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.

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.

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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.

Yikes! Amazon Drought Causing More Carbon Emissions Than US

| Fri Feb. 4, 2011 7:20 PM EST

A new study in Science predicts that last year's drought in the Amazon rainforest, its worst on record, will lead to carbon emissions of about 8 billion metric tons by the end of this year, or 2.6 billion metric tons more than what the United States emitted in 2009. The drought, the study says, created a water deficit that increased tree mortality in three epicenters, hindering the forest's ability to absorb carbon dioxide. (To visualize the scale of the drought, think of rainfall shortages over an area more than seven times that of California.) What's most alarming about the Amazon's droughts, though, is that they're causing carbon-emission levels high enough to probably cancel out the amount of carbon the forest absorbed over the past decade.

As Reuters reports, the study's lead author Simon Lewis, an ecologist at the University of Leeds, warns:

If events like this happen more often, the Amazon rain forest would reach a point where it shifts from being a valuable carbon sink slowing climate change to a major source of greenhouse gases that could speed it up.

Deforestation has already diminished forests' capacity to absorb carbon worldwide; it's responsible for as much as 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. The study's findings mean that now droughts are pushing down forest coverage and quality even further. Translation: Not only are forests getting worse at slowing climate change, they may actually be accelerating it.

Lewis notes that more research is needed to determine whether the Amazon drought was the result of more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or if it was simply a climate anomaly. But even if we're not causing the decline of the Amazon through emitting greenhouse gases, humans have already made a broad and profound physical impact on land quality. The NASA graphic from 2003 (below) depicts the intensity of human environmental footprint around the world, based on population density, land transformation, human access, and power infrastructure, measured on a scale from 1 (least influence/dark green) to 100 (most influence/purple):

Center for International Earth Science Information Network/NASACenter for International Earth Science Information Network/NASA

Meet Egypt's Power Brokers

| Thu Feb. 3, 2011 8:00 AM EST

Protesters rage on in Egypt, but who's negotiating its political future behind the scenes? On Sunday, Egypt's political opposition groups formed a 10-person Negotiation Steering Committee that is strategizing to pressure President Hosni Mubarak's regime to step down. Since the protests broke out a week ago, opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei has stated he has the political backing necessary to form a "unity government" and that the committee is capable of "running a smooth transitional period." But there is disagreement over ElBaradei’s leadership among the committee, which represents a wide range of political interests and ideologies. Here's a run-down of the committee members:

1. Mohamed ElBaradei: ElBaradei, the most internationally prominent figure in the Egyptian opposition movement, heads the National Association for Change (NAC), a broad opposition coalition (which includes the Muslim Brotherhood) that emphasizes democratic constitutional reforms. When he was heading the International Atomic Energy Agency, ElBaradei won the Nobel Peace Prize (2005) for his efforts to curb nuclear proliferation. In the 2011 protests ElBaradei, a secular liberal, has emerged as the widely supported choice for Egypt's next president. But his support isn't unanimous: his time abroad has earned him criticisms that he lacks an understanding of Egypt's daily political life.

2. Ayman Nour: As chair of the Ghad ("Tomorrow") Party, Nour leads the liberal-secular faction in Egypt. Nour, a politician and lawyer, has used his platform to call for constitutional reform, limiting presidential powers, and opening up the presidential elections to multiple candidates. He garnered international attention in 2005 when the Mubarak regime sentenced him to prison on charges that he forged documents when setting up the party. His absence left a power vacuum and a subsequent series of internal struggles plagued the party. Nour, released from prison in January 2009 on health grounds, was re-elected as chair last August.

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