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Archive for December 3rd, 2015

Pentagon Task Force Spent Nearly $150M on Villas and 3-Star Meals in Afghanistan

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The military fights wars, the Pentagon spends money. Murtaza Hussain reports in The Intercept:

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is asking why a small Department of Defense task force charged with developing the Afghan economy spent nearly $150 million on private villas, security guards and luxury meals while operating in the country between 2010 and 2014.

In a letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made public Thursday, SIGAR chief John Sopko wrote that members of the Defense Department’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) could have used accommodations available on local military bases and other U.S. government facilities, adding that it was “unclear what benefit the U.S. received as the result of TFBSO’s decision.”

From 2009 until it was disbanded this year, TFBSO was entrusted with rebuilding post-war Afghanistan’s business infrastructure, receiving roughly $766 million from Congress to do so.

Amazingly, former TFBSO employees told SIGAR investigators that the $150 million spent on accommodations in Afghanistan — fully 20 percent of the task force’s total budget — supported “no more than 5 to 10” employees.

The now-defunct task force is currently at the center of a number of controversies related to its handling of finances in Afghanistan. In November, SIGAR investigators reviewing the task force’s finances found that it had spent $43 million building a single gas station in the northern Afghan town of Sheberghan, roughly 140 times more than what analysts say the project should have cost. The TFBSO has also come under fire for spending $282 million on Afghan mining and oil and gas projects without developing long-term strategies for actually sustaining such industries in the country.

In its letter, SIGAR said that task force employees had solicited military contractor Triple Canopy to provide rooming for them that included “Western-style hotel accommodations,” such as flat-screen televisions, mini-refrigerators and DVD players. Contractors were also hired to provide food service that was “at least 3 stars,” specifying that each meal contain “at least two entree choices and three side order choices.” Triple Canopy was also instructed to ensure that three-course meals were available for “special events.”

Triple Canopy is one of the firms that have financially benefited the most from post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning roughly $2.2 billion in government contracts since 2003, according to the Project on Government Oversight. The company has continued to receive lucrative government contracts despite being at the center of several controversies related to the killing of civilians in Iraq by its employees and providing falsified documents for its private security guards.

Another contractor cited in the SIGAR letter, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2015 at 1:06 pm

Posted in Business, Military

Gun Industry Executives Say Mass Shootings Are Good for Business

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Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:

Behind closed doors, speaking with investors and Wall Street analysts, the gun industry views mass shootings as an opportunity to make lots of money.

Ordinary people are despairing about the frequency of tragic events like the murderous rampage in San Bernardino on Wednesday, or the Planned Parenthood massacre last week. And the cycle of mass killing, media frenzy, and political stalemate starts anew each time.

But meanwhile, gun sales continue to break records, a fact that has not gone ignored by financial analysts.

The Intercept reviewed investor transcripts for gun companies, ammunition manufacturers, and sporting stores, and found many instances of industry executives discussing mass shooting incidents and the resulting political dynamics as lucrative.

Here’s how it works. Following a mass shooting, there is talk of gun control, which the National Rifle Association and other gun advocates attack as an assault on the Second Amendment. Notably, gun and ammunition manufacturers often donate, either directly or as a portion of each sale, to the NRA. The fear of losing gun rights leads to panic buying, which brings greater profits to gun retailers, gun companies and their investors.

Gun Distributors

“The gun business was very much accelerated based on what happened after the election and then the tragedy that happened at Sandy Hook,” Ed Stack, the chief executive of Dick’s Sporting Goods, a leading gun and ammunition retailer, said in September 2014 at the Goldman Sachs Global Retailing Conference. Stack noted that the industry saw “panic buying” when customers “thought there were going to be some very meaningful changes in our gun” laws. The new sales “didn’t bring hunters in” but rather “brought shooters into the industry,” he added.

In 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Last year, Tommy Millner, the chief executive of Cabela’s, a retailer that sells guns, boasted at an investor conference in Nebraska that his company made a “conscious decision” to stock additional weapons merchandise before the 2012 election, hoping Obama’s reelection would result in increased sales. After the election, the Newtown mass shooting happened, and “the business went vertical … I meant it just went crazy,” Millner said, according to a transcript of the event. Describing the “tailwinds of profitability,” Millner noted Cabela’s “didn’t blink as others did to stop selling AR-15 platform guns,” and so his company “got a lot of new customers.” The AR-15 is a high-powered assault rifle based on the military’s M-16 model but without the full automatic capacity,

Steven Miller, the chief executive of Big 5 Sporting Goods, another gun retailer, was asked by investor analysts in 2013 to describe the state of the market during a conference call that year. The “real surge” in firearm sales, Miller said, “took place following the tragedy in Sandy Hook.”

Gun and Ammunition Manufacturers

Smith & Wesson chief executive James Debney, speaking to the Roth Capital Partners conference in 2013, explained that “the tragedy in Newtown and the legislative landscape” resulted in sales that were “significantly up.” The “fear and uncertainty that there might be increased gun control,” Debney said, “drove many new people to buy firearms for the first time.

“You can see after a tragedy, there’s also a lot of buying,” Jeff Buchanan, the chief financial officer of Smith & Wesson, told investors at the RBC Capital Markets conference in September of this year. Buchanan noted that the political landscape of 2016 is uncertain, but that fear of gun control could be on the horizon.

Michael Fifer, the chief executive of Sturm Ruger, one of the largest gunmakers in America, discussed the role of politics in gun sales during a conference call with investors in 2013. “If . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2015 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Business, Guns

God helps those who help themselves: Gun control

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New-York-Daily-News-Front-Cover-December-3-2015

Pam Marten and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

It’s not every day that you wake up to an American newspaper cover like the one shown here from the New York Daily News today. The 96-year old newspaper is expressing its outrage at conservative Republicans who repeatedly invoke God and prayer following mass shootings instead of standing up to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and outlawing assault rifles and high-capacity magazines like the ones used yesterday at a county facility in San Bernardino, California where 14 people were killed and 17 injured.

According to the newspaper, the U.S. is “now populated with more firearms than people” and has experienced “355 mass shootings so far this year” – more than the number of days elapsed.

Today’s editorial at the New York Daily News explains the simmering anger that was expressed earlier yesterday in other publications and across Twitter after conservative Republican candidates offered up the standard platitudes and prayer instead of calling for action on assault rifles. The editorial noted:

. . . let’s be blunt, Republicans in Congress — are surrendering. They are saluting the flag of the National Rifle Association.

In thrall to this flag, lawmakers fail to even permit discussion of a bill to subject suspected terrorists to background checks for firearms purchases.

In thrall to this flag, they let guns enter the hands of the mentally deranged.

In thrall to this flag, they resist universal background checks supported by nine out of 10 Americans — and by most gun buyers. And refuse to ban assault rifles. Or limit high-capacity magazines.

As long as they remain in thrall to this flag, ever more Americans will arm themselves, and ever more Americans will die.

Earlier yesterday, George Zornick, Washington Editor at the The Nation, had Tweeted a split screen graphic comparing the responses of the Democratic Presidential candidates to those of the Republican candidates. The Democrats called for action while the Republicans invoked the word “prayer.” (See Zornick graphic below.)

Arthur Delaney, Senior Reporter, and Sam Stein, Senior Politics Editor, at the Huffington Post, penned an article at 4:46 p.m. yesterday echoing the theme that it actually takes legislators to carry out the will of the people. The duo wrote:

Public officials are the people society trusts to solve society’s ills. Like, say, gun violence. But every time multiple people have been gunned down in a mass shooting, all these officials can seemingly do is rush to offer their useless thoughts and prayers. And so they did after news broke about multiple casualties in San Bernardino, California, on Wednesday.

We do want to offer a cautionary word, however. Americans who have only lived in urban or suburban areas where police can respond to a 911 call in a matter of minutes need to understand how different it is for people living in rural areas. Typically, there is no local police in rural areas and it can take state or county police 30 minutes to an hour to get to a farmhouse on a long, unlighted dirt road. Owning a gun can mean the difference between protecting your family from an intruder or allowing some deranged stranger to murder, maim or kidnap your helpless family.

Thus, we certainly do not advocate outlawing guns. But having lived in both suburban and rural areas, we don’t believe Americans need assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

As many commenters noted under the various on-line articles that ran yesterday on the San Bernardino shootings, a growing number of Americans are now avoiding shopping malls, theatres, and large public events out of fear that it will be the site of the next gun massacre.

This is no way for a civilized society to live . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2015 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Guns

Standard + Elite Razor Frankenrazor and Martin de Candre

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SOTD 3 Dec 2015

The Fine Accoutrements brush shown is a very nice brush indeed, and Fine now has a little brother for that brush: the Stout. The knot is slightly bigger at the base (24mm instead of 20mm), but has a noticeably shorter loft, which (especially combined with the bigger diameter) will make it have less “give” than the brush in the photo. That is, the knot as a whole will not be so soft, though the tips will be as soft as ever.

My own taste is for a longer loft, since I like brushes whose knot is soft all the way down, and even the Satin Tip brushes (which are indeed very nice and priced at a bargain price) are somewhat too short for me: 5mm more of loft would be just about right for my taste. But, as we know, tastes vary, and if you like a somewhat denser-feeling brush, the Stout is worth a look.

With the brush shown, I had no trouble at all in working up a very nice lather from the tub of Martin de Candre soap. This is another soap that comes in a full container, so those who prefer a half-empty container may want either to pass on it or to master loading the brush on a full container.

Synthetic brushes tend to hold too much water for good loading action: if you don’t give the brush a reasonably good shake or two, excess water will flow onto the soap when you start loading, making the loading more difficult. (That’s part of learning to load a brush on a full container: don’t start with too much water.)

I lathered my beard with enjoyment—I do like the feel of a very soft brush that caresses my face rather than pushes at it (but YMMV)—and then I picked up my razor. The black head of the Standard looks very nice on the Elite Razor red-jasper handle, and it felt good in the hand. This is a smooth handle, as is common with polished stone handles, but it is not (for me) in the least slippery but provides quite a good grip.

The first two passes went well, but the razor struggled more than it should, so before the third pass I replaced the old Voskhod blade with a new Personna Lab Blue. After that pass, ATG, I ended with a BBS result.

A good splash of Booster Aquarius, and the day begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2015 at 11:27 am

Posted in Shaving

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