Trump Killing Elephants in Zimbabwe. What’s The Real Story?

Mainstream media is going insane with this one.  The story goes something like this:  Trump is now allowing elephants to be killed for trophy.  How dare he!  Philistine!

OK, that’s great.  Felt good.  Right?

From Hollywood actors to Ellen Degeneres and whoever that guy is that likes to cry about everything during this monologues the mainstream media is having a field day with this one.

Did Trump order the killing of baby elephants from his throne?  Of course not.  That’s silly.  So, what’s the reality of this issue?

To be clear, I think that killing anything for trophy is stupid. If someone hunts or fishes to eat that’s fine.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service. Right there on the front page they have a link to the Federal Register notice about this elephant issue:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/11/17/2017-24974/issuance-of-import-permits-for-zimbabwe-elephant-trophies-taken-on-or-after-january-21-2016-and-on

The first finding is that no, Trump didn’t pick up the phone from his throne to order they allow killing of baby elephants for trophy. That sounded preposterous and it sure looks like it is.

It seems the proposed change of policy is a result of years of legal action (since 2014) as well as interaction with the government of Zimbabwe and their wildlife agencies.

The article mentions various reports and studies. I wanted to answer a very fundamental question stemming from an assertion made by the Fish and Wildlife Service:

That legal and regulated trophy hunting of elephants actually helps conservation of the species.

How does that work? Why does killing 500 elephants per year (about 0.5% of the population) actually help elephants survive, thrive and grow in numbers?

The answer to this fundamental question would be at the root of understanding the issue –if the goal is to understand what’s going on rather than to use it to vilify Trump. The latter is the only thing that everyone from mainstream media to Ellen Degeneres and the usual cadre of Hollywood actors focus on. Nobody is talking about the answer to the most fundamental question:

Why does legal hunting actually help elephants?

I had a feeling I knew the answer to this question. At least the theoretical answer. I needed to support my hunch. I don’t have the time to go through a dozen documents. Thankfully I was able to find one that goes right to the point. This is the “Zimbabwe Elephant Management Plan”. This was completed in 2015 and covers up to 2020.

Right there on page 12 there’s a box titled: “The Role of Sport Hunting in Elephant Conservation”

http://www.zamsoc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/ZIMBABWE-ELEPHANT-MANAGEMENT-PLAN-APPROVED-FINAL-1.pdf

The argument goes something like this:

  • Elephants are a threat to local communities
  • They destroy crops, threaten live stock and people
  • The people in these poor desolate areas don’t see value in having them around
  • This results in poaching and killing large numbers of elephants as these very poor people with limited resources protect themselves and their livelihood
  • As a results of this the area occupied by elephants is also being reduced because locals need to use it for crops and live stock
  • Hunting gives elephants economic value
  • If hunting has more value than crops and livestock and locals benefit from it poaching is reduced and land use is reduced
  • Eco-tourism revenue is nearly non-existent in remote areas where elephant populations are being affected; People want to go to “nice” areas and watch wildlife while sipping latte’s; They are not interested in slogging it out in the middle of nowhere just to save elephants
  • Low funding and reduced goodwill from local communities results in more elephants being lost to illegal activities
  • Hunting can give elephants economic value which, in turn, changes the perspective of locals who will have an incentive to engage in conservation

And so we hit reality pay dirt:  In these desolate areas elephants are seen as a threat to human activity and unless they are are more valuable alive than dead locals are going to kill them in favor of feeding their children.

As simple as can be.

That’s theory, what do we learn from practice?  It is easy to understand that almost anything any government touches ends-up it screws up.  And that’s not limited to the US Government.  Is it reasonable to expect the governments of Zimbabwe and other affected nations to be any better than ours?  Probably not.

And so this leads to a situation where hunting revenues, in the tens of millions of dollars per year, don’t always reach their intended beneficiaries in all of the afflicted areas.  Which is a tragedy.

National Geographic has an (older) article on this:

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/11/151715-conservation-trophy-hunting-elephants-tusks-poaching-zimbabwe-namibia/

There are areas where this is working well and others where it is not.  Once again, the problem is government ineptitude and corruption and this time not ours but theirs.

What’s the US to do?  That’s a tough one.  I hate the idea of killing elephants to give them economic value.  That idea, in isolation of potential benefits, is revolting.  Yet the locals are going to kill elephants in large numbers if they threaten their crops, livestock, children and general well being.  It’s very much an “us vs. them” situation for locals on the ground.  It’s easy to pass judgement from thousands of miles away.  What would you do if you had thousands of mountain lions threatening your neighborhood, your kid’s schools, etc.  My guess is you would, at one point, put a bounty on their heads.  That, it seems, might approach reality on the ground at most of these settlements forced to coexist with elephant herds.

This is where I come full circle to the Hollywood actor crowd, Ellen Degeneres, that guy who cries during his monologues and the hosts of all the mainstream media shows decrying this trophy hunting mess.

These are all people with huge financial resources.  All multi-millionaires and probably even some billionaires.  If they truly cared about the elephants in Zimbabwe all they have to do is put their money where their mouths are.  They need to give elephants economic value through an activity that promotes conservation rather than killing them.  How?  What activity?

Well, it’s simple, really.  All Ellen and her friends need to do is fund and promote eco tourism to these shitty desolate areas.  They need to go there themselves and create economic value for locals.  They need to spend their millions to go on mostly really crappy vacations to otherwise deserted areas to take pictures of elephants.  They need to pay as much or more than trophy hunters to see live animals and spend time in those areas.  It’s simple economics:  If the promoted activity has more economic value than killing elephants they will be protected and they will thrive.

Yet, that’s not what they are going to do.  Because these people are mostly fake unprincipled idiots.  Their idea of getting behind a cause is to cry on TV.  They cry about global warming and then get into their Ferrari an drive to their massive mansion on hundreds of acres of land.  They cry about firearms yet employ a small army of armed security personnel to protect them.  They cry about the need for higher taxation for the rich yet they have never written a check for more than what they owe in taxes to show all of us their conviction.

And it is the same with elephants.  They will get on TV and blame Trump for something he had nothing to do with.  They will score points with their buddies and then move on to the next attention-grabbing thing that comes along.  In the meantime the only people –as sick as it sounds– doing anything for these animals might just be the idiots who pay tens of thousands of dollars to trophy hunt.  Brilliant.

And no, US taxpayers are NOT responsible for the funding of wildlife conservation agencies and programs in other countries.  Don’t even go there.  We already waste too much tax revenue on nonsense both in the US and abroad.

It’s not about guns; It’s about mental health!

  • Yet another bad article, this time in Scientific American, tries to ascribe causality to guns for every single gun related death out there.   I won’t even link to the article because it’s garbage.  The author, as if often the case,  pulls numbers from all sorts of places to fabricate a conclusion and a false narrative. It starts with this statement:”Yet gun advocates argue exactly the opposite: that murders, crimes and mass shootings happen because there aren’t enough guns in enough places. Arming more people will make our country safer and more peaceful, they say, because criminals won’t cause trouble if they know they are surrounded by gun-toting good guys.”The only “gun advocates” who promote this are the lunatics. Don’t listen to them. They do not speak for “gun-toting good guys”. I mean, this article reveals intense bias with every word and it is far from a scientific analysis of the “gun problem”. The fact that it is published on the Scientific American site only makes it worst.Here’s another interesting passage right at the start of the article:”Guns took more than 36,000 U.S. lives in 2015, and this and other alarming statistics have led many to ask whether our nation would be better off with firearms in fewer hands.”

    Of course, the FIRST thing you have to do if you are honestly trying to understand the problem is to take those 36,000 incidents and parse them to reveal cause, motive and circumstances. She doesn’t do that. And for an obvious reason: Because it would destroy the conclusion she is trying to fabricate, or, at the very least, it would not allow her to reach it.

    How do you do this? Well, there’s FBI data and CDC reports, that’s where I start. You can dig further but these are good starting points. Finding the CDC data is easy. See linked PDF, table 18 on page 87. There’s invaluable information on this one table (it’s for 2014).

    https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr65/nvsr65_04.pdf

    What does it say? Deaths involving firearms: 33,594

Wow, that’s terrible. Let’s break it down:

  • Unintentional: 461
  • Suicide: 21,386
  • Homicide: 11,008
  • Undetermined: 275
  • Legal (war, police): 464

Homicides are, by definition, criminal activity.  Accidents are covered under “Unintentional”.

  • So, 11,008 homicides. That’s bad people, criminals, crazy people or people with psychological problems (or all of the above) using guns to kill others. By definition these people will not obey laws. They don’t care about them one bit. They are criminals, terrorists, etc.
  • The number that truly jumps out at you from this very basic analysis is that 21,386 people commit suicide using guns. That is massive. That’s twice the homicide rate. And the Scientific American article doesn’t say anything at all about this. It lumps all gun deaths into one big pile to be used to fabricate an argument, making them all equivalent.

    I am not a mental health expert but I think I am correct when I say that someone who commits suicide –whatever the means– isn’t in good mental health. So I went looking for qualified information. I found this short article in Psychology Today, hopefully more qualified than I am:

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/…/why-do-people-kill…

    From the article:

    “In general, people do not commit suicide because they are in pain, they commit suicide because they don’t believe there is a reason to live and the world will be better off without them”

    They explain that the sense of burden overwhelmingly separates those who actually committed suicide from those who attempted or threatened to do so.

    I wanted to have a bit more information on the subject. I landed on this page at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

    https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/

    Very interesting page. It says, among other things, that four times more people, about 44,000, die due to suicide rather than homicide.

    It also says that Montana has the highest suicide rate in the nation.

    The obvious question, then, is, why?

    And so I found this article:

    http://newstalkkgvo.com/why-does-montana-have-a-high…/

    It lists several reasons for which Montana has the highest suicide rate in the nation:

    Social Isolation, Alcoholism, Guns, Economics, Mental Health Infrastructure, Stigma, Withdrawal.

    The list is a bit weird because it includes a bunch of causes and only one method. I other words, a gun isn’t a cause of suicide, it’s a method. A gun doesn’t jump out of the holster and say “I am a gun, therefore you will commit suicide”.  It’s a method, not a cause.  I wonder if this reveals a bit of bias on the part of the author.

    The article further clarifies guns are used in 65% of suicides in Montana. They also mention that 1/3 of the suicides have alcohol in their systems.

    This, I feel, makes a reasonable full circle to the Scientific American article passing through the CDC report.

    Guns don’t cause suicides, they are mainly one of the methods. The same table on the CDC report indicates that 2014 had 135,928 suicides. The report doesn’t list a full breakdown of the methods, here are some:

    • Cut/pierce: 740
    • Drowning: 372
    • Fall: 31,959 (Wow!)
    • Hot object: 180
    • Fire: 180
    • Firearms: 21,386 (also significant)
    • Transport: 177
    • Poisoning: 6,808
    • Suffocation: 11,407

     

  • This adds-up to about 60,000. I don’t have the time to chase after the missing 60K or so in the breakdown but it is clear it isn’t due to guns. That over 31,000 people jump off buildings/bridges a year was a surprise to me.

    Going back to Scientific American and their horrible article, it is clear that the problem with this really bad article is that they are trying to take what is a mental health problem and turn it into a gun problem. Guns are a convenient method should they be around but it is interesting to note that far more people on the aggregate commit suicide by jumping off buildings, poisoning and suffocation than with guns. In other words, if you took away guns those who want to commit suicide will find other means.

    Buildings and bridges are everywhere. Over thirty thousand people a year don’t kill themselves because buildings and bridges are easily accessible. They kill themselves because there’s something wrong with them in their head.

    We need to stop trying to blame the hardware and start talking about addressing mental health issues. That’s the real problem.

California Gasoline and Diesel Taxes

Well, here we go again, California raises taxes on something.  This time it’s Gasoline and Diesel.  Here are the numbers:

Gasoline:  Increase in excise tax of 12 cents, from 29.7 to 41.7 cents per gallon.

Diesel: Increase in excise tax of 20 cents, from 16 to 36 cents per gallon and sales tax on diesel increases from 9% to 13%.

Lovely.  Yet this does not paint the entire picture.  Here are a couple of charts

that do:

 

What they say is that Californians will pay a total of $0.87 in taxes for every gallon of gasoline and just over a dollar in taxes for every gallon of diesel fuel.

What does this mean?

Well, as of this writing the average cost per gallon for gasoline in California is $3.08 and about the same for diesel.

In a few days they will move up to $3.20 for regular gasoline and about $3.30 for diesel.

Now we can start to think about what all of this means.  If we claw back taxes and fees we can calculate the rough cost of the actual fuel you would be buying:

Gasoline cost of fuel without taxes and fees: $2.33 per gallon

Diesel cost of fuel without taxes and fees: $2.28 per gallon

And so you decide to go on a family trip.  You will be driving 800 miles round trip in a car that does a reliable 30 miles per gallon on the highway.  How much will it cost in fuel to complete this trip?

800 miles / 30 miles per gallon = 26.7 gallons

26.7 gallons * $2.33 per gallon = $62.13

OK, well, that’s not too bad.  $62.13 in fuel for the trip.  That’s OK.

However, we forgot to include in our calculations the additional cost of having to pay taxes and fees.  You see, you can’t buy one dollar of fuel with a dollar, not even close.  Let’s do that again with the real costs:

26.7 gallons * $3.20 per gallon = $85.33

Ah, there you go.  For the privilege of taking your trip you send the government $24.00.  Of course, the theory is they are doing something for you with that money –which isn’t the case, they are mostly burning it on nonsense and misusing it.

Interesting enough, if you travel an average of 20 miles each way to go to work you are traveling some 800 miles per month.  Which means that, on top of all the other taxes you pay our government you are sending them an additional $85 a month when you buy gasoline.

Did you know you are paying en excess of $1,000 a year in taxes just to go to work?

Wonderful, isn’t it? And they want MORE!

A hidden effect of these taxes and fees is that your buying power, the value of your dollar is reduced.  Your dollar is devalued.  You can’t buy a dollar of gasoline with a dollar.

Impact on Business

When it comes to business these numbers become more significant because they ultimately affect your life, the entire economy and further devalue every dollar you spend.

In a hypothetical case, let’s say you buy furniture and it has to be delivered to your home from a warehouse 200 miles away.  The amazing oak table you bought takes up the entire truck.  You are not sharing transportation costs with anyone.

Trucks don’t do very well in terms of fuel economy.  Let’s assume this truck does about 10 miles per gallon of diesel.   Of course, the merchant will charge you for the round trip from the warehouse to your home and back, otherwise it would mean losing money on transportation.  This means you are paying for a 400 mile round trip.  At 10 miles per gallon this truck will need 40 gallons of diesel fuel.

Diesel, before we add taxes and various fees costs about $2.28 per gallon.  This trip, without taxes and fees, would cost:

40 gallons * $2.28 per gallon = $91.20

The merchant will probably round this up to a nice even $100 and add this to your delivery charge.

However, as we saw before, our merchant can’t buy a dollar of diesel with one dollar.  How much will she have to spend to buy the 40 gallons needed to deliver your furniture?

40 gallons * $3.30 per gallon = $132.00

Once again, the merchant is likely to round that out to $140 and add this to the cost to deliver the goods.

And so, thanks to taxes and fees it will cost you an additional $40 to have this furniture delivered.

This, again, means your dollar is devalued.  You can’t buy $100 in transportation for $100, you have to pay $140 –which sends about $40 straight to the government.

In other words:  Taxes have consequences

That’s not all folks…

You see, this table didn’t magically appear at the vendor’s warehouse.  She bought components, parts, wood, screws, fabric and other materials from other supplies, who, in turn, bought their materials from factories all over the country.

And every single one of these suppliers in the manufacturing and distribution chain have exactly the same problem you have:

They can’t buy a dollar of fuel for a dollar.  They can’t buy a dollar of transportation for a dollar. 

Every time they buy a gallon of fuel they have to send more money to the government, as much as 40% more.

Merchants and manufacturers are not in business to lose money.  They have to account for their costs or risk going out of business and laying off thousands of workers.  And so they have to price their goods based on their cost of manufacture, which, of course, includes transportation.

The end result is that table you bought is far, far more expensive than the raw components it contains because not one entity in the manufacture and transportation of all the components and services that ultimately comprise that table can actually buy a dollar of fuel for a dollar.

The cost of the table, way before you decided to buy it at the showroom, is significantly higher due to the piles and piles of taxes and fees we are forced to pay.  And then you have to pay even more taxes and fees to have it delivered.

This is one of the items at the root of the US’s inability to compete.  Merchants, in finding ways to reduce costs and compete for your business, are forced to compare buying that table directly from suppliers in China versus a supply chain based in the US.  Taxes, when layered with other costs, such as regulatory costs, become a potentially significant proportion of the cost of goods.

In the end, it turns out that packing as many tables as possible  into a container in China, to then ship them into that US, ends-up being far less costly than manufacturing the tables here and paying for all of the taxes, regulatory and other costs incurred along the way.

And that’s how your beautiful new table has a “Made in China” label on it and dozens of furniture manufacturing companies across the US are forced to either go out of business or lay off most of their workforce and shift manufacturing to China.

Next time you vote for a tax hike you need to understand that you are slicing your own throat.  You are damaging our country’s ability to compete.  You are costing us jobs, perhaps even your own job in the long run.

We need to pay taxes in order to fund a range of programs we all benefit from.  Nobody is advocating zero taxes, that would be just as dumb and crazy as high taxes.

What’s has been lacking in our process has been a demand for efficiency, honesty and results on the part of our politicians and government agencies. 

When you have government agencies throwing lavish annual parties with your tax dollars that’s jobs being sucked out of our economy.  This is, in no uncertain terms, criminal.

We ought to demand that government be the most financially efficient entity in our country.  They ought to be the example through which others are measured, not the example of the worst of the worst in terms of waste and unnecessary spending.

We have become so accustomed to everything from pencils to farts being taxed that we’ve lost a sense of proportion.  It is actually impossible to know exactly how much of your income you are surrendering to the government in the form of taxes.  From State, Federal, fuel, property, sales taxes and myriad fees, it isn’t difficult to imagine that somewhere between 40% to 60% of your income is being taken away by our government at various levels.  And yes, wasted.

And that’s an obscenity.

Why can’t politicians get anything done?

Hypothesis:  Politicians must work to prevent their opponents from delivering good solutions to the public

Imagine for a moment two politicians, A and B.  They both have good ideas, run for office and B wins.

How should A and A’s supporters behave from that point forward?  What should be their focus?

The idealistic view of this game we call politics says A should graciously accept defeat and move on to continue working for the people as he or she presumably did prior to the elections.

Reality, however, as is often the case, is very different.  There are at least three scenarios for A to consider once B is in power:

  1. B implements his or her policies, they work and people are measurably satisfied and happy
  2. B implements these policies, they fail and people are measurably unhappy with the results
  3. B isn’t allowed to implement any policies, people don’t know any better

From A’s perspective the first scenario is a complete disaster.  Yes, the country, city or town will be better off given the success of the policies as implemented by B, yet the big loser here is A and, by extension, A’s party.

By allowing B to implement good policies that work A is almost guaranteed to lose the next election and, again, by extension, A’s party might slowly lose support and elections.

The second scenario, one where B’s policies fail, is excellent for A because it almost guarantees a win for both A and A’s party during the next elections.

This is, of course, the “fair” or altruistic option:  Allow B to implement these new ideas based on the fact that the people voted B into office and let the ideas either succeed or fail on their own.

How about option #3?  Well, this is the defense against option #1.  If A knows these policies are good then he or she also knows their implementation would be a disaster for A and A’s party.  The logical option is to interfere and trip-up B in any way possible and prevent these policies from being implemented at all.

With this, the population will focus on the political game rather than on the policies.  Blame will be placed on various actors on both the A and B sides yet, when election time comes around, A will have the better strategic position and a far better probability of either A or A’s party to win the election.

And this is why, politics, as we know it today, has devolved into a game where the interests of the people, the voters, you, me and your kids, isn’t even relevant to the players.  Their interest isn’t in helping us win but rather helping themselves and their political parties win.

This conclusion, if accepted as true, means that at least half our politicians are far more focused on making their opposition fail than on helping good ideas succeed.  And that’s how we got to where we are today.  Our politicians can’t deliver results on just about anything and when something does push it’s way through this process it is far more likely to be harmful than not.  If A allows B to implement something harmful the next election is a win for A.

The Pavlovian reward system in place in the political game rewards this behavior.  We need a way to reward behavior that benefits the people and the nation directly and only compensates politicians when they cooperate for the common good.

From the perspective of anyone attempting to look for logical common-sense solutions to problems this is maddeningly insane.  And it would not be too far of a stretch to consider the idea that the system of government prescribed by our Constitution has now been gamed to such an extent that it is utterly obsolete.   The idea of “Government of the people, by the people and for the people” is but an illusion with altruistic ancient roots.

Bald eagle with American flag, focus on head