It was the spring of 2007. Akon and Fergie were at the top of the charts, nobody could stop talking about Zach Snyder’s 300, and the word was starting to get around about this weird new microblogging startup called… Twitter. CEO Jack Dorsey and co-founder Biz Stone described the site as something like a cross between traditional texting and long-form LiveJournal-ing. The New York Times ran a column questioning whether the “radical self-revelation” this setup invited was even healthy for people to engage with (spoiler: it’s probably not!). But we’re not here to talk about any of that. Instead, I just want you to take a good, long look at Dorsey’s face in that picture.
Is he smiling? Can you call that smiling? Are his eyes actually looking at anything in the room? Do you think he knows where he is right now? Do you think he had a sudden premonition about the cesspit his startup would one day become, and he’s just sitting there, screaming internally?
Elon Musk sent the price of bitcoin soaring Sunday night after a positive tweet about the cryptocurrency, which has tracked closely with Musk’s tweets over the past six months. The SpaceX founder also revealed his electric car company Tesla has sold roughly 10% of its bitcoin holdings.
Musk, the second wealthiest person in the world, was responding to a tweet from crypto news outlet CoinTelegraph that accused the billionaire of running a pump and dump scheme when he made his latest revelations.
“This is inaccurate. Tesla only sold ~10% of holdings to confirm BTC could be liquidated easily without moving market,” Musk tweeted on Sunday, using the abbreviation of bitcoin.
Oh, for sure. It’s perfectly normal to sell off millions of dollars in assets to… test the market. That’s just smart business and not a sign of trying to dump your Monopoly money.
Musk continued by explaining that he’ll let Tesla accept bitcoin as a payment for electric cars once the energy consumed to mine the cryptocurrency reaches about 50% renewable.
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“When there’s confirmation of reasonable (~50%) clean energy usage by miners with positive future trend, Tesla will resume allowing Bitcoin transactions,” Musk tweeted.
Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are notoriously bad for the environment, consuming enormous amounts of energy to run properly. Musk started accepting bitcoin for Teslas back in March but stopped in May when the billionaire said he was worried that crypto was bad for the environment.
The weird part, of course, is that nothing changed environmentally in that period when Tesla accepted bitcoin. Everyone knew it was bad for the environment when Musk started taking bitcoin and there’s basically no way that someone like Musk could’ve been ignorant of the environmental impact before he made that decision.
The price of bitcoin is currently sitting at roughly $39,200, up 9.64% over the past 24 hours, according to CoinDesk. That’s still quite a ways off it’s all-time high of $64,829, but bitcoin diehards have to be excited that it’s moving in a positive direction after Musk’s tweets from the past few months sent the price tumbling.
Musk knows what he’s doing by manipulating the bitcoin market with his tweets, but he still has some level of plausible deniability, if only because the market isn’t regulated in any serious way. The only question left is whether Musk’s legion of followers realize it’s all a grift before they empty their bank accounts on the wrong side of Musk’s crypto rollercoaster. We’re not going to hold our breath.
Someone with deep pockets just shelled out $28 million to fly to space with Jeff Bezos, the richest man on Earth, on Blue Origin’s first crewed flight of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know who the mystery bidder is, although Blue Origin promises we’ll find out in a few weeks.
Last month, Blue Origin announced that it would auction off a seat on its first crewed flight, which will include Bezos, the company’s founder, as well as his brother Mark Bezos. The online auction had three phases, and the process concluded with a live auction on Saturday. Blue Origin said that the $28 million winning bid amount will be donated to its foundation, Club for the Future, which aims to promote STEM careers among future generations and “help invent the future of life in space.”
About 7,600 people from 159 countries registered to bid on the open seat, the company said in a news announcement.
Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin’s director of astronaut and orbital sales, announced the winning bid from the live auction. Cornell thanked the winner and said that $28 million would help the foundation inspire a lot of kids.
“The whole Blue Origin team cannot wait to meet our first customer. They’re going to join Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark on this historic human flight on New Shepard in just five weeks. July 20th is going to be an experience of a lifetime,” Cornell said. “To say that we are humbled is an incredible understatement.”
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The identity of the person who placed the winning bid isn’t the only thing shrouded in mystery at this time. Blue Origin’s inaugural crew will include four passengers—although the capsule can hold up to six, it has no pilots—and the company hasn’t announced who the fourth passenger will be yet. On Saturday, Blue Origin stated that the name of the fourth and final crew member would be announced in the upcoming weeks.
The New Shepard flight will not go into Earth orbit, but rather the region slightly beyond the Kármán Line, a boundary at an altitude exceeding 62 miles (100 kilometers) that technically qualifies as suborbital space. The crew will spend about 11 minutes in space, allowing passengers to experience a few moments of weightlessness, before coming back to Earth.
Bezos’ Blue Origin is not the only company eyeing space tourism. Fellow billionaires Richard Branson and Elon Musk are also in the race. Musk, who leads SpaceX, plans to launch an all-civilian crew to space via the company’s Dragon spacecraft later this year. Branson, meanwhile, is expected to fly into space on the VSS Unity in one of Virgin Galactic’s test flights sometime this year as well. Virgin Galactic intends to begin commercial service in early 2022.
Back when Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—and therefore, because it’s a Star Wars movie, its oodles upon oodles of merchandise—was coming out, Hasbro had yet to introduce its game-changing “photoreal” face-printing technology, which meant your action figures of Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, and pals didn’t perhaps look as great as they could.
Hell, the gang wasn’t even all there! Only Jyn, Cassian, and K-2SO got figures in Hasbro’s 6″ scaled Black Series line in time for the movie’s release, with Chirrut and Baze not getting figures until later, and Riz Ahmed’s poor, heroic Bodhi Rook not getting one at all. All that’s changing later this year though, with a major refresh that brings the Rogue One figures back in line with Hasbro’s current Star Wars output… alongside some new faces. Check out the updated figures below, compared to their originals!
This week, ProPublica released a massive scoop—a treasure trove of financial records showing how some of the U.S.’s wealthiest billionaires scamper off with virtually no tax burden. And the U.S. government knows exactly what to do in response: find whoever released those embarrassing records and incarcerate the shit out of them.
ProPublica obtained official Internal Revenue Service documents that were, admittedly, not supposed to be public knowledge and released key details about just how well various tax tricks used by the ultra-wealthy are working out for them. For example, compared to Forbes estimates, the country’s 25 richest people saw a net growth of $401 billion in wealth from 2014 to 2018 but paid just $13.6 billion in federal income tax—an effective rate of 3.4%. Berkshire Hathaway investment titan Warren Buffet saw his net worth rise by $24.3 billion over that period, paying just $23.7 million in tax. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos saw his net worth rise by $99 billion, paying just $973 million in tax. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ratio was $22.5 billion in net worth gains to $292 million in tax, while Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk was $13.9 billion to $455 million.
Morally obscene display of inequality and impunity as this is, the U.S. government has far more pressing concerns, such as punishing whoever squealed. Attorney General Merrick Garland assured lawmakers on Wednesday that one of his most immediate focuses will be plugging the leak, wherever or whoever it might be.
“I promise you, it will be at the top of my list,” Garland told GOP Sen. Susan Collins during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, according to CNBC.
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“Senator, I take this as seriously as you do. I very well remember what President Nixon did in the Watergate period—the creation of enemies lists and the punishment of people through reviewing their tax returns,” Garland added. “This is an extremely serious matter, people are entitled, obviously, to great privacy with respect to their tax returns.”
Garland added that IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig had told him “inspectors were working on it, and I’m sure that that means it will be referred to the Justice Department.”
“The unauthorized disclosure of confidential government information is illegal,” Treasury spokeswoman Lily Adams told CNN. “The matter is being referred to the Office of the Inspector General, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, all of whom have independent authority to investigate.”
Of course, the tax records likely were obtained in some illegal manner before they were released to ProPublica. And even if the IRS sympathized with those on the shitty end of the billionaires’ inequality stick—not that they do—looking the other way is not an option in any way, especially as the feds must determine if any IRS officials were involved in the leak or IRS systems were compromised by hackers. (According to the Financial Times, 30-year IRS small business division veteran Eric Hylton said he had “not seen a leak such as this in my entire career” and found the idea it originated with IRS personnel hard to believe.)
Finding the source is not mutually exclusive with President Joe Biden’s proposals to raise an additional $3.5 trillion in taxes from the extremely wealthy over the next decade. But punishing someone won’t change that ProPublica’s scoop was undeniably in the public interest, detailing just how and why the system is wired to enrich the wealthy at the expense of pretty much everyone else.
The Biden administration has said it will not go to the same extremes as Donald Trump’s administration in hunting down leakers, taking off the table some methods that threatened the First Amendment right of journalists to publish leaked government documents. But previous administrations, such as Barack Obama’s, have similarly paid lip service to a free press while simultaneously targeting whistleblowers, leakers, and journalists for crackdowns, and Biden has yet to demonstrate he won’t do the same. CNBC noted that Garland’s comments come as the Justice Department is backpedaling Trump-era tactics at the DOJ such as obtaining phone records of New York Times reporters, but hasn’t officially ruled them off-limits yet:
Garland’s comments came as the Justice Department, at the direction of President Joe Biden, has sought to move away from the aggressive tactics employed against journalists and media organizations under former President Donald Trump and previous administrations.
On Saturday, the department said that, “in a change to its longstanding practice,” it will refrain from seizing records from reporters in leak investigations. Last month, Biden called that practice “simply wrong,” though his position hadn’t been formalized yet as policy.
The Financial Times wrote that at least one of the billionaires shaken by the ProPublica report is planning to launch their own investigation. Bloomberg told the paper in a statement he would use “all legal means” to find the source of the leak, that he “scrupulously obeys the letter and spirit of the law,” and that three-quarters of his annual income goes to taxes or charities.
“The release of a private citizen’s tax returns should raise real privacy concerns regardless of political affiliation or views on tax policy,” Bloomberg told the Times. “We intend to use all legal means at our disposal to determine which individual or government entity leaked these and ensure that they are held responsible.”
El Salvador has become the first country in the world to recognize the cryptocurrency bitcoin as legal currency, according to President Nayib Bukele in a tweet on Wednesday. Citizens will be able to pay taxes in bitcoin and, perhaps most importantly for bitcoin diehards, bitcoin won’t be subject to capital gains taxes in El Salvador.
“The #BitcoinLaw has been approved by a supermajority in the Salvadoran Congress,” the 39-year-old president Bukele tweeted on Wednesday. “62 out of 84 votes! History! #btc”
The price of bitcoin, shortened as BTC, rose early Tuesday following the news out of El Salvador, up 4.3% over the past 24 hours.
The so-called Bitcoin Law acknowledges that roughly 70% of Salvadorans don’t have access to traditional financial services and proposes bitcoin as a possible alternative. The law suggests bitcoin is great as a digital currency because it, “answers exclusively to free-market criteria, in order to increase national wealth for the benefit of the greatest number of inhabitants.”
Retailers in El Salvador can now list prices in bitcoin, though the law states U.S. dollars will need to be used as a reference currency for accounting purposes. That’s almost a given since the price of bitcoin swings wildly on any given day—or at any given hour for that matter.
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For example, bitcoin dipped to a low of $31,453 on Tuesday and is currently trading at $34,335 according to CoinDesk. With that kind of volatility, many retailers that accept bitcoin list their prices in U.S. dollars. Tesla did precisely that for the brief period when it was accepting bitcoin for its cars. The electric car company dropped the scheme after Elon Musk expressed concerns about the environmental impact of bitcoin—something that’s not exactly new information.
To be clear, there’s no evidence that bitcoin helps the poor people this new law in El Salvador claims it’s trying to help, but it’s a great move for any wealthy people in the Latin American nation who want to hide profits made from crypto under the guise of economic “freedom.”
Will people around the world try to move their bitcoin profits to El Salvador in order to gain some kind of tax advantages? That’s entirely possible, but would still be a useless exercise for the average American. The U.S. tax code applies to all Americans no matter where they reside, so any American citizen would likely need to set up some kind of complex shell company in El Salvador in order to avoid paying capital gains taxes on bitcoin. Which is to say, you can’t take your bitcoin wallet physically to El Salvador and think you’re going to simply avoid paying capital gains tax on any crypto earnings—at least not without denouncing your U.S. citizenship first, and that comes with plenty of its own tax penalties.
President Bukele recently changed his Twitter avatar to include laser eyes, a modification that used to be associated with white supremacists but has recently been adopted by bitcoin enthusiasts. Bitcoin believers have been ecstatic ever since Bukele announced his intentions to adopt bitcoin as legal currency earlier this week.
Bitcoin has plunged in recent months, responding to the whims of the world’s second wealthiest person, Elon Musk. The SpaceX founder changed his Twitter bio to read “bitcoin” in March and said he was a big believer. Musk’s company Tesla even announced in an SEC filing that it had purchased an enormous amount of bitcoin before Musk pulled a 180 that can only be interpreted as a very blatant attempt to move the crypto market up and down whenever he chooses. By May, Musk explained that he no longer wanted to accept bitcoin and the price of bitcoin tanked.
Yes, bitcoin isn’t officially beholden to any one government around the world, but for a supposedly “decentralized” store of value, it depends immensely on how Elon Musk feels on any given day.
It’s anyone’s guess how El Salvador will fare with bitcoin recognized as an official currency, but we can safely bet on one thing: The rich will get richer and the poor will almost certainly suffer.
Elon Musk, the second richest person in the world, paid precisely $0 in federal income tax in 2018, according to an explosive new report from ProPublica. And Musk isn’t the only one.
ProPublica received highly secretive tax data on everyone from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to mega-investor Warren Buffett by a method the investigative news outlet hasn’t disclosed. And ProPublica promises it will spend the next month exploring the intimate tax avoidance schemes of America’s wealthiest people.
ProPublica has already given us a taste of the outlandish tax filings with today’s report. Take Jeff Bezos, for example. The Amazon CEO reported $46 million in income for 2007 but didn’t pay anything in federal taxes during that year. How? According to ProPublica, Bezos “offset every penny he earned with losses from side investments and various deductions, like interest expenses on debts and the vague catchall category of ‘other expenses.’”
Did you earn money in 2007? If you did, you almost certainly paid more in federal income taxes than the wealthiest man on the planet. And it gets even worse.
His tax avoidance is even more striking if you examine 2006 to 2018, a period for which ProPublica has complete data. Bezos’ wealth increased by $127 billion, according to Forbes, but he reported a total of $6.5 billion in income. The $1.4 billion he paid in personal federal taxes is a massive number — yet it amounts to a 1.1% true tax rate on the rise in his fortune.
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Or how about Elon Musk? The picture is similarly depressing.
With the exception of one year when he exercised more than a billion dollars in stock options, Musk’s tax bills in no way reflect the fortune he has at his disposal. In 2015, he paid $68,000 in federal income tax. In 2017, it was $65,000, and in 2018 he paid no federal income tax. Between 2014 and 2018, he had a true tax rate of 3.27%.
Musk is also a beneficiary of enormous government contracts for his company SpaceX, something that makes his tax avoidance really feel like double dipping into the public coffers.
You can read the entire ProPublica report on its website, where you can learn about why some top executives take infamously low salaries. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example, takes just $1 each year. Why? Wages are taxed at a high rate, while the sale of stocks and bonds are taxed much lower.
There’s an important discussion to be had about raising the marginal tax rate on the wealthiest Americans. But there needs to be a serious national conversation about how to make sure people like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett actually pay their fair share.
Does the solution lie in a wealth tax like Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed? That might help. But whatever gets passed needs to be a major overhaul that doesn’t allow the wealthiest to get away with paying nothing in federal taxes. It’s obviously a crime that billionaires even exist in a civilized society since there simply aren’t enough hours in a day to justify the accumulation of so much wealth.
If billionaires are allowed to exist they can at least pay a tax rate comparable to the average American who can’t get away with shady tax avoidance schemes. It’s literally the least we can do.
For the past month, Blue Origin has been auctioning off a ride to space. Previously billed as just an open “seat” on a “crewed trip.” Now, Jeff Bezos has slipped a little detail in the mix: he and his brother Mark will be coming. You would have thought they would have mentioned that earlier? Would have been nice. The highest bid currently stands at $2.8 million, which Blue Origin says will go to its foundation to promote STEM education.
Jeff made a professional video for Instagram and the occasion, proof that an unpaid companion will join him in space.
“I really want you to come with me,” he says, in a cowboy hat with his sibling at what appears to be a vacant beer hall. “Would you?”
“Are you serious?” a man who resembles Jeff Bezos, in a ball cap, asks.
“I am. I think it would be meaningful. To have my brother there.”
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The auction winner can observe—and maybe engage—in this casual, friendly dynamic throughout the trip.
“I wasn’t even expecting him to say that he was going to be on the first flight,” America’s next top spaceman, Mark, then says in the confessional portion.
On its first crewed flight, Blue Origin’s craft, the New Shepard, will briefly sail to a suborbital height and then return. SpaceX’s own first commercial flight, the subject of equal fascination and coverage, should reach orbit at some point later this year. Elon Musk’s company has launched three crewed missions for NASA, the latest of which docked at the International Space Station.
Blue Origin has been lobbying so that it can get billions of dollars in grant funding from NASA, too. “What is Elon Musk afraid of … a little competition?” Blue Origin’s letter to lawmakers asks.
Blue Origin sent a press release following the Instagram post. The New Shepard is expected to launch on July 20th.
Square, the digital payments firm led by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, is teaming up with blockchain technology provider Blockstream Mining to build an open-source, solar-powered bitcoin mining facility at one of Blockstream’s U.S. sites.
Square will invest $5 million in the facility, which will be a “proof-of-concept for a 100% renewable energy Bitcoin mine at scale,” Blockstream announced in a company blog post Saturday. The partnership, which Square confirmed via Twitter on Saturday, is part of Square’s Bitcoin Clean Energy Investment Initiative, an effort it launched in December to support companies working to reduce the bitcoin ecosystem’s massive carbon footprint.
A few bitcoin mining operations have already begun transitioning from fossil fuels to more renewable sources of energy such as solar and hydropower, but Blockstream said it hopes the “open and transparent nature” of this facility will encourage others to follow suit. Its operational costs and return on investments will be made open to the public, and Blockstream will maintain an online dashboard that shows real-time metrics about the facility’s performance, including its power output and bitcoin yield, accessible 24/7 from any internet browser.
“We hope to show that a renewable mining facility in the real world is not only possible but also prove empirically that Bitcoin accelerates the world toward a sustainable future,” states the company’s blog post.
It takes a ton of electricity to power bitcoin mining operations, though scientists have struggled to determine its exact carbon footprint. Some researchers estimate that the carbon footprint of bitcoin mining alone could push us over the critical two-degree Celsius threshold within a few decades. A study published in March in the science journal Joule estimated that by the end of 2021, bitcoin mining could consume nearly as much energy as every data center in the world combined.
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Yet another study from Digiconomist, the researchers behind the widely cited Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, found that, on average, mining a single bitcoin consumes 1,553 kilowatt-hours of electricity, about what your typical U.S. household would burn through in 53 days. Each year, bitcoin mining consumes roughly 125 terawatt-hours, on par with the annual power consumption of the entire country of Pakistan, and its annual carbon footprint is comparable to that of Morocco, according to Digiconomist.
As such, several businesses in the industry are pursuing more sustainable methods for mining or, alternatively, forgoing participating in the ecosystem until its environmental costs are mitigated. Earlier this year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the automaker will no longer accept bitcoin for car payments out of concern over the “rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for bitcoin mining.”
Dorsey, head of both Square and Twitter, has been an outspoken bitcoin fanboy, positing in 2018 that it will become the world’s single currency within 10 years. Square revealed in February that it had purchased $170 million worth of bitcoin as part of a larger investment in cryptocurrency. On Friday, Dorsey tweeted that Square is “considering making a hardware wallet for bitcoin” built entirely in collaboration with the community.
Grimes, the musician and romantic partner of billionaire Elon Musk, is a big believer in artificial intelligence, according to a new TikTok video she posted late Wednesday. What can AI do for humanity? Grimes insists that AI is a way to achieve Communism, something she says is good, while avoiding “collective farming,” something she says is bad. Confused yet? So are we.
“I have a proposition for the Communists,” Grimes says during an inauspicious start to her latest TikTok video.
“Typically, most of the Communists I know are not big fans of AI. But if you think about it, AI is actually the fastest path to Communism,” Grimes tells the camera without actually explaining what that means.
“So, if implemented correctly, AI could actually theoretically solve for abundance. Like, we could totally get to a situation where nobody has to work, everybody is provided for with a comfortable state of being… comfortable living,” Grimes said in a confusingly decorated video.
“AI could automate all the farming and weed out all the corruption, thereby bringing us to… as close as possible to genuine equality. So, basically, everything everybody loves about Communism, but without the collective farm,” the musician said before getting to the grand finale. Or, perhaps, the punchline.
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“Cuz, let’s be real, enforced farming is really not a vibe,” Grimes said.
The first problem, of course, is that Grimes never defines artificial intelligence. The term is thrown around all the time without explanation, and here it’s no different. Is Grimes talking about some kind of Skynet situation where all of the world’s computers talk to each other? Or is it something more humble? Either way, how does this AI create the conditions she believes will bring about “Communism,” a word she also fails to define?
The second problem is that Grimes says we need to “solve for abundance,” which is something this undefined AI can apparently deliver. Presumably, Grimes believes that we don’t have enough resources to properly feed, clothe, and house everyone and that AI will some how give us these things in so much abundance that everyone will finally have enough.
Obviously, this idea is idiotic. We’ve already “solved for abundance” in the sense that the U.S. has more than enough resources to go around. The country is a land of abundance that simply doesn’t allocate resources efficiently to people who are struggling. And “automate all the farming”? Do you have any idea how much automation is happening on modern farms? Today’s tractors have DRM’d software, just in case your idea of “farming” somehow includes one dude in overalls with a pitchfork.
Admittedly, the idea that “abundance” is the problem was common among otherwise intelligent people in 20th century futurism. Grimes says that we’ll get to a point where “nobody has to work” if we just use AI intelligently, which sounds a lot like predictions from the 1950s and 60s about a post-work world. George Jetson spent a grueling three hours per day just pushing buttons thanks to advances of technology in his imaginary version of the 21st century. Worker productivity has skyrocketed since the 1980s, while wages have stagnated. Why don’t we all live the life of leisure depicted in the Jetsons? Your boss and your boss’s boss have simply pocketed the cash.
The third problem with this new TikTok video, of course, is what the fuck? Just generally, what in the name of Kurzweil is Grimes discussing here? Even the most generous interpretation is that she has no idea what she’s saying. It feels mean to even point it out, because it’s the kind of stoner conversation you may have had in your dorm room at 19 years old. But Grimes is 33. She’s built herself up as an artist with something to contribute when it comes to our discussion of technology. But this is just embarrassing.
Grimes is still romantically involved with Elon Musk, as far as we know, and they have a kid together—a baby they infamously named X Æ A-Xii. Musk is worth 156 billion, making him the second richest person on the planet. But Grimes doesn’t mention how her partner might be contributing to the problems that “communists” want to solve.
Everything Grimes talks about in her new video is something that requires a political solution, not a technological one. If Grimes wants “everyone to be provided for” perhaps she can advocate for a wealth tax that would redistribute her boyfriend’s billions to programs that provide a real social safety net to millions of struggling Americans.
At the very least Grimes could define AI. Because as it stands she’s just talking nonsense.