Casino Politics.

Wall Street’s Investments in Deregulation 

(Cross-posted from opensecrets.org on January 16, 2015)

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Wall Street did its part to make 2014 the most expensive midterm election ever, outpacing its 2010 total and once again putting the bulk of its financial muscle behind GOP candidates and groups.

Donors from the securities and investment industry, otherwise known as Wall Street, contributed a total of $184 million to candidates, parties and outside spending groups during the 2014 midterms — a $75 million increase over the last comparable election.

That figure pales in comparison to 2012’s $288 million, but that was a presidential year in which one of the White House candidates came from the world of finance and the other had been critical of the industry’s role in triggering the Great Recession.

Despite the large overall spending discrepancy between 2012 and 2014, though, the difference in contributions to outside spending groups was only about $22 million. Donations to outside spending organizations accounted for 39 percent of Wall Street’s total in 2014, jumping from $7 million in the 2010 cycle to $93 million in 2012 and dropping just a bit to $71 million in this last cycle.

Wall Street spending favored Republicans 62 percent of the time in the 2014 cycle, the second highest rate in more than two decades and just behind 2012’s 69 percent level.

With the GOP in charge in both the House and Senate, Wall Street’s investments are likely to show good returns. Already the industry has begun to chip away at the main law passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis that curtailed some of its riskier activities.

Wall Street’s Darlings

Despite its right-leaning partisan split overall, though, the financial industry’s preference for the GOP didn’t reign across the board. Democratic senator took in more campaign cash from Wall Street than their GOP colleagues, totaling nearly $10 million.

It was a different story in the House, where Republican members raked in $16.5 million in campaign donations compared to $10.3 million for Democrats.

Wall Street’s favorite Senate candidate in the past cycle was Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Booker took in nearly $2 million from Wall Street in his pair of Senate races in the past two years. The former Newark mayor is considered a friend to the bankers across the Hudson.

The noted defender of private equity garnered support from multiple hedge funds. Wall Street is just $34,000 short of being Booker’s top donor group, just after lawyers and law firms.

Goldman Sachs is sixth on Booker’s list of career donors, having contributed $59,600 to his campaigns.

Freshly crowned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cashed Wall Street checks worth $1.6 million over the past two years. Fellow Republican Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.) received $1 million and Democratic Sens. Mark Warner (Va.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.) both took in more than $900,000.

Wall Street also favored leadership in its House giving, donating $1.2 million to Speaker John Boehner‘s (R-Ohio) campaign. Former Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) followed Boehner in Wall Street contributions with nearly $700,000 but failed to defeat upstart opponent Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) in the primary. (Cantor is still cashing checks from Wall Street, though now they come biweekly.)

Former vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) received $560,503 from Wall Street, and Goldman Sachs alum Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) took in $485,788.

Power Players

The top of the list of Wall Street spending on the 2014 elections is dominated by a handful of mega-donors born out of Citizens United.

Wall Street’s highest spender in the 2014 cycle was Elliott Management. The hedge fund firm donated $12.3 million — the majority of which went to outside spending groups.

Elliott Management CEO Paul Singer accounted for nearly $10 million of that total, meaning he alone contributed more than any other Wall Street firm. Singer is a noted conservative donor who has given large sums to outside spending groups.

Paul Singer is Wall Street's biggest single donor.(Flickr/World Economic Forum)

Singer contributed nearly $3 million to American Unity PAC in 2014, a conservative gay rights group he helped found. He also made multiple seven-figure donations to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC. Singer was the top individual conservative donor in 2014; only liberal donors Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg spent more.

Renaissance Technologies, another hedge fund, ranked second in 2014-cycle donations with $8.8 million. As with Elliott Management, most of that total can be attributed to one individual, co-CEO Robert Mercer. Mercer and his wife combined to contribute $8.4 million to conservative candidates and causes this cycle.

Mercer personally donated $2.5 million to Freedom Partners Action Fund, a Koch brothers group founded for the 2014 midterms. David and Charles Koch each managed $2 million donations. Mercer also made $1 million dollar contributions to Club for Growth Action and Ending Spending Action Fund — the super PAC wing of the group started by Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts.

TD Ameritrade, the Omaha-based online broker founded by Ricketts, came in third in contributions at $4.9 million.

Renaissance Technologies’ founder James Simons is also a major donor, although along with wife Marilyn he favors liberal groups and candidates. No longer running Renaissance, Simons’ 2014 donations are not included in the hedge fund’s total.

Simons’ biggest 2014 contributions of $5 and $2 million went to the Senate Majority PAC and House Majority PAC respectively. The pair of super PACs have close ties to now Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Ricketts and his wife Marlene donated $6.7 million to conservative groups and candidates during the 2014 cycle. The pair combined to contribute nearly $6 million to Ending Spending Action Fund.

Goldman Sachs contributed more to candidates than any other firm — $2.1 million. Goldman’s employees and PAC contributed an additional $1.3 million to the parties, nearly $900,000 of which went to the three major Republican bodies. McConnell received more money from Goldman than any other candidate, taking home a shade less than $100,000. Goldman Sachs ranked sixth in total contributions among Wall Street firms.

UBS and Blackstone Group were also among the biggest donors to candidates, donating more than $1.5 million directly to campaigns.

Lobbying

Wall Street’s lobbying total for 2014 is again headed toward the $100 million range. Fourth quarter reports are due to be filed next week, but through the third quarter, Wall Street firms had spent $74 million on more than 700 guns for hire. In 2013 Wall Street’s lobbying total fell just short of nine figures, coming in at $99.1 million. Lobbying by the securities and investment industry peaked in 2010 (as it did for many industries) at $105.6 million.

Industry trade groups Security Industry and Financial Markets Association and the Investment Company Institute combined to spend nearly $10 million on lobbying in the first three quarters of this year.

Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs spent more on lobbying than any other Wall Street firms, shelling out $3.2 and $2.9 million respectively through Sept. 30.

The common thread in Wall Street lobbying reports for 2014 was overwhelmingly Dodd-Frank, the 2010 law passed in response to the financial crisis. It has remained a hotly debated topic for bankers, politicians and regulators since its passage.

And in that sense, Wall Street’s GOP spending spree makes perfect sense; Republicans have made it clear that they oppose much of Dodd-Frank, favoring a return to the deregulation that led to record profits for financial firms and bankers — despite at least some consensus that those freewheeling days contributed to the financial meltdown.

Wall Street and its lobbyists claimed a victory against the law late last year when one of Dodd-Frank’s provisions was repealed in an eleventh-hour spending bill using language written by Citigroup lobbyists themselves.

Known as section 716, the provision required banks to conduct certain types of derivatives trading separately from the portions of their operations that are federally insured. Wall Street critics argue this provision — and much of Dodd-Frank — is needed because bankers will risk more when they know the federal government will rescue them should their wagers go bad.

Another bill often listed on Wall Street lobbying filings was Sen. Sherrod Brown‘s (D-Ohio) Terminating Bailouts for Taxpayer Fairness Act (TBTF for short, an abbreviation which most commonly refers to “too big to fail”). The bill, which is opposed by the financial houses, would set new capital requirements for banks, mandating they keep more cash on hand.

“Big Four” Accounting Firm Whistleblower Speaks Out.

(Cross-posted from The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on January 16, 2015)

(For more information visit: icij.org)

‘I acted from conviction:’ PwC whistleblower speaks out

Whistleblower Antoine Deltour.

PwC whistleblower Antoine Deltour spoke with French newspaper Libération. Image: Libération   

A former PricewaterhouseCoopers employee has been charged by Luxembourg authorities following the leak of hundreds of confidential tax rulings that revealed large-scale tax avoidance by some of the world’s biggest multinational companies.

The whistleblower, 28-year-old French citizen Antoine Deltour, was indicted in the Grand Duchy on December 12 on multiple charges including theft, violation of trade secrecy, and fraudulent access to data.

On Monday he spoke out in an interview with French newspaper Libération, and revealed that he was motivated by his disillusionment with the tax system.

“Since the start, I have acted by conviction, for my ideas, not because I wanted to be in the media,” he said.

Deltour started as an intern at PwC, and then worked as an auditor from 2008 to 2010 – a job he thought meant “being on the side of the regulator.”

He quit after two years because, he said, he was feeling out of place.

“I progressively discovered the reality of the system is its radicalism: a massive practice of fiscal optimization. I didn’t want to contribute to that,” he told Libération.

“I can’t believe I could be convicted as an example,” he said. “My action is in the natural course of history, initiated by other whistleblowers and NGOs. I never asked for any compensation.”

He said he copied the documents before leaving the firm in 2010 but had no clear idea of what he might do with them.

“I copied training documents but, while I was looking into the PwC database, I found the famous tax rulings,” he said. “Without any particular project in mind, I copied those too because I was dismayed by their content.”

After unsuccessfully reaching out to NGOs, he says he was contacted by a French journalist, who was working on a documentary about tax avoidance for the France 2 TV program Cash Investigation.

The documentary, produced by journalist Edouard Perrin, aired in May 2012 and one month later, PwC submitted a complaint in the Luxembourg court.

In November and December this year the secret Luxembourg tax agreements were again brought to the world’s attention by a cross-border investigation coordinated by ICIJ in 26 countries, with more than 30 media partners. ICIJ’s Luxembourg Leaks project, based on leaked tax rulings, has since prompted widespread political debate and pressure for significant tax reform around the world.

Deltour said he has had no contact with ICIJ.

“In my mind, these documents didn’t have any other goal than being used for the preparation of that [Cash Investigation] program.”

He also pointed out that the ICIJ LuxLeaks investigation had revealed documents from dates after he had left PwC and in relation to the other Big 4 accounting firms, such as KPMG, Ernest & Young and Deloitte.

“I am just one element in a larger movement,” he said.

Deltour added that he regrets the focus on PwC or Luxembourg, since aggressive tax planning practices “on an industrial scale” are widespread and happen in several countries.

“Regulation will always be behind financial engineering, and the disappearance of those fiscal revenues becomes crucial in times of economic turmoil,” he said.

Yet he welcomed the results of the LuxLeaks revelations. “The political repercussions of LuxLeaks are beyond what I had hoped for: there will finally be talk of tax harmonization in Europe.”

ICIJ director Gerard Ryle says Luxembourg’s decision to indict the young man is a threat to transparency and accountability in the jurisdiction and elsewhere.

“ICIJ does not comment on sources. However, ICIJ does believe whistleblowers should be protected, not prosecuted,” he said in a statement.

“Protection of whistleblowers and sources is as important to society as the freedom of the press. Any prosecution against journalists or journalists’ sources has a dangerous chilling effect on the pivotal role these brave individuals play in ensuring the powerful are held accountable.”

Ray McGovern On Ukraine, Obama, Putin… And The Rest Of The World Too.

(Cross-posted from consortiumnews.com on January 16, 2015)

Rebuilding the Obama-Putin Trust

Exclusive: Heading into the last quarter of his presidency, Barack Obama must decide whether he will let the neocons keep pulling his strings or finally break loose and pursue a realistic foreign policy seeking practical solutions to world problems, including the crisis with Russia over Ukraine, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

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By Ray McGovern

The year 2015 will surely mark a watershed in relations between the United States and Russia, one way or the other. However, whether tensions increase – to war-by-proxy in Ukraine or an even wider war – or whether they subside depends mostly on President Barack Obama.

Key to answering this question is a second one: Is Obama smart enough and strong enough to rein in Secretary of State John Kerry, the neocons and “liberal interventionists” running the State Department and to stand up to the chicken hawks in Congress, most of whom feel free to flirt with war because they know nothing of it.

Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who pushed for the Ukraine coup and helped pick the post-coup leaders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, by contrast, experienced the effects of war at an early age. He was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) eight years after the vicious siege by the German army ended. Michael Walzer, in his War Against Civilians, notes, “More people died in the 900-day siege of Leningrad than in the infernos of Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki taken together.”

Putin’s elder brother Viktor died during the siege. The experience of Putin’s youth is, of course, embedded in his consciousness. This may help to account for why he tends to be short on the kind of daredevil bluster regularly heard from senior Western officials these days – many of whom are ignorant both of suffering from war and the complicated history of Ukraine.

This time last year, few Americans could point out Ukraine on a map. And malnourished as they are on “mainstream media,” most have little idea of its internal political tensions, a schism between a western Ukraine oriented toward Europe and an eastern Ukraine with strong ties to Russia.

Let’s start with a brief mention of the most salient points of this history before addressing its recent detritus — and making a few recommendations as the New Year begins. Less than three weeks after the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9. 1989, President George H.W. Bush invited Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev to a summit in Malta where they cut an historic deal: Moscow would refrain from using force to re-impose control over Eastern Europe; Washington would not “take advantage” of the upheaval and uncertainty there.

That deal was fleshed out just two months later, when Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker persuaded Gorbachev to swallow the bitter pill of a reunited Germany in NATO in return for a promise that NATO would not “leapfrog” eastward over Germany. Former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Jack Matlock, who was witness to all this, told me in an email, “I don’t see how anybody could view the subsequent expansion of NATO as anything but ‘taking advantage.’”

This consummate diplomat, who took part in the critical bilateral talks in early 1990, added that the mutual pledge was not set down in writing. Nonetheless, reneging on a promise – written or not – can put a significant dent in trust.

Why No Written Deal

Last year I asked Matlock and also Viktor Borisovich Kuvaldin, one of Gorbachev’s advisers from 1989 to 1991, why the Baker-Gorbachev understanding was not committed to paper. Matlock replied:

“There was no agreement then. Both Baker and West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher were putting forth ideas for Gorbachev to consider. He did not give an answer but just said he would think about them. … The formal agreements had to involve others, and they did, in the two-plus-four agreement, which was concluded only in late 1990.”

Fair enough.

In an email to me last fall, Kuvaldin corroborated what Matlock told me. But he led off by pointing out “the pledge of no eastward expansion of NATO was made to Gorbachev on consecutive days when he met first with Baker and then with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl [on Feb. 9 and 10, 1990].” As to why this pledge was not written down, Kuvaldin explained:

“Such a request would have sounded a little bit strange at that time. The Warsaw Pact was alive; Soviet military personnel were stationed all over central Europe; and NATO had nowhere to go. At the beginning of February 1990 hardly anybody could foresee the turn of events in the 1990s.”

Again, fair enough. But when I met Kuvaldin a few months earlier in Moscow and asked him out of the blue why there is no record of the promises given to his boss Gorbachev, his reply was more spontaneous – and visceral. He tilted his head, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “We trusted you.”

Written down or not, it was a matter of trust – and of not “taking advantage.” Kuvaldin’s boss Gorbachev opted to trust not only the U.S. Secretary of State, but also the West German government in Bonn. According to a report in Der Spiegel quoting West German foreign ministry documents released just five years ago:

“On Feb. 10, 1990, between 4 and 6:30 p.m., Genscher spoke with [Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard] Shevardnadze. And, according to the German record of the conversation, Genscher said: ‘We are aware that NATO membership for a unified Germany raises complicated questions. For us, however, one thing is certain: NATO will not expand to the east.’ And because the conversation revolved mainly around East Germany, Genscher added explicitly: ‘As far as the non-expansion of NATO is concerned, this also applies in general.’”

NATO’s Growth Spurt

Some of us – though a distinct minority – know the rest of the story. Generally overlooked in Western media, it nevertheless sets the historical stage as background for the upheaval in Ukraine last year. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – and the break-up of the Warsaw Pact – Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2004. Albania and Croatia joined in 2009. And the Kremlin’s leaders could do little more than look on impotently – and seethe.

One can hardly fault those countries, most of which had lots of painful experience at Soviet hands. It is no mystery why they would want to crowd under the NATO umbrella against any foul weather coming from the East. But, as George Kennan and others noted at the time, it was a regrettable lack of imagination and statesmanship that no serious alternatives were devised to address the concerns of countries to the east of Germany other than membership in NATO.

The more so, inasmuch as there were so few teeth left, at the time, in the mouth of the Russian bear. And – not least of all – a promise is a promise.

As NATO expansion drew in countries closer to Russia’s borders, the Kremlin drew a red line when, despite very strong warnings from Moscow, an April 3, 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest declared: “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.” Both countries, former Soviet states, press up upon Russia’s soft southern underbelly.

Often forgotten – in the West, but not in Russia – is the impulsive reaction this NATO statement gave rise to on the part of Georgia’s then-President Mikheil Saakashvili, who felt his oats even before the NATO umbrella could be opened. Less than five months after Georgia was put in queue for NATO membership, Saakashvili ordered Georgian forces to attack the city of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. No one should have been surprised when Russia retaliated sharply, giving Georgian forces a very bloody nose in battles that lasted just five days.

Ultimately, Saakashvili’s cheerleaders of the George W. Bush administration and then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who had been egging Saakashvili on, were powerless to protect him. Instead of drawing appropriate lessons from this failed experiment, however, the neocons running the foreign policy of Bush – and remaining inside the Obama administration – set their sights on Ukraine.

One Regime Change Too Many

It is becoming harder to hide the truth that Washington’s ultimate objective to satisfy Ukraine’s “Western aspirations” and incorporate it, ultimately, into NATO was what led the U.S. to mount the coup of Feb. 22, 2014, in Kiev. While it may be true that, as is said, revolutions “will not be televised,” coups d’état can be YouTubed.

And three weeks before the putsch in Kiev, U.S. State Department planning to orchestrate the removal of the Ukraine’s duly elected President Viktor Yanukovych and select new leaders for Ukraine was placed – chapter and verse – on YouTube in the form of a four-minute intercepted telephone conversation between Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and the yes-ma’am U.S. Ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt.

Hearing is believing. And for those in a hurry, here is a very short transcribed excerpt:

Nuland: What do you think?

Pyatt: I think we’re in play. The Klitschko [Vitaly Klitschko, one of three main opposition leaders] piece is obviously the complicated electron here. … I think that’s the next phone call you want to set up, is exactly the one you made to Yats [Arseniy Yatseniuk, another opposition leader]. And I’m glad you sort of put him on the spot on where he fits in this scenario. And I’m very glad that he said what he said in response.

Nuland: Good. I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary, I don’t think it’s a good idea.

Pyatt: Yeah. I guess … just let him stay out and do his political homework and stuff. … We want to keep the moderate democrats together. The problem is going to be Tyahnybok [Oleh Tyahnybok, the other main opposition leader, head of the far-right Svoboda party] and his guys …

Nuland: [Breaks in] I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the … what he needs is Klitsch and Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week, you know. …

And so, surprise, surprise: “Yats” turned out to be Nuland’s guy just three weeks later, being named prime minister right after the putsch on Feb. 22. And he still is. Talk about luck!

However transparent the dark arts of the “Maidan Marionettes” (the title Russian translators gave the images accompanying their version of the conversation on YouTube), these particular heroics are rarely mentioned in “mainstream” U.S. media (MSM). Instead, pride of place is given to Moscow’s “aggression” in annexing Crimea, a move that followed Crimea’s voters overwhelmingly choosing to bail out on the coup-imposed regime in Kiev and seek to rejoin Russia.

Seeing No Nazis

In the major U.S. media, the violent coup on Feb. 22 – spearheaded by well-organized neo-Nazi militias who killed police and seized government buildings – was whitewashed from what the American people got to see and hear. In the preferred U.S. narrative, Yanukovych and his officials simply decided to leave town because of the moral force from the white-hatted peaceful protesters in the Maidan.

So it came as a welcome surprise when an Establishment notable like George Friedman, during a Dec. 19 interview with the Russian magazine Kommersant, described the February overthrow of the Ukrainian government as “the most blatant coup in history.” Friedman is head of STRATFOR, a think tank often described as a “shadow CIA.”

However, in the mainstream U.S. media’s narrative – as well as others like the BBC where I have had personal experience with the ticklish issue of Ukraine – the story of the Ukraine crisis starts with the annexation of Crimea, which is sometimes termed a Russian “invasion” although Russian troops were already stationed inside Crimea at the Russian naval base at Sevastopol. In the MSM, there is “just not enough time, regrettably” to mention NATO’s eastward expansion or even the coup in Kiev.

The other favored part of the MSM’s narrative is that Putin instigated the Ukraine crisis because he was eager to seize back land lost in the break-up of the Soviet Union. But there is not one scintilla of evidence that the Russians would have taken back Crimea, were it not for the coup engineered by Nuland and implemented by various thugs including openly fascist groups waving banners with Nazi symbols.

Years ago, Nuland fell in with some very seedy companions. The list is long; suffice it to mention here that she served as Principal Deputy National Security Advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney’s in his shadow national security council during the “dark-side” years from 2003 to 2005.

There Nuland reportedly worked on “democracy promotion” in Iraq and did such a terrific job at it that she was promoted, under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to State Department spokesperson and then to Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, giving her the Ukraine account. Nuland is also married to neocon theorist Robert Kagan, whose Project for the New American Century pushed for the invasion of Iraq as early as 1998. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Obama’s True Foreign Policy ‘Weakness.’”]

By December 2013, Nuland was so confident of her control over U.S. policy toward Ukraine that she publicly reminded Ukrainian business leaders that, to help Ukraine achieve “its European aspirations, we have invested more than $5 billion.” She even waded into the Maidan protests to pass out cookies and urge the demonstrators on.

In keeping her in the State Department and promoting her, Obama and his two secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry created a human bridge to the neocons’ dark-side years. Nuland also seems to have infected impressionable Obama administration officials with the kind approach to reality attributed by author Ron Suskind to one senior Bush administration official: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

This may be the nostrum used by Nuland and Kerry to whom Obama has mostly deferred to run U.S. policy vis-à-vis Russia. Ambassador Matlock will find it small solace, but it may help him understand what seems to be going on in policy toward Ukraine.

Writing early last year on the burgeoning crisis there, Matlock said: “I cannot understand how he [Obama] could fail to recognize that confronting President Putin publicly on an issue that is so central to Russian national pride and honor, not only tends to have the opposite effect on the issue at hand, but actually strengthens tendencies in Russia that we should wish to discourage. It is as if he, along with his advisers, is living in some alternate ideological and psychological universe.”

Putin: Little Tolerance for Other Reality

Before finishing with a few recommendations, let’s apply the proven tools of media analysis to see if we can discern how Russian President Putin is reacting to all this. (Hint: He is not going to yield to pressure on the issue of Ukraine.)

At a press conference ten days after the coup in Kiev, Putin complained about “our Western partners” continuing to interfere in Ukraine. “I sometimes get the feeling,” he said, “that somewhere across that huge puddle, in America, people sit in a lab and conduct experiments, as if with rats, without actually understanding the consequences of what they are doing. Why do they need to do this?”

And in a speech two weeks later, Putin said:

“Our colleagues in the West … have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed before us an accomplished fact. This happened with NATO’s expansion to the east, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. … It happened with the deployment of a missile defense system. …

“They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner. … But there is a limit to everything. And with Ukraine, our Western partners have crossed the line. … If you compress the spring all the way to its limit, it will snap back hard. … Today, it is imperative to end this hysteria and refute the rhetoric of the cold war. … Russia has its own national interests that need to be taken into account and respected.”

On Sept. 8, 2013, when Secretary Kerry swore Nuland in as Assistant Secretary of State, he gushed over “Toria’s” accomplishments, with a panegyric fully deserving of the adjective fulsome. It was a huge hint that Kerry would give her free rein in crafting policy toward Russia, Ukraine, et al.

Fortunately, Nuland was not able to sabotage the behind-the-scenes dialogue between Obama and Putin that enabled Putin to dissuade Obama from attacking Syria in September 2013 by convincing him the Syrians were about to agree to destroy all their chemical weapons. Obama had cut Kerry out of those sensitive talks, but left on his own Kerry continued to try to drum up international support for military action against Syria.

That Kerry was blindsided by the extraordinary agreement worked out by Obama and Putin with Syria, became embarrassingly obvious when Kerry, at a press conference in London on Sept. 9, 2013, dismissed any likelihood that Syria would ever agree to let its chemical arsenal be destroyed. Later that same day the agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons was announced.

Sadly, to some significant degree, the U.S. mischief in Ukraine can be regarded as payback from Kerry, his Senate buddy John McCain, and of course Nuland for Russia’s dashing their hopes for a major U.S. military bombing campaign against the Syrian government.

Putin: Kerry “Knows He Is Lying”

It is rare that a head of state will call the head diplomat of a rival state a “liar.” But that’s what Putin did six days after Obama overruled Kerry and stopped the attack on Syria. On Sept. 5, 2013, as Obama arrived in St. Petersburg for the G-20 summit, Putin referred openly to Kerry’s congressional testimony on Syria a few days earlier in which Kerry greatly exaggerated the strength of the “moderate” rebels in Syria.

Kerry had also repeated highly dubious claim (made 35 times at an Aug. 30 State Department press conference) that the Assad government was behind the chemical attacks near Damascus on Aug. 21, that he had thus had crossed the “red line” Obama had set, and that Syria needed to be admonished by military attack.

About Kerry, Putin took the gloves off: “This was very unpleasant and surprising for me. We talk to them [the Americans], and we assume they are decent people, but he is lying and he knows that he is lying. This is sad.”

Putin’s stern words about Kerry and the behind-the-scenes Obama-Putin collaboration that defused the Syrian crisis of 2013 appear to have awakened the neocons to the need to shatter that cooperation – and the Ukraine coup became the perfect device to do so.

New Year’s Resolutions

Five things for Obama to do for a fresh start to the New Year:

1 – Fire Kerry and Nuland.

2 – Read the New York Times op-ed by Putin on Sept. 11, 2013, just after cooperation with Obama had yielded the extraordinary result of the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.

3 – Stop the foolish talk about the U.S. being “the one indispensable nation.” (The President said this so many times last year that some suspect he is beginning to believe his own rhetoric. This is how Putin chose to address this feel-good, but noxious, triumphalism in ending his op-ed:

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

4 – Lean on the Quislings in Kiev to stop their foolishness. One golden opportunity to do that would be to participate in the international summit called for by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Jan. 15 in Kazakhstan, where Putin and the leaders of Germany and France are also expected to take part.

5 – Finally, pick a different ending this year for your speeches. How about: “God bless the United States of America and the rest of the world, too.”

Ray McGovern now works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his 27 years as a CIA analyst, he served as chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch, chair of several National Intelligence Estimates, and preparer and White House briefer of the President’s Daily Brief.  He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).