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The $700 billion man

Former Treasury Department official Neel Kashkari helped create the TARP program, and then he escaped from Washington.

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2. chop wood

3. lose 20 pounds

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4. help with Hank's book

He called his four-step program "Washington detox."

Now, six months later, he is almost done. He is nearly better, nearly free of Washington, D.C. Tonight, Kashkari is out walking his dogs on a mountain, listening for the coyotes that sometimes shadow him. The wind washes through the treetops. It sounds like rushing water. Kashkari pivots between two thick, rough trunks. His shaved head, his broad-brush eyebrows, his blackest-brown eyes -- all turn sharply.

He opens his hands into the darkness:

"This makes $700 billion seem small."

Step one: Build shed

It was October 2008 when Hank Paulson announced that the government rescue operation, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), would be run by his aide, Neel Kashkari. The choice was met with considerable surprise. Who was Neel Kashkari? He was too young, too inexperienced and had ties to Wall Street, detractors said. To some, the appointment seemed all wrong. Critics described Paulson as a "Dr. Evil" figure who brainwashed Congress into giving him unprecedented financial authority so that Kashkari, his "Mini-Me," could distribute it to Wall Street friends.

Overnight, Kashkari became the face of the biggest, and one of the most controversial, market interventions in American history. Even he questioned their chances of success.

The Friday evening he was named, he slumped over a bowl of chips in Bethesda with a childhood friend. He held his head in hands and said: "Dude, tell me something funny."

"Man, what's going on, Neel?"

"I've been tapped to put TARP together. I gotta set up these seven teams and build this thing from scratch -- by Monday morning."


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