Don’t Drink the Water (or try mailing me a letter)

January 20th, 2016

Government at every level is failing the citizens of Flint, Michigan.

In case you’ve missed it, the news is very bad. For over a year, Flint’s citizens of every age have been ingesting and bathing in lead contaminated water. And it’s not like this news came from out of nowhere and hit citizens and government officials like a ton of bricks at the same time. No, the citizens suspected this catastrophe over the past year and implored the government to do something about it. Meanwhile, the government knew something was wrong but did nothing. Instead, they passed around memos and contemplated what to do while making sure to remain silent on the matter so as not to alarm the public.

Elsewhere in the country, Democrat presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders make speech after speech essentially trying to persuade the public that it’s in their best interest to put more of the business of their daily lives into the hands of government officials.

If the Flint matter was an isolated incident, that would be one thing, but it’s not. Government at all levels is slow, plodding, and bureaucratic. That leads to tremendous inefficiencies in performance.

I know this firsthand. Practicing environmental and immigration law for many years, my job often included maddening attempts to get to the right person in a government agency to resolve my client’s problems. In immigration, I’d often find myself in that annoying telephone tree loop where it quickly becomes evident that there really isn’t any live human to speak to and if there is he is likely like the Wizard of Oz who won’t ever appear unless Toto smokes him out.

Currently, I’m experiencing government inefficiency at a personal level.

Recently, we moved to a new house. Typically, one of the simplest tasks in a big move is changing your address. Over many years and many moves, I’ve never had a problem with this process.

Until now.

Our house is brand new, and evidently it was never properly registered with the United States Postal Service. This first became evident when UPS couldn’t find our home to deliver my son’s new furniture. According to their records (which they get from the Postal Service), my house didn’t exist. Rather than call me to clarify or drive over and see for themselves, UPS evidently researched my entire family and finally located my husband’s downtown business address. You can imagine the office manager’s surprise when big boxes of furniture addressed to me appeared at the front door.

So started the beginning of an ongoing (and not yet completely resolved) attempt to get the United States Postal Service to recognize that my home exists. In the course of this sojourn, the USPS computer (and as a result the computer programs of AT&T, Amazon, and UPS among others) randomly picked the address of a poor unlucky soul elsewhere in Austin, Texas and started sending much of my mail and packages to him.

What made this all the more confusing was the fact that some mail was slowly making its way to me. This feat was accomplished after numerous calls by me to the USPS customer service phone line. Over the past several months, I’ve spent literally hours on the phone listening to their very annoying hold music while waiting to speak to a live agent. Forget waterboarding, if the United States government ever decides to torture anyone again they can save lots of money and investigations by a congressional oversight committee by simply subjecting the terrorist in question to hours on the phone waiting for a USPS representative to answer.

To their credit, the people who do eventually pick up the phone have all been nice and eager to help. One agent and I even had a long conversation about raising fourteen-year-old boys (this may explain the long wait I endured to even get to her in the first place). I’ve had so many case numbers opened on this matter that I’ve lost track of what each one of them is for. It really doesn’t matter much anyway because I’m always inevitably back on the phone again waiting for yet another agent to give me another case number because nothing is ever completely resolved.

I don’t want to jinx myself here by saying this, but I think we’re nearing the end of this saga. Slowly but surely, I’m getting my mail. It’s also been awhile since I’ve spoken to the poor man who’d been receiving all my mail and packages. When we last spoke, he asked if I could order a Rolex watch to make it worth his while. I told him if I do and the package has his name on it, he can keep it.

Still I know I’m not entirely out of the woods. Yesterday, I placed an order with Dell for a monitor for my computer. I couldn’t order online because the wrong address kept popping up on the “Ship To” line (yes—they rely on the postal records). I decided to call instead. Immediately, I was directed to a very polite young woman beginning her workday in India. Again, the address was that of the man who has been the unfortunate recipient of all my mail. I told her that wouldn’t work and she needed to correct it. Still, no matter what she tried her system couldn’t override the address.

Frustrated, she came up with an idea.

“Why don’t I just send it to the man’s house and you can go pick it up.” she suggested.

“Uh, no,” I replied.

I probably crossed some cultural divide because it took several attempts to speak to a manager who finally was able to force through my actual address on the order.

Fingers crossed it gets here.

I sincerely hope the situation in Flint is rectified quickly because the whole thing is an outrage.

I also hope that whatever Democrat is nominated for president pushes hard for an expanded role for government.

On that point, I’m absolutely certain Republicans will have a lot to say.



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