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Trump claims Ron DeSantis cried in front of him while asking for his endorsement back in 2018

Fri, 02/03/2023 - 1:34am
Then-President Donald Trump campaigns with Ron DeSantis at a rally in Pensacola, Fla., on November 3, 2018.
  • Donald Trump claims Ron DeSantis cried while asking for his endorsement in 2018.
  • "There were tears coming down from his eyes. He said: 'If you endorse me, I'll win,'" said Trump.
  • Trump backed DeSantis for governor in 2018. DeSantis clinched the GOP nomination, then won his race.

Former President Donald Trump claimed that in 2018, then-gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis cried while begging him for an endorsement.

"He was dead, he was leaving the race. He came over and he begged me, begged me, for an endorsement. He was getting ready to drop out," Trump said on Thursday on the podcast "The Hugh Hewitt Show."

"There were tears coming down from his eyes. He said: 'If you endorse me, I'll win,'" said Trump. "So I end up doing it, and he wins."

—The Republican Accountability Project (@AccountableGOP) February 2, 2023


DeSantis was known for being the Trump-backed candidate in the 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary. In an endorsement tweet on June 22, 2018, Trump called DeSantis a "top student at Yale and Harvard Law School."

"He will be a Great Governor & has my full Endorsement!" Trump tweeted at the time.

DeSantis ended up clinching the GOP nomination over Adam Putnam, the state's agricultural commissioner. This was despite Putnam's early edge over DeSantis.

DeSantis went on to defeat Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum in the 2018 gubernatorial race in Florida.

While it's unclear if DeSantis did in fact shed tears during the interaction with Trump, he does have a history of expressing his ardent support for Trump. In July 2018, while he was running for governor, DeSantis released a campaign video in which he called himself a "pitbull Trump defender." 

In the ad, DeSantis can be seen sitting in an armchair reading Trump's book, "The Art of the Deal," to one of his children.

"Then, Mr. Trump said, 'You're fired!' I love that part," DeSantis says in the clip as the words "pitbull Trump defender" flash on the screen.

Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign in November. DeSantis has not launched a presidential bid of his own.

In January, Trump preemptively said he will "handle" DeSantis if the governor decides to run against him. And Trump has wasted no time in launching attacks on his would-be adversary.

Trump on Saturday called it "very disloyal" of DeSantis to even consider running against him. And on Wednesday, Trump debuted a new label for DeSantis on Truth Social: "RINO Globalist" — a thinly veiled accusation that DeSantis is part of a global network of powerful, evil people.

While DeSantis has refrained from exchanging tit-for-tat insults with Trump, he did on Tuesday acknowledge the onslaught of insults.

"I roll out of bed, I have people attacking me from all angles, it's been happening for many, many years," DeSantis said during a press conference in response to a question about Trump's attacks, per Politico

Representatives for DeSantis and Trump did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.

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Gautam Adani lost $52 billion in 6 days. That's over 3 times what Sam Bankman-Fried lost in a similar timeframe.

Fri, 02/03/2023 - 1:04am
Gautam Adani has lost $52 billion over six trading days after a collapse in his companies' share prices.
  • Indian billionaire Gautam Adani lost $52 billion in net worth over six trading days.
  • Adani's losses were due to a massive selloff in the shares of his companies.
  • Shares in Adani Group companies have lost over $100 billion in market cap since a US short seller's fraud allegations.

Indian tycoon Gautam Adani's wealth has come under so much pressure in the last week and a half that his losses have outpaced some of the largest fortunes lost in recent years.

Adani — whose empire is under pressure from a US short seller — has already lost $52 billion in just six trading days, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. In comparison, former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried lost all of his $16 billion fortune in under a week following the collapse of the crypto exchange, per Bloomberg.

Adani is now worth $61.3 billion and on the 21st spot on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He's also India's second-richest person after Mukesh Ambani. However, that's a steep drop from just last week, when Adani was the planet's fourth-richest person. At his peak in September 2022, Adani was worth $150 billion, per Bloomberg.

In terms of absolute value, Adani's wealth wipeout is also larger than that of Brazil's "negative billionaire" Eike Batista, who lost his entire $35 billion fortune in a year after his oil and mining empire collapsed in 2013.

The spectacular decline in Adani's net worth is the most serious in terms of its scale and speed of decline since Bloomberg started tracking billionaires in 2012, the news outlet noted. The dramatic decline in Adani's net worth is because much of his wealth is derived from his stakes in his businesses.

Listed companies under the Adani Group have lost over $100 billion in market value so far this year since short seller Hindenburg Research released a scathing report last Tuesday alleging "brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud scheme" at the Adani Group.

The Adani Group has been defending itself vigorously, but Hindenburg has also doubled down on its initial report.

Still, the battle has rattled the market. Shares in its flagship company Adani Enterprises are down about 60% this year so far.

However, since much of Adani's wealth is tied up with his stakes in his companies, there could still be upside for his fortune as share prices fluctuate.

After all, Tesla CEO Elon Musk was the first person ever to lose $200 billion after the electric vehicle maker's shares declined sharply last year. But his net worth is up $36.5 billion this year so far on the back of strong gains in the stock, per Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

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Tucker Carlson called Boris Johnson a 'terrified old woman,' officially kicking off a feud with the former British PM

Fri, 02/03/2023 - 12:51am
Tucker Carlson (left) and Boris Johnson.
  • Tucker Carlson has ignited a feud with former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
  • During his show on Wednesday, Carlson called Johnson a "terrified old woman."
  • Johnson earlier said he was "amazed and horrified" by how many people were "intimidated by" Carlson.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson and former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are feuding. 

During his show on Wednesday, Carlson accused Johnson of being afraid of going on Fox News to answer questions about his support for Ukraine.

"We knew that Johnson himself was a coward," Carlson said. "We watched during Covid as he transitioned into a terrified old woman, but we had no idea he was also a liar. We should have known." 

—Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) February 2, 2023


Carlson's ire may have been stoked by comments Johnson made earlier that day. During a panel discussion with the Atlantic Council, Johnson accused Carlson of influencing "wonderful Republicans" with anti-Ukraine rhetoric.

"I've been amazed and horrified by how many people are frightened of a guy called Tucker Carlson," Johnson said. 

"Has anybody heard of Tucker Carlson? What is it with this guy? All these wonderful Republicans seem somehow intimidated by his perspective," Johnson said. He added that he was "struck by" how often Carlson's name came up in conversations.

—Ben Judah (@b_judah) February 1, 2023


"Bad ideas are getting into, starting to infect the thinking around the world about what Putin stands for, what he believes in, it's a disaster," Johnson added. "He stands for war, aggression, systematic murder, rape, and destruction. That's what he stands for."

In March 2022, Mother Jones reported on a leaked Kremlin war memo that instructed Russian state media to feature Carlson "as much as possible" because of how much he criticized the US and NATO. 

During an episode of his show in May, Carlson baselessly claimed the US was getting involved in Ukraine with the intention of toppling Putin from power as "payback for the 2016 election." In 2021, leaked Kremlin documents seen by The Guardian appeared to confirm that there was a Russian plot in 2016 to make sure then-presidential candidate Donald Trump won the election.

Meanwhile, Johnson has consistently supported Ukraine in the war against Russia. In July, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lauded Johnson as a "true friend of Ukraine" and thanked him for his "decisive and uncompromising help" in the war.

Representatives for Carlson and Johnson did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.

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Bill Gates said he'd rather fund vaccines to 'save lives' than go to Mars, but he thinks someday Elon Musk will be a 'great philanthropist'

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 10:30pm
  • Bill Gates told the BBC he does not think traveling to Mars is a good use of money.
  • "You can buy measles vaccines and save lives for $1,000 per life saved," Gates explained.
  • He also said he thinks Elon Musk has had a positive impact through Tesla even though it's not philanthropic.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said he'd rather pay for life-saving vaccines than spend money going to Mars, commenting on how his priorities differ from one of the other richest men on Earth.

Gates made the comments in an interview with the BBC published Thursday in which journalist Amol Rajan asked the billionaire if he would encourage Tesla founder Elon Musk to join the "club of megaphilantropists," referencing Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos.

"Yeah, I think someday he'll be a great philanthropist," Gates said of Musk. "Obviously things like Tesla are having a positive impact even without being a form of philanthropy. But at the end of the day, I don't think — other than going to Mars a few times, which might cost a little bit — I don't think he'll want to spend it on himself."

Gates added he thinks eventually Musk will become a philanthropist "using his ingenuity."

After a follow-up question from Rajan, Gates also said in his view going to Mars is not a good use of money.

"It's actually quite expensive to go to Mars," he told the BBC. "You can buy measles vaccines and save lives for $1,000 per life saved, and so it just kind of grounds you, as in: 'Don't go to Mars.'"

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the nonprofit founded by Gates and his ex-wife Melinda French-Gates, has put billions of dollars towards researching, developing, and delivering vaccines to the world's poorest countries. The foundation says it has spent billions on efforts to eradicate polio worldwide, including by expanding access to vaccines.

Gates, along with French-Gates and Buffett, also founded the Giving Pledge, through which some of the world's wealthiest individuals have promised to give away most of their wealth.

Musk, who is often ranked the world's richest person, also signed the pledge in 2012. Last year, Musk made a $5.7 billion charitable donation in Tesla shares to the Musk Foundation, which he launched with his brother, Kimball Musk, in 2002. The foundation distributed about $160 million in 2022, according to Bloomberg.

Musk has previously said it is difficult to find "ways to donate money that really make a difference." In 2021, a Vox report concluded Musk had donated 0.05% of his wealth to charity.

Gates and Musk have publicly disagreed in the past, including on COVID-19, how to address climate change, and space travel.

Musk and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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Mark Zuckerberg's net worth spikes a record $12.5 billion as Meta's cost-cutting plans send shares soaring

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 9:52pm
Gains in Meta's share prices are boosting Mark Zuckerberg's net worth this year so far.
  • Mark Zuckerberg's net worth increased by roughly $12 billion in a single day thanks to Thursday gains in Meta shares.
  • Meta shares are up over 50% this year after surging over 20% on Thursday.
  • Meta shares were boosted by the company's announcement that it will continue to cut costs this year.

Mark Zuckerberg's cost-cutting measures for Meta have borne fruits for investors — and himself — as the company's share price surged 23% on Thursday.

The Thursday increase adds to Meta stock's winning streak, taking its gains to over 50% this year. Zuckerberg saw his net worth grow by a record $12.5 billion in a single day as Meta shares hit an intraday trading high of $197.16 on Thursday.

Since most of Zuckerberg's wealth is tied to his Meta shares, his roughly $12 billion single-day increase in net worth brings the value of his fortune to $69.8 billion as of Friday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, where he is in the 21st spot.

The rise in Zuckerberg's fortune is impressive because it put him in the fourth spot in terms of year-to-date gains behind fellow billionaires Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault, and Jeff Bezos,, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Even so, this is a far cry from early 2022, when Zuckerberg started the year with a $125 billion fortune.

The massive slump in Zuckerberg's wealth last year mirrored a massive decline in Meta's share price, which lost about two-thirds of its value in 2022 after Facebook reported a fall in its daily active user numbers for the first time ever amid a massive strategic pivot.

In November, Zuckerberg announced mass layoffs that affected about 13% of its workforce and implemented other cost-cutting measures, like closing offices. On Wednesday, Meta said it will continue to tighten its belts in 2023.

"It's been a rapid phase-change, to take a step back and say, 'Ok, we can't treat everything like it's hyper growth,'" Zuckerberg said on a fourth-quarter earnings call with Wall Street analysts on Wednesday, according to a transcript. "We have a lot of things now that a lot of people use and that support a large amount of business and we should operate somewhat differently."

Meta expects capital expenditures to fall by $4 billion this year, the company said in a press release.

Read the original article on Business Insider

How Meta creator Mark Zuckerberg makes and spends his $65 billion fortune, from Italian sports cars to millions in Hawaii real estate

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 9:01pm
  • Mark Zuckerberg is one of the most powerful and wealthiest figures in the world.
  • He has a net worth of $67.6 billion, according to Forbes, and spends much of it on charity.
  • But he also pours money into real estate, especially in Hawaii, and cars.

Mark Zuckerberg is one of the wealthiest people in the world.

The Meta founder and CEO's fortune surpassed $100 billion last year, making him one of 10 centi-billionaires on the planet. However, recent events have brought that figure down to $67.6 billion, according to Forbes.

Zuckerberg mostly keeps a low profile, but he does splurge on real estate — especially in the tropical paradise that is Hawaii. He and his wife, Priscilla Chan, also invest in childhood education and medical research.

Here's how the tech mogul spends his billions, from cars to properties to charity.

Facebook debuted on the New York Stock Exchange in May 2012.Zuckerberg in New York May 18, 2012.

Eight years after its founding, Facebook clocked in the milestone. At the time, it was the biggest technology IPO in history and it sent Mark Zuckerberg's wealth soaring.

Source: Insider

Much of Zuckerberg's fortune comes from Meta.

The exec has a 13% stake in the company, whose parent company is now called Meta.

But he doesn't make a large salary — in fact, his take-home pay is just $1.

Source: Bloomberg, Insider

But he's fairly low-key.Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg

Despite his status as one of the richest tech moguls, the 38-year-old Harvard dropout leads a down-to-earth lifestyle with his wife, Priscilla Chan, and their two young daughters.

And he's not a fan of flashy clothes.Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook Connect 2021

Like many other Silicon Valley stalwarts, Zuckerberg doesn't dress in flashy suits — he keeps things simple in jeans, t-shirts, and sweaters.

But they're reportedly much more expensive than they look, retailing for hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars.

Source: Insider, GQ

Neither is he into flash vehicles.Zuckerberg in 2012.

Zuckerberg is known for driving relatively inexpensive cars. He's been seen in an Acura TSX and a Honda Fit, both of which are valued at or under $30,000.

Sources: Insider, CNBC

He loves his signature Volkswagen.

He's been spotted driving a black Volkswagen Golf GTI, a car that he bought well after making his fortune. That car would cost about $30,000 new.

Source: Insider

Although he did splurge on a car ...Mark Zuckerberg and a Pagani Huayra. Not Zuckerberg's actual car.

He has dropped serious cash on at least one sports car: an Italian Pagani Huayra that sells for about $1.3 million.

Source: Insider, Yahoo

And most recently, he posted some new wheels on Instagram.Not Zuckerberg's car.

In July, Zuckerberg posted a photo of what appear to be two refurbished vintage Ford Broncos, one baby blue and one black, with the caption "his and hers." The price is unknown.

A post shared by Mark Zuckerberg (@zuck)



He spends money more freely on real estate.

In May 2011, he bought a 5,000-square-foot home in Palo Alto for $7 million. He's since tricked it out with a "custom-made artificially intelligent assistant."

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, CNBC

Then he bought up nearby land.

The next year, Zuckerberg began buying the properties surrounding his home, spending more than $30 million to acquire four homes with plans to level them and rebuild.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, CNBC

He also used to own a townhouse in the Mission District of San Francisco.San Francisco in 2020.

He bought the 5,500-square-foot home in 2013 and proceeded to make over $1 million in renovations, including adding a greenhouse and remodeling the kitchen.

But in July, he sold it in an off-market sale for $31 million, the biggest residential real estate deal in San Francisco so far this year.

Source: Curbed San Francisco, Business Insider

Then there's Hawaii.A beach in Kauai.

In 2014, the billionaire's real-estate portfolio jumped the Pacific when he spent $100 million on two properties on the island of Kaua'i: the Kahu'aina Plantation, a 357-acre former sugarcane plantation, and Pila'a Beach, a 393-acre property with a white-sand beach.

Source: Insider, Forbes

But there's been backlash.A beach in Kauai.

In 2016, Zuckerberg angered neighbors by constructing a 6-foot wall around his property, and in 2017, Zuckerberg filed suit against Hawaiian families who had legal-ownership claims on parcels of land within his property. Though he dropped the suit, residents accused him of "neocolonialism."

Source: Insider

He's adding onto his Hawaii properties too.Wailua Falls in Kaua‘i, Hawaii.

In March 2021, he spent $53 million on nearly 600 acres of land on Kauai and in December, he purchased 110 more acres of land nearby for $17 million.

Source: Insider

The purchases serve as a respite for the executive.

When Zuckerberg is in Hawaii, he appears to spend his time unwinding and enjoying some hobbies. He's been photographed riding a $12,000 electric surfboard in the ocean off Kaua'i and practices shooting arrows and throwing spears on his property.

Source: Insider, Insider

Zuckerberg made another massive real estate purchase in 2018.Lake Tahoe.

He shelled out for two lakefront properties on Lake Tahoe, which cost a combined $59 million. One of the houses, called the Brushwood Estate, spans 5,233 square feet on six acres of land. The property features a guest house and a private dock.

Between his two Lake Tahoe properties, Zuckerberg owns about 600 feet of private shoreline on Lake Tahoe's west shore. When Zuckerberg buys properties, he tends to buy the other homes surrounding it for privacy reasons, just as he did in Palo Alto.

Source: Insider, SF Gate

Zuckerberg doesn't appear to travel much for pleasure.Zuckerberg this summer.

But when he traverses the globe for work, Meta foots the bill: security for Zuckerberg and his family cost the company $23 million in 2020, the company reported.

Source: Insider

Ultimately, opulence and luxury are just a blip on Zuckerberg's radar.Zuckerberg on October 25, 2019.

In fact, his main priority seems to be giving his money away, rather than spending it.

Zuckerberg has signed onto the Giving Pledge.Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg

He joined Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and over 200 other millionaires and billionaires who have vowed to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. He plans to sell 99% of his Facebook shares during his lifetime.

Source: Insider

He plans to donate significantly to his and his wife's organization.Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

Zuckerberg said in September 2017 that he planned to sell 35 to 75 million shares over the following 18 months to fund the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, totaling between $6 billion and $12 billion.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a philanthropic organization Zuckerberg founded with his wife in 2015 focused on "personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people, and building strong communities." CZI has awarded nearly $3 billion in grants over the years.

Source: Insider, Insider, CZI

CZI is invested in tackling both local and global issues.

In 2020, for example, the organization poured $4.2 million into a jobs program for residents of Kaua'i and committed $1 million to help the region battle the coronavirus. CZI has also contributed millions in the last year to causes like criminal justice reform and affordable housing.

Source: Insider, CZI

The pair have also donated to research.Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan

Zuckerberg and Chan have poured billions into research focused on curing the world's diseases by the end of the century. In order to accomplish this lofty goal, CZI launched a nonprofit called Biohub to start looking into the cure for disease, including research on genomics, infectious diseases, and implantable devices.

Source: Insider, Insider

Zuckerberg believes that Biohub will help speed up research to cure disease.

He told The New Yorker in 2018 that "we'll basically have been able to manage or cure all of the major things that people suffer from and die from today. Based on the data that we already see, it seems like there's a reasonable shot."

Source: The New Yorker

Zuckerberg's day job is still keeping him busy, however.

In the past couple of years alone, he's testified before lawmakers, attempted to quash coronavirus misinformation on Facebook, and suspended former President Donald Trump from the platform.

Source: Insider, Insider, Insider, Insider

Then there were the whistleblowers.The Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified to a Senate committee.

In 2021, two former employees came forward with allegations that the company's leadership consistently chose profits over safety.

One of the whistleblowers, Frances Haugen, leaked a trove of internal documents, known as the Facebook Papers, that detailed internal challenges like the company's impact on teenagers and how it's grappled with hate speech.

Source: Insider, Insider

In come the 'Metamates'Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announcing the Meta rebrand on Thursday.

In October 2021, Facebook officially changed its corporate name to Meta to reflect its new focus on the metaverse, a virtual space where users can interact digitally as avatars.

"From now on, we'll be metaverse first, not Facebook first," Zuckerberg said at the time.

Source: Insider

Meanwhile, Zuckerberg's wealth has soared.

Back in August 2020, the launch of a new Instagram feature designed to compete with TikTok sent both the company's share price and Zuckerberg's net worth to new heights.

The move caused Zuckerberg's net worth to exceed $100 billion for the first time, making him one of 10 centi-billionaires on Earth.

His wealth has dropped and fluctuated since then.

Though he's no longer in the hundred-billionaire club, Zuckerberg's wealth did increase by about $12.4 billion since Meta announced a series of cost-cutting measures, including mass layoffs, and a stock buyback of $40 billion.

According to Forbes, the Meta founder is worth $67.6 billion as of February 2, 2023.

Source: Bloomberg

Tanza Loudenback, Taylor Nicole Rogers, and Liz Knueven contributed to an earlier version of this story.

Read the original article on Business Insider

South Dakota lawmaker quotes MLK Jr. out of context during her vote to restrict health care for trans youth

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 8:37pm
Martin Luther King Jr. giving his final speech.
  • South Dakota is seeking to restrict gender-affirming care for trans youth. 
  • A state representative quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. while qualifying her vote to the chamber.
  • The quote had nothing to do with gender-affirming care.

On the second day of Black History Month, South Dakota State Representative used a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote without context to support a bill that would restrict health care for trans youth.

"I do support this bill and I think it is necessary in this time and place we live and in the time and place in history that we are in. And as other issues from the East Coast and West Coast crawl into our state, I think this is a good piece of legislation to protect our children," Rep. Brandei Schaefbauer said Thursday.

Schaefbauer is a Republican representing the state's third district.

She then went on to quote Dr. King's 1966 speech at Illinois Wesleyan University where he pushed for racial equality. He argued that the solution doesn't come with time, but with legislation. 

The portion Schaefbauer quoted is as follows: "It may be true that you can't legislate integration, but you can legislate desegregation. It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law can't make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important also. So while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men. And when you change the habits of men, pretty soon the attitudes and the hearts will be changed. And so there is a need for strong legislation constantly to grapple with the problems we face."

—Katelyn Burns (@transscribe) February 2, 2023

After quoting the speech and joining a long list of Republicans who have quoted MLK while advocating for issues that marginalize people of color and/or the LGBTQ community, Schaefbauer added, "And as we look around our nation, this is a problem we will be facing in South Dakota. So I believe this bill will protect our children into the future."

The bill, House Bill 1080, would prevent transgender youth from access to gender-affirming care. South Dakota is a notably conservative state.

Last year, South Dakota limited the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools by restricting "inherently divisive concepts" such as discussing how a person can be "racist, sexist or oppressive," CNN reported

Schaefbauer did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Read the original article on Business Insider

YouTube Shorts surpassed 50 billion daily views, a bright spot for Alphabet as it faces fierce competition from TikTok and declining ad revenue

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 8:30pm
YouTube Shorts logo.
  • YouTube Shorts now sees more than 50 billion daily views, up from 30 billion the year prior. 
  • The short-form video format was launched in 2021 as a response to TikTok. 
  • Beginning February 1, YouTube enabled creators to generate ad revenue from their Shorts videos.

YouTube Shorts has surpassed 50 billion daily views, up from 30 billion a year ago, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said during its fourth quarter earnings call on Thursday.

Shorts' growth was a rare bright spot for a quarter where Alphabet saw declining revenue in segments like Search, YouTube, and advertising. YouTube in particular saw its second quarter in a row of declining revenue from this time the previous year as it faces fierce competition from TikTok

YouTube generated just under $8 billion in revenue, down from $8.6 billion in revenue this time last year. Like other tech giants suffering from slumping ad revenue, Alphabet attributed the decline to a pullback in spend from advertisers over concerns of a looming recession.

The announcement of strong Shorts viewership comes just a day after YouTube enabled creators to share advertising revenue from short-form videos with the company. Once accepted into the YouTube Partner Program, users will receive a cut of revenue from the ads that appear against both long and now short-form videos. Some creators are already contemplating moving more of their content over to YouTube Shorts because of this. 

This provides potential for YouTube Shorts if the company can draw people away from TikTok. TikTok is privately owned, and it's unclear exactly how many views it sees per day. TikTok said in September 2021 that it had one billion monthly users. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew had said the app was on-track to generate $10 billion in revenue in 2022. 

It's "early days" for Shorts, Google chief business officer Philipp Schindler said on the call. Still, YouTube has long been considered the gold standard for video creators when it comes to making money as they can take a direct cut from advertising revenue.

Schindler described YouTube as "the only destination where creators can produce all forms of content across multiple formats, across multiple screens, and really, with multiple ways to make a living." He added that Alphabet's goal is to "make YouTube the best place for Shorts and creators."

Other apps like Snapchat and TikTok have rolled out creator funds, but those are essentially the companies creating pools of money and distributing it out based on factors like overall views. Creators have complained that these programs are opaque and barely pay anything at all

Meta is contemplating the possibility of sharing ad revenue with creators after years of resistance, The Information reported. Instagram, which Meta owns, has its own short-form video product called Reels. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

Google will bring generative AI to Gmail. It's trying to stem the threat of the Microsoft-OpenAI alliance.

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 8:21pm
Gmail will get some AI functionality, Google parent company Alphabet said Thursday.
  • Google announced plans to add more AI features and improvements to its products.
  • It's been developing AI models for years and has used AI in products, including search.
  • It also plans to release its AI applications to the public for feedback and further experimentation.

Google– which, in its earnings call, bragged that it's the company responsible for today's generative AI craze – laid out plans to integrate more of the technology into a majority of its products, including Gmail.

Google faces some threat to its standing as the No. 1 search engine after Microsoft – which runs the extremely distant second place Bing — will incorporate ChatGPT. Microsoft is an investor in ChatGPT parent OpenAI.

To be clear, Google has been using and doing research on AI for several years, even before ChatGPT was a twinkle in the eye of its developers. But the rise of ChatGPT — built by former Googlers — pushed the search giant into a corner.

It needs to prove it will bring its powerful AI models, like the large language model LaMDA, to its products and make the models more open for developers to use. Large language models power ChatGPT.

And so Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced AI will be coming to Gmail and Docs. Pichai held off on explaining exactly what generative AI in emails would look like. But in broad strokes, he said the plan is to make AI capabilities available "in design and more." 

Google will release new tools and APIs for developers and users to experiment with its AI models. Unlike some Big Tech AI models, ChatGPT went insanely viral because it was so easy to use and available even to non-programmers. LaMDA, Pichai said, will be made available "in the coming weeks and months" so others can interact with it and provide feedback.

The company also announced plans to offer more AI products for businesses and organizations, though Pichai did not specify which kinds. 

Pichai emphasized the role AI plays in Google's past, present, and future. He said AI is the most profound thing the company is working on.

"Translating these kinds of technical leaps into products that help billions of people is what our company has always strived on," Pichai said. "We'll pursue this work boldly but with a deep sense of responsibility."

Pichai pointed to using AI to improve Google Search and said people should expect further upgrades fueled by AI. These new features on search will also allow people to interact with the company's large language models "in experimental and innovative ways." 

But adding generative AI to your email client is not the endpoint for Google. Instead, the company wants to use AI to cut its costs.

Coming at the heels of laying off 12,000 employees, Google and Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat said the company plans to improve the efficiency of its tech infrastructure using AI, a move that usually means a company wants to automate more of its workflow. 

Google will release more details about its plans to bring more AI to its popular products, but for now, you can wait a bit longer before sending that AI-written email. 

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Amazon CEO Andy Jassy just joined the company's earnings call for the first time ever and shared 4 of his top priorities: 'Each era is different'

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 8:21pm
Amazon CEO Andy Jassy
  • Amazon's CEO Andy Jassy made his first ever appearance on the company's quarterly earnings call.
  • Jassy shared the four areas he's most focused on now.
  • He said priorities shift based on external factors and it's different for "each era" of leaderships.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy made his first ever appearance on the company's earnings call on Thursday and shared the 4 areas he's most focused on.

Unlike most other companies, Amazon's earnings calls are led by its CFO Brian Olsavsky. Amazon founder and ex-CEO Jeff Bezos didn't join the call for years before stepping down in 2021. Jassy said he'll jump on the call "from time to time moving forward" on Thursday.

Jassy's unexpected appearance highlights the pressure he's facing as CEO. The company's stock plunged last year, bureaucracy has crept in steadily, and the company is laying off 18,000 employees. Early this year, there was even chatter internally about Bezos potentially returning to the helm as CEO.

During the call, Jassy said Amazon's priorities shift based on "what's happening around" the company and that his focus areas may be different from prior leaders like Bezos. Those external factors include the pandemic, labor shortages, and an uncertain economy, just to name a few, according to Jassy. 

"For any leadership team, each era is different, and it's often meaningfully impacted by what's happening around you," Jassy said.

Here are the 4 focus areas for Amazon, according to Jassy:

  • Efficiency: Amazon expanded significantly during the pandemic, doubling its fulfillment center footprint in a couple of years. It also built out a transportation network "roughly the size of UPS" in that same period, Jassy said. That means Amazon has a lot to figure out on how to optimize costs and how to make more efficient decisions. "To figure out how to be really efficient across all those links and have them be highly utilized and to get the flows in those facilities work in the right way, it takes time. So we're working very hard on it," Jassy said.
  • Speed and selection: Jassy said getting products to customers faster makes them happier, and that leads to higher conversion rates. And when there's more product selection that is delivered quickly, it only leads to high customer satisfaction.
  • Pricing: In the current economy, customers are "very conscious" about how much they're spending, Jassy said, which makes pricing an even more important factor for them. Amazon has run a number of different deals and promotions recently to help alleviate some of those concerns. "We'll continue to work really hard on being sharp on pricing," Jassy said.
  • Customer experience: Jassy said "being maniacally focused on the customer experience" will always be a top priority. He listed a number of new services Amazon launched in recent years, including the Buy with Prime feature that lets Prime members get free shipping on non-Amazon sites, and the new RxPass prescription delivery service. "We will continue to work very hard on those customer experiences, and we have a lot more planned," Jassy said.

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Amazon's AWS just notched its slowest growth in years. It expects customers to tighten their belts even more.

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 8:12pm
Amazon CEO Andy Jassy and other company execs presented figures Thursday that showed a slowdown at AWS.
  • Amazon's cloud business is seeing a slowdown in growth as customers reduce spending. 
  • Amazon's execs say AWS growth will decline even further this quarter.
  • Customers are optimizing spending as they look to reduce costs amid the economic downturn.

The growth of Amazon's cloud business was shaved in half as companies confronting an economic slowdown look to cut costs.

In other words, a bank that has fewer deals to make needs less computing power; same with an advertising agency that has fewer ads to place. All of that translates into less spend at Amazon Web Services, or AWS — Amazon's cash cow that brought in revenues of $21.4 billion last quarter. 

AWS still logged 20% growth compared to the same period a year ago, but that's down sharply from the same quarter in 2021, when AWS logged 40% growth.

The decelerating numbers come as Amazon as a whole reported its slowest year of growth in the time it's been a public company.

Meanwhile, AWS's growth is expected to continue to slow even further in the quarters ahead, Amazon CFO Brian T. Olsavsky said on a call with Wall Street analysts. He said trying economic times would continue to be a "headwind," saying AWS's growth could notch down even further into the mid-teens.

It's not entirely surprising. Analysts were expecting a slowdown in growth after Microsoft also reported slowing cloud growth last week. Analysts lowered their expectations after that, but AWS numbers missed even those dimmed expectations. 

As corporate customers look to save money in an economic downturn, they want to cut their cloud costs, CEO Andy Jassy said. There's various things customers are doing when cutting spending, including switching to lower-cost products, running calculations less frequently, or looking at different options for data storage. 

Still, Olsavsky said the slowdown wasn't cause for alarm. "We do have new deals," he said, pointing to new customers in the pipeline. "And whether there's short-term belt tightening in the infrastructure expense by a lot of companies, I think the long-term trends are still there. And I think the quickest way to save money is to get to the cloud."

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Apple CEO Tim Cook says AI will eventually 'affect every product and service we have'

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 8:05pm
Apple CEO Tim Cook said he's focused on artificial intelligence.
  • Tim Cook said AI would be a "major focus" for Apple and affect every product and service. 
  • Recent AI products like ChatGPT and DALL-E 2 have caught the attention of the business community. 
  • Cook said Apple has already integrated AI into some of its iPhone and Apple watch features. 

Recent advancements in artificial intelligence have caught much of the business community's attention, and Apple CEO Tim Cook is no exception. 

On an earnings call with investors and reporters on Thursday afternoon, Cook said AI is a "major focus" at Apple, adding, "it's incredible in terms of how it can enrich customers' lives." 

Cook pointed to some of Apple's services that already have integrated elements of artificial intelligence, including the iPhone and Apple Watch's new crash detection feature and Apple Watch's electrocardiogram feature that allows users to record their heartbeat and rhythm. 

Apple's CEO said he plans to incorporate AI into the company further. 

"We see enormous potential in this space to affect virtually everything we do... It will affect every product and every service that we have," Cook said. 

Earlier this month, Apple released another consumer-facing product in the space: AI-powered book narrations

Many predictions about artificial intelligence seemed like the stuff of science fiction until recently, when several consumer-facing AI products hit the market, including AI photo editors like Lensa AI and DALL-E 2, along with AI chatbot ChatGPT. 

The image generators and ChatGPT have been met with both criticism and celebration for pushing the boundaries of AI technology. 

DALL-E 2 and ChatGPT are products of OpenAI, of which another big tech giant, Microsoft, owns a sizeable stake. Google also has its own version of AI, LaMDA, though it's not publicly available. 

Apple is ramping up staffing for its own AI efforts: it currently has more than 100 open job positions in machine learning and AI.


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Howard Schultz teased that an Italian-inspired 'game-changer' is coming soon to Starbucks — and it's 'bigger than any new promotion or beverage'

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 7:59pm
Howard Schultz is traveling back to Italy later this month.
  • The Italian espresso culture inspired Howard Schultz 40 years ago as he built the Starbucks empire.
  • On Thursday, the interim CEO said another Italian-inspired product is coming soon to Starbucks.
  • "It will be a game changer," Schultz said in his last earnings call.  

Nearly 40 years ago, Italy's espresso culture inspired Howard Schultz to build Starbucks into an empire of community-centered cafes worldwide.

On Thursday, the Starbucks interim CEO said Italy has called out to him again.

In his final earnings call, Schultz hinted at a game-changing new "platform" coming to Starbucks later this month.

"While I was in Italy last summer, I discovered an enduring transformative new category and platform for the company – unlike anything I've ever experienced," he said during the first quarter conference call. "The word I would use to describe it without giving too much away is alchemy. It will be a game-changer. So standby."

Schultz said will travel to Milan later this month "to introduce something much bigger than any new promotion or beverage."

He called the trip a "full circle" journey for him.

Schultz first visited Milan in 1983.

"I was captivated by the sense of community I found in the city's espresso bars – the moments of human connection that passed so freely and genuinely between baristas and their customers," Schultz said in 2018 when Starbucks opened its first Roastery in Milan.

Later in the call, an analyst tried to coax Schultz to provide more details.

"If I told you, I'd have to kill you." he joked.

Schultz returned for a third stint as the company's top boss last spring after Kevin Johnson stepped down as chief executive officer. Schultz took over the chain amid the ongoing pandemic and store unionization efforts going on across the US.

Laxman Narasimhan will become the company's next chief executive officer on April 1.

Schultz exits his top leadership role on a high. 

In North America, including the US, the company reported record sales.

"Eight of the ten highest sales days in our history [were] recorded in the quarter," Schultz said.

Starbucks grew its rewards members to 30.4 million, up 15% over last year. On February 13, Starbucks plans to change its Starbucks Rewards program. Consumers are upset that coffee and lattes will require more stars to redeem for free.

Are you a Starbucks insider with insight to share? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at

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When a journalist's home was raided by the FBI, Glenn Beck and Tucker Carlson erroneously speculated about the government's motive. The journalist has now been charged with transporting child porn.

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 7:56pm
Justice Scales and wooden gavel
  • Former ABC News reporter James Gordon Meek was charged Wednesday with transporting child pornography.
  • The FBI had raided Meek's home last April, leading him to disappear from the public eye.
  • Glenn Beck, Tucker Carlson, and others initially treated the case as a part of a Biden war on journalism.

"Do we live now in Russia? The FBI is completely and totally out of control," Glenn Beck said in a 21-minute video last fall about the apparent disappearance of a former ABC News journalist following a raid on his home. He returned to the topic the very next day, declaring it "maybe the most important story of at least the year, maybe longer," and fitting it to a narrative about a federal war on conservatives and a free press.

"This is tyranny," Beck declared. "Say his name, America. Where is James Gordon Meek?"

On Wednesday, the US Department of Justice offered some clarity, revealing that Meek, a 53-year-old, veteran national security journalist, has been charged with transporting child pornography.

Prosecutors allege that Meek manipulated children into providing him sexually explicit material — investigators were tipped off after such content was allegedly found in his Dropbox account — and boasted in a private conversation with another alleged pedophile of having raped a toddler. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

An attorney for Meek did not respond to a request for comment.

Last fall, when Beck recorded his videos, all that was known is that Meek had quit his job and disappeared from the public eye following an April 2022 FBI raid on his home in Virginia. An October report in Rolling Stone said that an indictment was being prepared but could not say why, noting only that "classified information" had been found on one of his laptops.

That was enough for others to start raising the alarm. The Daily Mail, a conservative British tabloid, said the raid — if tied to classified information — "raises serious questions about the government's approach towards journalists seeking to expose corruption or wrongdoing." The outlet published a lengthy follow-up on Wednesday, reporting on the actual charge against the reporter while also noting the earlier "fears Meek was being targeted for his trailblazing journalism, which has exposed shocking military cover-ups, friendly fire deaths, and foiled terror plots."

Others went further last fall — not mentioning the story since Wednesday's charge — and started connecting the dots. "This is disappearing someone who is investigating corruption in the government," Beck, a former presenter on CNN and Fox News, told his radio and online audience.

Instead of updating his audience on the case, Beck released a video Thursday on how to prepare for a "HUGE cyber attack." He did not immediately respond to a message requesting comment.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson, in an October broadcast that touched on the raid, confessed that we "can't even really guess as to what's really going on here." But, as noted by Media Matters' Matthew Gertz, he nonetheless speculated on why a journalist might get "a visit from armed men with guns from the Biden administration," including it in a segment on how such raids are "the hallmark of a dictatorship."

Carlson did not address the development in Meek's case on his Wednesday broadcast. A representative for Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rather than target him over his reporting, it appears the Justice Department was actually "taking extra precautions given Meek's status as a journalist" before announcing any charges against him, Rolling Stone reported in December, citing sources familiar with the investigation. That report came after the department issued new guidance generally prohibiting investigators from targeting reporters over classified information gathered as part of their job.

The conservative website RedState suggested Meek might even be framed, suggesting a veteran journalist would not leave classified information on their computer and stating that "there are lots of things being manufactured by the government these days."

"[T]his is now Biden's America," the site's Jennifer Oliver O'Connell wrote in October. RedState, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has not mentioned the case since.

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Skechers says slip-on shoes will 'hit in full force' later this year as it joins Kizik and Nike in the race to be the leader in laceless sneakers

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 7:48pm
Skechers expects its slip-in sneakers to be a hit.
  • Skechers on Thursday reported record quarterly sales.
  • The earnings report slightly disappointed Wall Street.
  • Executives expect "incredibly strong" demand for slip-on shoes this year.

Kizik and Nike aren't the only brands racing to get laceless sneakers to store shelves.

Skechers reported record quarterly sales on Thursday, and executives said that despite some "recessionary signals" in the marketplace, they expect a strong second half, buoyed by robust demand for its new slip-on shoes. 

"Early indications have been nothing but incredibly strong from a consumer perspective," Chief Financial Officer John Vandemore said on a conference call with stock analysts.

Skechers already sells several models of slip-on sneakers.

Utah-based Kizik and industry leader Nike also are investing in slip-on technology in order to meet rising demand. Nike is an investor in Kizik and recently introduced a slip-on Jordan

Skechers remains hot with consumers. For the quarter, it reported a record $1.88 billion in sales, a 13.5% increase. But the company's stock dipped slightly after the earnings report, likely because of an outlook that was short of expectations.

The company expects $1.8 billion to $1.85 billion in first-quarter revenue, below the $1.95 billion previously expected by Wall Street analysts, according to Factset. It expects 55 cents to 60 cents in earnings per share, also below the 86 cents previously expected by analysts. 

"This year will really become, again, a tale of two halves," Vandemore said. "The first half is where we're seeing the challenges. The second half is where we see a ton of opportunity."

(On the call, executives and analysts used the word "half" 43 times, according to a preliminary transcript compiled by AlphaSense/Sentieo.) 

Among the challenges in the first half: Covid-related problems in China and a US market still dealing with too much inventory and shipping chain hiccups. 

Among the opportunities in the second half: slip-on shoes. 

"We have … some continuing product introduction activity that's going to, I think, really propel where the market goes for Skechers in the back half of the year, most notably our slip-in products," Vandemore said. "That's really when they begin to hit in full force in the market." 

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It's official: Apple is still the only tech giant to have avoided recent major layoffs or cost cuts

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 7:41pm
Apple CEO Tim Cook didn't mention cuts in Thursday's earnings call.
  • Apple took a beating in the holiday quarter, posting its first yearly sales drop since 2019.
  • Every tech company is suffering right now, with almost every one doing layoffs and cost cuts.
  • But Apple hasn't, and CEO Tim Cook says it still plans to invest "in innovation, in people."

The mood in Silicon Valley has been nothing but doom-and-gloom, and this week's marathon session of financial reports didn't help matters.

Facebook's parent company Meta and Google's parent company Alphabet both used their earnings calls to raise the possibility of more cost-cuts to come even beyond their recent major layoffs, even as Amazon earnings fell short of expectations.

There's been one port in this particular storm, however. Apple has weathered the perfect storm of swelling inflation, pandemic-related supply chain issues, and the war in Ukraine without having to perform any significant reduction in its workforce

On Apple's quarterly earnings call on Thursday afternoon, CEO Tim Cook acknowledged the hurdles facing the company. But conspicuous by its absence was any mention of cost-cutting, layoffs, or strategy shifts. In fact, quite the opposite, Cook told the Wall Street analysts on the call that "whatever challenges we face, our strategy is always the same," including its investments "in innovation, in people." 

To be clear, the company's earnings report was not all sunshine and rainbows. As CNBC noted, Apple posted sales during the holiday quarter that were 5% lower than the same period then the year before — its first such sales decline since 2019. Overall, it posted earnings of $1.88 per share on $117.5 billion in revenue for the quarter, both of which were below Wall Street expectations. 

But Cook took an optimistic tone on the earnings call. He spotlighted that there are now 2 billion active Apple devices, and shared that the supply chain issues that hampered availability of the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro Max through the end of last year are now alleviated.

Cook also said if it weren't for the shortage of those models, the company forecasts that iPhone demand overall would have remained consistent through the quarter. To that point, the company forecasts that revenues during the current quarter will be about the same as they were in the holiday quarter, rather than any kind of precipitous drop.

Wall Street seems to be half-convinced by Cook's sunnier outlook, at least. While shares dipped over 4% immediately after Apple released the report, that went down to only an approximately 2% drop following the conclusion of the call.

While that's not to the lofty heights of Meta, which closed up over 23% on Thursday after announcing cost-cutting and raising the possibility of more layoffs on Wednesday evening, it's also not the kind of dramatic roller-coaster ride that generally results in management deciding to take drastic action, like layoffs, to appease investors. 

Ultimately, things can move fast in the tech industry, and today's sure thing can be tomorrow's massive flop. Just because Tim Cook didn't announce layoffs today doesn't mean it'll automatically be able to avoid that fate forever. 

At the same time, credit where credit is due, and Cook's slow and steady approach — which has sometimes been called "boring," in both a positive and negative way — has kept Apple afloat with minimal turbulence, even while its peers scramble to keep up.

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Here's why Israel, one of the toughest militaries, isn't arming Ukraine despite a global push to do so. It's got another fight in focus.

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 7:30pm
Israeli army M109 155mm self-propelled howitzers are positioned in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights near the Syria border on January 2, 2023.
  • Israel, a major US partner, has not provided direct military aid to Ukraine.
  • The country is balancing Western interests and its own regional interests in the Middle East.
  • Russia allows Israel to conduct operations targeting Iran-linked forces in Syria, something it doesn't want to jeopardize.

Since Russian forces launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, the US and partner countries have provided Kyiv with tens of billions of dollars in widespread security assistance. 

But Israel, a prominent ally of NATO and Western militaries, has so far refused to send weapons to Ukraine, despite pressure to do so, opting instead to focus its efforts on providing humanitarian aid. 

Middle East experts say this is because Israel has a complicated relationship with Russia and works with the country to carry out operations in neighboring Syria. At the same time, Israel has been able to often strike a balance between the interests of major global powers and its own to avoid conflict.

Israel, as of February 2022, was the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance — most of which comes in the form of military support. It also boasts one of the world's strongest militaries, armed with drones, advanced fighter jets, and even nuclear weapons, though that isn't openly acknowledged.

The US and its allies expected that Israel would support Ukraine when Russia invaded, but the country was slow to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin and the unprovoked assault on Russia's neighbor.

From the early days of the war, Israel has provided humanitarian aid and equipment for emergency forces — efforts that have continued under the new right-wing government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the country has stopped short of providing direct lethal military aid to Ukraine, despite pleas from leadership in Kyiv. 

It's complicated.

Israel's complicated relationship with Russia has multiple dimensions to it. For starters, Israel is home to large Russian and Ukrainian communities, while both of these countries host Jewish populations.  

"How do you deal with countries — that have Jewish communities — and they fight with one another?" Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa program at the UK-based Chatham House, told Insider. "You have to be careful how you act without endangering one or the other Jewish community."

Israeli soldiers transport munitions off a vehicle at a position in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on January 2, 2023.

But the issue that remains front and center when it comes to Israel's reluctance to send military aid to Ukraine involves neighboring Syria and a shadowy conflict between Israel and its regional foe, Iran.

Russia controls much of the airspace over war-torn Syria, and it allows Israel to carry out operations targeting Iran-linked assets and weapons shipments to its regional proxies like the Lebanon-based Hezbollah — which is designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the US State Department. 

"Russia doesn't try to shoot down Israeli planes, and Israeli planes don't try to destroy Russian anti-aircraft batteries," Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Insider.

Even as Moscow allows Israel to clamp down on Iranian influence in Syria, Russia and Iran have increased their military ties and support throughout the Ukraine war. Tehran has provided the Kremlin with suicide drones, which Russian forces have used to bombard Ukrainian cities and the country's civilian infrastructure. 

A top UK official said in December that Russia was also seeking a massive supply of ballistic missiles from Iran and was prepared to offer the country "unprecedented" military support in return. 

'Contradictory' and 'paradoxical' behaviors

In theory, the threat posed by Russia-Iran cooperation in this space would appear to be the most likely impetus for Israel to provide additional support for Ukraine, Alterman said, but Israel is reluctant to lose the freedom of action it has in Syria because it perceives Hezbollah to be a tremendous danger.

"It would take a lot for Israel to feel that it should jeopardize freedom of action against these resupply efforts that go through Syria," he said. So even with these increasing military ties between Moscow and Tehran, Israel has not made efforts to outfit Ukraine with lethal aid needed to defeat Russia. 

International relations occasionally have "contradictory" and "paradoxical behavior," Mekelberg explained — a policy might not make much sense in the big picture but it works for a specific case, even if it contradicts a stance on another issue.   

An Israeli Air Force F-35 Lightning II fighter jet performs during a graduation ceremony of Israeli Air Force pilots, at the Hatzerim base in the Negev desert, near the southern city of Beer Sheva, on December 28, 2022.An image grab from November 20, 2019 reportedly shows Syrian air defense batteries responding to Israeli missiles targeting the southern outskirts of Damascus.

Another example of this contradictory behavior is that Russia doesn't want Iran to have too much influence in Syria and is happy for Israel to carry out its operations in country. It could have stopped Israeli behavior a long time ago if it wanted to, Mekelberg added.  

"Every country has a complicated set of interests, so Israel and Russia have a certain amount of understanding. But you could argue that Russia and Iran are cooperating in a range of ways, some of which Israel finds threatening because Israel finds Iran so threatening," Alterman said. "So it seems to me that what Israel is doing and what Israel expects countries to do is to balance between partners and between interests that nobody gets a hundred percent of anything." 

Israel's response to the Ukraine war does not seem to be a major cause for concern in Washington, and it's not the only country with solid US ties — like South Korea and India — to sidestep directly sending lethal aid to Ukraine. 

"It's partly a reflection of the complexity of the US-Israeli relationship," Alterman said, "and partly a reflection of the Biden administration having to adjust for the fact that close partners are, in many cases, unwilling to line up across the board."

Last week, Axios reported that the US asked Israel if it could transfer out-of-service Hawk anti-aircraft missiles, but it remains to be seen if Israel breaks with protocol and decides to transfer lethal military aid to Ukraine. Netanyahu told CNN recently that he would consider sending weaponry to Kyiv, which Moscow warned would lead to an escalation in the conflict, according to The Times of Israel.  

Meanwhile, Western security assistance to Ukraine is continuing to pile up. Hundreds of armored vehicles, including tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, are heading to Ukraine in the coming months to help it defend itself against what US officials describe as a potential Russian "onslaught." 

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The Western-made tanks heading to Ukraine are unique — but that creates unique problems for Ukraine's military

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 7:03pm
A US soldier scrambles into the driver's compartment of an M1A1 Abrams tank at Fort Benning in Georgia in May 2016.
  • Three kinds of Western tanks now are headed to Ukraine, and more may follow.
  • Those tanks have specific logistics needs and operational requirements — and some unique features.

Military supply officers have a tough job. Modern tanks are complex and require lots of maintenance and spare parts.

But what do you when your army is equipped with a half-dozen types of main battle tanks, each with its quirks and requirements? That's the situation faced by Ukraine.

With three models of Western main battle tanks from three different nations on the way — and possibly more on the horizon — Ukrainian tank crews, mechanics, and quartermasters will have to learn to accommodate a variety of armored idiosyncrasies.

M1A2 AbramsA soldier does maintenance on a US Army M1 Abrams during a combined-arms live-fire exercise.

Take the US M1A2 Abrams, of which Ukraine is slated to receive 31. While most modern tanks run on diesel, the Abrams uses a Honeywell 1,500-horsepower gas-turbine engine that functions best when burning JP-8 jet fuel.

This gives the Abrams a powerful power plant capable of brisk acceleration while remaining remarkably quiet. But the price is ferocious gas-guzzling.

The Abrams gets about 0.6 miles per gallon. In 1993, Sweden compared the M1 to the Leopard 2, and found the German tank got double the Abrams' gas mileage.

Compounding the problem is that Ukraine's pre-war fleet of Soviet- and Russian-designed tanks, as well as the German Leopard 2s and British Challenger 2s it is receiving, run on diesel.

This means that Ukraine will have to ensure a separate fuel supply for the Abrams. (Abrams tanks can use diesel but doing so creates additional maintenance needs.)

Challenger 2Soldiers work on a Challenger 2 during an exercise in Hampshire in March 2022.

Then there is Britain's Challenger 2, of which Ukraine will get 14. While most tanks today are armed with smoothbore cannon, the Challenger 2 has a rifled L30 120 mm cannon.

Most tank guns use hollow-charge or armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding-sabot (APFSDS) rounds that punch through the armor of enemy tanks.

But the Challenger 2 can also fire high-explosive squash head (HESH) shells that essentially plant a big charge of plastic explosive on the surface of the target tank, which causes the inner armor to spew fragments that wound or kill the crew and set off ammunition.

A British army Challenger 2 during a rehearsal in Salisbury Plain in October 2018.

HESH rounds are particularly suited for rifled cannon, but this means Challengers need a different type of ammunition than the Abrams and Leopard 2, which can share some ammo.

Also unusual is that the L30's shells come in two pieces (explosive and propellant) rather than a unitary shell. While that offers some advantages in safety and stowage, Ukrainian gunners and loaders will have to learn new procedures to use them.

The Challenger 2 also consists of a modernized Challenger 1 hull from the 1990s and a new turret. An unfortunate consequence of that combination is that the Challenger 2 "requires at least two sets of tools because the turret uses metric measurements and the hull imperial," noted Britain's Daily Telegraph.

However, it is not true that the Challenger 2 comes with a built-in teapot.

Leopard 2A Norwegian Leopard 2 enters a military training town during an exercise in Germany in June 2018.

Then there is the German-made Leopard 2, which hasn't seen much combat.

The Abrams and the Challenger 2's predecessor, the Challenger 1, saw a fair bit of combat against Iraq's T-72 and other Russian tanks in the First Gulf War. Challenger tanks were credited with destroying 300 Iraqi tanks.

When Turkish Leopard 2s battled ISIS fighters in Syria in 2016, the results were less than impressive.

Turkey's 2nd Armored Brigade reportedly lost 10 Leopards "in the fight for the Syrian city of al-Bab to anti-tank weapons and improvised explosives," according to German magazine Der Spiegel. "Islamic State terrorists began using images of the burned-out tanks in their propaganda material."

German soldiers repair a Leopard 2 at a training area in Munster in October 2017.

Most likely, these losses were because of poor Turkish combined-arms tactics rather than any glaring deficiencies with the Leopard 2. (Iraqi and Saudi M1s have been destroyed for the same reason.)

The question with the Leopard 2 may be maintenance and availability.

The Bundeswehr, which has long struggled with readiness and spare parts issues, only has 350 Leopard 2s, which doesn't leave many for Ukraine.

Leopard manufacturer Rheinmetall has 22 Leopard 2s and 88 older Leopard 1s in its inventory, but those can't be made battle-ready until at least 2024.

Useful, but challengingIdaho Army National Guard soldiers on an Abrams in May 2022.

To be clear, a quirk is not necessarily a flaw. And there are perfectly valid reasons why tanks differ between nations.

For example, HESH rounds are best suited for a rifled cannon, and gas-turbine engines are not an unreasonable choice for armies willing to pay the logistical price.

In the end, what will be key isn't the technical characteristics of these tanks. They are all formidable and better than the Russian tanks they will be facing.

What matters is how many Ukraine will receive — 31 Abrams and 14 Challenger 2s are not a lot — and how Ukraine's military uses them.

Michael Peck is a defense writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, Defense News, Foreign Policy magazine, and other publications. He holds a master's in political science. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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US scrambles F-22s following reports of unidentified flying object over Montana believed to be a Chinese spy balloon

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 7:02pm
The US scrambled F-22 Raptors after reports Wednesday of an unidentified flying object over Montana.
  • The US is tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon first spotted over Montana, per NBC News.
  • The balloon has been hovering over the US "for the past few days," NBC reported Thursday.
  • "We continue to track and monitor it closely," a Pentagon spokesperson said.

The US military is tracking a suspected Chinese spy balloon after a bright, unidentified flying object was spotted in the skies of Montana, a senior defense official told reporters on Thursday, confirming a report published by NBC News.

Video published by an NBC affiliate in Billings, Montana, shows a bright, unidentified object in the sky, which prompted flights to be diverted from the local airport on Wednesday.

A senior US defense official, speaking to reporters on Thursday, said that the US considered shooting down the balloon on Wednesday but decided it was not worth the potential risk of debris falling on people and property below.

"Clearly, the intent of the balloon is first surveillance, and so the current flight path does carry it over a number of sensitive sites," the official said. However, the US has assessed "it does not create significant value-added over and above what the [People's Republic of China] is likely able to collect through things like satellites in low-Earth orbit. But out of an abundance of caution we have taken additional mitigation steps."

The official said there was "very high confidence" that the balloon was Chinese but did not elaborate on how that assessment was made, saying only that it was "shared across our intelligence and analytic community."

According to NBC, it is believed to have flown from a chain of volcanic islands off the coast of Russia and Alaska, making its way to Montana on Wednesday.

"It is not the first time that you've had a balloon of this nature cross over the continental United States," the official said. "It's happened a handful of other times over the past few years, to include before this administration. It is appearing to hang out for a longer period of time this time around, more persistent than in previous instances, so that would be one distinguishing factor."

There are several potential surveillance targets in the area where the balloon was spotted, including Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, which is just one of three such bases in the US home to Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, a strategic nuclear weapon. US Space Command's Missile Warning Center is also located in neighboring Colorado.

After the balloon was spotted, the US military responded by scrambling F-22 Raptors and other aircraft near Billings, prompting the civilian airport to be shuttered for some time. "But even with those protective measures taken, it was the judgment of our military commanders that we didn't drive the risk down low enough, so we didn't take the shot," the US official said.

The official said the US had contacted the Chinese government through China's embassy in Washington DC and through the US Embassy in Beijing but did not describe the message that was relayed. "We have made clear we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people and our homeland," the official said Thursday, adding that if the US's risk assessment changes, "we will have options to deal with this balloon."

Stratospheric balloons are capable of taking high-resolution photographs and potentially intercepting electronic communications for a fraction of the cost of launching a satellite. Last summer, Politico reported that the US was itself developing plans to deploy its own high-altitude balloons to, among other things, track the deployment of hypersonic missiles in China and Russia.

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Even North Korea — one of Putin's last remaining allies — is backing away from helping Russia with its disastrous war with Ukraine

Thu, 02/02/2023 - 6:49pm
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, on December 30, 2022.
  • North Korea signaled interest last year in helping Russia rebuild occupied parts of eastern Ukraine.
  • About 800 to 1,000 workers were recruited at the time, Daily NK previously reported.
  • But as the war slogs on and its trajectory remains uncertain, North Korea delayed sending laborers.

North Korea delayed sending cheap laborers who can help Russia rebuild occupied regions of eastern Ukraine, according to Daily NK, revealing how even President Vladimir Putin's closest allies remain skeptical about the war's trajectory.

In September, North Korea's ambassador signaled interest in sending construction workers to Russian-occupied territories, The Associated Press reported.

Those plans further materialized as North Korean officials recruited about 800 to 1,000 workers, with plans to send them by early November, according to Daily NK.

But with Russia's war against Ukraine trudging into its 12th month, North Korea has held off from sending construction aid in "danger zone[s]," a source in North Korea told Daily NK.

"This is because they were going to rush the workers over if Russia quickly ended the war and expanded its liberated zones, but the war isn't going as well as they thought," he told the outlet.

The source said he believes workers will be deployed as the war comes to an end, but as of now the "situation isn't good enough now to send them."

"I think even our country [North Korea] can't make its people run around a danger zone to earn money, no matter how important the cash is," he said, according to Daily NK.

Support for Putin's war — from his inner circle to some of his most powerful allies — has faltered since the invasion began last February.

One Russian billionaire in contact with high-ranking officials told The Washington Post in a December report how there's "huge frustration among the people around him."

"He clearly doesn't know what to do," he told The Post.

During a video conference with Putin in December, Xi Jinping reaffirmed his support for Russia but acknowledged the "complicated and quite controversial international situation."

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis told MSNBC in January that Putin is "scrambling to gain manpower" as Russia is estimated to have suffered around 100,000 casualties.

"Putin will take anything. It's a sign of how difficult this fight has become for him," the former NATO commander said.

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