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Republican Presidential Candidates Trade Attacks In GOP Debate (VIDEO)

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By KASIE HUNT, Associated Press

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. -- Quick to tangle, Republican presidential rivals Rick Perry and Mitt Romney sparred vigorously over job creation and Social Security Wednesday night in a feisty campaign debate that marked a contentious new turn in the race to pick a 2012 challenger to President Barack Obama.

Far more than in earlier GOP debates this summer, the candidates mixed it up in their first faceoff since Perry entered the race and almost instantly overtook Romney as front-runner in opinion polls. Those two - as well as other contenders on stage - sniped at one another, contradicted allegations and interrupted media questioners to demand opportunities to take each other on.

"Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt," Perry jabbed in the debate's opening moments, referring to one of Romney's Democratic predecessors as governor of Massachusetts.

"As a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessors created jobs at a faster rate than you did," Romney shot back at Perry, the 10-year incumbent Texas governor.

The debate was the first of three in as many weeks, at a time when the economy is struggling, unemployment is seemingly stuck at 9.1 percent and Obama's popularity is sinking in the polls - all events that could make the GOP nomination worth more than it appeared only a few months ago.

Perry and Romney stood next to each other on the debate stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, a setting that invoked the memory of the conservative Republican who swept to two terms as president. And for much of the evening, the two men were at the center of the action, largely reducing their rivals to the roles of spectators looking for a way into the action. Click here to continue reading

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Huntsman Campaign Manager Matt David released the following statement regarding what Governors Romney and Perry wrote about social security in their respective memoirs:

“Despite what Governor Romney's campaign wants you to believe, when it comes to out-of-the-mainstream attacks on social security, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are two peas in a pod. Governor Romney’s shameless pandering last night on social security is just another example of the problems with his 'say anything' approach to political campaigns.

"The American people want a credible leader who is going to offer serious solutions for reforming social security, not unpresidential platitudes about 'ponzi schemes' and 'fraud.'

"Governor Huntsman supports real reforms that will preserve social security for those who rely on it now and reform it for future generations, thus increasing personal responsibility and choices for those who are currently paying into a system that isn’t sustainable long-term."

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Another debate is in the books, and for the candidates who have been locked out, it's another missed opportunity. Fred Karger, who's been adding his commentary tonight from the sidelines, ends tonight with a compliment to the moderators and a hope that he might get to participate in one of these debates, one of these days:

Thanks to MSNBC and Politico for not bringing up the divisive social issues. It was a very spirited debate. Cannot believe that we are still discussing the legitimacy of science.

I was very disturbed that I was completely left out of this particular debate. I just know that with all my experience working for President Reagan, he would have wanted me on that stage tonight. My name is on the plaque in that very Pavilion, so I was at least there in name only.

No one spoke to bringing back that Reagan spirit and optimism to America. That is far better than any 160 page economic plan.

-- Jason Linkins

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Brian Williams becomes the next reporter to almost, but not quite, hold Rick Perry to accounts for the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. Williams asked without naming Willingham, or going at Perry armed with the science that undermined the prosecution's case. (A pity: this came on the heels of the moderators trying to get Perry in a spat with Jon Huntsman about who was "anti-science.")

Williams simply asked in general if Perry had ever struggled with the idea that someone who was killed via capital punishment was innocent. The weak sauce allowed Perry to wriggle off the hook: "No, sir. I've never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which -- when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that's required.

"But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed."

For what it's worth, here's an article from the Houston Chronicle, Oct. 27, 2010:

After 18 years of incarceration and countless protestations of innocence, Anthony Graves finally got a nod of approval from the one person who mattered Wednesday and at last returned home — free from charges that he participated in the butchery of a family in Somerville he did not know and free of the possibility that he would have to answer for them with his life.

The district attorney for Washington and Burleson counties, Bill Parham, gave Graves his release. The prosecutor filed a motion to dismiss charges that had sent Graves to Texas' death row for most of his adult life. Graves returned to his mother's home in Brenham no longer the "cold-blooded killer," so characterized by the prosecutor who first tried him, but as another exonerated inmate who even in the joy of redemption will face the daunting prospect of reassembling the pieces of a shattered life.

"He's an innocent man," Parham said, noting that his office investigated the case for five months. "There is nothing that connects Anthony Graves to this crime. I did what I did because that's the right thing to do."

It's worth worrying about!

Williams plodded ahead with a sentimental follow-up, asking Perry to react to the fact that members of the audience applauded when hearing Perry has executed 234 individuals. Perry replied, "I think Americans understand justice. I think Americans are clearly, in the vast majority of -- of cases, supportive of capital punishment. When you have committed heinous crimes against our citizens -- and it's a state-by-state issue, but in the state of Texas, our citizens have made that decision, and they made it clear, and they don't want you to commit those crimes against our citizens. And if you do, you will face the ultimate justice.

But what if scientists say you sent a man to his death for having committed no crime at all? For everything you need to know about Perry and Willingham, click here.

There's still an opportunity for some reporter somewhere to ask Perry about this case, if they're interested!

-- Jason Linkins

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Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme. It is a retirement insurance program, and an extremely well capitalized one. Dean Baker, an economist with the liberal-leaning Center for Economic Policy and Research, told HuffPost in an email:

Governor Perry once again characterized Social Security as a Ponzi scheme and said that there won't be benefits for 25 and 30 year olds.

With all due respect to the Governor, this is not true. The recommendations of the National Commission on Social Security Reform in 1983 led to the growth of a large surplus in Social Security. This surplus was used to buy bonds and now Social Security holds more than .6 trillion in government bonds. As a result, the Congressional Budget Office’s projections show that the program will maintain full solvency through the year 2038.

Even if Congress never makes any changes to the program, Social Security will be able to pay slightly more than 80 percent of scheduled benefits from then on. This means, for example, that if your children -- both in their mid twenties -- were to retire at age 67 and do as well as you have in their working careers, they would receive ,145 and ,410 (in 2011 dollars) each, every year, for the rest of their lives. It is clearly inaccurate to say that this program will not exist for young people.

Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America's Future, meanwhile, points out the political peril that Perry's Social Security opposition puts him in, and hopes to turn it against all of the candidates.

Gov. Perry’s remarks about Social Security show that as President, he would destroy the only retirement system that millions of Americans now depend upon -- and will in the future. But failure of the rest of the candidates to object to his remarks -- and their enthusiasm about cutting and dismantling the program -- mean that Social Security will be demolished if any of these Republican candidates were to win the presidency.

All the polls show the vast majority of Americans want to see Social Security strengthened -- not torn, dismantled or cut. So this lemming-like agreement among the candidates is enough to defeat Republicans in 2012 -- unless President Obama embraces the idea of cutting Social Security benefits.

-- Ryan Grim

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Social issues were noticeably absent from tonight's debate, with no questions about abortion or same-sex marriage.

-- Amanda Terkel

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@ howardfineman : "Perry just lost the election," said Romney's top advisor. "He said he'd abolish Social Security! You can't win federal office saying that."

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And the night's final tweet from @HuffPostHill: The debate is over. Readers: Thanks for following. Journos: We do not care about your "debate quick take." Good night.

-- Ryan Grim

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Jon Huntsman was called out for his comment that the GOP is at risk of becoming the "anti-science party." He declined to name exactly which of his opponents were making anti-science comments, but he did lament individuals who are questioning evolution and climate change:

When you make comments that fly in the face of what 98 out of 100 climate scientists have said, when you call to question evolution, all I'm saying is that in order for the Republican Party to win, we can't run from science. We can't run from mainstream conservative philosophy.

Rick Perry is someone who has questioned the scientific consensus on both climate change and evolution.

"I do believe the science is not settled on this," he reiterated when asked about climate change tonight. He compared climate skeptics to Galileo, saying, "Galileo was outnumbered for a spell" -- even though in that case, Galileo was the scientist facing skeptics.

-- Amanda Terkel

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If Michele Bachmann is still in the race by the time it gets to the early state of Florida, she'll need to explain her doubling down this evening on the idea of drilling for oil in the Everglades. Floridians are strongly resistant to any drilling that might impact beaches or the tourism industry, and will likely continue to be, despite Bachmann's promise that she would do the drilling responsibly -- while also presumably lessening regulation.

-- Ryan Grim

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Everyone on Twitter is saying no. Here's Slate's Emily Yoffe, from a 2001 "Explainer":

Let's say the president really, really hates the Fed chairman. Can he fire him?

The president does have the power to remove a member of the Board of Governors, but only for cause. Cause in this case would mean something like the chairman got the keys to the vault and was found stuffing his pockets with bullion.

So, basically, no. Bernanke's current term ends in 2014. Depending on whether one of these contenders gets elected, it could make for an awkward two years.

-- Jason Linkins

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After a kind remark from Perry about President Obama taking down Osama bin Laden, the rest of the field righted itself by hitting at Obama for Libya, where American-backed rebels recently deposed a madman dictator.

Rick Santorum, saying he objects to the growing "isolationist mindset" in the party, seemed to be supportive of Obama's decision to back the Libyan rebels, just not the way he did it:

"We could have been a source for good from the very get go in Libya," Santorum said, "and this president was very indecisive and confused in Libya. He only went along for the mission in Libya because the United Nations told him to. Ronald Reagan would have melted like the wicked witch of the west before he allowed that to happen."

Michele Bachmann, for her part, didn't even concede that much. "It was wrong to go into Libya," she said.

-- Joshua Hersh

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Rick Perry just bought the farm on climate change. He came off as dangerously in over his head. He said that despite the fact that most credible scientists think that human activity has something to do with climate change, he was not convinced.

"Galileo was outnumbered for a spell!" he declared. He got the analogy exactly wrong. Galileo was the scientist; the church and its allies, who knew nothing about the scientific method, were lined up against him. He never answered the question about which scientists he had consulted. He suddenly looked like the guy Karl Rove says he is, "a guy who only cares about soundbites."

-- Howard Fineman

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In a rare moment of praise for the president, Gov. Rick Perry took a moment on Wednesday night to congratulate Obama for finishing the job in catching and killing Osama bin Laden.

"He maintained the chase and we took out a very bad man in bin Laden," he said. "I tip my hat to him. I give more props to those Navy Seals."

The comment stood out if only for the fact that it didn't involve categorizing the president as an abject failure. And, in fact, not every Republican presidential candidate has been willing to tip their hat Obama's way. In a speech from last week to VFW, Mitt Romney notably left out the president's name from his list of those he credited for the mission.

"To win this fight for America's future, we will have to rise above politics," he said. "When members of Seal Team Six boarded their helicopters, they did so not as Republicans or Democrats or independents, they did so as Americans. And the final image that Osama bin Laden took with him straight to hell was not a party symbol -- not a Republican elephant or a Democratic donkey -- but an American flag on the shoulder of one straight-shooting U.S. Navy Seal."

-- Sam Stein

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Candidates just spent 10 minutes talking about immigration, an issue they have been doing their best to avoid for the past several months. Although many attempted to focus merely on border security, presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman took a different tack, almost praising former President Ronald Reagan for his executive amnesty in 1987.

"President Reagan when he made his decision back in 1987 said this is a human issue, and I hope that all of us as we deal with this immigration issue will always see it as an issue that revolves around real human beings," he said.

He said he believes undocumented immigrants should be "punished in some fashion," but believes legal immigration must be reformed to prevent people from coming into the country without documents.

"Let's not lose sight of the fact that our legal immigration system is broken," Huntsman said. "If we want to do something about attracting brain power to this country ... we need to focus as much on legal immigration as possible."

Others, though, stuck closer to script, speaking in vague terms about the need to secure the border rather than going into more depth about how to deal with undocumented immigration.

Pressed twice on how she would deal with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States, Bachmann declined to answer, instead focusing on the need to secure the border first.

Perry, arguably the least hawkish on immigration enforcement, said he wants to see more boots on the ground at the border, which already has its highest troop levels on record. Like most other candidates, he said the border must be secured before any other steps can be taken on immigration.

"You can secure the border and then at that particular point in time you can have an intellectually appropriate discussion about immigration reform," he said. "It is not safe on that border," he added.

-- Elise Foley

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Jon Huntsman goes big on Afghanistan, saying it's time to call off the mission there and "bring our troops home."

"I think ten years later we look at the situation and we say, 'We have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, this is not about nation building. This is about nation building at home. Our core is broken at home ... We've got bring our troops home."

He also threw out a bit of the COIN jargon -- showing some commander-in-chief chomps perhaps?

"On Afghanistan, we've got an asymmetrical counterterror effort. We need intelligence, we need special forces, and we need some training on the ground. But ... it's time for the country to set a goal for ourselves: we're going to get our core fixed."

-- Joshua Hersh

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The Perry campaign sent out a press release during the debate addressing the question of how many jobs were created in Texas under the governor, comparing Perry's record favorably to that of his predecessor, George W. Bush:

-- Amanda Terkel

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At the last debate, every single candidate on the stage raised their hand to say they would not support a debt deal that included in spending cuts for every in tax increases. Rick Perry did not participate in that debate since he was not yet a candidate, and tonight, he said he also would have rejected that deal.

"What we should have been looking at is a way to get the spending under control -- cutting it, and getting a balanced budget amendment," he said.

-- Amanda Terkel

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Brian Williams asked Mitt Romney if he's a member of the Tea Party.

Romney: "I don't believe you carry cards, in the Tea Party."

So, no.

Romney added, "If the Tea Party is for creating jobs and keeping government small and keeping taxes down, then I'm for the Tea Party."

But what if they're just not that into Mitt Romney?

-- Jason Linkins

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Rep. Ron Paul floated an impossible thought in an American presidential debate: That people may one day want to leave the country. All of the slobbering over big fences with hi-tech security, said Paul, misunderstands the damaging effect those barriers can have on the American people themselves.

"It's a penalty against the American people, too," said Paul, arguing that control of the flow of labor can be extended to the flow of capital, and that Americans might be stuck here in times of economic turmoil. "Think about those fences keeping us in," Paul advised. Besides, he said, the reason for the violence south of the border has more to do with the drug war than anything else.

Ron Paul's son, meanwhile, once proposed an electric border fence.

-- Ryan Grim

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Does harsh, accusatory language work? With Rick Perry as a candidate, we will find out. When President Obama went to El Paso and declared the border safe and secure, Perry said that either the president had the worst intel ever, or he was an "abject liar to the American people." In the recent past, he has said that Ben Bernanke would be treated "ugly" in Texas if he expanded the money supply and that doing so would amount to "treason."

Newt Gingrich can use that kind of lingo and no one cares: no one thinks he's got a chance to be president. But Perry is a different case. If he is going to make the case -- and not just to the Tea Party, but to mainstream independent voters -- it's not clear that such language will work. On the other hand, the new NBC poll shows that 82 percent of voters despise Congress, and 54 percent want to boot out EVERY member. The political air in America is toxic; Perry may have the tone right.

-- Howard Fineman

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There was always annoyance among campaign operatives who worked for Obama during the 2008 race over the treatment that the then senator received on what should have been politically trivial matters. In particular, the fact that Obama never wore an American flag lapel pin became almost comical fodder for his opponents to question his patriotism. When the same issue came up during the course of a primary debate, Obama's aides were practically flabbergasted.

And so, it was somewhat telling but most humorous tonight when former Obama hand Bill Burton tweeted the following: "I oppose people who question Mitt Romney's patriotism just because he isn't wearing a flag lapel pin."

-- Sam Stein

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So, Thad McCotter has made his choice, and it's not to watch the debate, opting instead for the DIY Network:

Hmm... Gonna watch "This New House" on diy network. The construction crew works hard & knows how 2 build a foundation 4 the hearth of home.less than a minute ago via UberSocial for BlackBerry Favorite Retweet Reply

Meanwhile, Fred Karger's still tuned in, and he says that the field has got the immigration issue precisely backwards: "Yes, secure our borders, but we need a path to citizenship for the illegal immigrants here now."

-- Jason Linkins

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Perry calls for 3,000 national guardsmen to protect the border with Mexico -- that's the same number of troops as Obama plans to leave in all of Iraq next year. We'll see what he has to say about the sufficiency of those boots on the ground when Iraq comes up.

-- Joshua Hersh

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has taken some heat lately for saying that disaster aid needs to be offset by spending cuts.

"I believe that there's enough money to go around, and I believe that yes, you can find the concurrent spending cuts in order to be able to do that," said Herman Cain when asked about Cantor's statement. He added that he does not want to eliminate FEMA, but he does want to fix the agency, along with the Department of Homeland Security.

-- Amanda Terkel

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The arc continues downward for Perry. His answer on the state's education budget was weak and defensive. He began his tenure as governor by trying to follow George W. Bush as the "education governor." He then abandoned that theme as he searched for other themes. Just now he did not dispute the dismal numbers on spending, and was hesitant in his answer.

-- Howard Fineman

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Herman Cain tonight touted the Chilean pension system. It's possible that he's not aware that the system has been reformed.

Some essential background on how Chile's presidential candidates debated the issue can be found here, in this 2006 article by The New York Times' Larry Rohter.

The Chilean system of personalized accounts managed by private funds has inspired a score of other countries since the pioneer effort to create it here 25 years ago. It is endorsed by President Bush, who has called it "a great example" from which the United States can "take some lessons." Here at home, though, dissatisfaction with the system has emerged as one of the hot-button issues in the election, a runoff that will take place on Sunday.

[...]

At the moment, the government pays about 5 percent of gross domestic product, or more than it spends for either health or education, on pensions for the poor, payments into a separate military retirement plan and so-called transition and administrative costs. Supporters of the privatized system argue that the state's burden will diminish as older retirees enrolled in the pay-as-you-go system that prevailed here before 1981 gradually die off.

But skeptics point to another developing problem: many young people, who should be enrolling in the system early to accrue maximum benefit, are staying out or paying in very little. Some cannot afford to contribute beyond the obligatory minimum payment, which is 10 percent of wages, while others are either self-employed or have been hired by companies as low-paid independent contract workers and therefore do not have to contribute at all.

"The bottom line is that this system does not work with this labor market," said Andras Uthoff, an economist who is director of the social development division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America here. If trends continue, he added, "only a small percentage of people are going to be able to finance meaningful pensions. What happens then to the rest?"

Michelle Bachelet won the presidency and was re-elected to a second term. During her tenure, she has instituted reforms that expand social benefits to the poorer, underserved populace. She's also a socialist.

-- Jason Linkins

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Rick Perry has taken some heat for his executive order mandating young girls to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted disease and the principal cause of cervical cancer.

He has since walked back that order, saying that instead of an executive order, he should have created a program that allowed young girls to opt-in.

Ron Paul, a medical doctor, said forcing girls to take the vaccine was "not good medicine." "It's not good social policy," he said.

Michele Bachmann said it was up to parents to make that decision and that governments shouldn't do it.

Mitt Romney also said he believes in parental rights and responsibilities, and while he disagreed with the way Perry went about mandating the vaccine -- through executive order, rather than through legislation -- he believed the governor's heart was in the right place.

-- Amanda Terkel

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Not only did Rick Perry go after Ron Paul in the debate, his campaign is following up the attack on the Texas congressman on their Twitter feed. Pretty amazing that they're going after Paul to this extent.

-- Jon Ward

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With the moderators and his rivals ganging up on him, Perry just undid in the second half hour all the good he did for himself in the first. You just DON'T sweepingly dismiss Social Security as a failed program.

"He's got to correct that immediately but so far he hasn't," said GOP pollster Matthew Dowd. Romney gave a better, more nuanced answer. "Maybe it's time to have some provocative language" about Social Security, Perry said. And now Romney is being gracious to Perry. That is ONE way to get under his skin! "I kind of feel like the pinata" Perry complained. If you go on the attack, you have to expect that.

-- Howard Fineman

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Rick Perry declined the opportunity to back down from his book's claim that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, going so far as to criticize his former adviser and current agitator Karl Rove for calling his language provocative.

"Karl has been over the top for a long time in some of his remarks. So I am not responsible for Karl anymore," he said.

Earlier, Perry had re-affirmed his belief that Social Security was based on a "monstrous lie" and that absent reforms -- like giving control of the program to the states -- it would not be there for future generations.

"The fact is, we have to be focused on how we are going to change this program," the Texas governor said. "Men and women receiving those benefits today ... don't need to worry about anything. The Republican candidates are talking about ways to transition this program and it is a monstrous lie. It is a Ponzi scheme..."

The debate moderators, sensing a chance to facilitate some haymakers, asked Mitt Romney for his take on the response.

"You can't say that to tens of millions of Americans who have lived on Social Security," the former Massachusetts governor said. "Our nominee has to be someone who isn't committed to abolishing Social Security but is committed to saving Social Security."

"Under no circumstances will I ever say ... it is a failure," he added. "It is working for millions of Americans and I will keep it working for millions of Americans."

Perry seemed to struggle a bit with, what should be, a well-rehearsed topic (it has been the focal point for coverage of his campaign in its early onset). He reminded his opponents that "we are not trying to pick fights here, we are about fixing things" before falling back on his initial talking points.

"You cannot keep the status quo in place and call it anything other than a Ponzi scheme," he said, adding: "Maybe it is time to have some provocative language in this country."

-- Sam Stein

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