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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

A more confident China threatens to use military force in Taiwan, holds up Hong Kong as a model

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has issued a new threat to use military force in Taiwan as Beijing intensifies efforts to achieve unification with the self-governing democratic region, holding up Hong Kong as a model for Taipei, Nathan VanderKlippe writes.

In a major address today, Mr. Xi promised economic gifts to Taiwan if it places itself under Beijing’s rule. What China calls “reunification” should happen peacefully and Beijing would protect Taiwan’s freedoms, Mr. Xi said. It was a notion that Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen immediately rejected. In his speech, Mr. Xi reiterated Beijing’s willingness to use its military power in a region it sees as a renegade province.

Opinion: Brahma Chellaney, geostrategist and author, sees China at a crossroads: “China’s rulers, by showing little regard for the rights of smaller countries as they do for their own citizens’ rights, are driving instability in the vast Indo-Pacific region.”

Hong Kong-based journalist Frank Ching writes that this is a year for the world to watch in China: “But 2019 also represents a timely opportunity to examine how modern China has been forged, in many ways, by the historical events that happened in years that end in the number nine.”

Trump pushes for border wall money as top U.S. lawmakers receive briefing

President Donald Trump said U.S. homeland security officials will make a plea for a southern border wall in a White House meeting with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders today, adding that he was open to working on a path to legal status for young illegal immigrants known as Dreamers.

The White House invitation comes after House Democrats released their plan to reopen the government without approving money for a border wall. A partial shutdown was triggered almost two weeks ago by Mr. Trump’s demand for US$5-billion in wall funding.

The border security briefing takes place one day after U.S. authorities fired tear gas into Mexico at migrants who tried to breach the border fence and on the last day that Republicans will control both chambers of Congress. Check back here for the latest as Democrats are sworn in tomorrow and take control of the House of Representatives.

Separately, Mr. Trump swiped back at Mitt Romney, after the Utah senator-elect broadly criticized the President’s policies and character in a newspaper column, arguing that he “has not risen to the mantle of the office.” Mr. Trump’s response on Twitter to the former Republican presidential candidate: “I won big, and he didn’t.”

“Mr. Romney’s criticism of Mr. Trump waxes and wanes according to his own self-interest,” John Ibbitson writes. “But it is significant that he is declaring his independence as a senator from the get-go.”

And Mr. Trump also said today that he had received a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and expected to meet him again soon as part of efforts to press Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program. He told reporters the letter was great and that he would love to read it out loud, but did not do so - so no word on whether they’re still “in love.”

Brazil’s Bolsonaro targets minorities during first day in office

Newly installed President Jair Bolsonaro issued executive orders targeting Brazil’s Indigenous groups, descendants of slaves and the LGBT community in the first hours of his administration, moving quickly after a campaign in which the far-right leader said he would radically overhaul many aspects of life in Latin America’s largest country.

Veterans Affairs skipped normal consultations to introduce new Pensions for Life for disabled vets

Veterans Affairs is being accused of avoiding consultations with veterans after introducing details of its Pensions for Life program, Gloria Galloway writes.

During the first four years of the new pension plan, which will take effect in April, Ottawa will pay about $1.8-billion less, in total, to disabled vets than it would have under programs enacted during the Harper government. And critics say it has gone to some lengths to prevent veterans from having input.

Shuttered Cape Breton call centre reopens under new ownership

A shuttered call centre in Cape Breton has come back to life, weeks after its previous owner abruptly closed the facility and tossed hundreds of people out of work just before the holiday season. Workers filed into the newly minted Sydney Call Centre Inc., the site of the former ServiCom centre that closed without notice on Dec. 6.

Todd Riley, vice-president of operations, said about 275 people were expected to report for work today out of about 465 that have been hired back so far. He said some were so excited to get back to work that they showed up an hour early.

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MARKET WATCH

Canada’s main stock index started the trading year higher in a volatile day that saw the key energy sector get a boost from higher oil prices. The S&P/TSX composite index closed up 24.30 points at 14,347.16.

The roller-coaster ride on Wall Street resumed, as stocks plunged early on, then slowly recovered and finished with a slight gain. Some of last year’s worst performers, including energy and internet companies, led the gains. The Dow Jones industrial average ended the day up 18.78 points at 23,346.24. The S&P 500 index rose 3.18 points to 2,510.03, while the Nasdaq composite advanced 30.66 points to 6,665.94.

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POPULAR WITH READERS

Adaptogens look to be the hot health food in 2019

If you thought we reached peak superfood in 2018, think again, Alex McClintock writes. Wellness-industry insiders say Instagram is driving an increasingly competitive search for new health foods and speeding up the turnover of trends, so if anything, you can expect to see even more exotic ingredients in your smoothies in 2019.

And with the exploding Instagram wellness scene firmly fixated on the idea of food as medicine, it seems like the new year’s biggest ingredients will be those that purport to offer benefits for both mental and physical health.

Leading the pack are so-called “adaptogens,” supplements said to help the body adapt to stress and fatigue. These include plants, herbs and mushrooms used in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, often ground into a powder and added to drinks.

TALKING POINTS

How Trump is shrinking America’s imperialism

“The Iran nuclear deal has been abandoned, as has an arms treaty with Russia. The Afghanistan military commitment has been scaled back. A Syrian troop withdrawal prompted apoplexy. The outrage is understandable, especially given the thimble-sized knowledge base underpinning Mr. Trump’s impulsive decision-making.” - Lawrence Martin

Canada’s ‘unsustainable’ GDP growth is the result of short-term planning

“It took Canada the better part of the past decade to bring a recession-trampled economy back up to full speed. But was that entire recovery an illusion?” - David Parkinson (for subscribers)

Spare me the details of your Dry January

“Dry January is yo-yo dieting for drinkers. Worse, it’s yo-yo dieting that many people will boast about on social media, engaging in a low form of virtue signalling that is of no help or interest to the rest of us.” - Dave McGinn

LIVING BETTER

By now, Canadians may have heard that there’s a big financial advantage to delaying Canada Pension Plan benefits. The standard figure cited for delaying CPP to the age of 70 is that it increases benefits to 142 per cent of what they would be at 65. Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald, director of financial security research at the National Institute on Ageing at Ryerson University, has done her own research that shows it would bring your benefits to closer to 150 per cent – and nearly 250 per cent of what they would be at the age of 60. Delaying the Quebec Pension Plan QPP also offers the same advantages.

LONG READS FOR A LONG COMMUTE

The porn tragedy Canadian media didn’t cover

August Ames was a star, a Canadian army brat who grew up in Petawawa, Ont., and left home five years ago for California, where she found her calling and millions of fans found her. But neither The Globe and Mail nor many other large Canadian news outlets ever covered her – not even after she died by suicide in December, 2017, at age 23 – and when Jon Ronson hears that, he becomes agitated.

Ms. Ames had more than one million followers on Instagram and 670,000 fans on Twitter. Her videos, Mr. Ronson says, have been viewed more than 460 million times on one website alone. That site? The Montreal-based PornHub.com, which offers free streaming pornography. “Porn is a massive part of almost everybody’s lives,” Mr. Ronson claims, on the line from his home in New York. “There’s a kind of hypocrisy among the mainstream,” to pretend it doesn’t exist.

The tragedy at the centre of Mr. Ronson’s new podcast project for Audible, The Last Days of August, seems, on the surface, to be straightforward: Why did Ms. Ames take her own life? Read Simon Houpt’s full story here.

Open this photo in gallery:

Adult film actress August Ames arrives at the 2015 Xbiz Awards in Los Angeles in 2015.picture alliance

Focused ultrasounds allow scalpel-free brain surgery

An experimental technique developed in Canada, known as focused ultrasound, is allowing doctors to perform brain surgery using precision imaging and sound waves instead of scalpels and surgical saws.

The procedure is slowly wending its way into mainstream medicine for treatment of a variety of conditions, from tremors to brain cancer, André Picard writes. Some of the most promising studies have been on patients with severe, intractable cases of mental illness such as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“We’ve been doing surgery on the brain for decades, but this technology allows us to do so without going through the skull and healthy brain, which causes a lot of damage along the way,” Anthony Levitt, chief of the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, said in an interview. “It’s a new way of doing something old.”

Open this photo in gallery:

Brain tumour cancer survivor and recipient of focused ultrasound therapy Paul Hudspith, shows his recent surgery scar at his home in King City, Ont.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

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