Today's Papers

Tax Consultants of Swat

The first day in months you’ll have time to read the papers and they barely put them out. The New York Times leads with Russian prime minister candidate Viktor Chernomyrdin’s no-duh on national television that, in the Times’ words, Russia “has entered a fiscal nosedive and that further political squabbling could lead to social chaos,” a story that also makes the Los Angeles Times front, but which the Washington Post front bumps for pro football and model trains. The WP leads with word that Israel may extradite an accused teenager to suburban Maryland in a local murder case. The LAT lead is that the job is becoming the primary focus of many people’s lives.

The NYT lead reports that on Sunday, the night before his second attempt to win confirmation as PM from the Russian parliament, Chernomyrdin used his TV address to defend and further explain the economic platform he rolled out last week: printing billions of rubles now to pay for years of soldiers’, civil servants’ and defense workers’ back wages and pensions and to save banks, and cutting the profits tax by 50 percent and then in just a few months, strictly controlling the currency, collecting taxes and cutting government spending. The program has quickly been criticized, says the Times, as “party-now, pay-later.” The big fear is that the policy could lead to hyperinflation, and indeed, the NYT points out that hyperinflation may have already arrived, with the ruble now three times cheaper than it was a month ago. In a separate TV appearance, says the paper, the acting deputy prime minister advocated making the U.S. dollar once again legal Russian tender.

The LAT Chernomyrdin story emphasizes in its headline and in its text right from the first paragraph his view that fascism awaits if Russia’s political stalemate continues. The NYT story never mentions the word, although in the nineteenth paragraph of its story, well after the jump, it quotes Chernomyrdin’s envisioning the possibility that “someone would want to enter the Kremlin on a white horse.” Similarly, the LAT story emphasizes Mr. C’s angry attack in his speech on the communists in parliament, a criticism the NYT never mentions.

A WP front pager details a sure sign of the tightest U.S. labor market in thirty years–the upswing in companies looking for new hires in the U.S. prison population. (The emphasis is on non-violent felons.) The paper reports that one Texas construction company has hired about 150 ex-offenders since 1992, with approximately 85 percent of those working out. And the Mirage Resorts in Las Vegas has hired 26 ex-offenders in recent years, mostly young people coming out of a state-run boot camp, for jobs in landscaping, flower arranging, and maintenance and custodial work. Mirage has hired a probation officer to monitor the ex-inmates and to help co-workers deal with discomfort–a big problem, apparently. Another: most of the companies that have plunged into the ball-and-chain talent pool don’t hire many women.

The story of burgeoning trouble between Iran and Afghanistan, Saturday’s lead at the WP, has dropped off the fronts altogether, but still gets inside coverage. The Post reports that a leading Iranian newspaper says the Iranian military commander in chief has ruled out a military confrontation. (This isn’t the Iranian paper’s top story, which is: “Job Becoming The Primary Focus Of Many People’s Lives.”) But, says the WP, tension between the two countries remains high over the status of twelve missing Iranians. Saturday’s WP said that Iran was preparing to send about 35,000 troops into Afghanistan. Today, the paper suggests that there are as many as 70,000 Iranian troops operating near the Afghan border. The NYT also floats the 70K troop estimate and offers an explanation for why Iran may be hesitant to fight Afghanistan–its suffering during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.

According to a wry piece in the NYT by Bill Dedman, if you’re a baseball fan who’s taking a glove to games these days in hopes of catching Sosa’s or McGwire’s record-breaking home run ball, you might think about taking your tax advisor along too. If you catch the ball and sell it, well obviously, you owe capital gains tax on the proceeds–which, given estimates that the magic ball could fetch upwards of $1 million, means a check to the IRS for nearly $400,000. You could lower your capital gains tax by holding on to the ball for at least a year, which would drop your tax bill to $280,000. But suppose out of a love for baseball, you decide to just give the ball to the new home run king. Well, the Times explains, then the federal gift tax applies. Giving the million-dollar ball away would mean a tax bill of about $150,000. If the fan keeps the ball, he or she would avoid tax until death, at which time it would be a taxable part of the fan’s estate. The only way to avoid tax entirely is to give the ball to charity, which could then sell the ball at a profit without paying any tax. (And, Today’s Papers notes, if the fan could arrange to have the charity then sell the ball to the new home king, he would accomplish his original philanthropic goal while beating the tax man.) The NYT observes that it remains to be seen if the “new, customer-friendly IRS has the chutzpah to try to collect the tax from, say, a twelve-year-old baseball fan.”