Washington buries the CIA torture report

from http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/08/pers-j08.html

One month ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the 500-page summary of its voluminous report on the torture of prisoners in secret CIA facilities overseas, conducted between 2002 and 2007. In grisly detail, the report documented such practices as waterboarding, systematic beatings, and hitherto unknown tortures like “rectal feeding.” But in practice, the report has been buried, its evidence of government criminality ignored, the perpetrators and organizers of torture going scot-free.

As the World Socialist Web Site declared at the time, “Two irrefutable conclusions flow from the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture: 1) The United States, during the Bush administration, committed criminal acts of the most serious character, in violation of international and domestic law; and 2) None of those responsible for these crimes will be arrested, indicted or prosecuted for their actions.”

Far from being shamed or humiliated by the detailed exposure of their criminality, those most implicated in the establishment and operation of the torture chambers have brazenly defended their conduct. From former Vice President Dick Cheney to ex-CIA directors George Tenet, Michael Hayden and Porter Goss, to the operational head of the interrogation program, Jose Rodriguez, they have displayed a well-justified confidence that the Obama administration will protect them from any consequences.

The Obama administration has officially shut down the secret CIA prisons and adopted a policy of blowing up its enemies with drone-fired missiles rather than capturing them. The shift from interrogation to extermination has increased the number of innocent victims many-fold. Whereas dozens of those jailed in CIA prisons were found to have no connection to terrorism, the drone-missile strikes have killed thousands of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries.

Two recent incidents demonstrate the complicity of the Obama administration with the torturers. On December 30, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, sent a nine-page letter to the president outlining proposed legislative and administrative actions to be taken on the basis of the torture report.

The changes were largely cosmetic, such as enacting into law the ban on waterboarding and other forms of torture imposed by executive order after Obama took office in 2009. Even these minimal legislative actions will go nowhere in the new Republican-controlled Congress, and the proposed administrative actions will be ignored by the military-intelligence apparatus. The White House has not bothered to respond to Feinstein’s letter.

In a statement issued January 5, the CIA announced that after four years in office, the agency’s inspector-general David Buckley was resigning, effective the end of the month, to “pursue an opportunity in the private sector.” Buckley ran afoul of the CIA top brass with a report last July acknowledging that five CIA operatives had penetrated the computers used by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers who prepared the torture report, in an effort to find out how the Senate panel had obtained certain CIA internal documents that the agency had decided to withhold from the committee that has legal oversight authority.

This electronic surveillance of the legislative branch was so brazenly criminal that Senator Feinstein felt compelled to deliver a one-hour address on the floor of the Senate last March denouncing the agency’s actions. She charged that the agency “may well have violated the separation-of-powers principle embodied in the United States Constitution,” and also “the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.”

CIA Director John Brennan denounced Feinstein’s charges, and the agency sought Justice Department prosecution of the Senate staffers for alleged “theft” of CIA documents—i.e., evidence that CIA officials had lied about the torture and withheld information from the Senate panel. After inspector-general Buckley’s investigation upheld Feinstein’s claim, Brennan had to publicly apologize to Feinstein, but he was not fired either for authorizing the surveillance of the Senate panel or for lying about it. Now Buckley has been pushed out.

This confirms the pattern that the only torture-related “crime” that the Obama administration punishes is the effort to expose it. Hundreds of CIA agents and contractors were involved in the illegal torture program over a six-year period, but only one has ever been prosecuted: John Kiriakou, who publicly described the waterboarding of suspects and was jailed for 30 months for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Only one high-ranking CIA official has been sacked over the torture program: the inspector-general who undercut the agency’s efforts to cover it up.

The American media is an essential partner in this ongoing cover-up of government criminality. The report was initially the subject of massive media publicity, and the New York Times went so far as to publish a strongly worded editorial headlined, “Prosecute the Torturers and Their Bosses,” urging that charges be brought against Cheney, Tenet, Rodriguez and other former top officials. As the WSWS said at the time: “In effect, the most influential newspaper in the United States has declared that the Bush administration was a criminal government.”

In the weeks that followed, however, the media has dropped the subject. There have been no followup reports on the biggest exposure of criminal actions by the military-intelligence apparatus since the revelations about CIA assassination plots in the early 1970s. The Times editorial urging prosecution of the torturers was evidently the last gasp of a guilty conscience. The leading US daily has not reported either Feinstein’s letter or Buckley’s resignation, a silence joined by the Washington Post and the television networks.

Behind the scenes, as Buckley’s ouster and Feinstein’s appeal demonstrate, a struggle is raging within the US ruling elite. The media silence is not merely to protect the criminals responsible for torture and murder. It is above all directed at disguising the ongoing political crisis, and excluding the vast majority of the American population, the working class, from any role in determining its outcome.

No section of the ruling elite will defend democratic rights. That task falls to the working class, which must take up the demand for the prosecution of all those responsible for the atrocities documented in the Senate report, and those responsible for the crimes of American imperialism that have continued and even escalated under the Obama administration.

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Obama calls for more concessions from auto workers on top of past concessions of wages, benefits and working conditions

from http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/08/obam-j08.html

In an appearance at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in suburban Detroit Wednesday afternoon, President Barack Obama pointed to the “sacrifices” the White House demanded from auto workers during the 2009 restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler as the model for resurrecting manufacturing and the US economy as a whole.

Accompanied by Ford executives, Detroit mayor Mike Duggan and other local Democrats, along with representatives from the United Auto Workers union, the president put on his phony rolled-up-sleeves persona. He said Michigan workers embodied the grit and resilience of America, which had come back stronger than ever after the 2008 financial crash.

The US economy, the president said, saw the strongest job growth in 2014 since the 1990s. Over the last four years, he said, the US had created more private sector jobs than Europe, Japan and every other advanced economy combined. The manufacturing sector had led this rebound with US industries “making more stuff and selling it around the world.”

The president’s comments only underscore the enormous gulf between the self-satisfied ruling elites—which have enriched themselves though the unrelenting attack on the jobs and living standards of workers—and the tens of millions of working people struggling each day to survive.

In fact, the manufacturing sector has only added 650,000 jobs since 2010, far shy of the 2.3 million jobs shed in the preceding three years. Those jobs predominantly pay low wages and lack the benefits and conditions won by industrial workers in the last century. Manufacturing jobs were traditionally the highest paid private sector jobs. More than 1.5 million manufacturing workers—one out of every four—earn $11.91 per hour or less, and 600,000 earn $9.60 per hour or less.

As for the state of Michigan, which once had among the highest living standards for workers in the country, it now ranks in the bottom 10 for per capita income in the US, barely ahead of Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas and other traditionally poor states.

Just a few miles away from Obama’s stage-managed event, nearly one out of seven residents of the city of Detroit, which just emerged from municipal bankruptcy, face eviction from their homes because they are behind on their property taxes. The “Motor City,” Obama said, was experiencing a “rebirth” with new business and private investment, tech startups…there are still challenges but it’s coming back.”

In fact, Mayor Duggan, a multimillionaire former corporate executive, is overseeing a brutal campaign of water and other utility shutoffs, cuts to city worker pension and health care benefits, and the selloff of public assets to service the debts of the Wall Street banks.

“America’s resurgence is real,” Obama insisted, saying no one should convince workers otherwise. Now that the US was in “calmer waters and the worst of the crisis is behind us,” the president said, it was “time that everyone pitched in so that the rising tide is lifting all boats not just some.”

This was a passing reference to the fact that 95 percent of all economic gains under the president’s tenure have gone to the richest 1 percent. Corporations, including GM, Chrysler and Ford, are reaping record profits and hoarding trillions in cash while the stock market has reached stratospheric heights. Corporate profits are at their highest share of GDP since World War II, while the portion of national economic output going to labor has fallen to the lowest postwar level.

Obama recounted how his administration decided to use the crisis in the auto industry to ram through concessions in wages, benefits and working conditions long sought by the auto bosses and Wall Street. Pointing to the precarious state of the industry following the financial meltdown, with plunging sales and one out of five workers losing their jobs, Obama said, “We could have given billions in taxpayers dollars to the corporations without accountability or change, but that would have just kicked the problem down the road.”

“The alternative was to do nothing and let the companies fail,” the president said, but this would have had the cascading effect of wiping out suppliers, communities and stronger auto companies like Ford. “So, in exchange for help, we demanded responsibility. We told the auto companies ‘you have to change with the times.’ Plants restructured. Labor and management worked together, settled their differences and everybody made sacrifices; it was not just the workers who gave something up. That’s when America works best. We rejected the false choice that either the unions or the businesses could succeed but not both…. We believed in shared sacrifices and that leads to shared prosperity.”

In fact, the Obama administration collaborated with the United Auto Workers to make sure that the corporations and the UAW apparatus succeeded—at the direct expense of the working class. The UAW agreed to cut in half the wages of new workers, freeze the pay of traditional “legacy” workers, eliminate the eight-hour day and tear up other long-standing job protections and working standards. In exchange, the UAW was given control of billions of dollars in corporate shares and other assets as part of the union’s takeover of the companies’ retiree health care obligations.

New auto workers make less than the average manufacturing wage of $19.10 an hour and lack traditional retiree and health benefits. All told, the auto companies reduced hourly labor costs by 25 to 30 percent, and lowered their break-even point to sales of 11.5 million to 12 million a year. With next year’s sales predicted to return to pre-recession highs of 17 million vehicles, this means billions in pure profit.

Obama said jobs in the auto industry had for generations been representative of what it meant to “get into the middle class.” If you worked “hard on this job you could afford to raise a family, buy a house, go on vacation and retire with some dignity…. Every car you sent down the line…gave you a sense of security. Plants like this built more than cars, they built the middle class and that was worth fighting for.”

In fact, many new auto workers at Ford and other companies have been forced to live at home with their parents or stretch to pay rent for an apartment and other necessities. Vacations, retirement and job security are little but an illusion.

A profile by marketplace.com of workers at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant where Obama spoke noted that 20 of the 23 workers on one line were being paid entry-level wages of $16.78 an hour. “Three of them are legacy workers, and 20 are entry level,” a worker is quoted as saying. “Each one of them have families, a couple of them are single mothers, a couple people that are in their 50s that are starting over.”

These workers have no job security. In fact, the factory where Obama spoke was on an extended holiday shutdown because of low car sales, with thousands of workers on layoff. Late last year, nearly 100 workers at Ford’s Chicago Assembly plant—so-called Long-Term Supplemental Employees (LTSE) earning even lower wages agreed to by the UAW—were informed by automated robo-calls that they had been terminated because sales were down.

Obama boasted that Ford had relocated some of its production from Mexico back to the United States, and that many manufacturers who went offshore are realizing that “America is back and we got to get in there”—i.e., that the US has become a new cheap labor haven.

Eric, a worker at Chrysler’s Warren Stamping plant, told the World Socialist Web Site, “When I started in 1995, the job offered hope. I live in Warren, and now you can see vacant houses where people have lost their homes. It really doesn’t seem like there is any improvement on the horizon. The whole movement from a manufacturing-based economy to a service economy has led to a wider gap between the haves and the have-nots.”

Referring to the two-tier wage, Eric said, “I believe it was devised to keep us separate. The company hasn’t given the first-tier workers a raise in 10 years, and now it seems that isn’t even up for discussion. They are saving money and laughing all the way to the bank.”

Another young Warren Truck worker added, “The amount of money the second-tier workers get is barely enough to live on. You work your ass off, but it is gone very quickly.”

Obama concluded his remarks with a homily that revealed more than he intended about social reality in America. He cited a worker, named Ramone, who had been hired into the Ford plant after returning from eight years of military duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and being forced to go into a homeless shelter because of the lack of work. Obama said Ramone was now working at Ford like his grandfather had for 25 years.

This is Obama’s new “middle class,” working for half the wages of their grandparents and barely keeping one step out of a homeless shelter.

@gop controlled Congress attacks social security benefits in its 1st two days in session

from http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/08/cong-j08.html

New Congress targets Social Security disability benefits

By Andre Damon
8 January 2015

The 114th US Congress completed its first two days by preparing the passage of regressive, anti-social policies, including measures that would defund Social Security disability insurance benefits, increase the number of hours that classify as “full-time” employment, and make it easier to pass pro-business tax cuts.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives adopted a rule that blocks the transfer of funds from the Social Security retirement trust fund to the separate underfunded Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund unless the move is accompanied by a corresponding cut to disability spending.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) warned that the move “could threaten Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries—a group of severely impaired and vulnerable Americans—with a sudden, one-fifth cut in their benefits by late 2016.” There are more than 10 million people in the United States who rely on disability payments after they suffer an injury that prevents them from working.

Proponents of the measure claimed that they were implementing it in order to “protect the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance.” In reality, they are seeking to use a procedural move to force through cuts to the Social Security program one piece at a time.

The CBPP noted that “reallocating some taxes between the retirement and disability trust funds is a historically noncontroversial measure that Congress has taken 11 times, in both directions depending on which trust fund was running short.”

The federal disability insurance system is underfunded because two recent funding reallocations have short-changed the program, while the demand for disability benefits has grown due to demographic factors and the raising of the retirement age for Social Security.

Lawmakers from both parties have called for “fixing” the “broken” Social Security disability insurance program, making fraudulent claims that the system is commonly abused, despite the fact that the standards for qualifying for disability insurance payments are extremely stringent, with the majority of applicants being denied.

Congressional Republicans are likewise gearing up to turn their grandstanding opposition to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, into specific right-wing policy proposals. Republican representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, penned an op-ed in USA Today Tuesday calling for the House to “take up a bill to define ‘full time’ as 40 hours per week,” claiming that such a measure aims to make it “so more people can work full time.”

The measure would make Obamacare an even more naked subsidy to big business by paring back one of the few obligations it places on employers. As the CBPP notes, the measure “would allow employers with 50 or more employees who do not offer coverage to employees working 30-39 hours a week to do so without facing any penalty.”

The organization notes that, given that 44 percent of US workers work 40 hours a week, the proposal “would weaken the traditional 40-hour work week by placing far more workers at risk that employers will cut their hours to push them below the threshold.”

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted to implement a rule change known as “dynamic scoring,” in which the theoretical impact on “economic growth” would be taken into account when measuring the cost of policy proposals. This would enshrine supply-side theories—once denounced by George H. W. Bush as “voodoo economics”—as the official economic doctrine of the US Congress.

The measure would facilitate the passage of tax cuts, based on the claim that they would lead to economic growth, and the increased revenues from growing incomes would offset the cost of the cuts. As the CBPP put it, “Dynamic scoring could facilitate congressional passage of large rate cuts in tax reform by making the rate cuts appear—on paper—less expensive than under a traditional cost estimate.”

In reality, big tax cuts for the wealthy lead to lower government revenues and higher deficits, which are then invoked as the reason for cuts in spending on domestic social programs.

The Democrats have put on a show of opposition in response to these actions. On Wednesday, Obama vowed to veto the proposal to redefine full-time employment under the Affordable Care Act to 40 hours. The day before, Obama said he would veto proposals to move forward with the expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline, which Republicans have made a priority.

Obama’s attitude was echoed by Senate minority leader Harry Reid, who said in a statement Wednesday that “I have no intention of just rolling over. I can’t…. Not when the middle class is teetering on the verge of extinction.”

That said, Reid reasserted that he would not pursue the same tactics as the Republicans when they were in the minority, declaring, “The mistakes of the past—the gratuitous obstruction, and wanton filibustering—will not be a hallmark of the 114th Congress.”

For all their pretended opposition to the Republican proposals and their rhetorical invocations of the “middle class,” the fact remains that the actual policy differences between the two parties are minimal.

This reality was underscored by the fact that there have been no serious protests by Democrats at the reelection of Steve Scalise as House majority whip after he admitted last month to having spoken at a white supremacist conference.