Benghazi, briefly

The word “Benghazi” has been quite sticky in the news of late, coming and going for all of 2013 depending on what other stories are competing for the front page on any given day, so perhaps it’s time for a quick briefing on what people are talking about.

Benghazi is a city in Libya and, in 2011, a revolution stemming from violent protests aimed at displeasure of Muammar Gaddafi’s governments led to a civil war.  The uprising faction (National Transitional Council, or NTC) took over, set up a democratic election, and eventually passed on the authority to the newly elected leaders in 2012.  Americans are hearing “Benghazi” in the news, however, because of attacks on the U.S. Consulate and a CIA facility by Libyan militants that occurred on September 11, 2012, killing four Americans including Chris Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya.

It’s a story that won’t go away not because of what happened but what happened afterward.  In typical American politics fashion, partisan accusations ruled the headlines with Republicans accusing President Obama, Hilary Clinton, and others in charge of dropping the ball on the whole situation and then misreporting the events leading up to and after the attacks, including blaming the attacks on a mild protest that escalated when it now appears that the attacks were pre-meditated and planned.  President Obama also suggested at one point that the attack may have been retaliation for a video that mocked Islam.  The problem is the video was put together by a Christian church and has no affiliation with U.S. government.

Meanwhile, Democrats keep accusing Republicans of trying to find a smoking gun where none exists and stirring the pot unnecessarily, especially during election time late in 2012.  Much more is being made of trying to point fingers rather than figure out solutions.  In this media age, controversy trumps progress, so Benghazi will continue to be a headline for months to come, as lawyers and investigators focus on the fallout rather than future prevention.

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Read on: - Clearing the Record About Benghazi - 4 hours of fire and chaos: How the Benghazi attack unfolded – Chronology: The Benghazi Attack And The Fallout




Ceasefire with Hamas and Israel… yet again

Almost four years ago, Dinner Topics explained the situation near the Gaza Strip, and little has changed in terms of attaining a long-term peaceful accord.  This time around, a ceasefire has been reached yet again, but before you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family, you might need to know WHY tempers have flared again.

Basically, Israel considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization and since Hamas has overtaken Gaza in 2007, the two sides have been at war with innocent Palestinians caught in the middle.  In mid-November, Israel launched a major airstrike toward Gaza, defending the move as a reaction to rockets launched by Hamas from Gaza.  Basically, more of the same.  For what it’s worth, President Obama sides with Israel, also citing Hamas as a terrorist group and declaring Hamas as the aggressor.

Read on: – Israel and Hamas: How the conflict reignited – Hamas and Israel agree to ceasefire: sources

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What is Gangnam Style?

What’s up with all this talk of “Gangnam Style”?  “Gangnam Style” is a song from a Korean rapper named Psy.  It’s a catchy (some say annoying) tune that has already spawned plenty of remakes and parodies thanks to its sudden ubiquity, even in American markets.  Think of a tune like Call Me Maybe but with Korean pop (known as K-pop) influences in a foreign language with obvious tongue-in-cheek humor, and you’ve got “Gangnam Style”.  The video is below.

Read on: – Move Over ‘Call Me Maybe’ — It’s ‘Gangnam Style’ Time

Wikipedia – Gangnam Style

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Add Robson and tennis to your weekend

"Lefty Laura Robson"There’s a blue moon out tonight, but Dinner Topics already explained that years ago.  The Republican National Convention came to an end, but political conventions are nothing more than self-congratulatory pats on the back.  Yawn.  Need a real topic for this weekend?  Try tennis.  Yes, tennis.  While everyone marvels at baseball players succeeding at 19 and 20 and fans get amped up when a 22-year-old rookie quarterback beats expectations in the NFL, don’t forget to notice the teenagers excelling in the world of tennis.  Right now, at the U.S. Open, 18-year-old Laura Robson defeated two Grand Slam Champions in Li Na and Kim Clijsters this past week and will face defending champ Samantha Stosur next.

This is the farthest Robson has advanced in a Grand Slam event, but Robson (ranked 89th) is far from unknown in the tennis world, winning a Wimbledon Junior Girls’ Championship when she was 14 and just last month she won a silver medal in the Olympics with mixed doubles partner Andy Murray.

In other words, like Mike Trout, Cam Newton, and other young athletes, Robson has graduated to the “majors” and is succeeding, so give her a little credit.  Or, just watch some college football this weekend., Vacations with more room.

Read on: – Laura Robson pulls off another upset

Yahoo! Sports – Giant-killer Robson knocks out China’s Li Na at U.S. Open

Wikipedia – Laura Robson


Olympic athlete culture

"2012 Olympic Medals"By now, you probably have a dozen ways you are getting your information on the Olympics from NBC’s prime time lineup to Twitter to live streaming on the internet, so Dinner Topics isn’t going to waste your time telling you about that weird thing Michael Phelps does before he swims or about the special towel the U.S. gymnast uses, because you are well aware of the athletes’ minutiae.  Instead, here’s an interesting hard-to-believe story about China’s culture for its Olympic athletes that is worth a retelling:

Yahoo! Sports reported that a Chinese diver wasn’t told of her grandparents’ deaths until after she won her third gold medal.  I know what you’re thinking: well, the grandparents died over the weekend, the family didn’t want to distract her after years of practice, etc.  Not quite.  You see, the girl’s grandparents died several YEARS ago!!  Years!!  On top of that, the diver’s own mother battled breast cancer unbeknownst to the Olympian.

Use this story the next time you sit down to watch the Olympics with your family and a young one says he or she wants to be an Olympian – “ok, but you can’t come to my funeral!”

Read on: – Family kept grandparents’ deaths secret from Chinese diver until she won gold medal



Weekend Preview – health care and movies with shirtless guys

"Ted movie"The big news in America is the stunning victory for Obama in his push for a health care overhaul, with the Supreme Court voting 5-4 in favor of the law, with the big surprise being conservative Justice Roberts voting for the law that borders on being unconstitutional thanks to a tax technicality.  Specifically,

“The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”1

Using that logic, Nike CEO Philip Knight can explain how a frequent change of shoes leads to less visits to the podiatrist and therefore saves on healthcare, so there should be a law forcing people to buy shoes.  Because that would be unconstitutional, perhaps the government will enact the law anyway and our Supreme Court will allow it, citing it simply as a tax on those refusing to continually reinvest in what the government believes is appropriate footwear.

In less controversial topics for the weekend, Michael Sokolski, the founder of Scan-Tron – those “fill in the blank with a Number 2 pencil” tests you took in high school – died recently.

At theaters, the teddy bear movie Ted debuts today starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, but do NOT take kids to see this stuffed animal.  Think “Family Guy” dialed up to an R-Rating, and that’s Ted.  Early reviews are fairly positive.  Receiving even better reviews is the male stripper movie Magic Mike starring Matthew McConaughey, Channing Tatum, and others.  The movie is loosely based on an early part of Tatum’s life, and rumor has it that McConaughey goes out on a limb and delivers a scene or two with a shirt ON.

Read on: – Ted – Magic Mike

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Importance of Wisconsin recall vote

Yesterday, Wisconsin voters voiced their opinion and elected to KEEP current governor Scott Walker in office after a recall vote, defeating the current Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett 53% – 46%.  The subject matter, results and repercussions have local and national impact, so it’s time for a little background into this situation and why it’s so important to Americans.

Starting with the recall, Scott Walker “signed a bill in March 2011 passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that took collective bargaining rights away from public employee unions in a effort to close the state’s budget gap.”1 The intent was to cut government spending and give rights back to the individual rather than unions, so naturally unions took offense and suddenly an all-out fight between Democrats and Republicans erupted.  Enough opposition was met that union groups were able to force a recall vote at the gubernatorial level.2

Walker still held on and won yesterday, leading to more dinner topics, namely campaign spending.  Despite being the victor twice, Walker’s detractors are blaming a noticeable imbalance in campaign funds – a very real problem for candidates on each side of the political scale, depending on the race.  According to, Walker collected over $30 million in contributions to the campaign while Barrett was only able to garner $4 million.3 It should be noted that Barrett’s $4 million does not include the millions raised by unions to upstart the recall process in the first place, but either way, it seems common knowledge that Walker was able to raise a substantial amount of money.

The other major fallout from the election is the national implications, namely the upcoming presidential election.  Wisconsin has historically voted for a Democratic president (including the past 5 elections), and some think that the failed recall and Obama’s failure to visit Wisconsin will sway the state to the Republican side.  It’s way too early to predict, but Democrats need not worry just yet because despite the majority voting for a Republican governor in Wisconsin, exit polls revealed that voters still favored Obama over Romney.4

Yet another national implication of Wisconsin: with Walker trying to cut government costs by eliminating forced unions, pensions, etc., he is one of many pointing out the purported unsound business model of paying workers until death without monetary contribution from the employee, but the correct solution is a major sticking point between political parties.  It’s an obvious recipe for increased debt, and one which will only grow as the population lives longer.  While most young employees understand the need for a 401k and the separation from dependence on government support, the biggest difficulty is managing costs while maintaining the original promises (lifelong pension, etc.) made to existing and retired workers.  Even reducing pensions comes at a cost that some argue is even greater than current costs, so there is no definitive right answer.

Is the best policy to restructure pensions?  Eliminate them?  Force employees to contribute to retirement?  That’s for you to argue with your family and friends, but San Diego and San Jose have taken matters into their own hands already, voting yesterday to restructure existing pensions while forcing some of the younger workforce to invest in a 401k plan.

These are monumental decisions that need to be made in the near future for maintaining the fiscal existence of local, state, and national governments.  Dinner Topics doesn’t have all the answers, but hopefully we’ve given you enough things to question and keep you busy for days on end discussing something much more important than LeBron James or Miley Cyrus.

Editor’s note: Just imagine if external campaign funding was stopped entirely, and every Super PAC, instead of donating its money to campaigns, gave all of its funds directly to the causes being fought for by the candidates.  We would eliminate the middle man, monetary efficiency would increase, much more could be accomplished, and (gasp!) perhaps even politicians could once again learn to work together on an issue rather than waste time raising money to be declared the victor of something.  It’s not a “win”; it’s a public service, or at least that’s how it used to be defined.  Maybe it’s “pie in the sky” thinking, but if we all put our money directly toward something rather than someONE, there’s a much better chance at success.

Read on: – Unions lament local pension votes, turn focus to Sacramento


Misspelling America? A 6-year-old does much better.

Combining two stories in the news, Mitt Romney’s campaign issued an iPhone app in which users can paste photos of themselves with specific backgrounds and slogans supporting Mitt Romney and then send the finished product to friends, post to social media outlets, etc.  The problem?  The word “America” is spelled wrong on the app – in big letters spelling out “A M E R C I A.”  Oops.  Mistakes happen, but you’d think that one wouldn’t have made it past various editors and developers.

While Romney’s campaign team is looking into the use of spellcheck, a 6-year-old girl from Virginia is proving that she doesn’t need it.  The girl, Lori Anne Madison, became the youngest person ever to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, doing so by winning her regional in Prince William County.

Feel free to make a joke or two about Romney’s plans for a new “Amercia,” but throw some positive vibes in too by mentioning Lori Anne’s story, because it’s important to note that not every child in Amercia (sorry, couldn’t resist) isn’t sitting around watching Nick Jr. and drinking Capri Sun.

Read on: – Romney iPhone app misspells ‘America’ to Web’s delight – Girl, 6, misses second word at National Spelling Bee