Thursday, December 30, 2010

The right mix for the USA
To Your               

A Cocktail Party
Progress Report 
The Cocktail Party platform committee is working diligently on a national health care position statement. So far, the members have been unable to reach a consensus. What’s new about that, when health care is the topic?

The committee, however, has announced one important bit of progress. It has adopted a slogan for the health plank:

“Of all things that won’t cure a cold, martinis are best.”

Here’s to you—Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Be Happy, Don’t Worry

‘Tis the season when many contemplate wondrous births and the mystery of death and what may happen then. So it seems appropriate to offer up a few thoughts.

Most people I know have no reason to fear death. If there is an afterlife and they are ushered into heaven, they’ll be pleasantly surprised. If there is no afterlife, it won’t matter.

The odds are different for the few who seem to have dedicated their lives to behaving badly. They might do well to worry a bit.

Whatever you believe about your inevitable departure, the geezer hopes you will put aside any concerns about it and enjoy a very Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What Power (?)

Geez, just days after my post urging Congress to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military, Congress actually did that.

Unfortunately, no evidence indicates that any members of Congress read Cocktail Party opinions. One library board member does, though. Does that count?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Open the Closet Door

A Cocktail Party Position

Opponents of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gay servicemen and women are trying to ram through repeal legislation during the dying days of this Congress. The Cocktail Party hopes they succeed.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is bad policy. The American public recognizes that, as poll after poll shows a growing body of opinion that all our citizens deserve equal treatment under the law. Recent polls show most military personnel hold the same view, although some, primarily in the Army and Marines, disagree.

The policy was different, and more unfair, when the Cocktail Party chairman served in the U.S. Army in the late 1950s. At that time, any member, or potential member, of the military could be asked about their sexual orientation. An admission of homosexuality kept the individual from enlisting in the service or resulted in a speedy dishonorable discharge.

The 1950s policy apparently was effective in keeping “queers,” “homos,” or “dykes” (today’s “gays” sounds much more civil) out of the military, or deeply hidden within it. Your party chairman served nearly two years in a huge unit (850 enlisted men) in the Sergeant Major’s office, where just about everything was known about everyone. Not a single man was discharged for gay conduct or admitting to being gay. No one was even suspected of being gay.

A WAC battery right down the street was home to several hundred women. The old soldiers among the men claimed that most of the older enlisted women and many WAC officers were lesbians. Your chairman never saw or heard of any concrete evidence to back up those assertions. Certainly, there was plenty of evidence that a large number of the younger WACs were straight. Pregnancy discharges were fairly common, and intimate boy-girl conduct was commonplace.

No doubt gays have served in our armed forces throughout history, but they had to stay deep within the closet to continue their careers. The prospect of immediate discharge, or worse, must have been a constant nightmare for them. In the 1950s, a gay soldier would have been shunned by his comrades at best, and probably would have been subjected to physical violence in many units. Then, he would have been discharged.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” adopted during the Clinton administration years, made service by gays at least more possible and safer. But, this is 2010, not 1955 or 1995. It’s a good thing that attitudes and policy have changed on the side of justice, but now the policy needs to change once again to match current public attitudes and meet ethical standards.

The Cocktail Party firmly believes it is morally wrong and indefensible for any human being to be forced to lie, or worse, to live a lie, to have the opportunity to begin or continue any career, including military service

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Showing Your (?) Colors

Those with a sharp eye will recognize a Bucky Badger and University of Wisconsin “W” adorning son Lee’s apron pocket as he and fiancĂ©e Karen took a photo op break from preparing this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

With Wisconsin on a football roll toward the Rose Bowl, the UW emblem was only fitting. What didn’t fit is that Lee is a University of Minnesota grad. I gave him the apron a few years back.

It was a retaliation gift. Lee had presented me with two Golden Gopher golf sweaters and a cap. The cap had a big Minnesota rhomboid emblem. I tried, not very successfully, to make the cap work to my advantage.

My golfing partners in Utah had no idea what the block “M” represented, and when they asked I informed them it stood for “Money,” and that’s what I intended to win during that day’s round. The theory was my brazen statement might rattle opponents and negatively affect their games. Of course, once they saw me play a few holes any edge I had acquired evaporated.

When Lee was a Minnesota student, Sandy and I would journey to the Twin Cities for U of M-UW football games. Lee visited Madison with us when the games were played there. He went one up in the family rivalry one year when he lulled me into trusting him to buy the Madison tickets. Our seats were right next to the Minnesota band. The proximity to the loud “Here’s to the U or M” guys had the desired effect of drowning out my feeble “U rah rahs” for Wisconsin.

Karen is a Purdue University grad. She’s not big on football rivalries, and thus takes a more adult approach by wearing an apron devoid of school colors. However, if she decides to pull some sort of sophomoric stunt on the geezer, she may qualify for her very own Bucky Badger apron, or perhaps a nice chef’s hat with a cardinal “W.”

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Economics vs. Common Sense

A Cocktail Party Analysis

One of the least publicized, but most onerous, provisions of the Obama-Republicans compromise on tax legislation is the item that would reduce social security tax withholding by two percent throughout 2011. This sounds like a winner for American workers. It’s a potentially huge loser.

The tax holiday was recommended by economists, according to news reports, as a very effective way to quickly pump money into our struggling economy, thus creating jobs. That could possibly be correct, although it would be easy to find a bevy of economists holding other views. The old adage usually holds true—“If you laid all the economists in the world end-to-end, each would point in a different direction.”

In this case, the Obama economists have only theory in their corner, as economists often do. They have no real proof that this kind of pump priming will create or preserve any jobs. In this case, if those who favor this tax holiday have a sound argument for their position, we have yet to hear it. It would be a quick injection of spending power into the economy, that’s all. It surely would create some profits for businesses. Anything else is conjecture.

What Obama’s advisors and he are ignoring is the bigger picture. They say the $120 billion or so cost of this gift to working people will be repaid to the social security trust fund from “other general revenues.” Truth is, we have no “other general revenues” available to pay much of anything back. Our public treasury is trillions of dollars in the red, and projected to be so for many years into the future.

The social security trust fund at the moment is in the black. It has large reserves invested in special U.S. Treasury bonds. But, the treasury must make good on those bonds not many years from now, when annual social security payments begin to exceed payroll taxes collected to support them. At that point, social security starts going broke, and many years from now would become able to provide only a fraction of today's benefits. That’s just what the guys who negotiated with Obama want. They want to kill social security.

Do you believe that a year from now there will be a rising groundswell of public opinion for the government to take money away from all working people by restoring social security payroll taxes to current levels? Damn right there won’t. It would be political suicide. Once this gift is made, it will be very difficult to take it back.

The fact is that Social Security financing would be much less solid, a welcome development for those who want to destroy the system. They would use that as an excuse to privatize the system; that eventually would kill it. Gambling in the stock market with funds that now go into the social security trust fund offers no safety, and social security was designed to be a safety net.

Common sense says the temporary “gift” to workers should be dropped from the tax settlement. It is bad public policy that would endanger the future of social security, a truly successful insurance program that allows millions of worthy American citizens to live out their lives with a measure of dignity.

The Cocktail Party strongly recommends that this smelly part of the tax compromise be poured down the drain.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Angels Among Us

Wealthy Americans for years have bestowed gifts of higher education on individuals and groups of students whose families’ modest means could not finance college attendance. I know of two such situations from my teen years in Tomahawk, Wisconsin. The work of financial angels in each case got similar results, but the details of how help was given were quite different.

Tom Higgins was a classmate and good friend who probably was the best basketball player in the history of our high school. In one game, against a school with three times the enrollment of ours, Higgins scored 46 points while the entire opposing team had 44. He was twice named to the all-conference team as a center, although he usually played guard or forward, which he could do equally well.

Higgins was slightly above average as a student. He worked hard in school, but academic scholarships would have been beyond his reach. Attendance out-of-state at an excellent university would have been well beyond the financial reach of his family.

A prosperous Notre Dame alumnus made sure Higgins attended his school. The alum, coincidently, lived in Merrill. The Merrill High School team was the one Higgins single-handedly outscored. The alum paid all of Higgins’ school expenses not covered by his athletic scholarship. “All” meant every single thing, including costs of clothing and transportation from school to home during breaks. When Higgins thought he had met the girl of his dreams (as it turned out, she wasn't the one), the sponsor financed a beautiful diamond engagement ring.

The alum’s good work was far from anonymous. Before Higgins left to enroll at Notre Dame, his sponsor threw a party at his Merrill home for anyone the basketball star wanted to invite. I was among the invitees, but I couldn’t attend. Those who did said it was a big, grand, and probably very expensive party.

As a freshman, Higgins was the sixth man on the Notre Dame varsity basketball team playing guard. He was on the squad again during his sophomore year. But then, for reasons unknown to me, he dropped out of the basketball program. His angel, however, didn’t drop out. He continued his financial support until Higgins graduated. Higgins had a successful business career; he became a vice president of a firm operating in the Green Bay area.

Higgins died while a fairly young man, which is why I feel free to write about his personal situation. The other classmate I knew who had an educational angel is very much alive, and I think he might be embarrassed if I identified him. So I’ll call him Sam.

Sam was an above-average student who was serious about hitting the books. Sam’s family was no more prosperous that Higgins’ and Sam had no chance of any financial help with higher education expenses from relatives.

A Tomahawk businessman, who insisted on anonymity, paid most of the expenses, including out-of-state tuition, for Sam to attend a well-regarded university in a Midwestern state. Sam graduated in four years and enjoyed a long and successful career in a technical field.

The businessman had no direct connection to Sam or Sam’s family. He just learned of a deserving young man and stepped in to make sure Sam had an opportunity for advanced education. I know the identity of the angel, because my father was well-acquainted with him. Dad slipped once and told our little family about the educational sponsorship. None of us ever revealed the identity of the angel, and I won’t now.

The two angels from my youth did good things. I’m sure there have been many individuals like them in other places. But when we moved to southwestern Michigan, I learned how educational angels can accomplish incredible things when they decide to combine their efforts.

Their work is called The Kalamazoo Promise.

Five years ago, a group of anonymous donors, assisted by a local educator, launched a program that provides free tuition to any public college or university in Michigan for qualified graduates of Kalamazoo public schools.

To date, the unidentified angels have given $21 million dollars. Individual gifts can cover tuition for a full four years. They can range from a smaller percentage of total costs up to 100 percent, depending on how long the student’s family has resided within the school district. Students must perform satisfactorily to qualify, and if they do, they must maintain 2.0 grade point averages in college to continue in the program.

Results of the promises kept have been little short of amazing. Since 2006, the first school year for Promise students, some 1,900 high school grads have begun receiving advanced educations most would not have been unable to afford. Fifty-six have graduated with bachelor’s degrees.

The majority of tuition money has gone to the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Western Michigan University, but 15 schools are eligible, and Promise students now are attending 14 of them.

The students are graduates of Kalamazoo’s two public high schools and three alternative schools. Unlike many other school districts in Michigan, especially urban districts, enrollment in Kalamazoo schools is increasing. Educators report significant strengthening, year by year, of a college-going culture. Advanced Placement enrollment has increased by 71 percent in the past two years, and the rate is even higher for African-American and Hispanic students.

Observers say the Promise has changed the entire culture in the Kalamazoo public school system virtually overnight. Every student who performs satisfactorily has a chance to go on for higher education. Students are working for, and taking advantage of, the opportunity. Eighty-five percent of eligible white students have used the Promise. Eighty-four percent of eligible African-American students have.

No one claims the Promise is a cure-all for improvement in the public schools, but it brings hope. Children who never could have considered higher education now routinely make it their goal. That seems to be a cornerstone anchoring many other programs for positive change in the schools.

The Kalamazoo Promise structure (for details, go to is adaptable to other districts, and similar programs have begun to spring up around the U.S. Some are supported by tax dollars; some are financed by various combinations of individual and business donations. Some are public-private partnerships. All promise hope.

Great things can happen when angels flock together.