Latest Developments, June 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Rebel arms
Reuters reports that Western and Arab opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have decided to give “urgent military support” to rebels trying to overthrow him:

“The U.S. administration has responded by saying, for the first time, it would arm rebels, while Gulf sources say Saudi Arabia has accelerated the delivery of advanced weapons to the rebels over the last week.
Ministers from the 11 core members of the Friends of Syria group, agreed ‘to provide urgently all the necessary materiel and equipment to the opposition on the ground,’ according to a statement released at the end of their meeting in Qatar.

French military advisers are already training the rebels to use some of the new equipment in Turkey and Jordan, sources familiar with the training programs said. U.S. forces have been carrying out similar training, rebels say.”

UK spying
The Guardian reports that leaked documents reveal the British government “collects and stores vast quantities” of telephone and internet communications from around the world:

“The sheer scale of the agency’s ambition is reflected in the titles of its two principal components: Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible. This is all being carried out without any form of public acknowledgement or debate.

The Americans were given guidelines for its use, but were told in legal briefings by [UK Government Communications Headquarters] lawyers: ‘We have a light oversight regime compared with the US’.
When it came to judging the necessity and proportionality of what they were allowed to look for, would-be American users were told it was ‘your call’.”

Banking impasse
Reuters reports that EU finance ministers are struggling to resolve their differences over “who pays for failing banks”:

“The law on rescuing and closing banks in the EU is central to the 27-nation bloc’s banking union, which aims to prevent future financial crises and get the economy out of recession.
It is also a highly controversial element as it will dictate who decides what happens to a failing bank and who is to pay for it, bringing national sensitivities to the fore.

The broader the possibilities of imposing losses on a bank’s shareholders, creditors or even big depositors in the directive that will be discussed by EU finance ministers, the less money the resolution fund would have to contribute to close a bank.”

Global wealth trends
The Globe and Mail reports that a pair of new studies show that the world’s rich are getting richer while workers are left with a smaller piece of the pie:

“The [Global Wealth Report] found that the number of people in the world with more than $1-million to invest soared to a record of 12 million in 2012, a 9.2 per cent increase from 2011. The aggregate wealth of this group hit a new high, too – $46.2-trillion (U.S.) – a 10-per-cent increase from the previous year.
What is particularly striking is that even within this rich group, the very, very rich are doing best of all.

The 2012-13 Global Wage Report by the International Labour Organization, a UN agency, found a world trend of a decreasing workers’ share in the national income.”

Nuclear weakness
The New York Times editorial board argues that the nuclear disarmament proposal made by US President Barack Obama last week “falls short of what is needed in a post-cold-war world”:

“Mr. Obama said nothing about reducing the 11,000 total nuclear weapons that [the US and Russia] keep as backups. He missed an opportunity to remove quickly from ‘hair trigger’ alert at least some of the 1,000 weapons that are ready to fire at a moment’s notice. He reaffirmed support for Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the start of international negotiations on a treaty that would ban the production of fissile material that fuels warheads, but there is no indication either will happen soon, or ever.”

Shell explosion
The Independent Online reports that, although the investigation has yet to begin, Shell is using its standard explanation for an explosion that led the oil giant to shut a major Nigerian pipeline:

“Environmental campaigners and rights groups accuse Shell of using sabotage by oil thieves as an excuse for oil accidents.
‘Sabotage is a problem in Nigeria, but Shell exaggerates this issue to avoid criticism for its failure to prevent oil spills,’ Amnesty International’s Audrey Gaughran said in a statement on Wednesday.”

Growing force
Voice of America reports that US Africa Command head David Rodriguez wants the US to have a “small footprint” in Africa even as its military presence is being stepped up on the continent:

“The U.S. also has stepped up its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities, setting up unarmed drone bases in places like Niger.

‘The history of the African nations, the colonialism, all those things are what point to the reasons why we should not go in there in force and everything else, and just use a small footprint with creative and innovative solutions to get high payoff from a small number of people, as well as come in for short periods of time to do exercises, to do operations, to help build that capacity,’ said [U.S. Army General David Rodriguez].”

Corporate consciences
Deutsche Welle reports on concerns that some rules are more equal than others when it comes to regulating international trade:

“For example: the International Labor Organization (ILO), part of the United Nations, has been developing standards for the protection of workers since 1919. But to this day, they are not internationally binding, according to Jakob von Uexküll, founder of the World Future Council and the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the Alternative Nobel Prize.
‘If somebody tells you: “We are a socially responsible company,” then there is a very simple question: “Would you agree that the rules of the ILO get the same legal status as the rules of the World Trade Organization?”’ said von Uexküll. ‘The answer to that question will tell you everything you need to know about the social responsibility of the company.’ ”

Latest Developments, May 9

In the latest news and analysis…

Democratic castration
Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang argues that the imposition of austerity has turned the present into “nothing less than crunch time for democracy” in Europe:

“In particularly difficult economic times, it was even argued, we need to insulate economic policies from politics altogether. Latin American military dictatorships were justified in such terms. The recent imposition of ‘technocratic’ governments, made up of economists and bankers who have not been ‘tainted’ by politics, on Greece and Italy comes from the same intellectual stable.
What free-market economists are not telling us is that the politics they want to get rid of are none other than those of democracy itself. When they say we need to insulate economic policies from politics, they are in effect advocating the castration of democracy.”

New boss
The Guardian reports that the World Trade Organization has chosen its next head, with the selection process mirroring the rich-poor divide that has left the Doha round of trade talks stalled for years:

“Ultimately, [Roberto] Azevêdo won the backing of a majority of the WTO’s 159 members, despite a lack of support from many rich countries.
‘Had [Herminio] Blanco won – with transatlantic support behind him, plus the support of Japan and Korea – it would have looked like another rich-country stitch-up of an international [organisation] job, and that would have been very unhelpful in terms of getting progress at the WTO,’ says [the University of St Gallen’s Simon] Evenett. ‘In that sense, the outcome that we have is good for the organisation.’

He added: ‘We all wish him well, but what can he do to change negotiating positions in national capitals? The answer is not much.’ ”

The Corruptors
Inter Press Service reports on some of the reactions to revelations of “bags of cash” being given by the CIA to Afghan President Hamid Karzai:

“While the United States preaches ‘good governance’ to developing countries at the United Nations, says one African diplomat, ‘it has been doing the reverse in its own political backyard’.
And good governance not only includes multi-party democracy, rule of law and a free press but also transparent and corruption-free regimes.
Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), told IPS, ‘If the U.S. ever stood for good government and democracy, it does not any longer.’ ”

Tainted profits
Norway has announced it has dropped an American and a Chinese tobacco producer from the government pension fund:

“The Ministry of Finance has decided to exclude Schweitzer-Mauduit International Inc. and Huabao International Holdings Limited based on the recommendation from the Council on Ethics. In accordance with the guidelines, the decision to exclude is made public once the shares are sold.”

More bodies
The BBC reports that the death toll at the collapsed Bangladeshi garment factories, which supplied a number of Western retailers, has now risen above 800:

“Authorities are continuing to search the rubble for more bodies two weeks after the Rana Plaza building collapsed on 24 April.

Officials say about 2,500 people were injured in the collapse and that 2,437 people have been rescued.

The EU has said it is considering ‘appropriate action’ to encourage an improvement in working conditions in Bangladesh factories.”

Outsourcing lethality
Foreign Policy’s Micah Zenko writes about a particular kind of extrajudicial killing that eliminates perceived enemies of the US but “more easily masks US involvement and culpability” compared to drone strikes:

“However, if you’re concerned by the Obama administration’s targeted killing policies, don’t overlook similar attacks conducted by allies and partners who receive U.S. money, weapons, or actionable intelligence. When the United States provides other states or non-state actors with the capabilities that enable lethal operations — without which they would not happen — it bears primary responsibility for the outcome. Whatever drone strike reforms the White House offers, or if additional congressional hearings are held, they must take into account America’s troubling role in client-state targeted killings.”

Gun crazy
ProPublica reports that the majority of US states are enacting legislation that renders federal gun controls irrelevant or illegal:

“Kansas’ ‘Second Amendment Protection Act’ backs up its states’ rights claims with a penalty aimed at federal agents: when dealing with ‘Made in Kansas’ guns, any attempt to enforce federal law is now a felony. Bills similar to Kansas’ law have been introduced in at least 37 other states. An even broader bill is on the desk of Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell. That bill would exempt any gun owned by an Alaskan from federal regulation. In Missouri, a bill declaring federal gun laws ‘null and void’ passed by an overwhelming majority in the state house, and is headed for debate in the senate.”

Petroleum myth
The Globe and Mail reports that former US vice-president Al Gore does not buy the argument that oil is more “ethical” if produced in democratic countries:

“ ‘There’s no such thing as ethical oil,’ he said. ‘There’s only dirty oil and dirtier oil.’ The remark triggered applause from a nearly full house at the Globe-sponsored event at a Ryerson University auditorium.

While noting that the U.S. needed to change to remove the demand for Canadian oil, Mr. Gore also said: ‘I had hoped that Canada would point the way toward a better path, but as yet it has not.’ ”

Latest Developments, December 18

In the latest news and analysis…

Asymmetric grief
The Guardian’s George Monbiot points out that drone war-waging American officials and the world’s media seem to consider the deaths of innocent children far less tragic in some contexts than in others:

“It must follow that what applies to the children murdered [in Newtown, Connecticut] by a deranged young man also applies to the children murdered in Pakistan by a sombre American president. These children are just as important, just as real, just as deserving of the world’s concern. Yet there are no presidential speeches or presidential tears for them, no pictures on the front pages of the world’s newspapers, no interviews with grieving relatives, no minute analysis of what happened and why.

‘Are we,’ Obama asked on Sunday, ‘prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?’ It’s a valid question. He should apply it to the violence he is visiting on the children of Pakistan.”

Plugging leaks
Global Financial Integrity has released its annual study on “the amount of money flowing out of developing economies via crime, corruption and tax evasion” and called for global action to limit this draining of resources:

“Policies advocated by GFI include:

  • Addressing the problems posed by anonymous shell companies, foundations, and trusts by requiring confirmation of beneficial ownership in all banking and securities accounts, and demanding that information on the true, human owner of all corporations, trusts, and foundations be disclosed upon formation and be available to law enforcement;
  • Reforming customs and trade protocols to detect and curtail trade mispricing;
  • Requiring the country-by-country of sales, profits and taxes paid by multinational corporations;
  • Requiring the automatic cross-border exchange of tax information on personal and business accounts;
  • Harmonizing predicate offenses under anti-money laundering laws across all Financial Action Task Force cooperating countries; and
  • Ensuring that the anti-money laundering regulations already on the books are strongly enforced.”

Behaving like adults
Foreign Policy reports that former senator Chuck Hagel, one of the frontrunners to become the next US secretary of defense, has a history of opposing sanctions and endorsing engagement in dealing with perceived threats to international stability:

“ ‘Engagement is not appeasement. Diplomacy is not appeasement. Great nations engage. Powerful nations must be the adults in world affairs. Anything less will result in disastrous, useless, preventable global conflict,’ Hagel said in a Brookings Institution speech in 2008.

On Syria, Hagel was a longtime supporter of engagement with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and his father before him, Hafez al-Assad. After meeting with Assad the elder in 1998, Hagel said, ‘Peace comes through dealing with people. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a bayonet or the end of a gun.’ ”

Vulture setback
The Guardian reports that an international tribunal has ordered Ghana to release an Argentine ship and crew detained due to aggressive collection tactics by an American “vulture fund“:

“The vessel arrived at Tema on 1 October, but was prevented from leaving three days later by a court order obtained by the investment vulture fund NML Capital, which is suing the Argentinian government for non-payment of a $1.6bn (£988m) debt.

Ahead of the tribunal’s decision, the UN independent expert on foreign debt and human rights, Cephas Lumina, said: ‘Vulture funds, such as NML Capital, should not be allowed to purchase debts of distressed companies or sovereign states on the secondary market, for a sum far less than the face value of the debt obligation, and then seek repayment of the nominal full face value of the debt together with interest, penalties and legal costs or impound assets of heavily indebted countries in an attempt to force repayment.’ ”

WTO contender
Reuters reports that a former Ghanaian trade minister, Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen, has become “the first official candidate” to succeed France’s Pascal Lamy as head of the World Trade Organization:

“Many trade diplomats think the job should go to an African, Latin American or Caribbean candidate, since all but one head of the 17-year-old WTO have been from developed countries. The exception was Thailand’s Supachai Panitchpakdi.
But Lamy has said there was no system of rotating the job between countries and regions and said his successor, chosen by consensus, should be picked on the basis of competence alone.”

Deep sea concerns
Inter Press Service reports on some of the worries being expressed over the prospect of deep sea mining in the territorial waters of a number of Pacific island states:

“The International Seabed Authority (ISA) and the Applied Geoscience and Technology Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SOPAC) concluded last year, ‘The current level of knowledge and understanding of deep sea ecology does not make it possible to issue any conclusive risk assessment of the effects of large-scale commercial seabed mining.’
Furthermore, many Pacific Island states are yet to establish appropriate DSM legislation and regulatory bodies.
‘PNG does not yet have all of its maritime boundaries established,’ [the University of Papua New Guinea’s] Kaluwin said. ‘The government does not yet have appropriate off-shore or deep sea mining policies and legislation in place.  We also need to address the traditional rights of landowners and communities over the marine environment.’

Hannah Lily, legal advisor to the [EU’s Deep Sea Minerals Project], told IPS, ‘Appropriate regulatory mechanisms, which require of proposed DSM (projects) further in-depth scientific research and analysis, should be in place before any DSM mining project takes place.’ ”

Atmospheric governance
The Economist’s Free Exchange blog argues that, in a world where countries cannot seem to agree on collective emissions reductions, people should expect more and more “unilateral geoengineering gambits“:

“Large, northerly countries like Canada and Russia have an almost unchecked ability to adapt but smaller and more equatorial places will quickly run out of options. It is unrealistic to suppose that unilaterial geoengineering schemes won’t be an inevitable result.
Such schemes could pose huge risks. Successful, precisely deployed efforts might nonetheless have unpredictable and substantial side effects or unpleasant distributional costs. Without a forum to address such effects, geopolitical tensions could worsen in a hurry.

If the world can’t create a functional international forum for addressing atmospheric management—one with teeth—then the costs of global warming are going to be far higher than they ought to be, whatever the mix of policies used to attack it.”

Latest Developments, September 27

In the latest news and analysis…

Africa’s lily pads
UPI reports that the US is expanding its “secret wars” in Africa as global interest in the continent’s resources grows:

“ ‘Washington is in the process of a massive expansion of what are referred to internally as “lily pads” that allow it a global strike capability,’ Oxford Analytica noted.
These include facilities in Kenya, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean off East Africa. Western military sources say the Americans are seeking to establish a base in newly independent South Sudan as well.”

Harmful financial flows
Boston University’s Kevin Gallagher writes about efforts to get the World Trade Organization to ensure international trade rules do not impede efforts to reform the global financial system:

“In 2011, Ecuador joined with India, Argentina and South Africa to request that the WTO study the inter-relationships between trade rules and regulatory reform. The US however, blocked the request. The US, South Korea, Norway and Canada, all said that the WTO, and particularly the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), had a ‘prudential carve-out’ that provided WTO Members with the flexibility to regulate their financial systems. Thus, they were implying, there was no need to have such a discussion.
Ecuador and other emerging market and developing countries want to see that in writing.  They worry that their regulations could eventually result in a WTO challenge or cause nations not to put in place needed reforms for fear of being challenged. ”

AGOA’s failure
University of Oxford researcher Pierre-Louis Vézina writes that the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a US law meant to promote the continent’s textile exports, may not have been such a “trade-policy success” after all:

“The quotas imposed on Chinese exports during the Multifibre Agreement guaranteed smaller developing countries access to the US market. This implicit export subsidy for African countries, coupled with AGOA preferences, was thus a golden opportunity for African apparel exporters.
Yet, a key feature of the AGOA preferences was the absence of rules of origin, which are usually imposed under trade agreements to avoid transhipment. This meant that African exporters could use inputs from any country, in any proportion, as long as some assembly work took place in Africa. It thus provided an opportunity for Chinese exporters to merely tranship their products via ‘screwdriver plants’ in Africa, avoiding US quotas and on top benefitting from AGOA preferences. The end of the quotas on Chinese exports rendered the transhipment unnecessary and thus led to the departure of footloose factories and the fall of AGOA exports.”

Bhopal’s water
The Business Standard reports on findings that Bhopal’s groundwater remains contaminated nearly three decades after a leak at a Union Carbide factory caused “the world’s largest industrial disaster”:

“Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR), which examined the ground water, submitted a report to the [Supreme Court] saying the levels of lead, nitrate and nickel are more than permissible levels in many samples of water taken by it.
‘In nine of the 30 samples, nitrate levels exceeded its permissible Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS) limits for drinking water. Lead level in 24 samples were found to exceed its BIS permissible limit,’ said the report, submitted to a bench headed by Justice Altamas Kabir.”

Carte blanche
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that Somalia’s new government has “little or no authority over the numerous foreign forces” operating in the country:

“ ‘Whoever comes trying to help them defeat al Shabaab, they are more than welcome… [but] they are given a licence to completely ignore any local or international law,’ [Omar Jamal, a diplomat with the Somali mission to the UN] added.
It’s not even clear which foreign forces are currently serving in Somalia, the terms of their involvement, and what they are doing.

The striking thing that emerges is the extent of the US’s involvement in Somalia, both direct and indirect.”

Oil impacts
In a Q&A with Rue89Lyon, Guatemalan community activist Hilda Ventura decries the actions of Franco-British oil company Perenco in her area:

“There was never any environmental impact assessment. Over the last while, children have been falling ill: they have skin ailments. We’ve seen an increase in miscarriages and respiratory problems. Ponds and wells have dried up near the oil drilling. In one community, they wanted to dig wells for water but it was contaminated. We live off corn and bean cultivation but we’ve noticed the harvests have shrunk. And we think it’s due to the pollution from the oil extraction.

Since 2009, there have been four expulsions. In total, 2,000 people were affected. From one day to the next, they tell us to leave. Only the big landowners have property titles. They kick us off our land: that’s taking our lives because we live off the land. Most of us have experienced three or four forced displacements. We’re being squeezed. To the north is a tourism megaproject, to the south is the monoculture for biofuels and to the west is the extension of the oilfield.” [Translated from the French.]

UK drones
A new report by Drone Wars UK indicates that the British government has so far spent £2 billion ($3.2bn) on drones and is “likely” to spend that much again, beginning in 2013:

“ ‘Rather than spending further billions on more drones what’s needed is investment in tackling the underlying causes of insecurity. That means devoting resources to measures designed to seriously tackle inequality and injustice in the world  – such as the Millennium Development Goals. Today, in the midst of a global economic and environmental crisis, we need to jettison ever-increasing military spending and technological security fixes in favour of a sustainable security strategy that puts people – and especially the poor – at its centre,’ [according to Chris Cole, the report’s author].”

Kiobel II
The Center for Justice and Accountability’s Pamela Merchant lays out what is at stake next week when the US Supreme Court hears a second round of arguments pitting Nigerian plaintiffs against oil giant Shell:

“If the Supreme Court accepts Shell’s arguments, federal law will no longer recognize a civil remedy for foreign abuses like genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, or slavery. Already, the Supreme Court’s April 2012 ruling in Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority shielded corporations, governments, and other legal entities from liability under the Torture Victim Protection Act.
For many survivors, the [Alien Tort Statute] offers the only avenue to seek redress and hear a court of law condemn a crime under its true name: genocide or crimes against humanity.”

Latest Developments, November 21

In the latest news and analysis…

Chevron spill
Agence France-Presse reports Brazil is fining oil giant Chevron “at least $28 million” over a spill from one of its wells off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state.
“Haroldo Lima, head of the National Oil Agency said Chevron was facing a series of fines that each could be worth $28 million dollars for having given false or incomplete information about the incident. Exactly how many fines will be determined by the investigation, he added.
ANP accused Chevron of having released “false information” in presenting an action plan that called for the use of equipment not currently available in the country and also of having presented edited pictures on the damage, according to Lima.
Meanwhile Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira also said more fines would be imposed if environmental violations were proven.”

Reversal of fortunes
The New York Times reports debt-ridden Portugal is appealing to its former colony Angola – “once a prime source of slaves, then a dumping ground for the mother country’s human rejects and now swimming in oil wealth” – for investment, but not everyone sees a new dawn in relations.
“There is still the colonial mentality in Portugal,” according to anticorruption campaigner Rafael Marques de Morais. “They just want to extract resources and plunder the country. The only difference is this time they didn’t take them by force.”

Plundering the Congo
Reuters reports a British lawmaker believes the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government is selling its mining assets at below-market prices to shell companies located in tax havens.
“[Labour MP Eric] Joyce said the documents showed that four sales of assets in Katanga had officially netted the government just $272 million, instead of $5.8 billion, which he said was the estimated total market value for the assets.
The involvement of off-shore vehicles had made it impossible to track who had in fact benefited from the sale, he added.”

Growth not enough
The Guardian reports on a new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development document that warns of the dangers posed by increasing levels of inequality, not only in fast-growing countries such as China and India, but also in 17 of the 34 members of its own rich-country club.
“‘Both poor and middle-class populations are increasingly alienated from the richest in many societies. Stark inequalities persist between groups defined by sex, working status and ethnic origin. Both rising inequalities and their persistently high levels can sow the seeds of future conflict and social unrest,’ says the report. It warns that ‘the emergence of a global elite that is isolated from less fortunate echelons of the societies from which its members originate is an important risk that policymakers must be aware of’.”

Climate cop-out
The Guardian also reports that rich countries have “given up” on the prospect of a new climate change treaty for this decade, even before international negotiations on replacing the expiring Kyoto protocol get underway in South Africa next week.
“The UK, European Union, Japan, US and other rich nations are all now united in opting to put off an agreement and the United Nations also appears to accept this.
Developing countries are furious, and the delay will be fiercely debated at the next round of international climate talks beginning a week on Monday in Durban, South Africa.
The Alliance of Small Island States, which represents some of the countries most at risk from global warming, called moves to delay a new treaty ‘reckless and irresponsible’.”

Africa leading on climate
The head of the UN Environment Programme tells Reuters that Africa is leading the world when it comes to actually implementing clean-energy policies.
“Kenya is currently doubling its energy and electricity generating infrastructure largely using renewables. These are policies that are pioneering, that are innovative,” according to UNEP’s Achim Steiner.

“We see across the continent both a realisation of how threatening climate change really is and also the inevitable necessity that governments have an interest in beginning to put their own development priorities on a different trajectory.”

Dismissing the three Ds
New York Univesity economist Bill Easterly argues the US aid program has been “taken over by national security interests, abetted by delusions of nation-building” and calls for a clear separation between aid and defense departments.
“The misguided mindset across two administrations has been that development is – as Hillary Clinton put it in January 2010 – ‘mutually reinforcing’ to defence. Experience and commonsense suggest the opposite – aid works better where bullets are not flying. As for aid winning hearts and minds in war zones, it hasn’t worked. Not in Pakistan, where despite $3.7bn in economic aid between 2003 and 2009, the US is more unpopular than ever. Not in Afghanistan, where 52% of Afghans said ‘foreign aid organisations are corrupt and are in the country just to get rich’.”

Food imbalances
World Trade Organization head Pascal Lamy argues the trade policies of major food-exporting countries have as much to do with hunger in Africa as the continent’s low yields.
“The burden must not fall on Africa alone. The developed world also has a role to play by curbing the use of trade distorting subsidies which result in food surpluses being dumped on third country markets.
Low levels of African agricultural productivity have kept the continent on the sidelines of global agricultural trade and helped create a situation today in which a handful of countries dominate production and export. In a world of nearly 200 countries, there are only between five and 10 major exporters of cereals.”