Daily Archives: October 2, 2009

Mafia’s influence hovers over 13 million Italians, says report

Giuseppe Scaduto

Italian police escort suspect mafia Giuseppe Scaduto (centre) from their headquarters in Palermo. Photograph: Marcello Paternostro/AFP/Getty Images

guardian.co.uk | Oct 1, 2009

by Tom Kington in Rome

The mafia’s formidable grip on Italy has been starkly illustrated by a new report claiming 13 million Italians live in areas where the mob exerts influence over everyday life.

Commissioned by Italy’s parliamentary anti-mafia commission, the report by research institute Censis used crime statistics to find the number of urban and rural districts where clans are active in the Italian south.

The Italians living in the 610 districts identified, even if law abiding and not members of clans, “are in some way conditioned by a presence that draws its strength from the ability to exert a capillary control in the area”, the report stated.

Giuseppe Pisanu, head of the anti-mafia commission, said the Italian mafia was now “silently prospering, moving on from spectacular crimes and massacres to business and politics, with a prudent dose of intimidation and violence in a bid to take over the fundamental role of the state”.

Censis found the highest concentration of people living under the shadow of the mafia, 95.9%, was in the province of Agrigento in Sicily, followed by Naples, at 95%.

The four main mobs in Italy, Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, the Naples Camorra, the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta and the Puglian Sacra Corona, enjoy an estimated annual turnover of €130bn (£118bn). But they have left a trail of poverty, said Pisanu, pointing out that the 22% of Italians living under the shadow of the mob produced just 14.6% of Italy’s GDP and held just 12.4% of the country’s bank deposits.

In Catania and Palermo 80% of shops allegedly pay protection money, starting from €500 a month.

Suspicious fires, possibly to pressure businesses into paying protection money, in the four regions studied by Censis doubled to 8,441 a year between 1998 and 2007.

Investigators believe Italy’s clans are now investing more of their profits from extortion and drug dealing outside the Italian south, including in building work at the site for Milan’s Expo in 2015.

The Camorra and the ‘Ndrangheta are suspected of carving up investments in Rome, with the former focusing on suburban shopping centres and the latter on luxury property and restaurants in the heart of the capital. Despite the stalled Italian economy, a large number of bars in Rome have recently received expensive makeovers, which Pisanu said was probably due to an influx of mob money.

“As we get better at confiscating funds in Italy, the mafias are also getting better at investing overseas,” he said. “The ‘Ndrangheta has even offered to act as a financial services consultant to the Columbian cartels.”

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After Leaflet Drop Kills Afghan Girl, a Search for Safer Psyop Tech. Missiles, Anyone?

psyops leaflets

Wired | Sep 30, 2009

By David Hambling

The Royal Air Force has accidentally killed a young girl in Afghanistan — by dropping a box of leaflets on her. The British Ministry of Defence is carrying out a full investigation. Meanwhile, the seemingly antiquated practice of leaflet bombing continues. In the 21st century, it remains one of the primary tools of psychological warfare; U.S. Special Operations Command is even looking to build leaflet-carrying missiles. And while top American commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal has virtually banned “kinetic” air strikes, paper bombs are in regular use.

According to the BBC, the leaflet box was supposed to open in mid-air, spreading pro-coalition propaganda over rural Helmand province. But the container failed to break apart, landing on top of the girl, who died later in the hospital.

Leaflets have been used by militaries since at least the Napoleonic wars, when the British navy dropped them over France using kites. And they continue to be employed, because leaflets have some advantages over other media. Radio and TV are fine if the audience happen to be tuned in at the time, but printed matter is durable. As the U.S. Army’s Psychological Operations Field Manual explains, a printed leaflet has the advantage that it can be passed from person to person without the message being altered. It can convey a complex message which can be reinforced with pictures if the recipient is illiterate. And a leaflet can be hidden and read in private, and shared around with others.

Delivery methods have ranged from artillery and mortar shells to loose airdrop by hand to “leaflet landmines.” The M129E1/E2 Psychological Operations Leaflet Bomb weighs 200 pounds and can disperse some 60,000 to 80,000 leaflets which are scattered by a length of detonator cord.

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Lawmakers would curb Federal Reserve’s power, not expand it

Ben Bernanke

“There’s nobody more sick and tired of bailouts than me,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee. He reiterated his belief that the central bank was best suited for supervising large financial institutions that pose a risk to the economy. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press / October 1, 2009)

Fed chief Ben Bernanke, appearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday, faced skeptics as he backed the Obama administration plan for an oversight panel that would enhance the central bank’s authority.

Los Angeles Times | Oct 2, 2009

By Jim Puzzanghera

Reporting from Washington

The Federal Reserve has dramatically expanded its role in the economy over the last 18 months, and the Obama administration has proposed enhancing that authority as part of an overhaul of financial regulations.

But many members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — are seeking to curtail the central bank’s authority instead of expand it.

Worried about the increased power of the complex and mysterious Fed, and upset it did not do more to prevent the deep recession, Capitol Hill has focused its anger over the financial crisis and its aftermath on the central bank. The Fed finds itself at the center of a collision of traditional political concerns — conservatives’ fears of heavy-handed government intervention in free markets, and liberals’ complaints of regulators who favor corporate executives over average Americans.

More than two-thirds of the House of Representatives has signed on to a bill that would subject the central bank to increased congressional oversight through expanded audits. A key senator wants to strip the Fed of its authority to regulate banks. And the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee wants to rein in the Fed’s emergency lending power, which it used to help engineer the sale of Bear Stearns Cos. and bail out American International Group Inc.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke defended the central bank during a congressional hearing Thursday. He reiterated his belief that the Fed was best suited for taking on the major new role the administration had proposed for it — supervising large financial institutions that pose a risk to the entire economy.

But Bernanke also acknowledged the criticism of the Fed’s actions during the financial crisis, saying he shared congressional frustration.

“There’s nobody more sick and tired of bailouts than me,” Bernanke said.

Still, he appears to be fighting an uphill battle for increased power as Congress works to finish the regulatory overhaul this year.

“There just aren’t a lot of cheerleaders here for expanding the authority of the Federal Reserve,” said Kirstin Brost, a spokeswoman for the Senate Banking Committee.

The Obama administration wants to add to the Fed’s portfolio by giving it the task of supervising large financial firms, such as investment banks, that currently fall outside government banking regulation. That increased power would be offset somewhat by the administration’s proposal to take away the Fed’s authority to write and enforce consumer protection rules for financial products. That power would go to a new consumer agency.

Although the Fed still could end up securing new authority, Bernanke has his hands full just trying to keep his agency from losing power, said Jaret Seiberg, a financial policy analyst with Concept Capital’s Washington Research Group.

“The Fed is running into unprecedented opposition on Capitol Hill,” he said.

“In the Senate, there’s open hostility toward any expansion of the Federal Reserve’s authority. And in the House, you certainly have Republicans looking to focus the Fed solely on monetary policy and strip it of any larger role in financial regulation.”

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told Bernanke on Thursday that the panel “will be putting some limitations” on the Fed’s powers. Among those would be increasing congressional authority to audit the Fed and creating the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

The Federal Reserve is largely known for its often cryptic pronouncements on the economy and its pivotal role in setting interest rates. But the central bank also is a sizable government agency with about 2,100 employees that is a key player in regulating the financial sector. With 12 regional operations, the Fed is also responsible for supervising key parts of the banking system, including bank holding companies, and drafting consumer protection rules.

Critics have complained that the Fed faltered on all fronts leading up to the crisis. Years of low interest rates helped fuel the housing bubble, and lax oversight of financial institutions allowed consumers and banks to engage in increasingly risky behavior.

“If you look at the record here of the failure of the regulatory bodies . . . all roads seem to lead to the Federal Reserve,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.).

The Fed is being hit from both sides of the ideological spectrum.

Liberals have sharply criticized it for taking 14 years — from 1994 to 2008 — to adopt rules to protect consumers from unscrupulous mortgage lending. The Obama administration has hammered the Fed on that point as well, a major reason it has proposed shifting consumer protection powers from the Fed and other regulators to the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Bernanke has acknowledged the Fed’s failures on consumer protection, which took place largely before he became chairman in 2006, but opposes creation of the agency. Still, he realizes damage has been done to the Fed’s reputation in that area.

“I think the issue is essentially the confidence that Congress has in our focus going forward,” he said.

Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.) didn’t show much confidence, chiding Bernanke for devoting little of his opening remarks at Thursday’s hearing to consumer protection and for later referring to “the minutiae of consumer law.”

At the same time, conservatives have strongly opposed the Fed’s interventions in the economy, which they said have put trillions of taxpayer dollars at risk by vastly expanding the central bank’s lending authority to bail out companies and back other commercial transactions to keep credit flowing.

House Republicans want to scale back the Fed’s power so the bank focuses on monetary policy. And many have opposed the administration’s proposal to give the Fed the new role of supervising large financial institutions, such as AIG, that are not traditional banks but pose a risk to the economy if they fail.

“I’m not alone with my concerns about the Fed as a systemic regulator,” said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.). Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) has similar concerns, as do others on his panel. In fact, Dodd has proposed stripping the Fed of all of its bank oversight functions as part of his plan for creating a single banking regulatory agency.

Former Fed Gov. Alice M. Rivlin also said it would be a mistake to increase the Fed’s regulatory powers because it would distract from the central bank’s monetary policy role.

“Do we want to augment the regulatory authority of the Fed? . . . My answer is no,” said Rivlin, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “My sense is many people would be nervous about that augmentation.”

Bernanke tried to allay some congressional concerns Thursday. He endorsed the administration’s proposed creation of an oversight council of regulators to monitor the entire economy for risks, such as that of too many banks overextending themselves with credit-default swaps. But he did not go as far as some wanted.

Some lawmakers have said the proposed Financial Services Oversight Council — not the Fed — should have the additional task of supervising large financial firms that are not banks. The council would be headed by the Treasury secretary and include the Fed chairman and other regulators.

Bernanke, however, was steadfast in saying the Fed should supervise those large firms.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) said the Fed was less revered on Capitol Hill after the crisis, but there still was a worry that failing to follow its advice could lead to more trouble for the struggling economy.

“The Fed is very powerful, and it comes chiefly from fear and awe,” he said.

“I think there’s more fear and less awe than there used to be.”

American Police Force official has extensive criminal record

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In this Friday, Sept. 25, 2009 picture, Michael Hilton stands outside the city offices after meeting with Hardin, Mont. officials. Hilton pitched himself to the city as a military veteran turned private sector entrepreneur – a California defense contractor with extensive government contracts who promised to turn the rural city’s empty jail into a cash cow. But now a much different picture of Hilton is emerging from public documents and interviews with his associates and legal adversaries. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

Billings Gazette | Oct 1, 2009

By RUFFIN PREVOST

HARDIN – Michael Hilton of American Police Force arrived in Hardin with promises of Mercedes police cars and expertise in operating prisons. He delivered the cars last week, but may have learned about prisons following a 1993 conviction for grand theft.

Public records from police and state and federal courts in California show that Michael Anthony Hilton, using that name and more than a dozen aliases over several years, is cited in multiple criminal, civil and bankruptcy cases, and was sentenced in 1993 to two years in state prison in California.

Hilton pleaded guilty in March 1993 to 14 felonies, including 10 counts of grand theft, one count of attempted grand theft and three counts of diversion of construction funds, according to Orange County court records. He was sentenced to two years in prison, but it is unclear how much time he served.

Court records in that case list his real name as Michael Hilton, but they also include the aliases Midrag Ilia Dokovitch, Midrag Ilia Dokovich and Michael Miodrag.

Hilton, who speaks heavily accented English, has told reporters that he is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Montenegro, a country bordering Serbia, and once part of the former Republic of Yugoslavia.

The same aliases and other similar ones, all with slightly different spellings, show up in many other court documents citing Hilton, including a May 2003 Orange County case in which Hilton pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol.

A booking photo from the Huntington Beach Police Department from Hilton’s DUI arrest on March 14, 2003, shows him heavier, beardless and with more hair than he has now.

It also shows the same facial features, including a distinct arched wrinkle over his left eye, along with three deep brow furrows, small, circular indentations in the center of his forehead and a cleft tip on the nose.

Hilton and his aliases are listed as defendants in various Orange County civil cases alleging fraud and breach of warranty, including a March 2000 case where he is accused of fraud, larceny, breach of contract and false pretenses.

Court documents in that case allege that Hilton and others solicited investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the plaintiff for the creation of collectible Super Bowl commemorative coins.

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The logo on a Mercedes SUV brought to Hardin, Mont., by a California security company that wants to take over Hardin’s empty jail is seen in this Sept. 24, 2009 photo. Michael Hilton pitched himself to the city as a military veteran turned private sector entrepreneur – a California defense contractor with extensive government contracts who promised to turn the rural city’s empty jail into a cash cow. But now a much different picture of Hilton is emerging from public documents and interviews with his associates and legal adversaries. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown) (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

The complaint alleges that Hilton and others falsely told the plaintiff that the money would be used for the design and manufacture of the coins, and to pay for a National Football League license to produce them.

In fact, the complaint states, no such license was ever issued by the NFL.

Court documents show that the plaintiff obtained a 2001 judgment for $200,000 against Hilton, listing his aliases of Miodrag Dokovich and Midrag Ilia Dokovich.

Hilton also declared Chapter 13 bankruptcy twice during a 15-month period.

He filed under his real name, citing the alias Miodrag A. Dokovich, in November 2002, listing a Stanton, Calif., home address and a Fountain Valley, Calif., business address tied to the Belgrade Market Liquor and Deli.

In February 2004, Hilton filed under his real name, citing the alias Miodrag Dokovich, and listing a Santa Ana, Calif., home address. He estimated his assets at less than $50,000, and listed as creditors only a credit union and his landlord.

Both bankruptcy filings appear to have been intended to delay eviction proceedings against him. Under federal bankruptcy law, tenants are generally protected from eviction while they reorganize their finances.

Anh Q.D. Nguyen, a Garden Grove attorney, said in an e-mail that he represented Hilton’s landlord in an eviction case against Hilton that was filed in January 2004.

Nguyen said that Hilton “filed an eleventh-hour bankruptcy petition in which my office successfully obtained relief from the bankruptcy automatic stay, in order to reclaim possession of the rented premises.”

Hilton had also been named as a defendant in July 2002 as part of separate eviction proceedings before his bankruptcy filing that year.

Hilton filed both bankruptcies without an attorney, paying less than $275 in filing fees for each. Both petitions were dismissed by the court after Hilton failed to provide necessary documentation, including a financial reorganization plan.

Chapter 13 bankruptcies generally remain on personal credit histories for seven years, and show up on standard credit checks.

When asked on Wednesday about Hilton’s business dealings before his involvement with APF, company spokeswoman Becky Shay said, “That information is not going to be made available at this point.

“That’s his private business. He is a man who distinguishes between private and business, between personal and corporate,” she said.

Shay said she would check with Hilton for a comment about his DUI arrest, but did not provide further details.

She did not respond to an additional call made later Wednesday seeking more information about Hilton’s other past legal problems.

American Police Force Leader’s Long Criminal Record

american police force

TPMMuckraker | Oct 1, 2009

by Zachary Roth

The American Police Force, that mysterious security company that just took over an empty jail in Hardin, Montana, is looking shadier than ever.

Since yesterday, details have been emerging about the background of the man behind APF — a California-based grifter, who has said he’s a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Montenegro, and uses the name Michael Hilton.

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Over the years, Hilton has served jail time for fraud, and had a string of arrests and other run-ins with the law. Based on reports from the AP, the Billings Gazette, and Prison Legal News, here’s a quick rundown:

• 1988: Hilton arrested in Santa Ana, Calif. for writing bad checks.

• April 1990: Hilton is again arrested in Santa Ana for writing bad checks and for grand theft.

• 1992: A civil judgment of $83,000 is entered against Hilton and Ilia Dokovich.

• March 1993: Hilton pleads guilty in Orange County court to 14 felonies, including 10 counts of grand theft. One charge involves a $20,000 real estate scam, in which Hilton persuaded an associate to give him a deed on property in Long Beach, Calif., saying it was to be used as collateral on a loan, then sold the property to someone else. According to the AP, he spends six years in prison in California.

• 1999: A small claims judgment is entered against Hilton for $3,979.

• 2000: the same plaintiff obtans another small claims judgment against Hilton in Los Angeles County, this one for $1,852.

• March 2000: Hilton is accused of fraud, larceny, and breach of contract, in connection to a venture in which Hilton and others recruited the plaintiff to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to create collectible Super Bowl commemorative coins. According to the complaint, Hilton and the others said the money would be used for the design and manufacture of the coins and for a license to produce them from the National Football League — but the NFL never issued a license. Hilton is ultimately ordered to pay the plaintiff $200,000.

• Around the same period: Hilton also faces two similar fraud suits: In one, he’s accused of posing as a fine arts dealer to deceive a Utah couple into giving him a $100,000 silver statue. In the other, he is said to have teamed with a doctor to recruit investors for a southern California assisted-living facility that was never built.

• November 2002: Hilton files for bankruptcy, in order to avoid eviction by his landlord.

• March 2003: Hilton is arrested for DUI in Huntington Beach.

• February 2004: Hilton files for bankruptcy once more, again to avoid eviction.

• January 2006: A $5,052 judgment lien is entered against Hilton in Orange County, CA.

A Lexis search conducted by Prison Legal News turned up the following aliases used by Hilton: Miodrag Dokovich, Miodrag Djokich, Miodrag Djokovich, Michael Hamilton, Anthony M. Hilton, Michael A. Hilton, Michael Milton and Hristian Djokich, plus related variants.

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Related

American Police Force’s Serbian Flag Similarity

American_Police_Force Serbia flag

What is the American Police Force and what is it doing in Montana?

A secretive California outfit called the American Police Force is taking over the 2-year-old, never-used prison in Hardin, Mont., that was briefly considered a possible spot for Guantanamo prisoners.

The story has many twists and turns. We recommend you read The Billings Gazette article for a primer on the story. KULR TV of Billings, Mont., The Missoulian, and Talking Points Memo are also on the case.

APF’s website, which has been periodically unavailable, says it “leverages the talent and expertise of their extensive global network to provide local, regional, and national security solutions to the United States Government and other clients who are in need of customized private investigative services.”

U.S. relaxes control over ICANN, opens it to global governance

themoneytimes.com | Oct 1, 2009

by Jaspreet

New York, October 1 — As the ongoing agreement between Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration ended Wednesday, ICANN, the net regulator, has finally got the autonomy to run its own affairs.

As the ongoing agreement between Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration ended Wednesday, ICANN, the net regulator, has finally got the autonomy to run its own affairs. Icann will now be reviewed by a larger body, representing foreign governments with specific focus on security, accountability and transparency

ICANN, an organization set up in 1998 by the Clinton administration to regulate the functioning of Internet, has constantly been governed the U.S. government, which has over the years conducted regular reviews of its work.

The U.S. administration has signed a four-page “affirmation of commitments” brief document with ICANN and relaxed control over the functioning of Internet.

The agreement comes exactly 40 years after the underlying technology that makes the Internet run as developed by Department of Defense.

A larger governing body
The net regulator will now be reviewed by a larger body, representing foreign governments with specific focus on security, accountability and transparency.

“We’ve become an organization accountable solely to the Internet community,” ICANN’s Vice President Paul Levins said. “We will have review teams made up of people from all over the globe, not just a government sitting on Pennsylvania Avenue, although they will continue to play a crucial part.”

The agreement has come months after many countries raised objection, saying that the governance setup was improper. Countries like France, China, Libya, Brazil had argued that since majority of the Internet users reside outside U.S., there is a need to set up a multinational body to govern how the Internet works.

Relaxation of strict rules
The move is expected to lead to relaxation of strict rules concerning top-level domain (TLD) name system, using brand names as web addresses, launching domain names in Asian, Arabic or other languages etc.

Further, ICANN is also planning to expand available suffixes to variety of words like dot.football. dot.softdrink, dot.food etc.

This could prove very expensive and unleash a war between suffix owners and infringers in the long run. Many analysts have questioned the implications of creation of unlimited number of global top level domains.

The new agreement states, “Nothing in this document is an expression of support by [the Department of Commerce] of any specific plan or proposal for the implementation of new generic top level domain names or is an expression by DOC of a view that the potential consumer benefits of new gTLDs outweigh the potential costs.”

It’s not completely clear what will the domain expansion implicate, but the recent development is sure to pacify critics who had objected to U.S. dominance in governing ICANN.

Study to determine cows’ greenhouse gas emissions

rdmag.com | Oct 1, 2009

Any calculation of the carbon footprint of a gallon of milk needs to include fuel used by tractors and trucks, as well as electricity consumed by milking machines and refrigerators. But how much gas is coming from the cows themselves?

That’s the question Purdue Univ. researchers are investigating as they start a new study aimed at measuring greenhouse gases from dairy cows. Albert Heber, principal investigator and a professor of agricultural and biological engineering, said the study is part of an industry-wide effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to fluid milk.

“The dairy industry understands that in order to adopt best practices that will help lower greenhouse gas emissions in the dairy supply chain, it must first know where the mitigation opportunities exist,” Heber said.

The study is being funded by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and is one of several studies that will be used to measure the entire carbon footprint of fluid milk – from the farm to the glass. Researchers from the Univ. of California Davis, Cornell Univ., the Univ. of Minnesota, and Washington State Univ. are collaborating on the project.

“Measuring the greenhouse gas emissions of dairy cows will help determine the extent to which the dairy industry contributes to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions,” said Rick Naczi, the group’s executive vice president of strategic industry analysis and evaluation. “Preliminary scan level research was conducted last year that showed the dairy industry accounts for less than 2 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Now, we are expanding our efforts by partnering with respected academic institutions like Purdue and engaging in extensive research to assure that our efforts are based on sound science as we address the environmental, economic and social importance of reducing our carbon footprint.”

Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide will be monitored at five barn sites and two manure lagoons in Indiana, Wisconsin, California, Washington and New York. Mobile laboratories set up for the National Air Emissions Monitoring Study, of which Heber also is principal investigator, are being used to take the measurements in this study as well.

“We began collecting some greenhouse-gas data as early as 2007, but now we have all the equipment we need and we’ve been getting data on all parameters of it for about a month,” said Bill Bogan, operations manager for the two studies.

Tubes will draw air from each of several exhaust fans and background locations. The air will be fed into a series of analyzers that measure the concentrations of the gases. Those concentrations can be used to determine the amount of each gas emitted for a particular time period and per animal. Data will be updated every minute.

Heber said the gas comes from both the cow and the manure. Manure gas is easiest to address. Different manure management practices may increase or decrease total emissions, he said.

“The type of storage and handling procedures may contribute to how much gas is escaping from the manure,” Heber said.

Most of the previous studies on dairy greenhouse gas emissions were done in Europe and Canada and don’t reflect U.S. climate and management practices. This study will provide country- and region-specific greenhouse-gas emission rates from U.S. dairy operations, which can be used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for modeling emissions.

Data will be collected through Jan. 31.