I met the future mother of my children as a consequence of…

I met the future mother of my children as a consequence of writing a speech on the Multi Fiber Arrangement for the importation of textiles and apparel. Known familiarly as the MFA or the Arrangement.

My title back then 39 years ago was Special Assistant to Under Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown. Bob, whose position was comparable to the chief operating officer in a private corporation,  was the second most important person in the Department reporting to Secretary of Labor Raymond Marshall.

As with the Under Secretary and the Secretary, I was a political appointee serving at the pleasure of President Jimmy Carter. Yes, my appointment was unanimously confirmed by the senate, but that was no big deal at the time. Unlike the other political appointees with offices within the impressively exclusive suite of the Secretary of Labor, I was not a hot-shot.

My friend Walter Shapiro  needed someone who could help out writing speeches–which I do well–and one thing led to another.  I received a full-time appointment. There was talk I might actually be in line for an important job, but that was talk. When I met the lovely Diana Bass, international economist, I was working in an office environment where petty politics were rife.

Secretary of Labor Marshall was distracted from doing his job by the fact that his son was dying of cancer. The twenty – and thirty-year olds who staffed Secretary Marshall’s Office were well-educated, mean, and not as competent as they imagined themselves to be. Soon, I  was to learn  loyalty to my boss meant my future was in danger–although I did not realize at the time I would be out of a job within two years.

This clip from the Washington Post provides a hint at the nature of the internal politics where I worked and its consequences.



The story of in-fighting at the Labor Department in 1978 is a secondary reason for this reminiscence. My primary objective here is to tell a love story.

I here describe the origins of the strength of my lengthy marriage to Diana which had its downside given the marriage ended 17 years ago. In so telling, I am hopeful of providing  perspective the German-born American developmental psychologist Erik Erickson would have found helpful. For the time being, I will leave dangling Erikson’s relevant Stage Eight of his Theory of Psychological Development: Ego integrity versus despair .


Diana Bass, Olde Towne, Alexandria, VA, at her bridal luncheon (perhaps contemplating marrying me the following day October 18, 1981 at the 18th Century Anchorage House). 
No bride could have been more beautiful.


I cannot introduce romance too early here given I am a policy wonk. Unchecked there is real danger I am likely to go on and on about the applicable details of international economics for a speech delivered 39 years ago. Nevertheless, this 2018 New Year's born reminiscence requires I regard my grandfatherly role--generator of generations--with the respect due to a genesis story. Hence, you will not be spared international trade policy details.
Love is where you find it. In considering this, I wonder about the efficacy of the disguise I was wearing at the time.
Diana and I met behind the mahogany doors of the second floor suite belonging to the Office of the Secretary of Labor. There the carpets were so thick that when I went home I had to scrape off wool tufts that had stuck to my penny loafers.
This photo shows the renaming of the new U.S. Department of Labor headquarters to honor Frances Perkins. Shown here are are Susanna Coggeshall (Daughter of Frances Perkins), Senator Carl Levin, Secretary Ray Marshall (boss of my boss Under Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown) and President Jimmy Carter.

Regarding the speech to be delivered by my boss: Under Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown was as close to  panic as I have ever seen him. Even here though I thought of Bob as safe and steady; steady and slow. I very much admired him. As a consequence of trying to please Bob’s desire for an upbeat speech (when upbeat seemed and indeed was impossible) I met Diana who six years later became the mother of the first of our two daughters.


The exigencies of the speech caused the lovely Diana to emerge from her non-carpeted office on the sixth floor to the exclusive custom-wood paneled corridor at the suite of the Office of the Secretary of Labor. There, my secretary announced then escorted her to my office where she sat at the custom-made tweed sofa.

I had summoned Diana indirectly because when I called Irving Kramer, her boss who was not there, she recognized appropriately that a call from the Under Secretary’s Office required instant response if I thought it necessary and I did. Her overt purpose there on my couch gazing at the original landscapes on loan from the Smithsonian was to teach me enough international economics to satisfy (or at least make a pretense of satisfying) my boss’ desire to deliver an upbeat speech.


The problem was That Bob had been trapped into giving a speech he did not want to give to an audience which did not want to hear what he had to say at a time and place where he would rather be elsewhere–namely, at home with his wife and children.

The speech was to the annual convention of apparel manufacturers at a Friday evening ceremony at a hotel in the heart of the Old Quarter of New Orleans where  only a few years earlier I had spent the most decadent weekend of my life. While the audience may have wished to drown itself for good reason in alcoholic excess and readily available decadence, Bob–tasked to perform this unsavory speech by his immediate boss The Secretary of Labor–had already figured out how to exit New Orleans as quickly as possible.

The problem was, What was he to say?


Bob could not say the truth.

The truth was after decades of refusing to read the handwriting on the wall, manufacturers of apparel had failed to realize making clothing as they had for years would no longer be profitable no matter how hard they lobbied government officials to pretend. Unless the manufacturers took special measures they were unwilling to take to improve efficiency, they and a portion of the domestic textile industry would be put out of business.


For over a week leading up to this 2017/2018 New Year's Eve (despite having promptly taken a flu shot when my physician told me to) I have been slowly recovering from an influenza-induced fever-dream-like state where in my mind's eye I envision my currently 18 month granddaughter Juliet Mae at some future appropriate age asking her Zeyda (that's me) how I met her grandmother (distinctly not a Bubbie). [Of course, a Bowdlerized version would be required.]

[Note: This is still a work in progress.]

How a 10 cent increase in the minimum wage put me on page one of the Centre Daily Times

Note: Sunday, September 9, 2012, State College, PA 5:57 PM, EDT.  My friend Philip Moery is fond of quoting William Faulkner’s observation, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even the past.” This observation became trenchant yesterday when I received a post from Scott W., who, like me, is a member of a lively discussion group on politics. Scott W. sent group members an article for comment entitled, “Why the Minimum Wage Doesn’t Explain Stagnant Wages.”

As it turns out, I have a part-time job at Penn State‘s virtual reality laboratory for the construction industry where I am paid a minimum wage out of funds provided by Experience Works,  a U.S. Department of Labor program for disabled and elderly individuals.

As my sister Sarah Schmerler points out, brevity is not my strong suit. I will delay additional comments on  the subject until you have the opportunity to read the story which appeared on page one–indeed the event taking place on a slow July news day, it was not only an above-the-fold front page story, it was the lead story in the Centre Daily Times published in State College PA. The occasion was the increase in July 2009 to $7.25 cents an hour. Reporter Nick Malawskey asked me how I felt about earning an additional 10 cents an hour. Below is the story as published.

While interviewing me, I told Nick about that marvelous song, “7 1/2 cents” from the musical comedy The Pajama Game. The Pajama Game, which first appeared on Broadway in 1954 and became a Doris-Day-starring movie in 1957–a movie I vividly remember but understandably before Nick’s time. After the article appeared, I emailed Nick the MP3 of “7 1/2 cents” which I had purchased on iTunes, but sadly the Centre Daily Times’ email system limited the bandwidth of emails to reporters. What with one thing and another, Nick never had the opportunity to hear the song.

For your  pleasure, here is Doris Day on YouTube:

The following is the lead story that appeared on Friday, July 24, 2009 of the Centre Daily Times (known locally as “The CDT“). Readers are encouraged to subscribe to the hard-copy version of the CDT not only to learn when, if ever, I receive another 10-cent an hour increase in pay. Also, the CDT has been covering in detail the aftermath of the child molestation scandal at Penn State, the largest employer in the county. This scandal has thus far hit Centre County with greater force than a 9.o earthquake on the  Richter Magnitude Scale.

After the article, see Afternote.


Friday, Jul. 24, 2009


Workers praise 10 cent increase

Nick Malawskey

STATE COLLEGE — While most companies are scaling back on annual raises this year, about 15 million Americans will receive at least a small bump in pay today when the federal minimum wage increases to $7.25 an hour.

In Pennsylvania, the wage increase will amount to only 10 cents an hour for the roughly 200,000 people who earn the standard. That’s because Pennsylvania raised its minimum wage above the federal standard to $7.15 per hour two years ago.

But those living on the margin say every little bit helps.

In Centre County, the region’s largest employer — Penn State — said the increase will affect about 240 of its part-time workers.

They include Joel Solkoff, who works part-time at the university through Experience Works, an employment training program for older or disabled Pennsylvanians.

“I guess there are two sides to it,” said Solkoff, a 61-year-old technical writer. “One is that any increase in income, especially if you make as little as I do, is appreciated.”

Solkoff, who is disabled, uses his monthly earning to supplement his Social Security income while building skills he hopes will land him a permanent job.

“The other aspect of it is that one hopes that the work that you’re doing will be appreciated,” he said. “And the encouragement that comes from getting a little more money in your paycheck is very much appreciated. It serves as an inducement for me to continue doing this, so I can get out in the marketplace and find a job that gets me off Social Security.”

Penn State said the wage hike will increase the university system’s payroll costs by only about $15,000 a year.

Relatively few county workers are affected, with most convenience and retail stores reporting they already pay workers more than the minimum wage. The county’s second largest employer, the State College Area School District, said none of its 1,100-plus workers will be affected.

Still, not everyone welcomes the increase.

“Wage hikes always cause a spike in the unemployment rate, and with the country in the middle of a recession, businesses are already struggling to make ends meet,” said Kristen Lopez Eastlick, a senior research analyst at the Employment Policies Institute in Washington, D.C. “The economy will continue to hemorrhage entry-level jobs unless legislators stop this summer’s minimum wage hike from happening.”

Despite the increases, the federal minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation.

David Passmore, with Penn State’s Workforce Education and Development program, said the gap between average and minimum wage pay of nonsupervisory workers has grown remarkably since the 1970s.

“When you take in the erosion of purchasing power through inflation, the so-called ‘real’ minimum wage has declined by one-third since 1968,” he said in an e-mail.

Passmore said the effects of an increase in the minimum wage are often complex.

“In Pennsylvania, it is estimated that 8.9 percent of the workforce were affected by a minimum wage increase in 2009 amounting to 7.8 percent of wages,” he wrote. “At the same time, the minimum wage increase is estimated to have brought about an 0.37 percent increase in production costs (fuel, capital, labor) and a 0.25 percent decrease in Pennsylvania employment.”

Solkoff has a different perspective.

“Minimum wage is supposed to guarantee that those people on the lowest part of the ladder will be given a wage that is minimally fair — high enough to support life and so on,” he said, adding that in his case, it will help pay the rent, buy a few extra cups of coffee at Webster’s — and, he said, help support the economy.

“That’s going to be economic stimulus money that I will be helping the economy out with,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not saving that 10 cents.”

Nick Malawskey can be reached at 235-3928.


Afternote: During the Carter Administration (where I earned considerably more than minimum wage), I served as Special Assistant to Deputy Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown for whom I wrote several speeches on the minimum wage. Jimmy Carter would never have been elected President without the support of George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO. For those who remember the power of organized labor to affect national policy, George Meany remains sui generis. In writing about the minimum wage, I was loyal to Meany’s insistence on the significance of the minimum wage in preserving a floor for a national standard of living and for defending other legislation such as the Davis-Bacon Act providing a more-livable “prevailing wage” which helped  women and men working on federally funded projects become members of the middle-class as a result of their hard work. [Permission to use Time Magazine’s marvelous cover is requested.]

Even with the best of intentions, Walter Shapiro, whom last I heard was a columnist for USA Today, originally brought me in to the Labor Department to write a minimum wage speech for Secretary Ray Marshall. With the assistance of Tom Connoly, my drumming instructor, who also is helping me organize my files, I plan to locate the speech Walter and I wrote on the minimum wage which resulted in unanticipated consequences. Don’t leave this site; a copy of the speech with a story to go with it will be coming soon.