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  • Greece's Radical Anti-Austerity Movement Just Won Power: Here's What Happens Now

    Sword fightAfter a landslide win that beat analyst expectations, Greece's radical left-wing party Syriza will be looking for coalition partners to form a government this morning.

    They've got 149 of 300 seats already, beating the centre-right New Democracy by eight percentage points, more than was suggested by polls last week. 

    Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras already has a meeting with the Independent Greeks party Monday morning, according to consultancy Macropolis. The right-wing but anti-austerity party might make for an odd coalition partner, but got 4.7% of the vote and 13 seats. 

    Here's what Citi think about the coalition possibilities: 

    A moderate coalition partner (such as Potami or PASOK) would make it easier for a new Syriza-led government to find a compromise with the troika, while a coalition with the anti-bailout Independent Greeks or a Syriza majority government could further complicate negotiations, in our view.

    By including the Independent Greeks, Syriza would lock out the possibility of a larger coalition. To Potami, the new centrist party that came in fourth place and got 17 seats won't work with them.

    After they've formed a coalition, Syriza's next job is to begin negotiations over its debts and bailout agreement. But they're already running into predictable opposition this morning.

    Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb has been one of European politicians most obviously opposed to any restructuring of Greece's heavy debts. He's reiterating that again this morning, telling domestic media that the new government must "respect previous commitments".

    European Central Bank board member Benoit Coeure has been saying much the same this morning: "It's absolutely clear that we cannot agree to a debt relief that includes Greek bonds that are located at the ECB." The official sector, institutions like the IMF and ECB, own a big chunk of Greece's public debt. 

    Syriza's programme is entirely against Greece's bailout, and the strictures attached to it, but it looks like they will have to negotiate for it to be continued for the time being. The current bailout (and the government's immediate method of financing) runs out in February.

    Here's Capital Economics on what comes next:

    Greece's current bail-out runs out in February and the country faces heavy debt redemptions over the coming months. So the first challenge is probably to agree some short-term extension of the programme. Beyond that, though, there is a danger of a prolonged stand-off with the Troika as Syriza attempts to negotiate some form of official debt restructuring while not reneging on its promises to voters to cut taxes, raise government spending and increase the minimum wage.

    And here's Citi again: 

    The Eurogroup on January 26 will discuss an extension to Greece’s bailout (which expires at end-February), but a formal request for such an extension by the Greek government is required before it can be approved. Negotiations over a follow-up bailout may well take months, in our view, and be associated with some financial market volatility. In this context, it is worth noting that even though an eventual agreement on a bailout is likely needed to keep Greek banks and the Greek government funded, buffers exist to potentially address funding pressures in the interim, such as emergency liquidity assistance for Greek banks or increased bill issuance or arrears for the Greek sovereign.

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  • Donald Trump Rages At 'Meet The Press' After Being Mocked By Chuck Todd


    There was host-on-host violence at NBC on Sunday.

    Donald Trump, who hosts the network's reality show "The Apprentice," blew up on Twitter after a remark "Meet The Press" moderator Chuck Todd made a crack on air Sunday morning.

    Todd was discussing Trump's Saturday speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit when he threw in a jab about the real estate mogul and reality star's history of flirting with White House bids.

    "Nobody's going to mistake Donald Trump for a presidential candidate, I don't think, other than Donald Trump," Todd said.

    Trump, who has said he's "very seriously" considering running for president in 2016, previously toyed with launching a campaign in 2012 and 2000. He clearly didn't take kindly to Todd's comment. Shortly after the broadcast, Trump unleashed a series of tweets mocking Todd's ratings.

    Todd took over "Meet The Press" last September after the departure of the show's previous host, David Gregory. Since then, Todd initially struggled to match Gregory's ratings. Recently, Todd's numbers have improved. On Jan. 18, he had his highest-rated broadcast of the show drawing an audience that had not been seen since Gregory left. 

    Trump wasn't the only one who took shots at "Meet The Press" after Todd's comment. Sam Nunberg, an adviser who's working with Trump on his political efforts, also fired off a series of tweets on Sunday making fun of Todd's ratings. In those messages Nunberg suggested Trump's work on "The Apprentice" is what allows NBC to keep airing Todd.

    After an almost two-year hiatus, "The Apprentice" recently returned to what "Entertainment Weekly" described as "surprisingly strong" ratings

    Business Insider reached out to Nunberg late Sunday afternoon to see if Trump had further comment on his feud with Todd.

    Nunberg said he was at the airport leaving Des Moines where he had been with Trump at the Iowa Freedom Summit. He claimed Trump would be unable to comment because of the Miss Universe Pageant. The annual event, which is co-hosted by Trump and NBC, is airing live on the network Sunday evening. 

    "Unfortunately, Mr. Trump is unavailable as he is at the Trump Doral for Miss Universe, which will make NBC profits and recoup the money they lost on Chuck this morning," Nunberg said.

    Nunberg went on to double down on Trump's claim Todd could be fired soon.

    "Chuck has made a prediction that Mr. Trump will not run for president," said Nunberg. "That is his prerogative. I have a very easy prediction. Chuck will be fired within a year and I wish Vegas would let me put money on it."

    Nunberg also suggested Todd is merely a placeholder before NBC News congressional correspondent Luke Russert takes over hosting duties on "Meet The Press." Russert's father, Tim Russert, moderated the show from 1991 through 2008.  

    "'Meet The Press' is a critical and valuable show. Everyone knows Chuck is supposed to keep the seat warm for Luke," Nunberg said. "I just hope that Chuck doesn't destroy 'Meet The Press'‎ so Luke has nothing to work with."

    A spokesperson for NBC News declined to comment on this story. 

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  • China And Pakistan Are Much Closer Than People Think

    china pakistanThe China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics. By Andrew Small. C. Hurst & Co; $45.

    When China sent swift condolences to Pakistan after the slaughter of over 130 schoolchildren in a terror attack in Peshawar last month, it was more than a perfunctory gesture.

    The two countries have such a long-standing and harmonious relationship that both sides sometimes come close to believing the official mantra that the ties that bind them really are higher than the highest mountains.

    Yet misgivings also abound, as Andrew Small, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, points out in an impressive account of a little-understood friendship.

    China is growing increasingly squeamish about the dangers of having Islamist extremists just across the border. Chinese engineers working on aid projects in Pakistan have been killed by Pakistani extremists.

    In 2007 Chinese massage-parlour employees were held hostage by militants in Islamabad. The authorities in the capital do not do enough, the Chinese complain, to destroy Pakistani havens of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a Muslim separatist group drawn from the Uighur ethnic minority who live in China's western Xinjiang region.

    "China has a good understanding of almost everything in Pakistan, political, security or economic, that might affect the bilateral relationship, but there is one piece they just don't get: Islam," Mr Small quotes a Pakistani China specialist as saying. It was especially embarrassing to Pakistan that on the day the retiring head of the army, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, paid his last visit to China in October 2013 a car with three Uighurs and packed with explosives burst into flames in Tiananmen Square.

    "The most damning narrative would be hard to shake off--that a Pakistan-based Uighur separatist group masterminded a successful suicide attack in the most visible location in China during the valedictory visit of Pakistan's army chief," Mr Small writes.

    china pakistan xiStill, if there were recriminations they were not made public. Indeed, as Mr Small argues, China's ties with Pakistan, which were established during Mao's rule and are based on shared hostility towards India, thrive on many common interests. A long history of secret deals between their two armies--overrides the problems with Islamic extremism.

    Six years of research have enabled Mr Small to produce a detailed account of decades of close dealings between the two countries. In that time he won the confidence of many sources in the Chinese army, military intelligence and the security services. Their officials are as tight-lipped as the Pakistanis are garrulous. Yet he managed to loosen them up, at least enough.

    Mr Small describes a friendship that is more enduring and has far better prospects than Pakistan's up-and-down connection with America. The high points of that relationship--as when Pakistan facilitated the groundbreaking visit of Henry Kissinger to China in 1971 which led in turn to Richard Nixon's historic trip to Beijing and later during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan--have long since passed.

    china pakistan mamnoon hussain xiChina helped Pakistan acquire the nuclear bomb, and is Pakistan's biggest supplier of military equipment. Now it is building two sizeable civilian nuclear reactors that should help ease the country's chronic energy shortfall. As China expands its reach throughout Asia, Pakistan has become central to its plans for a network of ports, pipelines, roads and railways that will bring oil and gas from the Middle East. The Chinese government is offering tens of billions of dollars for Pakistani projects, Mr Small says. As America's influence recedes, China is stepping in, though officials will doubtless keep a wary eye on Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

    Part of China's justification for spending so much is to bring stability to Pakistan, an argument that the Obama administration has also used, though with little success. Mr Small seems to think the Chinese will have better luck. He may be too optimistic about their ability to achieve much, but given the feckless Pakistani governance that he so ably describes, he has every right at least to hope the Chinese will help restore some order to the chaos.

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  • Radical Left Wins By A Landslide In Greece

    Greece election

    Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has conceded and called Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras to congratulate him on winning the Greek parliamentary election, Reuters reports.

    In his victory address Tsipras said Greece "leaves behind the poverty of catastrophe, leaves behind five years of suffering," adding that "the Greek government will be ready to cooperate and negotiate with our friends for a just and constructive solution."

    Here is the speech in full, with English translation from Sky News.

    Earlier Samaras told supporters that he accepted the decision of the voters. He said: "The Greek people have spoken, [and] we respect their decision. I give back a country without deficits, which is member of euro and the EU. I hope the next government keeps it that way."

    With 80% of the votes counted Greece's anti-austerity Syriza party has taken 36% of the vote in the general election. The latest official projection from the Interior Ministry gives the party 149 seats in the 300-seat parliament — two short of a majority.

    Earlier an updated official exit poll projected Syriza could win between 36% and 38% of the national vote.

    The party is comfortably ahead of closest rival, the center-right New Democracy party, which looks to be on track to win somewhere in the region of 26-28% of the vote. The far-right Golden Dawn party and newly formed center-left To Potami (The River) are duelling for third place, with between 5.9 and 7% of the vote.

    A Syriza win would end over four decades of governments led by either New Democracy or PASOK, a center-left party that has seen its support base collapse since the onset of Europe's economic crisis.

    Greece Election

    In advance of the result, Reuters reports German central bank President Jens Weidmann has called on Greece to stick to its program of economic reforms.

    "I hope the new government won’t call into question what is expected and what has already been achieved," he said.

    Although the exit polls have proven a relatively unreliable predictor of the eventual result in recent years, it at least provides the first indication of whether Syriza has succeeded in bringing its poll lead to bear at the voting booth. With the share suggested by the exit poll, the party still has a chance of winning an overall majority (with current official projections showing 8.7% of the vote going to parties that will not enter parliament, Syriza would need over 36.9% for an outright majority).

    Whether its achieves that feat will now depend heavily on how many of the smaller parties reach the 3% threshold needed to get representation in parliament. Yet even if it falls short, winning the largest share of any single party would still be a testament to the remarkable rise of a party that was only formed in 2004 as a loose coalition of leftist parties and groups.

    As Lorcan Roche Kelly points out on Twitter, only three years ago PASOK (which the exit poll suggests could get 4.2-5.2% of the vote) had 160 seats. Syriza had 13.

    The table below shows the percentage of the vote needed for any single party to gain an overall majority in the Greek parliament:

    The rise of Syriza

    Years of harsh government cuts, staggeringly high unemployment (25.8% as of last October), and an economy that remains roughly 25% smaller than it was six years ago, have made the population distrustful of traditional parties and opened the door to new ones that want to take the country in a different direction.

    Syriza, which in Greek is an acronym for the "Coalition of the Radical Left," was formed in 2004 from a collection of left-wing groups ranging from Marxists and Maoists to the Greens. In 2012 the party won a 27% vote share, making it the second-largest party in the Greek parliament.

    Despite Syriza's popularity, there remains a lot of confusion, at least outside of Greece, about what exactly the party stands for. Earlier this week, its 40-year-old leader Alexis Tsipras wrote an article for the Financial Times in which he laid out his party's platform and explains his vision for Greece.

    Here are the key points:

    • A Syriza victory will mean the age of Greek austerity will finally come to an end. As Tsipras says, "Austerity is not part of the European treaties; democracy and the principle of popular sovereignty are."
    • Contrary to what many seem to believe, the party does not intend to unilaterally pull Greece out of the eurozone. Indeed, surprisingly for some, Tsipras says he aims to hit European budget targets: "A Syriza government will respect Greece’s obligation, as a eurozone member, to maintain a balanced budget, and will commit to quantitative targets."
    • He plans to clamp down on tax evasion by wealthy "oligarchs" to raise budget revenues and has promised to break with the "clientelist and kleptocratic practises" of previous administrations.
    • Syriza will request a "European debt conference" in which Greece will demand a renegotiation of the repayment terms on the country's mountainous sovereign-debt pile.

    And most important, the party is asking to be given time in which to deliver the reforms that Greece needs in order to put itself back onto a path of economic growth and debt sustainability.


    NOW WATCH: How To Make Your Own Custom Charts In Excel


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  • India Is Warming Up To The US

  • Top Economists Call For Greece To Get A Debt Write-Off As Greece Votes

    parthenon with scaffolding athens greece

    Top economists, including Nobel prize-winners Joseph Stiglitz and Chris Pissarides, are calling for debt forgiveness for Greece as the country heads into a crucial election on Sunday.

    A letter published in the Financial Times, co-authored by 18 eminent economists from academia, research institutes and industry, states that "the whole of Europe will benefit from Greece being given the chance of a fresh start".

    Some form of forgiveness of the country's mountainous sovereign debt burden (currently around 177% of GDP) would be necessary, though not by itself sufficient, in order for the country to aid Europe's prospects for sustainable economic recovery.

    Here are their suggestions in detail:

    • Greece should be provided a "further conditional increase in the grace period, so that Greece does not have to service any debt, for example for the next five years and then only if Greece is growing at 3% or more".
    • Some debt reduction, especially of bilateral official debt [held by institutions like the European Central Bank], to further increase the fiscal space available.
    • Significant money [provided through eurozone institutions] for efficient investment projects, especially for exports.

    The letter is especially interesting as their calls mimic a number of proposals put forward by Greece's left-wing Syriza party, which is currently leading in the polls. Alexis Tsipras, the head of the party and the man who could become Greece's next prime minister, took the opportunity earlier this week to outline his economic plans in the FT.

    A core part of his proposals is to call a "European debt conference" if elected to discuss easing the terms of Greece's debt repayments and to stop the Greek government's austerity policies in order to prioritise growth. He wrote: "Austerity is not part of the European treaties; democracy and the principle of popular sovereignty are."

    While stressing the importance of economic reforms, the 18 signatories of the recent letter essentially appear to agree with that proposal. As they write (emphasis added):

    "We believe it is important to distinguish austerity from reforms; to condemn austerity does not entail being anti-­reform. Macro­economic stabilisation can be achieved through growth and increased efficiency in tax collection rather than through public expenditure cuts, which have reduced the revenue base and led to an increase in the debt ratio."

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  • Video Shows GRAD Rockets Fired By Rebels Hitting Cars In A Vital Ukrainian City

    bombing carRussian-supported rebels launched sophisticated missiles, rockets and drones against the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Saturday, Reuters reports.

    The offensive that killed at least 30 people has been called an "utter disregard of the ceasefire" by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

    Port city Mariupol is approximately 62 miles from the rebel-held Donetsk and offers Russia a potential land corridor to the Crimean peninsula.

    Evidential of the escalating tensions in the area, Wall Street Journal reporter Yaroslav Trofimov tweeted a video showing pro-Russian rebels launching rockets in Mariupol.

    Meanwhile, Russia continues to deny that troops are based in eastern Ukraine. In June, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared Mariupol as the provisional capital of the Donetsk Oblast, RFERL reports.

    Analysts worry that if rebels capture Mariupol and its port, the pro-Russian separatists will have a critical logistical lifeline in the fight against Ukrainian forces.

    According to government data, the sea port in Mariupol handled 13 million metric tons of cargo, making it Ukraine's fifth largest port and by far the busiest commercial marine hub on the Azov Sea, RFERL reports.

    Here is a map of the area:

    map russia ukraine crimea

    SEE ALSO: Mysterious Bombs Are Exploding In Ukraine — And Not In The War-Torn East

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  • Here Are Some Of The Many Chinese Elites Who Use Offshore Tax Havens

    While Chinese officials aren’t required to disclose their assets publicly, citizens have remained largely in the dark about the parallel economy that can allow the powerful and well-connected to avoid taxes and keep their dealings secret. By some estimates, between $1 trillion and $4 trillion in untraced assets have left the country since 2000.

    Nearly 22,000 offshore clients with addresses in mainland China and Hong Kong appear in leaked files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Among them are some of China’s most powerful men and women — including at least 15 of China’s richest, members of the National People’s Congress and executives from state-owned companies entangled in corruption scandals.

    Here is an interactive graphic of China's elite involved in offshore tax havens:

    The files come from two offshore firms — Singapore-based Portcullis TrustNet and BVI-based Commonwealth Trust Limited — that help clients create offshore companies, trusts and bank accounts. They are part of a cache of 2.5 million leaked files that ICIJ has sifted through with help from more than 50 reporting partners in Europe, North America, Asia and other regions.

    Since April 2013, ICIJ’s stories have triggered official inquiries, high-profile resignations and policy changes around the world. Until now, the details on China and Hong Kong had not been disclosed.

    The growing onshore and offshore wealth of China’s elites “may not be strictly illegal,” but it is often tied to “conflict of interest and covert use of government power,” said Minxin Pei, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California. “If there is real transparency, then the Chinese people will have a much better idea of how corrupt the system is [and] how much wealth has been amassed by government officials through illegal means.”

    In November, a mainland Chinese news organization that was working with ICIJ to analyze the offshore data withdrew from the reporting partnership, explaining that authorities had warned it not to publish anything about the material.

    Along with the China and Hong Kong names, ICIJ’s files also include the names of roughly 16,000 offshore clients from Taiwan. ICIJ will continue to publish stories with its partners in the next few days and will release the Greater China names on its Offshore Leaks Database.

    Infographic and text excerpted from Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings Of China's Elite by Marina Walker GuevaraGerard RyleAlexa OlesenMar CabraMichael Hudson and Christoph GiesenExcerpted with permission from The International Consortium Of Investigative Journalists a project of The Center for Public Integrity. All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2015. 

    SEE ALSO: We May Have Just Witnessed Our First Truly Crippling Chinese Real-Estate Default

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  • Here's The Ridiculous Loot That's Been Found With Corrupt Chinese Officials

    Xi Jinping China

    China President Xi Jinping is two years into his unprecedented fight to eliminate the corruption that permeates the Communist Party in China. Since assuming office in early 2013, Xi has vowed to "hunt tigers and swat flies," meaning he'll target both high- and low-level officials.

    In contrast to previous Chinese leaders, Xi has been adamant that no one is untouchable. Big targets like former security czar Zhou Yongkang and former military chief Xu Caihou, once thought untouchable by even top officials, were some of the first to fall in Xi's crusade.

    While Xi and the Party are notoriously tight-lipped about the inner workings of the Communist Party, they have been remarkably open about the illicit goods, cash, and properties found in the hands of the corrupt officials they’ve taken down.

    Of course, Xi may have a hidden motive for being so transparent — to convince the public he's winning the battle against corruption. Whatever the reason, he's given Western observers an unprecedented view into the level of corruption of Chinese officials

    Here are a few of the more outrageous examples:

    Zhou YongkangZhou Yongkang

    Zhou Yongkang once belonged to the all-powerful Politiburo Standing Committee and served as national police chief when he came under investigation in July 2014. His arrest in December could be a move to add legitimacy to Xi’s corruption campaign. It was previously taboo to investigate current or former members of the Politiburo.

    NTD Television reported Zhou’s ill-gotten gains, which include assets totaling $16.05 billion.

    Here’s a taste of Zhou’s confiscated spoils:

    • Cash stashed in Zhou’s residences totaling $300.3 million dollars in US dollars, Euros, Yuan, British Poundnds, and Swiss Francs.
    • 62 cars including military Jeeps and a tourist bus
    • 55 paintings by famous painters with a market value between $128 million to $161 million
    • Hundreds of foreign and domestic bank accounts belonging to Zhou and relatives totaling $6.06 billion.
    • Petroleum, aviation, wine, and financial securities with a total value of $8.24 billion
    • Foreign securities and bonds totaling $27.3 million
    • 326 properties all over China totaling $1.76 billion in value
    • 42,850 grams of gold, silver, and gold coins

    General Xu Caihouchina General Xu Caihou

    General Xu, formerly the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, confessed to taking bribes in October after the party's seven-month investigation found he took huge bribes for promoting people in his command. He was expelled from the Communist Party and had his rank of general revoked. 

    When investigators came to Xu’s 21,500 square-foot Beijing mansion, the extent of Xu’s corruption became obvious. In the basement, investigators found more than one ton (in weight) of cash, as well as countless jade, emeralds, calligraphy, and paintings, according to Foreign Policy. It reportedly took more than 10 military trucks to cart off the loot. 

    Here’s how investigators found the cash at the house, according to The Financial Times:

    The cash was neatly stacked in boxes, each with the name of the soldier who had paid the bribe in exchange for promotion up the chain of command. Many of the boxes, each containing millions of renminbi, had never been opened, said people familiar with the case.

    Liu Han

    5N CC copyFormer mining tycoon Liu Han, who ranked 148th on Forbes’ list of richest Chinese business people in 2012, was sentenced to death last year for “organizing and leading mafia-style crime and murder,” according to Xinhua, China's official news agency.

    Liu occupied the murky space in China between businessman and crime boss, heading up mining conglomerate Sichuan Hanlong Group while also leading a gang that committed murders, assaults, kidnappings, fraud, and contract rigging. 

    At the time Liu was detained, his accumulated assets totaled $6.4 billion, including hundreds of cars such as Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Ferraris, 20 guns, 677 bullets, 2,163 shotgun cartridges, and more than 100 knives, according to state-run news agency Xinhua. Liu wore a diamond-encrusted Franck Muller watch and often ordered bottles of French wine that cost more than $12,000.

    At his trial, his ex-wife, Yang Xue, relayed this story of how Liu dealt with government officials:

    Liu Han would take me to dine with them, and offer them gifts such as gold or jade items worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of yuan … Sometimes he would deliberately lose when gambling, just to bribe them.

    Liu Zhijun

    Liu Zhijun joined the Communist Party as a low-level bureaucrat at the national ministry of railways in the 1970s, eventually rising to become the minister of the department. This past July, a Beijing court sentenced him to death for bribery and abuse of power.

    Liu accepted bribes totaling $10.4 million from 1986 to 2011, according to Xinhua. In 2013, investigators seized 142.1 million in cash, undisclosed amounts of shares, 16 vehicles, 374 properties, and other valuables, according to The Guardian. In addition, investigators found the minister had 18 mistresses, including multiple actresses from a popular television show, nurses, and train stewards.

    Gu Junshan

    mao gold china graftLieutenant General Gu Junshan was arrested in early 2012 after his suspected involvement in a massive scheme that involved the sale of military appointments. The supposed bribery scheme involved nearly $5 billion, roughly $100 million of which Gu allegedly kept for himself.

    When police raided Gu’s mansion in 2013, they found the stupendous spoils from that racket, including four military trucks worth of luxury items, a cellar of expensive wine, a gold hand basin, and a pure gold statue of Chairman Mao, according to The Telegraph.

    Gu reportedly distributed the money from the racket to his underlings by filling Mercedes vehicles with $3.8 million in gold bars and handing the recipient the keys.

    Ni Fake

    jadeThe former vice governor of Anhui province in central China, Ni Fake, is one of Xi's strangest targets. He's hardly the big name that Xu or Zhou are, but the Chinese media has given him a lot of attention because of the form his loot has taken. Almost 80% of the Ni’s fortune was jade.

    Ni’s obsession with jade was well-known, leading party investigators to warn him about his ostentatiousness nearly two years before the investigation. By most accounts, Ni did not listen. He always wore a jade necklace and carried a small flashlight and magnifying glass to examine new jade that might enter his collection, according to The New York Times.

    The state-run China News website reported that, on the weekends, Ni would spread out his favorite jade pieces and look at each. Every other week, he waxed his jades and, on every work trip, he would visit the local jade market. His jade collection amounted to an estimated $1.6 million in pendants, ornaments, and carved stones. The rest of Ni’s bribes came in the form of cash, paintings, or property. 

    Wei Pengyuan

    stacking cash chinaWei Pengyuan, deputy chief of the coal bureau at the National Energy Administration, has been charged with taking $5.8 million in bribes from 2002 to 2012. When investigators searched his home, they found an astounding amount of cash: $33 million or 200 million yuan.

    It is estimated that the cash, which was likely in 100-yuan banknotes, would weigh more than 2.2 tons and climb 656 feet in the air if it was stacked

    Ma Chaoqun

    Not every official nabbed with a ridiculous fortune was a “tiger.” Many, like Ma Chaoqun, were flies. Ma was a midlevel water supply official in Beidaihe, a resort town near Beijing favored by top government officials.

    Ma allegedly used his position to stack up a prodigious fortune: $19.3 million in cash, 81 pounds of gold (worth about $1.4 million), and 68 properties totaling $163 million

    SEE ALSO: Why China Is Raiding Foreign Companies At Dawn

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  • North Korea And Russia Are Undermining America's 'Weaponization Of Finance' Plan (RSX)

    North Korea and Russia's latest liaison suggests that Washington's strategic weaponization of finance may not be working.

    Russia's Ministry for the Development of the Far East recently announced that Russian businesses doing trade through North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank can make payments in rubles.

    And last October the ministry announced that Russia was looking to expand economic exchanges with the hermit nation, including the increased use of the ruble between the two countries.

    "This way, North Korea and Russia don't need to rely on the dollar. All they have to do is stick with the ruble. They're increasing their economic ties," one person familiar with the matter told Business Insider.

    Basically, what's happening is that Russia and North Korea are looking to diversify away from the western financial system after the two nations have been repeatedly targeted by US-sanctions.

    The US-imposed sanctions are part of Washington's larger strategic geopolitical plan called "the weaponization of finance," which Ian Bremmer defined as the "system use of carrots (access to capital markets) and sticks (varied types of sanctions) as tools of coercive diplomacy." 

    When in comes to the weaponization of finance, US foreign policy goes like this: The US imposes sanctions (or other coercive economic measures) on "rogue states" (aka states that are acting contrary to the US' interests) which should then force that state to change its behavior if it wishes to have the sanctions lifted or to have access to US capital markets again. (The best example here is the US imposing sanctions on Russia following the annexation of Crimea.)

    However, this is often not how rogue states view the situation: They feel like they are being punished — or even worse, bullied — by the US. 

    While financially weaker states that are dependent on the US may have no choice but to yield to the latter's coercion, more powerful states can choose to diversify.

    And that's exactly what Russia and North Korea appear be doing here.

    The moves show the how "weaponization of finance" strategy has glaring drawbacks — including this possibility that targeted countries can and will increasingly diversify away from the dollar, as Bremmer noted earlier in January.

    "Over the longer term, though, others will diversify away from reliance on the dollar and US-dominated institutions, particularly in East Asia, where China has the muscle and the motive to create its own institutions, and where there is less dollar-denominated debt to complicate the process," he wrote.

    The Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, the BRICS bank, and the Silk Route Maritime and Overland initiatives are all already existing examples of that, Bremmer noted.

    Another layer to what's going on is that over the past several months several non-Western countries (including Russia, IranChinaIndia, and North Korea) have been publically strengthening their military, energy, and economic relationships among each other.

    North Korea and Russia's diversification away from the Western financial system by using rubles is just an additional part of that strategy.

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  • Japan Calls The Apparent Death Of An ISIS Hostage 'Outrageous And Unacceptable'

    jihadi john isis

    Japan early on Sunday strongly criticized a recording purporting to announce the execution of a Japanese citizen held by Islamic State militants and demanded the immediate release of another captive depicted as appearing on the image.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, in a brief televised statement, said the recording appeared to show captive Haruna Yukawa being killed.

    "This is an outrageous and unacceptable act," Suga said. "We strongly demand the prompt release of the remaining Mr. Kenji Goto, without harm."

    Suga read the statement and declined to take questions.

    The graphic video claims to show Goto holding Yukawa's head, according to NPR.

    "They no longer want money," a voice apparently belonging to Goto says in the video. "So, you don't need to worry about funding terrorists. They are just demanding the release of their imprisoned sister, Sajida al-Rishawi." 

    Sajida al-Rishawi took part in the 2005 bombings in Amman and was sentenced to death in Jordan. 

    Before demanding the return of al-Rishawi, ISIS had asked Japan on Tuesday to pay $200 million within 72 hours in exchange for the return of their citizens, according to The New York Times.

    Goto, the one whose voice appeared in the video, was a freelance journalist who covered war zones before vanishing in October. It's believed he went into territory in Syria held by the Islamic State in order to try to free Yukawa, the prisoner who was recently beheaded. Yukawa, who described himself as a military contractor, vanished himself in August, according to The Times.

    Junko Ishido, the mother of Goto, begged for his release earlier this week.

    “Kenji has a strong sense of justice,” she said of her son in a news conference The Times reported on. “If things turn out good with his release, I think he would devote himself to the future, to the children.”

    Reuters reporting by William Mallard.

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  • 17 Things You Didn't Know About India

    Modi waving

    This weekend, Obama will head to India for the second time in his two-term presidency.

    He'll be the first president to visit the South Asian nation twice — and the first in ages to make such a long-distance trip just to visit a single country. Obama also hosted India's new prime minister, Narendra Modi, in Washington, D.C., back in September.

    It's clear that diplomatic relations with India have become a priority for the president – especially since the pro-business, pro-America Modi rocketed to power last May. So if we're going to sidle up next to India and become better friends, we'd best get to know the country.

    Here's our list of 17 fascinating facts you should know about India.

    There's a lake near the Chinese border where, for one month of the year, the water clears and you can see a few hundred ancient skeletons.

    The lake is called Roopkund and the skeletons are 1,200 years old.

    Local legend has it that an ancient king went on a pilgrimage through the Himalayas with his pregnant wife and a troupe of servants when a hailstorm sent them all toppling over the edge.

    Source: Deccan Herald

    Mumbai's high court has a backlog of 300,000 cases, some of which are 20 years old.

    As of a couple of years ago, there were some 4 million pending cases across all high courts in India. And only two-thirds of available high-court judge positions are filled.

    Source: CNN International

    Mumbai has just 1.1 square meters of open space per person.

    Open space is defined as gardens, parks, recreation grounds, and playgrounds.

    Compare that with New York's 26.4 square meters, or London's 31.68.

    Source: Times of India

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  • Disneyland Measles Outbreak Shows Why We Should Ban Unvaccinated Kids From Schools

    U.S. Measles Cases By Year

    A measles outbreak at Disneyland has raised new concerns about vaccinations.

    In 2014 there were over 600 cases of measles reported in the US – the highest number since 1994. According to the Center for Disease Control's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, most of the people who got measles were unvaccinated.

    Why are parents choosing not to vaccinate their kids? We take a look at the problem from a game-theory perspective. 

    Produced by Sara Silverstein and Alex Kuzoian

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  • America’s Counterterrorism Campaign In Yemen Is 'Paralyzed'

    Supporters of the separatist Southern Movement demonstrate to demand the separation of the south Yemen, in the country's southern port city of Aden January 23, 2015. REUTERS/Yaser Hasan

    The United States has halted some counter-terrorism operations against al Qaeda militants in Yemen following a takeover of the country by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, U.S. officials said on Friday.

    The collapse of the U.S.-backed government of Yemen on Thursday has left America's counter-terrorism campaign "paralyzed", two U.S. security officials said, dealing a major setback to Washington's fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a potent wing of the militant network.

    Three U.S. officials said the halt in operations included drone strikes, at least temporarily, following the abrupt resignation of the president, prime minister and cabinet amid mounting fears the Arab world's poorest country was veering toward civil war.

    Many U.S. personnel work with Yemeni forces at the southern al-Annad airbase, an intelligence post for monitoring the Yemeni affiliate of al Qaeda, or AQAP, which claimed responsibility for attacks this month in Paris that killed 17 people.

    Other U.S. officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the situation on the ground was fluid and described the halt as a temporary measure to assess chaotic conditions on the ground.

    White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States wanted to continue its close counter-terrorism cooperation with Yemen and was committed to pursuing its strategy there. "I don’t have any policy changes to announce at this point," he told reporters.

    The United States has killed dozens of suspected AQAP fighters and leaders with drone strikes and officials fear that the growing chaos in the country will give the group more space to plan and launch attacks on Western targets.

    "It would mean that AQAP would have a much freer hand in parts of the country," said Lorenzo Vidino, author of "Al Qaeda in Europe" and an analyst at the Institute for the International Political Studies in Italy.

    "That means more ability to plan attacks against the U.S." Yemen Unrest

    "Touch And Go"

    Along with Pakistan, Yemen has been an important strategic location for U.S. drone attacks on al Qaeda figures.

    Nineteen U.S. drone strikes killed 124 militants and four civilians in Yemen in 2014, according the New America Foundation, which maintains a database of drone operations. The last deadly drone strike was an attack that killed nine suspected al Qaeda militants on Dec. 6, it said.

    A new government could withdraw tacit approval for U.S. drone strikes, leaving Washington with a tough decision to make about whether to launch unilateral strikes against AQAP.

    Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the disputed government in Yemen did not necessarily prevent the United States from engaging in counter-terrorism operations.

    "We recognize we need to get a much better understanding of where things are going politically in Yemen before we can make any new decisions or move forward in any significant way on counter-terrorism in Yemen," Kirby told a Pentagon briefing.

    Kirby later said it would be "wrong to conclude" the United States had stopped focusing on the terrorist threat in Yemen "or that we won’t take action if and when necessary."

    Another official said it would be incorrect to characterize the counter-terrorism partnership as fully "ceased." "What the future holds? I don't know. It's touch and go right now," the official said.

    Yemen Unrest

    "Death To America"

    The collapse of Hadi’s government threatens to upturn President Barack Obama’s policy toward a country he hailed just four months ago as a model for “successful” partnerships in the fight against Islamic militancy.

    The administration confirmed on Thursday that it had pulled more U.S. staff from its embassy in the capital Sanaa due to the deteriorating security situation after the Houthi rebels battled their way into Hadi's presidential palace.

    A former senior U.S. official said that Yemeni authorities for now “will be much more focused on what goes on in the capital Sanaa than what goes on with al Qaeda in the countryside.”

    The Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels are enemies of AQAP, a Sunni Islamist militant group. But they also oppose the United States, a fact on display during rallies on Friday in Sanaa, where thousands gathered with placards calling for "Death to America, Death to Israel."

    "Hadi was a unique figure who not only tolerated drone strikes, he welcomed them," said Bruce Riedel, director of the Brookings Institution think tank's Intelligence Project.

    "I don't think we're going to have that kind of enthusiastic partner in the foreseeable future," Riedel added, saying the United States may be left dealing with fractured, competing institutions in Yemen, with varying attitudes toward Washington.

    (Editing by Jason Szep and Stuart Grudgings)

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  • Why Venezuela Is The 'Most Miserable' Country In The World, Again

    venezuela protest

    Venezuela is the most miserable country in the world. And it's because the country's situation is declining at such breathtaking speed.

    For the second year in a row Venezuela has topped the "Misery Index," an annual list compiled by The Cato Institute. The list combines data about a country's inflation rate, interest rates, and unemployment. It also factors any slides in GDP growth.

    In short, the reason Venezuela has held its position is that a bad situation has turned into a dire one over the past year — even in the past few months.

    Oil makes up 95% of the country's exports, and the price of the commodity has fallen by more than half since the last time Cato calculated "misery." Now the government is simply running out of money.

    For years, the legacy of late dictator Hugo Chavez has made it politically impossible for his successor, Nicolas Maduro, to change track on expensive social programs. The country was already deeply in debt. The oil crash has made things incredibly worse incredibly fast.

    Venezuela garnered 106.3 points on the Misery Index. Behind it, Argentina took the No. 2 spot with an even 68 points. Quite the difference.

    Venezuela InflationWhat makes them similar, though, is that both are plagued with the same main problem, according to Cato: consumer price inflation. Venezuela's inflation rate sits at over 60% while Argentina's comes in at about 40%.

    This isn't new. Venezuela's inflation rate has been high for some time. At this time last year people were filing into long lines to enter government grocery stores where items might not even be on the shelf. These days they can wait for up to six days to enter a store.

    On that issue, the government has been in total denial.

    In February 2014 there were massive demonstrations with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets. Political opposition leaders, like Harvard-educated Leopoldo Lopez, were jailed. Others, like Maria Corina Machado, are wanted for treason.

    So the situation has been perilous for some time. Oil falling off a cliff was the last thing the country needed. Creditors are watching. When they look at the situation this is what they see: the likelihood of a default and total restructuring of the country's debt increasing by the day.

    venezuelan cds skitch

    SEE ALSO: The 29 Most Miserable Countries In The World

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  • The CIA's Top Spy Is Stepping Down

    CIA Lobby Office Seal

    The CIA's top spy is retiring, The Daily Beast reports citing unnamed sources. 

    Frank Archibald, the director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, plans to retire from his position within the CIA. Archibald was 57 when he took the position in 2013.

    Typically, the CIA does publicly identify its top spy, but Archibald was outed on Twitter after he took over the position. 

    CIA spokesman Dean Boyd confirmed to The Daily Beast that Archibald would be leaving the agency "after a long and distinguished career at CIA. We thank him for this profound and lasting contributions to both CIA and to our nation’s security." 

    Prior to becoming the director of the National Clandestine Service, Archibald was the CIA's Latin America division chief. Earlier in his career, Archibald served tours in Pakistan and in parts of Africa. He also reportedly ran a covert operation that contributed to Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic's removal from power in 2000. 

    Archibald's retirement comes as CIA director John Brennan is considering a significant restructuring of the agency. According to The Daily Beast, these efforts include "the possible creation of new intelligence centers and doing away with the traditional division of CIA into its analysis group and the clandestine service." 

    Brennan will be interviewed by Charlie Rose at the Council of Foreign Relations on Monday on the possible changes the CIA could face. 

    SEE ALSO: Billionaires are hiring former Navy SEALs as expensive bodyguards

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  • America Should Reconsider Its Cozy Relationship With Saudi Arabia

    Raif Badawi protestsOn the way back from carving up the world at the Yalta conference in 1945, Franklin Roosevelt made an unexpected stop. On board the USS Quincy, moored in Egypt's Great Bitter Lake, the president held a long meeting with Ibn Saud, the first Saudi monarch and father of the 45 sons (nobody seems to have bothered to count the daughters) who make the kingdom's succession so operatic. Ibn Saud slaughtered a goat on the deck of the warship, sealing a pact that makes his kingdom America's oldest continuous ally in the region. It is also the most troubling one.

    On January 9th Raif Badawi, a blogger, received the first of his 1,000 lashes for taking Thomas Paine's view of the "adulterous connection between church and state". Mr Badawi has also been sentenced to a decade in prison. Three days later a woman accused of murder was dragged through the streets of Mecca and beheaded with a sword.

    Though America disapproves of this sort of thing, it does not let it upset relations. Government delegations to the kingdom are usually lots of men in military uniform and one official from the State Department, whose job is to say that it would be nice if women could drive.

    Scott Fitzgerald wrote that the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time is the sign of a first-rate intelligence. Something similar applies in foreign policy. Ford Fraker, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, describes the alliance as "a long-term marriage founded on fundamental interests and principles". Those interests have shifted a little over time. Now they could be summarised as oil, counter-terrorism and stability.

    Like diamond earrings on an anniversary, weapons and money have been exchanged throughout as tokens of esteem. Less than a year after telling an audience in Cairo that America "must never alter or forget our principles", Barack Obama performed a full Fitzgerald, signing off on one of the largest arms deals with the kingdom yet, an order now being fulfilled by American manufacturers.

    Senator John McCain, just back from a trip to the kingdom, says that the country feels let down by America's reluctance to punish Bashar Assad. "They had planes on the runway ready to go," he says. "They learned it was not going to happen from watching CNN." The Saudis, he says, are worried about expanding Iranian influence in the region--more so than they are about Islamic State (IS). This disagreement, and the recent hospitalisation of the 90-year-old king, makes it a good time to consider how America should treat the kingdom in future.

    The high point of the relationship came during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, says Bilal Saab of the Atlantic Council, a think-tank. Memories of two Arab oil embargoes at a time of flat domestic oil production, as well as shared hostility to the Soviet Union, drew the countries close. There followed a blip after 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers turned out to be Saudis. Al-Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia between 2003 and 2005 brought the countries closer together again. Though they may dent America's idea of itself as a champion of liberty, government policy is that good relations are worth it. That may have been true in the Gipper's day, but the argument is getting harder to make.

    Saudi oil minister

    Oil is one reason. America may be the world's biggest producer, but because consumption still exceeds what it pumps it must still shop on the world market. This does not make it dependent on Saudi Arabia, though. Oil is fungible: lousy relations with Russia, the second-biggest producer, do not threaten America's economy. As the owner of the biggest reserves, which are also very cheap to extract, Saudi Arabia is the crucial swing producer. But America's shale technology has put a ceiling on the oil price, and its economy is less oil-intensive than three decades ago.

    Nor is the argument for keeping close for intelligence-sharing purposes as straightforward as it seems. Salafi Muslim terrorists, who draw much of their inspiration from Saudi imams, are a big threat to America. The pact between the House of Saud and the country's clerics has long involved bankrolling Salafi imams to preach loyalty to the king; the money that sloshes through Salafi mosques undermines more moderate strains of Islam all around the world.

    The black-robed fighters of IS rely on Saudi jurisprudence and books to impose their preferred version of Islamic law. Their fondness for public beheadings is one result of this. Intelligence co-operation may be valuable, but its main task is tracking threats that have been subsidised by the Saudis themselves.

    That leaves the argument that the House of Saud must be supported because it is stable. The alternative could be much worse: the thought of something like IS controlling the world's largest oil reserves is terrifying. Also, if America were to pull back from the Gulf, it is a fair bet that China would sooner or later replace it.

    Some say that there is no alternative to the House of Saud. "This is a society that has the government they want," says Ambassador Fraker. "They are comfortable with what they have." If the regime is as secure as it seems, however, why should America abandon its basic values in the name of keeping it in place?

    Free to scream

    Strip these things away and what's left is the arms sales. These at least have the virtue of being nakedly self-interested. Selling weapons is a big part of American diplomacy in the kingdom. A recent ambassador worked for Raytheon, the world's biggest producer of guided missiles, before he was appointed. It is also popular in Congress: the defence business is adept at scattering production around as many districts as possible.

    Yet this has a cost. Being a superpower means having relations with lots of unsavoury regimes, yet America need not be so eager to put principle aside when dealing with its old ally. "Failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our interests at their expense," as Mr Obama once put it. Between lashes, Mr Badawi no doubt agrees.

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  • The Most Powerful GOP Donors Are About To Have A 2016 Meeting

    Charles and David KochConservative megadonors David and Charles Koch are hosting a major political event this weekend to help them and their allies prepare for the 2016 presidential race.

    Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a Koch organization, is hosting the conclave of wealthy donors at a luxurious Palm Springs, California, resort, according to The Washington Post.

    And, in what the Post describes as a first, they are opening their event to the public Sunday night, when ABC News will interview three likely 2016 presidential candidates: Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) at the event. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is also set to attend the conference.

    "It’s a dramatic change in approach for the Koch-backed operation, which has withheld information about previous donor seminars, held under tight security," the Post's Matea Gold wrote. "The events – typically held in Palm Springs in the winter and in Colorado in the summer – feature prominent GOP officials as guests and high-brow panel discussions about economic and political theory."

    The Kochs are a lightning rod for liberal activists and others who accuse them of undermining the democratic process with their seemingly unlimited spending on political campaigns. To mark the Kochs' annual donor summit, Crowdpac, a group dedicated to ending the "stranglehold of big money donors" created a website about the event encouraging readers to "Crash The Koch Party." 

    Despite the controversy surrounding the Koch Brothers, for Republican candidates, their support is highly coveted. 

    "Our members care deeply about the future of our nation and we’re honored to host some of today's most influential and respected leaders in shaping public policy," James Davis, a Freedom Partners spokesman, told the National Review. "We hope that this panel will give each participant the opportunity to lay out their vision of free markets and the role of government. Our goal in 2015 is to help inform the national debate around key domestic economic issues, and this forum is the beginning that conversation."

    Correction (7:19 p.m.): This story originally stated that Palm Springs was in Florida instead of California.

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  • The 29 Most Miserable Countries In The World

    Venezuela protester

    Venezuela, is again, the most miserable nation in the world, according to new analysis published by the Cato Institute.

    Cato's Misery Index ranks 108 countries based on data from the Economist Intelligence Unit and calculations from Steve Hanke, a professor of Applied Economics at Johns Hopkins University.

    Professor Hanke factors in the nations' inflation, lending rates, and unemployment figures together and then subtracts year-on-year per capita GDP growth to determine "misery."

    Over the last year, Venezuela's misery score jumped by nearly 27 points to 106.03 — which puts the Latin American country almost 40 points higher than the next leading nation. War-torn Ukraine and Syria soared to the top of the ranking with Ukraine jumping 19 places over a span of a year.

    Unemployment and interest rates are the leading factors plaguing the majority of the nations listed.

    The five least miserable are Brunei, Switzerland, China, Taiwan, and Japan. The US ranks 95th, which makes it the 14th least miserable nation. Venezuela claimed the top spot last year, followed by Iran, Serbia, Argentina, and Jamaica. 

    Here are the top 29 nations on the Misery Index (and here's the full study): misery index 2014

    SEE ALSO: The 50 Most Violent Cities In The World

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  • The White House Gives Tom Brady A Sick Burn


    The White House had a snappy response on Friday when asked for President Barack Obama's reaction to the New England Patriots' "deflate-gate" scandal.

    Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said he had not spoken to Obama about the controversy. However, he delivered a zinger about quarterback Tom Brady's awkward press conference the day before.

    "For years it has been clear that there is no risk that I would take Tom Brady's job as quarterback of the New England Patriots," Earnest said. "But I can tell you that, as of today, it is pretty clear that there is no risk of him taking my job, either."

    The burn, flagged by Mediaite, resulted in an audible reaction from several members of the White House press corps.

    On Friday, Brady gave a lengthy press conference during which he repeatedly used the word "balls" while denying culpability for the scandal. The controversy began after the Patriots were found to have used footballs that were improperly inflated below league requirements during their AFC championship victory over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday — making the footballs easier to catch and throw in the rain.

    At one point in the Brady press conference, the quarterback even compared the situation to the violent jihadist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

    "We're going to be fine. This isn't ISIS," Brady said. "You know, no one's dying."

    Additionally, Brady failed to convince many observers that he was not involved in deflating the footballs. In an ESPN panel immediately after Thursday's press conference, former NFL players Mark Brunell, Jerome Bettis, and Brian Dawkins all said they didn't buy Brady's denials.

    "I did not believe what Tom had to say. Those balls were deflated. Somebody had to do it, and I don’t believe there’s an equipment manager in the NFL who, on his own initiative, would deflate a ball without his starting quarterback’s approval," Brunell said.

    Dawkins agreed.

    "It's unbelievable," he said. "Tom Brady says he does not know. [Head coach] Bill Belichick says he does not know. So the equipment manager is getting thrown under the bus. Now he’s the guy? Now he’s the one responsible? He took it upon himself to doctor up the balls when nobody else knew about them?"

    SEE ALSO: Ex-NFL Players On ESPN Think Tom Brady Is Lying

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