Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Broncos' Jay Cutler says he can't trust McDaniels




Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler said Sunday night he has formally asked Denver to trade him and confirmed that a Saturday meeting with first-year coach Josh McDaniels ended badly from his perspective, while McDaniels offered another viewpoint on Sunday night. "I went in there with every intention of solving the issue, being a Bronco, moving forward as a Bronco," Cutler said. "We weren't in there but about 20 minutes, [McDaniels] did most of the talking and as far as I'm concerned, he made it clear he wants his own guy. He admitted he wanted Matt Cassel because he said he has raised him up from the ground as a quarterback. He said he wasn't sorry about it. He made it clear that he could still entertain trading me because, as he put it, he'll do whatever he feels is in the best interest of the organization.
Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler said while new Denver coach Josh McDaniels hasn't been critical of him, Cutler can no longer
trust McDaniels.

"At the end of the meeting, he wasn't like, 'Jay, I want you as our quarterback, you're our guy.' It felt like the opposite. He basically said that I needed to tell him if we can't work this out, to let him know," Cutler added. "I thought he was antagonizing me and that was disappointing because I was ready to move on, committed as a Bronco. Really, I figured we'd hash things out, shake hands, laugh a little and move forward. What happened [Saturday] was the last thing I expected. If I didn't think it could be fixed, I never would have come back to Denver. It was painfully obvious to me and Bus [Cook, his agent] it's not something they want to fix." Consequently, Cutler instructed Cook, who also attended the meeting, to formally request a trade. The quarterback said he left town late Sunday and would skip McDaniels' first (nonmandatory) team meeting Monday as the Broncos begin their offseason program. "The Denver Broncos confirm that Jay Cutler has requested a trade," team spokesman Jim Saccomano told The Associated Press on Monday. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen told The Denver Post on Sunday that he was disappointed with how Cutler has handled the situation. In a telephone interview with ESPN, McDaniels was reluctantly expansive on the story. "I really have wanted to avoid a he-said, she-said thing but it's only fair for us to present the Bronco side of the story rather than let things get taken out of context," McDaniels said. "There's been a pattern here for the past two weeks the way things [have been represented] in our communications. I don't think anything that happened [Saturday] was out of the ordinary. At the end of the meeting, Jay said he had thought about things quite a bit and requested a few more hours to mull things over. He said he wanted to talk to Bus on how to proceed. He was gonna call me on my cell phone and that never happened. Instead, Bus called [GM] Brian [Xanders]. "Again, I think that's been a pattern. I couldn't get [Cutler] to talk to me for two weeks or to talk to Mr. Bowlen. Then when he came here this weekend, we couldn't get a one-on-one meeting, just me and him alone. He wanted Bus in there, so I had Brian sit in, too. And it was the four of us. There wasn't any yelling, none of that. I can't believe we get to a totally different [interpretation]. "It's an unfortunate set of circumstances that has cropped up, a potential distraction and we've done our best to limit that. The main message I want to get out is that we're excited to start our offseason program [Monday]. It's an exciting time for us." Cutler was not present for Monday's team meeting. "I certainly went back there, expecting I'd be there [Monday] but not now," Cutler said. "It's not mandatory. I'll attend every mandatory minicamp and training camp but that's it. Really, it's best for me to move on. As Coach said, he needs every eye in the meeting room to be on him and not me." McDaniels briefly addressed his broiling quarterback controversy when he gathered his team as a group for the first time Monday morning. "He just addressed it and said, 'I'll take care of it," recounted defensive lineman Kenny Peterson. As McDaniels pointed out, Cutler had a completely different expectation when he left their private meeting on Saturday. Cutler said: "You know, even after the meeting, I hung around town, kind of expecting him to call me and say, 'Hey, let's just me and you get away and have lunch or a cup of coffee' and mend things, but that didn't happen. So, I get it, really, it's a business. I'm disappointed because I love being a Bronco but I think it's run its course." Cutler denied recent reports that he had asked to be traded when the Broncos fired offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates. "Yes, I was upset when they let Jeremy go because Mr. Bowlen had assured me when Mike [Shanahan] was fired that the offense wouldn't change because it was the second-ranked offense in football," Cutler said. "But I didn't push for a trade then." McDaniels and Cutler agreed on at least one element of the controversy, knocking down a Sunday report on NFL Network that the coach had criticized the quarterback's play in 2008. "That just isn't true," McDaniels said. "Not a word has been said about that." Cutler added: "Josh has never said anything negative to me about my play or anything else, for that matter." McDaniels admitted that the team got involved in trade discussions for Cassel, who instead was dealt to the Kansas City Chiefs. However, he said any perception Cutler felt that the team could still trade him was misleading. "That's what we have communicated ever since the deal with Cassel didn't happen," McDaniels said. "Other teams have called but we're not interested in getting draft picks for Jay. I never made a statement [Saturday] that 'you can be traded at any time.' They asked a question and I told them it was the time of year when people inquire about your team. Your job, as a head coach and general manager, is to listen and not bypass any opportunity to help your team improve. I think most people [in the NFL] feel the same way. You make smart, educated decisions that are best for your football team." Cutler feels like McDaniels lost his credibility with him when he initially denied to the quarterback that the Broncos tried to acquire Cassel only to admit it later. "Before this trade for Cassel thing ever came up, in the two weeks or so I had spent with McDaniels, he was basically telling me that he came to Denver because he wanted to coach me and that we needed to trust each other," Cutler said. "He's never been critical to me. But trust now? How can I trust him now?" He also explained that his house being put up for sale was "nothing more than a coincidence." "I had already shown my house privately to some interested buyers a couple of months ago," Cutler said. "I've really been looking to buy 40 to 70 acres of land there." As for ignoring phone calls from McDaniels and Bowlen, Cutler said: "Josh and I have exchanged text messages. We had a conference call. And if Pat wanted to speak to me, why didn't he come to the meeting on Saturday?" Cutler will miss out on a $100,000 bonus if he doesn't attend 90 percent of the workouts. Cutler is entering the fourth season of a six-year, $48 million contract he signed as a rookie. Even though it's voluntary, the coaches expect everyone to attend the team's offseason program unless players have an excused absence such as newcomer Brian Dawkins, who helped the NFL Players Association elect a new executive director in Hawaii on Sunday. "Right now we're just running and lifting," Peterson said. "You'd like to see everybody here. ... But we'll be all right. I mean, I got faith in the people upstairs and everything else that we'll be just fine." The Broncos' first minicamp is April 17-19, a week before the draft. Newly signed cornerback Andre' Goodman said McDaniels asked the players not to talk about what he said in the meeting regarding Cutler. Still, there was a major void in the room with Cutler missing, Goodman said. "I think the quarterback is the face of the team," Goodman said. "You take the coach out of it and he is the face of the team." Cook said that as an agent he was "totally in shock" that it has gotten so ugly. "I would have bet my house going into Saturday's meeting that everyone would be shaking hands and smiling," Cook said. "I thought it was going to get worked out. But it was very clear to me that Jay Cutler is not their choice to be quarterback of that team." Yet Cook admitted that when he called Xanders to request a trade on Saturday night, the team's general manager said it wasn't going to happen and that "Jay should show up Monday." That wasn't going to happen, either.

Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

U.S. pays millions to help Mexico fight vicious cartels

By Ramon Bracamontes / El Paso Times

Posted: 02/07/2009 11:01:52 PM MSTEL PASO - Mexico's vicious drug war - a bloody conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands of people throughout the country - is now costing U.S. taxpayers $465 million so far.

Whether the U.S. will get a return on the investment is the topic of a fiery debate. Locally, some say the so-called Merida Initiative, which will provide $1.4 billion to Mexico and other countries over three years, will not do enough to help reduce the violence that is crippling Mexico and border cities like Juárez.

Others say the U.S. has no business spending one dime in Mexico and argue that improving security along the U.S.-Mexico border should be the priority.

Now, the United States has a $465 million stake in Mexico's brutal drug war.
Whether that is enough or merited remains a point of contention. Some El Paso officials want the U.S. to do more because the violence is beginning to cripple Juárez and, to a lesser degree, El Paso.

As of last month, the U.S. began spending the $465 million that Congress approved last year in the Merida Initiative, a three-year counter-drug and anti-crime package for Mexico and Central America.

Most of the money, $400 million, will be spent on scanners, helicopters, boats and computers in Mexico. Mexican President Felipe Calderón is trying to implement systemic changes he hopes will change a culture that permits powerful drug cartels to thrive.

Mexico's ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan, strongly rebuts any insinuation that Mexico isn't sound or is on the verge of collapsing, as some U.S. military officials claim. Mexican officials make it clear that the Merida plan is a joint cooperating agreement, not the U.S. stepping in.
Wait-and-see approach

Overall, the Merida Initiative, as proposed by the Bush administration, will spend $1.4 billion on initiatives in Mexico over three years. However, only $465 million has been approved, and several congressmen have said they want to see how the first phase goes before they approve spending any more money to help Mexico fight the cartels.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he is extremely concerned about the rising violence in Mexican border towns and its dangerous implications for Texas border towns.
"He is currently examining ways to best use federal resources to quell border violence and keep families and businesses in El Paso and all border communities safe," said Jessica Sandlin, Cornyn's Texas press secretary. "He supports assisting the Mexican government in fighting narco-terrorism due to its serious implications for our national security but believes any U.S. assistance should be grounded by strict accountability measures to ensure those funds are being used effectively and responsibly."

Before any money is spent, the U.S. Department of State produced several reports justifying the use of the money. One report issued in January by the Congressional Research Service states that the U.S. has a shared responsibility for combating crime in Mexico because 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States moves through Mexico.

"The Merida Initiative envisions strengthening and integrating security from the U.S. Southwest border to Panama," the federal report states. "The desired end state is to produce a safer and more secure hemisphere where criminal organizations no longer wield the power to destabilize governments nor threaten national and regional security and public safety; as well as to prevent the entry and spread of illicit drugs."

In December, the United States and Mexico signed a letter of agreement allowing $197 million in Merida funds to be disbursed. While President Barack Obama has not officially said whether he will continue to support the Merida plan, the fact he met with Calderón before his inauguration bodes well for future funding, officials said.

"It supports the systemic change that President Calderón is after," said William McGlynn, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.

Goals of initiative

The International Narcotics and Law Enforcement bureau of the U.S. State Department is assigned to oversee most of the Merida Initiative money.

McGlynn said the initiative does not call for sending cash or U.S. troops into those countries. All of the money will be used on products bought in the U.S. or on programs the State Department can monitor.

The initiative has four principal goals:
Break the power of criminal organizations.

Help Mexican and Central American governments strengthen their borders and air and sea controls.

Improve justice systems in the region.

Curtail gang activity in Mexico and Central America, and diminish the demand for drugs in the region."This is Mexico's plan, not ours," McGlynn said. "A lot of the tactics and techniques in the Merida Plan are theirs, not ours. We are just supporting what Calderón is doing."

McGlynn said the main reason the U.S. chose to help Mexico is that Calderón is already spending $3 billion of Mexico's money to combat the cartels. And Calderón asked for help.
"The U.S. and Mexico now have a different relationship," he said. "This is the top priority for Mexico right now. It will take a long time for the system to change, but this has not been done before."

Ray Walser, a public policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., said that anyone who expects this three-year plan to change the historically corrupt culture in Mexico is expecting too much.

"It is not designed to do that," he said. "But it is a start that will tip the balance of that country in the direction we want it to go. Ending the corruption in that country will be a long battle, but the process is starting."

U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, said he would rather see all of the money in the Merida Initiative used on the U.S. side of the border to help the Border Patrol and Texas border sheriffs. He is from Houston.

"It is inexcusable, it is intolerable for us to send one dime to the Mexican government when they can afford to pay for this equipment themselves," Culberson said. "But even more importantly than that, our southern border is not secure."

No immediate relief

El Paso city Rep. Beto O'Rourke does not question the use of the money in Mexico or the plan's strategic goal. His concern is that the plan does not provide any immediate relief and does nothing to quickly end the violence.

More than 1,800 people in Juárez have been killed in the past 13 months. Officials estimate that 93 percent of those slain had ties to the cartels. In Mexico, more than 6,000 people have been killed so far.

"The implication that we are not going to do anything, that we are going to let the cartels duke it out is unbelievable especially when innocent people are being killed, businesses are being extorted and everyday Juarenses are being kidnapped," O'Rourke said. "We know the violence is affecting more than just the cartels."

And it will soon affect El Paso, if it hasn't already, officials said. More than 54,000 jobs in El Paso are directly connected to Juárez.

Raymond McGrath, the U.S. consul general in Juárez, said the seriousness of the problem in Juárez is easily evident and increasing daily. As an example, McGrath said, in 2007, Juárez officials were concerned because more than 300 murders had occurred. It was a number they found unacceptable at that time.

"That murder number has quintupled," said McGrath, whose office provides security updates to U.S. officials. "Not only has the murder rate increased dramatically, the level of violence has created an environment in which other forms of criminality have been increasing."

Daily life for the 1.2 million people in Juárez has been disrupted, he said.

"People are going to school and work and back home and that is it," he said. "If they go shopping, they shop for the basics and nothing else. They are not going out at night and they are staying indoors."

He said the service industry has been affected the most. Restaurants are mostly empty, and the occupancy rate for hotels is less than 40 percent.

Bob Cook, president of El Paso Regional Economic Development Corp., which recruits businesses to this region, said the drug violence now comes up in every conversation that his office has with out-of-town companies.

"One hundred percent of the time, the Juárez violence comes up," he said. "And they are now taking an extra 90 to 120 days before deciding if they come here. They are concerned and doing risk assessment, but they have yet to say no to coming to this area.

"Strong commerce is taking place, but we need (the violence) to stop because what is happening is not sustainable."

More being done

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, who met with Calderón in January, said the Merida Initiative does as much as it can within the limits placed on it by the Mexican government.
"I can assure you that the U.S. government is not sitting on its hands doing nothing," he said. "There aren't any guarantees that we are going to eliminate the drug cartels and the problems. But everything that we can do, we are doing."

Reyes, chairman of the House intelligence committee, also said that more is being done by the U.S. than what has been made public, but that he is not at liberty to talk about it. Reyes also said that he knows how much in aid, programs and equipment is coming to the U.S.-Mexico border as part of the Merida plan, but he cannot talk about that either.

Luis Garcia, a retired INS district director who once was to be stationed in Mexico, said the Merida plan is coming at the right time because systemic changes are occurring in Mexico. He bases his observation on the fact that the relationship between U.S. and Mexican agencies has changed in the past 25 years.

The two countries are now cooperating and talking daily, a change from when he was a federal agent.

"Relationships between the two countries before were based on personal relationships," Garcia said. "It was based on who knew each other, not on who was in office. Now, those relationships are institutionalized. All the agencies work together; they talk and work to solve problems.
"This plan is a start, a step in the right direction."

Ramon Bracamontes may be reached at rbracamontes@elpasotimes.com; 546-6142.

Merida money

In June 2008, the 110th Congress appropriated $465 million in supplemental assistance for Mexico, Central America, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

On Dec. 3, 2008, the United States and Mexico signed a letter of agreement, allowing $197 million in Merida funds to be disbursed.

Since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006, Mexico has increased security spending to $4 billion.

The Bush Administration designed the Merida Initiative as a $1.4 billion, three-year counter-drug and anti-crime package for Mexico and Central America that would begin in fiscal year 2008 and last through fiscal year 2010.

Funding for 2010 has not been approved.