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SANDERS: Something in the water lobotomizing leaders?
Could the more conspiratorial environmentalistas' interpretation of our times be correct? That is, has someone been putting something in the water, and are we all being lobotomized, even without major brain surgery?
You could make the case this week. Much of the world's leadership, even though presumably suckling their bottled water, exhibit all the manifestations of imbibing something adversely affecting the normal cognitive processes:
• President Obama goes on television to boost his proposal for creating jobs by massive government expenditures and tax increases, at a time when most Americans think the main problem — after disappeared jobs — is the runaway federal deficit. Never mind that the president sent a $447 billion spend-and-tax bill up to the Congress without a co-sponsor in either chamber, one that his own party's Senate leadership initially refused to look at, and then proceeded to introduce something radically different with a "millionaires' tax." All that even though the president has repeatedly endorsed the claim of his Republican opposition that any tax increase during a recession is a job-killer. Of course, neither bill has a — whoops! we can't say that any more — chance of getting through the Republican-dominated House or the closely divided Senate. Hello?
• Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (soon scheduled to slip back into the presidency in Moscow's game of musical chairs) has dreamed up a restoration of Stalin's old USSR as a "Eurasian Union," a regional agglomerative dictatorship. Mr. Putin's vision is a world of such regional blocs, graciously allocating the Western Hemisphere to the U.S. Unable to accomplish fundamental post-Soviet reforms, he has put together a helter-skelter economic collaboration with neighbors (including pumping their gas and oil), such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, and a loose customs union called the "Common Economic Space." He now aims to bring in the current pro-Moscow leadership in Ukraine as well. But his arrangements cost Moscow $1.7 billion in tariff-sharing revenues last year. Meanwhile, prospective investors in this hare-brained scenario are converting every ruble they can get their hands on to dollars and tossing them out of the country — a record $49 billion-plus in capital flight so far this year. Hello?
• Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs the EU's group of finance ministers, says that "everything will be done" to avoid a Greek default and do so without Athens having to opt out of the 17-member single currency. But the rating agencies just whacked Italy's credit rating, Spain's soaring borrowing rate fell only because the European Central Bank bought its increasingly high-risk bonds, and debt-ridden Portugal is failing to meet its fiscal targets. The decision on whether Greece will get the next tranche of its bailout money was delayed until mid-November so that the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF can pull themselves together to decide whether Athens has met conditions for receiving help. Latest official figures say not: The Greek budget deficit will hit 8.5 percent of GDP in 2011, instead of the 7.6 percent it promised creditors. Greek officials now pledge the 2012 deficit will be slashed to 6.8 percent of GDP — instead of the promised 6.5 percent — if a supplementary austerity and reform package worth about $8.83 billion is forthcoming by 2013. Without the "current" $10.71 billion tranche, Athens would be bankrupt by this November. Hello?
• Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is said to have told visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that Damascus would strike Israel with missiles if NATO helps his country's rebels in the rapidly escalating civil war. "If a crazy measure is taken against Damascus, I will need not more than six hours to transfer hundreds of rockets and missiles to the Golan Heights to fire them at Tel Aviv," Mr. Assad warned, according to an Iranian news agency press account. Mr. Assad continued: "All these events will happen in three hours, but in the second three hours, Iran will attack the U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf and the U.S. and European interests will be targeted simultaneously." True, Mr. Assad is rumored to have chemical and bacterial warfare stocks. But the Israelis sit on the Golan Heights less than 75 miles downhill to Damascus. After Mr. Assad's father tangled with the Israelis in 1982 — the largest air-to-air combat of the jet age and one of the shortest — Syria lost 85 Soviet MiGs. Hello?
Yep, must be something in the water, the wine, the arak or whatever.
• Sol Sanders, a veteran international correspondent, writes weekly on the intersection of politics, business and economics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and blogs at http://www.yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com.
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