Dress up your barbecue spread with some kebabs.

Dress up your barbecue spread with some kebabs. Credit: iStock

How about a cheat sheet that you can carry around during the summer cookout season to help you strike up conversations with friends about some topics worth worrying about? While people have been contemplating the possibility of New York City being run by mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, whose underwear seems to be engaged in an ongoing quick-draw contest with his cell phone camera, there are far more formidable threats worth your concern:

1) The Taliban is back, baby -- and it's like they never left. How did that happen? Well, we let them right in the front door.

The Obama administration thinks that direct negotiations with the Taliban's Afghan chapter -- those who were supposed to have been liquidated for their role in the 9/11 attacks -- is now the road to peace. The Taliban doesn't even have to denounce al-Qaeda as a precondition to negotiations. And why would they? Al-Qaeda is on "our" side now in Syria, contributing an exotic dash of "huh?" to the fog of war over there. It makes you wonder why we even bothered.

2) At any given time, Europe is either bailing out a member nation or nail-biting over having to do so. This makes America and the rest of the world nervous because, you know, banks. Meanwhile, the European Union has adopted a new child: Croatia! Let's hope that it can fend for itself. Even if it can, Croatia should be subject to some serious skepticism. Because if Greece is any indication, one of the reasons that some European nations are failing is because they can't grasp even the most basic concepts of free-market functioning -- such as not giving away more money than you have coming in, and doing business without greasing every palm in sight.

In adopting Croatia, Europe has now inherited some potential Trojan horses -- like a reported plan for China's state-owned shipping company to make a multibillion-dollar investment in Croatia's main port and to station 20,000 Chinese workers there. This would provide China with its very own European port, much like the one Russian had in Cyprus before the EU bailed out that nation in exchange for some control over the situation. But will such payoffs-for-control actually work?

3) From NSA contractor turned defector Edward Snowden to WikiLeaks intelligence thieves, there's a disturbing propensity to consider such rogues to be heroes by default until a compelling argument can be made otherwise.

In the latest example, an American hacker named Barnaby Jack died just days before he was reportedly set to demonstrate at a hackers' conference how to remotely disable cardiac pacemaker devices. Naturally, there was speculation about whether his groundbreaking work had been "discontinued" by authorities. Because, of course, the government is inherently more evil than someone set to publicly detail for the masses a new and innovative way of murdering people.

4) While American television networks are moving away from news and information programming in favor of the banal, viewers seeking actual news are increasingly turning to options presented by foreign governments. That's what former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meant when she told Congress in 2011 that America is losing the information war. Domestic news organizations are compelled to do their job by questioning power, while foreign-state media broadcasting in the U.S. are free to criticize America at will.

Hopefully these conversation topics will help you make new friends during the summer social season. At the very least, they'll turn the conversation away from Anthony Weiner.

Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and former Fox News host based in Paris. 


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