Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween 2011: 3 Masks


Here is something I was playing with a few years ago when I was working at the Contemporary Arts Center. While working on the 6th floor in the UNMUSEUM, I had time to make this little mask (the center mask). Then I made copies and created 3 Masks. I think it works best here for Halloween.

Happy Halloween to everyone and please watch for children running across the street.

Stay tuned.

3 Masks by F.D. Zigler

Sunday, October 30, 2011

60 Minutes Tonight I Will Not Watch


Today 60 Minutes that airs on CBS will have as one of its subjects an interview with Madoff's wife and son. I will not watch 60 Minutes this Sunday and this is why.

My personal opinion is that it is a joke to give Bernie Madoff a 150 year prison sentence. In my opinion, Bernie Madoff should have been executed for what he did. Interviews with Bernie Madoff, his wife and his son are not worth my time. This man ruined hundreds and perhaps thousands of lives by destroying their financial security. In today's world that is like giving someone a death sentence. To glorify this man Bernie Madoff is sick TV reporting. He is a criminal and deserves to be treated like the criminal that he is. Parading him on TV , or his family members, as if they are celebrities makes the wrong statement in my opinion. And, it is because the media continues to hold him up to the public as someone of interest that I believe he should have been executed for destroying the lives of so many. Madoff brags how well he is treated in prison and even has the nerve to say he is safer in prison than on the streets of New York City.

People like Madoff will continue to destroy peoples' financial lives and security as long as they know they don't have to pay with their life. Once our society analyzes the problem and comes to the conclusion that behavior like Madoff's can not be tolerated in our society, perhaps then a fitting punishment will be handed out. For Bernie Madoff to live the rest of his life at the expense of the society he devastated is hardly, in my mind, the right punishment.

So, while I usually watch 60 Minutes and have enjoyed their stories over the many years, I will not watch this program tonight. And, that is my opinion.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday Is For Art: Si Zigler's Art Exhibit 2011



Monday I am taking down my father's art exhibit at HUC-JIR. I am happy I had the opportunity to do the exhibit, and I want to thank everyone at HUC-JIR.

For more than 40 years, I have thought about doing an exhibit of my father's art work. Sam Hollingsworth and I were having lunch one day in January of this year at Park Chili in Northside, and I remarked to him that my father would have been 100 years old this year had he lived. I went on to say that I have wanted to have an exhibit of my father's art work, but wanted a place that would be safe and would protect the paintings. Sam came up with the idea to contact Rabbi Zola, who he knew, and from there we contacted Dr. Jonathan Cohen at HUC-JIR.

The Opening of the exhibit on Sunday, June 26, 2011 was only four days shy of what would have been Si's 100th birthday. The art show was his first solo art exhibit, and was attended by both of my brothers and many of my cousins that knew him. One thing I learned from our discussions with Dr. Cohen about some of the pieces is that Si Zigler had a greater and deeper knowledge of Jewish culture and religion than I ever knew. Yes, he could read and understand Yiddish, but I never knew that his knowledge of Hebrew may have been as equally developed. Here was a man that said little about his knowledge of Judaism, but expressed a greater knowledge through his art work than I ever realized.

My cousin Toby and I hope to produce a short video of the exhibit and share it with other Jewish museums around the country. Perhaps there are other cities that might like to enjoy Si Zigler's art work.

Simeon Zigler, self portrait, on paper.

The Fiddler, watercolor on paper by Si Zigler.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Goldman Sachs: A Cancer?


The big news today is that a deal was reached in Europe to work through the debt of Greece. If Greece had gone down the tube, Greece would probably have taken other European countries down with them. But, which American Wall Street banker helped put Greece in the position they found themselves in? Can you say Goldman Sachs? Below is an article that gives you a picture in words just what Goldman Sachs did to "help" Greece with their finances.


Goldman Sachs may have helped fool Greek bond buyers
Submitted by cpowell on Wed, 2010-02-17 13:32. Section: Daily Dispatches
By Elisa Martinuzzi
Bloomberg News
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=asBNXSLtlN9E&pos=1

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. managed $15 billion of bond sales for Greece after arranging a currency swap that allowed the government to hide the extent of its deficit.

No mention was made of the swap in sales documents for the securities in at least six of the 10 sales the bank arranged for Greece since the transaction, according to a review of the prospectuses by Bloomberg. The New York-based firm helped Greece raise $1 billion of off-balance-sheet funding in 2002 through the swap, which European Union regulators said they knew nothing about until recent days.

Failing to disclose the swap may have allowed Goldman, a co-lead manager on many of the sales, other underwriters, and Greece to get a better price for the securities, said Bill Blain, co-head of fixed income at Matrix Corporate Capital LLP, a London-based broker and fund manager.

"The price of bonds should reflect the reality of Greece's finances," Blain said. "If a bank was selling them to investors on the basis of publicly available information, and they were aware that information was incorrect, then investors have been fooled."

Michael DuVally, a spokesman at Goldman Sachs in New York, declined to comment.

Goldman Sachs, Wall Street's most profitable securities firm, is being criticized by European politicians, including Germany's ruling Christian Democrats, who have questioned whether the firm helped Greece hide its deficit to comply with the currency's membership criteria. Greece is also being faulted by fellow euro-region countries for failing to disclose the swaps to EU regulators.

The swaps used by Greece to manage debt were "at the time legal," Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said on Feb. 15. The government doesn't use the swaps now, he said.

Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, this week ordered Greece to hand over information on the swaps transactions by the end of this week in an investigation that may extend to other EU countries.

Goldman Sachs earned about 735 million euros ($1 billion) underwriting Greek government bonds since 2002, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Goldman Sachs underwrote 10 bond sales. Prospectuses for six of them, obtained by Bloomberg, contain no mention of the swaps. The other four couldn't be obtained.

The yield on Greek 10-year government bonds jumped to as much as 7.2 percent on Jan. 28 amid the worst crisis in the euro's 11-year history. The premium, or spread, investors demand to hold Greek 10-year notes instead of German bunds, Europe's benchmark government securities, widened yesterday by 18 basis points to 323 basis points.

The spread reached 396 basis points last month, the most since the year before the euro’s debut in 1999, compared with an average of 57 basis points in the past decade. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

"When people start to fear that the numbers aren't accurate, they fear the worst," said Simon Johnson, a former International Monetary Fund chief economist who is now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Goldman could face legal liability "if it could be established that they were knowingly hiding risk, and therefore knew or had reason to know that the bond disclosure documents were misleading," said Thomas Hazen, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "But that would be a tough hill to climb, in terms of burden of proof. There'd have to be some sort of smoking-gun memo."

The swap enabled Greece to improve its budget and deficit and meet a target needed to remain within the region’s single currency. Knowledge of their existence may have changed investors' perception of the risk associated with Greece, and the price they may have been willing to pay for the country's securities.

"From what we know, this is an egregious example of a conflict of interest" for Goldman Sachs, MIT's Johnson said. "Even if the deal had been authorized, it doesn't let them off the hook."

A Greek government inquiry this month identified a series of swaps agreements with securities firms that allowed the country to hide its mounting deficit. Greece used the swaps to defer interest payments, causing "long-term damage" to the Greek state, according to the Feb. 1 document, commissioned by the Finance Ministry.

European Union officials said this week they only recently became aware of the transaction with Goldman. The swaps don't necessarily break EU rules, European Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj told reporters in Brussels on Feb. 15.

The transaction with Goldman consisted of a cross-currency swap of about $10 billion of debt issued by Greece in dollars and yen, according to Christoforos Sardelis, head of Greece’s Public Debt Management Agency at the time.

That was swapped into euros using a historical exchange rate, a mechanism that implied a reduction in debt and generated about $1 billion in an up-front payment from Goldman to Greece, Sardelis said. He declined to give specifics on how the swap affected the country's deficit or debt.

European politicians such as Luxembourg Treasury Minister Jean-Claude Juncker this week criticized Goldman Sachs for arranging the Greek swap and are pressing the firm and Greece for more disclosure. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats aim to push for new rules that will force euro-region nations and banks to disclose bond swaps that have an impact on public finances, financial affairs spokesman Michael Meister said.

"Investment banks are guilty of being part of a wider collusion that fudged the numbers to make the euro look like a working currency union," said Matrix's Blain. "The bottom line is foreign exchange and bond investors bought something sellers knew not to be the case."

Does this mean everyone that works at Goldman Sachs is bad? No! But, Goldman Sachs has some bad people that should not be advising people, countries or dogs.

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Infotainment?


Infotainment
television programming that presents information (such as news) in a way that is meant to be entertaining

Infotainment is my new word for today. Everyday I receive an email with a word and its definition. Some of the words I already know, and some are completely new to me. But, this word infotainment is one of those new words that brings together two old words information and entertainment. So now we have something called infotainment, and that pretty much sums up many peoples' opinion of TV news. Some have even referred to it as sugarcoated news. Now FOX news is a whole different story. To be completely honest, I don't watch FOX news. The little bits and pieces that I see from time to time leaves me with the idea that primary and secondary sources of information, and opinions in the studio, are one in the same.

Now this infotainment word I think could be used also to describe some of my political satire artwork. Given my limited artistic abilities, my artwork that is suppose to carry a message and at the same time be atheistically pleasing perhaps falls short. While I give it my best effort, my limited ability to take an idea in my head and put it on paper or canvas sometimes does not live up to my expectations. But, I just chalk those up and move on to the next idea. Not every idea for a piece of political satire strikes a cord with people. And, since I have had a ringing in my ears for the last 30 years, my perception of what is good political satire may be off key to some people. I am definitely in a liberal key, but I would like to think that the key that resonants with me most is the key of justice. Justice for all people, not just the wealthy and well connected.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday Is For Art: Butterflies, A Heart & Superman




A few words about making art.

First, I am not a trained artist. Painting is something I wanted to do, so I went to the public library and got books about painting and read them. At first I painted in oil, but that requires too much work when cleaning up, and oils take much longer to dry. Acrylics clean up with a little soap and water and they dry much quicker than oils. So, because of convenience, I decided to paint in acrylics for now. Maybe someday I will go back and paint in oils, but I haven't seen the need to as I like to paint on envelopes and acrylics work better when painting on paper. Twenty years ago I painted a series of 6 postage stamps on large pieces of paper (30x22) in oil, but I first had to cover both sides of the paper with gesso so the oil paint would not eat the paper fiber. Today, that seems like a lot work.

Second, I paint because I have something I want to say. I wasn't interested in painting the so called "pretty picture" for over the sofa. My interest in politics, economics and whatever else interests me has been the subject matter for my paintings. I have used symbols repeatedly in my paintings and I call them my icons. I have even painted my own icons. Some people like my paintings and others don't care for them. But, this is what I do. I try to paint what is on my mind.

The 3 paintings today I have done recently. Obama As Superman is now complete. I have already written a little about this piece in earlier postings (see below). The 6 butterflies are painted on a small envelope in acrylics. The Black heart & Butterfly is painted on a larger envelope in acrylics.

Have a nice and safe weekend.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Concept of A Superman


The concept of a Superman goes far back into our earliest written history and literature. Even in the United States, every four years, we elect someone that we want to be Superman. Is it possible for one man, regardless of his strong moral character and intellectual acumen to lead a nation of 300 million people? With people, each trying to avoid pain from several different sources, is it possible for one man, even as president to be responsible to correct everything that has been broken or is unfair, unjust or just plain wrong.

Is politics no more than a sport? Do the winners pay back their big financial supporters with special contracts, tax loopholes and a Christmas Party at the White House? Does it even make any difference who wins if the winners always take care of their financial backers first?

I don't have any answers, but I don't believe even a Superman can fix some of the messes we are in.

Stay tuned.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Obama As Superman: Why Not?


This is Saturday's post. I am posting it on Friday since I might not remember to do it on Saturday. That doesn't have to make any sense because there are so many things today that don't make any sense that one more will not hurt anything.

"Obama As Superman: Why Not?" is just another piece of my political satire. The Superman comic book cover is from a 1942 issue No. 24. It is my opinion that everyone expects for this one man to turn our economy around in a very short time even though it took years for the bubble to burst. The mess that President Obama inherited can not be fixed in just a few short years. But, people for whatever reason will blame him for the mess we find ourselves after the financial system was given free reign for years. Even a black Superman can not fix our economy as fast as everyone would like. The economy must first process lots of waste before it can get moving towards full employment again.

This painting is not completed. I have a few more things to finish before it is done.

Obama As Superman, acrylic on canvas board, by F.D. Zigler 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cincinnati: Comes From The Roman General Cincinnatus, But Our Roads Are Not Roman Roads


Since so many people are protesting, I thought I would put in my 2 cents about the condition of the roads in Cincinnati. Perhaps I just drive on all the wrong roads! But the roads I drive on, their surfaces are just plain crap. Holes and uncalled for speed bumps make up so much of the surface, I wonder why anyone with a choice would want to locate in Cincinnati for a business. And, the expressways I-75 & I-71 are no better. Have you ever driven into Detroit from the south on I-75? Wow! Is that a nice concrete drive or what? Take a drive downtown on I-75 or I-71 and it is almost Third World. I drive Montana Avenue to go the YMCA on Montana & Cheviot Avenues and the surface of Montana Avenue is a mess. They fix things under the road, but when it comes to putting down a decent surface, it seems the technology has been lost. I sure hope someone is making some good money doing our roads because they don't deserve what they are being paid. How about some quality workmanship? Damn, the Romans made better roads 2,000 years ago!

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Free Markets & Traffic Lights


There is a lot of talk about free markets in our economic debates, but free markets doesn't mean that individual or institutional investors should be losers.

Not far from where I live is an intersection called Knowlton's Corner. The main road that leads downhill into Knowlton's Corner is a heavily trafficked 4 lane road called the Ludlow Viaduct. The Ludlow Viaduct brings a heavy stream of traffic down to this intersection where it is one of six roads that converge to form Knowlton's Corner. No traffic engineer or motorist would suggest that this intersection with 6 roads coming together from 6 different directions could function without traffic lights. Common sense would dictate that with 6 roads crossing a common space that some formal apparatus is necessary to help move the traffic without causing accidents and the possible loss of life.

Free markets need "traffic lights" too. Without rules there would be no markets because individual and institutional investors would not feel safe. The recent financial crisis demonstrates for me that free markets need regulations. For many years, the markets operated within a framework of regulations and people on both sides made money. When one side games the system, the resulting fallout not only destroys the trust of the investing public, but it also causes real economic dislocations that will take years to work out. The mortgage-bond meltdown has wrecked the housing market and has caused foreclosures and a decline in the housing market. This is the direct result of the housing bubble created by the fraudulent issuance of triple-A mortgage-backed bonds that in no way deserved the highest credit rating that was awarded to them by the three credit rating agencies.

Everyone wants the other guy to work hard for his money. Why would we want any less from those operating the capital markets?

Stay tuned.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Commander-in-Christian?


Should a person's religion be a criteria for being president of the United States? Should the fact that Mitt Romney is of the Mormon faith be a factor as to whether he is qualified to be president? What if Mitt Romney was a Jew? Would he be any less qualified than he is as a Mormon?

I have listened to the Religious Right for over 25 years and I can't say I understand their fixation with a person's religion to hold political office. Back in the 1980s I listened as leaders of the Christian Right spoke about how you couldn't be a good American unless you were first a good Christian. Being Jewish, born to two Jewish parents and having four Jewish grandparents, I wondered why I couldn't be a good American regardless of my religion. I served my country for two years in the U.S. Army and spent a year in Korea. I thought of myself as a model citizen that voted, did volunteer work in my community, and helped my older neighbors when they needed a hand. I never spent a night in jail and at that time the most trouble I had gotten into was a speeding ticket. So, I asked myself, why couldn't I be a good American even if I wasn't a Christian? Eventually, I came around to putting together my own "Mother & Child", my own "religious icon", as I do not accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I needed to create something that was mine. The above painting in oil on board framed in a wood frame covered in gold metal leaf was my way of dealing with the question: Why can't I be a good American if I am not a Christian?

Mother & Child: An American Icon oil on board 72" x 48", 1988-92.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Too Big To Fail Is No Way To Run An Economy


The capital markets have an important role to play in our economy. The movement of capital from individuals and institutions to corporations has permitted our economy to grow. Most of what the people on Wall Street do aids in building the nation and growing the economy. The problems begin when ethics are placed aside and greed for huge profits takes over. There were a number of regulations that were relaxed over the years by the congress that gave rise to the financial crisis of 2007-08. People with the responsibility for doing their job correctly were told that the profitability of their corporation came before doing the right thing. Regulations are needed. The laws that regulated the banks and the capital markets worked for several generations before they were removed or watered down. Greed is something that will always be a problem. Regulations, enforcement, accountability and transparency help to keep the game on the up and up. The capital markets provide a valuable service to the country when they are run on the up and up just like anything else that is run correctly can help grow the economy. The economy grew under the Glass-Steagall Act for generations, and it needs to be put in place again. Too big to fail is no way to run our economy.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

No One Likes To Be Made A Mark


No one likes to be made a mark. Whether you are buying a hot dog at a game or investing for your children's education or your own retirement, no one likes to be taken advantage of.

The investment securities business has a long history going back over 100 years. Brokers and investment bankers have sold the public worthless securities for generations. In the 19th century, stocks were sold, money was collected and pocketed and no railroads were built. After the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the Federal Government created the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) and Congress wrote laws aimed at protecting the public from fraud. The SEC did a fair job and a major financial fiasco was averted. But, Wall Street got greedy. Making money the honest way meant that you could not shoot fish in a barrel. In simple language, making a mark of someone became a lot harder to do.

But, money changed the rules as politicians were told that the old rules, the securities laws of the 1930s and 1940s, were no longer needed. Changes were made and more risk became the norm.

The final straw that lead to the financial crisis, in my opinion, was the breakdown and corruption of the credit rating agencies. To understand the importance of the lettered grade that the credit rating agencies gave to new issues is to understand how important the lettered grade on a bond issue was to the placement of the new issue by the sales people working on the desks of the investment bankers. Sales people as a rule knew very little about the credit behind any new bond issue. They knew the interest rate, maturity, re-offering price and finally they knew the lettered credit rating issued by the credit rating agency. Bottom line, the sales people that sold the mortgage-backed bonds knew just enough to sell their bonds and not much more.

When the credit rating agencies gave the mortgage-backed bond issues their triple-A credit rating, sales people included that key piece of information in their sales pitch. Unfortunately, many of the mortgage-backed bond issues that received the triple-A rating were not worthy of the rating.

Lots of people that never heard of a mortgage-backed bond got hurt by the credit rating fiasco. Pension funds and institutional buyers got killed when the house of cards fell.

As I said, no one like to be made a mark. Congress needs to learn that lesson as much as Wall Street bankers.

Saturday Is For Art: 2 Sunflowers In Vase


I planted sunflower seeds again this year, but unfortunately, after I tore the tendon in my left leg, my garden of flowers were on their own. I finally got around to cutting the sunflowers down. I took 2 sunflowers and put them in a vase and a day later decided to take a photo of them. After looking at the photo, I decided that I would paint the sunflowers as part of a still life. The painting above is what I came out with. It is on canvas board in acrylics, but it is not finished. It is resting while I am doing another painting.

Monday, October 3, 2011