Thursday, March 22, 2007

Here's my bit of conspiracy-theory paranoia here in Catalonia. TV3 and La Vanguardia, the two organs of the local establishment, are running a campaign in favor of "making Barcelona airport more important." So today the Chamber of Commerce, the employers' association (Fomento), and the Royal Automobile Club held what La Vangua called "an academic act" at IESE "in defense of the future of the Barcelona airport." The various universities, including UB and the Pompeu Fabra, backed the meeting, as did several professional organizations, including the engineers. So, of course, did the regional government, the Generalitat.

(Translation: Barcelona airport is building a new terminal, so it will have more flight slots. Right now the airport is run by a Spanish state-owned company called AENA. AENA's management has generally been somewhere between rather and extremely crappy. AENA will also have the right to decide which airlines get which slots for which flights in the new terminal. The Barcelona establishment wants more long-distance flights to prestige destinations like Tokyo and New York, and fewer cheap-ass EasyJet low-cost companies flying in drunken teenagers from non-prestige destinations like Manchester and Dusseldorf. Therefore, the Barcelona establishment wants the right to decide which airlines get which slots for which flights all for itself.)

Now come on. This is not news, and it is not from the grassroots, either. This is what was vulgarly referred to in those old Sinclair Lewis novels, like Babbitt, as "boosting." The local powers that be, from the government down to the media, have decided that what Barcelona needs are more long-distance flights, and they are trying to polarize public opinion behind them. That is a textbook example of what is called "manipulation" of the media and the public by your average everyday Chomsky worshippers around here. So manipulating the media is so bad we have to falsely accuse the Bush administration of doing it, but it's OK if it's done in our economic interest?

This is pure business. There's nothing but money involved here. There's nothing high-minded or idealistic about this campaign at all. The Catalan establishment is trying to get something it wants, and it has no qualms about mobilizing the local government, media, universities, and professional organizations.

Comment: I don't think the establishment is ever this unified in Kansas City. There are always dissenting voices, from the universities, which often take pride in their anti-business attitude, to the no-growth people, of whom there are a surprising amount, from the civil-rights organizations demanding their piece of the pie, from the unions demanding theirs, from the media, which are pretty much pussycats in KC compared to the rest of the US but are dangerously radical investigative Woodwards and Bernsteins compared to La Vangua's reporters.

Here's what TV3, which belongs to the Socialist-controlled Generalitat, had to say to kick off today's afternoon news:

Representatives from more than one hundred organizations from the business and academic world had a united public meeting in order to demand pressure that would permit El Prat airport to continue as a world reference as a node of communication, with international connections, and that the regional and municipal governments, along with society, should have the capacity to decide on the strategic actions that affect it...

This is not news. This is publicity. And you note they are not demanding that the airport be privatized. They are demanding that the Barcelona airport be turned over to them--specifically, the regional and municipal governments. And "society," whatever that is. I bet it's the Chamber of Commerce itself.

TV3 ran a visual, "OBSOLETE AIRPORT MODEL." Below it was this statistic: Intercontinental Flights Daily; London, 868; Madrid, 168; Barcelona 19.

That is not news, it is advocacy, and of the cheapest kind: blaming everything on Madrid. Look, I personally do not think that the airlines are dumb. I think the model of competition provides us consumers with the best of all possible worlds. If there was a demand for direct flights from Barcelona to, say, Tokyo or New York, someone would be filling that demand, and those flights would be available. Sounds to me like the Catalan establishment doesn't like what the market has to say--that is, the people who want to come here are mostly drunken teenagers from Newcastle and Rotterdam--and they want the government to do something about it.

La Vanguardia, meanwhile, headlines on the front page: "Iberia stockholders look for buyer," and below it, "El Prat fifth fastest-growing airport in world." The Catalan establishment is royally pissed off at Iberia, the former state-owned airline based in Madrid, because it decided to pull most of its flights out of Barcelona and hub out of Madrid. La Vangua is therefore thrilled to slam Iberia. It's talking up the report that Iberia is up for sale, that several major stockholders including Caja Madrid, BBVA, and El Corte Ingles are looking to cash in now and get rid of their shares, since Iberia stock is up 31% since January 1.

The Catalan establishment is quite open about talking up what they want AENA to do: grant as many slots as possible to Spanair / Star Alliance. So they are throwing all their support, mobilized by the local media, to back the interests of a particular corporation. This is what's wrong with the way things are sometimes done around here.

Inside, in the business section, there's a list of the airports with most passenger traffic. Unsurprisingly, the top five are Atlanta, Chicago, Heathrow, Narita, and LAX. There's a rather lame joke about not even being able to get to Heaven without changing planes in Atlanta on the way. 15 of the top 30 are in the US, including such metropoli as Denver and Minneapolis. Madrid is #13, with 45 million passengers a year, and Barcelona is #34, with 30 million. Barcelona's 10.5% yearly growth is trumpeted. But you have to look at the figures pretty closely, though, to see that Madrid's growth is 8.1%! Seems to me that both airports are going to gain more passengers, as economic growth in Spain continues at more than 3% yearly, and tourism is growing enormously.

Meanwhile, Zap said that the central government, through AENA, would keep its power to decide which airlines get which slots at the new terminal. He had a whack at the Catalan establishment, too, saying that the reason they were concerned about the airport was that the central government had spent €3 billion on it. La Vanguardia called Zap's attitude "state unilateralism."

Please tell me that I'm wrong, I'm paranoid, and that I'm a conspiracy nut. There are no economic interests behind political forces here in Spain, are there? If there really are economic interests behind political forces in Spain, might that not influence Spanish opinion about what is behind political forces in other countries, particularly the "Anglo-Saxon" ones? Is it possible that Spaniards might overestimate the influence of, say, the oil industry in the US, since economic interests are so powerful over here?

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