between Castleton Avenue and Forest Avenue, Forest Avenue between Hart Boulevard and Decker Avenue, and Barrett Avenue between Forest Avenue and Decker Avenue on Staten Island will be closed from noon to 2:30 pm for the Richmond County St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Detailed information on weekend street closures will be available on the DOT web site at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/motorist/wkndtraf.shtml.

Tanaka time: Righty embraces anticipated debut

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Masahiro Tanaka tried on his Yankees pinstripes earlier this month, he said that there was no particular team or player that he was looking forward to facing. They'd all be new, and so each assignment would be a terrific challenge.

Tanaka is preparing for the first of those tests. The right-hander is scheduled to make his highly anticipated spring debut on Saturday against the Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field (1:05 p.m. ET, live on MLB.TV), entering in relief to begin the fifth inning.

"I understand there's going to be a lot of attention on the results, the numbers of what I do out there," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "But for me, I'm not looking at it at all. I just want to go out there and pitch my style out there and see how it is on the mound."

Other than the preparations for Derek Jeter's final season, Tanaka's arrival has easily been the biggest storyline of camp. A sizable contingent of reporters from Japan has been assigned to track Tanaka's every movement, beaming reports of his progress across the globe.

The 25-year-old Tanaka has been a major star in Japan since his high school career, and perhaps that is one large reason that he has seemed to be unfazed by the attention that comes with signing a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees.

"At this point, I can't really think of anything that I'm having some difficulty to adjusting to," Tanaka said.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi hopes that continues to be the case on Saturday. Tanaka will wait on the sidelines as CC Sabathia makes the start against Philadelphia, and then will begin preparing while Hiroki Kuroda enters as a third-inning reliever.

"Hopefully, [Tanaka] keeps his emotions in check, and that's what you worry about a little bit, trying to do too much," Girardi said. "Players a lot of times want to validate contracts. I always say, [with] Japanese-born players, I think there's a certain amount of pride. They feel they're pitching for their whole country sometimes, and that can be a bit much."

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild set up the club's rotation schedule, lumping Sabathia, Kuroda and Tanaka for the first game before separating them later this spring -- sometimes with days off, and sometimes by having them work in simulated or Minor League games.

Girardi said that Rothschild's decision had nothing to do with lowering expectations for Tanaka, or allowing him to fly under the radar for his first time out.

"No, no, no -- he's not flying under anything," Girardi said. "The idea behind this, for Larry, is to be able to work in some extra days off in Spring Training, getting him on his five-day schedule. And we weren't going to ask CC to come out of the 'pen."

While Girardi has not yet locked in his rotation for the regular season, he revealed on Friday that it is "pretty safe to say" that Tanaka's first start is lining up for the third or fourth game of the year -- either April 3 in Houston or April 4 in Toronto.

"I want to see how it goes," Girardi said. "I think it's just fair to see how he's doing physically at the end of this, because that's one of the biggest adjustments he has to make."

From what the Yankees have already seen from Tanaka's work in the bullpen and live batting-practice sessions, the early reports of a special repertoire have appeared to be accurate.

Earlier in camp, Yankees catcher Austin Romine grabbed a bat against Tanaka and was wowed by the hurler's splitter, which some scouts have rated as one of the best in the world.

When the pitch hurtled in like a fastball and then dropped off the table in front of home plate, Romine said that he turned around to catcher Brian McCann, asking what he had just seen.

"He's got a great split," McCann said. "It really falls off the table. His motion's completely the same as his fastball, and that's the key to getting swings and misses."

Tanaka throws two fastballs -- a two-seamer and a four-seamer -- as well as a slider, curveball, changeup and cutter. He plans to show most of them off on Saturday, but said that he is looking forward to seeing what other professional hitters think of his splitter.

"I feel that it is important to get some swing and misses from that pitch, but going into tomorrow I just want to see how batters react to that pitch," he said.

Off the field, Tanaka has also seemed to slide into his new surroundings well. He and Kuroda have been speaking with some regularity, and Kuroda has seemed to be impressed by Tanaka's poise.

"What I've learned as a person, for his age, he's a really mature guy," Kuroda said through an interpreter. "He's really calm. He's a great guy."

Even with a language barrier -- he worked on learning English in Japan, but uses a translator to communicate with the American media -- Tanaka has flashed signs of an engaging personality, and his teammates seem to have embraced him.

"I wasn't really surprised, because I knew pretty much what I was getting into," Tanaka said. "I had some of the information coming in here, so I wasn't very surprised by anything. But there might be some going into games from here on."

My ex-boyfriend dog-napped my schnauzers: suit

A Manhattan woman has sued her ex-boyfriend over a double dog-napping.

In a lawsuit filed Friday, Melinda Levine claims her ex, Eric Steinberg, snuck off with her beloved schnauzers, Francine and Madeline — therapy dogs her doctors say she relies on for solace from her multiple sclerosis and depression.

“I’ve gone a month without seeing them and I’m just devastated,” Levine sobbed to The New York Post.

“I’ve brought these babies up since they were small enough to sit in the palm of my hand.”

Levine and Steinberg, who remain neighbors on the Upper East Side, had lived together with the two dogs for three years, and then amicably shared “custody” for another five years.

But last month, Steinberg suddenly refused to return them or return her desperate phone calls, her suit contends.

At the time the dogs disappeared, Steinberg had just learned that his new wife, Mandy, was pregnant, the suit says. With a baby on the way, Mandy allegedly wanted nothing more to do with the several-times-a-week schnauzer handoffs.

“It is believed Mandy basically told Eric Steinberg to take complete control over plaintiff’s dogs and to end the custody arrangement that had worked perfectly for the last five years,” the suit says.

Levine is seeking a judge’s order “that Francine and Madeline be returned immediately and forthwith,” although she says in the suit that she’d be happy to continue sharing custody.

“Mandy doesn’t ever even have to see me,” Levine said. “My fiance, Charles, could pick them up and drop them off.”

The pooches’ city dog licenses are under her name, as are their registrations as therapy dogs, she said.

“I’ll keep fighting. They’re the most important thing in the world to me,” she said, tearfully.

The suit includes a supporting letter from Levine’s psychiatrist.

“A crucial and most steady and reliable source of her emotional well-being has suddenly been yanked from her,” bringing on “severe depression,” wrote Dr. Dinko Podrug.

In New York state case law, pets occupy a grey area somewhere between actual children and inanimate property, said Levine’s lawyer, “pet law” attorney Eric Feinberg.

The lawyer said he hopes a judge will recognize how important the schnauzers are to Levine’s well-being, their value extending far beyond any other property the couple had shared.

“There are times she can’t even speak to me, she’s crying so hard,” the lawyer said.

“She’s as attached to these dogs as I’ve ever seen,” he added. “She desperately wants to get those dogs back. They make her illnesses bareable.”

Steinberg did not return a call seeking comment.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Jeter feels good after first game of Spring Training

TAMPA, Fla. -- Derek Jeter said that he has not felt this good on the field for over a year, and with his Spring Training debut now in the books, the Yankees' captain is excited to be able to count on seeing his name in the lineup more and more.

Jeter returned to action on Thursday, playing five innings at shortstop and going 0-for-2 in New York's 8-2 Grapefruit League loss to the Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Jeter worked an eight-pitch at-bat in his first plate appearance against Bucs right-hander Charlie Morton, grounding into a 4-6-3 double play, and he grounded out to third base facing Jeff Locke in the fourth inning.

"It was good. It was good to get back in a game," Jeter said. "I haven't played in a game in quite some time. Today was the first time I've swung off of live pitching. It's good to get the first game out of the way and get into a routine of playing games."

Defensively, Jeter had no balls hit his way, though he did record a putout on a caught stealing that ended the fifth inning.

After Jeter was limited to just 17 games last season due to injuries, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he was pleased to see Jeter run hard down the baseline on his fourth-inning groundout, showing no signs of a limp or discomfort.

"To me, that was where it was most noticeable last year, when he was running the bases," Girardi said. "For me, that's where it's going to show up."

It was a bang-bang play at first base; in fact, Girardi believed that Jeter had beaten the throw from Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison. Had this been a game where the new replay rules were available, Girardi said that he might have even tried to challenge the call.

"I thought he ran pretty hard today down to first, and that was really good to see, because we haven't seen that in a while," Girardi said. "You've got to go back to 2012. So that's a great sign for us and a great sign for him."

Jeter has been saying that he is giving little thought to his surgically repaired left ankle, having had the benefit of a full offseason of training to strengthen his lower half. Thus, busting it pain-free out of the box was not exactly a revelation to him.

"For me, I've done it already," Jeter said. "I've run a lot. You guys may not have seen it, but I've run a lot. It's always good to do stuff in game action. I felt like I hadn't been out there in such a long time. I'm not concerned about running; that doesn't cross my mind."

Brian Roberts played his first game as Jeter's Yankees double-play partner on Thursday, and he said that having Jeter confident and strong will be important to the club this season.

"I think we all know what he's capable of doing," Roberts said. "You're talking about getting a premier player in the game, if he's healthy. It's hard to replace a player like that at shortstop, so I think everybody, for a lot of reasons, is hoping that's who you get this year."

Jeter said that there is little that he is still curious to try in a game situation. He has been showing off his jump-throw from shortstop during infield practice, and he assumes that will translate to games. About the only thing Jeter has not done defensively is dive for a ground ball or line drive.

"I'll look forward to that," Jeter said. "I haven't met too many people that practice diving for balls. It's something that I think just comes with practice and comes with games. It will happen when it happens. Right now I'm not where I want to be, but that's why we have 30-something games in Spring Training."

Girardi has said that he is generally planning on playing his starters every other day at this point in Spring Training, so Jeter's next game is scheduled to come on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET against the Phillies at Steinbrenner Field.

Those at-bats are important, considering that Jeter has not been at full health since sometime during the 2012 season. Girardi said that he is running Jeter's camp without restrictions, so Jeter can plan on getting about 60 at-bats this spring, working up to playing three straight days at some point in the future.

"I feel like I haven't played a game in a couple of years," Jeter said. "That's what it felt like, even though I played a couple last year. Just getting into a game, feeling good -- that's what I was most excited about."

Exclusive: Accused Brooklyn shooter: ‘I wanted to kill a cop’

He was out for NYPD blood.

The fare beater who allegedly shot a rookie cop after getting yanked off a city bus admitted he wanted to kill a police officer, sources told The Post.

“Cops are the biggest gang and I carry a gun for my own protection,” Rashaun Robinson, 28, said at the 71st Precinct, according to sources. “I fired in self-defense.”

Officer James Li, 26, who is just a few weeks out of the police academy, and his partner caught Robinson and another man boarding a city bus through the back door without paying on Wednesday afternoon.

When they pulled the men off the bus to arrest them, Robinson allegedly opened fire with a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson, hitting Li in both legs with three shots.

Cops never had a chance to cuff and frisk him. He ran off, but was collared nearby.

Li was treated at the scene by a pair of off-duty EMTs — Khadijah Hall and Shaun Alexander — who were leaving a nearby White Castle when the shots were fired.

“My friend Shaun said ‘I can’t believe this! You got any gloves?’ It was like cops and robbers!” Hall said
Thursday at EMS Station 58 in Canarsie.

Alexander said Li was calm but feared he had been more seriously wounded.

“When we got there he was all concerned that he was shot all over. I checked, said, ‘No, you’re OK, you’re gonna be all right,’” Alexander said.

Robinson, who said nothing when he was led from the 71st Precinct Thursday night for his criminal court arraignment, is a fugitive from Lebanon, Penn., wanted on a 2012 drug warrant.

Authorities there admitted to The Post they didn’t have enough manpower to hunt him down for allegedly taking part in a crack sale to an undercover officer.

The Lebanon County Sheriff’s Department said Thursday it has more than 2,500 open warrants, and just 26 employees — including civilians — to enforce them all.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Deborah Miller said her department entered Robinson’s warrant into state and national law-enforcement databases so he would be held if stopped elsewhere.

Lebanon County DA Dave Arnold said, “I certainly hope and pray for the health of” NYPD cop James Li, who Robinson allegedly shot on Wednesday.

“I know we’ve got a whole wall full of cabinets with warrants here in our office and we certainly do our best to apprehend who we can, but unfortunately we don’t get everybody,” Arnold added.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tigers, Yankees set to spring into ballgames

Competitive baseball returns to the Major League calendar on Tuesday afternoon, as the Yankees and Tigers get their Spring Training slates under way with games against college opponents.

That's right: For the next 139 days, there will be some form of big league baseball on the schedule, a sure sign spring has arrived.

The Yankees host the Florida State Seminoles, who feature Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston, while the Tigers welcome Florida Southern to Joker Marchant Stadium. Both games begin at 1:05 p.m. ET.

The prospect of facing Winston, an outfielder and relief pitcher, has created a bit of a buzz in the Yankees clubhouse, specifically for manager Joe Girardi, who is anxious to see what the national champion QB has to offer.

"It'll be fun," Girardi said. "Obviously, he's extremely athletic. When you watch him play the game of football, he's got a great arm."

For the Yankees, left-hander Vidal Nuno gets the start at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Nuno has an outside shot at earning the fifth spot in the club's starting rotation.

Girardi indicated he will likely use five or six pitchers in each of his team's first few games.

The Tigers also haven't announced their entire slate of pitchers, but Tuesday's contest will offer the first glimpse of Robbie Ray in a Detroit uniform. Ray came to the Tigers as part of a package of players in exchange for veteran right-hander Doug Fister, who went to the Nationals.

Ray will follow 23-year-old righty Drew VerHagen, who gets the start. The Tigers have traditionally given the ball to their prospects to open the Spring Training slate, and VerHagen is ranked No. 11 in the organization, according to MLB.com.

Breaking News: Knicks’ Raymond Felton charged with weapon possession

New York Knicks star Raymond Felton was questioned by police Tuesday morning after allegedly pointing a gun at a woman, sources said.

The starting point guard, whose wife, Ariane Raymondo-Felton, recently filed for divorce, was being quizzed at the 20th Precinct Station House on the Upper West Side, according to law-enforcement sources.

Poilce said Felton was charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the second, third and fourth-degrees.

Officers escorted the point guard from the precinct through a back door into a black Ford Taurus and pulled away quickly.

The woman involved was his girlfriend, sources said.

It was not clear where the alleged incident happened.

The New York Post’s Page Six reported last week that Felton’s wife filed for divorce after 19 months of marriage.

Felton — whom the Knicks signed two years ago in a vain effort to replace Jeremy “Linsanity” Lin — scored just eight points in the Knicks’ 110-108 loss to the Dallas Mavericks shortly before the incident on Monday night.

He inked a $10 million, three-year contract, and the team failed to unload him by last week’s trade deadline.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hijacked jet ‘felt like it was falling from sky’

GENEVA — Locking the pilot out of the cockpit, an Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot hijacked a plane bound for Italy on Monday and diverted it to Geneva, where he asked for asylum, officials said.

One passenger said the hijacker threatened to crash the plane if the pilot didn’t stop pounding on the locked door. Another said passengers were terrified “for hours” as the plane careened across the sky.

The Boeing 767-300 took off from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on an overnight flight to Milan and Rome, but an Ethiopian official said it sent a distress message over Sudan that it had been hijacked. Once the plane was over Europe, two Italian fighter jets and later French jets were scrambled to accompany it.

The plane, which was supposed to go to Milan first, landed in Geneva at about 6 a.m. (0500 GMT).

Officials said no one on the flight was injured and the hijacker was taken into custody after surrendering to Swiss police.

“The pilot went to the toilet and he (the co-pilot) locked himself in the cockpit,” Geneva airport chief executive Robert Deillon told reporters. “(He) wanted asylum in Switzerland.”

It wasn’t immediately clear why the co-pilot, a 31-year-old Ethiopian man, chose Switzerland, where voters recently demanded curbs on immigration. Italy, however, has a reputation among many Africans as not being hospitable to asylum seekers.

Ethiopian Airlines is owned by Ethiopia’s government, which has faced persistent criticism over its rights record and its alleged intolerance of political dissent. Geneva police said the co-pilot claimed he felt threatened in Ethiopia.



An Italian passenger on board, Francesco Cuomo, told the Italian news agency ANSA that some passengers woke up shortly after midnight when the plane started to “bounce.”

“The pilot was threatening to open the cockpit door and tried to knock it down without succeeding,” said Cuomo, a 25-year-old economist.

“At this point, a message was transmitted by the loudspeakers in poor English, but the threat to crash the airplane was clearly understood,” he added.

Oxygen masks then came down, he said, making everyone on the plane very tense.

“We had no clue about the hijacking, but got scared when the plane suddenly started diving, it seemed like it was falling from the sky,” Italian passenger Diego Carpelli, 45, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Carpelli was returning to his native Rome from a vacation in Kenya with his family.

“Someone in an intimidating tone said we should put on our oxygen masks,” Carpelli said, adding that he was terrified for the rest of the flight.

Ethiopia’s communications minister, Redwan Hussein, named the alleged hijacker as Hailemedhin Abera and said the man had worked for Ethiopian Airlines for five years. He said Ethiopia will seek his extradition.

“His action represents a gross betrayal of trust that needlessly endangered the lives of the very passengers that a pilot is morally and professionally obliged to safeguard,” Redwan said.

Redwan said the plane was carrying 200 people, including seven crew members. They included 139 Italians, 11 Americans, 10 Ethiopians, five Nigerians and four French citizens.

Swiss authorities at first thought the Ethiopian plane just wanted to land in Geneva for an emergency refueling before realizing it was being hijacked, Geneva police spokesman Eric Grandjean said.

A few minutes after landing in Geneva, the co-pilot left the cockpit using a rope, then went to police forces close to the aircraft and “announced that he was himself the hijacker,” Grandjean said.

Police escorted the plane’s passengers out one by one, their hands over their heads, from the taxied plane to waiting vehicles. Geneva airport was closed down for about two hours.

Geneva prosecutor Olivier Jornot said the co-pilot will be charged with taking hostages, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The Swiss federal prosecutors’ office said later Monday that it had taken over the case.

Jornot said the hijacker’s chances of winning asylum were slim.

“Technically there is no connection between asylum and the fact he committed a crime to come here,” he said. “But I think his chances are not very high.”

Both Italy and Switzerland, however, do not extradite those who may face the death penalty at home.

The leader of Ethiopia’s opposition Blue party, Yilikal Getnet, said he believed the hijacker was trying to make a statement about the political situation in Ethiopia, where the late strongman Meles Zenawi’s party has dominated politics since the 1990s.

“I think he took the measure to convey a message that the … government is not in line with the public,” he
said.

Human Rights Watch says Ethiopia’s human rights record “has sharply deteriorated” over the years. The rights group says authorities severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly.

The government has also been accused of targeting journalists, opposition members and minority Muslims.

There have been at least eight hijackings by Ethiopians or involving Ethiopian planes in the last 25 years.

The deadliest came in 1996, when hijackers stormed the cockpit of a flight from Ethiopia to Ivory Coast via Kenya, demanding that the plane go to Australia. The plane ran out of fuel and crashed off the island nation of Comoros, killing 125 of the 175 people aboard.

Noah Syndergaard’s electric stuff blows away Mets brass

PORT ST. LUCIE — His heat was impressive, but Noah’s arc was downright scary.

Or as Mets manager Terry Collins gushed after watching stud pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard’s initial bullpen session of the spring on Monday: “This kid is throwing 97 mph with a hook from hell — really impressive.”

With principal owner Fred Wilpon, general manager Sandy Alderson and Collins among those watching behind a line of mounds at the Mets’ spring training complex, the 21-year-old Syndergaard’s 40-pitch session was the most anticipated event in Day 1 of workouts for pitchers and catchers.

The right-hander was told by Collins not to push too hard, but admitted the adrenaline kicked in once he stepped on the mound.

“I was pretty amped up,” Syndergaard said.

The expectation is Syndergaard will follow the path taken by Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler the last two years and join the Mets in June or July. But Syndergaard said his job is to make the decision as difficult as possible when team brass chooses an Opening Day roster.

As it stands, the Mets have Wheeler, Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee penciled into the rotation, with Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lannan and Jenrry Mejia as the main competitors for the fifth spot.

With Syndergaard’s workload likely to be capped around 145 innings pitched this season, his appearances for Triple-A Las Vegas could be limited in length. According to a club source, Syndergaard may face plenty of five-inning starts for Las Vegas.

Syndergaard, who arrived with Travis d’Arnaud in the trade that sent R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays before last season, split 2013 between Single-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton. Overall, he was 9-4 with a 3.06 ERA and struck out 133 batters in 117 2/3 innings.

“Right now I’m going into camp hoping to make the starting rotation,” Syndergaard said. “But if not, I know there is a bigger picture involved, and when the organization thinks I’m ready is when I’ll officially be ready and I’ll look forward to being in New York.”

At 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, Syndergaard is certainly an imposing presence.

“When you hear the guys on the team that are big saying, ‘My God, look at the size of this guy,’ that’s what is impressive,” Collins said.

Syndergaard indicated he spent much of the offseason trying to a refine a changeup that can complement his fastball, curve and slider. He indicated he threw 8-10 changeups on Monday and liked the results.

“I kind of impressed myself a little bit,” Syndergaard said.

There may not be a bullpen session by a Mets pitcher that gets as scrutinized this spring.

“I remember last year throwing my first bullpen and being pretty nervous as well,” Syndergaard said. “But this year really trumps it all. It was really nothing compared to this, having all the reporters and the brass in town. It was really cool.”

Navy deploying ‘Star Wars’ weapons on battleships

BATH, Maine — Some of the Navy’s futuristic weapons sound like something out of “Star Wars,” with lasers designed to shoot down aerial drones and electric guns that fire projectiles at hypersonic speeds.

That future is now.

The Navy plans to deploy its first laser on a ship later this year, and it intends to test an electromagnetic rail gun prototype aboard a vessel within two years.

For the Navy, it’s not so much about the whiz-bang technology as it is about the economics of such armaments. Both costs pennies on the dollar compared with missiles and smart bombs, and the weapons can be fired continuously, unlike missiles and bombs, which eventually run out.

“It fundamentally changes the way we fight,” said Capt. Mike Ziv, program manager for directed energy and electric weapon systems for the Naval Sea Systems Command.

The Navy’s laser technology has evolved to the point that a prototype to be deployed aboard the USS Ponce this summer can be operated by a single sailor, he said.

The solid-state Laser Weapon System is designed to target what the Navy describes as “asymmetrical threats.” Those include aerial drones, speed boats and swarm boats, all potential threats to warships in the Persian Gulf, where the Ponce, a floating staging base, is set to be deployed.

Rail guns, which have been tested on land in Virginia, fire a projectile at six or seven times the speed of sound — enough velocity to cause severe damage. The Navy sees them as replacing or supplementing old-school guns, firing lethal projectiles from long distances.

But both systems have shortcomings.

Lasers tend to loser their effectiveness if it’s raining, if it’s dusty, or if there’s turbulence in the atmosphere, and the rail gun requires vast amount of electricity to launch the projectile, said Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute.

“The Navy says it’s found ways to deal with use of lasers in bad weather, but there’s little doubt that the range of the weapon would be reduced by clouds, dust or precipitation,” he said.

Producing enough energy for a rail gun is another problem.

The Navy’s new destroyer, the Zumwalt, under construction at Bath Iron Works in Maine, is the only ship with enough electric power to run a rail gun. The stealthy ship’s gas turbine-powered generators can produce up to 78 megawatts of power. That’s enough electricity for a medium-size city — and more than enough for a rail gun.

Technology from the three ships in that DDG-1000 series will likely trickle down into future warships, said Capt. James Downey, the program manager.

Engineers are also working on a battery system to store enough energy to allow a rail gun to be operated on warships currently in the fleet.

Both weapon systems are prized because they serve to “get ahead of the cost curve,” Ziv said.
In other words, they’re cheap.

Each interceptor missile aboard a U.S. Navy warship costs at least $1 million apiece, making it cost-prohibitive to defend a ship in some hostile environments in which an enemy is using aircraft, drones, artillery, cruise missiles and artillery, Thompson said.

With a laser operating on about 30 kilowatts of electricity — and possibly three times that in the future — the cost amounts to a few dollars per shot, Thompson said.

The “Star Wars” analogy isn’t a bad one.

Just like in the movies, the Navy’s laser directs a beam of energy that can burn through a target or fry sensitive electronics. Unlike the movie, the laser beam is invisible to the human eye.

The targeting system locks onto the target, sending a beam of searing heat. “You see the effect on what you are targeting but you don’t see the actual beam,” Ziv said.

Other nations are developing their own lasers, but the Navy is more advanced at this point.

Most folks are stunned to learn the technology is ready for deployment, Ziv said.

“It’s fair to say that there are other countries working on this technology. That’s safe to say. But I would also say that a lot of what makes this successful came from the way in which we consolidated all of the complexity into something that can be operated by (a single sailor),” he said.

White House defends stimulus bill five years later

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — The costly $787 billion spending bill that President Barack Obama signed into law soon after taking office boosted the economy and helped avoid another Great Depression, the White House said in a status report on Monday’s fifth anniversary of the law’s enactment.

Republican leaders in Congress took note of the anniversary, too, but argued that the bill spent too much for too little in return.

White House economic adviser Jason Furman said the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act made other targeted investments that will pay dividends for years to come.

By itself, the stimulus bill saved or created an average of 1.6 million jobs a year for four years through the end of 2012, Furman said in a White House blog post.

Half of the total fiscal support for the economy, or about $689 billion, from the recovery act and subsequent measures was in the form of tax cuts directed mostly at families. The remainder was spent on such things as rebuilding roads and bridges, preventing teacher layoffs and providing temporary help for people who lost their jobs or needed other assistance because of the poor economy.

The report said recovery act spending will have a positive effect on long-run growth, boost the economy’s potential output and ultimately offset much of the law’s initial cost.

More than 40,000 miles of roads and more than 2,700 bridges have been upgraded, nearly 700 drinking water systems serving more than 48 million people have been brought into compliance with federal clean water standards and high-speed Internet was introduced to about 20,000 community institutions.

“While these figures are substantial, they still nevertheless understate the full magnitude of the administration’s response to the crisis,” Furman wrote.

He noted that the report focused solely on the effects of fiscal legislation. It did not evaluate other administration policies that aided the recovery, such as stabilizing the financial system, rescuing the auto industry and supporting the housing sector.

Republicans were in less of a mood to celebrate.

“The ‘stimulus’ has turned out to be a classic case of big promises and big spending with little results,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a written statement. “Five years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, millions of families are still asking ‘Where are the jobs?’”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued that Obama could put the nation’s finances on a more solid footing and create jobs by taking steps to roll back regulations and finally approve the Keystone XL pipeline project from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Five years later, the stimulus is no success to celebrate,” said McConnell. “It is a tragedy to lament.”

Furman said the economy is “undoubtedly in a stronger position” because it has grown for 11 straight months, although not at a pace that would be considered robust. Businesses have also added 8.5 million jobs since early 2010. Obama initially sold the stimulus as an investment that would produce a dramatic decrease in unemployment that ultimately did not materialize.

Unemployment remains high, at 6.6 percent in January, though it has fallen considerably since reaching double-digit highs early in Obama’s administration. Some of the decline, however, is due to people dropping out of the workforce. People aren’t considered unemployed if they aren’t looking for work.

“While far more work remains to ensure that the economy provides opportunity for every American, there can be no question that President Obama’s actions to date have laid the groundwork for stronger, more sustainable economic growth in the years ahead,” Furman said.

Obama planned to discuss the economy Tuesday at a suburban Washington distribution center for the Safeway grocery store chain. On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden will mark the recovery act’s fifth anniversary during a visit to America’s Central Port in Granite City, Ill.

17-year partnership ends in US ice dance gold

SOCHI, Russia — Through 17 years of grueling practices, of defeats and victories, Meryl Davis and Charlie White insist they’ve never considered parting ways.

A perfect pairing, they were nearly flawless at the Sochi Olympics, and on Monday they became the first Americans to win an ice dance gold medal.

“The closest we came to breaking up, I can’t pinpoint one because there hasn’t been one,” Davis, 27, said.

“Certainly there have been struggles. It hasn’t been easy to get where we are. … It’s a partnership which I couldn’t have asked for more.

“Charlie and I are very different. We used those difference to balance it out. There has never been a moment of doubt.”

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, the 2010 champions, took silver, while bronze went to Russia’s Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov.

Davis and White won silver in Vancouver, but in the four years since they have overtaken the Canadians, their training partners in Detroit under Russian coach Marina Zoueva.

The reigning world champs scored 116.63 points in the free dance to finish with 195.52, 4.53 ahead of Virtue and Moir.

“No athletes like it to sit in this position,” Moir said. “We came here to win the competition. But it’s easier when we see them and know how hard these guys work.”

When their program to “Sheherazade” ended with White on a knee, Davis rested her head on his back in exhausted elation. The two started skating together in 1997 in Michigan, and on the biggest day of their career, they performed just as they had visualized it.

“That in itself justified 17 years of hard work,” White, 26, said.

 The music swelling over the final minute of the program, their feet were in nonstop motion, yet every step was intricately choreographed. Their lifts were a blur as White spun across the ice with Davis held aloft, their movements and expressions still fierce despite the draining demands of the performance.

As they told the story of the Persian king and the woman who enchants him, White was regal in purple velvet, Davis beguiling in a lavender dress with jewels shimmering on her midriff.

They now have one medal of each color after winning bronze in the new team event in Sochi, the first American figure skaters to own three.

Virtue and Moir had become the first North American ice dance gold medalists at their home Olympics in Vancouver.

Their free dance to Russian classical music told the story of their own partnership, which also stretches back to 1997.

In a performance at times tender and at others triumphant, Moir kissed her hand at the start and again throughout the program.

“I think there is relief,” Moir said. “It has been a journey to get here since 2010, a lot of sleepless nights to get to the Olympic Games. If I could only have been that 22-year-old at Vancouver.

“The reason we stayed in is we wanted a different journey. Now, the pressures of this game are just melting away.”

Ilinykh and Katsalapov were just ninth at last year’s world championships but are now the latest Olympic ice dance medalists from Russia, finishing 7.51 points behind the Canadians. She’s only 19; he’s 22. The home fans started cheering when the first few notes of “Swan Lake” played for their free dance, and they were roaring when it ended with Katsalapov collapsed on his knees and Ilinykh weeping.

“The program builds and builds and builds,” Katsalapov said through a translator, “and the audience gave us energy to keep building it more and more.”

France’s Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat were fourth, 6.26 points out of bronze. The other U.S. teams, Madison Chock and Evan Bates and siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, finished eighth and ninth.

Russia has won 18 of 33 medals in ice dance’s Olympic history, but now North Americans own two straight golds. Virtue and Moir have said they’ll likely retire. For Davis and White, talk of the future can wait until this historic victory starts feeling real.

“We wanted to fight for the best performance we could give and we did that. You dream of this for so long, work so hard, and they worked hard, too,” White said, referring to Virtue and Moir. “They always have been with us, pushing us, and we couldn’t have done it without them.”

4-year-old boy found fleeing Syria alone in desert

BEIRUT — Among the streams of refugees seeking safety from the chaos of war-torn Syria, one stood out: A 4-year-old boy, wandering alone in the wilderness.

A United Nations worker on the Jordanian border Sunday tweeted a heartbreaking photo of 4-year-old Marwan, being rescued by aid workers after the boy had become separated from his family.

Andrew Harper, a representative to Jordan for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, tweeted the picture Sunday, one of a string of postings he’s made over the last months documenting what he has called “an endless tide” of refugees fleeing the conflict, toting only what few possessions they can carry.

But this story had as happy an ending as possible for those displaced by the fighting: Harper on Monday tweeted “Marwan was safely reunited w his mother soon after being carried across the #Jordan border.”

The three-year-old Syrian conflict has killed more than 130,000 people and is destabilizing the country’s neighbors. The mainly Sunni Muslim rebels have drawn support from radical Sunni groups such as al Qaeda and other foreign militants.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday blamed the Assad government for stalling Syrian peace talks and pressed Russia to stop supplying it weapons, telling Moscow it needed to be part of the solution.

International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said in Geneva on Saturday that the first two rounds of peace talks had not made much progress but that the two sides had agreed on an agenda for a third round at an unspecified date.

“The regime stonewalled. They did nothing except continue to drop barrel bombs on their own people and continue to destroy their own country. And I regret to say they are doing so with increased support from Iran, from Hezbollah and from Russia,” Kerry told reporters in Jakarta on Monday during a trip to Asia and the Middle East.

Using unusually strong language, Kerry said: “Russia needs to be a part of the solution and not be contributing so many more weapons and so much more aid that they are in effect enabling Assad to double-down, which is creating an enormous problem.”

Assad is still trying to win Syria’s civil war militarily rather than find a solution through peace talks, he said.

“It is very clear that Bashar al-Assad is continuing to try to win this (on) the battlefield rather than to (go) to the negotiating table (with) good faith.”

Also Monday, the Western-backed rebel movement the Free Syrian Army announced it was replacing its military chief with an experienced, moderate field commander from the south. The shakeup comes after months of losses to Syrian forces and Islamic extremists.

The opposition reluctantly agreed to participate in two rounds of peace negotiations in Geneva, hoping it would convince the U.S. of the futility of a diplomatic track to end the country’s three-year conflict. By revamping the opposition’s moderate forces, it hopes to encourage its reluctant U.S. and European allies to send them anti-aircraft weapons to challenge Assad’s monopoly on air power.

Brig. Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir replaces Gen. Salim Idris, a secular-leaning moderate who was criticized by many in the opposition for being ineffective and lost the confidence of the U.S. and its allies, particularly after Islamic extremists seized a weapons depot from moderate rebels. The move was announced Monday in a statement by the FSA’s Supreme Military Council.

Al-Bashir, who previously headed the group’s operations in the southern province of Quneitra on the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, is considered a moderate Islamist. He hails from the region’s most powerful al-Nuaimi tribe, giving him influence among Syria’s conservative rural areas, where tribal connections are important.

Rebels say he has vast knowledge of the areas south of Damascus where he served as an army commander until defecting to the opposition in 2012. His son Talal, also a rebel, was killed in battle with government forces in Quneitra last year.

In speeches, al-Bashir has said he supports a democratic Syria.

“The value of this man to the rebels is enormous. He was the commander of the Syrian army in the south, which included Daraa province and Golan area. These are the nearest points to Damascus,” said Mustafa Alani, the director of the security department at the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center.

In rebel-held parts of northern Syria where Islamic rebel groups prevail, al-Bashir’s appointment was met with a shrug.

“Most of the factions on the ground are mostly of the Islamic Front who don’t really care that Idris was fired, or that Bashir was appointed,” said Akram al-Halabi, spokesman of the Tawhid Brigades, part of the Islamic Front.

“The people lost hope in the FSA a long time ago,” he said.

With Associated Press and Reuters

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Opinion: De Blasio keeps dropping the ball

Written by Brandon J.'s News reporter Brandon Julien, follow him on Twitter @Brandonjsnews

Snow. It can be so peaceful and very scenic, but it can be very difficult if you have to walk in it. Which leads me to today's storm.

Last night, as all other kids were, i was sitting around, waiting to hear if Mayor Bill De Blasio was going to close school tomorrow. He didn't say by the time i had to go to sleep, and only god knows what kind of decision he made.

This morning, i got up, and heard that NYC public schools were open. He would say in a later press conference: "So many families depend on their schools as a place for their kids to be during the day, a safe place where they are not only are taught, they get nutrition and they are safe from the elements," he said. "So many families have to go to work, the members of these families have to go to work, they do not have a choice, and they need a safe option for their kids. So as long as we know our kids can get to school safely, and we know we can operate our schools effectively, we make that decision...I want to emphasize it is a rare act, in fact...since 1978 I think our figures are, about 11 times schools have been closed in that time frame. So it is a rarity, and it's something we do not do lightly."

Not taking into consideration that schools have closed only 30% of the time whenever it snows, but it was supposed to snow 6-10 inches in the area. Kids shouldn't have to walk around in the snow with blowing winds. No. Stop. Do not reach for your e-mail client; I do not want to hear about how you want to say how kids are better off in school, because if you are, you are fucking stupid—and don't deserve to be in public office.







De Blasio held a press conference on the storm.



But the real problem was the blinding snow, and the rain that came afterwards. The rain melted the snow and caused these huge puddles, as i show in this pic around 116th Street in Harlem.

Also, i file this report on the snow myself.
video

Mayor de Blasio defends decision to keep NYC public schools open

Responding to criticism from the head of the teachers union and many parents, Mayor Bill de Blasio defended his decision to keep New York City public schools open Thursday despite the snowstorm.
The city's Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina also stirred up controversy by calling it 'a beautiful day'.

The Department of Education says Thursday's public school attendance was 44.65%. It had been about 47% during the previous snowstorm Jan. 22nd.

De Blasio and Farina decided to keep the schools open despite a travel advisory in effect throughout the city.
But all field trips, after-school activities and PSAL events were canceled.

The decision was widely met with criticism, with many taking to social media to express their outrage. The United Federation of Teachers condemned the decision in a statement from President Michael Mulgrew.
"I understand the desire to keep schools open," he said. "The only thing that trumps that is safety. Having students, parents and staff traveling in these conditions was unwarranted. It was a mistake to open schools today."

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis also issued a statement critical of the decision.

"The City of New York got it wrong today," she said. "The decision by Chancellor Farina to keep all public schools open was misguided. The visibility and weather conditions are very poor and the safety of New York's students should be paramount when making a decision on school closures. Keeping schools open and expecting children to travel through heavy snow, sleet and ice at the same time the City is urging residents to stay off the road is nonsensical. Additionally, when making future decisions on school closures, the City should take into account the plight of the outer boroughs that have less transit options and many secondary and tertiary roads that take much longer to be plowed during a heavy snowfall as today's."

De Blasio defended the decision at a late-morning news conference.

"So many families depend on their schools as a place for their kids to be during the day, a safe place where they are not only are taught, they get nutrition and they are safe from the elements," he said. "So many families have to go to work, the members of these families have to go to work, they do not have a choice, and they need a safe option for their kids. So as long as we know our kids can get to school safely, and we know we can operate our schools effectively, we make that decision...I want to emphasize it is a rare act, in fact...since 1978 I think our figures are, about 11 times schools have been closed in that time frame. So it is a rarity, and it's something we do not do lightly."

Farina was also on the defensive, saying "Damned if you do, damned if you don't."

Farina said the decision is ultimately up to parents, but she has to keep students' best interest in mind.

"If people can go to work, then kids can to school," she said. "Many of our kids don't get a hot lunch and, in many cases breakfast, unless they go to school. So it's still a parent's decision whether they send their kids to school or not. My decision is where the kids are safest and the most taken care of, and the answer to that is in schools."

"If we started taking snow days every time it was likely, we'd already be regressing at least five days worth. We know, particularly in the younger grades, that for every day children are not in school, they regress two days worth of education.

Farina called herself the snow chancellor, with just five weeks under her belt and a third snow emergency.

She said it was a third tough call whether to keep more than a million kids home from school, but she drew
sharp criticism for her comments on the conditions outside.

"It has totally stopped snowing," she said. "It is absolutely a beautiful day out there right now."

To close or not to close was the big topic of conversation at a community meeting on Staten Island, where Farina and the mayor angered parents just a week ago with the decision to keep school open even as the de Blasio administration urged New Yorkers to stay off the streets.

Brooklyn parent Shamona Kirkland said it's all a matter of common sense.

"It is a catch 22," she said. "We're working parents, of course, because we do consider the fact that we don't have anywhere for our children to go for the day. But I'd rather my child get to school safely."

Families with busing questions are advised to contact the Office of Pupil Transportation at 718-392-8855.

Parents, as always, should exercise their own judgment with regard to their children. Safety is a top priority for the Department.

Baby boy critical after pregnant woman killed by vehicle clearing snow

A pregnant woman was killed by a construction vehicle removing snow in Brooklyn on Thursday morning, officials said.

The victim’s baby, a boy, is alive but in critical condition at Maimonides Medical Center after being delivered by caesarian section.

Min Lin, 36, was struck shortly before 11 a.m. by the privately owned vehicle that was clearing snow from the parking lot of the Fei Long Market on Eighth Avenue, near 63rd Street, police said.

She was nine months pregnant.

Cops roped off the lot and the Bobcat S250 that hit the woman. The unidentified driver, who was driving in reverse when the accident happened, was spotted in the lot hours later looking despondent.

Marvin Lopez, 43, a custodial worker who lives across the street from the lot said he saw the worker operating the plow the day before.

“That bobcat is owned by the supermarket,” Lopez said. “But they have the same guy drive it every single year during winter. I was watching him yesterday and he was driving so erratically.

“He was speeding up and down the sidewalks. He almost hit me and my wife yesterday as we were going across the street. The guy was a speed demon.

“I thought, that man is going to kill somebody someday. And look what happens, this is a tragedy. The woman was just minding her business, trying to pick up some groceries. Thank God they saved the baby, but I feel so bad for that family.”

Yanks, Marlins to play in Panama, with Mo on hand

The Yankees and Marlins will play two exhibition games in Panama this March to honor recently retired Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and bring Major League Baseball to the country for the first time since 1947.

The "Legend Series" will be played March 15-16 at Panama City's Rod Carew Stadium, and the games will "honor the legacy" of Rivera, who retired last season as baseball's all-time saves leader.

"It is only fitting that one of our game's greatest ambassadors, Mariano Rivera, could help us bring Major League Baseball back to his beloved Panama," MLB senior vice president for international business operations Paul Archey said in a statement. "We look forward to partnering with the Marlins and the Yankees to deliver a groundbreaking sporting event to the fans of Panama, particularly the young fans who looked up to Mariano during his historic career."

Rivera will help serve as a promoter for the event in his native country, which will also include charitable events and a March 14 gala that will benefit the Mariano Rivera Foundation. Proceeds from the event will go to Children's Hospital in Panama City, the country's largest pediatric hospital.

"As long as I can remember, it has been my dream to bring my team, the Yankees, to play baseball in Panama," Rivera said in a statement. "I grew up playing in Puerto Caimito, where I developed my passion for baseball and began a journey that brought me to New York. It is my hope that this 'Legacy Series' will inspire other young players to pursue their dreams. I am very grateful to Major League Baseball, the Players Association, the Yankees and the Marlins in making this dream become a reality."

The games, which will be a rematch of the 2003 World Series, will be part of the teams' Spring Training schedule.

Panama will become the seventh country to host games between two Major League clubs (Mexico, Japan, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, China). Under Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy, members of the Yankees trained in Panama in February 1946 and played against a Panamanian professional league All-Star team on February 21 of that year.

In the spring of 1947, the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers played exhibition games in Panama during a trip that also featured stops in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

Clueless schools chief: ‘It’s a beautiful day’

Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina cluelessly defended the decision to keep schools open during Thursday’s lethal Nor’easter – incredibly saying “it’s a beautiful day out there,” as snow and freezing rain fell outside.

“It has totally stopped snowing. It’s absolutely a beautiful day out there right now,” she said at a morning news conference in Brooklyn with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Asked to elaborate, Farina said, “Coming down the stairs, the most obvious thing is it stopped snowing. The second thing, it’s getting warmer – which means that theoretically the snow will start melting.”

She also said that because people were out and about, it must be nicer out.

“I guess the other thing, in looking out the window … there’s a lot of people on the streets,” she said before cracking a flippant joke.

“Obviously it’s not as nice as it is where my husband is in South Beach, but it’s a lot better than it was before.” ” she said, as she and de Blasio burst out laughing.

“It’s getting warmer … theoretically, the snow will start melting,” Farina added.

De Blasio and Farina then haughtily defended their call Wednesday night at 10:33 p.m. to keep schools open – at the same time forecasters were predicting up to 10 inches of snow in the city.

“Unlike some cities, we don’t shut down in the face of adversity. I’m going to make decisions based on the information we have,” de Blasio boasted.

“There is the illusion you can have perfect information and perfect decisions,” de Blasio said. “We made the right decision.”

But their comments did little to mollify parents, teachers and students who took to social media to harshly criticize their decision to keep schools open.

“Why the public school system is open today in these conditions is astounding. Putting the lives of teachers, administrators, and most importantly, children, in danger by telling them to travel in this weather is incomprehensible. Chancellor Farina and the DOE staff: you have some serious explaining to do,” said James Hong on the Department of Education’s Facebook page, which had hundreds of negative comments.

School attendance was down to 45%, according to the Department of Education.

The mayor also said Farina was spot on when she said earlier that it is important for the schools to be open because for many kids it’s the only place they can get a decent meal — a comment that angered many parents.

“We have a huge number of parents, their kids getting to school means their children will have a good meal, in some cases two meals,” the mayor said. “A lot of parents get frustrated” if school is closed, he said.

“The bottom line is, we made a decision that was right,” de Blasio stubbornly insisted.

“The facts on the ground speak for themselves. Throughout the city public transportation has been running. the precipitation levels were such that we could sustain school opening today. it’s our job to do … it’s out job to make the city function,” he said.

The mayor also took a veiled shot at the National Weather Service, suggesting they low-balled their predictions.

“We don’t second guess the National Weather Service. The low end suggested 2 or 3 inches by this morning. The high end estimate was more problematic, but not enough to close schools,” he said.

The effort was too much for TV personality and weatherman Al Roker, who tweeted a response – from the Olympics in Sochi.

“How dare @NYCMayorsOffice @NYCSchools throw NWS under the school bus. Forecast was on time and on the money,” Roker wrote.

Forecasters had predicted anywhere from 6 to 10 inches of snow for the city – and the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning, the highest level of alert.

Asked how much snow there would have to be before schools were closed, de Blasio replied, “If you guaranteed me a foot of snow between midnight and 6 a.m., I guarantee you schools would be closed.”

Farina also callously declared that students who were absent from school Thursday would not be given a pass for taking the day off.

“At the course of a whole day, you can still get to school,” she said.

The mayor and Farina also pointed out that city students have the entire week off next week, and that they were loath to give them another day off Thursday for fear that students would backslide.

Alderson: Mets have made a lot of progress

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- In the wake of an offseason that saw the Mets make their biggest free-agent splashes in years, yet remain far below the payroll norms of big-market teams, general manager Sandy Alderson on Wednesday painted the picture of a financially healthy franchise choosing -- but not confined to -- continued austerity.

Alderson contradicted a recent report that the Mets had been operating under bank-imposed payroll restrictions, saying instead that "the answer is clearly no -- there are no constraints on the payroll."

"I feel very confident that [the payroll] will climb back up," Alderson said. "But at the same time, we need to have some success on the field, which drives some attendance, which drives additional revenue, all of those things. I understand that it's incumbent on us to have some success on the field."

Estimating the Mets' payroll as "somewhere in excess of $85 million," including insurance considerations, Alderson said the team is likely done spending this winter after importing three Major League free agents: Curtis Granderson for four years and $60 million, Bartolo Colon for two years and $20 million and Chris Young for one year and $7.25 million.

That means no Stephen Drew, who remains a free agent, and likely no additional relief help.

"I think we've made a lot of progress," Alderson said. "Every team, you'd like to do one or two other things. But we're very happy with where we are right now at the beginning of Spring Training."

Alderson's happy glow has also enveloped captain David Wright, who talked extensively with the GM about his vision before signing a new eight-year contract last offseason. Wright, who has been attending optional workouts in Port St. Lucie since before the Super Bowl, offered support for Alderson's plan.

"If you spend more money in one offseason and get into the situation that we were in a couple years ago, that doesn't help you all that much either if it doesn't work out," Wright said, referring to the period of inflexibility that the long-term contracts of Johan Santana, Jason Bay and others once wrought. "I think that you spend money obviously on the right players, but also give yourself the ability that if you need to make a trade or add payroll midway through the year or next year, you have to be open to that."

Still, Wright said, parts of this offseason did frustrate him.

"I'm just like the fans," Wright said. "Every good free agent, I want us to go sign them all. So it's not about not wanting good players on the team, it's just we had quite a few needs to fill. I think we filled some of them and I expect us to be a better team. But I do think -- and I hope -- that if we need to add payroll midway through the year and leading up into next offseason, that we'll have the ability to do that."

Until then, Wright continued, the Mets will need to rely on contributions from players already on the roster.

At first base, at shortstop and in the bullpen in particular, the Mets certainly have room to grow.

"It's not an overnight fix," said Wright, the longest-tenured Met. "Of course, I think that we can go out there and compete and win baseball games, but you can't sit there and rebuild an entire culture, or rebuild an entire team in one offseason. It's going to be up to some of the guys who have been there to do their part as well. You can't just get rid of the team and buy a whole new team. It doesn't work that way."

Or, as Alderson put it, "We'd always like to have more players, but that doesn't always make you a better team."

The Mets, after a winter of tempered improvement, will instead have to find other ways to improve. The next six weeks of Spring Training should reveal how they intend to do it.