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Big bang theory: Is Vermont flooding New England with illegal guns?

A recent conference on illegal gun trafficking has put Vermont, along with the mayor of the state’s largest city, back in the crosshairs of an ongoing debate in New England.

The debate centres on this basic premise: Do Vermont’s lax gun laws contribute to crimes in other cities by encouraging illegal gun trafficking? According to top law enforcement officials, the answer is no.

Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss, a Progressive, attended a recent regional conference hosted by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, a Democrat, to talk about ways to stem the flow of illegal guns onto the urban streets of New England. Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York is also raising the issue nationally.

Kiss has raised some eyebrows among gun enthusiasts in Vermont who believe Boston’s constant finger pointing at Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine for having lax gun laws is a political smokescreen to force a debate on whether these states should enact stronger gun laws like Massachusetts. Boston has gone so far as to put up billboards along Interstate 93 laying the blame for illegal gun crimes squarely on Vermont’s doorstep.

“The fact that I signed onto the gun statement, at minimum, was a vote of solidarity with the mayors of much bigger cities, and to recognize that there is a problem,” said Kiss. “While things might not be terrible here, they are more serious in other places.”

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Kiss said he is not sure that Burlington has a problem with illegal gun trafficking, but said several recent deaths in the city involving guns concern him, and he wants to be sure the city is going all it can to protect its citizens from gun violence.

“Most of the gun violence in Burlington recently has been associated with drugs, but there are also issues around domestic violence and suicide, too. This debate is not about whether guns are legal or illegal, it’s one about gun violence,” said Kiss.

Vermont: A gun tradition
While Vermont is ranked among the safest states in the country, anti-gun groups often give Vermont low ratings because it does not conform to their idea of stricter gun laws, such as requiring permits to carry a concealed weapon in public, and does not require background checks or other measures designed to restrict sales in any form.

For his part, Kiss believes that Vermont lawmakers should discuss whether to enact laws that would require waiting periods to purchase guns, require guns to be sold with child safety locks, as well as require guns to be locked away from children. He also thinks there may need to be a limit, per month, on the number of guns purchased by one person.

He also argues that Vermont lawmakers should discuss whether it should tighten up its laws around the sale of guns, and require background checks and waiting periods for all sales, not just those from licensed dealers, but also among private sales and gun shows. He doesn’t see that as an undo restriction to owning a gun, or deterring law-abiding citizens from buying guns, but it might deter people who buy them to sell for drugs, or to use for crimes.

“Why shouldn’t we enact these things? These are all based on responsible gun ownership and they have a real potential to improve public safety and we ought to at least seriously talk about them. I don’t have all the answers, but I think it’s good to have these discussions,” said Kiss.

However, the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen believes Kiss is buying into a false argument.

“For all this hoopla, I have to ask what’s it all about? We don’t have a problem here, and there is no empirical data that I can locate that we’re creating a problem in Boston or New York. It’s more political posturing than anything else,” said Evan Hughes of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen. “If I had a crime problem and I didn’t want to deal with it myself I would try to blame someone else, too.”

About half of Vermonters own a gun.

Hughes said Kiss should not rely on conjecture from other mayors, but facts.
“For him to continue doing this when the facts do not represent his position is irresponsible and inexcusable,” said Hughes. “He is smearing this great state.”

Illegal gun sales

Federal officials say the most common illegal gun purchase in Vermont is the “straw purchase.” This is when someone buys a gun, knowing they are going to immediately turn over the gun to another person. In most cases, those guns are traded for drugs. The guns are then taken back to the drug dealer’s city of origin and either sold for an additional profit, or used in a crime.

According to one U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency official in Vermont, drug dealers who come to Vermont from Massachusetts or New York can often make money on both ends of their trip. In Vermont, they make money by selling the drugs they smuggled into the state, and then can make money back in their hometown by selling guns they may have bought up here cheaply, or traded for drugs.

“We’ve had a number of cases in which people have bought guns in Vermont legally and then taken them down to Massachusetts, Connecticut, or New York city and traded the guns for drugs; that’s very common, the number of cases in which convicted felons want them and do it for money and sometimes for drugs,” said David Kirby, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Burlington.

In one case, David Rowell, a New Hampshire man living in Newport, bought three guns for Daniel Powers of Brownington, a man who was providing him with heroin. One of those guns was later found in Springfield, MA, when Powers was picked up on charges of drug trafficking. Rowell received six months in prison; Powers received a 15-month jail term. Both will also be on probation for two years.

Other federal officials say guns can be bought relatively cheaply in Vermont and sold for a large profit in larger cities.

“A $200 to $300 weapon here is worth five times that in New York City or DC,” said Darren Gil of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Drug dealers use different people and send them to different dealers to not raise suspicions, he added.

“This happens everywhere across the country, it’s not something unique to Vermont,” said Gil of straw purchases. “I’ve seen this everywhere I have worked for the ATF.”

And, Gil added, it doesn’t seem to matter what type of gun laws a state has on the books.

While Vermont guns have shown up in Springfield, MA, Albany, NY, and Providence, RI, they are not as often found in Boston and New York.

In fact, a 2000 ATF report on gun trafficking in Boston shows that Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine are not the major sources of illegal guns. Instead, it is Alabama, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida that are the main sources. Nearly half of the illegal guns used in crimes in Boston in 2000 came from Massachusetts.

“We have not heard of Vermont being a source state for us,” said Virginia Lam, deputy press secretary for Bloomberg. Instead, said Lam, the majority of guns coming into New York are from the so-called Iron Pipeline, or the I-95 corridor in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Instead, Lam said Bloomberg’s initiative is aimed largely at trying to get Washington to consider overturning federal laws enacted in the past six years that make it impossible for federal, state, and local law enforcement officials to share “trace data” about guns. This data can help to pinpoint previous owners, and potentially the gun dealers who sold the guns.

The issue is not about imposing New York laws on Vermont, said Lam, or with denying people the right to own guns.

“He [Bloomberg] has no quarrel with the Second Amendment,” said Lam. “He does not wish to restrict anyone from buying legal, licensed handgun or rifle and has never advocated to pass additional federal laws that would be viewed as being gun control.”

This January, Bloomberg hopes to bring as many of the 122 mayors together in Washington, said Lam, to build momentum to call on Congress to make some changes to federal law. And, she stressed, any legislation the coalition is focusing on right now is aimed at allowing ATF and local officials to share more information about the illegal guns used in crimes.

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Leading climate change critic to speak at UVM

BURLINGTON — Global warming is a natural phenomenon, has little to do with human activity, and there is little we can do to stop it.

That’s the sobering message a leading climate change skeptic will bring to Vermont this week.

Atmospheric physicist S. Fred Singer, who founded the Science and Environmental Policy Project in 1990 and is a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, is scheduled to speak Wednesday at the University of Vermont.

Singer promises to provide a different interpretation to the data being collected about the Earth’s temperature; one that shows the Earth is warming, but it has been for hundreds of years and is in the midst of natural cycle, not the result of human-created carbon dioxide emissions.

Climate change in Vermont has been a hot topic in Montpelier this session, as has the state’s energy future. Democratic leaders and the state’s Republican governor have all been trying to score political, and environmental, points in an effort to reduce the state’s “carbon footprint.”

The issue is one that resonates with many Vermonters as well. In September, Vermont hosted the largest ever rally on climate change — a three-day walk from Ripton to Burlington drew more than 1,000 people in Burlington’s Battery Park for a final rally.

Earlier this session, Vermont’s legislative leaders convened regular hearings with top scientists from around the country in the field of climate change and sustainable energy. However, many felt that disparate, or minority, viewpoints on the topic were ignored or marginalized.

It’s with this backdrop that Singer comes to town, and just weeks before UVM hosts its annual Aiken lecture series, named after George Aiken, a former governor and U.S. senator and noted environmentalist. This year’s Aiken lecture topic? Why climate change of course.

To be clear, Singer does believe the world is warming. However, he doesn’t believe human-created CO2 is the leading cause of the warming (or has had a measurable effect at all on global temperatures), or that climate change is a bad thing. Most importantly, says Singer, climate change is part of a natural cycle and there is nothing we can do to stop it. So, why try when some measures could reduce energy production and put entire economies in jeopardy.

And it’s clear that Singer is not alone in his thinking. His most recent book, Unstoppable Global Warming — Every 1500 Years is on the New York Times bestseller list.

“I will show that the global warming models that have been developed don’t agree with the data, and science should always be based on observation,” Singer told the Guardian in a five-minute telephone interview. “I don’t do my own measurements, but these are all contained in official government reports that observe some of the very things that the models say shouldn’t be happening.”

In a recent article in Le Monde, Singer laid out his arguments: “First, the climate is always changing — either warming or cooling – on time scales ranging from decades to millions of years. Nearly 20 ice ages have come and gone in the past two million years, controlled by predictable changes in Earth’s orbit and tilt of its axis,” Singer wrote. “Our present interglacial warm period is 12,000 years old and may soon end. Geological evidence has also uncovered a 1,500-year climate cycle, likely caused by the sun — and also unstoppable. On top of all this, we have irregular, unpredictable short-term fluctuations. Since 1979, weather satellites have shown a slight warming trend that is well within historical experience. How can we tell whether this recent warming is due to human influences, such as the rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases, or whether it is simply another natural fluctuation?

“It’s no use asking the thermometers; they cannot talk. The melting of glaciers and ice sheets, the rise in sea level, severe storms, floods, droughts — all of these are interesting, to be sure, but really irrelevant to our question. They may well be connected to a warmer climate — or maybe not — but they cannot tell us what causes the warming,” he added.

While Singer often pokes holes in the predominant theories, his have come under heavy scrutiny and criticism from climate change scientists, who call his work misleading, inaccurate, and designed only to serve the interests of those who have funded his efforts — a roster that includes multinational oil, and coal companies who stand to benefit from a status quo position, the critics claim.

Despite the name calling from his critics, Singer refuses to posit why thousands of scientists don’t subscribe to his theory.

“I’ll leave that for you and others to decide,” said Singer, who has appeared in the documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle. “I don’t want to speculate on their motivation.”

In Vermont, where concern has been raised about the impact of climate change on maple sugaring and the ski industry, Singer said it’s simply pointless to try and fight it. Rather than lament the loss, people need to seize the opportunity of what may be coming and adapt.

“It’s pointless, because if it’s natural there is nothing you can do about it,” he said. “And, many economists believe that global warming is actually good for the economy, not bad, and will increase productivity.”

Singer adds that with China and India bringing new coal-fired power plants online every day, that anything the United States does to reduce its carbon footprint will have little, if any, impact on global CO2 output. That is despite the fact that the United States is recognized as the world’s leader in C02 output even if it doesn’t have the largest population.

Singer’s response is simple. “That’s because we are wealthy and have a high standard of living. If we were to reduce half of our footprint, we would have to either reduce our standard of living to that of a Third World country, or get rid of half of the population,” he said.

House Natural Resources and Energy Committee Chairman Robert Dostis, D-Waterbury, said simply throwing up one’s hands is not a responsible option.

“We need to take responsibility for what we’ve done and take action — that’s what we are charged with, and thinking like this does a disservice to taking responsibility for what we’ve done,” said Dostis, who said most climate change models show warming trends correlating with the increased burning of fossil fuels, and in many cases presenting an accelerated trend over previous warming cycles.

Dostis said he did not anticipate attending Singer’s talk, citing his legislative workload.

Singer is coming to Vermont at the invitation of Lake Champlain International (LCI) and its Great Spirits Series, named in honor of Albert Einstein.

LCI officials believe that recent legislative discussions on climate change were one-sided, offering little, if any, minority or divergent opinions.

“We feel the subject, given its seriousness and complexity, deserves continued discussion — certainly beyond one legislative session. We were convinced of this when certain legislators based their decision not to hear from professionals such as Dr. Singer based on their own bias, a bias, in some instances communicated via pejoratives. Education for the individual, we believe, should never end. It is ongoing process of discovery. As for private industry, I would expect them to pursue what is in their best, corporate interests,” said James Ehlers, of LCI, in an e-mail interview with the Guardian.

Ehlers said lawmakers, along with members of Gov. Jim Douglas’ Climate Change Commission were invited to hear Singer speak. He’s not sure how many may attend.

He hopes that Singer’s appearance is the first in a series of speakers aimed at bringing other viewpoints, and possible solutions, to the table for discussion.

“Our concern is that we are attempting to solve problems using the same manner of thinking that itself is responsible for the problems of today. For example, “saving energy” is not physically possible. Energy is neither created nor destroyed. How does one save it then, with a particular light bulb no less? This is perhaps old thinking. We are focused on the impossible rather the possible, such as environmentally-friendly and emission-free nuclear power and the development of hydrogen as two examples,” said Ehlers. “We have a vested interest, at our organization, in a healthy watershed. Continued damming of our rivers so that we may continue to enjoy the benefits of inexpensive power, as has been mentioned, is not in the long-term best interest of our region, in our opinion. Nor is the establishment of large-scale wind or solar farms for the large habitat footprints they affect. How can we achieve our need for a stable and inexpensive power supply to continue to enjoy the benefits of our modern society and at the same time do so in an intelligent and responsible manner?”

Event information

Singer will speak at 7 p.m., Wednesday at the Ira Allen Chapel at UVM. For more information, call 879-3466 or email Parking is available is at Fletcher Allen Health Care and at the Waterman building.

Singer’s biography

S. Fred Singer, now president of the Science & Environmental Policy Project, a non-profit policy research group he founded in 1990, is also distinguished research professor at George Mason University and professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. His previous government and academic positions include chief scientist, U.S. Department of Transportation (1987- 89); deputy assistant administrator for policy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1970-71); deputy assistant secretary for water quality and research, U.S. Department of the Interior (1967- 70); founding Dean of the School of Environmental and Planetary Sciences, University of Miami (1964-67); first director of the National Weather Satellite Service (1962-64); and director of the Center for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Maryland (1953-62).

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The U.S. military build up in Paraguay

to secure Bolivia’s natural gas wealth for U.S. corporations. And the U.S. military buildup in Paraguay in the past month has fueled speculation that U.S. intervention

Mario Abdo Benitez, “Marito”, took over as Paraguay’s new president on Wednesday, replacing a seemingly disgruntled Horacio Cartes, who left the inauguration ceremony before it finished. Abdo Benitez, 46, promised to combat poverty and entrenched corruption and urged Paraguayans to “look toward the future and not remain stuck in the past” as he took the oath of office to start a five-year term

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Zogby poll: Majority supports impeaching Bush for wiretapping

WASHINGTON, D.C. — By a margin of 52 to 43 percent, citizens want Congress to impeach President Bush if he wiretapped American citizens without a judge’s approval, according to a new poll commissioned by, a grassroots coalition that supports a Congressional investigation of Pres. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

The poll was conducted by Zogby International.

The poll found that 52 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: “If President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge, do you agree or disagree that Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment.”

Of those contacted, 43 percent disagreed, and 6 percent said they didn’t know or declined to answer. The poll has a margin of error of 2.9 percent.

“The American people are not buying Bush’s outrageous claim that he has the power to wiretap American citizens without a warrant. Americans believe terrorism can be fought without turning our own government into Big Brother,” said After co-founder Bob Fertik in a statement.

Responses to the Zogby poll varied by political party affiliation: 76 percent of Democrats favored impeachment, compared to 50 per cent of independents and 29 per cent of Republicans.

Responses also varied by age, sex, race, and religion. 70 percent of those 18-29 favored impeachment, 51 percent of those 31-49, 50 percent of those 50-64, and 42 percent of those older than 65. Among women, 56 percent favoured impeachment, compared to 49 percent of men. Among African Americans, 90 percent favoured impeachment, compared to 67 percent of Hispanics, and 46 percent of whites.

The new Zogby poll shows a major shift in support for Bush’s impeachment since June 2005. In a Zogby poll conducted June 27-29, 2005 of 905 likely voters, 42 percent agreed and 50 percent disagreed with the identical statement asked about in this recent polling.

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Deserters flee to Canada to avoid Iraq service

NEW YORK — An estimated 5,500 men and women have deserted from the U.S. Army since the invasion of Iraq, reflecting growing problems with troop morale in the United States. Many people are fleeing to Canada, according to the Sunday Telegraph, a trend that rekindles memories of the draft dodgers who flooded north to avoid service in Vietnam.

Jeremy Hinzman, a 26-year-old from South Dakota who deserted from the 82nd Airborne, is among those who have applied for refugee status in Canada. “This is a criminal war and any act of violence in an unjustified conflict is an atrocity,” Hinzman said. “I signed a contract for four years, and I was totally willing to fulfill it. Just not in combat arms jobs.”

The Army treats deserters as criminals, posting them on “wanted” lists with the FBI, state police forces, and Department of Homeland Security border patrols.

Hinzman, who served as a cook in Afghanistan, was due to join a fighting unit in Iraq after being refused status as a conscientious objector. As he marched with his platoon of recruits, chanting “Train to kill, kill we will,” he said he realized that he had made the “wrong career choice.”

Brandon Hughey, who deserted from the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, TX, said that he volunteered because the army offered to pay his college fees. He began training soon after the invasion of Iraq but became disillusioned when no weapons of mass destruction were found.

Ordered to deploy to Iraq, Hughey searched the Internet for an “underground railroad” operation, through which deserting troops are helped to escape to Canada. He was put in touch with a Quaker pacifist couple who had helped Vietnam draft dodgers, and was driven from Texas to Ontario.

The Pentagon says that the level of desertion is no higher than usual and denies that it is having difficulty persuading troops to fight. However, the flight to Canada is an embarrassment for the military, which is suffering from a recruiting shortfall for the National Guard and the Army Reserves.

The penalty for desertion in wartime can be death, but most deserters serve up to five years in a military prison before receiving a dishonorable discharge.

To stay in Canada, legally deserters must convince an immigration board that they would face “persecution,” not just prosecution, if they returned to the United States.

During the Vietnam War, an estimated 55,000 deserters or draft-dodgers fled to Canada. There were amnesties for both groups in the late 1970s under President Jimmy Carter, but many stayed.

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