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Here's what newspapers around the nation are saying.

The Washington Post

CHRISTMAS STAMP: The post office was right to reverse an earlier decision and bring back the Madonna and Child stamp next year. The post office's initial decision is precisely the sort of annoyance that helps feed the broader cultural and moral conflicts that are so much a part of politics these days.

The United States is, by most measures the social scientists use, a very religious country. The post office has always recognized this in a thoroughly pluralistic way, issuing stamps that honored a variety of religious traditions. This is not coercive in the way that requiring everyone to say a prayer in a public school classroom would be coercive.

People never had to buy any stamps they didn't want. But the stamps were there, a small bit of public recognition of the importance of religious faith to so many people. . . . The post office came around . . . after some quiet lobbying by President Clinton. This is cause for good cheer.

The Christian Science Monitor

SALVATION ARMY: Out in the cold. That's the sad plight of the Salvation Army this holiday season as some shopping malls and stores across the country refuse to let the charity set up its red kettles for the needy on their premises. (Merchants') reasoning goes like this: If we let one charity in, we'll have to admit other charities as well . . . Has America become so litigious that fear of legal action must negatively affect even a highly respected national charity? To deny the charity this essential access to people who might not otherwise make a contribution is to deprive impoverished individuals and families of needed food, clothing and - equally indispensable - toys.

By one estimate, the refusal of more than 2,000 stores across the country to allow the Salvation Army on their premises could represent losses up to $20 million. Christmas is supposed to be a season of generosity overflowing. A Scrooge-like approach on the part of corporate executives blocks that impulse.

Chicago Tribune

HELMS GOES TOO FAR: Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina has never been reticent about airing his uncompromising, conservative ideas. But he crossed the line in alarming fashion when he harshly questioned President Clinton's competence as commander in chief. Helms' criticism elicited a quick rebuke from Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Republican Sen. Bob Dole . . .

No one - particularly the man in line to become Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman - should undermine national security policy in the name of partisan politics . . .

Helms' flippant comments were dangerous in the extreme. Helms richly deserves the broad condemnation he has received for his disgraceful remarks. For his own sake, he ought to wise up.

The Miami Herald

CAR RENTAL DILEMMA: Far from home, on vacation or a business trip, you head for the car rental counter with a confirmed reservation. The clerk enters your driver license number into a computer, waits for a response, then says: "Sorry, we can't rent to you." Angry and confused, you try other companies. Same response. You're stuck thousands of miles from home and no one will rent you a car. Why? Because two of three in as many years, you got a ticket for a moving violation. That's enough to get you on a national blacklist . . . But aren't you entitled to some warning before you . . . are stranded someplace without wheels? Doesn't there have to be some means of appeal - at least to correct mistakes? So far, all the answers are . . . No.