【“救火队长”盖特纳】当初,盖特纳的财长提名曾让道指大涨6.5%,金融业内人士对他寄予了厚望;而如今,在AIG奖金风波、欠税事件以及拙劣的演讲技巧影响了其公众形象后,盖特纳的最终命运只能取决于其是否能成功“救火”。
2009年03月24日 00:00 AM

The Treasury fire-fighter

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On November 21 last year, the Dow Jones shot up 6.5 per cent - its largest daily gain in weeks - after Tim Geithner was nominated as Barack Obama's Treasury secretary.

The markets were relieved to see the back of Hank Paulson, George W. Bush's last Treasury secretary, whose gaunt, sleepdeprived visage mirrored Wall Street's fatigue. Mr Geithner represented a fresh technocratic approach in which they could believe.

Now, it seems, every time Mr Geithner opens his mouth the Dow heads in the opposite direction. Worse, perhaps, Mr Obama has got into the habit of expressing his confidence in Mr Geithner, a sure sign in more normal times that a public figure's days are numbered.

A former high-flying career civil servant, Mr Geithner's credentials are widely recognised. He has had extensive international experience, having spent much of his childhood in Asia and Africa. He studied at Dartmouth and Johns Hopkins before joining Treasury in 1988, where he found a mentor in Lawrence Summers, a Treasury official who is now Mr Obama's senior economic adviser. At Treasury and later as head of the New York Fed, Mr Geithner has dealt with nearly every financial crisis in the past 15 years, including witnessing the start of a decade of stagnation in Japan when he was based in Tokyo.

"He is a smart guy," Mr Obama told Jay Leno, the talk show host, on Thursday in his third defence of Mr Geithner this week. "He is a calm and steady guy and I don't think people fully appreciate the plate that was handed to him. This guy has not just a banking crisis; he's got the worst recession since the Great Depression."

No Treasury secretary has been faced with such acacophony of crises. In addition to shaping what could turn into a multi-trillion-dollar plan for the financial sector, Mr Geithner is in charge of restructuring the US car industry, overseeing the $787bn economic stimulus, providing relief to millions of struggling homeowners and co-ordinating a global response to the crisis from 20 leading nations.

"Secretary Geithner has taken more concrete actions to repair the financial system in his less than two months in office than others have taken in the course of years," a Treasury official said.

Moreover, Mr Geithner, who, until recently, looked a youthful 47, is being asked to fight all these fires with a shoestring staff - he remains the only Treasury official confirmed in the job. Given the high ethical bar Mr Obama and Congress have set for nominees, Mr Geithner has struggled to bring in the people he wants. Like Mr Paulson, Mr Geithner relies heavily on informal advisers. However, unlike his predecessor, Mr Geithner's team are not hand-picked loyalists. "We don't have time to do preparation for anything - public appearances, or any of the niceties," said a Treasury official. "Nobody gets any sleep."

All the while, Mr Geithner is having to fend off a vituperative campaign for his removal. Some allege he slipped up when he failed to prevent AIG, the bleeding insurance giant, from paying out $165m in bonuses to executives from the more than $170bn it has received in taxpayer funds. Others say Mr Geithner has lost credibility with the markets.

Still others claim that Mr Geithner, whose previous job at the New York Fed put him on the frontline of last year's Wall Street crises, is too sympathetic to those he is bailing out. "Geithner has an incestuous relationship with Wall Street," said Jim Bunning, the latest Republican to call for his scalp.

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