Saturday, October 19, 2019

R.I.P. | Elijah Cummings, 1951-2019

Your blogger received this tribute to Elijah Cummings from Douglas M. Clemmons, an attorney whose life was changed by his interaction with the late Congressman:
I am sad at the passing of a tireless warrior for the rights and aspirations of all Americans, the Honorable Elijah Cummings. 
In 2010 I met him when I was a volunteer coordinator for the Democratic Party campaign in Maryland. 
The numerous candidates, especially incumbents who had acquired gravitas, made a great impression on me – I was a young person with no previous political experience and few ties to the State of Maryland.  
During the campaign I was given significant responsibility and opportunity to meet political leaders at every level of government. One was  Rep. Cummings’ chief of staff, Mr. Vernon Simms. 
After the 2010 election, which of course went badly for the Democratic Party, I was greatly discouraged. Fortunately, a good friend suggested I push back against my discouragement by looking ahead and volunteering for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Fortunately, that’s what I did. 
One evening at a phone bank in Baltimore, where I now live, Mr. Cummings appeared with several local, state and federal candidates to give the 50 of us a pep talk. The speakers established the local atmosphere, an interesting blend of animus and optimism. Baltimore is a closely knit place where people know their political representatives. 
Then Mr. Cummings spoke. He did not need to campaign, given his immense popularity. He was the last to speak to us. I had not heard him before. 
He told us how he grew up blocks from where we were in South Baltimore, in the heart of the inner city. His parents were sharecroppers. He told us about his infamous high school career adviser, who told him not to bother applying to college, because “You won’t ever amount to anything.” He told us about his years in college, and then in law school, and his rise through the ranks in Congress and the tasks that faced him and the nation. He enjoyed showing why that high school adviser was not doing his job, and that we need to do our jobs even though others fail us.
When he finished, the crowd rose to its feet with applause, and no one sat down again.  Suddenly, strangers became the closest of friends. You could feel the intensity of their hopes of an all-inclusive, well-run government that transcends race and class.  
In the warmth of the moment, there was Mr. Simms again, still the Congressman’s chief of staff. He had remembered my face and my work with the campaign and he asked what I was doing. I told him of my discouragement. He said that because the Democrats lost the House, he couldn’t put me on his staff, but he said he would “throw your name around and let’s see what happens.” 
Then Mr. Cummings himself came by, his suit damp with perspiration, brow furrowed from exhaustion. It was well past 11:00 pm. Mr. Simms introduced me. Mr. Cummings shook my hand and said a few things about the campaign. Then he took my hand and looked me in the eye and said: “We are living in marvelous times, with President Obama. People will read and write about this moment in history for years to come. But what are you going to do?” The entire time he did not release my hand. I was too awed to answer his question, and just smiled and thanked him, as he moved on to attend to the others waiting to talk with him.
That night I thought about what he said. The word “marvelous” struck me as an interesting word, since on the surface it seems frivolous. Being a child of the 1980s, I thought of Billy Crystal, but then I considered that to “marvel” is to look at something with appreciation and respect and then I realized that this moment was indeed worthy of capturing the imagination of any young man uncertain of his future in America. To this day I remember that moment, and its echo of President Kennedy’s inaugural speech (“Ask not…”). The onus of facing the future was placed where it belonged, in my hands. I felt a sense of empowerment that had been missing from my life for a while. I found out later, as I did the rounds, that Mr. Cummings left this feeling with many others who came in contact with him. 
In the next few weeks, as I looked for a paid position by following leads from Mr. Simms, I told people about the campaign and how impressed I was with Mr. Cummings, though I never did work for his Congressional office. It didn’t matter. One person interrupted me mid-sentence and said, “Son, we all work for Mr. Cummings.” I finally landed an internship with another prominent congressman. 
In those days, being in the minority was a contentious time for Democrats and Mr. Cummings took the brunt of many attacks. However, he never failed to give a voice to the needs and hopes of those who did not have his eloquence or power. His voice combined the fervor of a southern Baptist minister with the knowledge gained from his seniority on powerful House committees.
Never, during my time in Washington, did I hear one ill word spoken about Mr. Cummings, from either side of the aisle. And though I eventually left Washington to work in the private sector, my association with his name, his legacy and many of his friends has continued, and will continue, to nurture and guide my path. Knowing that the Honorable Elijah Cummings was on my side, and was for a great moment in time my friend, has sustained me. May he rest in well-earned peace, or keep doing his great work from a new vantage point.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

MOUNT INEZ | 100 Years Later, Lewis Makes Name Change Stick

From the Elizabethtown Post, December 7, 1916.
October 9, 2019–Yesterday evening, the Lewis (Essex County, NY) Town Council voted to rename Mount Discovery. The new name is "Mount Inez".

The mountain is named after Inez Milholland Boissevain (1886-1916), who spent her childhood and summers here and is buried on a hill in the graveyard behind the Lewis church.

This is the fulfillment of a name change made after Inez's  death in 1916, by the then-owner of the property, John E. Milholland, her father. 

The commitment was at that time apparently formalized by the then government of the Town of Lewis. It was announced in the Elizabethtown Post on December 7, 1916, and was featured on the front page of the New York Times a few days later. 

However, the name change was not forwarded to and memorialized by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (USBGN), part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, or the New York State Board on Geographic Names.  

Through diligent work by Nancy Duff Campbell, a century later this error was yesterday rectified as a vote was taken by the Lewis Town Council in favor of the name change. Your blogger sent the following letter to the Lewis Town Council in advance of the meeting, and to the USBGN. That evening, the Lewis Town Board formally approved the name change. The last stop in the process will be at the USBGN.
October 8, 2019 
To the Lewis Town Council, Lewis, NY 
Dear Supervisor Monty and the Lewis Town Council, 
This is to support renaming Mt. Discovery as Mt. Inez. 
I am a huge fan of Inez Milholland. She was married to the brother, Dutchman Eugen Boissevain of my grandmother (Olga Boissevain). My mother met Inez when Inez was first married in 1913 and the couple went to visit Eugen's relatives in Holland. My mother described Inez to me in great detail, how sweet-smelling she was and how she brought with her a gift of a Kewpie Doll (the doll with little wings in the back), which was the rage at the time. 
Inez proposed to Eugen on the Cunard ship Mauretania and they were married in the Kensington Town Hall in London on Bastille Day 1913. The idea was they wanted to go to Holland as a married couple, not just engaged. They were going to keep it a secret from Inez's father, John Milholland. By this time Inez was already a national figure, having led the suffrage parades in New York and Washington, DC. She was also well known in London as a disciple of the Pankhursts (she was proud to call herself a Suffragette, as the Pankhurst followers did, not just a suffragist). 
So the attempt to keep the wedding a secret was futile. It was featured on the front page of all the newspapers and that's where John E. Milholland read about it in the New York Times the next day. He wanted Inez to marry Guglielmo Marconi, the radio guy, who actually proposed to Inez on another Cunard ship when Inez was not yet in college. Inez accepted, but Marconi's Irish mother (a cousin of Eugen's Irish mother) was distressed that Inez would go to the United States and talked her son out of it. Inez later said she loved the radio but didn't want to marry it. 
In an effort to keep the memory of Inez memory alive, I wrote a play about her that was produced as a staged reading in the Lewis church where she is buried (it was also staged in six other locations). I maintain a website about her, I was the secretary and organizer of a national committee to pay for the restoration of the iconic painting of Inez that hangs in the Belmont-Paul building next to the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington ( The Committee was headed by members of the Boissevain (notably Al Boissevain, Eugen's nephew) and Milholland families and included Margaret Gibbs of the Essex County Historical Society. The painting was restored to the highest standards. 
A century ago, the Lewis Town Council reportedly decided to rename the mountain. It's not too late to make good on the promise. The world owns the memory of Inez Milholland, but only Lewis owns her gravesite and the mountain that your predecessors in office promised to rename in her honor. As the logline of a recent movie, "The Silent Soldier and the Portrait," puts it, "If the Universe offers you a second chance, take it."
John Tepper Marlin, Ph.D.                                                             . personal cell: 646-250-4915

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

GUN SAFETY | Chicagoans Ride for the Cause, September 25, 2019

A bus filling up in Chicago for the long ride to Washington.
Photo by Ricky Gandhi.
September 24, 2019 – On August 12, Michael Bloomberg editorialized about the need for public outrage over continued mass shootings.

In his Bloomberg magazine that day, he said: "We cannot let this moment pass."

Riders find their bus. Photo by
Ricky Gandhi.
Tomorrow, two back-to-back events in Washington are focused on new gun safety laws:
  • At about noon, a dozen busloads of people from Chicago are coming to the #EndGunViolence rally on the West Lawn of the Capitol.
The buses are traveling through the night to Washington to be at the  rally.

Chicago activist Father Pfleger kicks off the ride to Washington. Chicago Sun-Times photo. 
One of the leaders of the Chicago participants in the rally is the longtime anti-gun-violence activist, Father Michael Pfleger. His foster son was killed in a gang-related burst of gunfire.

The buses are organized by members and friends of his church – St. Sabina parish in Auburn Gresham, Chicago. Other anti-gun-violence organizations are participating, with social media under the #EndGunViolence hashtag.

Excitement builds, as does the settling in
for the long, 11-hour ride from Chicago
to Washington. Photo by Ricky Gandhi.
After the rally, the buses head back to Chicago, where  most of them have jobs to get back to. 

The 70-year-old Fr. Pfleger said at a news conference in the basement of his church:
Until we have some federal gun laws, we’re going to continue to see this mass murder going on not just around the country but on the streets of Chicago. We want to ban assault weapons, we want universal background checks and we want to title guns like cars. It is time, it is past time, to pressure the capital, the legislators of this country, to get some strong gun legislation that protects our citizens.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

R.I.P. | Ron Blackwell, 1946-2018

Ron Blackwell, 1946-2018
Having recently tried to track down Ron Blackwell in pursuit of information about the apparel industry, I was shocked to find out he had died.

Ron worked in NYC for ACTWU, the men’s equivalent of the ILGWU, but as apparel jobs steadily left New York City, his union merged with the ILGWU and other unions to form UNITE.

Ron became its Chief Economist and went on to Washington as Chief Economist of the AFL-CIO until he retired in 2012. He suffered from several illnesses before his death last year in Sibley Memorial Hospital.

I knew him in the 1970s. He was the first person I hired at the Council on Municipal Performance, where I was President in 1973-1988. He was smart and diligent and displayed  great strength of character, as evidenced by his willingness to do time rather than accept alternatives to military service offered to conscientious objectors who were drafted during the Vietnam War.

Here are four well-deserved eulogies for Ron:

1. Richard Trumka, President, AFL-CIO: Ron Blackwell Left Behind a Strong Legacy on Behalf of Working People Ron Blackwell, the retired chief economist of the AFL-CIO and pioneer in the labor movement, passed away on Sunday night. From his Alabama roots to his role as chief economist at the AFL-CIO, Ron was defined by his unshakable courage and conviction. Whether it was his choice to go to prison rather than go to war in Vietnam or charting new paths for our economy while serving on the board of the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Ron was always true to himself and working people. After teaching economics at the New School for Social Research in New York City, Ron began to leave his mark on the union movement. He joined the staff of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, where he quickly established his complete devotion to the rights of working people. At the AFL-CIO, Ron advised the leadership of the labor movement and fundamentally changed the way we thought about the economy. His legacy will live on through programs he created like Common Sense Economics—a radically different approach to economics that provides training and education for working people by working people—and that remain at the core of the AFL-CIO’s work. In addition to his work in economics, Ron was a recognized leader on issues of trade, globalization and corporate governance. He is survived by his wife of 33 years, Janet, and millions of working people around the world whose lives were improved by his decades of tireless work on our behalf.

2. Metro Washington Council, AFL-CIO Former AFL-CIO Chief Economist Ron Blackwell died Sunday, February 25, in Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., after a series of illnesses. Ron began his service to the AFL-CIO in 1996 as the Director of Corporate Affairs. He was appointed Chief Economist at the Federation in 2004, and retired in 2012. “He was highly respected not only in the AFL-CIO, but among union economists around the world,” said Marge Tracey of the National Capitol Area Union Retiree Club, where he was a member. “We will all miss tremendously his wisdom, generosity, and friendship.” At Ron's request, no public memorial service is planned.

3. So Long, Ron! A Farewell to Ron Blackwell, “Common Sense” Economist for the Labor Movement, Tom Croft, Managing Director, March 14, 2018
“No doubt this attack on democracy reflected the rise of a wealthy minority…which called itself the Oligarchical Party, and denounced democracy as an incompetent sham.”   
This passage, from back in the day, might have been a tongue-in-cheek quote from Mark Twain about the raw, wild west violence of the robber barons of the Gilded Age, or maybe by Thorsten Veblen, the author who wrote The Theory of the Leisure Class and coined the term “conspicuous consumption,” about the rigged greed of the Roaring ‘20s.
Wrong.  It was actually a quote from a book by philosopher Will Durant, who was writing about the counter-attack on the democracy at the time, several hundred years BC, in Athens, during the time of Socrates.  Many Americans, including silver-haired business lions, feel we are returning to the Gilded Age and Roaring ‘20s, when financial and corporate barons ruthlessly worked to destroy their competition and remove the early vestiges of labor unions and business regulation. …

It is with these thoughts in mind that we mourn the recent passing of Ron Blackwell, who, most recently, served as the Chief Economist of the AFL-CIO.  Ron had a deep understanding of how current oligarchies have betrayed the country, and he had a progressive populist view that we—the 99%—need to fight back.  Ron would still be raging about the wars on working people and the resultant demolition derby that has been rolling across our land, hurting people and communities. …

During his years at ACTWU (the former men’s clothing and textile workers’ union), Ron and Bill Patterson established the LongView Funds, through Amalgamated Bank, which, for over 25 years have taken an activist approach to investing with ESG criteria.  At the AFL-CIO, Ron helped design and helm the corporate affairs department, and helped launch the Office of Investment and “Common Sense Economics.”  In that capacity, he was also a founder of the global CWC. I interviewed Ron for our Responsible Investor Handbook. As we said in the book, over the years, global labor leaders and capital stewards increasingly recognized the importance of coordinated activist engagements and investment collaboration. This led to the establishment of global labor networks that coordinate shareholder and political actions and provide mutual support. …

Last, as a country economist, so to speak, from Alabama, Ron related to those of us who were part of the plant closure and unemployment movements in the 1980s and ‘90s.  While at ACTWU, he and his union were a pivotal co-sponsor for the 1989 Industrial Renaissance Conference, along with our friends at the Steelworkers and our national network.  Ron was there, and he spoke at that event, one of the first stabs at presenting a national, sustainable industrial policy from the ground up. If you’ve followed the smart economic policy papers coming out of the Century Foundation “High Wage America” coalition and our ongoing Heartland Cities Tour, you’ll see that original, path-breaking Renaissance Conference outline.

After moving to the AFL-CIO, Ron whole-heartedly supported the break out of the Heartland Labor/Capital Network in the mid-1990s.  He supported alternative economic strategies and campaigns to the hilt.  Ron wanted to understand what worked, and he lent his name to our many-faceted, mutual struggles to take back America. In these times, we face a dangerous new Oligarchical Party.  When we fight back—for our jobs and dignity, for our families and communities—we are following the proud legacy of Ron Blackwell.   He was a warrior for workers, as Bill Patterson told me.  We are eternally grateful for the wit, wisdom and work of Ron Blackwell.“Common-Sense”-Economist-for-the-Labor-Movement

4. Jeff Faux, Economic Policy Institute Raised in Alabama, Ron Blackwell was a steadfast defender of the rights of working people and a life-long enemy of economic injustice in its many forms. He was the rare man of principle who actually had the courage of his convictions. As a young man, he chose to go to prison rather than submit to those who were waging the unjust and terrible war in Vietnam.

Also: C-Span Videos Ron Blackwell has six videos in the C-SPAN Video Library; the first was taped at a 1993 Forum.

PLANE OR TRAIN? | Washington to NYC

Washington, DC to New York City (and back)
Whether measured by time or money, taking Amtrak between Washington, DC and New York City wins over flying. Starting tomorrow, Amtrak offers nonstop trains.

Here's a review that raves about buying an Acela ticket (saves maybe an hour's time) and using 2,000 Amtrak points to upgrade to First Class:

Here's a starting point for arranging a group (school) visit, presumably in a bus:

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

HARRY TRUMAN | Lauren Bacall

At Truman's piano, under framed photo of Bacall.
Photo by L Feinberg.
February 24, 2019–I visited the National Press Club last week.  

The Club still has the piano that President Truman was playing when Lauren Bacall was sitting atop it, on February 10, 1945. 

On a visit to the National Press Club in Washington to entertain members of the armed services, Bacall sat on the top of a piano while Vice President Harry S. Truman played some music.

Lauren Bacall (L) and President Truman,
Feb. 10, 1945. Photo by Charlie Enfield.
The photo series got even more attention when Truman became president later that year, after the death of FDR. 

The idea for the photos came from Bacall’s press agent, Charlie Enfield, who was also the publicity chief at her movie studio, Warner Bros. He prompted her to pose with Truman.

I reenacted the scene with my college contemporary, Larry Feinberg. Instead of sitting on the piano, we let the Bacall-Truman photo do that work and Larry was the photographer. Feinberg was on the staff of the Harvard Crimson and went on to work for the Washington Post for many years before leading research for the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

It was Harry Truman who famously recommended to Washington newcomers: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." Alice and I have a dog, a hero dog, Hachikō (see

Sunday, February 10, 2019

WALES | Nannau and the Nanney Family

February 3, 2019–Philip Nanney Williams has written a truly impressive book about the house of Nannau in Wales, the family home of the Nanneys and Vaughans. 

The family tree that he includes with his book is an extraordinary one, going back to the Imperator (Emperor) of North Wales, Cunedda Wiedig (380-450), who married Gnal verch Coel, who married Old King Cole, the merry old soul.
Powys family arms,
banner of Wales.
Source: Wiki Commons.

Coats of Arms. The coats of arms of prominent members of the family decorate the family tree, from the King of Powys & Gwynedd, to the Prince of Powys, to the Prince of Wales. 

They and the King of Deheubarth use lion rampant, typically Gules on Or. The lion rampant is also shown as Azure on Or and Or on Gules. All of these versions are prominent in Welsh heraldry.

Other devices used on later arms are 
  • Three lions passant, Argent on Gules, for the King of Gwyneddd.
  • Three eagles displayed Or on Vert.
Aerial view of Nannau
Nannau. The title of the book refers to a mansion and estate in the parish of LlanfachrethMeirionnydd. It is named for the family who lived there.
The Nannau family is descended from the princes of Powys through the 13th century prince Ynyr Hen. 

The family has a tradition of being patrons of prominent contemporary poets. The mansion is mentioned in several poems from the 14th century on. 

The poet Llywelyn Goch ap Meurig Hen was a part of the family.  Siôn Dafydd Las (died 1694), of the Nannau bard family, is considered to be one of the last of the traditional Welsh family poets.