Today's Papers

The Chicken Flew

USA Today

leads with the decision by Ted Kaczynski’s lawyers to abandon a mental defect defense. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times lead with the decision by international bankers to allow South Korea to delay debt repayments. The Washington Post goes with a guilty plea by the world’s largest poultry company, Tyson Foods, in a political corruption case.

The USAT lead also reports on revelations that the Department of Justice turned down Kaczynski’s offer to plead guilty in return for a sentence of life in prison, referring only to “published accounts.” The paper should have given credit to the NYT, which broke the story yesterday. The WP does give that credit in its Kaczynski story, carried inside today, but not until the sixth paragraph. C’mon people! Admit it up front: Sometimes other papers get there first.

The Post story quotes a Kaczynski family lawyer asking what purpose going for the death penalty serves “except to punish [brother] David for the rest of his life.” The WP also runs an editorial questioning the DOJ stance, as does the NYT. On the other hand, today’s Richard Cohen column in the Post quotes badly injured Unabomber victim David Gerlernter saying, “I would sentence him to death….If someone handed me a gun or showed me the switch on the chair,…I would kill him myself.”

The WP’s Tyson story reports that the company pleaded guilty to giving former agriculture secretary Mike Espy $12,000 in illegal gratuities and consented to pay $6 million in fines and costs. The gifts were given to Espy while his department was considering poultry-related actions that portended millions of dollars in extra costs to the company. The NYT runs an AP account of the matter on p.11.

The Post reports that as part of the deal, company chairman Don Tyson and his son John were granted immunity from prosecution. The Post doesn’t make the point, but this is all too typical: Something abstract called the “corporation” is fined while the actual executives (think what that word means: people who get things done) go merrily along.

“Today’s Papers” received a number of sage emails from readers pointing out an oops in yesterday’s column: California’s gun control climate wasn’t affected by the Brady bill because it already had in place a much stricter waiting-and-checking statute covering handgun purchases. Still, that waiting period was increased in recent years to its current 15 days and it would be worthwhile for papers like the LAT to study and report on its relationship to the homicide decrease in L.A.

In anticipation of congressional debate on the topic early next year, the Wall Street Journal serves up a primer on the marriage tax penalty–when married people end up paying more in taxes than they would if they each were single. The Journal explains that it’s actually a fairly nuanced topic. For one thing, more married couples enjoy a marriage bonus than suffer a marriage penalty (51 percent to 42 percent). For another, it’s hard to make any changes that don’t create a huge drop in revenues and/or even worse inequities: for instance, eliminating the marriage penalty straight-out would simply lower the tax rates on most wealthier households.

The Journal quotes an academic who says that while not a primary factor in deciding to get married, “A $500 increase in taxes decreases the probability of marriage by 1% or 2%,” and quotes one woman who says she’s just living with her boyfriend despite their desire to marry because she doesn’t want to give the IRS an additional $3,700. On the one hand, folks like this are thinking too much–isn’t marriage to the right person worth $3,700?–and on the other, they’re not thinking enough. The odds are very good that if that woman and her beau got married, they would buy a house together and have at least one kid, thereby putting a huge dent in their tax bill.