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.

NOAA's Gamble on the Bluefin Tuna

| Fri May 27, 2011 7:37 PM EDT

The Atlantic bluefin tuna's days could be numbered. The tuna's spawning population, which used to thrive in the Gulf of Mexico, has for decades been on a steep decline due to overfishing, shrinking by more than 80 percent since 1970. While acknowledging this trend, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today that the Atlantic populations of bluefin tuna did not warrant federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, at least for now. From the agency's press release:

NOAA's status review...indicates that based on the best available information and assuming countries comply with the bluefin tuna fishing quotas established by ICCAT, both the western and eastern Atlantic stocks are not likely to become extinct.

That's a big assumption to make, especially considering that national fishing fleets routinely breach the standards set by ICCAT (the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas). ICCAT's standards, moreover, tend to be much weaker than what scientists recommend: In November, the commission set the species' annual fishing limit at about 14,200 tons, but the World Wildlife Fund recommends less than half that amount. NOAA's decision is particularly puzzling because in 2010 the US was one of three countries to support a proposal to the United Nations to ban international trade of bluefin tuna until it rebounds in number, which was voted down after facing strong opposition from major tuna consumers like Japan.

One reason NOAA posits for rejecting the bluefin tuna protection is the declining number of tuna caught in the US, arguing that domestic catch levels have consistently fallen well below its ICCAT-designated quota. But that isn't really a matter of choice, since the tuna's population in the Gulf and West Atlantic Ocean have already declined so significantly. There simply aren't fish left to catch.

A petition, filed last May by the Center for Biological Diversity, also raised concerns about the BP Deepwater Horizon's effect on bluefin, following the European Space Agency's finding that the spill had reduced the young bluefin tuna by 20 percent. And as Mother Jones correspondent Julia Whitty reported last fall, the spill's damages to deep-sea creatures (bluefin tuna included) could be far worse than we think.

But for now, NOAA has decided the study was flawed and inconclusive, and that it will wait to see what the agency's Natural Resources Damage Assessment has to say in 2012 about the BP spill's impact on the fisheries.

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Yelle's Safari Disco Universe

| Mon May 23, 2011 6:36 AM EDT
Yelle live in Brussels, Belgium

While listening to Yelle, you may sense a loose combination of urges to laugh, cry, and slap an ex-lover. The confused feelings can be frustrating (disregarding the fact that all of the songs are in French), since whatever your state of mind, you will not be able shake off the urge to dance. The French synth-pop trio—singer Julie Budet and producers GrandMarnier (Jean-François Perrier) and Tepr (Tanguy Destable)—delivers stretchy keyboard sounds punctuated by a steady booming beat and the occasional crack of a whip. Budet's youthful, silky voice ties it all into a neat package that is at once playful, rebellious, flirtatious, and meloncholic.

After the success of Yelle's first album, Pop Up, in 2007, the group is back with Safari Disco Club, reminding us that it can pack a mean punch despite being in a genre that is often taken as seriously as bubblegum and pigtails. Some American fans have already likened the 28-year-old Budet to Madonna, Britney Spears, and Lady Gaga—minus their overwrought drama. 

Onstage at San Francisco's Regency Ballroom this past Thursday night, Yelle was a refreshing change. A petite-and-well-sculpted Budet, clad in a skintight red leopard-print body suit, danced around happily, unbound by choreography, in that girls-just-want-to-have-fun-gone-femme-fatale manner. Every now and then she donned a matching animal-print hood to create an air of mystery, and give a nod to her '80s hip-hop/Fresh Prince of Bel-Air phase. At the end of the show, she excitedly invited fans to meet the band outside.

Off stage, Budet was as comfortable and familiar as an old friend or a worn-in pair of jeans. Below, she takes a break from her pre-show sound check to talk about living the "simple life," baking, and Yelle's new video.

Forget Earthquakes: Fires Are the Biggest Threat to US Nuclear Plants

| Wed May 11, 2011 4:54 PM EDT

Fires occur at US nuclear plants a total of ten times a year on average, but most sites are underprepared for the event of a disaster, according to two reports published today by ProPublica and iWatch News. The independent reviews highlight how over the last three decades, industry neglect and gaps in regulatory enforcement have contributed to the risk of fire-induced nuclear accidents at the 104 existing plants across the country. The reports come in the wake of the March earthquake that triggered a leak at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi reactor, which has resulted in the country freezing its own nuclear power expansion plans. Here are some of the reports' most alarming findings:

  • Fires are often triggered by accidents as likely as a short circuit in an electric cable or a spark igniting oil in a pump.
  • Most existing safety plans focus on containing and putting out fires rather than preventing them, and rely on time-consuming manual actions like sending in a worker to activate a pump that will ensure a reactor is shut down.
  • At two dozen of the nation's reactors, spent fuel are stored in unsecured, above-ground pools with potential lethal waste exceeding those stored in Japan. (If a cooler at one of the reactors were to break down, spent fuel could overheat or catch on fire, releasing radiation that could kill people living within 50 miles of the plant.)
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the main nuclear safety enforcement body, has in the past resisted issuing citations to violators, and when it does often exempts them from paying penalties, numbering more than 900 exemptions as of 2001. The NRC does not keep its own list of fire safety gaps, but instead relies on plants to provide them during inspections.
  • Most plants are ill equipped to stamp out large-scale fires; reactor owners get away with using electrical cables wrapped in fire-proof materials that have previously failed safety tests.

Nuclear plant fires have not killed any Americans to date, which might explain why the hazard has been downplayed. But shortcomings like fire protection violations make disasters more likely, the Union of Concerned Scientists' David Lochbaum told ProPublica. And as the map below shows, nuclear reactors are clustered in some of the most dense areas of the US, meaning the risk of fire is simply too dangerous to go unaddressed. "The NRC is to nuclear power today what the SEC was to Wall Street three years ago," Richard Brodsky, a former Westchester, NY assemblyman told iWatch. 

Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory CommissionSource: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

What We Didn't Know About Internet Controls

| Thu Apr. 21, 2011 5:20 PM EDT

A new Freedom House report has uncovered increased threats to internet freedom worldwide. It's no news that politically restrained countries like China, Iran, and Burma are among the worst offenders, but as the report details, similar practices are fast spreading. Some surprising findings:

  • Even relatively democratic countries—notably Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, and the United Kingdom—are seeing increased threats to internet freedom, such as "legal harassment, opaque censorship procedures, or expanding surveillance." In many cases, censors target content related to illegal gambling, child pornography, or inciting violence, but censorship incidents are also politically motivated. South Korea, for example, blocked access to some 65 websites related to North Korea, including the official North Korean Twitter account launched in August 2010.
  • Arrests of online activists are on the rise. In 23 of the 37 countries assessed, a blogger or other internet user was arrested for content posted online. Authorities in Vietnam sentenced four activists to a total of 33 years in prison for posting human rights violations and pro-democracy views on the internet.
  • In all the countries studied, governments made decisions about restricting internet content arbitrarily and without transparency. Even in democratically governed countries, censorship decisions are made without public discussion, and appealing the decisions "may be onerous, little known, or nonexistent."
  • If you thought Egypt's internet shutdown in January was bad...in recent years 12 of the 37 countries were known to exploit their control over telecom infrastructure to restrict access to politically relevant information.
  • More websites, activists, and dissidents are self-censoring. China is known for pressuring websites to censor their own content, an issue that led Google to move its search engine operations off the mainland to Hong Kong in early 2010. Since 2007 Thailand, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, and Venezuela have issued new laws or directives that put the onus of politically unfavorable comments on the media outlet. At least one editor in Thailand, for example, is facing criminal charges over comments that criticized the monarchy.

All in all, what we're seeing is "a very worrisome trend," with the state of internet freedom around the world "on the decline," and cyber attacks "against regime critics intensifying," said the report's co-editor Sanja Kelly on Monday at a panel hosted by the World Affairs Council. Alex Fowler of Mozilla, also on the panel, noted that as we celebrate the advent of Twitter, Facebook, and Google in spurring discussions of protest, "those things are centralizing information about individuals" that create "a lot of new risks."

Electronic Frontier Foundation's International Director Gwen Hinze says a company based in a more free internet country like the US can't really get around censorship rules in countries with tighter controls. She notes that expansions in US laws on wiretapping and invasion of privacy can set a bad precedent for countries around the world.

Fowler, Hinze, and Yahoo!'s Ebele Okobi-Harris add that while internet and telecom companies are bound by the laws of the countries they operate in, there are ways in which they can prevent a bad situation from getting worse: stepping up consumer protection measures by alerting users when their information is requested by authorities.

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