OTHER VOICES

Postal agreement

Posted May 17, 2012, at 6:56 p.m.

The United States Postal Service is taking a curious path as it struggles with budget and operational reforms in desperate pursuit of financial stability.

Alienating customers as loyal and old as the postal system itself is an odd business choice, but that is what the USPS ensures with a negotiated service agreement with a primary competitor of newspapers.

The agency hopes to find revenues in a deal with Valassis Direct Mail that offers postage discounts up to 36 percent on new advertising mail pieces. Advertising from targeted national retailers is now deliv-ered as newspaper inserts, and to nonsubscribers via the Postal Service.

Newspapers already spend $500 million a year as part of Total Market Coverage programs to get ad-vertising inserts to nonsubscribers. Why the Postal Service would seek to undercut established business and point newspapers to private delivery services is a mystery.

The forum for explaining this disturbing deal is the Postal Regulatory Commission, which is accept-ing public comment on the proposed negotiated service agreement. Such discounts have been allowed for about a decade, but only a handful are in place.

The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 provides USPS with business options, but it must demonstrate financial benefits, and it cannot create conditions that cause harm in the market-place. So far, the Postal Service has not presented a case for a net financial benefit from the cozy deal with Valassis.

Nor has the Postal Service acknowledged the revenue and volume business from newspapers put at risk, or examined the impact on local advertising.

The agency has worked to accommodate and survive a variety of economic and technological changes. The Postal Service has been under siege from the outside by changing cultural habits, and the inside from employee expenses for medical care and pensions.

Why the agency would seek to alienate a longtime supportive customer by drafting a narrow agree-ment with a specific competitor makes no sense. The Postal Regulatory Commission needs to ask the pointed questions the Postal Service has avoided.

The Seattle Times (May 17)

Hillary’s Hair

So what is it about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s stint as U.S. secretary of state that gets people all riled up? Crises averted? Dictators stared down? Pacts signed? Diplomacy accomplished?

Let’s try “Hair and Makeup” for $400, Alex.

Yes, one of the most powerful women in the world, who practically lives on a plane that flies her hundreds of thousands of miles a year to the globe’s hot spots, is still taking it on the chin for whether her hair is flawlessly coifed and whether her make-up meets screen-test standards. And let’s not even visit the pantsuit critiques, which regard Clinton as if she were hitting red carpets instead of situation rooms.

Recently, obviously short of a scandal or two, The Drudge Report posted a picture of Clinton at a func-tion in Bangladesh under the headline, “Hillary Au Naturale.” In the photo, the secretary wore her hair down, her glasses on and she wasn’t slathered in pancake. She did remember to wear lipstick. Points for that?

If the secretary has proven anything with her public lives, it’s that the old rules don’t apply to her. She moved beyond her husband’s pecadillos — and stayed committed to their marriage, despite them — and out of his substantial shadow to forge a separate identity in her public service. And even though she keeps a superhuman pace, she looks human doing it.

She brushed off the fashion criticism with an interviewer: “I feel so relieved to be at the stage I am in my life right now because if I want to wear my glasses, I’m wearing my glasses. If I want to pull my hair back, I’m pulling my hair back.”

The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky. (May 17)

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