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.

BPA Makes Little Girls Anxious and Depressed

| Tue Oct. 25, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

A new study shows that girls who were exposed to chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) as fetuses are more highly prone to hyperactive, anxious, aggressive, and depressed behavior than boys of similar age. BPA, an estrogen-mimicking chemical used to harden plastic, is found in consumer products ranging widely from canned soups to baby bottles and grocery receipts. (MoJo's Kiera Butler's got the full rundown on BPA's health risks.)

The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, joins a mounting body of evidence linking BPA to various reproductive and developmental diseases. The study's authors tested urine samples of 244 mothers during pregnancy and at birth and of their children for the first three years. The urine tests showed BPA in 84 percent of the women's samples and in 96 percent of the children's, with indications that behavior problems in the girls rose with rising BPA levels. But while the study shows a strong correlation between behavioral change and BPA levels, its authors say more research is needed.

Meanwhile, other studies in recent years have linked BPA exposure to impaired thyroids, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, breast and prostate cancer, and infertility in both men and women. The Pediatrics study confirms two previous ones finding that prenatal exposure to BPA affects child behavior, and it's the first to demonstrate that BPA exposure prebirth may matter more than exposure postbirth, lead author Joe Braun told Bloomberg.

The growing case against BPA has motivated an increasing number of state legislators to ban the substance from certain consumer products. Earlier this month, California officially banned BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups, joining 10 other states that have recently passed similar bills. Around the world, BPA is already outlawed in the European Union, Canada, China, the United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia.

The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees federal regulation over chemicals in the United States, does not support a ban on BPA. This, despite being heavily criticized by consumer advocacy groups and being sued for failing "to safeguard the food supply." In 2009 the Consumers Union warned of the health risks posed by BPA in food containers, basing its position on more than 200 different scientific studies. The FDA recognizes that the recent studies on BPA warrant reason for "some concern." But it ultimately argues that there are "substantial uncertainties" in the interpretation of the studies and says it is conducting its own research on the matter.

Marion Nestle, a nutrition, food, and public health professor at New York University, sums up the regulatory BPA debate neatly:

In the absence of compelling science, regulators have two choices: exercise the "precautionary principle" and ban [BPA] until it can be proven safe, or approve it until it can be shown to be harmful. The United States and European safety agencies—and the food industry, of course—prefer the latter approach.

It's not just about the science. Unsurprisingly, plastic and other industry lobbyists routinely call into question the methodology of studies condemning BPA use, as they did in this most recent case. The criticism makes sense given that industry groups have also been campaigning aggressively against state legislation banning BPA from certain consumer products. In California alone, the American Chemical Council (ACC) spent $9.4 million on lobbying since 2005, Greenwire reported earlier this month. And the money can be persuasive. Mother Jones reported last month that the Susan G. Komen foundation, a leading breast cancer research group, downplayed BPA's links to cancer around the time it was receiving funding from pro-BPA pharma companies.

Now that states are starting to move toward BPA bans despite industry opposition, groups like the ACC seem to be stepping up their game, making a new push for the FDA to have final say over BPA regulation. Of course, if federal jurisdiction were to override the emerging state-level bans, the FDA's inconclusive position on BPA as a public health threat would work well in the industry's favor.

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Report: Countries Catch Way More Bluefin Tuna Than They're Supposed To

| Fri Oct. 21, 2011 3:48 PM EDT
Bluefin tuna at the Tsukiji Market, Japan.

Countries around the world are selling more than twice as much Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna than international standards allow, according to a new report from the Pew Environment Group. The report, released earlier this week, compares the recorded volume of Atlantic bluefin tuna caught and traded in the Mediterranean Sea and northeastern Atlantic Ocean with catch quotas set by the intergovernmental body responsible for regulating the fish's trade.

Pew looked at bluefin tuna trade data recorded over the last 13 years by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), Eurostat, Japanese customs, the US Department of Agriculture, and the Croatian Chamber of Economy, plotted in the graph below. The data tells us that while the overall recorded catch and international quota declined over time, in recent years the difference between the quota and actual trade volume has increased significantly:

Pew Environment GroupPew Environment GroupIn 2008 the amount of eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna traded on the global market was 31 percent larger than ICCAT's quota that year. In 2010, the gap expanded to 141 percent.

We've long known that national fishing fleets regularly break ICCAT's catch quotas. But the extent to which the nearly extinct bluefin tuna is being overfished is concerning, particularly since the report doesn't account for bluefin tuna traded on the black market. On this point: In February 2009 a team of British researchers wrote in the journal Public Library of Science that between 2000 and 2003, an average of 30 percent of all bluefin tuna caught around the world were caught illegally:

John Pearce et al/www.illegal-fishing.infoJohn Pearce et al/www.illegal-fishing.infoReliable and comprehensive data is important, not least because it informs major decisions about species protection. As I reported here in May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—the US agency that oversees the Atlantic bluefin tuna—declared that the fish did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. NOAA reached its decision at the time on the assumption that fishing fleets abided by ICCAT quotas. Whether Pew's findings will prompt NOAA to revisit its decision remains to be seen.

Boehner's Funding From Coal up 2,400 Percent

| Thu Sep. 15, 2011 5:15 AM EDT

The coal industry adores House Speaker John Boehner, now more than ever. From Tuesday's Wall Street Journal:

Donations from coal-industry interests account for more than 10% of the $12.5 million Mr. Boehner collected from Jan. 1 to June 30 for fundraising accounts he directly controls. Mr. Boehner's personal campaign account collected less than $200,000 from the coal industry during the entire 2009-10 election cycle.

That means the coal industry's now giving Boehner 24 times more the monthly contributions it gave him during 2009-10. Among Boehner's top current donors is one of the Koch brothers, William, who heads Oxbow Corporation—an energy conglomerate with coal, natural gas, steel, and petroleum operations worth $4 billion in annual sales. In general, the Journal reports, the coal industry has ramped up its political giving since Obama was elected president, more than doubling its 2008 contributions in the latest election cycle, with about 75 percent of donations going to Republicans.

A Boehner spokesman assured the Journal that coal-industry giving constitutes a small fraction of the $30 million or so the speaker has raised for the Republican Party this year. But even if Boehner doesn't find the coal industry's givings significant, the spike in coal-backed donations to the House leader hasn't gone unthanked, either, as the Journal points out, and as we've reported here before. Notably, since November 2010 the House has voted to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and approved a bill that would strip the EPA's authority to veto water permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.

All in all, under the current GOP-led House there've been some 125 votes to undermine environmental protection, from cutting funding for the EPA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of the Interior, limiting agencies' authority to enforce the Clean Water Act and blocking the US from contributing to the international governing body on climate change. The legislative attack on environmental protection prompted a backlash from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who on Monday called the House "the most anti-environment" in history upon releasing a search-and-sortable database of the 125 votes. (MoJo reporter Kate Sheppard has more on this.)

The swell in coal contributions to Boehner secures his place as the industry's number-two favorite recipient, according data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Oxbow spokesman Brad Goldstein wrapped up the industry's sentiment for the speaker unabashedly:

We are a big supporter of John Boehner. We think he's good for business…He looks out for business interests, and he wants to create more jobs for America, while this administration has been rather harsh on the industry.

 

The Return of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

| Mon Aug. 15, 2011 5:30 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:


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