Chatter: Dear America, from Vladimir Putin




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America, are you listening? Putin's talking to you. Readers of today's New York Times will find a piece signed "Vladimir V. Putin" among the opinion pages (The V is for Vladimirovich, in case you were wondering.) The author, as the Times helpfully notes, is president of Russia — and he wants you to side with him on Syria.

Hours before US and Russian diplomats were due to hold crisis talks in Geneva, Putin has taken his disagreements with Barack Obama directly to the US president's citizens. You could say he's preaching to the choir, since polls say 64 percent of Americans already oppose their president's call for military intervention in Syria. But man, does he preach. Here's GlobalPost's round-up of Putin's case against striking Syria — there are warnings, there are appeals to humanity, there are even echoes of Thomas Jefferson. Will it convince anyone? We'll see when US Secretary of State John Kerry meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later today. But with reports suggesting that the CIA has begun delivering weapons to Syrian rebels, it looks like the US government, if not its people, has already picked its side.


Rumblings in North Korea. White smoke has been spotted over North Korea, and not the kind that means a new pope. According to analysts at John Hopkins University's US-Korea Institute, the clouds visible in satellite pictures are steam — and they're coming from the country's nuclear plant.

It's a warning that North Korea may have either restarted or be preparing to restart its Yongbyon reactor, which once supposedly produced weapons-grade plutonium and which Pyongyang told the world it had shut down in 2008. If it's back online, the reactor would allow North Korea to produce an extra 6 kilograms of plutonium a year, enough to produce a nuclear weapon. Then again, as with so much in North Korea, the tell-tale steam could be so much hot air — and as usual, the rest of the world is left watching the skies for any clue as to what's really going on.

Live by the sword... Two Western Islamic militants, one from the US and one from the UK, have been killed by their former comrades in Somalia, according to reports. Witnesses say Omar Hammami, known as al-Amriki and raised in Alabama, and Osama al-Britani, a British citizen, died in an attack this morning by Al-Shabaab extremists.

Both men left the group earlier this year, and had been in hiding ever since. That made them a double target: not only were they wanted by US and UK counterterrorism agencies, but Al-Shabaab fighters were out for their heads, too. Today it looks like they got them.

Austerity's for life, not just for a crisis. Anti-poverty charity Oxfam is warning that government budget cuts implemented all over Europe in a bid to fix the region's debt problems are at risk of creating a "lost generation."

Soaring unemployment, reduced economic activity and a decline in funding for benefits and aid organizations mean that an extra 15 to 25 million Europeans could be living in poverty by 2025, Oxfam says — and it could be 10 to 25 years before countries return to pre-2008 poverty levels. It's yet another reminder that the human cost of Europe's penny-pinching could well be higher than however many millions of euros it saves.


Paperwork's a drag. We've all got stuff hanging over us, the little tasks that we've been meaning to get round to but for which we've never quite found the time. Congratulations, then, to the good councillors of the German town of Goslar, who have finally checked one niggling little item of business off the to-do list: making Hitler no longer an honorary citizen.

A mere 68 years after the end of World War II, the town council has voted to strip the Nazi tyrant of the courtesy title bestowed on him during his reign. And Goslar's certainly not the last to get round to it: several other towns who granted Hitler honorary citizenship still have his name on the rolls — and not just because they've forgotten it's there, but in some cases because they want to force themselves to remember that it was. Suddenly our old tax returns don't seem nearly so bad.