Hank 'The Hammer' Paulson - the most dangerous man in America
The most powerful man in America today is not President Bush. Not that He is running the US anyway.
Nor is it the two political candidates seeking to replace him.
It's the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Hank Paulson.
Calling the shots: U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson
For make no mistake, it is the U.S. Treasury Secretary who is calling all the shots on the credit crunch crisis.
At the word of this former banker, the American taxpayer has committed hundreds of billions of dollars to save some firms (such as insurance giant AIG) and let others (such as Lehman's) go to the wall.
So who is Hank Paulson, and what gives him the right to play God with the world's banking system?
Paulson, 62, was brought up in suburban Illinois, where he won a reputation as a tough, sporting child.
He was an American Football hero at high school and university, and it was on the football field that this 6ft 2in bear of a man won the Hammer nickname.
He still works out every day and one former colleague says: 'Hank comes across as a big, tough, redneck.'
In fact, his parents were Christian Scientists - who believe in healing through prayer, and often refuse modern medical treatments.
He inherited their faith, of which he says: 'Christian Science is a religion in which you emphasise love as opposed to fear.'
Today, his daughter writes for the Christian Science Monitor magazine, and Paulson doesn't smoke or drink.
After graduating from Harvard Business School, Paulson's first job was as a junior assistant to one of Richard Nixon's aides, who soon afterwards went to jail for his part in the Watergate scandal.
So the Hammer returned to Chicago, joined the investment bank Goldman Sachs and began a meteoric ascent up its corporate ladder, supported by his wife, Wendy, whom he met at university, and their two children.
Away from office life, he was obsessed by animals and his children were brought up with raccoons, squirrels, alligators, lizards, a tarantula and snakes for company.
Perhaps his colleagues should have noted his particular interest is in birds of prey, 'because they are at the top of the food chain'.
Certainly, Paulson was a successful corporate predator and in 1999 rose to the top of his particular food chain, becoming chief executive of Goldman Sachs, America's most successful and elitist merchant bank. He kept the job for eight years.
Along the way, he was paid the huge bonuses that came with being one of Wall Street's Masters of the Universe, with a personal fortune estimated to be approaching £400million.
But he was far from a typical chief executive, preferring to go birdwatching than socialising, and promising that most of his money would be left to conservation projects.
Then in 2006, he had a call from George Bush's chief of staff, who wanted him to become the new Secretary of the Treasury.
In one way, it was no surprise. He had been a Republican donor and keen supporter of the President.
But Paulson wasn't keen on the job offer. The last two Treasury Secretaries hadn't had much influence.
He drove a hard bargain, saying he'd come only if he were made the President's chief economic policymaker. Bush agreed.
Initially, Paulson also struggled to make an impact. Like any banker he wanted less regulation - but didn't get it.
He wanted a new deal on welfare spending - but no one else in the White House was interested. And in the early days of the credit crunch, he appeared slow to respond.
And then, last March, the investment bank Bear Stearns told the Treasury that it was about to go broke. Paulson took charge at once.
Bush calls him 'my wartime general', and has delegated unprecedented authority to him over the banking crisis.
Paulson persuaded the President that the taxpayer had to give a £15billion guarantee to JP Morgan, another bank, as an incentive to take over Bear Stearns.
Earlier this month, he made an even bigger commitment on behalf of the taxpayer when the giant mortgage lenders Fannie May and Freddie Mac were effectively nationalised, adding more billions - no one knows exactly how much - to the U.S. national debt.
This, Paulson insisted, was the final bail-out.
So when two more huge Wall Street banks - Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch - got into trouble, he told them that there would be no more taxpayers' money.
As a direct consequence, Lehman went broke, and Merrill had to sell itself for a song to Bank of America.
But then on Tuesday night, he was forced to go back on his word, offering the largest bail-out yet - £43billion of public money - to the ailing insurance giant, AIG.
Unlike Lehman, apparently, AIG was simply too big to be allowed to fail.
There are a number of ironies about this. First, can it really be right that a man who, until two years ago, was running a Wall Street bank himself is now deciding which of his former competitors gets to survive, and which goes to the wall?
Then there is the spectacle of one of the prophets of the free market spending billions of pounds of other people's money to sort out the problem he had a major hand in creating.
Next, according to some, there is the concern that by effectively nationalising companies such as AIG, he is penalising the shareholders while providing a lifeline to their employees.
In doing so, he has been accused of helping out his former colleagues at the expense of those who provide the funding to make the financial system work.
Other critics don't like to see an unelected official wielding such power, with one senator claiming that 'he's acting like the finance minister of China'.
And lastly, there is sight of a man worth £400million enslaving future generations of American taxpayers to a massive never ending financial liability.
As even he admits: 'I think we'll be dealing with the housing issue for maybe years after I've left.'
No one in Washington is openly attacking Paulson. No doubt his actions will be questioned and debated late