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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, January 24, 2014

I had a few things on my mind last week

A couple of things caught my attention this week:

First was the United States Postal Service’s move to open retail centers in Staples stores around the country.
The centers will allow customers to buy stamps and ship packages using the USPS.

I admire USPS’s chutzpah in going out on its own to find a way to serve its customers.

For years, it’s been trying to get Congress to agree to changes it says will save money. But, as happens with pretty much every single issue that comes up these days, politics gets in the way.

Lawmakers from small, rural areas grouped together to block a move to eliminate Saturday delivery.

But USPS is working around Congress in ways that benefit the consumer. This one puts postal service in stores on weekends and in the evenings, when post offices are closed.

The problem is that the Staples sites likely won’t be staffed by USPS personnel.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe was matter-of-fact about the issue.

“That’s Staples’ business,” he said. “They make their own business decisions and it has nothing to do with us.”

Staples’ spokeswoman Carrie McElwee referred questions about the 200,000-member union to USPS.
The only one that’s really speaking is the union itself.

It’s calling for boycotts and protests at pilot locations in California, Georgia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Union officials also are about to call on company shareholders to intercede.

I’m not sure why USPS and Staples can’t make this deal meet in the middle. The retail centers are a good idea, but I’d rather hand my mail and packages over to a trained postal employee. There are tons of regulations and limits associated with the movement of U.S. mail, and I’d rather handle it right the first time than find out too late, down the line, that an unskilled employee handled my parcels improperly.

* * *

Warren Buffett, Dan Gilbert and their billion-dollar offer for a perfect NCAA tournament bracket got under my skin this week.

I’ll admit, this point was far down on my list of reasons this bothered me: It’s just not going to happen. So, why not offer $10 billion, since you’re just wasting our time.

But my real problem is I’m troubled about why they’re focusing on something so trivial.

Is it because they know it’s just words, that they’ll never have to pay a dime anyway?

If they’ve got a billion dollars just lying around not doing anything (and, really, who doesn’t?), I wonder why they don’t offer it, instead, to the person who cures cancer.

The stories I’ve read about the prize have given high praise for the feat of working out a perfect bracket. I’ve done brackets before. Lots of us have. We know how difficult it is to even get a perfect round, or region, let alone get the whole thing right.

But, those of us who’ve lost someone to cancer surely consider that horrible disease to be a bit more important than a bunch of college basketball picks.

Gilbert’s involvement makes it a lot less tasteless for me. The Cavaliers owner has consistently been a donor to causes around the Cleveland area, including a scholarship program in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

In addition to the main prize offer with Buffett, Gilbert’s company announced it will split $2 million among the 20 most accurate predictions submitted to the contest. At the same time, Gilbert announced that he will donate $1 million to educational charities in Detroit and Cleveland.

This last part seems much more acceptable, because it’s money that’ll actually be awarded. And, he’s taking care of the cities where his company concentrates its business.


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