JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: DON'T LOOK AWAY. Inspired by a blistering speech from a former U.N. special envoy, Ezra reminds us that pleading futility is a bogus excuse when it comes to the global AIDS crisis. In fact, millions could be saved with just a minimal uptick of commitment from Western countries. --The Editors

    AGAINST ASTRONOMIC NITPICKING. The Pluto wars seem to have finally come to a conclusion as astronomers decide it's not a planet after all under their new definition of planet. The Associated Press reports: "The new definition of what is -- and isn't -- a planet fills a centuries-old black hole for scientists who have labored since Copernicus without one." I think this is silly. If astronomy has been proceeding since Copernicus without a rigorous definition of "planet" -- which is certainly my understanding -- then obviously the world doesn't need a rigorous definition . It's just a folk-cultural term and it denotes nine entities, one of which is Pluto. There's no need for a bunch of busybody astronomers to make trouble for everyone else. --Matthew Yglesias

    WHY WAL-MART MATTERS. I'm of the opinion that how to handle Wal-Mart is among the two or three most important issues facing the country. The conversation hasn't caught up to it, and the arguments being had mostly miss the mark and collapse in their own short-sightedness, but the mega-retailer's impact on the economy, ubiquity across the country, and aggressiveness in using its size will eventually force a reckoning proportionate to its power. Which is why it's such a disappointment to see Jonah Goldberg 's sneering, superficial treatment of the subject in today's LA Times . Goldberg's column decries WMDS -- his acronym for (I'm serious here) "Wal-Mart derangement syndrome," and his argument goes like this: 127 million people shop at Wal-Mart every week, so attacking the store is "electoral asininity." In addition, Hillary Clinton was on their board of directors when the company was fighting for survival in the late 80's and Teresa Heinz Kerry owns stock in corporation. Meanwhile, Wal-...

    THE WAGES OF INCOMPETENCE. When I run into conservatives, especially neoconservatives, a point I impress upon them with which they either eagerly or grudgingly agree is this: Because of the bungled, too-few-troops, no-occupation-strategy, go-it-mostly-alone approach in Iraq, we may never know for sure whether the grandiose theories of the PNAC�ers like Paul Wolfowitz are visionary or foolhardy. Although I happen to find the PNAC approach frightening, my view is incidental to that fact. Iraq became a Petri dish experiment in which the �Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal� forgot to place the organisms and the stimulant agent inside the dish in the first place. Would a 70-nation, 400,000-troop, coordinated effort with a detailed plan to overthrow Saddam , secure the borders, defend the ministries and oil supply lines, and move in with political and humanitarian assistance have worked? I still think this question will go down as the great counterfactual mystery of the Bush years, despite Matt and Sam...
  • What Would be Evidence of a Housing Bust?

    One should never make too much of a single month's data, but yesterday's report of a sharp falloff in existing home sales, price declines throughout most of the country, and record inventories of unsold homes, might be seen as supporting the view that a bubble is bursting, but not in the NYT. The Times article on the report included no comments from people expecting a serious downturn in the market. It also included this choice quote from Joshua Shapiro, chief United States economist with MFR [sorry, I don't know what it is]: "the trend here is one of stabilizing prices after the sharp gains seen for many years... While certainly a change in trend, so far the official data are not corroborating some of the more alarmist stories being bandied about recently.� The Times article also earns another BTP goat prize. Apparently no one noticed the concesions being offered by sellers (some in full-page ads). These non-price concessions (e.g. help on buyer-side closing costs, subsidized...

    SPEAKING OF VACATIONS. The RNC may have a beef with Markos Moulitsas taking a vacation, but that's not a position likely to win them more Catholic supporters this summer. Over the weekend, the Pope -- yes, the real, actual Pope -- issued a reminder to his flock that taking a break is the spiritually beneficial thing to do, and should be encouraged: Working too hard, even for those leading the Catholic Church, is bad for the spirit, Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday as he greeted tourists at his summer residence outside Rome. During his traditional weekly appearance to bless the faithful, Benedict quoted from writings of St. Bernard in the 12th century meant for the popes of his time on the subject of overwork. Benedict quoted the saint as advising pontiffs to "watch out for the dangers of an excessive activity, whatever ... the job that you hold, because many jobs often lead to the 'hardening of the heart,' as well as 'suffering of the spirit, loss of intelligence.'" "That warning is...

    TALE OF TWO TEXANS. Inspired by this mash note from Time 's Blog Of The Year, I remembered that one of the finest moments in Spike Lee 's masterful HBO documentary on Hurricane Katrina came when Douglas Brinkley -- who's much more shrill, and gratifyingly so, as a talking head here than he's ever been on Jim Lehrer 's show -- recalls the visit that President Lyndon Johnson made to New Orleans the day after Hurricane Betsy made landfall in 1965. Even considering the inevitable Lyndonisms -- "This is your president. I'm here to help you!" -- it didn't make for a very flattering presidential comparison last year, when David Remnick summoned it up, or today, for that matter. Anyway, here's a link to show you what a real president does, and how a real Texan behaves. --Charles P. Pierce

    FREE ADVICE. Far be it from me to give advice to the good folks at the Republican National Committee, and they're certainly entitled to risk death and dismemberment in the dungeons of Grand Vizer Kos . But, given the great vehicle that the Internets are for helping us celebrate anniversaries, do the ambitious little GOP drones really want to get snarky over the next couple of weeks on the subject of someone's relaxing vacations ? Just sayin'. --Charles P. Pierce
  • Really Bad Immigration Bill Numbers at the Washington Post (corrected version)

    I wrote a short note a couple of days ago about an article in the Washington Post on the immigration bill passed by the Senate. I wrote that the article used an estimate from CBO that was based on an error in the bill's wording that would almost surely be corrected before the final passage. After someone sent me a note, I reread the CBO report and I realized that the article had correctly reported the spending in the bill, as projected by CBO. However, it had neglected to mention the increase in tax revenue that CBO projected based on the corrected wording. The headline and the article itself referred to $126 billion in spending over 10 years (0.4 percent of projected spending). This figure is correct. However, the net cost of the bill, after taking into account the projected increase in tax revenue, is $83 billion over ten years, or 0.2 percent of projected spending. The article should have focused on the net cost, but I should have gotten my numbers right. --Dean Baker
  • Bad Housing Market News: The Surprise that Surprises

    House prices have stayed even with the overall inflation rate from 1950-1995. Since 1995 they have risen by more than 50 percent in real terms. There has been no remotely comparable increase in rents. As a result, home building has been hugely outpacing the rate of household formation and vacancy rates are at record levels. Given this information, economists should see a bubble in the housing market and expect prices to plummet. Instead, when they see bad news on sales, they are surprised . The news should be, "why are economists surprised by the collapse of a housing bubble?" Of course, the news five years ago should have been "why are economists surprised by the collapse of a stock bubble?" Unfortunately, the media never wrote that story five years ago, and they seem determined not to write the story about surprised economists this time either. --Dean Baker