The Skinny is Keach Hagey's take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.
Yesterday had many the trappings of a holiday, from parades to closed banks to light traffic of both the commuter and the Internet variety. But one thing Americans have come to expect as part of their holiday experience was missing: the whimsical tweaking of the Google logo.
Likely that's because Columbus Day lacks the obvious visual expression of, say, Halloween, but the fact that the absence of the Google doodle was even noticed at all points to how deeply Googlified we've all become.
If anyone doubts this, the Los Angeles Times reports this morning on a brewing controversy over just how, and when, Google gussies up its logo.
Apparently, last week's decision to honor the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch - the second "g" in Google was replaced with a drawing of the Soviet satellite - is being blasted by some conservatives.
Not only did Google honor an achievement by a totalitarian regime that was our Cold War enemy, they griped, but did so without having ever altered its logo to commemorate the military on Memorial Day or Veterans Day.
Conservatives find the omission particularly galling since the search giant's in-house artists have tweaked the company's logo for a variety of obscure events, including World Water Day, Persian New Year, painter Edvard Munch's birthday and China's Dragon Boat festival.
"When they ignore Veterans Day and Memorial Day, I think the're telling us something about the way they view America," said Joseph Farah, editor of WorldNetDaily.com, a conservative website that has criticized Google's logo decisions.
A Google spokeswoman defended the company's choices by pointing out that altering the logo for these holidays would be a serious bummer.
"Google's special logos tend to be lighthearted and often scientific in nature," she said. "We do not believe we can convey the appropriate somber tone through this medium to mark holidays like Memorial Day."
But some refuse to believe it. Just to prove it, the website www.zombietime.com started a Memorial Day logo contest to "show Google that it's not so hard" to make respectful ones. It has received about 250 entries, including ones that replace the secont "o" with a Purple Heart medal and the "l" with the flagpole in the Iwo Jima flag-raising.
Lawmakers Too "Busy" To Tax Private-Equity Firms
Chalk one up to the lobbyists.
They were paid an unprecedented sum -- $5.5 million so far this year -
to squelch talk of raising taxes on private equity firms, and the Washington Post reports today that it seems to have worked.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has told private-equity firms in recent weeks that a tax-hike proposal they've spent millions to defeat will not get through the Senate this year, according to executives and lobbyists who spoke to the paper.
"Rather that citing the lobbying push," the paper notes with a smirk, "Reid implied that the reason had to do with the lack of time on the jammed Senate schedule."
Democrats have been pushing to raise taxes on the massive earnings of private-equity managers after some of the firms started to go public last spring, and in so doing revealed the nausea-inducing numbers on their paychecks. Some of these guys (and yes, they're mostly guys) make hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but because it's classified as capital gains, they're only taxed at 15 percent rate rather than the 35 percent top rate paid on regular income.
A leading legislative proposal, which originated in the House, would tax this so-called "carried interest" profit as regular income. Rough estimates suggest it could put an extra $6 billion in the U.S. treasury every year.
But it looks like even if it passes the House, it will likely die in the Senate. Reid's spokesman said the Senate Finance Committee has held three hearings on the subject at which "a number of issues have been raised regarding how a change in the tax treatment of private equity firms might affect the broader economy."
Decking The Halls, Without Uttering The "H" Word
It wouldn't be so bad, maybe, if it weren't so freakishly hot outside. But the Indian Summer has shone a bright, steamy spotlight on the ridiculousness of retailers' sneaky plans to roll out Christmas earlier than ever this year, the New York Times reports.
Eager to expand the holiday shopping season "without provoking consumers," retailers are experimenting with a novel approach, the Times reports. They're launching earlier-than-ever advertising that deliberately plays down the tinsel and holly.
Wal-Mart shattered records for an early start when it cut prices for toys in mid-October, but the company is not calling it a holiday sale. L.L. Bean is offering free shipping, but it's shying away from the "H" word. Toys "R" Us is setting up a temporary store in Manhattan, but shoppers would have to study ads to find its name: Holiday Express.
The furtive ad campaigns are meant to jump-start what retailer fear will be a very blue Christmas, indeed. Toy recalls and economic jitters are making the National Retail Federation predict that sales will rise 4 percent this year, to $474.5 billion - the slowest growth rate in five years.
For those of you keeping track at home, yes, that amount that Americans are expected to spend on Barbie dolls and Nintento Wiis this holiday season is "only" $475.5 billion.
That seems like a number in need of context, so here's some: the combined outstanding debt of the 60 poorest countries in the world, according to one third-world debt watching organization, is $523 billion.
A NOTE TO READERS: The Skinny is available via e-mail. Click here and follow the directions to register to receive it in your inbox each weekday morning.