We’re All Conspiracy Theorists Now

  • Gee, why doesn’t anyone believe the official Epstein story?
  • Constitutional collapse, cultural decline breed “conspiracy theories”
  • Now they tell us: Mainstream comes clean about the CIA and drugs, Oklahoma City, TWA 800
  • White House blinks on tariffs to prop up stock market
  • Small business eager to expand, but where are the good hires?
  • Fast-food exec blames poor “talent pool” for poor service (huh?).

“Epstein’s death has led to an explosion of unfounded conspiracy theories on social media,” sniffs this morning’s New York Times, “often uniting people of disparate ideologies.”

You don’t have to look far to find Establishment media sporting Establishment ’tude when it comes to the untimely demise of the financier Jeffrey Epstein.

And yet the Times headline for that story was juxtaposed on my iPad with another headline that undercuts the entire premise, no?

Epstein Conspiracy

Our aim this morning is not to explore what might or might not have happened to Epstein. Although we can’t resist sharing a bit of grim and cynical humor…

Epstein Suicide Watch

Nor is there any point to us analyzing the facts that aren’t in dispute. Although based on those facts — that Epstein was a known suicide risk and he could potentially implicate other people in monstrous crimes — Attorney General William Barr ought to resign in disgrace.

(And this is the guy who’s supposed to get to the bottom of how the intelligence community ginned up Russiagate? Yeah, right.)

Rather, we seek to explore the broader phenomenon of “conspiracy theories”… revisiting some of our musings on the topic in 2014–15.

“The term ‘conspiracy theory’ was invented by elite media and politicians to denigrate questions or critical presumptions about events about which important facts remain unrevealed,” wrote the veteran D.C. journalist Sam Smith.

“The intelligent response to such events is to remain agnostic, skeptical and curious. Theories may be suggested — just as they are every day about less complex and more open matters on news broadcasts and Op-Ed pages — but such theories should not stray too far from available evidence.

“Conversely, as long as serious anomalies remain, dismissing questions and doubts as a ‘conspiracy theory’ is a highly unintelligent response.”

From the web’s earliest days, Smith’s Progressive Review was one of the best internet news aggregators out there. Mr. Smith is a man of the left. But he also sniffed out Bill Clinton as a grifter from the get-go. That stance got him disinvited from polite company in Washington — when he wasn’t being labeled a “conspiracy theorist.”

“The unresolved major event is largely a modern phenomenon that coincides with the collapse of America’s constitutional government and the decline of its culture,” Smith continued.

“Beginning with the Kennedy assassination, the number of inadequately explained major events has been mounting steadily, and with them a steady decline in the trust between the people and their government.”

And the entire time, Establishment media have used “conspiracy theory” to smear anyone who departs from Establishment orthodoxy…

“Bin Laden Bookshelf Shows Taste for Conspiracy Theories,” said a Financial Times headline in the spring of 2015.

At that time the U.S. government released a stack of documents seized during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s quarters in 2011 — plus a list of books and magazines he kept there. Among the titles was a shabby exposé of the Federal Reserve by a Holocaust denier. The implication, of course, was that any critique of the Fed is kookery.

The timing of the release was glaringly obvious to us — a shiny-object distraction from an exposé published a few days earlier by the legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. It demolished the official version of bin Laden’s last years and ultimate demise.

He wasn’t hiding out in Abbottabad, Pakistan — he’d been imprisoned there since 2006, his upkeep paid for by Saudi Arabia. It wasn’t brilliant work by U.S. intelligence (with a little help from torture) that uncovered his whereabouts — it was a retired Pakistani intelligence officer motivated by a $25 million U.S. bounty. Nor was there a firefight when bin Laden met his maker — the Americans were the only ones shooting.

Hersh’s sterling reputation notwithstanding, the Establishment trashed him as a conspiracy theorist. “Hersh’s story reads like a fantasia of clandestine intrigue and deception,” said a typical smear piece.

We suggested at the time that Hersh would be vindicated in the end… but not until he’s dead. (Hersh is now 82.)

That’s how it went for Gary Webb, the reporter who blew the lid off the relationship between the CIA and the drug trade.

Webb documented how the agency turned a blind eye to drug dealing by the CIA-backed Contra rebels of Nicaragua during the 1980s. Large amounts of Contra cocaine wound up on the streets of Los Angeles.

Webb’s 1996 series in the San Jose Mercury News was ripped to shreds by more “respectable” newspapers like The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. As with Hersh, the “conspiracy theory” trope was pulled out. Successfully, too: It wasn’t long before Webb’s editors threw him under the proverbial bus. He ended up killing himself in 2004.

Only with the release in 2014 of the thriller flick Kill the Messenger, based on Webb’s life story, is the mainstream acknowledging that while Webb might have flubbed a few minor details, he basically got the story right. Of the smear campaign, “It was a really kind of tawdry exercise,” recalls Jesse Katz — who wrote some of the LA Times’ most egregious hit pieces.

Kill The Messenger Gary Webb

Gary Webb as portrayed by actor Jeremy Renner in Kill the Messenger.

Perhaps there’s an unspoken two-decade moratorium on the truth being acknowledged. In addition to the destruction of Webb’s career, two other episodes from the mid-1990s come to mind…

It is no longer “conspiracy theory” to say the feds missed obvious clues before the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Nor is it kooky to wonder whether people other than Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were involved in the plot.

Both matters were tackled forthrightly in the 2012 book Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed — and Why It Still Matters. It won considerable mainstream praise.

But it didn’t break particularly new ground. Much of the territory the authors covered was trod by the newsletter Strategic Investment only months after the bombing.

It is also no longer “conspiracy theory” to question the official story about the midair explosion of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island in 1996.

In 2015, a veteran pilot whose assignments included flying Barack Obama’s campaign plane in 2008 was given space in the New York Daily News. Wrote Andrew Danziger: “There’s hardly an airline pilot among the hundreds I know who buys the official explanation — that it was a fuel-tank explosion — offered by the National Transportation Safety Board…

“After the explosion, more than three dozen witnesses reported they’d seen contrails going up into the sky toward the plane; 18 of those people said they saw something coming up from the water, rising to meet the plane.

“The FBI only summarized the interviews in its reports; the witnesses weren’t permitted to see what was written or to review the reports, and the NTSB only received summary reports in which all personal information was redacted. And maybe most importantly, the witnesses — there were more than 700 of them — weren’t permitted to testify.”

Danziger wouldn’t venture whether it was a terrorist attack or a U.S. military training exercise gone wrong. “But as an experienced commercial pilot,” he concluded, “I know this much: Planes do not blow up by themselves. I firmly believe that this plane was shot down.”

In 2014 we cited an academic paper that found 25% of people surveyed believed the Panic of 2008 was caused by “the small cabal of Wall Street bankers.”

We’re not surprised. Again, it comes down to that “steady decline in the trust between the people and their government.” To say nothing of other big institutions joined at the hip with the government. People are suspicious and they have every right to be.

Meanwhile, at that same time we said we were slowly coming around to the idea that the gold price was being manipulated — a notion that was ridiculed for years as “conspiracy theory,” even by some gold bugs.

Five years on, the evidence of gold manipulation is indisputable.

But that’s a story for another day. We’ll aim to get to it before the end of August.

Forced to choose between escalating the trade war and propping up the stock market… the White House has opted for the latter.

Before the trading day began, the Dow was set to fall another 100 points on top of yesterday’s 400-point loss. Then the White House announced it was delaying some of the new tariffs set to take effect on Sept. 1 — especially those on Chinese-made consumer electronics. The deadline has now been pushed back to Dec. 15.

With that, the risk-on trade is in full swing. The Dow has reversed all of yesterday’s losses as we write — resting at 26,300. Apple is up nearly 4%.

Bonds are selling off hard, pushing yields higher. Shortly before the tariff-delay announcement, a critical part of the yield curve had inverted — with two-year Treasuries yielding more than the 10-year variety, an event that’s often a prelude to recession. But that’s all gone away for the moment, the two-year at 1.65% and the 10-year at 1.68%.

Gold dipped below $1,500 shortly after the announcement, but the Midas metal is nothing but resilient these days — the bid at $1,502.

The big economic number of the day is the consumer price index — up 0.3% in July, more than expected. The year-over-year increase works out to 1.8%, reversing a three-month trend of falling inflation. Blame it on health care and housing.

As always, any resemblance to your own cost of living is purely coincidental. The real-world inflation rate from Shadow Government Statistics is 9.5%.

Whatever jitters small-business owners had in June vanished in July, judging by the National Federation of Independent Business’ Optimism Index.

After a reading of 103.3 in June, the number jumped to 104.7 in July. “Small-business owners want to grow their operations,” says NFIB president Juanita Duggan, “and the only thing stopping them is finding qualified workers.”

Indeed. Asked to identify their single-most important problem, 26% of survey respondents cited “quality of labor.” That’s a record in the decades-long history of the survey. Nothing else comes close, with taxes cited by 15% of respondents. (Anecdotally, my wife and I saw tons of “Help Wanted” signs — even billboards — as we drove around the eastern half of Wisconsin the last four days.)

Speaking of good help being hard to find… there’s apparently the case of a Wendy’s in Wareham, Massachusetts.

A few days ago, a customer named Matthew Rose sent an email to Wendy’s corporate to complain about the poor service he had on a couple of visits this month.

District manager Keith Helger wrote back: “Not an excuse, but the town of Wareham has little to no talent pool to hire from. This is an ongoing issue in that area. We are constantly interviewing and hiring any and all qualified candidates. Unfortunately, those candidates are hard to come by, as most are recovering addicts and we cannot hire them.”

As you might imagine, Mr. Rose was taken aback: “[The response] didn’t even touch on the problems I told him,” Rose tells Boston’s ABC affiliate. “Saying that the town of Wareham is full of junkies and people that have no viable talent to work in a fast-food restaurant — that is more than heartless.”

Of course, Wendy’s has issued a statement saying, “These comments are inconsistent with our company’s values and do not reflect Wendy’s hiring practices.”

No word on the fate of Mr. Helger, the district manager. Heh…

“Ownership? Of property paid and titled for?” a reader writes after our account of the Denver restaurant owner whose retirement dreams might be squished by preservationists.

“Stop paying local taxes and see who really owns the property,” says the self-described “property-owning serf.”

The 5: No doubt. “It means all of us are renters — none of us are homeowners,” said a North Dakota homemaker named Charlene Nelson in 2012.

That year we chronicled a movement to abolish property taxes in the Peace Garden State. The notion even made it onto the ballot as a referendum — but it wasn’t especially well thought out. The measure required state government to make up for the lost revenue. How was not specified.

Little wonder the proposal was voted down by a 3-1 margin. We haven’t heard about anything similar elsewhere since.

Best regards,

David Gonigam

Dave Gonigam
The 5 Min. Forecast

P.S. In case you missed it earlier today, one of our publishers dropped a bombshell on our readership.

Even though we sent you a reminder this morning, we want you to have every opportunity to see it for yourself. Click here and you’ll be up to speed in a matter of moments.

Dave Gonigam

Dave Gonigam

Dave Gonigam has been managing editor of The 5 Min. Forecast since September 2010. Before joining the research and writing team at Agora Financial in 2007, he worked for 20 years as an Emmy award-winning television news producer.

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