The WSJ and the FT report on their front pages, and the NYT has it on A14, that the Delta/Northwest airline merger is about to go down, though the Journal spends the first several paragraphs hemming and hawing about whether, in fact, it actually will happen. The WSJ says it “may” happen and “could” value Northwest at $3 billion and emphasizes that a deal risks problems with the two firms’ powerful pilot unions and that “other factors could delay or derail a deal.”

We assume this is just the Journal excessively covering its backside, since it did put such a “maybe” story on page one. The FT just says the deal is “close” and “set to be announced on Tuesday” or maybe today, and the NYT notes that the two camps have seemed close to a deal before only to back away.

The airline business has been slammed in the last couple of months. The Journal:

The high fuel prices and lack of credit hurting major sectors of the U.S. economy have been particularly tough on airlines. Several big carriers, including Delta and Northwest, have recently said they plan to shrink their domestic capacity and retire airplanes. Delta also announced plans last month to cut 2,000 jobs, or about 4% of its work force.

Four smaller carriers have filed for bankruptcy-court protection in the past few weeks, with three abruptly shutting down operations.

The WSJ notes that the price tag for Northwest puts its value at more than a third less than it was worth two months ago.

Well-oiled machine

The Journal on A4 says that the Silvestre Reyes, the Texas Democrat and House Intelligence Committee chairman, took a $24,000 campaign donation from a company five weeks after he gave it a $2.6 million earmark for a no-bid contract.

The paper also reports the company, Digital Fusion, based in Huntsville, Alabama, asked its execs to give money to powerful politicians and reimbursed some of them—a big no-no.

The congressman and the company say, “Nothing to see here.” Of course not.

Plastic melts

In economic news, the NYT reports that a research firm finds that credit-card offers are way down, from 904 million sent in October to 690 million in February, probably as a result of the credit crisis.

What bad economy?

Finally, the NYT fronts a fascinating story about how the “ultrarich” are still spending like it’s 1928, er, 2007. It says seventy-one apartments have sold in Manhattan this year for more than $10 million, up from seventeen for all of 2007.

“When times get tough, the smart spend money,” said David Monn, an event planner who is organizing a black-tie party on May 10 for dignitaries and recent purchasers of apartments at the Plaza Hotel; the average price there was $7 million. “Short of our country going on food stamps, I don’t think we’re doing anything differently.”

Hey, the country is going on food stamps, dude.

The Times notes that Bear Stearns hero Jimmy Cayne is invited to the Plaza party, which will have “a dozen female string musicians made up to look like statues and clothed in dresses of fresh flowers, like roses and gardenias. There will be caviar and Cognac bars, as well as a buffet designed to visually replicate 17th-century Dutch paintings from the recent Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit, ‘The Age of Rembrandt.’”

Read the whole thing, replete with anecdotes about rich guys spending money only on what they “feel is important” like 300-guest dessert parties, but here is our favorite passage:

In October, Marc Sperling, the 36-year-old president of an equity-trading company, bought a new condo on the Upper West Side in a building where four-bedroom apartments like his cost more than $4 million. When he moves into the completed building next year, he plans to hold on to his other two apartments in Murray Hill and Miami Beach—each of which he values at about $2.5 million.

Mr. Sperling views the nation’s economic slump as a temporary problem, and is grateful that it has yet to affect him. “I think if you have the means to ride it out, that’s what you do,” he said.

His view of the subprime mortgage crisis seemed to reflect a sort of inverse class resentment.

“I don’t want to sound harsh, but the people who were buying million-dollar houses with a combined household income of $70,000 or $80,000 were the ones who were chasing easy money,” he said.

That’s our Let Them Eat Cake Quote of the Day.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.