Seth Wheeler, a top adviser in the Treasury Department, has left his post in Obama administration, Debtwire reported (pdf), a noteworthy fact because Wheeler was an architect of the administration's poorly designed, ineffective, and much maligned homeowner relief program that experts say has been a bust. A holdover from the Bush administration, Wheeler played a large role is designing the $75 billion Home Affordable Modification Program, the administration's flagship effort to slow the pace of new foreclosures across the country.

HAMP, however, has been roundly blasted by lawmakers, congressional watchdogs, and outside experts. Initially expected to help 3 to 4 million homeowners, a mere 230,000 homeowners had received permanent modifications to their mortgage payments; by contrast, there were 2.8 million foreclosure filings in 2009, and nearly 3 million are projected for 2010. The latest report from the special inspector general for the bailout, known as SIGTARP, said, "Until Treasury fulfills its commitment to provide a thoughtfully designed, consistently administered, and fully transparent program, HAMP risks being remembered not for catalyzing a recovery from our current housing crisis, but rather for bold announcements, modest goals, and meager results."

It's unclear why Wheeler left the Treasury just over a year into HAMP. One investor told Debtwire, "It looked like he just couldn't get things done, and he was very frustrated." Interestingly, Wheeler tendered his resignation on April 15, Debtwire notes, a day after an April 14 hearing held by the House financial services committee in which HAMP was more or less eviscerated by committee members. Was the onslaught of criticism in that hearing the final straw for a frustrated Wheeler?

A guest post from Clothilde Le Coz, Washington director of Reporters Without Borders.

Each year on May 3, the international community commemorates World Press Freedom Day. Rather ironically, this May 3 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be in New York to talk—freely—at the United Nations about Iranian nuclear issues. Ahmadinejad is one of the 40 individuals Reporters Without Borders has listed as Predators of Press Freedom this year.

These 40 opponents of free speech are politicians, government officials, religious leaders, militias and criminal organizations that treat the press as an enemy and target journalists directly.  Since the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on June 12th, 2009, over 50 reporters were forced into exile and more than 100 have been arrested. Currently, 51 reporters and netizens remain in jail for reporting the events and killings that have occurred in Iran since June.


Staff Sgt. John Godwin, a Loxley, Ala., native serving as a flight equipment technician and aerial observer with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), mans an M240G machine gun on the tail of an MV-22 Osprey while flying missions in Afghanistan. Photo via the US Marines.

On Saturday night, a t-shirt vendor alerted police to a suspicious SUV in New York's Times Square. Smoke was flowing out the back grates of the vehicle; when the bomb squad looked inside, they found an "amateurish" car bomb: 5-gallon jugs of gasoline; propane tanks; and commercially available fireworks filled the back of the dark-green Nissan. "We got very lucky," New York mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters in a late-night press conference. The bomb could have proved "very deadly," Bloomberg said. A former bomb squad tech later told the New York Times that the bomb would have probably produced more of an "incendiary" event, not a massive explosion, if it had gone off.

Most major news outlets haven't picked this up yet, but the (well-sourced and normally very reliable) Long War Journal reported on Sunday morning that a Pakistani Taliban commander has claimed credit for the attack:

A top Pakistani Taliban commander took credit for yesterday's failed car bomb attack in New York City.

Qari Hussain Mehsud, the top bomb maker for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, said he takes "fully responsibility for the recent attack in the USA." Qari Hussain made the claim on an audiotape accompanied by images that was released on a YouTube website that calls itself the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan News Channel.

The tape has yet to be verified, but US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal believe it is legitimate. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan News Channel on YouTube was created on April 30. Officials believe it was created to announce the Times Square attack, and Qari Hussain’s statement was pre-recorded.

You don't need Mike Allen's "Playbook" to know that this is going to be a big story this week. Even if the Pakistani Taliban weren't responsible for the attempted attack, the LWJ report suggests they may have known about it in advance.

UPDATE, 4:04 p.m. EST: The NYPD is now saying there's no evidence of a Taliban link.