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Pelosi Returns as House Speaker to Face Trump Challenge

CAPITOL HILL , (Katherine Gypson-VOANEWS).- Nancy Pelosi swore the oath securing her status as the most powerful woman in U.S. political history Thursday, beginning a new era of divided government in the United States and setting up a formidable political rivalry with President Donald Trump.

Pelosi's historic second turn leading a Democratic majority as the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives marks only the second time in the last half century a speaker has returned to serve in that position.

Pelosi's continued ability to navigate the challenges of being a woman in politics — and still the only female House speaker — will inform her approach as she turns to the immediate crisis of ending a partial government shutdown.

House Democrats passed a package of six spending bills that would end the partial government shutdown by fully funding most of the impacted government agencies through Sept. 30. A separate bill funding the Department of Homeland Security — the agency that would oversee money for a U.S.-Mexico border wall — would be funded through Feb. 8.

But the U.S. Senate is unlikely to pass the House proposal, placing Pelosi in a difficult position early in her speakership. She has been adamant she will not provide Trump's requested $5.6 billion in funding for a wall the president insists is necessary to secure the southern border and prevent the flow of undocumented immigrants into the United States.

"The President is using the government shutdown to try to force an expensive and ineffective wall upon the American people," she said in a statement earlier this week. But the president said Democrats are playing politics with the battle over border security.

Trump tweeted Thursday about Democrats and the shutdown:

Tuit de Donald Trump


The government shutdown debate marks the first time Trump has faced an opposition party in power, following two years of complete Republican control of government.

Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics, said the televised Oval Office meeting between Trump, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer last month debating border security funding provided a preview of how the new House speaker will interact with the president.

Trump said Pelosi was not in a position to negotiate on border security because of her need to secure the upcoming vote for House speaker. She replied, "Mr. President, please don't characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory."

Walsh said Pelosi's approach "openly challenged" the president but did so in such a way that was "strong, clear and civil."

Pelosi secured the votes needed to win the speakership shortly afterward, but she continues to face a challenge from some members of her party who want to see Democrats take a more progressive approach.

Impeachment question

The new House speaker has also been careful to tamp down discussions of impeaching Trump while supporting House committee investigations that plan to oversee the president's business activities and contacts with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.

But in an interview with NBC Thursday, Pelosi said, "We shouldn't be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn't avoid impeachment for a political reason."

Pelosi faces a delicate balancing act in the coming months, a challenge Walsh says she is well-prepared to face because of her previous turn as House speaker.

"She comes to the table with tremendous experience," Walsh said. "I think in many ways, she has been acknowledged as one of the greats, one of the most successful speakers we have seen."

Past successes

Walsh cites Pelosi's work uniting her caucus in 2010 to pass the Affordable Care Act, one of President Barack Obama's signature legislative achievements. Pelosi has also faced numerous political challenges from the Republican Party, which often singles her out as the extreme liberal face of the Democratic Party.

Pelosi is familiar with the challenges of political life. Her father was a Democratic congressman and a mayor of Baltimore, but Pelosi didn't go into politics until later in life, after having children.

"I am particularly proud to be the woman speaker of the House of this Congress, which marks 100 years of women having the right to vote," Pelosi said in remarks upon assuming the position of speaker of the House.

Pelosi will lead a Congress with a record number of female representatives, while facing a president who has been criticized for his treatment of women. The accusations of sexual assault levied against Trump, his administration's policies on reproductive rights and his appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was also accused of sexual assault, has sparked protests across the country.

Pelosi's appointment as speaker places her in the high-profile position of being the most powerful woman in the country to oppose him.

The new House speaker has never shied away from highlighting women's issues. She marked her first time in the speaker's chair in 2007, surrounded by her grandchildren and the children of members of Congress.

"She does talk about gender. She doesn't say it's been very hard for me because I'm a woman, but she talks about the difference women make when they're in office, why it's important to have them there. And she has a tremendous gender consciousness around policy issues," Walsh said.

But this time, her assumption of the speaker's chair will be different. As part of the deal to secure the votes for her nomination as speaker, the 78-year-old Pelosi agreed to a term limits deal that would cap her time in the nation's third-ranking political position at four years.

"Nancy Pelosi is one tough cookie wrapped in a package that looks like a nice lady," Walsh said. "Very poised, very gracious, with a spine of steel. And if you underestimate her — you do so at your own peril."

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Rough Guides Announces Top Places to Visit in 2019

ZETA.- "From newly minted national parks to one-off experiences, emerging destinations and old favourites with a new spin, these are the places we're excited to explore in 2019."

The list comprises 8 top towns and cities, 6 top regions, and 5 top countries. Below is a selection of the Rough Guides picks:

Top towns/cities

1. Durban, South Africa

Durban’s subtropical climate has long made it a favoured beach resort for the residents of Johannesburg, Natal and the rest of South Africa. British Airways now fly direct from London, and with the 40th international film festival happening in 2019, this is a great year to go.

2. Dungeness, UK

While Britain ties itself in knots on the issue of our continued relationship with the EU, it might be time to remind ourselves of some of the good things about this green and pleasant land. There’s lots to do here at any time - hop on the pint-sized Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway<>, visit the garden of filmmaker and artist Derek Jarman, and stop for some excellent seafood at famous Pilot Inn – but 2019 is a special year to visit as it’s the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Europe. Dungeness was a key site in Operation Pluto, delivering 700,000,000 litres of fuel to mainland Europe<> via pipeline in one of the greatest feats of engineering of the Second World War.

3. Tromsø, Norway

Iceland is busier than ever, so if you want to see the Northern Lights, you are better off heading to Tromsø, where they can be seen just as clearly. Tromsø is also one of Norway’s top culture hubs and is home to the the striking Arctic Cathedral, the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum and Polaria, a museum dedicated to all things arctic.

Top regions

1. Yúnnán, China

If you want to explore China beyond the well-trodden route from Beijing to Shanghai, Yúnnán is a great place to start. The region is famous for its tea and flowers, as well as the Unesco-listed wooden city of Lijiang, and is now more accessible than ever - new motorways and budget airlines make it easy to criss-cross the province, while walkers and cyclists – and river cruisers – can enjoy the sights at a slower pace.

2. Iberá Wetlands, Argentina

This conservation area comprising tropical swamps, marshes, and lagoons is home to a plethora of animal species, ranging from capybaras and caimans to armadillos and over 380 different species of birds. With poaching having almost decimated the area of its natural wildlife at one point, efforts by the Conservation Land Trust have paid off, with the area having newly reached National Park status from December 2018. And why not time your visit to with the total solar eclipse? It will be visible in certain parts of the country including Buenos Aires (but not the Iberá Wetlands themselves) on 2 July, 2019.

3. Reeks District, Ireland

Kerry<> has been on the tourism map for so long, it’s easy to be jaded about the region’s beauty. The spectacular MacGillycuddy’s Reeks refresh the brand by taking you inside that postcard scenery. Drive, walk, hike, climb, bike, kayak or sail around the mountains and lakes of this rugged landscape encircled by the Ring of Kerry.

Top countries

1. Rwanda

Rwanda is emerging as an exciting destination for 2019, not least for visitors looking to see gorillas in the wild. And catching a glimpse of these kings of the jungle is now even easier, with new luxury lodges are having recently opened up in the area. But don’t overlook the capital, Kigali, which is emerging as an exciting, modern city containing trendy coffee shops and contemporary art galleries, but retains its traditional heritage, with traditional crafts, lively markets, and an exciting music scene.

2. Kyrgyzstan

Joanna Lumley’s 2018 ITV series has put the Silk Road back on the map and of all the countries featured, Kyrgyzstan remains one of the most undiscovered. Bordered by Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and China, it is at the very centre of Central Asia.

3. Panama

Built on a strategic squeeze point between North and South America, Panama is a meeting point for people from all over the world. The US only handed back the Canal Zone in 1999, making this Central American country arguably one of the world’s newest. And there’s plenty to see here - the Casco Viejo or Old Town is a Unesco World Heritage site. The old churches and palaces form a sharp contrast to the skyscraper skyline of modern Panama City, and picturesque ruins have been revived with Unesco’s help, and turned into coffee bars, galleries, boutiques and nightclubs.

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How do workers compete with machines in the near future?


Many of today's jobs did not exist 10 years ago. And a decade from now, technology's march will likely replace many jobs of today.

Jennail Chavez, 25, said it was a mid-life crisis that brought her to a noisy classroom where sounds of hammering and sawing surrounded her. She was working at a warehouse and wanted to do something more rewarding. She found her answer back at school. After completing a two-year program at the Los Angles Trade Technical College, Chavez plans to be a general contractor. As a person who loves working with her hands, choosing a career in a male-dominated profession did not intimidate her.

"I need a trade to match my personality and why not come into construction," said Chavez.

But Chavez realized what she is learning to do may soon be replaced by machines.

"I actually came across a 3-D printer that actually built houses, and I was like 'no, I'm actually in the industry to start building houses. What am I going to do?"

"Re-skilling is an essential part of so much of the economy right now," said Laurence Frank, president of the Los Angeles Trade Technical College. He said workers constantly have to learn new skills to keep up with advancing technology.

Jacob Portillo is well aware of the need to keep up. He recently graduated from a program that trained him to work on diesel trucks, and already has had to adapt to changes in brake systems.

"Every year that passes by it evolves into something different, something new. Just keep learning and keep evolving along with the field," Portillo said, who has found a good paying job working on trucks.

Jobs that require critical thinking will be hard to replace with robots. "Plumbers, people that work as electricians, where there has to be constant problem solving, constant decision making - those jobs are pretty secure," Frank said.

Soft skills such as communication, time management and teamwork will also help workers stay employed in the future.

"So, are we teaching people to be good communicators? Are we teaching people to work in teams? At secondary or post-secondary level? Are we teaching people to synthesize and analyze," asked Jane Oates, president of Working Nation, a campaign to help American workers prepare for future jobs.

Oates said many high schools and universities in the United States are not keeping up with the pace of technology to prepare students. "They're teaching things that are antiquated because that's what they have the professors to do," Oates said, suggesting schools hire faculty from industry and develop apprenticeships with industry professionals.

"In the 21st century, you are not ever going to be done learning and adapting and figuring out how you fit into the new paradigm," said Oates.

After graduating from trade school, Jennail Chavez said she plans on working for a few years before returning to school to learn how to work with electric and solar power.

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Ukraine fears breakout offensive as Russia breaks 'New Year’s Truce'

MOSCOW, (JAMMIE DETTMER-VOANEWS).- Ukrainian officials are warning that Russia may be about to escalate its conflict with Ukraine, including possibly launching a breakout offensive from Crimea.

And they accuse Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region of violating the latest cease-fire — dubbed a “New Year’s Truce”— by attacking Ukrainian positions with a heavy-caliber weapon banned under the Minsk peace agreements.

An increasing number of Russian military convoys have been spotted moving toward the border between Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014, and Ukrainian-held territory, and there have been ominous fighter-jet redeployments to Crimean airfields, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.

“Russia continues to build up and prepare its military forces for possible offensive operations against Ukraine from the Crimean peninsula and the East,” the institute has reported. It says Russia could conduct such operations on short notice.

Analysts say the movements are threatening, but they are divided over the intent, with some suggesting President Vladimir Putin is keeping the West guessing.

“The data suggests that Putin is preparing to attack, although alternative interpretations are possible,” the institute said.

“The unpredictability is the point,” a senior European defense official told VOA. “Putin is testing Ukraine and the West to see if he’ll be checked, to see what he can get away with, and maybe with an eye to securing another summit early this year with [U.S. President] Donald Trump,” he added.

The Russian leader issued New Year greetings to dozens of global leaders on Sunday, including Trump, saying relations between the U.S. and Russia are the key to “ensuring strategic stability and international security.” Putin added that Russia is “open to dialogue with the United States on the most extensive agenda.”

With tensions running high between Ukraine and Russia after Russian coastal forces seized three Ukrainian vessels on Nov. 25 — a tugboat and two patrol boats — in international waters in the Black Sea near Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Crimea peninsula, fears are mounting in Kyiv of another major confrontation.

The press service of the Joint Forces Operation, the military command structure overseeing Ukraine’s defense against the Russian-led military intervention in eastern Ukraine, said Ukrainian positions near Novotashkivsk were struck by 120 millimeter mortar rounds Monday night.

Weapons with calibers of more than 100mm are banned under the 2015 Minsk II agreement from a 50-kilometer zone running along the front line between Ukrainian and Russian-led forces in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.

Russian-led forces shelled Ukrainian positions also near the port city of Mariupol with 82mm mortars, the press service said.

A former adviser to Putin, Andrey Illarionov, now one of the Russian leader’s most strident critics, warned last month that Moscow is ready to deploy special forces to seize a vital Communist-era canal that used to provide 85 percent of Crimea’s fresh water before Ukraine blocked it in 2014. He says the peninsula will face a severe water shortage in the summer, impacting farms and factories, as well as households.

llarionov told the Kyiv Post he believes the West has inadvertently given Moscow the green light for further adventurism by failing to sanction Russia for the November incident in the Azov Sea when Russian coastal forces rammed, fired upon and seized three small Ukrainian vessels.

“Putin [thinks he] has nothing to lose. We’ve seen since the Azov Sea incident that the West has not imposed any serious penalties.”

In recent weeks, Russian news outlets have published articles about water shortages on the Crimean peninsula, as well as about Russian military exercises taking place near the narrow land corridor linking Crimea to Ukraine’s Kherson region.

Among the Russian military movements being observed by Kyiv and Western powers are the redeployments of fighter jets. Just before Christmas, Reuters reported more than a dozen Su-27 and Su-30 fighter jets were relocated to Belbek Airbase near Sevastopol from Krymsk airfield in Krasnodar Territory.

The redeployments and military build up is alarming the former commander of U.S. Army Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who retired last year from active service. The Russia government is seeking to redraw the borders more, he fears. In an interview with the Military Times newspaper Monday, Hodges said, unless there’s greater Western pushback, “they won’t stop until they completely own the Sea of Azov and have choked out Ukraine’s very important seaport of Mariupol.”

“The next phase will probably be land and sea operations that would eventually secure maybe even Mariupol but continue to take the Ukrainian coastline and connect Crimea back up to Russia along the Sea of Azov,” Hodges said. “It’s not going to happen in the next six months, but this is the direction they’re taking until they completely own the Black Sea and they’ve isolated Ukraine,” he added.

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Cross-strait ties depend on 'Four Musts' from China: president

TAIPEI, (CNA).- President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Tuesday proposed for the first time the "Four Musts" as the basis for moving relations between Taiwan and China in a positive direction, and she vowed to establish mechanisms to safeguard Taiwan's national security.

China must recognize the existence of the Republic of China (Taiwan), respect the values of democracy and freedom Taiwan's 23 million people hold dear, resolve cross-Taiwan Strait differences in a peaceful and equitable manner, and sit down with the government of Taiwan or an institution with a mandate from the government, Tsai said.

"These 'Four Musts' are the vital bases for positive development of cross-strait relations," Tsai said in a New Year's Day speech Tuesday.

New Year's Day speeches have been a tradition for presidents in Taiwan, but this was Tsai's first speech given at the beginning of a new year since taking office in May 2016.

The new formula appeared to be an attempt by Tsai to create a new starting point for relations with China, which have been at a standstill during Tsai's administration because of Beijing's decision to cut off all official communication with her administration.

It came a day before Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is to give a speech on the 40th anniversary of a statement China first issued in 1979 that called for ending military confrontation with Taiwan and the opening of talks with Taiwan on expanding cross-strait exchanges.

Tsai dismissed the view that the elections for local government offices on Nov. 24, 2018, in which her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered a heavy defeat, were a rejection of her administration's cross-strait policy centered on Taiwan's sovereignty.

The DPP administration was put to a severe test during the elections, but "I have to emphasize that the election results definitely did not mean that Taiwan's people intend to give up our sovereignty or to make concessions on our national autonomy," Tsai said.

The drastic shift in the local political landscape after the elections has led the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) to push for cross-strait exchanges at the local government level based on the "1992 consensus," a format endorsing the "one China" principle that the Tsai administration has firmly rejected.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), who narrowly won his bid for re-election, also reiterated his advocacy that "the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family" at a Taipei-Shanghai forum held in December.

Apparently referring to those positions, Tsai said her administration was not opposed to normal interactions or city-to-city exchanges between Taiwan and China.

Such exchanges, however, will require the two sides to have a more realistic understanding of each other, including of the fundamental differences in their values, ways of life, and political systems, so they can interact with each other in a healthy and normal manner, Tsai said.

"Healthy and normal cross-strait relations cannot be achieved by relying on ambiguously phrased political preconditions or passwords that Taiwan is forced to accept," she said.

Before durable relations with China can be established, Taiwan must face up to the increasing risks and threats China poses to its national security and tackle those challenges, Tsai said.

China has been taking advantage of the openness and freedom of Taiwan's democratic system to intervene in its politics and society's development, but her administration will establish mechanisms on three fronts to ward off the threats, the president said.

The first is to protect the livelihoods of Taiwan's people, Tsai said, reiterating the repeated her administration's insistence on China providing Taiwan with up-to-date information on the spread of African swine fever in its country.

If China is not even willing to cooperate with Taiwan on preventing the outbreak of the disease, "how can one say that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family?" Tsai said.

Second, in addition to enhancing Taiwan's national defense capability, the government will devise strategies to guard Taiwan against China's information warfare aimed at manipulating its democracy through various means, including spreading disinformation, she said.

The third is to strengthen oversight and regulatory mechanisms for cross-strait interactions on issues that could compromise Taiwan's sovereignty so as to consolidate its democracy, Tsai said.

"We are a democratic nation. Any issues of a political nature should not be forced upon us unilaterally," Tsai said. "Political dialogue between the two sides should involve the participation of Taiwan's people and should be conducted under their supervision."

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)

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Tsai Ing-wen