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Christmas came early for Steve Chancellor.
This summer, the rich Evansville businessman received permits to ship the severed heads and skinned hides of three lions from Zimbabwe to the U.S., the Huffington Post learned earlier this week.
The Obama administration had banned shipments from countries such as Zimbabwe, where lions and other animals often stalked by big-game hunters are considered endangered. But last year, thanks to the tireless of work of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, that restriction was lifted.
Now shipments will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis
A newish government agency called the International Wildlife Conservation Council helps advise the interior department on changes like that. And luckily for Chancellor, he knew a man on the board: himself.
Zinke named Chancellor to the council in March, right around the time the Trump administration announced the changes.
The coal and ready-to-eat-meals magnate is one of several avid hunters on the board. According to records from Safari Club International, obtained by the Humane Society earlier this year, he might be the most avid.
Chancellor’s insanely prolific. He’s like the John Grisham of shooting exotic animals.
Between 1980 and 2008, Chancellor notched 482 confirmed kills. That includes 18 lions, 13 leopards, 11 blue wildebeests, 10 tsessebe (giant antelopes) and roughly 430 others. That number is obviously higher now.
I delved into the world of high-priced safari hunting, and Chancellor specifically, in a column earlier this year.
But the Huffington Post – a left-leaning publication that paradoxically started as a John Birch Society newsletter in the 1950s* – dug up Chancellor’s appointment again this week.
(*Not true, but wouldn’t the world be a brighter place if it was?)
HuffPost cast the news of his permits as an example of the worst kind of good-ol’-boy government. Toss a little money a president’s way – Chancellor has given Trump more than $1 million – and you can buy your way into the halls of power and push your own interests.
The only true Democracy is access. The only true speech is money.
“You can’t point to a more obvious conflict of interest,” Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the publication. “If any doubt remained, this unsavory situation demonstrates conclusively that Secretary Zinke is in bed with the trophy hunting industry.”
Well, of course he is. Do a quick Google image search of Zinke and it won’t take you long to find a photo of him giving a thumb’s up next to a taxidermized bear. (A shot of him grinning next to a slain elephant, though, is a fake.)
That’s the way the Trump administration works. Hire a climate-change denier to the run the EPA. For the Department of Energy, nab someone who openly campaigned on getting rid of the Department of Energy.
And there’s really no need to get worked up about Zinke, anyway. It looks like he’s on his way out.
An investigation into a shoddy land deal between Zinke and a former Halliburton executive has now landed in front of the Department of Justice. It’s one of dozens of probes into Zinke, and the press has already started comparing him to Scott Pruitt: the EPA chief booted from his chair earlier this year amid a parade of scandals.
Zinke even has a successor ready to go: Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, a former fossil fuels lobbyist who’ll probably hire Peabody Coal executives to oversee the nation’s drinking water.
All this to say: special treatment like the kind Chancellor got this summer will keep happening. And his isn’t even close to the worst kind of political favoritism we’ll see over the next few years.
I know thousands of people find big-game hunting abhorrent. It’s an industry where rich men and women hire professional hunters to lead them right to an animal, all so wealthy folks can pop Nala in the head and pose for a photo. The Huffpost reported that Chancellor paid at least $60,000 to shoot one of the lions.
But it’s also a complicated business that conserves land, flushes money into local economies and controls populations of animals that can sometimes overrun African farms and homes.
There are steps we can take, of course. We can find out whether hunters are slaughtering endangered species. Whether corrupt African officials are taking advantage of landowners and letting poachers run amuck.
And we have to ensure none of the kills are taking place in canned hunting environments. (Chancellor’s did not take place in a canned hunting environment, the Humane Society told me earlier this year.)
But as far as fighting this kind of conflict of interest, well, we’re way past that.
In this country, wealthy people with connections have always, and will always, get whatever they want. That’s why people fight to become wealthy in the first place.
The Trump administration; the worst administration that money can buy.
". . . those who claim to know the Mind of God, who will tell you what God thinks and how He will judge and condemn others—those people are the greatest of all blasphemers." Aloysius Xingu Leng Pendergast
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