Tuesday, September 20, 2022

2023 TRAIL Changes | What You Need to Know


Beginning January 1, 2023, your new medical and prescription drug plan will be the Aetna Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug (MAPD) PPO Plan. This new plan will replace your current plan, whether you’re currently enrolled in the UnitedHealthcare MAPD Plan or one of the MAPD HMO Plans (Aetna, Health Alliance, or Humana).

While your carrier for medical and prescription drug coverage is changing, your dental carrier—Delta Dental—and vision carrier—EyeMed, if applicable, will remain the same.

No action is required unless you want to opt out of the Aetna MAPD PPO Plan, add or remove dependents, or change dental/life coverage, if applicable. If you and your Medicare-eligible dependent(s) are currently covered under the UnitedHealthcare MAPD Plan or a MAPD HMO Plan, you and your Medicare-eligible dependent(s) will be automatically enrolled in the Aetna MAPD PPO Plan with coverage beginning January 1, 2023.

To learn more about this change, click here.


Sunday, September 18, 2022

DeSantis Should Be Prosecuted


In recent months, Republican governors in Texas, Arizona, and Florida have been transporting undocumented immigrants northward to cities like New York, Washington, and Chicago. This included busing about a hundred people to the vice president’s residence and dumping them on the street.

Governor DeSantis took this despicable practice of using vulnerable men, women, and children as political props to a new low this week when he paid for two planeloads of Venezuelan migrants to be sent to Martha’s Vineyard.

As has been reported, the Venezuelans that DeSantis paid to transport were actually recruited by a coconspirator in San Antonio, Texas, not in Florida. As reported, this coconspirator, “Perla,” promised the migrants transportation to Boston and expedited work permits. All of it was a lie.

Various news entities have described DeSantis as engaging in a “stunt.” That characterization is a troubling understatement of the gravity of DeSantis’ conduct.

The truth is that DeSantis — apparently unconcerned about the immorality of his actions — and those conspiring with him appear to have acted criminally under Texas law. Title 5, section 20 of the Texas Penal Code defines the crime of unlawful restraint.

Under the statute, a person is restrained if their movement is restricted without their consent by, among other mean, moving the person from one place to another. Restraint is without consent “if it is accompanied . . . by deception.”

Under the statute, the violation is a Class A misdemeanor, unless the person restrained is under seventeen, in which case it is a felony. According to reporting, there were children among those criminally transported to Martha’s Vineyard.

That’s not to say that DeSantis and other Republican governors have not violated a host of other state or federal laws by deceptively transporting migrants across the country.

Some have called for US attorney general Merrick Garland to open an investigation. The attorney general should. Unfortunately, while describing DeSantis’s conduct as shameless, the White House refused to commit to a thorough investigation of the abduction of the Venezuelan migrants, the violation of their civil rights, and whether DeSantis, Texas governor Greg Abbott, and Arizona governor Doug Ducey acted unconstitutionally by interfering with the federal government’s authority to manage immigration.


The Texas state attorney with jurisdiction should also open an investigation and empanel a grand jury. The fact that DeSantis is the governor of a sister state is no defense for breaking the law in Texas. And while they are at it, they should investigate whether Governor Abbott engaged in any similar deceit or other illegal conduct. He is also not above the law. The same is true for state attorneys in other affected states.

And where are the Republicans who only recently were asking that Venezuelan migrants in the United States have their temporary protected status extended? The hypocritical silence of figures like is Marco Rubio deafening.

Finally, for all the Democrats who are so afraid of the immigration issue, this is not about whether one supports or opposes this or that immigration policy. Like Donald Trump’s family separation policy, this issue runs much deeper. It’s about inhumane and illegal conduct toward vulnerable people that is an affront to the values of every decent human being.

Progressives owe the country — which endured four years of lawlessness under Trump — to tell the truth about Ron DeSantis — an aspirant to the highest office in the land. He has demonstrated that, like Trump, he is willing to break the law to achieve political power.

What DeSantis did is not a political “stunt.” It’s a clear warning that, as president, he, like his Republican predecessor, would view the rule of law as a principle that is expendable when political expediency calls. And it’s a crime. He should be prosecuted for it. 

-Jeff Weaver, Jacobin


Saturday, September 17, 2022

Today Is Constitution Day, and Our Democracy Depends upon the Rule of Law


Re: Sedition and Treason:

On January 6, 2021, pursuant to the 12th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, the House of Representatives, and the Senate met at the United States Capitol for a Joint Session of Congress to count the votes of the Electoral College. In the months preceding the Joint Session, Trump repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the Presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by State or Federal officials.

Shortly before the Joint Session commenced, Trump, addressed a crowd at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. There, he reiterated false claims that “we won this election, and we won it by a landslide.” He also willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — lawless action at the Capitol, such as: “if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Thus incited by Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive and seditious acts.

Trump’s conduct on January 6, 2021, followed his prior efforts to subvert and obstruct the certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential election. Those prior efforts included a phone call on January 2, 2021, during which Trump urged the secretary of state of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes to overturn the Georgia Presidential election results and threatened Secretary Raffensperger if he failed to do so.

In all this, Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Moreover, the recent unsealing of a court filing revealed that the August 8 search at Mar-a-lago turned up more than 11,000 documents or photographs that were not classified, 31 documents marked CONFIDENTIAL, 54 marked SECRET, and 18 marked TOP SECRET. In addition, agents found 48 empty folders marked CLASSIFIED, and 42 empty folders marked to be returned to a military aide. Those documents were not filed with the envelopes.

Re: the Illinois State Legislature, the Illinois Policy Institute, Crain's, Chicago Tribune, et al.

To anyone still attempting to amend the Pension Protection Clause through so-called pension reform”: read Article XIII, Section 5: “Pension and Retirement Rights” of the Illinois Constitution. Read Article 1, Section 16: “Ex Post Facto Laws and Impairing Contracts” of the Illinois Constitution. Read Article I, Section 15: “Right of Eminent Domain” (the Takings Clause) of the Illinois Constitution.  Read Article I, Section 2: “Due Process and Equal Protection” of the Illinois Constitution. Read Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution: “No State shall… pass any… ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts…” Read Amendment V, Section 1 of the United States Constitution: “No person shall be... deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation” and read Amendment XIV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution: “Due Process and Equal Protection.” To ignore the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and change laws that protect one group of people is to ignore due process and equal protection of the laws that guarantee contractual agreements as well. Read the Illinois Supreme Court ruling: docket number 118585, filed on May 8, 2015!   

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Orion Nebula

The earth is a speck of dust in the universe.

Is it logical for us to believe that a god created the entire universe, but its chief concern is whether we worship it or not here on earth, and that our sins have some sort of “cosmic significance” in a universe that contains billions of galaxies, each galaxy with billions of stars, and each star with perhaps a planetary system and other possible life forms?  Our religious belief in our significance is absurd.


Wednesday, September 14, 2022

"Aetna Medicare Advantage plan will officially be the only health insurance option for roughly 140,000 retired state workers for the next five or more years"


IRTA Members,

The Illinois Retired Teachers Association would like to make our members aware that according to a recent article, Aetna Medicare Advantage PPO will be the sole insurer offered to Illinois retired state workers and retired teachers. This means that, in addition to removing United Healthcare, the State is also removing all HMO options from retired teachers. IRTA understands that in some areas, members will not be able to continue to see their current healthcare providers at the same cost. 

The attached article makes it clear that this will be true in the Champaign area, but your area could be impacted as well. You may want to check with your healthcare providers about how the State’s decision to contract Aetna as the sole provider could impact your benefit.

Open enrollment for retirees has been pushed back to November 1st from the typical October 1st start date. The new plan will go into effect for enrollees January 1, 2023. Communication regarding the change will begin within the next couple of weeks. To read the full article, please click here [or continue reading].


Jim Bachman

IRTA Executive Director


CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — “I feel like this is a real slap in the face to teachers,” retired Paxton-Buckley-Loda teacher Vicki Good reacted to Monday’s news that an Aetna Medicare Advantage plan will officially be the only health insurance option for roughly 140,000 retired state workers for the next five or more years. It’s an outcome seniors in Champaign and surrounding counties feared for months.

United HealthCare, the company that previously held the PPO contract that Aetna will step into Jan. 1, appealed the decision by the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS) in July. The state’s Chief Procurement Office denied the protest, CMS confirmed late Friday.

Previously, there were a handful of companies for state retirees to choose between but that is set to sunset at the end of the year. Aetna will be the sole insurer after selling the state on a group PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) plan that the company has not previously offered in Illinois.

Aetna and state representatives were confident in the upcoming plan’s ability to provide an adequate network of doctors under federal network adequacy standards. Some current Aetna members were more skeptical. “So I’m still upset,” Good began in a Monday morning interview. “It doesn’t give you any sense of security.”

We first met the retired teacher back in March. For years, she’s been enrolled in the Total Retiree Advantage Illinois Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug program (TRAIL MAPD). Good is on Aetna’s existing state-contracted Medicare HMO plan.

She’s been struggling to find various doctors that would be covered under her plan since early this year when Aetna Medicare plans stopped being accepted at Carle Health facilities within an hour of Champaign, including a network of more than 500 doctors.

“I am concerned about Aetna,” she said. “They’re making it sound like that they have all these people to help us, all these doctors that can help us. And yet, when you actually try to find something, it isn’t what it looks like on the surface.”

These days, Good is looking at needing multiple hand surgeries for carpal tunnel, including a joint replacement. All of the above require a hand surgeon, which is a specific type of orthopedic specialist. “[My primary care doctor] said, ‘I know a good one at Carle, but you can’t go to Carle because of, you know, because you’re with Aetna,'” she explained. “So he is sending me to Springfield.”

In the meantime, Good said she called Aetna to see if there happened to be any closer options. A representative on the phone sent her a list of 27 doctors. The first three were the wrong type of specialists, a spine specialist, a hip and knee specialist, and another that handled only shoulder and knee replacements. “And then the next 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 that they sent me were walk-in clinics, they’re Christie walk-in clinics,” she continued. “I don’t think I want to go to a walk-in clinic looking for a hand specialist.” The remainder of the list was more of the same or repeated names.

Aetna’s upcoming Medicare PPO plan should, in theory, come with more options than the Medicare HMO plan she’s on. Because of a federal waiver, the PPO-ESA (or Extended Service Area) plan allows patients to see some out-of-network doctors at an in-network rate if the doctor’s office or hospital chooses to see that patient.

A representative with Carle Health — the ‘major provider’ of Central Illinois and a staple for a concentrated population of state retirees in-and-around Champaign County — said late Monday that Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana and Carle Physician Group (those 500+ doctors) are still evaluating their “ability to support these passive PPO members,” citing cost concerns and “awaiting a formal announcement of a payor contract decision from the State.”

“If an out-of-network provider is willing to see a member and is eligible to receive Medicare payment, Aetna will pay 100% of the Medicare allowable rate for covered services,” an Aetna representative responded Friday, claiming “the member will pay in-network co-pays” regardless of what an out-of-network provider charges.

The CVS-owned insurance company called on Carle Health to “maintain their focus on the health and well-being of Illinois retirees by continuing to see them as patients as they do today.” The Carle communications official called the assumption by CMS and Aetna that Carle doctors ‘should’ be available in the same way they have been for retirees on the state’s current United HealthCare PPO plan “broad and misleading.”

“It is our understanding that if a member in question is seen by an out-of-network provider, the cost to the member will be the same as it would be if they saw an in-network provider. BUT, ultimately that is dependent on the out-of-network benefit design by the insurer,” she said.

“It’s very unfortunate that individuals in our communities have been and likely will be placed in a situation in which they will have to find an out-of-network provider locally or travel outside the region as a result of the passive PPO offering and the lack of contracted providers offered,” an email from the Carle representative late Monday read.

Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Physician Group don’t have contracts with any Medicare Advantage plans, including the currently state-contracted United HealthCare plan. Aetna Medicare was the last chip to fall. Because of the aforementioned federal waiver, Carle chooses to accept some Medicare Advantage insurance plans. Right now, that includes the United HealthCare group PPO plan that more than 100,000 retirees are on.

“As insurers are becoming increasingly more difficult for providers to deal with, making it more costly for providers, creating more administrative hoops to jump through, and denying payment for services rendered, providers across the country are reconsidering who they contract with and whether they will be able to afford to continue to see out-of-network members,” Carle Health communications said in response to a question of why the facilities and provider group no longer contract with Medicare Advantage plans.

There’s been no response from Aetna regarding the nature of contract negotiations with Carle Health, only that the company says it’s open to revisiting the conversation. “I was very seriously considering switching to United Health[Care],” Good said. “Of course, now there’s no United Health option. It’s only an Aetna option, and that seems to be almost like a monopoly to me.”

Cutting the HMO option for retirees could pose a legal concern for CMS. The state’s labor contract with AFSCME Council 31 — the Illinois branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — specifically states that “the State shall continue to offer enrollment in HMOs.” Whether that extends to retirees is unclear from an email statement from AFSCME in response to contract questions.

“The terms of the retiree health insurance program are set forth in our collective bargaining agreement and must be met for the upcoming 2023 plan year,” Martha Merrill, Director of Research and Employee Benefits for AFSCME Council 31, said.

But why did CMS cut out options? Because 90 percent of enrollees already choose the PPO plan, according to Cathy Kwiatkowski, deputy director of communication and information at CMS. The remaining 10 percent enrolled in the HMO options is nearly 20,000 people.

Aetna also offered the state a $0 premium for the initial five-year contract term, Kwiatkowski cited in support of the singular option. It doesn’t appear retirees or employees will get a $0 premium. Although the plan will come with a “significant reduction” in contributions for retirees and dependents, Kwiatkowski said.

For the dozens of retirees who’ve called, emailed and messaged WCIA 3 News, it’s not about the money. It’s about keeping the doctors they’ve grown to trust at a critical time in their lives for medical care. “I didn’t make big bucks when I was teaching, but I taught because I loved it. And part of teaching, I always knew that there was going to be a pension there for me, and I would have health care,” Good said summarizing her remaining fears and frustration. “And now they’re just kind of reneging on their promises to us of, you know, what they would provide for us after we retired.”

Some state lawmakers have also been puzzled by the bidding process, including COGFA Co-chair Sen. Dave Koehler, (D) who said Monday that retirees should have options. Sen. Koehler said CMS is required to present the new contract to lawmakers on the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, but that meeting isn’t expected until the spring, too little too late for any change.

COGFA’s role is solely advisory, Koehler said. CMS can “take or leave” the advice. Koehler, after learning reporter questions and retiree concerns were going largely unanswered, penned a letter to the state agency in September asking, in part, “How did CMS determine adequate network coverage” during the TRAIL MAPD bidding process?

“Offerors to this Request for Proposal (RFP) were required to demonstrate compliance with standards set by the authority having jurisdiction, the Federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services,” CMS responded in writing. If our previous reporting and Vicki Good’s hand surgeon list are any indication, independent verification of insurer-provided networks has revealed a plethora of inaccuracies.

CMS did not respond when Target 3 reporters asked directly if independent verification was a part of the process. Open enrollment for state retirees has been pushed back to Nov. 1 from the typical Oct. 1 start date. The new plan will go into effect for enrollees Jan. 1.

“Communication regarding the change to the MAPD PPO plan will begin within the next couple of weeks, with open enrollment decision guides mailed by the end of October. Members will also receive communications directly from Aetna and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The State of Illinois will be issuing several communications to retirees, detailing the changes, including announcement home mailers, letters, emails, and in-person seminars during the open enrollment period,” Kwiatkowski added.

Aetna’s contract lasts at least an initial five years “with a guaranteed $0 premium for the initial term,” Kwiatkowski explained. “There are an optional 5 years of renewals.” State retirees are not involved in the decision-making process, another source of complaints over the past several months. Contacting state legislators via phone or email is the most local way to share complaints.

Medicare complaints are filed here with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. United HealthCare did not respond to request for comment as of this report.

This article has been updated to clarify that Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Physician Group do accept certain Medicare Advantage plans, but do not contract with any.


The Perverse, Potentially Lethal Consequences of Lindsey Graham’s Federal Abortion Ban


On Tuesday, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham unveiled a bill that would impose a federal ban on abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy with a few very narrow exceptions. The senator, reversing his prior position that abortion should be left to the states, now seeks to override blue states’ more liberal laws by establishing a nationwide cutoff.

If enacted, Graham’s bill would criminalize abortion at the exact moment in pregnancy when dangerous fetal anomalies and maternal health problems come to light. It would force many patients with high-risk pregnancies and severe fetal defects to flee the United States in search of legal termination.

It would condemn countless sexual assault victims, including children, to bear their rapist’s child. In short, Graham’s measure would spread the tragic, potentially deadly consequences of red state abortion bans to the entire country.

Although Republicans have sought to cast a 15-week limit as the moderate alternative to an absolute prohibition, it actually federalizes some of the most extreme and unpopular aspects of state-level bans. Like those laws, the Graham bill allows abortions only when “necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman,” rejecting a broader exception for maternal health. It includes no exception for fetal anomalies, no matter how grave.

Unfortunately, many genetic and physical defects can only be detected after the 15th week of pregnancy. As The 19th reported in August, the earliest point when doctors can detect anomalies is between 15 and 22 weeks, when scans show fetal organ structures.

Certain abnormalities detected at this stage, like Trisomy 18 and anencephaly, render fetuses “incompatible with life,” meaning they will die during birth or shortly thereafter. At most, if carried to term, these children will live just for hours or days in immense pain. And continuing the pregnancy often puts the patient at heightened risk of medical complications.

The lack of an exception for fetal anomalies in Graham’s bill is intentional. For years, the anti-abortion movement has sought to outlaw abortions due to fetal “disability.” Before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wadeat least nine states had passed these bans. Three states also gagged doctors from even raising the possibility of termination with patients after diagnosing fetal abnormalities.

These bans are largely irrelevant now that most of those states have passed laws outlawing abortion across the board. But conservative activists are fighting to ensure that federal legislation includes no carve-out for abnormalities. The anti-abortion Lozier Institute rejects the very concept of an anomaly that’s “incompatible with life,” arguing that patients should be forced to give birth if there’s a possibility that the child might live for minutes or hours. The institute argues that patients must undergo induced labor or a C-section—both of which are exponentially more dangerous than an abortion—so “a grieving family” can “show love and say good-bye.”

CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen and Danielle Herman recently reported a devastating story that illustrates the inhumane ramifications of the Graham approach. They profiled Kailee DeSpain, a Texas woman forced out of state to terminate her pregnancy. DeSpain and her husband desperately wanted to have a child.

After suffering three miscarriages, they were thrilled to learn that a seemingly healthy boy was on the way. But in the second trimester, the couple discovered that the fetus had a lethal anomaly called triploidy. This genetic disorder causes serious defects in the fetus’ heart, lungs, brain, and kidney, ensuring (at best) a brief, painful life outside the womb. Triploidy can also kill the patient in the third trimester.

Because of Texas’ draconian abortion ban, however, DeSpain could not terminate immediately. Instead, she drove ten hours to New Mexico to get the procedure at 19 weeks. If Graham’s bill becomes law, patients in her situation cannot flee the state—they will have to flee the country.

Formerly a “quintessential pro-life Texan,” DeSpain now vocally opposes the “heartbeat bill” that forced her to New Mexico for crucial health care. “I had to leave my baby with an out-of-state funeral home and have his ashes shipped home,” DeSpain wrote. “I’m still so angry and hurt about it that I can hardly see straight.” She added: “It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the thought process of lawmakers that would rather a full-term baby suffocate to death than allow a mother to make a decision that spares her child that pain.”

Although triploidy can kill a patient, Texas doctors told DeSpain that they could not terminate until her death was “imminent.” This impediment reveals another flaw in Graham’s proposal: Like Texas’ heartbeat bill, its exception for “the mother’s life” is incredibly narrow. If Graham’s bill were to become law, abortion after 15 weeks would only be permissible when it’s “necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman” who is “endangered” by “a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury.” […]

Mark Joseph Stern, Slate



Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The Queen’s death intensifies criticism of British empire’s violent atrocities (The Guardian)


The death of Queen Elizabeth II revived longstanding criticism in the US over the monarchy’s enrichment from the British empire’s violent colonization of African, Asian and Caribbean nations and their diasporas. Since her death on Thursday, American commentators, academics, and a former US diplomat, among others, took to social media and elsewhere to call for fully wrestling with the British monarchy’s lasting influence in light of the monarch’s death.

Though millions across the world mourned, many also saw the Queen’s passing as a bitter reminder of the British empire’s violent exploitation of countries throughout history – resulting in decades of suffering, death, and economic and social devastation – and a time to renew calls for reparations.

Harvard University history professor Maya Jasanoff wrote in the New York Times that the Queen’s stoic presence in life as a “fixture of stability” underlied a “stolid traditionalist front over decades of violent upheaval”.

She pointed out that months after Elizabeth II learned of her father’s death from treetops in Kenya and became queen, British colonial authorities in Kenya suppressed a rebellion against the colonial regime known as Mau Mau, which, according to the New York Times, “led to the establishment of a vast system of detention camps and the torture, rape, castration and killing of tens of thousands of people”. The British government eventually paid £20m in a lawsuit by Kenyan survivors. Cornell University professor Mukoma Wa Ngugi decried the “theater” surrounding the Queen’s death. 

Carnegie Mellon University associate professor Uju Anya posted a since-deleted tweet saying “may her pain be excruciating” of the Queen, whom she described as “the chief monarch of a thieving and raping genocidal empire”. Twitter deleted Anya’s initial post for violating the company’s rules, and the university condemned the action in a statement.

University of Cambridge postcolonial studies professor Priyamvada Gopal said on Democracy Now news broadcast that the British monarchy “has come to represent deep and profound and grave inequality”.

She drew parallels between the British monarchy and the concentration of power in other places like the United States, which, before its independence, was once ruled by the British monarchy and now effectively colonizes Puerto Rico and other island nations, noting “power and privilege and wealth in the hands of a few, which the rest of us are then invited to worship and think of as perfectly normal”. 

Richard Stengel, who served as under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs under President Barack Obama, criticized media coverage of the Queen’s death, saying on MSNBC that though Queen Elizabeth’s “unrivaled service” should be lauded, she still presided over more than 30 countries as head of state and her family’s legacy of colonialism “had a terrible effect on much of the world”.

In recent years, Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving monarch, and the royal family have been forced to confront its colonialist past under public pressure and accusations of racism within the family. Melissa Murray, a law professor at New York University whose family is from Jamaica, tweeted that the Queen’s death would “accelerate debates about colonialism, reparations, and the future of the Commonwealth”.

-Edwin Rios, The Guardian


Sunday, September 11, 2022

Trump’s increasing tirade against FBI and DOJ endangering lives of officials


“Donald Trump’s non-stop drive to paint the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago to recover classified documents as a political witch hunt is drawing rebukes from ex-justice department and FBI officials who warn such attacks can spur violence and pose a real threat to the physical safety of law enforcement.

“But the concerns have not deterred Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and other Trump allies from making inflammatory remarks echoing the former US president.

“The unrelenting attacks by Trump and loyalists such as McCarthy, senator Lindsey Graham, Steve Bannon and false conspiracy theorist Alex Jones against law enforcement have continued despite strong evidence that Trump kept hundreds of classified documents illegally.

“Before the 8 August raid, Trump and his attorneys stonewalled FBI and US National Archives requests for the return of all classified documents and did not fully comply with a grand jury subpoena in a criminal probe of Trump’s hoarding of government documents.

“The FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and club recovered 33 boxes with over 100 classified documents, adding to the 200 classified records Trump had earlier returned in response to multiple federal requests.

“Trump’s high decibel attacks on law enforcement officials for trying to recover large quantities of classified documents including some that reportedly had foreign nuclear secrets was palpable in Pennsylvania recently when Trump at a political rally branded the FBI and justice department ‘political monsters’ and labelled president Joe Biden ‘an enemy of the state’”…

Peter Stone, The Guardian

Saturday, September 10, 2022

What luck in war reveals about the role of chance in life by Andy Owen


There was a saying I heard in Iraq: ‘Big sky, small mortar.’ It provided reassurance that the probability of being hit by one of the many rockets fired at our base was low. Perhaps because of this, the first time I saw a rocket flying overhead I was struck by how small the blacken dash looked against the bright Mesopotamian sky. I took cover behind a concrete blast wall, and it passed harmlessly overhead. Other soldiers not far away from where I was based weren’t so lucky. Some were killed by rockets falling out of the night sky while they slept. The difference between us was luck.

In his novel All Quiet on the Western Front (1928), Erich Maria Remarque claimed: ‘Every soldier owes the fact that he is still alive to a thousand lucky chances and nothing else. And every soldier believes in and trusts to chance.’ Despite the level of mastery of drills and skills, there was a recognition by many I served with that Remarque was right. In war, human experience is taken to extremes.

Survival is determined by multiple variables outside your control. Once you have been in a situation where your survival appears to be down to random luck, you are inevitably changed. The question that this raised for me was how much of my civilian life was down to my choices, and how much was like my experience of war zones. Is it only in such extreme situations that luck takes over, or is it there but less frequently noticed in all our lives?

George Orwell described sport as ‘war minus the shooting’. Cricket has more variables that can influence the result than most sports. It starts with the toss of a coin. The nature of the pitch and the weather can make it better to bowl at some stages than others. The opposition can get you out 10 different ways. The former England batsman David Gower agrees that luck was a big factor in who won key matches he played in. He quoted the former Australian captain Richie Benaud: ‘Captaincy is 90 per cent luck and 10 per cent skill. But don’t try it without that 10 per cent.’ Gower recalls key moments where a small bit of luck had a big impact on how a series went.

At the beginning of one series, he hit a shot, early in a one-day innings, that landed just out of reach of a fielder on the boundary. A gust of wind from one direction could have held up the ball slightly so the fielder could have taken the catch; instead, Gower went on to make a significant score and England won the series. Another England cricketing legend, Ian Bell, agrees, highlighting the role of injuries. Bell told me of the mental pressure of knowing that, even if you do everything right as a batsman, you may still get out.

But it is not just in war and sport that luck plays such a great part. In our interconnected global economy, every business operates in a high-variable environment. This is not new. Timothy Dexter, perhaps the luckiest businessperson to have lived, married a rich widow sometime at the end of the 1760s or early 1770s.

He used her money to buy large amounts of depreciated Continental currency, from which he made a significant profit at the end of the American Revolutionary War. He used this to start exporting. Rivals advised him to send bed warmers to the tropics. His ship’s captain sold them as ladles to the molasses industry and made a profit. He then shipped coal to Newcastle, England (where there were multiple coal mines), which arrived during a miners’ strike, enabling his cargo to be sold at a premium. Dexter decorated his mansion with statues of famous men, including George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, and himself (his was inscribed: ‘I am the first in the East, the first in the West, and the greatest philosopher in the Western World’).

Dexter was an eccentric, whose decisions were aided by events outside his control, but was his success dissimilar to that of a lauded CEO running a company when the wider economy is booming? The bonds trader and author Nassim Nicholas Taleb used a simulation of hundreds of traders tossing a coin, trying to land heads, to demonstrate survivor bias. Each round, those landing tails are removed until there is just one left.

Is that winner the best at tossing coins, or simply the luckiest? There is another common error called fundamental attribution error, which is the tendency of humans to overestimate the role of individuals in success and to underplay the role of circumstances. CEOs in a booming economy are seen as better leaders than those in bust cycles.

Yet in 2020 the entrepreneur Elon Musk Tweeted: ‘Working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks in a year and people still calling me lucky.’ For Musk, success is down to hard work, not luck. If you work hard enough, luck stops being a factor. But there are no guarantees. As the Australian politician Andrew Leigh noted: ‘While there are plenty of people who’ve gotten to the top by dint of hard work, many of those who’ve worked their guts out don’t succeed. Effort may be a necessary condition for success, but it isn’t a sufficient one.’

Does it matter if we don’t generally recognise the role of luck in success? The economist Robert H Frank suggests that it may be disadvantageous to think too hard about luck’s role. Practice means trying and failing before mastering skills. It’s difficult to summon up effort to do that. If you’re focused on luck, you may make excuses to avoid that effort, instead hoping you’ll get lucky when the time comes. If denying luck’s importance makes it easier to tackle difficult tasks, it may be adaptive.

Some sports stars use the power of superstitions to manage the pressure that the cricketer Bell mentions. Their rituals give them a belief that fate will favour them. When Gower made a good score wearing a new piece of kit, it became lucky for him. He’d use it until he made a bad score, when he would discard it, scapegoating it for his bad luck. I witnessed similar superstitions in the army.

However, whether we appreciate the role of luck in our lives or not can have a profound impact on how we see and treat others. The philosopher Thomas Nagel claims that things for which we are morally judged are determined, in more ways than we think, by what’s beyond our control. What we are and do, what we become or have done, all these things are dependent on what he called ‘moral luck’.

Nagel identifies four ways in which moral judgment is subject to luck. The first is the kind of person you are: intelligent, disciplined, tall (a disproportionate number of CEOs are above average height). The second is your circumstances, the situations you face. The third is luck in how one is determined by antecedent circumstances. The fourth is luck in the way one’s actions turn out.

Nagel takes a drunk driver who is caught and charged with drunk driving. He is seen morally differently to the drunk driver in a parallel world who has a child step out in front of his car, leaving no time for even a sober driver to swerve. Our moral judgment is more severe towards the latter. Nagel asked: ‘How is it possible to be more or less culpable depending on whether a child gets into the path of one’s car … ?’

According to Nagel, across these elements of moral luck, the idea of us having genuine agency, and therefore being able to be legitimately morally judged, seems to shrink. Yet, we don’t view ourselves simply as results of external circumstances and genetic fate. We have an idea of the boundary between what’s us and what’s not us, what we do and what happens to us, who we are and what fate throws in our path.

This remains true even when we accept Nagel’s arguments that we are not ultimately responsible for our own existence, or nature, or the circumstances that give our acts the consequences they have. As there’s a close connection between our feelings about ourselves and our feelings about others, this allows us to feel justified in judging others, even when we accept how little responsibility they have.

The psychologists Dena M Gromet, Kimberly A Hartson and David K Sherman discovered that whether you accept Nagel’s ideas is correlated with your political beliefs. They demonstrated that conservatives believe that luck plays much less of a role in success than liberals do. Conservatives believe that successful people deserve their success, and that to suggest they have been lucky challenges this ‘deservingness’.

Their study showed that external attributions for success that don’t emphasise chance, such as help from a network, don’t produce the same results. Conservatives are more amenable to luck when random chance is de-emphasised, as it doesn’t contradict people being deserving of outcomes. Like Musk, conservatives don’t accept that successful individuals have not earned their spoils, and assume that those who are less successful haven’t worked as hard. Individuals with socially conservative attitudes are more likely to believe in some form of the Protestant work ethic, and in a just world, than liberals do.

The psychologist Paul Piff suggests that, when we believe that our luck is deserved, it changes how we treat others. He randomly assigned subjects in a laboratory as ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’ in a rigged game of Monopoly. The lucky players began behaving as though they were superior to their opponents. When asked why they won, they attributed it to their ability rather than (their rigged) luck.

Self-help literature has traditionally re-enforced such biases. In his classic of the genre Think and Grow Rich (1937), Napoleon Hill argued that those who suffer poverty ‘are the creators of their own “misfortune”’. Believe you will be successful, and you will be. The former US president Donald Trump is influenced by his father’s obsession with the self-help author Norman Vincent Peale. Peale proclaimed that you need only self-confidence to prosper. Trump claims to be a self-made man, conveniently ignoring the part played by his luck in being born into great wealth in one of the world’s richest countries. These sorts of beliefs impact human relations, policies and our sense of self-worth.

The West is in the grip of a conflated culture war, in which ‘privilege’ has become a burdened word. This idea of privilege combines Nagel’s first two types of luck: being born who you are, and the circumstances you face. Most will agree we are all born with different characteristics and are born into different circumstances – some into royalty, some into poverty. However, disagreements centre around what makes one lucky or not.

No matter our political persuasion, we recognise our bad luck more than other’s bad luck, other’s good luck more than we do our own. I started my career as a soldier with the illusion that I was in control of my fate; after seeing the misfortune of those who fell victim to events outside their control, I finished my career with the recognition of how lucky I had been, and how much chance affects outcomes. Perhaps this is not such a bad way to view life: you should see yourself as in control of your future successes, but lucky to have achieved your past successes and, at the end of your life, accept that you got better than you deserved.


Andy Owen is the author of All Soldiers Run Away: Alano’s War: The Story of a British Deserter (2017). He is a former soldier who writes on the ethics and philosophy of war. He lives in London.