Monday, February 2, 2015

Today's Headlines: Super Bowl Sunday fell in the middle of a three-day weekend celebrating two holidays — one religious and one political. What better day to open a new session of Congress?

On February 5, 1917, revolution still raging, a new Mexican constitution was enacted guaranteeing rights not previously recognized, such as free speech and free education. It also curtailed the power of the Catholic Church. It’s an official holiday to this day.
Not official, but more enthusiastically  observed by the faithful — which is to say most Mexicans still — is the February 2 day of Candelaria, or Candlemas. It marks, as legend has it, the presentation of the baby Jesus to the temple, as was required of all first-born males on the fortieth day after their birth. It also marks the end of the extended Catholic holiday season that began on December 12, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
    Not long ago, celebrations of a number of official holidays were switched to the nearest Monday. Thus, as you read this, the nation is simultaneously honoring a document and an infant.
    The latter has spawned as a cottage industry the crafting of life-size (or bigger) figurines in the image of the baby Jesus, examples of which are seen above. The idea is to take them to church on February 2 to reenact the events of two millennia ago. The dressed-up dolls are revered as examples of a living and vibrant folk tradition, though in the big cities there breathes a minority, this writer included, who can’t help seeing them as bordering on the grotesque and a little scary.
    Until recently, the dailies didn’t publish on holidays such as this one (for the Constitution, that is). The vendors — voceadores — wouldn’t sell papers that day anyway. Reforma broke that tradition when it came into existence in the early 1990s, and eventually the others followed suit. So there’s a headline or two out there to help fill this space.
    Today being the final day of a puente — a long weekend — the odds favored a slow news day. But the calendar provided editors with a few breaks. One, of course, was the Super Bowl, which took care of the front-page feature photo decision. In all five of the majors, Tom Brady or Malcolm Butler shared space with Katy Perry, thus covering the twin fixations of four of the five dailies — sports heroes/villains and commercial song-and-dance (or screen) stars. La Jornada is the exception, usually, but it ran proportionally the biggest photo of the five.

Another accident of the calendar was the opening of the final regular session of the full current Congress on Sunday, the first day of February. The agenda is packed with pending items — an anti-corruption system with a special prosecutor; the president’s proposal to eliminate local police nationwide, shifting all constabulary control to the state apparatus; and a sweeping overhaul of the Federal District political structure, which will not include statehood but will trigger significant changes in the way things work.
    There are others, but coverage of Congress tends to focus on behavior more than substance. We’ll see proof of that a lot in Today’s Headlines in the months ahead. True to form, Excelsior leads with “Ebrard Blamed.” What Marcelo Ebrard, the former Mexico City mayor, is being personally blamed for is the failed roll-out of the multi-billion-peso Line 12 of the Metro system developed during his administration (2006-2012). Acting on a committee recommendation, the Chamber of Deputies is asking for a criminal investigation.
    Ebrard, one of the few remaining PRD politicians capable of making a national impact, has been through this before. A decade ago, he was serving as the Mexico City police chief and was the favorite to win the 2006 mayoral election when officers were slow to respond to a lynching in progress in the remote south of the city. The Fox administration removed him from office, which it had the power to do, but the ploy didn’t work. Ebrard won the election anyway, beating two relatively strong candidates of the era — the PAN’s Demetrio Sodi and the PRI’s Beatriz Paredes.
    This time it’s the PRI that’s going after Ebrard, though the PAN is happy to join in. Milenio’s front-page take on the story is “Ebrard condemned and refused a defense.” He wasn't really "condemned," of course, which is why the word is in italics. It basically means "thrown to the wolves." He was also denied permission to plead his case before the deputies, as the head indicates.  But — muy a la mexicana — he pushed his way in anyway and grabbed a microphone. Excelsior reports that shouts and shoves ensued, but not much in the way of a healthy exchange of ideas.

El Universal has a different comportment-based front-page head, though not its lead: “Deputies repeat absences but there’s no punishment.” The paper gathered records showing that only six of the lower house legislators have attended all sessions during the two and a half years that this 62nd Congress has existed.
    In the same spirit, Excelsior fronts a photo showing the PAN’s Ernesto Cordero in his seat at  University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona Sunday, 1,252 miles from his seat on the Senate floor. Most people won’t begrudge a guy for missing work to attend the Super Bowl. But they will if the guy is a politician.

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