Geithner's $2 trillion black hole

Geithner has reason to be terrified. He was part of the Henry Paulson-led team that underestimated the devastating global-contagion effect of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Geithner won’t make the mistake of underestimation again.

Geithner also knows that the mood in Congress has changed. Were a global financial brush fire to break out as a result of bank restructuring or nationalization, today’s populist Congress might just let it burn. Congressional anger is likely to intensify when policymakers realize that credit default swaps demand a stream of premium payments like a life insurance policy, not just a payment due at termination. And recent signs indicate that firms such as Citigroup, in recycling their taxpayer bailout funding, may have helped other financial firms, including some in Europe, meet these payment obligations…

It’s time to tell the American people what the stock market already knows: that the path to recovery will probably be expensive and politically unpopular, perhaps explosively so. This dire situation could take us all down, which is why Obama should name a proven, world-class problem-solver who is not from Wall Street as his bank workout czar. James Baker, the former Republican secretary of state and Treasury secretary, comes to mind. Other possibilities: former Democratic senators Bill Bradley or George Mitchell. Perhaps the White House should name a team.