Planes and protests on Geithner's visit to Europe

By Martin Crutsinger

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 6 2011 10:35 p.m. MST

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner briefs the media during a news conference with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble after a meeting at the finance ministry in Berlin, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011.

Markus Schreiber, Associated Press

FRANKFURT, Germany — Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is seeing the sites on his whirlwind three-day, three-country tour of Europe. Not that he's spent time touring the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

But one site probably looked quite familiar to him. Outside the headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt was a tent city erected by the Occupy Frankfurt forces.

The tent city was spread out below the hulking blue euro sculpture that's often served as a backdrop for TV news reports on the debt crisis in the 17-nation eurozone. The supporters, following the spirit of the Occupy Wall Street movement, had erected their tents beneath the symbol of European capitalism.

Geithner didn't see the protesters on his visit to Mario Draghi, the ECB's new president. His motorcade came and left through a different side of the bank building.

Shades of Lehman Brothers. There's nothing like a crisis to draw hordes of reporters.

When Geithner appeared at a news conference in Berlin with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, the two men were confronted by 15 television cameras and a crush of photographers and reporters jockeying for position.

It might have reminded Geithner of the dark days of the U.S. financial crisis in 2008, when he was president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank at the time Lehman collapsed, and in 2009, when became Treasury secretary.

The news conference Tuesday was packed. Many in Europe are eager to hear how U.S. officials are responding to their proposed solutions. Among some Europeans, Geithner's words carry credibility because of how he helped defuse the U.S. crisis.

But Geithner and Schaeuble were toeing a narrow line. They wanted to say enough to reassure financial markets. Yet with details still being worked out, they didn't want reporters delving into the particulars of Europe's latest proposals to resolve the crisis.

Which was probably why reporters were limited to just two questions — one from an American reporter, one from a German.

Geithner worked a full day Monday and then boarded a plane to fly all night to Europe. His mission this week: to lobby finance officials to act quickly and decisively to get control of the debt crisis. Yet Geithner looked none the worse for the wear, perhaps because he has a secret weapon.

His Air Force C-40 jet has a bed in back. It's a compartment with a desk and a bed that lets Geithner sleep on his way over the Atlantic if he chooses, so he can be rested the next morning.

The plane, the military equivalent of a Boeing 737, is staffed and flown by the Air Force. It comes complete with military personnel to prepare meals and keep sophisticated telecommunications gear running. That gear allows Cabinet officials and the military brass who use the fleet of planes to remain plugged in wherever they are in the world.

The planes are prized not only by Cabinet secretaries like Geithner but also by lawmakers when they take congressional delegations on "fact-finding" missions overseas. The congressional delegations, or "codels" in government-speak, have absorbed criticism over the years for their travel to exotic destinations at taxpayers' expense.

Critics have a different name for them. They call them junkets.

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