Gordon Campbell on MPs’ pay hikes, and the JFK conspiracy theories

The charade of bogus “independence” by the Remuneration Authority has produced the latest round of backdated Christmas bonuses for MPs, Cabinet Ministers and the Prime Minister, whose salary will rise from $419,300 to $428,500. The salary of Deputy PM Bill English, will increase from $297,400 to $303,900; the pay of Cabinet Ministers will increase to $268,500, (up from $262,700) The base salary for backbench MPs will rise from $144,600 to $147,800. All these pay rises will be backdated to July 1st, so the money in hand for our lucky parliamentarians, come Christmas, will be considerably more than the figures suggest.

Look at the timing. Key had written to the Authority and told them restraint and leadership in the public sector were needed. So if it is meant to be an independent body, why is the PM writing it letters intended to influence its decisions? Such letters are either meddling, and/or a political stunt to distance the PM from an unpopular outcome. Reportedly, Key had argued for an increase of 1.4 per cent, to keep salaries in line with the consumers’ price index. (Because it’s so hard for a Cabinet Minister on $262,700 to keep up with the grocery bills.)

Want another sign of how bogus the “independence” involved in the Authority finally choosing to settle on a 2.2% increase? Look at the wording of the Authority’s announcement. It decided to apply a lower rate of pay increase because of…. “the continued need to restrain public-sector expenditure as the economy improves after the global economic crisis”. This language is not only dutifully repeating Key’s letter to them, but touting the government’s wider rationale: i.e., the continued “need” to restrain public sector spending, even though the economy is on the recovery path. Because in the Key government’s Orwellian-speak, you need to cut government spending when the economy is in decline, and when it is improving.

Want even more evidence of the party- political nature of the Remuneration Authority’s decision? How about this:

The authority said the gap between pay levels in the private sector and in ministerial positions in Parliament was now much greater than in the past and it would review this increasing gap over the next year.

Meaning: the “ independent” Remuneration Authority has chosen to defer the really politically unpopular decision – i.e. to give a big hike to the pay of the PM, his deputy and Cabinet Ministers – until safely after the election next year, when Christmas 2014 pay packets are being virtually promised to be a joy to behold. Once again, the Authority has trimmed its reasoning to suit the administration’s political needs. What a joke the Remuneration Authority is. In reality, its basic reasoning about the need to maintain the relativities between private sector pay and ministerial pay is a remnant of a bygone era. Such reasoning belongs to a time when MPs would forsake a career in the public sector for a lifelong career in parliamentary public service. Now, that happens far less often, and service in Cabinet often functions as a useful springboard back into the private sector (e.g. Simon Power, Chris Tremain.) Such that the shortfall – if there is one at all, given the mana and useful political contacts that can only enhance the market value of a former Cabinet Minister – can readily be made up.

There is also another rebuke to the Authority: Barack Obama. The US President’s annual salary is $US400,000 (at $NZ 488,106 that is only slightly more than Key’s annual salary) for carrying out considerably more onerous responsibilities, and well shy of any US private sector remuneration levels. Similarly, members of Obama’s Cabinet reportedly receive a salary of $US199,700, or $NZ 243,687, considerably less than what a Cabinet Minister in New Zealand is paid – and again, the comparable US private sector salaries barely enter the equation. In the US at least, it is still seen, and still paid, as public service. Why should private sector relativities be crucial in New Zealand, but not in the US, the citadel of capitalism? The Authority’s basic assumption that high salaries are a necessary requisite for public sector recruitment and retention is dubious. Significantly, the motivational logic is applied only at the top, and reflects a highly political view of the world: one where the rich can only be motivated by being given more money, while the poor can only be motivated by being given less.

Kennedy assassination

Talking of the US, today is of course the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy, the first US President to be born in the 20th century. (He was also the first US President to have sex; or at least the first imaginable as doing so.) Maybe he wasn’t such a great President. There was that Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, and no thanks to JFK that the Cuban Missile Crisis didn’t end in global thermonuclear war. (It would have done so if Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev hadn’t acted sensibly, even though his decision to back down later cost him his job.) Moreover, it was Lyndon Johnson who enacted a civil rights agenda and a Great Society welfare programme that the Kennedys would never have got through Congress, or even dared to try. As JFK and Robert Kennedy had been predicting, those sorts of things would lose the South to the Republicans, which has indeed proven to be the case. (Most of the time, the Kennedys were locked into doing what they saw as the politically right thing, rather than the right thing.)

Today though is all about the assassination, and the conspiracy. As early as 1980, the mere bibliography of articles and books on the Kennedy assassination was 442 pages long. Wading through the conspiracy literature requires a command of key concepts (the grassy knoll, the Superbullet, the Umbrella Man) and of a vast array of names – what came of Billie Lovelady’s striped shirt? Who was agent S-179? Who were the three mystery tramps arrested in Dealey Plaza just after the shooting, and were two of them later involved in the Watergate burglary? (No.) It requires a keen sense of geography (Where is Oak Cliff? Who/what was crouching by the Stemmons Freeway?) Not to mention a keen sense of weirdness. Why was Lee Harvey Oswald buried by the FBI under the name of “William Bobo” in a coffin lined with moleskin? (Mole skin, geddit?) Did you know Oswald’s favourite opera was Peer Gynt? Did you know Chief Justice Earl Warren attended only 44% of the hearings of the 1964 Warren Commission investigation that found Oswald to be the sole gunman?

Goodness, is that the time? Can’t really sort out all of the Kennedy conspiracy issues here. Safe to say that the sound recordings relied on in 1979 by the House Assassinations Committee have now been re-analysed, and this work has largely invalidated the House Committee’s conclusion that four shots were fired at the motorcade, which would have required the participation of a second gunman, besides Oswald. Personally, I always thought that the most compelling element in the “second gunman” conspiracy theory was that Oswald – as evidenced by his tour of duty in the Soviet army – was a lousy shot. Yet on 22 November 1963, Oswald somehow worked his ancient (designed in 1891) bolt action Mannlicher-Carcano rifle (on which the telescopic sight threw upwards, and to the right) and fired three times for two hits on a moving head between 60 metres and 90 metres distant, in a very short space of time. The Zapruder film of the shooting gave Oswald a maximum of just 5.6 seconds to fire, work the bolt, aim, fire, work the bolt, aim and fire to deadly accurate effect – all in about half the time it took you to read this sentence. In 1964, a team of FBI sharpshooters attempted to replicate Oswald’s feat. None could do so.

Oh, and then there was the superbullet. Bear with me. The theory that Oswald was the only gunman required that the first shot hit both JFK and Texas Governor John Connally, who was in the front right of the car. To do so, the bullet would have had to enter Kennedy’s upper back, exit his throat, enter Connally’s back, hit a rib, exit his chest, go through his wrist, and into his thigh. A total of seven exits and entrances – but the bullet emerged virtually factory fresh having lost only three grams from his original weight, despite leaving three large grains in Connally’s wrist alone. Match that, 9/11 truthers!

None of the above however, should be taken to condone the poem written at the time by British Poet Laureate John Masefield. Surely, you remember this literary gem:

All generous hearts lament the leader killed

The young chief with the smile, the radiant face the winning way

That turned a wondrous race

Into sublimer pathways leading on

Grant to us life that though the man be gone

The promise of his spirit be fulfilled.

Oh and finally, conspiracy buffs: on the day JFK was killed a Cuban exile called Major Rudolfo Cabela was in Paris, picking up assassination tools for the latest US attempt to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro. Earlier attempts on Castro‘s life had involved Mafia mobsters Sam Giancana (his ex-girlfriend Judith Campbell Exner also dated JFK) and John Rosselli. If you consult p 253 of Garry Wills’ book The Kennedy Imprisonment you find these comments : “ Kennedy was running a damn Murder Incorporated in the Caribbean” and “ Kennedy was trying to get Castro, but Castro got to him first” – with both of these comments being attributed to Lyndon Johnson. In 2017, a whole new set of official documents on the JFK assassination will be released, thus ensuring that the theorising should run for decades more…