U.S. Officials Find Melamine in Infant Formula

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By Genevieve Long
additional reporting by Mimi Li

Following more than two months of increasingly strained relations between China and the U.S. over food safety issues, the U.S. government has found melamine in U.S.-manufactured infant formula. According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found melamine, an industrial polymer that has sickened and killed infants in China in recent months, in unnamed brands of infant formula.

It is not clear when the FDA found what has been characterized as a “trace level” of melamine in the infant formula. It is also not clear why the information was released at this point.

Earlier this month, during a press conference announcing the opening of three FDA inspection offices in China, FDA officials were caught by surprise when their Chinese counterparts said they would also send their own inspectors to the U.S.

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State Governments Continue to Sound Melamine Contamination Alarm

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By Genevieve Long

Widespread problems with milk and milk-related food products from China contaminated with melamine have prompted state governments to search local stores for contaminated products. Since mid-September, six U.S. states have found and removed melamine-contaminated products from store shelves.

The impetus was the fact that more than 53,000 babies in China were hospitalized in September after ingesting milk containing a melamine additive.

Melamine is an industrial polymer typically used in floor tiling, kitchenware, filters, and fire retardants. Melamine’s high nitrogen content imitates protein when tested in food products that have been diluted to increase volume and profit, such as watered-down milk.

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State Governments Continue to Sound Melamine Contamination Alarm

By Genevieve Long & Mimi Li
Epoch Times Staff

Widespread problems with milk and milk-related food products from China contaminated with melamine have prompted state governments to search local stores for contaminated products. Since mid-September, six U.S. states have found and removed melamine-contaminated products from store shelves.
The impetus was the fact that more than 53,000 babies in China were hospitalized in September after ingesting milk containing a melamine additive.
Melamine is an industrial poly¬mer typically used in floor tiling, kitchenware, filters, and fire retard¬ants. Melamine’s high nitrogen content imitates protein when tested in food products that have been diluted to increase volume and profit, such as watered-down milk.
On Nov. 12, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an import alert that all milk and milk-derived products from China will be held and tested for melamine.
Products are being detained at border entry points until they have been tested by third-party laboratories. The alert does not ret¬roactively recall products imported from China that arrived on shelves in the U.S. before Nov. 12.
Several state-level governments, which typically work in concert with the FDA on food-safety issues, have found and recalled contaminated products. These states include Vermont, Connecticut, Georgia, Ala¬bama, and Wisconsin. Minnesota was the most recent state to find melamine-contaminated cookies on their shelves.
Another contaminated product, Sherwood Brands Fools Gold chocolate coins, was recalled in Canada, but there was no recall in the U.S. However, the state of Vermont issued an advisory to state residents to be cautious of the product.

Hawai’ian ‘Beach Boys’ Keep Spirit of Aloha Alive

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HONOLULU, HI—If you visit Waikiki beach in Honolulu in search of a place to surf, you’re likely to see a statue of an imposing, yet friendly man—Duke Kahanamoku—the most well known surfer in the world.

Although Duke passed away in 1968, his statue is always laden with piles of leis (flower garlands) left by respectful visitors. The statue marks a location where surfing history was made by Duke and other beach boys, culture was passed down, and young generations of surfers learned the traditions of surfing and the Hawai’ian spirit of Aloha.

The original beach boys in the 1940s provided beach services in front of the only two hotels at the time, the Moana Surfrider and the Royal Hawai’ian. The arrangement with the hotels were unofficial—the men would do everything from bringing guests towels to giving them surfing lessons—with no set fee. Modern beach boys are more official, with licensed beach stands and instructors.

One of the few remaining beach boys of the older generation, Gabby Kanahele, still surfs the gentle, warm break at Waikiki every morning and works as an instructor at the Star Beach Boys stand, where he rents equipment for lessons he gives. At age 75, Kanahele has been surfing since he was a young teenager and doesn’t show any signs of stopping soon.

“I started surfing in summer of 1946,” recalls Kanahele. “I worked as a beach boy at beach concessions, in the summer of 1954. In those times when we were growing up and learning more of the things to do…I was thinking back to the original beach boys that we were fortunate to hang out with.”

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Costa Rica Key Stop for Chinese President on Trip to Region

By Genevieve Long

A trip this week by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Costa Rica further cemented the two countries’ burgeoning diplomatic and economic relationship. Hu stopped in the Central American nation to meet with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias for 24 hours on Nov. 17 during a whirlwind trip that included Cuba and Peru.

In June, 2007, Costa Rica became the first and only country in Central America to break a decades-long relationship with Taiwan in favor of China. China does not recognize Taiwan’s status as an independent nation, and is lobbying other countries in the region to abandon diplomatic and economic ties with the island nation.

Some items topping the agenda during Hu’s trip to Costa Rica included finalizing plans to financially support an oil refinery in Móin and a new national stadium in La Sabana Park near the national capitol of San Jose. The two presidents signed a total of 11 agreements on free trade, education, and energy.

China promised an additional $10 million to construct the new stadium in La Sabana Park. Destruction of the old stadium began in May, 2007, but rebuilding has yet to begin. The estimated cost is $83 million, and construction workers are expected to be imported from China.

Hu and Arias also announced that their nations would begin negotiations on a free trade agreement on Jan. 19 in San Jose. A start date for negotiations of the agreement was a key item that was up for discussion.

The agreement could face adversaries, though. The hotly contested Tratado de Libre de Comercio (TLC)—free trade agreement with the United States, Central America and the Dominican Republic—went to a final vote in the national assembly just days before the visit from China.

The ties between the two countries are already bound largely by money. By the reckoning of a September, 2008 report by the think tank the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, D.C., Chinese imports from Costa Rica exceed $1 billion annually.

According to an English-language newspaper in Cost Rica, The Tico Times, The China National Petroleum Corporation will also help Costa Rica expand its oil refinery at a cost of $1 billion between the two countries.

Confucius Institute

Among agreements made during the visit, it was also announced that The University of Costa Rica will also house a Confucius Institute, billed as a way to spread Chinese language and culture. There have been widespread concerns about Confucius Institutes established universities in other countries.

Confucius Institutes are considered to be similar to France’s Alliance Francais and Germany’s Goethe Institutes in the way they are government funded and organised to promote language and culture but according to Australia’s Adelaide University academics, Professor Purnendra Jain and Dr. Gerry Groot, there are distinct differences.

“Those European organizations… locate their offices in normal commercial locations wherever their governments can rent appropriate space,” they write on Asia Times online. “There is no attempt to integrate them into their host societies via institutional link-ups.”

“In contrast, the Confucius Institutes are being incorporated into leading universities and colleges around the world as well as being linked to China not only by their Hanban [Chinese Office for language] connections, but also by supportive twinning arrangements with key Chinese universities,” they said.

This would be totally inappropriate she said as “it would be more difficult for academics to maintain their freedom and independence.”

Professor Chey said there were many others that shared her concerns about Beijing’s use of “soft power” or persuasive means to influence regional perceptions of it.

“They [the Chinese] are in a more sophisticated way using trade, aid and cultural exchanges of one kind and another to influence public opinion around the world to create an atmosphere which makes it easier to achieve their political objectives,” she said, “and the establishment of Confucius institutes is part of that international campaign.”

Joshua Kurlantzick author of the book China’s Charm: Implications of Chinese Soft Power said China was downplaying its military power (hard power) while highlighting its “soft power” in different regions. This “could be disastrous for…democratization, for anticorruption initiatives, and for good governance.”

With additional reporting by Shar Adams.

All Chinese Imports with Milk Stopped at U.S. Border

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By Genevieve Long

In a rare move, the U.S. government is halting the import of all milk and milk-derived products from China. The move comes nearly two months after a scandal over contaminated infant formula broke in China. Over 53,000 Chinese babies were sickened by infant formula poisoned with melamine, an industrial polymer not meant for human consumption.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), melamine and melamine-analogs have been detected in a large number of products coming from China. Cyanuric acid, which forms a toxic compound when coupled with melamine, has also been detected in various products. Over 50 milk or milk-derived products, milk derived ingredients, and finished food products containing milk are now flagged by the FDA for possible melamine and cyanuric acid contamination. The list of products includes candy, beverages, bakery products, and baby food.

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‘Soul Men’ Producer Reminisces About Bernie Mac

By Genevieve Long

In a new comedy due out this weekend, moviegoers will get a chance to see Bernie Mac for the first time on the silver screen following his untimely death, as well as a comedy with heart. Mac passed away from complications from pneumonia on Aug. 9.

The movie Soul Men tells the story of two former backup soul singers, Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) and Floyd (Bernie Mac) who haven’t spoken in 20 years.

After their former group’s lead singer (John Legend) dies, they are called on to do a tribute performance at the Apollo Theater in New York. Since Jackson’s character hates to fly, a cross-country road trip from California ensues. Along the way to their final destination, the two men discover that their friendship is stronger than an old grudge that has festered between the for two decades. They are eventually joined by a third singer, Cleo (Sharon Leal), who seems to be Floyd’s daughter.

Producer Charles Castaldi, who also worked with the movie’s director Malcolm Lee on “Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins,” recently sat down to share his insights on the film. He says they initially only wanted the project if Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac were available, who the movie seemed to be tailor-made for.

“It was amazing,” said Castaldi of working with Mac and Jackson. “Having the two of them around and seeing them riff with each other, we thought, ‘Wow, if we can get this chemistry on the screen, it’s going to be great.’” After the movie’s New York premiere earlier this month, he thinks they accomplished just that.

Castaldi describes Mac as a low-key, personable family man who had not let fame go to his head. He liked to be with his family and play golf, and lacked the trappings of the typical Hollywood star.

“To see Bernie at work is just incredible, because the guy is just a natural,” said Castaldi. “Each time he did a take he’d have a different curveball to throw at us, and one was funnier than the next.”  In fact, a lot of what Mac does in the movie is what he came up with himself, something that Castaldi says was a result of his professional background.

“He just has that incredible ability because of his experience in standup to just get up there and try different things, and it was just a joy to watch him work,” said Castaldi. “Bernie is coming from the comedy side of things and from standup, he’s just riffing even when the camera is not on.”

Hidden Talents

Aside from comedy, there is also an artistic element to the movie—all of the singing and dancing is done by the actors—a fact Castaldi says initially made him and director Malcolm Lee nervous. But their fears were unfounded.

“The first time we went into the recording studio we thought, ‘They really can sing.’ It turns out also that they can dance,” said Castaldi. “We were off the hook.”

The contrast between Jackson and Mac in their approach was a combination that worked in the end, although Mac was more off-the-cuff than Jackson, who has been described as a method actor.

The movie’s director put together a tribute to both actors at the end of the movie, including outtakes of a “very x-rated standup routine” by Mac, who did an impromptu standup routine for 1,000 extras when the cameras weren’t rolling for the film. Castaldi says the comedian had the extras, “In stitches, it was hilarious.”

“He just can’t help but entertain an audience—that’s what he felt he was born to do,” said Castaldi of the man and his many routines throughout the filming of the movie. He’s confident that if the comedian were still alive, he’d be satisfied with the project.

“I know if he had to go out on something, he wanted it to be something good, and I think we did [something good],” says Castaldi.

The Hair Meeting

One of the funnier behind-the-scenes moments while shooting the movie came during the “hair meeting.” The film opens with a montage of performances from different eras of the fictitious band the story is centered around—Marcus Hooks and the Real Deal. The montage includes soul music, clothes, and hairstyles from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, which required a special meeting.

“We had this incredibly long hair meeting to try to decide how big the afros should be, how small Sam’s cornrows should be,” recalls Castaldi laughingly. “Bernie and Sam [were] just constantly chattering with each other and just cracking us up. You got the two of them in the room together and they were just hilarious.”

The meeting, scheduled for three hours, ended up taking almost an entire day. The actors had to adapt to the different eras not just in their costumes, but in their personas, a feat Mac accomplished with ease. But the colorful nature of the movie is not necessarily for the family crowd, though.

“Bernie was known for pushing the comedic envelope and doing things that were not exactly PG, if you will—or PC,” said Castaldi. “That’s very much what this movie is about.”

The R-rated nature of the movie was in great part because it suited the actors and the characters they were depicting to make the story ring true.

“It’s musicians on the road, these aren’t choir boys on the road,” said Castaldi.
Jackson and Mac had wanted to find something to work on together, but had never found the right project. “Soul Men” was the just what they had been looking for.

Isaac Hayes and the Apollo Theater

Isaac Hayes, who also appears in the movie, passed away one day after Bernie Mac this past August. The famed soul singer introduces the fictitious group at the end of the movie. Hayes’s role blends well the movie’s soundtrack, modeled after the sound of Stacks Records, where he did much of his early recording. The Stacks sound is the musical heart of the movie. His role also lends an air of reality to the finale performance at the Apollo Theater.

“We blur the lines between fiction and reality,” says Castaldi of Hayes’s role introducing the band at the end of the movie.

Much of the movie was shot on location, from California to the Midwest, the East Coast, Memphis, Shreveport, and other locales. The travels of the cast lend the feel of a real road trip to the final product.

With the last stop at the Apollo Theater in New York, the line between fiction and reality blurs again. While filming, a marquee sign set up at the Apollo stating “Marcus Hooks and The Real Deal” confused some passerby on Harlem’s 125th Street, who stopped and tried to figure out if they knew the singer and band.

Castaldi admits that many people may go to see the movie out of an interest in seeing Bernie Mac’s last work and to say their goodbyes. But in the end, he’s confident that audiences will enjoy the story.

“Once they’re in the movie theater and the lights go down and the movie starts playing, they’ll have a good time,” says Castaldi.