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Comment from thebrackpipe.com:  So, Mr. Blankfein wrote in a November op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal that tax increases are a necessary part of U.S. fiscal reform.  He wrote, “I believe that tax increases, especially for the wealthiest, are appropriate, but only if they are joined by serious cuts in discretionary spending and entitlements.”  I think what he meant to write was, “Tax increases are necessary but there is no way that I’m giving up MY cash.”

Article below by Liz Moyer, Steven Russolillo and Patrick McGee of the Wall Street Journal:

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. handed insiders including Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein and his top lieutenants a total of $65 million in restricted stock just hours before this year’s higher tax rates took effect.

The New York securities firm gave 10 of its directors and executives early vesting on 508,104 shares previously awarded as part of prior years’ compensation, according to a series of filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission late Monday.

Almost half the shares were withheld to satisfy the insiders’ tax obligations, according to the filings.

Such vesting of previously granted restricted shares typically takes place in January, when Goldman also pays out bonuses for the prior year.

The early awards weren’t limited to the top officers, a Goldman spokesman said. He declined to say how many people at Goldman received the early vesting or to elaborate on the timing of the move.

Goldman’s decision is the latest illustration of the lengths large U.S. companies have gone to shield their stakeholders from the higher taxes that loomed throughout the so-called fiscal cliff standoff at the end of 2012. Congress on early Tuesday morning passed legislation that includes the largest tax increases in the past two decades.

Goldman’s move could shield its executives from increased tax rates, which will rise as high as 39.6% in 2013 from 35% last year.

Mr. Blankfein wrote in a November op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal that tax increases are a necessary part of U.S. fiscal reform.

“I believe that tax increases, especially for the wealthiest, are appropriate, but only if they are joined by serious cuts in discretionary spending and entitlements,” he wrote.

Goldman isn’t the only U.S. company taking action in response to the higher taxes. Corporations announced more special dividends last month than in any other December since at least 1955.

Borrowing by blue-chip U.S. companies more than tripled from a year earlier in the final two months of 2012 to finance these payouts.

Warehouse retailer Costco Wholesale Corp., casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp. LVS +0.06% and department store chain Dillard’s Inc. are among the large U.S. companies announcing accelerated or special dividends in late 2012.

The tax on dividends, about 15% in 2012 thanks to cuts that took place under President George W. Bush, will rise to as high as 20% in 2013.

At Goldman, Mr. Blankfein, President and Chief Operating Officer Gary Cohn and Chief Financial Officer David Viniar each received total vesting of 66,065 shares worth $8.4 million.

Mr. Blankfein received 2011 compensation valued at $16.2 million and Messrs. Cohn and Viniar each received $15.8 million, according to regulatory filings.

John Weinberg and Michael Evans, vice chairmen, each also received a total of 66,065 shares, according to Goldman’s disclosures this week.

Others whose restricted shares were vested on Monday included John Rogers, an executive vice president and chief of staff; Edith Cooper, executive vice president and global head of human capital management; Alan Cohen, executive vice president and global head of compliance; Gregory Palm, executive vice president and general counsel; and Sarah Smith, principal accounting officer.

Two other members of Goldman’s executive committee, Michael Sherwood and Mark Schwartz, didn’t have any shares vest on Dec. 31. Mr. Sherwo

The vesting comes at the end of a year in which Goldman shares rallied more than 40% amid reduced investor fear over the European debt crisis and a general improvement in the company’s business.

Some 483 companies announced special dividends in December, compared with 142 in the same month a year ago, according to Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices.

All told, 1,056 special dividends were announced in 2012, Mr. Silverblatt said. That is up from 460 a year earlier and the most since 1973, according to Mr. Silverblatt. In the last two months of 2012, blue-chip U.S. nonfinancial companies sold $178 billion of bonds. That compares with $60.6 billion a year earlier, according to data tracker Dealogic.

Mr. Blankfein and other corporate chiefs had pushed Washington lawmakers to find a solution that would prevent a consumer spending slowdown that threatened to send the economy back into recession.

In a series of postings Wednesday on Twitter, Mr. Blankfein praised Congress’s action. “This agreement is a step forward to injecting growth and investor confidence into the U.S. economy.”

Article by Victor David Hansen, senior fellow at the Hoover Institute

“Limousine liberal” is an old American term used against those who inherited lots of money and then became “traitors to their class” by embracing populist politics.

The Roosevelts and Kennedys enjoyed the high life quite apart from the multitude that they championed. And they were exempt, by virtue of their inherited riches and armies of accountants and attorneys, from the higher taxes they advocated for others. Few worried about how their original fortunes were made long ago, or that as lifelong government officials they had their needs met by the state. Most were relieved instead that as very rich people they wanted less rich people to pay their fair share to help the poor.

But the new liberal aristocracy is far less discreet than the old. Most are self-made multimillionaires who acquired their money through government service, finance, law, investment, or marriage. If the old-money liberals lived it up tastefully within their walled family compounds, the new liberal aristocrats are unashamed about living openly in a manner quite at odds with their professed populist ideology.

Take former vice president Al Gore. He has made a fortune of nearly a billion dollars warning against global warming — supposedly shrinking glaciers, declining polar-bear populations, and the like — while simultaneously offering timely remedies from his own green corporations, all reminiscent of the methodology of Roman millionaire Marcus Licinius Crassus, who profited from fires and putting them out. Now Nobel laureate Gore has sold his interest in a failing cable-television station for about $100 million — and to the anti-American Al-Jazeera, which is owned by the fossil-fuel-rich royal family of Qatar. Gore rushed to close the deal before the first of the year to avoid the very capital-gains tax hikes that he has advocated for others less well off. That’s a liberal trifecta: enhancing a fossil-fuel consortium, attempting to beat tax hikes, and empowering an anti-American and anti-Semitic media conglomerate run by an authoritarian despot — all from a former vice president of the United States who crusades for ending our reliance on fossil fuels and for raising taxes on the wealthy.

Class warrior Barack Obama spent his winter break in a ritzy rental on a Hawaiian beach. It cost the taxpayers $7 (or is it $20?) million to jet him and his entourage 6,000 miles for their tropical vacation. But whether the first family escapes to Hawaii or Martha’s Vineyard or Costa del Sol, the image of a 1 percent lifestyle seems a bit at odds with the president’s professed disdain for “millionaires and billionaires,” “fat cats,” and “corporate-jet owners” who supposedly can afford such tony retreats only because they have done something suspect. The media used to ridicule grandees like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush for wearing cowboy hats and wasting precious presidential time chopping wood or chain-sawing dry underbrush on their respective overgrown ranches. But for liberal class warriors, golfing and body surfing in the tropical Pacific while staying at a zillionaire’s estate become needed downtime to prepare for the looming battle against 1 percenters. One wonders about the conversation between the Obamas and their landlord. “We will stay here, but only on the condition that you remember that you didn’t build it”?

Multibillionaire Warren Buffett is a tireless advocate of hiking inheritance taxes on small businesses and farms. But he has pledged much of his wealth to the Gates Foundation, a ploy that will cost the federal Treasury billions of dollars in lost revenue. Meanwhile, if inheritance taxes go up, millions of terrified Americans will double up on their life-insurance policies — an industry central to the multibillion-dollar Buffett empire. It never seems to occur to the liberal-minded Buffett that there is something tawdry about advocating a policy that he not only seeks mostly to avoid, but will even profit from.

So tax avoidance is another characteristic of the new aristocracy — ask Jeffrey Immelt, the General Electric CEO and Obama point man on jobs and growth, who endorses the Obama agenda even as he managed to skip taxes altogether on his company’s 2010 profits. What should Immelt say? “Taxes are for the little people whom we try to help”?

Senator John Kerry, who will soon become secretary of state, is a tireless advocate of higher taxes while enjoying his multimillionaire wife’s multiple estates. In 2010, Massachusetts resident Kerry docked his new $7 million yacht in nearby Rhode Island in order to avoid paying about $500,000 in taxes to his home state. Should not Kerry have welcomed the chance to chip in half a million to an insolvent treasury, given his advocacy for higher taxes? Could Kerry not have purchased a smaller yacht for $4 million in order to budget for the necessary taxes? Gore, Obama, and Kerry, after all, tirelessly boast that the taxes they advocate would fall mostly on people like themselves — omitting the fact that, as we see from Kerry’s boat deal, Gore’s TV deal, and Obama’s adjacent-lot deal with Tony Rezko, politicians not only mostly live on the public dole without the expenses that the rest of us incur, but also have miraculous ways of avoiding the sort of taxes they harangue others about.

During the 2008 financial meltdown, Goldman Sachs was a recipient of federal cash bailouts. Recently its CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, wrote an op-ed in which he said, “I believe that tax increases, especially for the wealthiest, are appropriate.” Why, then, would Goldman Sachs rush to pay out $65 million in restricted stock bonuses to its own corporate elite in time to beat the new higher tax rates that began on January 1, 2013? Isn’t that inappropriate? What would have happened had Blankfein timed his op-ed for publication in early 2013 rather than November 2012, and also added “– and that’s why I am not rushing Goldman Sachs stock payouts just to lessen the tax burden on our wealthiest at a time of national insolvency.”

Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, who nominally oversees the IRS, did not just not pay his own taxes while advocating higher taxes on others, but found incredible ways not to pay what was due — avoiding payroll taxes, improperly deducting his children’s camp costs, and taking improper charitable deductions, improper retirement-plan withdrawals, improper small-business deductions, and so on. The question in Geithner’s case was not whether he had avoided taxes, but whether there was any category of taxes that he had not avoided. Perhaps the creativity by which Geithner avoided his own taxes was seen as an asset in finding new ways to catch other tax-avoiders.

What explains the hypocrisy of the new liberal aristocracy?

The medieval concept of offsetting your sins through public penance is back in play: The more loudly you talk about helping the proverbial people, the more you are allowed to live quite apart from them without guilt. Do not expect a garbage collector, in the fashion of the anti–Mitt Romney ad, to make a video complaining that the Obamas never ventured outside their coastal compound to compliment him on his work or just to chitchat. Al Gore’s lamentations for the polar bear allows him to try to finagle a $9 million tax savings. The money for Media Matters apparently offsets the fact that the speculations of a conniving George Soros once almost bankrupted the British small depositor and earned him an insider-trading conviction in France. Each speech blasting the uncaring Bush tax cuts translates into a hundred thousand less in taxes to be paid on your yacht.

To be cool is now not just to be rich, but to appear caring. Hollywood still seeks hundreds of millions in tax breaks unavailable to small businesses without shame because it is so manifestly compassionate. Occupy Wall Street does not camp out in Beverly Hills or Malibu, although the likes of Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio make more per year than do most Wall Street fat cats. The public wonders why Hollywood is so liberal — is it the Bohemian culture surrounding the arts? The natural creative temperament of actors? The Lotus-land surf and sun of the southern-California beach milieu? Perhaps. But penance plays a role as well. For the overpaid and pampered Hollywood movie star, calling for raising taxes, banning guns, ending global warming, and legalizing gay marriage means never having to feel too bad about living on the beach and making, under our capitalist system, more money in a month than do many Americans in a lifetime.

The growing size and clout of government, and its intrusion into globalized finance, also play a role. Former Obama OMB director and liberal Peter Orszag went on to a multimillion-dollar gig at Citigroup. He now writes warnings about the uncontrollable debt that he helped accumulate; would that he would sermonize about the incestuous revolving door that Obama pledged to end. Did he learn anything from Franklin Raines, James Johnson, and Jamie Gorelick, who occupied top spots at Fannie Mae in the Carter and Clinton administrations and who all walked away with millions while the federal mortgage-insurance corporation went insolvent? The problem is not just that none of the three did anything to ensure Fannie Mae’s viability, or at least to justify the millions that they took out, but also that none of them had a reputable record of banking expertise to justify their being hired in the first place. In short, there is just too much big money — and temptation — for even the most liberal class warrior not to cash in on his ample government contacts and influence.

All these paradoxes pose existential questions: Are the elite architects of high taxes and big government the self-interested and conniving who found the path to the good life through cynically embracing such ideas (ask Franklin Raines or Al Gore), or were they so rich to begin with as to be unaffected by the ramifications of their ideology — or both?

Comment from thebrackpipe.com:  Well, well, well… let’s have a look at who is involved here – ‘Bank of America will pay the most to borrowers as part of the deal — nearly $8.6 billion. Wells Fargo will pay about $4.3 billion, JPMorgan Chase roughly $4.2 billion. Citigroup will pay about $1.8 billion and Ally Financial will pay $200 million. Those totals do not include $5.5 billion that the banks will reimburse federal and state governments for money spent on improper foreclosures.’

Article from the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. states reached a landmark $25 billion deal Thursday with the nation’s biggest mortgage lenders overforeclosure abuses that occurred after the housing bubble burst.

The deal requires five of the largest banks to reduce loans for about 1 million households at risk of foreclosure. The lenders will also send checks of $2,000 to about 750,000 Americans who were improperly foreclosed upon. The banks will have three years to fulfill the terms of the deal.

It’s the biggest settlement involving a single industry since a 1998 multistate tobacco deal.

Federal and state officials announced at a news conference that 49 states had joined the settlement. Oklahoma announced a separate deal with the five banks.

The settlement ends a painful chapter that emerged from the financial crisis, when home values sank and millions edged toward foreclosure. Many companies processed foreclosures without verifying documents. Some employees signed papers they hadn’t read or used fake signatures to speed foreclosures — an action known as robo-signing.

Under the deal, the states said they won’t pursue civil charges related to these types of abuses. Homeowners can still sue lenders in civil court on their own, and federal and state authorities can pursue criminal charges.

“There were many small wrongs that were done here,” said U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. “This does not resolve everything. We will be aggressive about going after claims elsewhere.”

Reducing loan principal will help some homeowners who are current on their payments but are “underwater,” meaning they owe more than their homes are worth.

But consumer advocates and housing activists said the deal is flawed because it covers only a fraction of at-risk homeowners. Critics note that the settlement will apply only to privately held mortgages issued from 2008 through 2011.

Banks own about half of all U.S. mortgages — roughly 30 million loans. Those owned by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not covered by the deal.

“The deal announced today is too small,” said Pico National Network, a faith-based group that is active on housing issues. “It falls far short of providing real justice for homeowners and American families.”

Economists also cited the size of the deal: Some said it was hardly enough to have much impact on the troubled housing market.

The settlement will be overseen by Joseph A. Smith Jr., North Carolina’s banking commissioner. Lenders that violate the deal could face $1 million penalties per violation and up to $5 million for repeat violators.

About $10 billion of the settlement total will be used to reduce mortgage payments for underwater homeowners. Paul Diggle, an economist at Capital Economics, said that’s a “drop in the ocean,” considering that 11 million borrowers are underwater “to the tune of $700 billion.”

Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities, said the settlement helps the housing market in the long run because it allows banks to proceed with millions of foreclosures that have been stalled. Many lenders have refrained from foreclosing on homes as they awaited the settlement.

“We’ve got a lot of issues to work our way through in the housing market,” Vitner said. “What thissettlement does is allow that process to get started.”

Bank of America will pay the most to borrowers as part of the deal — nearly $8.6 billion. Wells Fargo will pay about $4.3 billion, JPMorgan Chase roughly $4.2 billion. Citigroup will pay about $1.8 billion and Ally Financial will pay $200 million. Those totals do not include $5.5 billion that the banks will reimburse federal and state governments for money spent on improper foreclosures.

The deal also ends a separate investigation into Bank of America and Countrywide for inflating appraisals of loans from 2003 through most of 2009. Bank of America acquired Countrywide in 2008.

“The settlement includes far reaching relief that will help many of our customers and complement our already extensive efforts to improve our borrower assistance efforts and servicing processes,” JPMorgan Chase said in a statement.

Under the deal, banks must make foreclosure their last resort. They are also barred from foreclosing on a homeowner who is being considered for a loan modification.

The banks and U.S. state attorneys general agreed to the deal late Wednesday after 16 months of contentious negotiations.

New York and California came on board late Wednesday. California has more than 2 million “underwater” borrowers, whose homes are worth less than their mortgages. New York has some 118,000 homeowners who are underwater.

In addition to the payments and mortgage reductions, the deal promises to reshape long-standing mortgage lending guidelines. It will make it easier for those at risk of foreclosure to make their payments and keep their homes.

Those who lost their homes to foreclosure are unlikely to get their homes back or benefit much financially from the settlement.

Some critics say the proposed deal doesn’t go far enough. They have argued for a thorough investigation of potentially illegal foreclosure practices before a settlement is hammered out.

Under the deal:

— Roughly $1.5 billion for direct payouts, in the form of $2,000 checks, for about 750,000 Americans who were unfairly or improperly foreclosed upon; another $3.5 billion will go directly to states.

— At least $10 billion for reducing mortgage amounts.

— Up to $7 billion for other state homeowner programs.

— At least $3 billion for refinancing loans for homeowners who are current on their mortgage payments but who are underwater.

The deal is subject to final approval by a federal judge.

___

Associated Press Writers Michael Virtanen in Albany, N.Y., Pallavi Gogoi in New York and Christopher S. Rugaber and Marcy Gordon in Washington contributed to this report.