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.

In Arctic, Warmer Climate Means More "Beavers Defecating" And Disease

| Fri Mar. 4, 2011 8:00 AM EST
Kivalina, Alaska.

Two new studies by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium report that warmer climates are threatening the Northwest Arctic's food-cooling and water-treatment systems, and posing various food- and waterborne health risks to nearby communities.

According to the studies, two small communities in the region, Kivalina and Point Hope, are experiencing longer warm seasons that cause sanitary water systems to flood, damage "washaterias" (places where people can get clean water to bathe or wash clothes), and worsen algae blooms. In 2004, Kivalina had to close its washateria after the belated freeze-up damaged its leach field system for the winter; during the shut down, the village reported a rise in respiratory and skin diseases. In Point Hope, algae blooms between 2007 and 2008 became so frequent and large in the nearby lake that the village's water that technicians had to clean filters more than a dozen times daily.

Worse, warmer temperatures have meant longer growing seasons, triggering a spike in the number of wood-chewing beavers, which are suspected of contaminating local riverways with solid waste and elevating the risk of giardia, a stomach infection commonly known as "beaver feaver."

"In general, people could drink from [the creeks and rivers] freely," Michael Brubaker, director of the health consortium's Center for Climate and Health, told the Arctic Sounder. "Now they have beavers defecating into the river."

Longer warm seasons also mean shorter periods in which villagers can dry caribou, fish, and seal meat before rotting, the studies say, along with melting ice cellars that usually store raw meat. That can lead to more stomach infections from botulism, salmonella, and E. coli, not to mention the more immediate threat of attracting polar bears close to town as milder temperatures expose the odor of raw meat.

The Arctic's problems are not entirely isolated: Warmer temperatures have resulted in some 10,000 cases of food poisoning in the United Kingdom (PDF) as warmer weather breeds bacteria and other pathogens in meats. And both food regulators and scientists in the US are increasingly concerned about food contamination caused by germs that like heat. In the remote corners of the Arctic, however, where temperature swings can be more dramatic than other regions, the research is only getting started, and funding for adaptation projects has been slow to come. "We can't wait around for 15 or 20 years to make sure people have adequate water and sanitation," Brubaker said.

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Massey Energy Official Busted for Lying and Destroying Evidence

| Tue Mar. 1, 2011 8:01 AM EST

The chief of security at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners were killed last year, was arrested on Monday and accused of lying to the FBI and trying to dispose of key documents—the first criminal charges stemming from the worst mining accident in 40 years. 

The security chief, Hughie Elbert Stover, instructed security guards to notify mine personnel whenever inspectors arrived at the mine, according to the federal indictment. Last month, Stover told federal agents that he would have fired any guard who tipped off workers about inspections. Stover is also charged with instructing an unnamed individual to dispose of mine security documents by placing them in a trash compactor.

It remains unclear whether Stover was acting on his own or at the behest of other managers at Massey, which has racked up more health and safety violations in the past decade than any coal outfit in America. A statement released by Massey yesterday claims that the company notified the US Attorney's office "within hours of learning that documents had been disposed of and took immediate steps to recover documents and turn them over." Still, Stover provided personal security for Don Blankenship and was in frequent contact with the recently-retired CEO, according to the Washington Post:

"He was very, very close to Blankenship," said one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is continuing. "He would drive Blankenship places. He called him 'Mr. B.'"

It's likely that federal agents will offer Stover a plea deal if he testifies against Blankenship, who, along with 14 other Massey workers, including the head of safety and the foreman at the Upper Big Branch mine, have refused to cooperate with the investigation.

That so many Massey employees have kept their mouths shut in the wake of the disaster shouldn't come as a surprise. As Josh reported yesterday in his feature on the coal town of Twilight, Massey exerts a near-feudal grasp in large parts of Appalachia. Many locals are convinced that they must support Massey even as they privately worry that it's ripping their communities apart. As the wife of a deceased coal miner put it, "There ain't no way to go up against them big companies."

What’s Happening With China’s Jasmine Revolution?

| Fri Feb. 25, 2011 3:30 PM EST

Since an anonymous tweet called for peaceful public gatherings in more than a dozen cities across China on February 20, many in and outside the country are offering their two cents about what to make of last Sunday's events, dubbing them the Jasmine Revolution or Jasmine Rallies. The so-called protests didn't escalate beyond the large roaming crowd that formed in front of a McDonald's in Beijing's Wangfujing, a major retail shopping district. But whatever started on Sunday isn't over yet. So, if you've been preoccupied with the protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, and even Wisconsin, read on to get up to speed about what's happening in China. And stay tuned for further updates.

Why is it called the Jasmine Revolution/Rallies? The term borrows from the pro-democracy protests that broke out in Tunisia last month, which some called the Jasmine Revolution, a play on the "color revolutions" that took hold in Eastern Europe in the early 2000s.

How did it begin? The first tweet calling for protests in China seems to have been posted around February 15. According to the Beijing-based technology blogger Jason Ng, the tweet came from the username Shudong, and said that at 2:00 p.m. CET on February 20, "every large city in China would be conducting a Jasmine Revolution, the details of which would later be posted on a certain website." (This anonymous account has since been deleted. China Digital Times has the full post translated into English.) Early Saturday morning, the US-based Chinese news portal Boxun.com received an anonymous report detailing where the protests would take place the next day and published the information. By 9:00 a.m., the site was attacked. Later that night in China tweets with the hashtag #cn220 reposted the Boxun report, alerting journalists and policemen alike.

What actually happened on Sunday in China? Was there a protest? It's hard to say. In Beijing, by most accounts, many people who showed up for the protest were foreign journalists along with uniformed and plainclothes Chinese police. If protesters were present, it was almost impossible to discern them from the usual throng of pedestrians strolling through Wangfujing. (See photos taken from the scene here and here.) Blogger Charles Custer of ChinaGeeks, who arrived at the scene around 1:40 p.m. to see what was happening, noted the ambiguous "revolutionary" atmosphere because even though a dense crowd formed, no one seemed to actually be protesting. Peter Foster's account in The Telegraph largely agrees with this. The crowd grew denser after busloads of police showed up. One video shows Jon Huntsman, the soon-to-resign US ambassador to China, in the masses donning sunglasses. Wall Street Journal reporters at the scene recounted his cameo. (An embassy spokesman later stated that his family happened to be strolling through the area at the time.) Sinocentric and Transpacifica (h/t Alex Pasternack) translated two different accounts by two young Chinese witnesses: In the first account it's clear that some were there to protest but pretended otherwise, and that some even had prepared banners but did not unfurl them; the second one is less explicit. Still, as the New York Times and Time reported over the weekend, a handful of protesters were in fact present, albeit quiet. One person who tried to place a jasmine flower in front of McDonald's was immediately stopped by the police. In the end, at least four suspected protesters were arrested, but there wasn't any violence besides some shoving and pushing. Media also cited heavy police presence in the southern coastal cities of Shanghai, Hangzhou, and other cities, in which smaller crowds gathered.

GOP "Carpet Bombing" of Environmental Protection Continues

| Thu Feb. 17, 2011 3:15 PM EST

To the dismay of environmentalists, religious groups, and citizens nationwide, this week House Republicans (and a handful of Democrats) have been piling on amendments to the temporary government-spending proposal, or Continuing Resolution (CR)—moves that would further undercut regulatory powers for federal agencies with environmental protection duties. (MoJo's Kate Sheppard has more on the CR from last week.)

"This bill isn't mere tinkering with policy, it's carpet bombing some of our nation's most important environmental laws," Kierán Suckling, who heads the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release yesterday. "In crafting this bill, Republicans have created a feeding frenzy for those intent on dismantling laws that for decades have protected our air, water, climate, and wildlife."

Environmental groups aren't the only ones who oppose the amendments. This week the Church World Service stated that the "proposed draconian Congressional cuts" to bilateral and multilateral programs for clean technology, disaster risk reduction, and adaptation funding would "harm American long-term interests by reducing support for programs that promote a more secure and stable world."

Particularly of concern among the 583 amendments are measures that would:

  • Prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating toxic air pollutants, including mercury (No. 201, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-ID)
  • Cut EPA funds for curbing greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons (No. 466, Rep. Ted Poe, R-TX)
  • Interfere with the EPA's ability to limit toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants (No. 407, Rep. Ralph Hall, D-TX)
  • Bar the EPA from setting new health standards limiting coarse air particles (No. 563, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-SD)
  • Reduce the budgets of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service (No. 556, Rep. Steve Pearce, R-NM)
  • Defund the Council on Environmental Quality, which coordinates environmental policy among all federal agencies (No. 202, Rep. Labrador)
  • Prohibit the Environmental Appeals board from reviewing or rejecting permits for off-shore drilling (No. 533, Rep. Don Young, R-AK)
  • Ban any contribution by the United States to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (No. 574, Rep. Pearce)

As a new survey released by the American Lung Association indicates, the public isn't going to be happy about these measures, either. In a memo to the ALA, the pollsters wrote: "A bipartisan 69 percent majority believes that EPA scientists, rather than Congress, should set pollution standards." And even when presented with the argument that EPA regulations will lead to higher gas and electricity prices and ship tens of thousands of American jobs to Asia, 63 percent of respondents said that Congress should not stop the agency from updating air quality standards.

As Massey Goes, Will Its Lawsuits Vanish?

| Wed Feb. 16, 2011 4:00 PM EST

Since two of the biggest US coal companies Massey Energy and Alpha Natural Resources announced their merger on January 29, some reports have speculated that Massey's directors and officers may be using the merger to overcome legal troubles spurred by the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine disaster on April 5, 2010, in which 29 miners died and two were injured.

Last week, the West Virginia Record reported that one shareholder filed a complaint with the Eastern District Court of Virginia, claiming that Massey directors agreed to merge with Alpha in order to "escape lawsuits over the Upper Big Branch mine explosion." An earlier New York Times DealBook report on the merger stated that "the combination is also likely to help Massey move past its legal woes arising from safety violations" like the explosion last April, without detailing how. Are Massey's directors up to fishy business?

Not exactly. Despite the coal giant's abysmal safety and health record, the deal "looks pretty Kosher," says Ehud Kamar, a law professor at the University of Southern California. When a company with liabilities like Massey enters a merger, two types of lawsuits are bound to happen, explains David Berger, a partner specializing in merger litigation at the law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati. The first kind is the wrongful death case, or the lawsuits brought against Massey by families of miners who died in the UBB incident. These lawsuits will proceed uninterrupted by a merger, lawyers say. In this case, Massey exec will remain a defendant in these cases, which, depending on the verdicts, will cost the company between $100 million and $350 million.

The deal between Alpha and Massey appears to be structured as a "standard statutory reverse triangular merger," meaning that if the deal gets the green light from shareholders and regulators, Massey will become a wholly owned Alpha subsidiary, and Alpha will assume not only Massey's assets but also its liabilities, wrongful death suits included. Presumably, when Alpha agreed to pay $7.1 billion to buy out Massey, it had already sized up the potential damages that will result from these claims. "The liabilities are sticky," says Robert Bartlett, assistant professor of law at UC Berkeley. "Someone's going to have to pay for them." In other words, there's no way Massey or Alpha could escape the UBB lawsuits filed by victims' families, even if they wanted to.

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