We lived near a school that sometimes was in session when ours was not. The school had large-windowed classrooms at its basement level, and if you were a little kid standing outside one of those windows, it was as if you were on a stage, framed in a veritable proscenium arch, optimal for entertaining the captive inhabitants of the classroom therein.
Think of the possibilities.
Once when they were in session, but we were not, Jessie had us dress up “like the girls from Little House on the Prairie,” go to the school where we crawled to the window and looked with exaggerated longing into a classroom full of kids about our age. We were not disruptive. We were just there … sitting. Jessie pretended to take notes on a pad of paper. When the teacher eventually came to shoo us away, Jessie, stuttered out a wistful protest in the most hammed-up, corn-pone delivery imaginable … “we … we … we just want to learn.”
Brought-the-house-down. Even the teacher.
Ha-ha-ha! A delightful little childhood story from back in the day when families had five and six and nine kids apiece, and instead of having a helicopter for a mom, our perfectly competent mothers locked us out of the house with the admonishment to “go play.” You heard the click of the lock, and you went off to … play. Your mother went into the house to get after her work, and did not feel the least bit of guilt over the transaction. Those were the days.
I could go on and on with adorable stories of tender childhood adventures and pranks, but as I think of them … now with the sensibilities of an adult … I realize that a lot of what we did, and thought nothing of at the time, were actually pretty awful things. No need to plead the 5th given that the Statutes of Limitation run by the time your moms pass on. But no kidding … we did some pretty awful things.
Here’s one: the church at the end of our block had a little yard with a swing set, slide and sandbox. While playing in the sandbox one summer afternoon, Jessie and I discovered a door to the church had been freshly painted bright red. It was beautiful and fresh and wet … and there we were … with the sand. Though unimaginable to me now, we threw sand on the door and ran away laughing our horrible little heads off.
Ha-ha-ha! A delightful little childhood story from back in the day. Adorable little rascals, weren’t we?
Devils more like.
And another: we found an unlocked window which was a reliable way into the church building and snuck in on Saturdays to play in a classroom set up for Sunday school. We played with toys and pretended to be teachers writing arithmetic problems and spelling words on the chalkboard. Nothing profane. But when we found a utility closet with a sizeable store of Dawn dishwashing detergent, we squirted whole bottles of it in a hallway, ran back and forth to a drinking fountain getting mouthsful of water and spitting them onto the floor creating a dastardly Slip-n-Slide that certainly was an hours-long horror to clean up.
I knew it was wrong. But the clean up was the only thing I considered … and then disregarded.
Were there consequences my ten-year old self wouldn’t have considered? Did an elderly person happen upon our handiwork and become injured by it? I don’t know. Jessie and I went blissfully on our way. Now, too late, I wonder.
In my early adulthood, I had a delightful, elderly neighbor who occasionally invited me in for tea and a chat. She was mugged on her porch and in the violence was pushed to the ground and broke her pelvis. It was shocking the degree to which her quality of life abruptly declined. She was left quite depleted and depressed for the remainder of her days.
The muggers, she said, were “just teenagers.”
She recognized their acts were borne of youthful indiscretion. Indiscretion with a clear and direct potential for the debilitation that occurred though. Squirting slippery detergent on a floor is not the same as a mugging. I will restrain myself from obnoxious over-piety to equate them. But the effect, for all I know, could well have been the same.
Making decisions with inadequate information are unavoidably how all decisions in youth are made. And they’re often bad decisions. Many of mine were.
I confess that not only did I make decisions with inadequate information, but I also unconsciously gave too much weight to banal personal concerns – my standing among peers, and my fear of crossing Jessie.
Jessie might have been the ringleader because she had by far the best ideas, but also because she was a bit of a devilish little bully if you didn’t go along with them.
Disability determinations are often unavoidably made with inadequate information too. Medical records are necessarily the primary source of information used to determine whether a claimant is disabled. Medical records almost never directly address how patients function. And in most cases how a person functions is the only relevant issue to the question of disability.
Even diligent scrutiny of every shred of medical evidence can leave a decision maker at an honest wobble as to whether the records prove up a disability or not. (I attempt to get at this in If it may please the court, I’d like to whisper sweet nothings in your ear.)
The concern is whether decision-makers left in the lurch after all the evidence is considered would slip into using generalized information to make specific decisions in particular cases.
In Scheherazade’s Superpower, I mentioned that a dissenting opinion in a U.S. Court of Appeals case stated that when medical records are unclear, decision-makers are justified to tip the scales in favor of an assumption that a claimant is likely feigning the disability. The case cited a story of fraud. (Ghanim v. Colvin, 763 F.3d 1154 (9th Cir. 2014))
This is the kind of generalized information I mean.
It’s jarring to read this advice in case law, but … I rather appreciate the honesty.
Nonetheless, the stories are a huge embarrassment to the Administration, to its decision-makers, to private attorneys representing disabled claimants, and to the claimants themselves.
Everyone is injured by fraud. Everyone is implicated by fraud.
Everyone. Everyone. Everyone. Even all the law-abiding everyones.
With the rise of stories of fraud in the press, and the documented decline in awards of benefits to claimants, one wonders whether these variables are merely correlated, or whether the rise of the stories is a cause of the decline. The Ghanim case would suggest there is at least some causation.
One wonders whether, in addition to Social Security’s stringent standard of what must be proven to obtain disability benefits, if claimants’ burden now also includes overcoming the presumption they are frauds at the outset.
This would make obtaining benefits, even when truly disabled, quite a bit more difficult. Especially so if the burden wasn’t stated, but just hypnotically played itself out in the background of decision after decision after decision after decision.
Shhhh …. When I snap my fingers, you will see fraud everywhere … when I snap my fingers you will see fraud in everyone … shhhh … decide … shhhh … decide … shhhh … decide.
The Social Security Administration is responding to fraud aggressively. And they should. They have increased the numbers of fraud units nationwide. And they have announced it will be responding to fraud … even before it happens … by the use of predictive analytics.
Predictive analytics allows fraud investigators to predict who might be a “risky person” in an effort to prevent fraud. Preventing crime before it occurs makes sense. Right?
But using predictive analytics to implicate specific persons before commission of a criminal act … that’s a bit like … like Spielberg’s film, Minority Report where crimes are foreseen by psychic “pre-cogs,” and prosecuted in advance of their occurrence!
Tom Cruise playing the Chief of Pre-Crime bursts into a home, cuffing a suspect saying … “by mandate of D.C. Pre-crime Division, I’m placing you under arrest for the future murder of Sarah Marks, that was to take place today ….”
It all made a kind of sense until the pre-cogs foresaw Cruise’s character planning a murder of a person he didn’t even know.
Predictive analytics would not be used to prosecute crimes before they’re committed, but would be used, according to Social Security’s Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin, “to prevent fraudulent applications from being processed.”
It’s unclear what … “preventing fraudulent applications from being processed” means … but it sounds like it’s … finally an articulation that claimants, or at least some of them, do have the burden to overcome a presumption they are frauds at the outset … before their applications for benefits are even processed, much less adjudicated.
It’s jarring to hear this from the Commissioner, but … I rather appreciate the honesty.
At any rate, Jessie and I were darn lucky there wasn’t a Juvenile Pre-Crime Division back in the day. Although, in our case, we would assuredly have deserved whatever pre-punishment we got.
All people have an interest in disability determinations being made correctly. The integrity of the program depends on it.
The devils, as always, are in the wayward little rascally details.