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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Morning Read: CNN Interviews Syrian Refugee Family in Rutland

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 at 8:58 AM

CNN on Wednesday night aired an interview with one of the two Syrian refugee families that have arrived in Rutland. The segment aired just hours after reports surfaced that President Donald Trump plans to stop refugees from Syria from entering the U.S. via an executive order.

Hazar Mansour, a French teacher, said on the program "Anderson Cooper 360°" that she, her husband and their two small children are happy to be in Vermont. They fled Damascus during a civil war in Syria that, according to the United Nations, has killed more than 400,000 people. They made it to Turkey and then went through two years of background checks before arriving in Rutland two days before Trump's inauguration, Mansour said.

"We were worried about ourselves, worried about our children," Mansour said. "We want to live in peace. It's better than living in the war situation we were in."
"I like Vermont and the people of Vermont," said her husband, Hassam Alhallak, an accountant.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Vermont Air Guard to Deploy Overseas Before Holidays

Posted By on Tue, Nov 22, 2016 at 4:20 PM

Major General Steven Cray announces a deployment to the Middle East. Behind him, from left, are Col. Patrick Guinee, governor-elect Phil Scott and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Major General Steven Cray announces a deployment to the Middle East. Behind him, from left, are Col. Patrick Guinee, governor-elect Phil Scott and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
A few hundred members of the Vermont Air National Guard will deploy overseas in the coming weeks on an open-ended mission under the command responsible for Middle East combat operations.

The "short notice" deployment of members of the 158th Fighter Wing will likely last a "few months," Major General Steven Cray said Tuesday. The airmen will report to U.S. Central Command — which is responsible for the Middle East, Northern Africa and Central Asia — and is overseeing the fight against the Islamic State, among other initiatives.

The mission will "bring the fight to our enemies," Cray said.

Vermont officials were recently notified a deploy order could come before Christmas. Confirmation came Monday night, Cray said, and the deployment will happen sometime in the next few weeks.

The 158th Fighter Wing has 1,100 members. Roughly 100 are already deployed overseas on other missions, officials said.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Visiting Cuba, Leahy, Welch Push for Opening Trade

Posted By on Mon, Mar 21, 2016 at 10:05 PM

Revolution Square, Havana, Cuba - GILLIAN HARDY/DREAMSTIME
  • Gillian Hardy/Dreamstime
  • Revolution Square, Havana, Cuba
A year from now, a contingent of Vermont business owners could be headed to Cuba to connect with its newly opened economy, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said Monday by phone from the island nation they were visiting with President Barack Obama.

Leahy and Welch were among 30 members of Congress who joined Obama on the historic visit — the first time a U.S. president has visited Cuba since Vermonter Calvin Coolidge in 1928.
Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) - SEVEN DAYS FILE
  • Seven Days File
  • Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.)

Both Leahy and Welch have been to Cuba before — Leahy seven times and Welch twice, they said in a conference call with Vermont media. They are scheduled to return to the United States on Tuesday.

“The fact that the two presidents are meeting is extremely important,” Leahy said, of Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, who met for a press conference Tuesday afternoon and a state dinner Tuesday night.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Reports: Gun From Paris Attacks Linked to Dealer With Vermont Facility

Posted By on Fri, Dec 11, 2015 at 6:19 PM

Editor's note, August 22, 2019: The report that this story was based on was wrong, and the Associated Press corrected its story a week after publication. The weapon in question was not used in the Paris attacks and, in fact, was in the possession of authorities in Mexico, the AP said in its correction. 

A gun used in the Paris terrorist attacks that killed 130 people has been reported linked to a company that operates in Vermont.

The Associated Press reported Friday that an M92 semiautomatic pistol fired in the attacks had been exported from Serbia to Century International Arms, based in Delray Beach, Fla. That company has long maintained a large facility in Georgia, Vt. The AP did not report that the weapon specifically came from Vermont, and said how it got back to Europe was not known.

Vermont Public Radio reported that Brady Toensing, a lawyer in Vermont speaking for Century International Arms, said in an emailed statement Friday that the company is cooperating with authorities. 

“We have received an unconfirmed report that a pistol that was legally imported into the United States and legally sold to a licensed, domestic firearms dealer more than two years ago may have been recovered from the scene of the Paris shootings,” Toensing said, according to VPR. “We are unable to confirm that report, but are assisting authorities with their investigation into this matter.”

As Seven Days has previously reported, Century International Arms has maintained a low-profile presence in Vermont for decades. The company sells a number of assault rifles that news investigations over the years have linked to Mexican drug lords, the Nicaraguan Contras and other controversial organizations. 

In 2013, Seven Days reported:

But Century’s global reach extends well beyond Vermont. Its online catalogue features a dizzying array of pistols, rifles and shooting accessories, offered for sale to law enforcement and the public. They include the M16, M60, RPK and numerous variants of the iconic Russian Kalashnikov. Century’s C93 semiautomatic rifle — featured on Ted Nugent’s July 2011 “Spirit of the Wild” TV show on the Outdoor Channel — comes equipped with two 40-round magazines and a bayonet “while supplies last,” the catalog reads.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Group Condemns Calls to Block Syrian Refugees

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2015 at 9:20 AM

Yacouba Jacob Bogre, far left, and Rev. Debbie Ingram, far right, stand with supporters of Syrian refugees at a press conference Thursday. - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Yacouba Jacob Bogre, far left, and Rev. Debbie Ingram, far right, stand with supporters of Syrian refugees at a press conference Thursday.
In front of a sculpture with granite jigsaw pieces spelling out “Democracy” on Burlington’s Main Street, a group of activists began a counteroffensive Thursday evening against calls to stop Syrian refugees from entering the United States.

Rev. Debbie Ingram, executive director of Vermont Interfaith Action, credited Gov. Peter Shumlin for taking the “courageous and compassionate” stance that Vermont should welcome refugees from the war-torn country. “Also,” she continued, “we have come to speak out against those in Vermont who would not applaud and support Governor Shumlin’s decision."

In the wake of the terror attacks that killed 129 people in Paris, both Republican candidates for governor have said Vermont should temporarily refrain from accepting Syrian refugees until the federal government can prove the rigor of its vetting process. Nationwide, at least 28 governors have made similar calls, and on Thursday, the U.S. House passed a tougher screening process for Syrian refugees. The White House has said President Obama will veto it if the Senate follows suit.

A Syrian passport found after the attacks ignited concerns about refugee screening. Vermont doesn't currently have any Syrian refugees, but officials expect some will arrive during the coming year.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Bernie Sanders
Sanders Defines Democratic Socialism, Outlines Foreign Policy

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2015 at 5:39 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses students, reporters and supporters Thursday at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall - GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY
  • Georgetown University
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses students, reporters and supporters Thursday at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall
Updated at 11:26 p.m.

Since he launched his bid for the presidency last May, Sen. Bernie Sanders has been dogged by persistent questions about his identification as a democratic socialist. Speaking Thursday afternoon at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., the independent from Vermont sought to put those questions to rest.

"Let me take this opportunity to define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me," he told a supportive audience of students in the university’s ornate Gaston Hall. "It means building on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr., said in 1968 when he stated, and I quote, 'This country has socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor.'"

In a forceful, unapologetic tone, Sanders defended the ideology to which he’s long subscribed as nothing more radical than a desire for economic justice. Abandoning his campaign-trail comparisons to Scandinavian political systems, he instead framed democratic socialism as entirely American.

To drive his point home, Sanders repeatedly invoked Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union address, which the candidate described as “one of the most important speeches ever made by a president.” In it, Roosevelt called for a “second bill of rights,” which the 32nd president said should guarantee such basic human necessities as decent pay, food, education and health care.

“‘We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence,’” Sanders quoted FDR as saying. "That was Roosevelt's vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved. And it is time that we did."

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Shumlin: Vermont Will Continue to Welcome Syrian Refugees

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2015 at 2:49 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin at a press conference in South Burlington on Monday - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin at a press conference in South Burlington on Monday
Updated at 3:30 p.m. with additional states.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday that Vermont will welcome refugees from Syria, and he criticized governors who said they wouldn't accept them due to security concerns related to the terrorist attack in Paris.

Shumlin said "seven or eight" Syrian refugees are in the process of relocating to Vermont. "The refugees from Syria are no different than the refugees from anywhere else in the world," Shumlin told reporters. "I would encourage us to do what Vermont has always done ... It’s the spirit of all Vermonters to ensure that when you have folks who are drowning, who are dying in pursuit of freedom, that Vermont does its part."

By Monday afternoon, the governors of 15 states, including New Hampshire and Massachusetts, declared they would seek to either stop accepting or place a moratorium on accepting Syrian refugees, citing security concerns. (The other states are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin.)

"I would say no as of right now," Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker told reporters, according to the Boston Globe. "No, I'm not interested in accepting refugees from Syria. My view on this is, the safety and security of the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is my highest priority. So I would set the bar very high on this."

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Obama Appoints Saint Michael's Grad to Lead Joint Chiefs of Staff

Posted By on Tue, May 5, 2015 at 1:19 PM

General Joseph Dunford Jr. meets with Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) in Afghanistan in 2013.
  • General Joseph Dunford Jr. meets with Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) in Afghanistan in 2013.
President Barack Obama today named General Joseph Dunford Jr., a 1977 graduate of Saint Michael's College, to serve as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dunford, who currently serves as commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, will have to be confirmed by the Senate before taking the post as the nation's highest ranking military officer and principal advisor to the president and secretary of defense.

Saint Michael's College president Jack Neuhauser said that Dunford has kept close ties to the college since embarking on his military career.

“General Dunford has graciously returned to campus for alumni events and participated in programs on world issues over the years, and recently welcomed Saint Michael’s delegations to his office in the Pentagon as Marine commandant,” Neuhauser said in a statement. In a recent interview with the college’s alumni magazine, Dunford spoke about how his Catholic liberal arts education was ideal preparation for success in a challenging military career, Neuhauser noted.

Fellow St. Michael's alum Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) cheered Obama's decision.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Bernie Sanders
Sanders, Leahy to Boycott Netanyahu Speech; Welch to Attend

Posted By on Mon, Feb 9, 2015 at 11:11 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Brookings Institution - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Brookings Institution
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday became the first U.S. senator to say he would boycott Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress next month. 

During an appearance at the Brookings Institution, Sanders joined a growing chorus of criticism over House Speaker John Boehner's decision to invite Netanyahu to the nation's capital without going through the customary diplomatic channels.

"The president of the United States heads up our foreign policy," Sanders told moderator E.J. Dionne, a Washington Post columnist and fellow at the Washington, D.C., think tank. "The idea that the president wasn't even consulted — that is wrong and not a good thing for our country."

Asked by Dionne whether he was "thinking of not going," Sanders replied, "I'm not thinking of not going. I am not going. I may watch it on TV."

Prior to Sanders' remarks, several House members had said they would boycott the speech. Advisers to Vice President Joe Biden said scheduling conflicts would keep him from attending. Later Monday, Sanders' district-mate, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), said he, too, would skip it.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Morning Read: In Cuba, Leahy and Welch May Meet With Castro

Posted By on Mon, Jan 19, 2015 at 10:17 AM

A month after President Obama announced plans to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) are spending the holiday weekend in Havana meeting with top Cuban officials and dissidents.

According to the Associated Press, those meetings could include a sit-down Monday with President Raul Castro. Leahy spokesman David Carle declined to corroborate the report Monday morning, telling Seven Days that the delegation's itinerary remains "tentative."

Leahy, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, is a longtime champion of restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba. He and a top staffer, Norwich native Tim Rieser, were widely credited with playing a major role in freeing imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross last month — in part, by helping a Cuban spy conceive a child through artificial insemination. Leahy flew to Cuba in December to accompany Gross home.

This time around, Leahy is leading a six-member delegation on a three-day trip to Cuba. In addition to Welch, he is joined by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

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