Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ukraine/Russia/EU: Vladimir Putin Rattles a New Saber: Statehood

According to AFP, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday (August 31) raised the stakes in the Ukraine conflict by calling for the first time for statehood to be discussed for the restive east of the former Soviet state.
Moscow has previously only called for "federalization" that would grant greater rights to the eastern regions of Ukraine, where predominantly Russian-speakers live.
Yet, Putin had sparked speculation that he may be seeking to create a pro-Russian centerpiece when he began to employ the loaded Tsarist-era term "Novorossiya," or New Russia, to refer to several regions in southeast Ukraine.
His spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday that the Russian leader was not talking about "Novorossiya's" independence from Ukraine, but rather "inclusive talks."
Kiev has warned that it was on the brink of "full-scale war" with Moscow over the crisis in its east, which Europe fears would put the whole continent at risk of conflict. The EU agreed to take "further significant steps" if Moscow did not rein in its support for the rebels, with new sanctions to be drawn up within a week.

COMMENT: One fact is acknowledged where Vladimir Putin is concerned: Given his KGB socialization,  his capacity for "lying, stealing and cheating" is virtually unlimited.

NATO last week accused Moscow of sending at least 1,000 troops across the border to fight alongside the rebels, along with artillery, tanks and armored vehicles.
View gallery
Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose Baltic nation is wary of the resurgent power on its eastern border, warned that "Russia is practically in a state of war against Europe" and called for EU military assistance to Kiev.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko urged Brussels to take tougher steps against Russia's "military aggression and terror" and warned that a "full-scale war" with Moscow is closer than ever.
"Today we are talking about the fate of Ukraine, tomorrow it could be for all Europe," he said.
Poroshenko said he expected the West to ramp up its arms supplies to Ukraine after discussions at a NATO summit in Wales on Thursday and Friday (September 4-5), where he is expected to meet with US President Barack Obama.
Moscow denies direct involvement in the conflict, but there have been media reports of secret military funerals for those sent to fight in Ukraine.
View gallery
Russia admitted that Russian paratroopers had been captured in Ukraine,  yet he attributes their presence to "getting lost."
On Sunday, Russian and Ukrainian officials confirmed that a prisoner swap had taken place on the northeastern border with Ukraine.

Rebels have pushed a lightning offensive around Ukraine's Azov Sea in the past week, prompting speculation of a possible attempt by Moscow to establish a corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula it annexed in March 2014.
Ukraine's border guard service said its two ships were fired upon off the Azov Sea coast close to the city of Mariupol, though confirmation could not be verified. 
Mariupol "is the last big town in the region under Ukrainian control, home to half a million people," commander of Ukraine's Azov battalion, Andriy Biletskiy told AFP.
Inside the strategic port, volunteer battalions were bracing for a desperate defense of the city, manning barricades of barbed wire and trenches.

Global Impact: Assessing All EU Nations, Canadians, US That Have Fought for IS Mission Impossible

According to AFP, several hundred US citizens may have had contact with IS jihadists in Syria, the chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee said Sunday (August 31).
"It's in the hundreds that have at least one-time traveled, participated and trained with IS" Rogers said. Republican lawmaker Mike Rogers, a former FBI agent, told Fox News Sunday that he was concerned about efforts to keep track of Americans who had links to the group. 
"Some have drifted back, some have gone to Europe." It is virtually impossible to know where they are?
The US State Department has previously estimated that more than 100 US citizens had traveled to Syria to join extremist groups such as IS. 
"I'm very concerned because we don't know every single person who has an American passport that has gone and trained and learned how to fight," Rogers said.
He also raised concerns about the estimated 500 British citizens and "several hundred" Canadians believed to have traveled to Syria, noting that passport holders from those countries could easily enter the United States without a visa.
COMMENT: Separately Sunday, another US lawmaker said a strategy to fight militants in Syria could become clearer next week or...perhaps render the challenge even more complex.
Unfortunately, unless you can examine a passport holder's travel document, it is virtually impossible to assess where they've been and what risk they actually pose.
Potentially, there are 28 EU nations, Canada and the US who potentially can travel without restrictions. Reverse engineering  who may be a formidable threat is indeed daunting.

EU: Federica Mogherini to Succeed UK's Catherine Ashton as EU Foreign Policy Chief

According to The Associated Press, European Union (EU) leaders on Saturday (August 30) selected Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, 41, to become the 28-nation bloc's top diplomat for the next five years.

Right out of the box, the first challenge for the new Italian Foreign Minister will be the escalating dogfight between Mother Russia and the less formidable Ukraine.

"Federica Mogherini will be the new face of the EU in our day-to-day dealings with our partners in the world," outgoing EU summit chairman Herman Van Rompuy said. Incumbent EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, whose term ends in October 2014, has been a frequent interlocutor for US secretaries of state and chairs the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.

Mogherini, a center-left politician, has been Italy's foreign minister only since February 2014, drawing criticism that she lacks experience. A first attempt to secure Mogherini's nomination in June 2014, failed amidst resistance from Eastern European leaders.

Addressing the criticism, Mogherini said she will draw on her experience as foreign minister of a Group of Seven country and her previous experience as lawmaker.

"I think the institutional experience is very important--I have some--but I also think that the experience that one gains through the work in political life and civil society is also of value," she told reporters.

The EU leaders, Van Rompuy said, are "convinced that she will prove a skillful and steadfast mediator, negotiator and defender of Europeans place in the world."

The highly visible job as EU foreign policy chief entails flying globally and hobnobbing with the great and powerful to deal with anything from the fighting in eastern Ukraine to the crises in the Middle East.

However, the EU's top diplomat often has had little leeway because the bloc's member nations jealously guarded foreign policy as a national matter, leaving the foreign policy chief the role to hammer out compromise positions.

COMMENT: Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Europe think-tank in Brussels, said earlier this week the new EU foreign policy chief "has neither the battalions nor the budget to single-handedly make foreign policy," but must do a better job than Ashton at coordinating the EU's different departments and mustering the courage to oppose powerful member states when necessary.

"The EU needs a unified foreign policy," Techau said.

Mogherini vowed she will work relentlessly to promote European projects on the international stage, while fighting off crises or seeds of discord that could undermine the bloc's success.

"We are a dream come true, having to be careful that the dream doesn't turn into a nightmare," she said.

The EU leaders also elected Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to succeed European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in December as EU summit chairman and behind-the-scenes broker of compromises among national leaders.

The 57-year-old Tusk, a historian and talented speaker, has led Poland's center-right coalition government since 2007, overseeing continuous economic growth.

In Poland, leaders from across the political spectrum expressed pride in Tusk's appointment, saying it was in recognition of the country's economic success and position in Europe during a time of economic crisis elsewhere on the continent.

But Tusk's new job means a new prime minister must be selected. Parliamentary Speaker Ewa Kopacz and Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak are among possible contenders.

To make the change, Tusk will need to resign and dismiss his Cabinet in the coming weeks to pave the way for President Bronislaw Komorowski to name a new PM a new prime minister who will be tasked with composing a new government team from the current ruling coalition.

Ohio: Midwesterner Repels Two Assailants Armed with Baseball Bat, Saves Herself from Bad Day

According to The Daily Caller, a Ohio woman, Dinah Burns, who is licensed to carry a "concealed-carry" firearm had only recently began carrying her firearm for personal protection.
Dinah was out walking her dog, Gracie, on a path near an elementary school in Lancaster  recently when two men approached her with a baseball bat and threatened to abduct her.
“Two gentlemen came out of the woods, one holding a baseball bat, and said "You’re coming with us,’” Burns told WBNS, adding that Gracie was little to no help in repelling the two men who wanted to kidnap her.
Thankfully, Burns didn't have a baseball bat, but she did have a legally-issued firearm! 
COMMENT: Fortunately, "concealed-carry," is available to all citizens throughout the US who can pass a police background check.
Ms. Burns responded by saying, "Well, what do you want?," as she reached into her pocket, slipped the safety off of her "concealed-carry" firearm as she brandished it at the two men.
“As I was doing that the other man came toward me and raised the baseball bat in a threatening manner. I pointed the gun at both of them and said, "I have this...and I’m not afraid to use it."
The men backed off and left hastily, Burns told the news station.
“I think if they’d gotten any closer, I would have fired,” she said, citing her concealed carry training which taught her “to get out of a situation, back out, get out of it as much as you can without having to discharge your firearm.”
I'm very thankful thankful that it turned out the way it did, and hope it doesn’t happen again, but I will be prepared,” Burns said.
Ohio, which began issuing concealed carry permits in 2004, has experienced a massive surge of new "concealed-carry" permit requests. According to THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 96,972 new permits were issued in 2013, a 50% increase compared to 2012. 
Permit renewals quadrupled over the same time span to 48,370.




.22 Cal. Ammunition Shortage: Some Explanations

According to CBS News, which offered a great piece earlier this year, re: the growing shortage of .22 caliber ammunition.
"One of the most popular and common"--and cheapest--calibers of ammo for both hunters and target shooters alike, CBS emphasizes that .22 caliber rounds continue to be in very short supply, causing the majority of gun shops and ammunition dealers to restrict the purchase of quantity lots…even boxes of fifty rounds.
Statistically speaking, 24%-45% of Americans own guns either for self-defense or sporting purposes. But getting the ammo to load into those guns is becoming labor-intensive.
Over the past five years, .22 ammo is said to have more than tripled in price. 

Historically, .22 ammo was obtainable for about $0.05 a round. And yes, some retailers are still advertising it for that price. Dick's Sporting Goods, Inc., for instance, still offers two varieties of .22 caliber ammo at roughly $0.05 per shell.

Conversely, Wal-Mart Stores instituted a policy early last year limiting customers to buying no more than three boxes of ammo per person, per day. 
Meanwhile, online, bargain-basement retailers often can be found for upwards of  $0.12 per round.

For that matter, even the $0.12-a-round price may be an illusion. Popular online guns 'n' ammo website AIM Surplus advertises four varieties of .22LR ammunition for sale at the $0.12 price point, if you can find it at all.
Similar stories can be heard from owners of guns of all shapes and sizes--not just .22s. To cite just one example, after skyrocketing prices through the end of 2013.

For ammo connoisseurs, the ammunition market has also been flooded with low-quality ammunition producers from Russia and Italy which produce very quality of ammunition. My suggestion is that ammo consumers, avoid purchasing "no name" firearms ammo manufacturers.
National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), public affairs director Mike Bazinet notes that "there are a lot of wild stories" about the ammunition shortage, with some people even blaming the US government for "buying up all the ammo." But according to Bazinet, that's simply not the case. In fact, "government purchases have gone down over last three years."
He may be right. Earlier this year, the National Rifle Association (NRA), helped to debunk the "government conspiracy" thesis for America's .22 ammo shortage. Laying out the facts and figures in a multi-page spread in American Rifleman, the "official journal of the NRA," the NRA described how:

"The dollar value of ammunition sales in America doubled between 2007 and 2012. Highlighting the obvious, the NRA noted that sales really "started to climb fast as gun sales began surging" in the run-up to the 2008 Presidential election."

Unfortunately, US mainstream ammunition producers such as Federal, Remington and Winchester have understandably taken advantage of the demand for ammunition in recent years.

For those who shoot regularly, I urge all shooters to consider reloading their own ammunition, which can provide enormous cost-savings and eliminate the need to rely on gun shops for ammunition. I have reloaded my own ammunition for the better part of the last 20 years.
And then there was the interview with privately held Hornady Manufacturing. There, President Steve Hornady explained to the NRA, "People walk into the store, they don't see as much as they want so they take everything they can get. The next consumer who comes in can't get anything, so he/she panics." 
Panic and prudent price-comparison habits rarely go hand-in-hand, of course. This naturally results in higher prices for ammunition.
Now that we know the origin of the .22 ammo shortage, it's time for some good news. 

Recent earnings reports at both Smith and Wesson and Sturm, Ruger reveal and marked marked deceleration in demand for firearms, with sales falling nearly 5% year after year at  Smith and Wesson and down more than 14% at Ruger.

Earlier this year, Cabela's CEO Thomas Millner noted that he's seen a "significant deceleration in ammunition sales" at his stores. 

My suggestion is: Don't wait until you run out of ammunition! Plan ahead because then you'll become a victim of a demand-driven economy and be forced to "pay through the nose."

With any luck, this will eventually result in fully stocked shelves at gun stores, resulting in consumers'  inclination to hoard ammunition and hopefully putting the .22 cal. ammo shortage to bed once and for all.

Multinational Mission to Help Iraq: From the US, UK, Canada, France, Italy

According to The Associated Press, an Australian military aircraft will soon fly guns and ammunition to the northern Iraqi city of Irbil to help Kurds fight IS militants as part of a Washington-led multinational mission, Australia's prime minister said on Sunday (August 31).
"While we understandably shrink from reaching out to these conflicts, the truth is that these conflicts reach out to us," Prime Minister Tony Abbott emphasized. PM Tony Abbott said his government would join the United States, Britain, Canada, France and Italy in delivering rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and assault rifle ammunition at the request of the US and Iraqi governments.
"None of us want to get involved in another Middle Eastern war, but it is important to do what reasonably can be done to avert potential genocide," he added.
Australia will use Air Force C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster aircraft based at al-Minhad Air Base outside Dubai to deliver weapons and ammunition provided by East European countries.
Australia has said it has F/A-18 Hornets standing ready to join US airstrikes in Iraq if requested by the US and Iraqi governments.
Abbott said Sunday the United States had not requested that Australia play a combat role. If such a request were made, Abbott said it would be considered if it fits the criteria of an achievable overall objective with a clear role for Australian forces. Security risks must be considered and an overall humanitarian purpose must be in accordance with Australia's national interest, he said.
Australian C-130s had previously made humanitarian airdrops including food and water to thousands of people stranded by fighting on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.
Defense Force Chief Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin revealed that an Australian C-130 had on Sunday made a humanitarian airdrop of food, water and hygiene packs to the besieged Iraqi town of Amelie--enough for 2,600 people for a day.
Binskin said the weapons would not be air-dropped, but handed over to Kurdish peshmerga officials.
The opposition Labor Party, which opposed Australia sending 2,000 troops to back US and British forces in the 2003 Iraq invasion, has supported the latest Australian involvement in delivering weapons and munitions to the Kurds.
Australia estimates 60 of its citizens are fighting for IS and another al-Qaeda offshoot, Jabhat al-Nursa, also known as the Nusra Front, in Iraq and Syria. Another 15 Australian fighters had been killed, including two young suicide bombers.
COMMENT: All the participating nations who are helping should be congratulated for their innovation, creativity and resourcefulness.
The government warns that IS poses an unprecedented domestic terrorism threat. Australia has proposed tough new counterterrorism laws and announced 630 million Australian dollars ($590 million) in new spending on intelligence, law enforcement and border protection agencies over the next four years to enhance security, including a roll out of biometric screening at airports.
The UK on Friday (August 29) raised its terror threat level to SEVERE, the second-highest level. Yet, Australia announced on Saturday that its threat level remained at medium, a level that had not changed in more than a decade.
PM Abbott did not believe Australia's increased military involvement in Iraq would necessarily increase the domestic terrorist threat.
"There is a certain type of terrorist organization that hates us not because of what we do, but because of who we are and how we live," he said. "And who we are and how we live I hope will never change."

Colombia: Argentine Couple Resists Armed Robbery on San Andrés Island

According to The Buenos Aires Herald, an Argentine tourist was shot while resisting an armed robbery on the Colombian island of San Andrés where he was spending his holiday, along with his pregnant wife, who was five-months-pregnant. 

Luciano Narcisi was injured in the stomach and arm.

The incident took place on Thursday afternoon (August 28), but was made public only today (August 31).
COMMENT: As I have said so often in the past, I strongly discourage armed robbery victims in resisting, considering that the victim's wife could easily have been seriously injured.
“In the central area of San Andrés, the couple was about to take a bus to return to their hotel when a masked man on a motorcycle approached them,” Argentina’s consul to Bogotá, Sebastián Coronel said. 
According to Coronel, the assailant first targeted the woman in attempting to steal her belongings. Narcisi then attempted to intercede on his wife's behalf. Unfortunately, in the scuffle, Luciano received two gunshots. He was transferred to a nearby hospital where his injuries mandated that he undergo surgery.
The consul explained that medical authorities said that Luciano “out of danger and stabilized” by Saturday (August 30).
Coronel confirmed to Luciano’s father, Gabriel Narcisi, who was arriving in Bogotá, where he will be assisted by Argentine authorities to arrange a transfer to either a Bogotá hospital or to Buenos Aires, depending on  Luciano's medical condition.
Luciano’s wife, the diplomat added, said that mother and baby were "fine," although the wife fell during the robbery attempt and suffered only minor  injuries. 

EC: Cautious Words from a Polish President Who Remembers the Soviet Union All Too Well

According to Reuters, Polish President Bronis law Komorowski said that Vladimir Putin is attempting to build a new Russian empire for Moscow and that the region now had to choose whether it wanted "a Cossack Europe or a democratic one."
"Russia has carried out an invasion in Ukraine," the Polish head of state told German public radio, according to excerpts of an interview to be broadcast later on Saturday (August 30).
Komorowski said Putin was quite open about his ambitions to "rebuild the empire." The Cossacks long served Russian czars in military and security roles on the borders of the empire and their brand of Russian Orthodox patriotism is admired by Putin.
The Polish president, whose post is largely ceremonial, but does give him a say in foreign policy, is an ally of Prime Minister Donald Tusk from the centrist Civic Platform (PO).
COMMENT: "I hope Germans are sufficiently mindful of what a Soviet empire meant for Europe," Komorowski told Deutschlandradio Kultur and Deutschlandfunk, warning against any reprisal of the pre-WWII "appeasement policy of yielding to Hitler."
"First the challenge was Crimea, now it is about further regions of Ukraine and everyone is asking where it will end," he said, reiterating a call from Poland and the Baltic states in particular for NATO's eastern flank to be reinforced.
NATO member Poland is one of the most outspoken critics of Putin's support for pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. This week the rebels opened a new front against government forces, a reversal Kiev blames on the arrival of Russian troops and scores of tanks.

Michigan: Once There Were Three Little Bears That Lived Up North

According to The Detroit Free Pressonce there were three little bears who lived Up North. They’d been orphaned one by one when their mothers got killed by cars or loggers or guns. Normally, the cubs might’ve been sent to zoos. If that didn’t work, they’d likely be put down.

But there was a ranch in the Upper Peninsula that took to bears, and its owner said he’d adopt the cubs…for life.

People in the area found out about these fuzzy new neighbors and started coming by to see them. There were so many visitors, in fact, that Dean Oswald, the man behind Oswald’s Bear Ranch, opened his doors to the public, letting them wander the trails and watch the older bears in their natural habitat.

Dean Oswald let people pet the bear cubs, hold them in their laps like babies, feed them out of their hands and take photos with them. One day, a visitor didn’t like what she saw and complained, which brought out someone from a federal agency, which told the ranch to stop. There’s a law, they said, against people being too close to bears. That ended the snuggling.

“We did it for 25 years and never had a problem,” Dean said. “We used to let people hold on to them, let the bears hang on to them and suckle on their neck and ears. And suddenly we got shut down.”

But the crowds who couldn’t get in to see the cubs anymore weren’t happy. They shot off letters and made phone calls to elected officials. And before long, the issue was adopted by a state senator, taken to committee, discussed in the state Legislature, publicly debated by supporters and opponents, and eventually brought to the governor’s desk. All this over a few little bears.

Dean is a gruff ex-Marine, a longtime boxer, an old-time hockey player and a career firefighter. His face is chiseled by age, topped by a gray crew cut and accented with a nose that’s been broken 17 times in the boxing ring. He speaks in four-word sentences. His voice sounds like it’s filtered through gravel. And he’s the mom around here.

“They’re my babies,” the 75-year-old growled. He wore a shirt that had “Grumpy Old Bear” written on it. “And I’m their mama.”

Dean grew up in Bay City, learned how to box in the military and at one time was the No. 2 heavyweight fighter in Michigan. He was inducted into the Bay County Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, not just for his skills in the ring but also for his Junior Olympic boxing program at the Bay City Boys Club, which took in dozens of troubled kids from rough areas and tried to channel their energy into something constructive.

At the same time, he was a Bay City fireman, retiring just shy of 20 years after being injured while trying to douse a house fire.“Messed me up bad,” he said. “My lungs.”

Dean moved to the "UP" after retirement, bought a ranch from a guy he happened to meet in a bar and got his first bear in 1985. Just because he always wanted a bear.

“I’ve liked bears ever since I was six-years-old,” he said. “I was up here in the Upper Peninsula. We’d vacation up here and see bears in this particular area. And I said when I retire, this is where I’m going to be.”

In time, the ranch became a local institution. Dean would appear at county fairs with his cubs. Village officials in Newberry asked if the bears could be in holiday parades. Local markets and restaurants began donating old produce and food scraps to the ranch.

All the while, more bears kept arriving. There are few places in the country to take an orphaned or beaten bear, so whenever one needed a home, Dean got the call.

Eighty acres grew to 240. A couple bears swelled to a couple dozen, all from rescues. And all the bears stay there for life.

Sometimes it’s a grown bear rescued from an abusive owner. But most often, he gets newborn cubs in the dead of winter and bottle-feeds them himself once every three hours. “That’s why they all think of him as mother,” said his son Carl, 44. “When they open up their eyes that’s the first thing they see.”

All his bears come with a rough past. Like Bonnie and Clyde, two bear cubs rescued downstate by the Department of Natural Resources after a logger ran over their den, killed their mother and another cub, and illegally took the remaining two cubs home with him.

And Solo, a big bear rescued from Minnesota after someone pepper-sprayed him to chase him from its den under someone’s cabin and wildlife officials announced plans to kill him.

And Boo Boo, a bear whose owner removed his eyeteeth and claws, neutered him and kept him in a cage until someone reported him and the DNR took him away.

“Nobody wants them,” Dean said. “Not even zoos. They don’t have enough room for them. And to be quite honest, if I hear a cub bear going to a zoo, I’ll try to buy it. I hate to see a bear in a zoo because they’re in a cage. It’s like putting a person in solitary confinement.”

Two summers ago, an attorney in town from the East Coast visited the ranch and saw people cuddling baby bears and feeding them their favorite treat: Froot Loops. She disapproved of this snack choice, complained, left and made some phone calls.

Dean thought this was just silly.

“Babies eat Froot Loops,” he said. “All my kids have had Froot Loops all their lives at breakfast. I don’t know why my bears can’t have them.” The rest of the time, he noted, they eat fruits, vegetables and meat.

But her complaints prompted a visit from an official with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who took one look and said the Froot Loops were the least of the problems.

He notified the Oswalds that they were in violation of Michigan’s Large Carnivore Act, which prohibits the public from having contact with large animals like bears or lions.

Dean figured these are bear cubs. They’re not big enough to kill someone, and nobody had been injured by a cub on his ranch. He’s so sure it’s safe he has never required visitors to sign a liability waiver. None of that mattered. Rules are rules, he was told.

Dean called his local representative, state Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), who said this isn’t just about bears. Oswald’s is a popular tourist destination. People who come out here also get gas in town, and eat lunch and buy souvenirs. It might seem like a small operation, but out here it has a measurable impact.

COMMENT: In time, Senator Casperson introduced a bill that would amend the carnivore act to put the ranch in compliance with the law, letting people handle bear cubs up to  nine- months-old or 90 pounds.

But there was a lot of opposition to the change from animal rights activists, the Humane Society and several zoos in Michigan, including the Detroit Zoo.

“The practice of handling and using bear cubs for photo opportunities with the public seriously compromises animal welfare and threatens public safety,” wrote Jill Fritz, Michigan director of the Humane Society, in testimony to the House Agriculture Committee. She, like other opponents, said it’s simply too dangerous for people to fraternize with wild bears.

The bill initially failed to pass, largely because of fears it would spawn a proliferation of bear petting ranches. After being narrowed in scope, it passed the House and Senate and was signed in March 2013 by Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI).

“Oswald’s Bear Ranch is an important piece of the "UP" culture,” Snyder said at the time in a news release. “The Oswalds play an important role in raising rescued cubs to adulthood, as well as providing the public with education about black bears.”

Nevertheless, there are restrictions now. People can’t cuddle the bears anymore. The cubs can’t eat out of someone’s hand, either. Instead, a cub stands on a little wood stool in a fenced-in pen, and the visitor can pet it and use a spoon to feed it. Froot Loops, of course.

Even with the changes, the experience still remains a thrill for visitors. “I think it’s awesome,” said Linda Stark of Traverse City, waiting to feed a cub. “What they do here is good.”

The 59-year-old came to the ranch with her husband, Randy, and their grandkids. They’d brought their kids here 17 years ago when the ranch first opened. They wanted their grandchildren to enjoy this opportunity too.

“Their parents are city people,” she said about her grandkids. “These guys may not ever get a chance to get this close to bears.” The old bear stood up, looked down at Carl and started gnawing on his arm playfully. The crowd gasped. Carl seemed indifferent to being used as a bear binky.

“It’s just like a pacifier for a baby,” he said nonchalantly as the 400-pound bear chewed away. “They still think they’re babies. We got a couple of bears that don’t even know they’re bears.”

Carl and his dad are the only ones who get in with the bears because they’re the only ones the bears know well. “You have to have contact with them all the time,” Dean said. “If you don’t have contact when they’re younger, they don’t know you when they’re older. They’re like, ‘Hey, who are you and why are you in here?’ ”

Sometimes, the adult bears let Carl ride on their backs. Most often, Dean just strolls the habitat with the bears walking dutifully at his side, as the crowd watches partly in fear and totally in awe.

“You come here, you want to be able to pet a cub like a puppy dog,” Dean said, watching as people waited to take "self-ies" with a bear. “It’s put a lot of smiles on a lot of kids’ faces. And adults. They love it.”

A young couple got into the pen and approached the cub, who couldn’t hold still in his puppyish excitement. The man’s nervousness melted and his face lit up as he got close. “Hey, little guy!” he cooed.

His wife looked genuinely stunned at being next to the cub. And she was thrilled. “I’m touching a bear!” she said.

Ukraine/Russia/EU: Update--Death Toll Rises as Vladimir Putin Sees Territorial Expansion

According to Reuters, Ukrainian forces report that Russian tanks had flattened a small border town and pro-Russian rebels had made fresh gains in its east, as EU leaders signaled on Saturday (August 30) that they would threaten more sanctions against Moscow over the crisis.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, attending an EU summit in Brussels, said he was hoping for a political solution, but warned that his country appears to be on the brink of full-scale Russian invasion. 
Russia has repeatedly denied accusations from Kiev and the West that it has dispatched pro-Russian forces into the Ukraine, but it has become clear that Moscow has no capacity for transparency. 
Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists in Kiev that Russian tanks had entered the small Ukrainian town of Novosvitlivka on the border with Russia and destroyed every home.
View galry
Lysenko said the rebels had made new advances east of the border city of Luhansk, one of the rebels' main strongholds, after opening up a new front in another area last week.
Kiev and Western countries say recent rebel gains were the result of the arrival of armored columns of Russian troops, sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin to reinforce a separatist rebellion.
COMMENT: The EU is preparing to implement even tougher economic sanctions on Russia. That being said, formidable sanctions are deemed essential. 
Even French President François Hollande who was seemingly worried about his military contract with Russia appears focused on new, tougher sanctions. 
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the EU was prepared to enforce much tougher sanctions against Russia, but also seemed inclined to want a political deal to end the confrontation.
View gallery
"We are ready to take very strong and clear measures but we are keeping our doors open to a political solution," Barroso said at a news conference with Ukraine's president.
Poroshenko said the crisis was close to a tipping point.
"I think we are very close to the point of no return. The point of no return is full-scale war, which already happened on the territory controlled by separatists," he said.
He added, however, that a trilateral meeting on Monday involving representatives of Kiev, Moscow and the European Union could produce a ceasefire.
View gallery
The crisis started when Ukraine's Moscow-backed president was ousted by street protests in February after he ditched a pact with the EU that would have moved the ex-Soviet republic firmly toward Europe and away from Russia.
Russia denounced the pro-Western leadership that took over as "a fascist junta" and went on to annex Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. Pro-Russian separatists then rebelled in Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking east in April, setting up 'people's republics' and declaring they wanted to join Russia.
A senior UN human rights official said on Friday nearly 2,600 civilians, Ukrainian government forces and rebels had been killed in a conflict which has led to the biggest Russia-West crisis since the Cold War.
In Kiev, Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said a group of pro-Ukrainian fighters had broken out of encirclement by pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk early on Saturday, though other reports suggested many remained trapped.
Defense Minister Valery Heletey also ordered a clamp-down on information coming out of Ilovaysk, a town to the east of Donetsk.
View gallery
Indicating government forces were being pulled back from the area, Heletey said on his Facebook page: "As soon as the danger for Ukrainian units has passed, all open information for the current period relating to the withdrawal of forces from Ilovaysk will be published."
Last week pro-Russian rebels opened a new front in a separate, coastal territory along the Sea of Azov and pushed Ukrainian troops out of the town of Novoazovsk. They are now threatening the strategic port city of Mariupol.
Several shots were fired on Saturday at a car carrying Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic, but he escaped unscathed, another separatist leader, Sergei Kavtaradze, told REUTERS. 
"Zakharchenko wasn't hurt. His driver was wounded and is being operated on," Kavtaradze said, adding that an operation was under way to catch whomever had fired the shots.View gallery
View gallery
"We are ready to take very strong and clear measures but we are keeping our doors open to a political solution," Barroso said at a news conference with Ukraine's president.
"I think we are very close to the point of no return. The point of no return is full-scale war, which already happened on the territory controlled by separatists," he said.
He added, however, that a trilateral meeting on Monday (September 1) involving representatives of Kiev, Moscow and the EU could produce a ceasefire.
View  allery
The crisis started when Ukraine's Moscow-backed president was ousted by street protests in February after he ditched a pact with the EU that would have moved the ex-Soviet republic firmly toward Europe and away from Russia.
Russia denounced the pro-Western leadership that took over as "a fascist junta" and went on to annex Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. Pro-Russian separatists then rebelled in Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking east in April 2014, setting up a "peoples' republic," and declaring they wanted to join Russia.
A senior UN human rights official said on Friday nearly 2,600 civilians, Ukrainian government forces and rebels had been killed in a conflict which has led to the biggest Russia-West crisis since the Cold War.
In Kiev, Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said a group of pro-Ukrainian fighters had broken out of encirclement by pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk early on Saturday, though other reports suggested many remained trapped.
Defense Minister Valery Heletey also ordered a clamp-down on information coming out of Ilovaysk, a town to the east of Donetsk.
View gallery
Indicating government forces were being pulled back from the area, Heletey said on his Facebook page: "As soon as the danger for Ukrainian units has passed, all open information for the current period relating to the withdrawal of forces from Ilovaysk will be published."
Last week pro-Russian rebels opened a new front in a separate, coastal territory along the Sea of Azov and pushed Ukrainian troops out of the town of Novoazovsk. They are now threatening the strategic port city of Mariupol.
Several shots were fired on Saturday at a car carrying Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic, but he escaped unscathed, another separatist leader, Sergei Kavtaradze, told REUTERS. 

Germany: Authorities Believe 25 Jihadists with IS Combat Experience Have Already Returned

According to The Associated Press, Germany's domestic intelligence agency expects that Islamic extremists who have traveled to Syria and Iraq will return and commit terror attacks.
Unlike Great Britain, Germany hasn't raised its national threat level for terrorism recently.

Yet, Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, said in an interview broadcast Sunday (August 31) that there was an "increased abstract threat" of attacks in Germany.
The truth be told, at least 400 Germans have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight with Islamic extremist groups, though the real figure may be significantly higher, Maassen told Deutschlandfunk radio.
"We have to assume...that there may well be people who return and commit attacks," he said, adding that his agency is aware of at least 25 jihadists with combat experience who have already returned to Germany.
COMMENT: Maassen said that IS, which has swept into northern Iraq from Syria in recent months, has huge appeal among Muslim extremists.
"(They are) far more attractive than Jabhat al-Nursa, the al-Qaeda offshoot in Syria. What attracts people is their high brutality, their radicalism, their strictness," Maassen said.
German news weekly DER SPIEGEL reported Sunday (August 31) that there are roughly 20 former German soldiers among the jihadists who have left Germany to fight in Syria. 

Citing unnamed security officials, DER SPIEGEL reported that they were former conscripts who are more valuable than untrained recruits for groups such as IS.
Maassen noted that his agency wants to improve its cooperation with Turkey, a key transit country for Europeans seeking to join extremist groups.
He cited the high number of Germans traveling to Syria, including at least five known to have committed suicide attacks, as "simply not acceptable from a German point of view."
"I know the Turks are doing quite a bit, but we're also in the process of improving our cooperation with Turkey on this issue," he said.