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.

How Bad Is Climate Change for Your Lungs?

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 4:16 PM EDT

A new study puts a hefty price tag on climate change by linking it to the air you breathe. The report, published yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists, concludes that CO2-induced temperature increases will worsen ground-level ozone concentrations (the kind coming from power plants and exhaust pipes, not the kind that shields the Earth from UV rays). Higher concentrations of ground-level ozone threaten the health of millions of Americans, an impact that could cost the US $5.4 billion in 2020. If that's not compelling enough, here's what the study's findings mean for you:  

  • If you live in the following states: California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Virginia topped the list of most vulnerable populations under the projected ozone concentration increase of 2 parts per billion per 1 degree of temperature increase.
  • If you have asthma: Higher ground-level ozone concentrations could lead to 2.8 million additional occurrences of asthma attacks, shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest pains in 2020 compared to today.
  • If you go to school: Many schools already prevent students from going outside and cancel sports games due to poor air quality. UCS projects that in 2020 higher ozone concentrations could lead to 944,000 more school absences than today.
  • If you're older than 65 or younger than 1: In 2050, an average of 24,000 more seniors and 5,700 more infants than today could be hospitalized for respiratory problems linked to air quality.

If you're an athlete, work outdoors, or live in a low-income community or in any of the 322 counties that do not meet the current national ozone standard, then you're also at high risk. And if you're a farmer, ozone pollution in rural areas may also lower your crop yields.

So what to do? There's the obvious, like riding a bike or taking mass transit instead of driving. Also, you could avoid mowing your lawn on bad ozone days. In late July, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce a stronger ozone standard as well as new proposed rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. But the EPA has already delayed tightening its ozone standards three times, and now the coal power plant industry and related labor unions are lobbying Congress to delay the air pollution rules. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Kent.), and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who have previously tried to reverse the EPA's ability to regulate air pollution under the Clean Air Act, have asked the EPA to delay or abandon the rules.

In any case, it might all be too little, too late. The majority of states in the US consistently violate the EPA's existing limit on ozone concentration. And there is virtually no entity that sets standards these issues at the county and state levels, report co-author Jerome Paulson said in a press conference call. He adds that "there are essentially no national level recommendations," either, because none of the federal agencies have the authority to legally mandate them.

This summer, says UCS public health expert Liz Perera, nearly 50 percent of Americans will breathe air with unsafe ozone levels. The figure will probably increase with time, since hotter temperatures could easily mean higher demand for air conditioners and more demand for electricity during summer months, thus resulting in more emissions from fossil-fueled power plants. 

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Asobi Seksu: Music for Space Travel?

| Mon May 30, 2011 6:20 AM EDT
Asobi Seksu in Nottingham

You could call it dream pop. Or shoegazing. Music you could fall asleep to. Asobi Seksu lead singer Yuki Chikudate's soft-soprano voice transcends time and space, channeling tones that compel you "to turn off all the lights, put some candles on, and drift into heaven." Layer that with the ebb and flow of rolling drums, heavy guitar riffs, and adorn it with the jingles of a tamborine, and you get what drummer Larry Gorman calls "a big sonic expression." If supernovas made noise, this would come pretty close.

Asobi Seksu (Japanese for "playful sex") doesn't fit squarely into a single genre, and so it ends up being described by phrases rather than single adjectives: "a hyper-stylized and glitzy graphic design sense," for example. And despite the band's name, Chikudate's lineage, and her tendency to sing in Japanese, Asobi Seksu isn't quite the Shibuya import that some like to label it. Many of the band's biggest influences hail from places closer to its Brooklyn home, from Yo La Tengo (Hoboken, NJ) and Sonic Youth (NYC) to Tom Waits (Pomona) and The Beach Boys (So. Cal.). Which makes sense, considering Chikudate grew up in Los Angeles and has lived in the Big Apple since she was 16—not to mention Gorman's lifelong affection for the late punk-and-blues haven, CBGB.

Tonight, the band returns to San Francisco's Bottom of the Hill for an encore show as it tours in support of its latest (well-received) album, Fluorescence. In the clip below, Chikudate (with Gorman) tells me about learning to sing, moving to New York, and why you should never say "asobi seksu" to a Japanese person.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

NOAA's Gamble on the Bluefin Tuna

| Fri May 27, 2011 6:37 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.

Yelle's Safari Disco Universe

| Mon May 23, 2011 5:36 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 3:54 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

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