The rich and the poor in Brussels

Last weekend the rich and the poor, though at different levels, were in Brussels. Sometimes they met, but maybe not always!

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Hard times: not for the rich and influential!

Despite these difficult economic times, those that have seem to get even more, sometimes beyond the borders of legality. Perhaps, as with some chimpanzees,  it is built into their DNA.

A new scientific report by the magazine Nature looks at the contrasting behaviour of the chimpanzee and its african cousin, the bonobo. Like chimpanzees, with whom they share 99.6% of genomes, bonobos and humans share 98.7 percent of the same genetic blueprint. However, they have distinctly different behaviours, both of which can be seen in humans. As the report says (and you can hear a BBC World Service review of this report, repeated on World Radio Switzerland)

Bonobo.JPGBonobos make love, not war. Chimps have been documented to kill and make war. Bonobos share food with total strangers, but chimps do not.

In our human world we see constant news articles that demonstrate how some humans are more akin to the chimpanzees than to the bonobos. However much they have, these humans desire ever more money, power and influence, and are often willing to go to, and even beyond, the legal limits. Regrettably, the supervisory authorities often seem unwilling to use their regulatory powers, so this behaviour goes uncontrolled.

Unsurprisingly, top bankers and their associates feature prominently in this list of chimpanzee-like behaviour. One, however, has recently gone too far over the limits. According to reports on Saturday June 16, Rajat Gupta, a former director of Goldman Sachs (the bank that helped Greece get into the Euro zone!) has been convicted of leaking confidential information to a former friend and business partner.

Mr Gupta sat on the boards of Goldman Sachs, Proctor & Gamble and American Airlines (he could probably fly anywhere for free!) and was world-wide head of the consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. He clearly had everything that anyone could want, yet he wanted still more. Now, instead of working on his golf handicap, he is contemplating many years in a US jail. As far as I know, his defence has not yet offered his DNA profile as a mitigating factor, but maybe one day ... !

In Switzerland, the rich and famous equally seem to want more and more, whilst the regulatory bodies procrastinate interminably. On the same day, the Swiss paper "Le Temps" carried an editorial suggesting that the Swiss Parliament (le Conseil national) had conspired to prevent the Swiss from voting on the initiative of Thomas Minder to ban excessive payments to executives ("contre les rémunérations abusives"). This initiative was handed to the Swiss authorities on February 26, 2008, i.e. 1573 days ago.

It is not hard to imagine some reasons for this delay. The political parties in Switzerland may receive donations for undisclosed amounts of money by unnamed donators. The members of both Chambers may have outside affiliations which, whilst normally being disclosed, may affect their point of view. Finally, there are very effective lobbies of powerful outside interests which try to influence members.

The end result of this is that Thomas Minder has shortly to decide whether to withdraw his initiative. He is reported as saying that he would have available only about 100,000 francs to invest in a campaign, whereas his adversaries would have millions at their disposal! Personally, if he had a Web site where I could make a donation then I would do so, merely on the principle that people should have a right to vote on the initiative.

Nearer home, and of particular interest to me and the association of which I am President, is the continual growth in air traffic around Geneva. I have the distinct impression that the same DNA mentality may be playing a rôle in the desire of the airport authorities to have more and more flights to more and more places at all available hours of the day and night. In this case, the regulatory authorities, who should be defending the rights of the airport neighbours to a minimum of nuisances and nights of sleep undisturbed by the noise of aircraft flying until after midnight, appear not to want to interfere.

The example which makes me doubt whether these authorities really care about the airport neighbours is that of the acceptance by the airport management of a final incoming flight from Lisbon by the portuguese airline TAP. Progressively, over the last few years, this flight has been scheduled later and later, so that now it is scheduled to arrive at 11h35 pm. As such, it is the last scheduled flight into Geneva, as well as being the last TAP flight to leave Lisbon for the principal mainland Europe destinations.

The two regulatory bodies which could have affected this decision are the Geneva state authorities (state councillor François Longchamp is president of the Geneva airport administrative council) and the Swiss Federation Civil Aviation Office (OFAC). Sadly, it is unrealistic to expect the Geneva authorities to do anything: the airport is, for Geneva finances, the goose which lays the golden egg. Thus, they will insist that this is a federal affair under the competence of OFAC.

OFAC, to whom we wrote to complain about this extreme lateness of the flight from Lisbon (click here to see the letter), normally side with the airport. In this case, their reply, which arrived yesterday, seems to obey this observed rule. After the falsely reassuring paragraph reiterating their principle that airlines should be restrictive in scheduling flights between 10 pm and 6 am, there is a paragraph clearly written by the airport management trying to justify the flight, followed by their own (OFAC) statement that the planning of this flight, albeit at the end of the evening, is perfectly normal. Tout va très bien, Madame la Marquise.

So how is the flight justified (francophones can read the text here)? Firstly, by the need for the airport to ensure an increased number of destinations from Geneva: this argument is completely irrelevant since Lisbon has always been one of the destinations. Secondly, a flight at the end of the evening is necessary to ensure the maintenance of the aircraft before its departure the following morning: again, completely irrelevant, especially since TAP has its own maintenance facilities in Lisbon, and the later the flight arrives in Geneva, the less time there is for maintenance. Finally, the airport management has made the airline aware of the constraints in Geneva: clearly, these constraints have not been sufficiently strongly emphasised to stop TAP progressively retarding the arrival time.

For me, the conclusion is that the airport authorities have capitulated without any serious protest to a request by TAP to land aircraft in Geneva later and later. Either this management does not care about its neighbours or it could not bear to envisage the loss of face by refusing the flight (which would leave only 4 flights per day from Lisbon!). Either way, we suffer the consequence of this craven acceptance: we might suffer even more if/when other airlines realise how late they can send evening flights to Geneva. Perhaps we don't protest enough because we have the Bonobo type of DNA!

11:32 Posted in Potpourri | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: geneva, airpoort, dna, bonobo, chimpanzee, night flights | |  del.icio.us | | Digg! Digg |  Facebook