Jaeah Lee

Jaeah Lee

Associate Interactive Producer

When Jaeah isn't coding, researching, or writing for Mother Jones, she's usually reading about foreign policy, climate change, or new dinner recipes. A lover of mass transit, she can pretty much navigate the New York City subway blindfolded.

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Prior to joining Mother Jones, Jaeah worked as a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, focusing on China. Her writings have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Global Post, Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, and Movements.org.

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The Return of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

| Mon Aug. 15, 2011 6:30 AM EDT
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at Outside Lands, 2011.

Back when the guys of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah first got together, musicians and labels were struggling to figure out how to operate in the internet era. Only a few years earlier, a boom in file-sharing, popularized by Napster, had upset some of the music industry's biggest icons, like Metallica, Madonna, and Dr. Dre, who sued Napster over copyright issues.

But fledgling artists like CYHSY saw opportunity in the internet's accessiblity. The Pew Research Center, which in March 2004 released its first survey on the internet's impact on artists, and found that, while individual artists largely thought unauthorized file sharing should be illegal, the internet on the whole enhanced creativity and removed barriers to getting their music heard. "When we were in college, it was like, 'There's this thing called Kazaa, where you can download The Strokes, The Shins, or The White Stripes," drummer Sean Greenhalgh, wearing a black hoodie and Keds, recalls before the band's show at The Independent last Wednesday.

CYHSY was in the first wave of acts that found success on the web before signing to a record label. Its self-titled first album, released online in June 2005, came during "a perfect storm of a time when we made a good record and a time when the internet was young," Greenhalgh recalls. News of the band spread rapidly over blogs like Pitchfork and by word of mouth—and early endorsements from David Bowie and David Byrne.

Even before releasing that first album, CYHSY (which also includes Alec Ounsworth, Robbie Guertin, and Lee and Tyler Sargent) would upload unfinished tracks to the web, something they were later advised was a bad move. The band didn't even have a name until a few months after it formed, although it was already performing around New York. Driving through South Brooklyn, the bandmates saw their future name painted in giant letters across a brick wall, and figured it was a sign, Greenhalgh says. "I don't think we considered the long-term implications."

Greenhalgh recalls how the band was backstage getting ready for a show at the Knitting Factory a few years ago when they heard a rumor that Bowie was at the house. They walked on stage, looked up in the stands, and saw that it was true. By October 2005, they'd signed on with the UK label Wichita Recordings, which also represents The Dodos and Bloc Party. "By the time the record labels came around, we were already doing ourselves a bunch of things that labels were offering to us," he says. "It was a strange thing, but we were able to jump on it and run with it."

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's success continued with its second album, 2007's Some Loud Thunder, which debuted at No. 47 on the Billboard 200 and featured the hit "Satan Said Dance," which ranked among the Rolling Stone's top song picks for that year. The album led to high-profile gigs at Lollapalooza and on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. But fans were taken by surprise in 2009, when the band unexpectedly decided to take a break to pursue solo projects, rather than simply set out to make a third record. "Why do it just to do it, because that's what people expect?" Greenhalgh says.

After a two-year hiatus, CYHSY is back with Hysterical, due out next month. Greenhalgh says the band's time apart has enriched the new album. Their latest performance at SF's Outside Lands music festival this past weekend didn't reveal muchnew stuff, but the crowd was excited to hear singer Ounsworth's distinct, crackling voice against the band's quirky keyboards and plucked-guitar melodies. You can download a sample track from the forthcoming album here.

Here's a video teaser of Hysterical:


Why Bottled Water Companies Target Blacks and Latinos

| Mon Aug. 15, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

Over at Forbes, Nadia Arumugam writes that bottled water companies have been actively marketing their products to minority groups, with ads targeting black and Latino mothers, and endorsements from celebrities like TLC's Chilli and Hispanic TV host Cristina Saralegui

Below, Chilli talks about making the Dasani ad with her son:

Judging from a new study published by the American Medical Association, the PR push is working. Researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin found that Latinos and African Americans are more likely to give bottled water to their children and spend up to twice as much of their household income on bottled water as do whites. After surveying some 640 people they found that Latinos and African Americans are more likely to consume bottled water largely because they view tap water as a health risk. From the study:

Beliefs about tap water safety and cleanliness, preference for bottled water taste, and perceived bottled water convenience had the strongest association with the use of bottled water. Obtaining information about tap water from environmental organizations was also associated with greater odds of bottled water use.

Latinos and African Americans, the survey found, spent up to 12 and 16.7 percent of their household income on bottled water, respectively, while white Americans spent up to 6 percent. The racial/ethnic gap in bottled water consumption could be explained by "actual differences in current tap water quality," the study notes, and survey responses supported this notion, finding that "prior experience is related to water choices."

America's water system faces an annual funding shortfall of at least $11 billion, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. In their 2009 Report Card for American Infrastructure, the group gave a disappointing D- for drinking water, arguing that the country's ability to prevent failure in drinking-water systems and maintain them are inadequate. Disruptions in water delivery services "can hinder disaster response and recover efforts, expose the public to water-borne contaminants, and cause damage to roadways, structures, and other infrastructure, endangering lives and resulting in billions of dollars in losses."

Such weaknesses might be more acute in rural and low-income communities. According to the US Census Bureau (PDF), Latino and African Americans together make up almost half of the US population living under the poverty line. The Natural Resources Defense Council reported (PDF) in 2004 that 3 in 5 African and Latino Americans live in communities that are also home to Superfund sites, which are prone to releasing toxins into nearby groundwater supplies. In a March 2011 case study of California's San Joaquin Valley, the environmental group Pacific Institute warned that nearby communities were probably drinking water contaminated with nitrates above EPA-sanctioned levels and likely coming from agricultural fertilizers. Those most at risk, the report found, were disproportionately low-income households and Spanish-speaking residents.

Back in 2007, three scholars from the University of Illinois argued in the journal Geoforum that such a disparity is often ignored because people tend to assume that the United States provides universal access to safe drinking water. Not true, they say:

Contrary to reports of 100 percent access to safe water and sanitation in international surveys, the United States has a complex landscape of low-income water systems…The vast majority of urban and rural poor in the US do have access to water and sanitation. However, even cursory observation of poor areas in the US indicates residents who lack access to basic indoor water and plumbing. They include some among the urban homeless, migrant workers, residents of colonias along the US-Mexico border, and remote areas of Native American reservations…

You can't blame people for choosing bottled water when the tap water sucks. But unfortunately, bottled water comes with pretty serious environmental consequences. There's the obvious waste problem, to start. Somewhere around 2.4 million tons of polyethylene terephthalate plastic (commonly used for bottling drinks) is discarded in the US each year, and up to 41 percent of that comes from water bottles. Nor are bottled water companies the kind you'd want in your neighborhood. Mother Jones has reported extensively on Fiji Water's practices in particular, whether it's turning its cheek away from the island's oppression under the military junta, disregarding the local populace's lack of access to water, or burning its trash in nearby towns.

The underlying and perhaps most sobering threat here is that unsafe tap water, whether perceived or real, could be contributing to the financial burden on low-income communities. And if safe tap water were more widely available, maybe people wouldn't be so vulnerable to bottled water companies' marketing ploys, regardless of ethnicity.

Outside Lands' Gourmet Ghetto

| Sat Aug. 13, 2011 5:25 PM EDT
Attendees line up for arepas at the 2011 Outside Lands.

Late Friday morning, in an expansive, fog-shrouded field at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, dozens of local food vendors scrambled into ready position. White plumes arose from barbecue smokers and brick pizza ovens. Meats sizzled on the grill and knives chopped down on onions. Chefs shouted orders through the blaring music coming from the stage a hundred yards down. The gates to the park's annual Outside Lands music festival had opened just minutes before, and hundreds of concertgoers charged through in a hungry stampede.

It would have looked like your typical outdoor food fest, except that there were no corn dogs in sight. Hot dogs, sure, but only the local kind, made from cattle grazing just a few hours north of the city. For the adventurous foodies, though, that state-fair classic paled in comparison to the kimchi-topped tacos, the wood-smoked pork shoulder, or the gruyere-topped free-range burgers.

Now in its fourth year, Outside Lands has made itself known as a one-stop mecca for music, food, and wine lovers alike. It's one of just a few festivals in the country experimenting with gourmet cuisine at an outdoor event with enough people to fill a medium-sized town. The idea was sparked by a desire to match the food caliber with the all-star music lineup, which in the past has included Beck and Radiohead, and this year features the likes of Phish, Arcade Fire, and OK Go. "It's really fun to watch how people really see food and wine as main pillars of the music festival," Kerry Black, who oversees the festival's marketing and food vendors, told me. "I don't think anyone has it to the extent that we do."

The challenge of bringing small, local food operations into a giant music festival—this year its promoters expect a total of 140,000 attendees—is the sheer scale of the endeavor. Demand can be hard to predict. If you low-ball your supply, you risk running dry and turning away customers, but too much food, and you might end up with massive waste.

Larry Bain, cofounder of an outfit called Let's Be Frank, learned this the hard way. He's been bringing his local and sustainably grown beef and pork hot dogs to the festival since its inception. The first year, Bain nearly ran out of food. "It was 8 p.m. on a Friday night, and we were hoping it would slow down, but it started picking back up," he says. "We were running all over town, with three people driving, picking up more onions, ketchups, and hot dogs."

What It'll Take to Make Seattle Carbon Neutral

| Thu Aug. 11, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Just over a year after Seattle announced plans to go carbon neutral, a government-commissioned study outlines just how the city might reach its goal. The report, penned primarily by the international research group Stockholm Environment Institute and introduced to the City Council in May, lays out a detailed scenario in which Seattle cuts back its greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent in 2050 (compared to the amount it emitted in 2008).

The plan is likely the most ambitious any US city has seen thus far. While carbon neutrality in its strictest form means emitting net zero carbon emissions, the term has also been used describe city efforts to offset greenhouse gas emissions from specific industries (like utilities or construction), as Phoenix, Austin, and Vancouver are doing. Seattle's goal stands out because it would be first in the US and third in the world (after Copenhagen and Melbourne) to consider nearly zeroing out emissions across the board.

Seattle is particularly well-positioned to meet its goal, the study's authors say, because much of its electricity is already sourced from renewable hydropower rather than fossil fuels. The city could further cut back on emissions by making its buildings (old and new) more energy efficient, public transportation more efficient and widespread, charging higher tolls, reducing landfill, and establishing an alternative fuel-based auto fleet. The city could completely offset its emissions by the same year, the study adds, if it sequestered greenhouse gases through urban forests or invested in emissions reductions projects elsewhere. But even for a city with a relatively small carbon footprint like Seattle, there are many steps to take before achieving carbon neutrality. Here are some highlighted in the report:

  • Make 80 percent of Seattle's transportation system consist of electric vehicles by 2050. (The city has already decided to invest $20 million on electric car charging infrastructure and is revising its electric code to require residential buildings to make room for private charging stations.)
  • Increase tolls, parking fees, and replace traditional auto insurance policies with pay-per-mile ones—assuming that the more you drive, the more likely you'll get into an accident, and thus the more you should pay for insurance.
  • Replace gas-based home heating systems with a more efficient network of electric heat pumps, which extract heat from the outside and underground to warm or cool a household.
  • Create more jobs within the city proper to reduce the need to commute by car and build denser neighborhoods to avoid urban sprawl.
  • Ramp up recycling programs so that by 2050 75 percent of the city's waste averts the landfill, which is a major emitter of methane gas. Currently, the study calculates, 49 percent of Seattle's waste is either recycled or composted.

The study's authors concede that they do not include an analysis of the economic impact such strategies would have, nor do they account for the funding or political challenges that could slow down the city's adoption and implementation of the plan. They also notes that some strategies could lead to a rebound in emissions. If more efficient home energy systems lowered bills, for example, consumers would have more money to spend on businesses, which in turn could elevate commercial energy use.

Still, with broader climate legislation out of reach in Washington and a global climate agreement locked in a political stalemate, efforts like Seattle's set an important example of how cities can significantly reduce their emissions without further ado.

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