Back in Venezuela, Guaido prepares to meet state workers
By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA
Tuesday, March 5
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Opposition leader Juan Guaido shrouded the route and timing of his return in secrecy amid concerns he might be detained by Venezuela’s government. Yet he breezed through airport immigration checks and brazenly called for the downfall of President Nicolas Maduro at a rally where the presence of security forces was minimal.
Guaido’s homecoming Monday followed warnings to by the United States and other countries to Maduro not to move against his adversary, and he possibly realized arresting his foe could generate more street protests. And, while Guaido’s presence is likely to add at least short-term momentum to his campaign for political change, Maduro has proven resilient and still commands the critical loyalty of top military officers.
Venezuela is gripped by a humanitarian crisis that is expected to worsen as U.S. oil sanctions designed to put more pressure on Maduro take their toll. With both political factions holding firm amid increasing deprivation for Venezuelans, some analysts speculate that they might be considering negotiations on an end to the standoff.
The fact that Guaido was not detained, at least so far, reflects the pressure Maduro faces not to intervene, said Luis Vicente Leon, head of the Caracas-based polling firm Datanalisis. “But it seems to indicate the beginning of a negotiation, local and international, whose details are not yet clear,” Leon said in a tweet.
For now, Guaido, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, seems intent on probing Maduro’s socialist government for vulnerabilities. He planned to meet Tuesday with public employee unions, tweeting that the meeting is meant to “recover” the state bureaucracy, which he says is being manipulated by Maduro’s government for political benefit.
He also called for big protests on Saturday, a tactic that has sometimes been countered by Maduro loyalists with flag-waving rallies of their own.
On Monday, Guaido showed off his passport before climbing onto scaffolding and pumping his fist during the demonstration in Caracas, delighting euphoric followers. There was no immediate comment from Maduro’s government, which sought to focus the public’s attention on Carnival festivities Monday and Tuesday.
Still, while thousands of Venezuelans heeded Guaido’s call for protests coinciding with his return, many worry the government might crack down on the opposition as it has in the past, jailing or driving into exile top opposition leaders.
“We know the risks that we face. That’s never stopped us,” Guaido said.
He was greeted at the country’s main airport by top diplomats from the United States, Germany, Spain and other countries who possibly hoped to head off any move to detain Guaido by bearing witness to his return.
“We hope there won’t be any escalation and that parliamentary immunity is respected,” said Spanish Ambassador Jesus Silva Fernandez.
The United States and some 50 other countries have recognized Guaido as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, arguing that Maduro’s re-election last year was invalid — partly because popular opposition candidates were barred from running. Maduro has accused those nations of participating in a U.S.-backed coup plot against him.
Guaido, who left Venezuela last month despite a court order banning him from foreign travel, visited Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Ecuador. The governments of those countries support his claim to be Venezuela’s interim president and have urged Maduro to resign so the country can prepare for free and fair elections.
The United States congratulated the opposition leader on his return home.
“The international community must unite and push for the end of Maduro’s brutal regime and the peaceful restoration of democracy in Venezuela,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
Colombian President Ivan Duque tweeted that Guaido’s homecoming was part of the “irreversible path that Venezuela has taken toward democracy.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for dialogue by all parties to end the political impasse.
Among the demonstrators who waited for Guaido at the Caracas rally was Wilfredo Moya, a former construction worker who said Venezuelans hoping for change should be patient.
“It’s a long process,” he said.
Associated Press writer Scott Smith contributed to this report.
Opinion: Cashing in on Implant Litigation
By Timothy Lee
The world of personal injury litigation has never been a place for the fainthearted. Human tragedy and the prospect of billion-dollar settlements have made “ambulance-chasing” a lucrative business.
Wily profiteers, however, now appear to be taking the exploitation of misfortune to new lows.
Last year, The New York Times published stories about the collusion of trial lawyers, medical lenders, marketing firms, hedge funds and doctors in a scheme to artificially inflate damages settlements in lawsuits involving vaginal mesh implants. Specifically, women were steered into undergoing surgeries that were often unnecessary, and sometimes led to serious complications.
In fact, in many cases women whose mesh was working well, were cold called and told they must have the device explanted immediately, this led to healthy women being harmed.
The details of the multi-part scheme are as complicated as they are despicable.
The mesh implants were developed to correct a condition called pelvic organ prolapse. It’s a common phenomenon in which weakened pelvic muscles allow a woman’s organs to drop, and can cause urinary tract infections and other problems. The mesh is intended to reinforce the pelvic wall. Unfortunately, of the millions of women who had mesh implanted, some reported complications, such as bleeding and pain. The manufacturers had to set aside billions of dollars to cover potential legal settlements.
Those lawsuits represent a very lucrative opportunity for trial lawyers, but whatever legitimate claims existed apparently weren’t a big enough bonanza for some. They realized that if women had surgery to remove mesh implants, they could extract even larger settlements from manufacturers.
And so began a slick campaign to scare as many woman as possible into surgery, regardless of whether the devices presented any health risks. It was like “The Handmaid’s Tale” meets “Better Call Saul.”
Plaintiffs’ lawyers counseled their clients to work with medical lending firms to pay for the procedures, and marketing firms working on behalf those medical funders sought out women who could become plaintiffs. To accomplish their ends, a representative would establish legitimacy by demonstrating an impressive understanding of the woman’s medical history. Next would come the urgent recommendation to have the mesh surgically removed. Surgeons were standing by, the women were told. In some cases, television ads with lab-coated “doctors” featured 1-800 numbers to schedule the surgery without delay.
The medical lending firms behind those tactics rationalize themselves as serving a public good, helping to make it financially feasible to pursue treatments and surgery. They cover the upfront cost of the procedure, and even the travel and lodging arrangements for women to get to the participating doctors and clinics. It’s almost as if lawyers were delivering patients on silver gurneys. Then, if the lawyers were successful, everyone would get a piece of the settlement.
Needless to say, all of these methods led to a proliferation of surgeries and spiraling costs. In some cases, hedge funds got in on the act.
Many of the unsuspecting women coaxed into having the procedure were of modest means and insufficient health insurance. Sadly, in many cases what seemed like an offer too good to pass up resulted in surgeries that were not only unnecessary but often resulted in terrible consequences including infections, incontinence and debilitating pain — as well as financial hits.
Ideally, lawsuits in our justice system deliver justice to patients and encourage manufacturers to be extra careful about the development and testing of their products. What has come to light in the last few years with the vaginal mesh implants, however, more closely suggests a dubious cottage industry to jack up settlements, using the victims as pawns.
And the scheme is apparently just getting off the ground. Last spring, The Times noted that one of topics at a tort industry gathering in Las Vegas was medical funding for personal injury litigants in suits involving a mesh used to treat hernias.
In a just world, big windfalls for lawyers and their cohorts should also mean more money for people who have suffered. For that reason, the Common Benefits Trust had a program to aid women who received faulty silicone breast implants.
The prospect of sophisticated schemes to steer women into surgery, however, raises questions regarding whether the money in such trusts could also be used by lawyers as a slush fund to gear up for the next tragedy to exploit.
Innovation in moneymaking strategies sometimes edges close to the line in terms of the law or ethics. With the litigation involving the vaginal mesh implants, however, the accumulating evidence suggests that some may have crossed that line without any common decency.
It’s therefore no surprise than in September, The Times reported that the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York has issued subpoenas to find out more.
A criminal investigation offers a good start, but when will there be real consequences? Authorities in other states and at the federal level must act with speed and resolve to prevent a potentially parasitic industry from deepening a national tort industry menace.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Timothy Lee is senior vice president of legal and public affairs at the Center for Individual Freedom. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
What will come after a US withdrawal from Afghanistan?
March 5, 2019
When U.S. troops go home, ethnic militias will likely gain strength.
Author: Abdulkader Sinno, Associate Professor of Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies, Indiana University
Disclosure statement: Abdulkader Sinno does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Indiana University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
The United States and the Taliban may be nearing an agreement to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan after more than 17 years of conflict.
In return, the Taliban would commit to refusing access to anti-American organizations such as al-Qaida on its territory.
How did we get to this point – and what will be the consequences of such an agreement?
As a longtime scholar of Afghanistan’s wars and conflict dynamics, I suggest beginning with a bit of history.
The current conflict began when the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan a few weeks after 9/11.
It was on Afghan soil that Osama bin Laden hatched the plot to attack the U.S. The Taliban, the de facto rulers of much of Afghanistan in the wake of a bloody civil war, had given bin Laden and his supporters shelter.
Two months into the U.S. invasion, Taliban state institutions and defensive positions crumbled and the United States formed new state institutions led by Afghans who had fought the Taliban. The U.S. maintained a limited force to fight and capture al-Qaida and Taliban leaders but otherwise invested little in the Afghan economy or society.
It took the Taliban four years to reconstitute itself as an effective force of insurgents to fight the U.S. and the Afghan government, and they became stronger every year after 2004. As I explain in my research, the United States and the coalition of 42 countries it formed to defeat the resurgent Taliban was poorly organized, abusive and mismanaged.
Since 2001, the U.S.-led coalition has spent US$1 trillion dollars and committed a peak of 140,000 troops and 100,000 contractors to an unsuccessful attempt to defeat the Taliban. More than 5,000 American soldiers and contractors were killed.
Today, a U.S. force of 14,000 troops and massive U.S. Airforce assets are helping maintain the defensive positions of an Afghan government that is widely considered as one of the most corrupt in the world.
The Taliban are making territorial gains and killing hundreds of regime troops each month, and feel that they are on the cusp of victory.
Militias that recruit from the Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek minorities have rearmed in anticipation of the collapse of the regime in Kabul and fear of a coming civil war with the mostly Pushtun Taliban. Afghanistan is nearing an endgame.
What it means for the Taliban
An agreement between the Taliban and the U.S. would be an impressive accomplishment for the Taliban. From their perspective, it would be their reward for fighting the world’s strongest military power to a stalemate.
They already were rewarded by getting to negotiate directly with the United States, as they have always requested, instead of the Afghan regime which they despise. If the negotiations are successful, they would also be getting precisely what they asked for: an American withdrawal.
In return, they are making a commitment to do something they would likely have done anyway. Al-Qaida’s attack on the U.S. caused the Taliban to lose control of Afghanistan for years. They are not likely to risk having to pay that cost again once they regain control of Kabul, even if they don’t sign an agreement.
What it means for US
There is little hope for an outright U.S. victory over the Taliban at this point.
The remaining force of 14,000 U.S. troops is mostly meant to shore up Afghan state defenses. It is too small to reverse momentum on the battlefield. An agreement and withdrawal would therefore be attractive for those who value less military spending and stress on the military, including General John Nicholson, the previous commander of the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The agreement, however, could undermine U.S. reputation in ways big and small. The Obama and Trump administrations never reversed a 2002 Bush executive order that added the Taliban to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, but they have simultaneously pleaded with them to negotiate in spite of claims that Washington does not negotiate with terrorists.
It also signals U.S. weakness and inability to fight a dedicated force of insurgents. Militants elsewhere, including Islamic State leaders, could find this lesson instructive. I believe such an agreement may well be remembered as a turning point in America’s ability to successfully project its military power around the Muslim world.
An agreement could also signal that the U.S. is an unreliable ally that abandons those who side with it. The United States is involved in numerous conflicts worldwide in places as diverse as Syria and Somalia, and many of its local allies would logically recalculate their own commitments after witnessing a U.S. disengagement from Afghanistan.
What happens to the state
As I describe in my book “Organizations at War in Afghanistan,” governments tend to unravel quickly in Afghanistan when foreign support, both military and financial, ceases.
This is precisely what happened after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and stopped their support to the Najib regime in the early 1990s. As I report in greater detail in my book, different regime militias and military units either disintegrated, joined their erstwhile Mujahideen opponents or became independent militias.
Similarly, today’s Afghan state officials at all levels have long hedged their bets by maintaining ties with the Taliban, their nominal opponents and minority militias. If history is any indication, we can expect that entire agencies and units will either fragment or collectively join any of several strongman-led ethnic militias when the rewards of working for the regime stop outweighing the risks of facing the Taliban. Some may even defect to the Taliban. This is expected behavior in dangerous environments such as Afghanistan, where everyone is expected to have a hedging strategy for survival.
Once the state gets pulled in all directions, Afghanistan will likely degenerate into a civil war very similar to the one that the United States interrupted when it invaded in late 2001. Other countries, including Russia, Iran and India will choose sides to back. I estimate that the Taliban, with their dedicated Pakistani and Arab Gulf backers will win that conflict, just like they almost did in 2001. We may very well reach a point where we see the 17-year American occupation as merely a futile, bloody and costly interruption of the Afghan civil war.
I consider a U.S.-Taliban agreement to be no more than a face-saving measure to conclude a failed and costly American military intervention. If there is a useful lesson to be learned from this misadventure, it is that leaders of even the world’s mightiest military power need to reconsider the merits of a militarized foreign policy in the Muslim world. U.S. military interventions are stoking resentment and inflaming a perpetual transnational insurgency across Muslim countries. If it doesn’t change its course, the U.S. may very well suffer more defeats such as the one in Afghanistan and will cause even more hurt and damage in other countries along the way.