Jaeah Lee

Associate Interactive Producer

Jaeah reports, writes, codes, and charts at Mother Jones. Her writings have appeared in The Atlantic, GuardianWiredChristian Science MonitorGlobal PostHuffington PostTalking Points Memo, and Grist. She is a 2013-14 Middlebury fellow in environmental journalism. Her work has been named a finalist in the Data Journalism Awards. In a former life, she researched and wrote about China at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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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.

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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:


Why Bottled Water Companies Target Blacks and Latinos

| Mon Aug. 15, 2011 4:30 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.

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