You know the situation is bad when even the president of the United States, Mr. Obama, has had to explicitly say the US is not going to default on its debt obligations. While this would have seemed a joke some time ago (a really bad one), recent speculation about the possibility of the US having problems to keep up with its day-to-day obligations due to having reached the established debt ceiling, have made it necessary for Obama to step up and try to calm the markets with his announcement. At the time of writing this, I am sorry to say, he has been unable to do.
This is not totally Obama's fault though, as the situation at the other side of the Atlantic is not helping at all. The European Union seems stuck in its talks for a second bailout for Greece. Speculators have instantly used this uncertainty to focus on their next prey, Spain and Italy, after devouring not only Greece but also Ireland and Portugal. If Lehman told us something, it is that the moment everybody turns their backs on you there is very little you can do to turn the situation around. The problem is Spain and Italy are really too big to fail, Europe (and the rest of the world for that matter) cannot afford both of them going down.
I am not saying everybody (yes, that includes rating agencies) should back off and let Spain and Italy do their thing, because they clearly have been doing things the wrong way. They have abused their debt issuing, and the European Union is also guilty by having looked away from the problem for a long time, but strangling them overnight is not the way to go, it is bad for anyone. Maybe some people are earning a lot of money from the situation, or maybe they have made some big-money bets on Spain and Italy going down. Either way, they risk killing the economy if they are not left some room to breathe and the opportunity to change course and make things right.
If we have really learned the lesson, we should keep the fall of Lehman on our minds.