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Fri Oct 18, 2019, 09:27 PM


Friday Talking Points -- They Just Don't Care Anymore

{Program Note for DemocraticUnderground.com readers:
This is a weekly roundup column of what is going on in the political world. For the duration of the 2020 campaign, I've been instructed to post it under the "Democratic Primaries" category rather than the "General Discussion" category, whenever the primary race is discussed. This discussion may be a large part of the column, or a very small part. Just wanted to clarify this up front, to avoid any objections that most of the post is "off topic."}

We've reached the stage where Donald Trump and his henchmen are no longer even pretending to care about their lawlessness -- they're just doing it right out in the open for everyone to see, daring their fellow travellers in the Republican Senate to care. Right after Trump's White House chief of staff admitted that there was indeed a quid pro quo in Trump's call to the Ukraine, the White House announced that the upcoming G-7 summit would take place at Trump's own Florida resort. Both are, quite obviously, impeachable offenses. Right out there in the open, for all to see.

Add in to this Trump's pusillanimous behavior towards the strongman who runs Turkey, and his shameful betrayal of our Kurdish allies in Syria, and it's been quite a week all around. The House voted to condemn Trump's Kurdish betrayal by a whopping (and veto-proof) 354-60 majority, which included 129 Republican votes. The measure is being blocked in the Senate, for now, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just wrote a scathing article for the Washington Post titled: "Withdrawing From Syria Is A Grave Mistake," so perhaps the measure won't be blocked for much longer. Trump has already lost his own party on this massive blunder, which is easily the biggest foreign policy screwup to date, on his watch. He sent Mike Pence over to attempt some damage control, which resulted in Trump giving the Turks pretty much everything they wanted and asked of them absolutely nothing other than they stop slaughtering the Kurds for five days. This ceasefire has already been breached, less than 24 hours after the shameful deal was struck. Turkey is pushing the United States around, Trump is showing his true weakness, and the rest of the world is watching.

Trump, true to form, is trying to spin the whole thing as some sort of brilliant victory. But nobody's buying it. Here's how the deteriorating military situation has developed, in a few short days:

The blow to America's standing in the Middle East was sudden and unexpectedly swift. Within the space of a few hours, advances by Turkish troops in Syria this week had compelled the U.S. military's Syrian Kurdish allies to switch sides, unraveled years of U.S. Syria policy and recalibrated the balance of power in the Middle East. As Russian and Syrian troops roll into vacated towns and U.S. bases, the winners are counting the spoils. The withdrawal delivered a huge victory to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who won back control of an area roughly amounting to a third of the country almost overnight.

It affirmed Moscow as the arbiter of Syria's fate and the rising power in the Middle East. It sent another signal to Iran that Washington has no appetite for the kind of confrontation that its rhetoric suggests and that Iran's expanded influence in Syria is now likely to go unchallenged. It sent a message to the wider world that the United States is in the process of a disengagement that could resonate beyond the Middle East.

In other words, the big winners are: Assad, Turkey, Russia, and Iran. The big losers are, of course the Syrian Kurds, as well as the diminution of U.S. leadership on the world stage. That's a pretty stunning condemnation of the past week, but it is completely true. Here's how the ceasefire negotiations were reported:

The Turkish government is celebrating, and top officials in Ankara believe Trump let himself get rolled: "The agreement, announced by Vice President Pence after hours of negotiations, appeared to hand Turkey's leader most of what he sought," Kareem Fahim, Karen DeYoung and Seung Min Kim report. "The deal delivered Erdogan concessions he had been unable to win during years of negotiations with the United States and vindicated, in some way, his decision to pursue military action instead.... Afterward, a Turkish official briefed by participants in the talks said the Turkish side was surprised and relieved at how easy the negotiations were. 'We got everything we wanted,' said the official, an adviser to the Foreign Ministry.... The request for a temporary ceasefire seemed to be 'face-saving, for the U.S. side,' the official said. 'It was as easy a negotiation as we've ever had,' the official said."

This is what is leading even Republicans to denounce Trump. Mitt Romney took to the floor of the Senate to do so: "The ceasefire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally, adding insult to dishonor. The administration speaks cavalierly, even flippantly, even as our ally has suffered death and casualty. Their homes have been burned and their families have been torn apart.... The decision to abandon the Kurds violates one of our most sacred duties. It strikes at American honor. What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history."

Here is how Trump is trying to explain the wonderfulness of his decision:

"We have a situation where Turkey is taking land from Syria. Syria's not happy about it. Let them work it out," Trump said during one of several public appearances. "They have a problem at a border. It's not our border. We shouldn't be losing lives over it."

Trump clearly wants to wash his hands of the whole situation. "They know how to fight," he said of the Kurdish fighters who fought side by side with U.S. forces to put down the Islamic State. "And by the way, they're no angels."

Trump added it's "fine" by him that Russian troops are occupying positions held just days ago by Americans. "They've got a lot of sand over there. So, there's a lot of sand that they can play with," the president told reporters. "Let them fight their own wars."

Also revealed this week was the letter Trump sent Erdogan after the disastrous phone call that gave Turkey the green light to invade Syria. It was pure Trump, which is why Erdogan reportedly tossed it into the trash upon receiving it. The letter started with:

Let's work out a good deal! You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy -- and I will.

It ended with:

History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don't happen. Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool! I will call you later.

No wonder Erdogan tossed it in the garbage. Probably right after passing it around his own advisors, so they could all have a good laugh.

Speaking of a good laugh, during the week, Trump gave another press conference next to a hapless European leader, from Italy this time. Trump asserted, much to the Italian's astonishment, that America and Italy had a relationship which goes back "thousands of years." Because we all remember when George Washington had a summit meeting with Julius Caesar, right?

Here's how the rest of this presser was reported:

Trump lashed out, indiscriminately, in all directions. His unfocused rage was as cogent as a primal scream and as subtle as a column of Turkish tanks.

He attacked the media and the Democrats, of course, and James Comey, Andrew McCabe, James Clapper, John Brennan and "the two great lovers," Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. But he also attacked NATO members and the European Union. He attacked Germany, Spain and France. He attacked his guest ("Italy is only paying 1.1 percent" of gross domestic product for defense "instead of the mandated 2 percent" ). He attacked Google and Amazon. He attacked those seeking to rename Columbus Day. He floated a new conspiracy theory saying, "I happen to think" 2016 election corruption "goes right up to President Obama."

Sickeningly, he attacked just-abandoned Kurdish allies as if they deserve the massacre they are now receiving. He portrayed these friends as enemies, saying they're "not angels," that it's "natural for them" to fight and that the Kurdistan Workers' Party is "more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS."

. . .

More revealing was who Trump didn't attack: Turkey and Russia. He said Turkey's invasion "didn't surprise me." He praised Turkey for being "almost paid up" with NATO. He said Russia, Iran and Syria can be trusted to take over the fight against the Islamic State.

Such incoherent rage, combined with confusion distinguishing between friend and foe, is uniquely disconcerting coming from the most powerful man in the world. Trump once worried that "the world is laughing at us." Now the world is staring at us, mouth agape.

As icing on this week's cake, by week's end Trump had lost yet another cabinet member, as Rick Perry decided to head for the exit. Will the last cabinet secretary who leaves the White House please turn off the lights?

Of course, the backdrop to all of this was the impeachment hearings, which are still rolling down the track at full steam. Republicans are crying crocodile tears over the "closed door" nature of the hearings (even calling them "Soviet-style tactics" ), which is pretty laughable. Remember it was only a few months ago that they were complaining about the exact opposite thing -- they were whining about the open hearings Democrats were conducting, because (in their words): "it reduced what should have been a serious hearing to nothing more than a media circus, where everyone is trying to utter the best soundbite." That wasn't that long ago, but they seem to have forgotten it, because now their complaint is precisely the opposite. Just goes to show that nothing will satisfy them in this regard.

As for the hearings themselves, everyone who has testified so far has reinforced the original whistleblower's complaint, often in graphic detail. What's most interesting is that some of the people testifying were told not to by the White House, but went ahead anyway (by claiming they had to follow a legal subpoena). The cracks in the stonewall are already showing, in other words.

The big news, however, was Mick Mulvaney flat-out admitting the quid pro quo in public. Mulvaney tried to split a hair here -- he claimed that the military aid to Ukraine was not conditioned on their investigating Hunter Biden ("The money held up had absolutely nothing to do with Biden" ), but rather on their investigating the phantom server Trump thinks they have with Hillary's emails. Here's the money quote: "Did [Trump] also mention to me, in the past, the corruption related to the D.N.C. server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that's it. And that's why we held up the money." He tried to frame this all as no big deal: "We do that all the time with foreign policy.... I have news for everybody: Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.... That's going to happen. Elections have consequences, and foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration."

This of course took everyone by surprise, since it was a full admission of guilt. Here's what an unnamed Trump advisor had to say about Mulvaney's performance: "He literally said the thing the president and everyone else said did not happen." Another unnamed source was more blunt: "Clearly, they just don't care anymore."

Two Democrats were just as incredulous:

"It looks like the White House is so desperate they are finally resorting to the truth. The problem is the truth is an admission of the crime," Democratic Representative Peter Welch said about Mulvaney's initial comments.

"The fact that he said that openly is either a brazen admission or they just don't know the law," said Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi.

Mulvaney later weakly tried to walk his comments back, insisting that everyone hadn't heard the actual words that he had indeed said. He was resoundingly mocked on Twitter for this pathetic attempt to rewrite reality, naturally.

Oh, and just for good measure, a third and fourth associate/client/minion of Rudy Giuliani were arrested this week -- one of them at another airport. The noose just keeps getting tighter for Rudy, it seems. Maybe that's why we're seeing less of him on television?

Speaking of beclowning yourself in public, Donald Trump Junior got a raft of scorn this week for trying to school Hunter Biden in the ethics of being a child of a powerful politician. Junior showed exactly zero self-awareness in his putdowns, and he was resoundingly mocked on Twitter soon after. Our favorites? "Dude your name is literally your dad's full name," and one non-Twitter comment from former Dubya aide David Frum: "When you see poor Eric and poor Don Jr., you realize there are bivalves with more self-awareness than the Trump children."

OK, this is going way too long (as usual), but we have to end on a sad note, the passing of Representative Elijah Cummings, a moral voice in Congress who will be sorely missed in the days ahead.

Requiescat In Pace.

Democrats held their fourth debate this week, which we commented on extensively right after it ended (if anyone's interested). Our takeaway was that all three of the frontrunners did well, but Elizabeth Warren did the best. We picked Amy Klobuchar as the loser of the debate, but not every in the pundit world agreed with this assessment (to be fair).

But while Warren had a pretty impressive debate, we had to give the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi went to the White House for the first time since the impeachment hearings started, together with all the other congressional leaders, for some stated purpose or another (perhaps it was "infrastructure week" again?). But what happened wasn't a calm discussion between congressional leadership and the president but rather a Trumpian-sized temper tantrum (a Trumper tantrum, maybe?). Trump lashed out at Pelosi, hurling insults like calling her a "third-rate politician."

Pelosi apparently stood up, gave the president a piece of her own mind, and walked out. All the other Democrats left with her. They then addressed the media on the White House lawn, where Pelosi reported to the world that Trump had had another "meltdown."

Soon thereafter, Trump realized he wasn't winning the news cycle, so he fell back on his favorite trick. Call it his go-to "I'm not a puppet, you're the puppet" move. He tweeted out a photo of the meeting to the world, insisting that Pelosi was the one who had the meltdown. Nobody believed him, of course, but the photo went viral -- just not in the way Trump wanted.

The photo is priceless, since it shows Pelosi in a stylish blue dress standing up and shaking her finger at Trump. She later claimed she was probably telling Trump right to his face that: "[with Trump] all roads lead to Putin." Trump looks as petulant as ever, and most of the people on his side of the table seem to be expressing a deep interest in their own fingernails, in sheer embarrassment.

Pelosi immediately put the photo up as the header to her Twitter account. The whole thing backfired spectacularly on Trump, once again proving Pelosi is the champion of getting under Trump's skin, in a way no other Democrat has really been able to.

The best reaction came from Christine Pelosi, who tweeted to Trump about her mother: "Looks like she owned you on #NationalBossDay. Been there. Don't mess with mama!"

So, for meeting with Trump, for walking out of the meeting in disgust, for immediately reporting Trump's temper tantrum to the world, definitely for beating Trump in a news cycle, but most especially for turning Trump's supposed ammo against him, Nancy Pelosi is easily the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

{Congratulate Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on her official contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.}

What the Democrats really didn't need right now was someone prominent out there spreading her own conspiracy theories -- ones that rival the delusions of Trump and Rudy Giuliani.

Hillary Clinton voiced what has become common speculation about Donald Trump in a recent interview, saying: "I don't know what Putin has on him, whether it's both personal and financial. I assume it is. But more than that, there is this bizarre adulation Trump has for dictators and authoritarians. He dreams of being able to order people to do things and make them do it. He has no democratic instincts, really."

That's garden-variety stuff, really. But then Clinton went several steps further, dishing up her own conspiracy theories about Tulsi Gabbard:

[The Russians] are also going to do third-party again. I'm not making any predictions, but I think they've got their eye on someone who's currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She's the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.

Clinton provided no evidence for this claim, although her spokesman later insisted: "This is not some outlandish claim, this is reality."

Just for good measure, Clinton then went after one of her opponents in 2016:

And that's assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she's also a Russian asset. Yeah, she's a Russian asset -- I mean, totally. They know they can't win without a third-party candidate. So I don't know who it's going to be, but I will guarantee you they will have a vigorous third-party challenge in the key states that they most needed.

Tulsi Gabbard later minced no words in calling Clinton out on Twitter: "You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain."

Hillary Clinton obviously needs to stop spreading such inflammatory conspiracies, because by doing so she is just doing Trump's work for him. Does she really think Tulsi Gabbard or Jill Stein are really going to be determining factors in the 2020 race? Does she really believe that either of them is "a Russian asset"? Methinks it's time for her to spend a lot more time taking long walks in the Chappaqua woods again rather than making wild accusations in the midst of a Democratic primary race.

Hillary Clinton is, for quite obvious reasons, the winner of our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week.

{Hillary Clinton is officially a private citizen these days, and it is our policy not to provide contact information for such persons, sorry.}

Volume 547 (10/18/19)

We're going to begin today with a mini parade of generals, because so many of them are now speaking out against Trump's disastrous decision in Syria. But before we begin to these serious denunciations, we first have to toss in a few lighthearted remarks given by Jim Mattis, former four-star general and former Trump administration secretary of Defense. this was at an event where the speeches are supposed to be funny, we should point out, in a roast-like atmosphere.

"I earned my spurs on the battlefield," he said at a charity gala in New York on Thursday night. "Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor."

He also addressed Trump calling him "overrated" after he quit his cabinet job in disgust:

I'm not just an overrated general. I am the greatest, the world's most overrated. I'm honored to be considered that by Donald Trump because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress. So I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals. And, frankly, that sounds pretty good to me.... You do have to admit: Between me and Meryl, at least we've had some victories.

. . .

I think the only person in the military that Mr. Trump doesn't think is overrated is Colonel Sanders.

Mattis, of course, no longer works for Trump, joining a long list (including Michael Flynn and H.R. McMaster) of generals who have been purged from Trump's inner circle.

Comedy aside, though, plenty of other retired four-star generals are also speaking out against Trump. In fact, there were so many voices from the right condemning Trump (for more than one fiasco, we hasten to point out) this week that we are going to turn over the entire talking points section to them. Call them "do it yourself" Democratic talking points, since they can be effectively quoted by any Democrat wishing to show the non-partisan nature of the sweeping condemnation of Trump this week.

Four-star general rips Trump (1)

We begin with Bill McCraven, former commander of U.S. Special Operations, who really lit into Trump this week. The first paragraph below is McCraven's response to a fellow four-star retired general who told him at an event honoring soldiers: "I don't like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!" Both paragraphs are from a New York Times article McCraven wrote this week:

Those words echoed with me throughout the week. We are not the most powerful nation in the world because of our aircraft carriers, our economy, or our seat at the United Nations Security Council. We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys.... But, if we don't care about our values, if we don't care about duty and honor, if we don't help the weak and stand up against oppression and injustice -- what will happen to the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny or left abandoned by their failing states?

If we are not the champions of the good and the right, then who will follow us? And if no one follows us -- where will the world end up? [Donald Trump] seems to believe that these qualities are unimportant or show weakness. He is wrong. If this president doesn't understand their importance, if this president doesn't demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office -- Republican, Democrat or independent -- the sooner, the better. The fate of our Republic depends upon it.

Four-star general rips Trump (2)

Retired Marine four-star general John Allen, who used to command American forces in Afghanistan, chimed in as well, on CNN, expressing his disgust at the "completely foreseeable" crisis in Syria which Trump "greenlighted":

There is blood on Trump's hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies.... This is what happens when Trump follows his instincts and because of his alignment with autocrats. I said there would be blood but could not have imagined this outcome.

Four-star general rips Trump (3)

Retired four-star general Joseph Votel, who commanded America's military operations in Syria was just as blunt, stating that Trump's decision to withdraw "could not come at a worse time." He wrote the following for The Atlantic (with a State Department anti-ISIS expert as co-author):

The decision was made without consulting U.S. allies or senior U.S. military leadership and threatens to affect future partnerships at precisely the time we need them most, given the war-weariness of the American public coupled with ever more sophisticated enemies determined to come after us. It didn't have to be this way.

Watergate on his mind

A Republican in the House has cut ranks to denounce Trump, which is news indeed. Representative Francis Rooney likened it to a former president's woes: "I remember too many people saying, 'Oh, this is a witch hunt against Richard Nixon,' and come to find out it wasn't a witch hunt." Rooney also spoke out about Mick Mulvaney's disastrous press conference, saying he "couldn't believe" he admitted the quid pro quo.

I was shocked that he said that stuff. When the president has said many times there wasn't a quid pro quo... and now Mick Mulvaney goes up and says, "Yeah, it was all part of the whole plan!"

When asked about Mulvaney attempting to walk back his comments, Rooney replied scornfully:

You know, this is a funny business. How in life can you do those kinds of things when you've just said it right there on national TV?

When questioned about facing Trump's possible wrath, Rooney showed more strength of character than any other Republican in Congress to date:

I didn't take this job to keep it.... I took this job to do the right thing at all times. What's he going to do to me? I mean, he can say bad things, but it's just what it is. There's a lot of people around who are seriously concerned about being criticized by the president. Seriously. I just want to call them as I see it. I want to get the facts and do the right thing because I'll be looking at my children a lot longer than I'm looking to anybody in this building.

Remember the rule of law?

Republicans, since roughly forever, have had as a solid plank in their party's platform adherence to the rule of law. Now a group has formed called "Republicans for the Rule of Law," and they're running ads on Fox News attacking a Republican president. One ad used Mike Pence's words from the 2016 campaign to shame both him and Trump: "foreign governments cannot participate in the American political process." The director of the group explained a new ad which will run on Trump's favorite show, Fox And Friends (and which compares Trump unfavorably to Hillary Clinton, for good measure):

While candidate Trump was running for president he promised to drain the swamp and tackle corruption. Instead he is using the U.S. government and taxpayer money to enrich himself and his family. Holding the G-7 at a Trump property is inappropriate and Republicans should condemn the president's continued efforts to use the office of the presidency for his personal enrichment.

Et tu, Brute?

Trump's G-7 decision was too much for two Fox News personalities, who discussed it on air. The first comes from Neil Cavuto:

Just the appearance level alone, the president of the United States rewarding his family-run business and perhaps one of its premier money-makers, the Doral Club Resort, to host this big event. The spillover effect from that, even at cost, is very good for whatever locale you choose.

But it was Judge Andrew Napolitano who really ripped into Trump's decision, in response:

The Constitution does not address "profits," it addresses any "present" -- as in "gift," any "emolument'" -- as in cash, of "any kind whatever" -- I'm quoting here [the] emoluments clause -- from any "king, prince, or foreign state." The purpose of the emoluments clause is to keep the president of the United States of America from profiting off foreign money -- here we go again! Not in the campaign, but in some event or entity that he controls or is running. He has bought himself an enormous headache with the choice of this. This is about as direct and profound a violation of the emoluments clause as one could create.

Chris Wallace twists the knife

But it was dynastic Fox News journalist Chris Wallace who got the snarkiest word in, which we will close with today:

[Donald Trump] often likes to say about me, "You know, I was covered by Mike Wallace, I liked him much more." To which my reaction is always: One of us has a daddy problem, and it's not me.

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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Reply Friday Talking Points -- They Just Don't Care Anymore (Original post)
ChrisWeigant Oct 2019 OP
CaliforniaPeggy Oct 2019 #1
Haggis for Breakfast Oct 2019 #2
ChrisWeigant Oct 2019 #3
Haggis for Breakfast Oct 2019 #4
ChrisWeigant Oct 2019 #5
Haggis for Breakfast Oct 2019 #6

Response to ChrisWeigant (Original post)

Fri Oct 18, 2019, 09:55 PM

1. Bravo, ChrisWeignant!


Beautifully articulated.

Keep 'em coming!

If I were to vote in a presidential
primary today, I would vote for:
Joe Biden

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Response to ChrisWeigant (Original post)

Fri Oct 18, 2019, 11:28 PM

2. FFS, STOP referring to Bill McRaven as a general.


Bill is/was a 4-star ADMIRAL. You know, as in the UNITED STATES NAVY.

Served for 37 years.

He commanded the NAVY SEALS. He was Commander of ALL U. S. Special Operations Forces.

Sorry if this is nit-picky, but this retired Sailor can only take so much.
If I were to vote in a presidential
primary today, I would vote for:
Joe Biden

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Response to Haggis for Breakfast (Reply #2)

Fri Oct 25, 2019, 09:50 PM

3. Mea culpa


OK, I deserved this, it's not nit-picky at all.

I'll go back and change it on my own web site to the correct title, and allow me to offer up a mea culpa both to McRaven and to you and all my readers...

Sorry for the delay in answering...

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Response to ChrisWeigant (Reply #3)

Fri Oct 25, 2019, 10:03 PM

4. Sorry for momentarily losing my mind.


I truly enjoy your column. Really.
If I were to vote in a presidential
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Response to Haggis for Breakfast (Reply #4)

Tue Oct 29, 2019, 08:04 PM

5. No problem!


No, no -- I have always actively encouraged such corrections, because it keeps me honest and I learn new things. You were right, I blew it, and so I corrected it. And I thank you once again for pointing it out!

Thanks for the kind words, though.

The only sign you might be losing your mind, as far as I can tell, is your moniker. I mean, cold pizza for breakfast is one thing (I prefer to call it: "Italian cheese toast"...), but haggis?!? Really?

I mean, wow -- that's pretty hardcore.


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Response to ChrisWeigant (Reply #5)

Tue Oct 29, 2019, 09:14 PM

6. It helps to be half-Scottish.


I was raised on the stuff -- every Sunday for dinner -- so it's always been a favorite.

And breakfast IS the most important meal of the day, might as well start it off with iron in your blood.

Funny your should mention cold pizza. My Dad used to say, "Ah, cold pizza. Not just for breakfast anymore."
If I were to vote in a presidential
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Joe Biden

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