Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Today's Headlines: The crisis that dares not speak its name

The 2014-15 oil crisis, if we can call it that, has been partially eclipsed by all those other apocalyptic headlines we see daily. But it could easily bring on the most serious short-term calamity for the nation as a whole. The problem this time around is the result of plummeting — not rising — crude prices, so it’s oil-exporting nations such as Mexico that are getting hit. But low prices are only half the problem, as El Universal’s top headline tell us: “Mexico experiencing a collapse in crude production.”  So not only is oil being sold for less, there’s less of it to sell.
    El U cites data straight from Pemex, the (still, as of now) state-controlled oil monopoly, showing that production dropped in 2014 for the tenth consecutive year since a historic high in 2004. The decline is significant — Mexico is producing nearly a million barrels a day less than in 2004, when the daily yield was 3.38 million a day. It was 2.43 million in 2014.
La Jornada also leads with oil, coming at the story from a different direction:  “Pemex will make major cuts in its expenditures.” The announced reductions total 21.3 million pesos (about $1.5 million dollars) spread over four years. The cuts will mean fewer contracts for goods, services and public works, as well as 17,000 jobs lost. Pemex says the reason for the reduced spending is “savings through efficiency,” but Jornada quotes experts who think the real reason is the low price of crude on the market.
     So . . . price, production, investment. All down. At once. El Universal paraphrases the prognosis of sector experts as follows: “The decline of the principal deposits, combined with a possible cut in investment by the company [Pemex] and the price collapse could create a perfect storm in the next several months that could put pressure on government revenue.”
    Not mentioned is the social unrest that the euphemistic “pressure” could lead to when the inevitable spending cuts follow. Also not mentioned — never mentioned in any petroleum coverage in the five major dailies — is that today’s low prices and low production amount to mere practice for the day, not all that far away, when both reach zero. Yet transition to renewable energy is left out of the conversation. Which is strange, given that Mexico is as blessed with wind, geothermal and solar in the 21st century as it was with hydrocarbons in the 20th. More so, in fact, since the alternative sources won’t run out.

Last year the SAT, the tax-collecting wing of the Finance Secretariat, started publishing lists of companies and individuals who were behind on their tax payments. This list strategy, often referred to by the untranslatable slang term “balconeo,” was part of the fiscal reform package approved by Congress. Not surprisingly it caught a lot of flack, mostly from the business community, which considered the lists defamatory.
    It’s more likely that the private sector’s real problem with the rosters of deadbeats had more to do with how much harder dodging the SAT became as a result. Today’s lead Reforma head supports that theory: “The balconeo is working; 24 billion pesos collected.” That’s 24 billion pesos (about $1.7 billion dollars) more than what would have been collected without the lists.

Milenio leads with, and most others front, reassurance by Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong that the June elections will not be disrupted: “There will be secure elections throughout the country: Osorio.”  The importance of the story isn’t so much his guarantee of safety — what else is he going to say? — but the fact that he needed to give it (and that the journalists present felt the need to ask about it).
    The press also grilled the secretary on reports that he tendered is resignation in December, only to have it refused by President Peña Nieto. Many believe Osorio Chong is considering a run for elected office. He refused to comment.


Excelsior finds a way to combine the oil and crime crises in one lead headline: “Organized crime controls 20% of gas stations.” The figure comes from the gasoline dealers association. Despite the headline, they don’t mean that crime figures own the gas stations. Rather, they are stealing the gasoline —usually by milking the pipes — and selling it along rural roads. Apparently, plenty of drivers are happy to accept the lower prices and fill up at the makeshift stations. After which they presumably go home, turn on the news, and complain about the crime problem.

Excelsior is a broadsheet, so its front page is twice the size of the tabloids Milenio and La Jornada. That gives it room to run the actual stories on the cover, rather than heads alone with a referring page number. But there are usually only three front-page stories with text, sometimes fewer, and even that text is condensed, with the full story on the inside. The rest of the front page is all reefers or teasers — mini-heads with  mini-subheads, sometimes with, but usually without, a photo, and a page number to turn to for the actual story.
    There are no fewer than 13 such reefers on Excelsior's front page today, which is not untypical. There’s also an index of 12 columnists. Just for fun, and maybe a little enlightenment, let’s see what the once-venerable daily considers tease-worthy today, working our way from top to bottom:

“The trick revealed” — The making of The Boxtrolls, nominated for a best animated picture Oscar.

“Cheating in the NFL” — Did the New England Patriots deflate the football to give Tom Brady a better grip in the AFC championship game?

“Prosecutor who accused president is killed” — The subhead over a photo of protesters is “Argentine Scandal.” The president referred to is Cristina Fernández.

“Liquid gas is much more expensive than in the U.S.” — That’s literally gas, not gasoline. But the price differential holds true for gasoline as well.

“Ficrea sent 300 million to Spain” — That’s pesos. Any tidbit of information that comes out about Ficrea will get coverage, such is the public anger at the sham firm that defrauded thousands of investors of billions of pesos. The best part of this reefer is the small image attached to it, showing the Ficrea logo with its slogan: “We believe in what you believe.”

“Seizure of Templarios” — The Templarios, or Knights Templar, are the major, but not the only, drug trafficking organization in the state of Michoacán. The seizure was of real estate assets, not people.

“For love of the bicycle” — An upcoming exhibit at the Franz Mayer Museum, one of the premier private art museums in Mexico City, is dedicated to the bicycle and will feature 50 classic bikes.

“Elections guaranteed” — This is the promise from the interior secretary that Milenio leads with.

“Son of Aguirre is uncovered” — That is, uncovered as a candidate for mayor of Acapulco. Aguirre refers to Ángel Aguirre, père, the former PRD governor of Guerrero who resigned after the Iguala tragedy last fall.

“Election offices set afire” — More “protests” from the Guerrero teachers organization CETEG.

“Survey staff rescued” — Three men and two women doing some kind of polling work (this and much else are never explained) in the rugged and dangerous Tierra Caliente region of Guerrero were taken by masked men on motorcycles on Saturday, then rescued by law enforcement on Monday.

“Children, free of lead” — In the state of Chihuahua 363 minors, thought to be contaminated by lead, weren’t.

“Total change for Line 12” — This refers to the newest Mexico City Metro line that has been partially shut down owing to incompatibility between the wheels and the tracks. The blurb head is slightly misleading; it has been suggested, not decided, to solve the problem by trading in the entire fleet of train cars for new ones.

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