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Sign language most common language among Hajj pilgrims 

Tariq Al-Thagafi
Fri, 2017-09-01 03:00

MINA: Sign language is the most-used language at the holy sites, as it can be used to guide crowds, organize them safely at the Jamarat and warn people about overcrowding.
Crowd flow expert Akram Jann said there are more than 100 languages used at the holy sites, but the only one that can unify them is sign language, which does not need dictionaries and can help pilgrims of all nationalities.
Fayza Netou, president of the Deaf and Mute Club, said signing is used to guide lost people, and is not limited to the hard of hearing.
“I’ve seen many pilgrims lose their way, and sign language has been the only solution to help and guide them. This made me and the volunteer teams want to serve pilgrims,” said Netou.
She added that the club, in cooperation with the Presidency of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, has organized training sessions for presidency members to teach them about sign language in order to help pilgrims. 
Volunteer teams have used sign language at the holy sites for 16 years. There are eight sessions organized at the Haram in Makkah to train women and men to use sign language.
The sessions help workers who do not speak the most common languages, enabling them to communicate with all pilgrims. 

Catering to pilgrims’ food requests in Makkah
More than 210 companies in the food and catering sector in Makkah try to meet all food requests from pilgrims, the head of the catering committee at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Shaker Al-Harthi, told Arab News.
There are many cuisines offered, such as Indian, Indonesian, European, Turkish, Egyptian and Shami. This gives pilgrims an opportunity to experience different civilizations through food.
Catering companies provide meals according to their contracts with the Hajj delegations, including breakfast, lunch and dinner. Menus differ according to demand. 
Al-Harthi said the food sector in Makkah is facing challenges, especially with population growth, expansion of the holy city and the resulting increase in the number of visitors and pilgrims.
These factors mean small companies need more support from chambers of commerce to help them compete with larger companies, he said, adding that supporting small companies will provide greater employment and investment opportunities. 
Al-Harthi said a number of goals are being pursued. “The first one is the establishment of an electronic portal that will soon provide several services. The most important of these will facilitate and identify service providers, and show contracts offered during the Hajj and Umrah seasons.”

Main category: 
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How Long Can U.S. Refineries Remain Offline?

When Hurricane Harvey blew into Texas last weekend, it dumped more than 30 inches of rain, flooding Houston and large areas of southeastern Texas, while leaving thousands homeless or without power. The worst storm to hit the U.S. since 2004 and by some estimates the largest rain-storm in U.S. history, Harvey has had a profound impact on the nation’s largest oil-producing and oil-refining region. Refinery shutdowns, pipeline closures and other consequences of Harvey has sent the Gulf oil industry into a tailspin while throwing oil markets…

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Washington tells Russia to close consulate, buildings in US

Fri, 2017-09-01 03:00

WASHINGTON: The US has told Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco and two annex buildings in Washington and New York, the State Department said on Thursday, a response to Moscow last month ordering cuts in the US diplomatic mission in Russia.
The announcement was the latest in tit-for-tat measures between the two countries that have helped to drive relations to a new post-Cold War low, thwarting hopes on both sides that they might improve after US President Donald Trump took office in January.
Last month Moscow ordered the US to cut its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia by more than half, to 455 people, after Congress overwhelmingly approved new sanctions against Russia. The sanctions were imposed in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and to punish Russia further for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
“We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement on Thursday.
“In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians, we are requiring the Russian Government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City,” Nauert said. “These closures will need to be accomplished by Sept. 2.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed regret during a phone call with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson about Washington’s decision, his ministry said.
“Moscow will closely study the new measures announced by the Americans, after which our reaction will be conveyed,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
To cope with the reduction in staff in Russia, the US said last week it would have to sharply scale back visa services, a move that will hit Russian business travelers, tourists and students.
The Russian Consulate in San Francisco handles work from seven states in the western US. There are three other Russian Consulates separate from the embassy in Washington. They are in New York, Seattle and Houston.

Main category: 
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Pakistan Parliament denounces Trump policy

Sib Kaifee
Fri, 2017-09-01 03:00

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani MPs on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution presented by Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif rejecting the new US strategy in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Khurshid Shah asked that a joint session of Parliament be held immediately after Eid Al-Adha to compose an appropriate response to anti-Pakistan statements made by US President Donald Trump during his televised address to the nation.
During his speech on Aug. 21, Trump said Pakistan harbors “agents of chaos” and protects militant groups that allegedly use Pakistani soil to launch attacks against the US-backed Afghan government.
Asif advised MPs to postpone all official visits to the US, and scheduled visits by American delegations to Pakistan.
A visit by the US Acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells to discuss the Trump administration’s new Afghan policy was postponed without reason in a statement issued on Sunday by Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry.
Former Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said resolutions and condemnation will not halt US criticism.
He urged Islamabad to revisit the rules of engagement with the US since it continues to blame Pakistan for its own failures in the region.
“The US did not ask Pakistan before going to Afghanistan,” Khan said, adding that America chose to talk with the Taliban, but when Pakistan does so it is unacceptable to Washington.
Javed Hafiz, a retired Pakistani diplomat, told Arab News that Parliament’s resolution was hashed out prematurely.
“Have (MPs) thoroughly studied our deficit, neighboring relations and our dependency on the IMF (International Monetary Fund), which the US controls?” he asked.
“Before adopting any confrontational policy, they need to take a step back and open doors for talks. The current approach isn’t right.”
Parliament concluded its session by demanding the formulation of an economic policy in case US reimbursements under the Coalition Support Fund are further slashed or halted.
The resolution said Afghanistan, the US and its allies should better manage the border and stop terrorists from attacking Pakistan.
It added that the US tilt toward India would create an imbalance between the nuclear rivals, thus destabilizing the region. The US ambassador is to be summoned and briefed on Pakistan’s reservations.
A Foreign Ministry official told Arab News that Asif will lead a delegation to China, Russia, Turkey and Iran to hold talks with the regional stakeholders following the resolution.
Mosharraf Zaidi, a foreign policy expert and former advisor to ex-Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, told Arab News that Pakistan should maintain a working relationship with the US while engaging other countries.

Main category: 
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Brexit blow for Arab immigration to Britain

Fri, 2017-09-01 03:00

LONDON: Brexit is discouraging Arab immigration to Britain say lawyers, as continental Europe increases in appeal for emigrants.
Economic uncertainty, sluggish growth and the weak pound is also a turn-off for would-be immigrants eyeing the country as a base for their business.
“The fall in net migration to the UK may be an effect of the recent Brexit result, and due to perceived concerns over the resultant effect on the UK’s overall economic performance relative to other high-income EU member states,” said Nicola Anne Wilkins, senior immigration lawyer at Astons. “Concerns could be attributed to a number of factors including job certainty, a fall in the value of the pound or investment depreciation.”
Net migration to Britain fell to its lowest level in three years in the year to the end of March, according to UK government statistics released last week.
Brexit uncertainty is taking its toll on the UK economy, which grew by 0.3 percent in the second quarter according to data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
It showed negligible household spending growth as consumer inflation reached a four-year high of 2.9 percent in May, fueled by the weak pound.
The weak pound can be both a positive and negative factor for would-be immigrants depending on their reasons for moving to the UK and what currency their own assets are held in.
While the fall in sterling has drawn Arab money into the UK property market — its investment appeal does not always equate to being an attractive place to live and work — especially with such a clouded economic outlook arising from Brexit.
“A lot of business people coming here are not particularly minded about their inability to access the European single market,” said Jahed Morad, a London-based lawyer who advises entrepreneurs and businesspeople from the Middle East on visa applications.
“But where it does impact them is the fall in the value of the pound and also the general economic uncertainty around Brexit, because if you are a small business owner coming into an uncertain environment in terms of the consumer appetite for your goods or services then obviously that makes them a little more nervous,” he said.
According to ONS data, about 15,000 people moved to the UK from the Middle East and Central Asia in the year to March 2017. The data does not include a breakdown of individual source countries.
Those numbers were flat on a year earlier but down by half from two years earlier when arrivals from the region peaked at 23,000 in the year to June 2015
Law firms and consultancies specializing in immigration advice are increasingly targeting the Middle East, drawn by the wealth held by Arabs considering a move to Europe.
“A lot of small firms with contacts in the Middle East have set up offices in Dubai where they advise clients on UK immigration and nationality laws,” added Morad.

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Trump Ending Obama-Era “Dreamer” Program: Report

President Trump is expected on Friday to announce plans to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which gave a deportation reprieve to hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants also known as “dreamers”, Fox News reports. Under DACA, nearly 800,000 people brought to the country illegally as children received work permits and deferral from deportation.

Trump had originally promised to terminate DACA during his presidential campaign, but since taking office had left the door open to preserving parts of it. According to Fox, which cites a senior administration official, Trump will announce the program’s end but will allow so-called “dreamers” currently in the program to stay in the U.S. until their work permits expire – which, for some, could be as long as two years.

The program, which was instituted through an executive order signed by President Obama in 2012, has been facing a legal challenge from Texas and nine other states, which threatened court action to attempt to block it unless Trump rescinds DACA by Sept. 5.

However, on Thursday afternoon, White House officials on Thursday pushed back on the Fox News report, claiming no decision has been made. “A final decision on that front has not been made,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during today’s press briefing. “When we have a final decision, this is under review, there are a lot of components that need to be looked at.” She then told a reporter “No offense to your colleagues from Fox News, but I’m better informed than they are … it has not been finalized.”

“A final decision on that front has not been made, and when it is, we will certainly inform everybody in this room,” she said.

White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert added that “the administration is still reviewing the policy,” and said the lawsuits “won’t affect the policy decision, but it will affect the timing of it. We certainly have to watch the lawsuits and how they matriculate through the courts and when the deadlines will be.”

According to The HIll, Trump and senior administration officials, including White House chief of staff John Kelly, have said they don’t believe DACA would hold up in court, while the DOJ has declined to say whether it would defend the program from the potential lawsuit.

Rumors have been circulating for weeks about how Trump plans to respond to the threat of court action, prompting Democrats, some Republicans and activists to mount a public defense of the program.


Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) introduced amendments Tuesday that would prevent public funds from being used to alter the memo that instituted DACA in 2012.


And California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said Monday his office was considering mounting a defense of the program if the Justice Department refuses to act.

A plan to allow DACA to simply lapse already has buy-in from conservative groups that want the president to end the program. “Our position has been that President Trump should allow DACA to lapse,” Ira Mehlman from the Federation for American Immigration Reform told Fox News. “As people’s two-year deferments and work authorization expire they should not be renewed.”

Ironically, in an interview with ABC News earlier this year, Trump suggested he might not entirely do away with DACA. “They shouldn’t be very worried,” Trump said of the young people in the program. “I do have a big heart.”

Meanwhile, Democrats on Thursday expressed opposition to the move, referencing the president’s past comments. “If he ends DACA, Trump would betray #DREAMers he said he’d treat w/ ‘great heart.’ These incredible young people make our country stronger,” tweeted Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee.

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U.S. Coal Output Up 9.6% Year On Year

U.S. coal output last week stood at 16.7 million short tons, according to estimates from the Energy Information Administration. This compares to 17.025 million tons in the prior week – a record-high for 2017. Both weekly figures represent substantial increases on an annual basis, by 9.6 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively. Over the long term, however, the increase will be unsustainable, analysts believe. The current increase is prompted by an increase in international coal prices, itself driven by an output decline in China and supply disruptions…

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Trump To Block Russian Ownership Of Venezuelan Subsidiary In US

Trump’s White House will block attempts by the Kremlin to acquire large portions of Venezuela’s Citgo, a U.S. subsidiary of the state-owned PDVSA. Rosneft agreed to acquire half of Citgo’s shares in exchange for a $1.5 billion loan in 2016. Cash-hungry PDVSA approved the deal, leaving American lawmakers concerned that a Russian firm would control roughly five percent of U.S. refining capacity via the buyouts. Citgo controls three refineries which process 750,000 barrels of oil per day. It also owns 48 storage facilities for refined…

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Harvey’s Destruction “May Have Solved The Auto Industry’s Inventory Problem”

On Tuesday, during the peak of the Harvey-related flooding, we reported that the hurricane may leave a greater trail of automobile destruction than even Katrina, the most expensive natural disaster in US history. In August 2005, Katrina wiped out some 500,000-600,000 vehicles but William Armstrong of CL King warned that Houston has about 5x more people than New Orleans did at the time.


The news was especially bad for retailers and auto dealers: storms of this magnitude bring not only millions in salvage-related charge offs for the auto industry but a loss of critical “selling days” for one of the biggest markets in the country.  As CNBC pointed out, Citi analyst Itay Michaeli figures Hurricane Harvey could knock about 500,000 units off the August auto SAAR to be reported tomorrow. Michaeli now estimates Harvey will affect some 125 counties in Texas and about 60 percent of the state’s auto sales.

Before Harvey, Michaeli estimated the August sales pace for the country was going to be in the mid-16 million range. As the storm lingers over the area, Michaeli has dropped his estimate. “Our analysis suggests that Hurricane Harvey could push this down to the low-16 million unit range,” Michaeli wrote in a note to clients.

“This is bad; real bad,” said Marc Cannon, an AutoNation executive vice president. “Right now, we are focused on making sure all of our employees are safe and taken care of. At the same time, we’re focusing on getting all of our stores up and running.” AutoNation’s 18 dealerships in the Houston remain shut as widespread flooding has not only swamped thousands of buildings in the Houston area, it’s likely damaged hundreds, perhaps thousands of new cars and trucks parked on dealership lots.

Which, while terrible news to dealers – many of whom face bankruptcy if their insurance policies don’t cover all the damages – may be just what the struggling U.S. OEM and supplier industry ordered, according to a new report by RBC. As bank analyst Joseph Spak writes, “while the devastation from Tropical Storm Harvey continues and our thoughts remain with the affected areas, we are beginning to wonder if the storm can, at least near-term, change the auto narrative. Harvey may have removed a number of the overhangs that caused investors to sour on the group.

The RBC strategist then lays out his reasoning why Harvey may have helped the US auto industry in terms of the 4 most pressing narratives: bloated inventory, demand concerns, peak mix, and used vehicles pricing. In fact, as he puts it, “In short, Harvey may have solved the industry’s inventory problem.

Here is the spin:

  • Overhang 1: Bloated inventory. July 2017 days inventory stood at 68 days, 8 days higher than July 2016 and 13 days higher than the 10-year July average. This led investors to be worried about production cuts. Absolute inventory (at July 2017) was up ~330k units y/y. Edmunds estimates approximately 366k new cars and light trucks are on dealer lots in Texas that could be affected by Harvey. We believe a significant number of those could be damaged. Once Houston is stabilized, we see an opportunity for automakers to help re-position inventory from other geographies (we suspect GM could take advantage of this). In short, Harvey may have solved the industry’s inventory problem.
  • Overhang 2: Demand concerns. We expect there could be a modest impact to August SAAR (we hedged by ~0.1mm to 16.4mm), but also believe the market won’t put a lot of credence into the print. We would expect a further impact into early September before delayed purchases start to come back. Then over late 2017 and into 2018, replacement would occur. The actual damage to existing vehicles in operation is unknown but likely extensive. Cox Automotive estimates ~500k vehicles could ultimately be scrapped (they estimate Sandy was ~250k). As a result, we believe future NA production forecasts could be positively revised – a good catalyst for suppliers.
  • Overhang 3: Peak mix concerns. Moreover, this should be a rich mix as Texas is a key truck market (~14% of all full-size trucks, vs. 9% of overall sales; 1 out of 5 vehicles sold in Texas is a full-size truck). Key pickup truck suppliers AXL, TEN, BWA could benefit. We would favor Ford and F-150 suppliers and Ram and their suppliers over GM and K2XX suppliers given GM may not be able to participate as much given constraints from their program changeover.
  • Overhang 4: Used vehicle pricing concerns. We would expect near-term used vehicle pricing to improve given a rush of demand for loaner vehicles. This could help consumers looking to trade-in vehicles and potentially residual values for new leases.

In short, yet another twist on the familiar broken window, or in this case, busted car fallacy, which of course is great in capturing the flow impact on metrics such as GDP and consumption, but completely ignores the capital lost as a result of the inherent destruction, something which insurers, and perhaps the US taxpayer, will ultimately be on the hook for. Naturally, there is only so far that this type of “obligation transfer” can stretch before the whole construct falls apart, or else every time the US entered a recession a few strategically placed nukes would be sufficient to unleash a new economic golden age until the next contraction in the business cycle. Luckily, economists haven’t gone that far yet. Unluckily, it is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone that the “next best thing” may be needed to boost growth. War.

As for cars, here is Spak’s advice on how to trade the Texas tragedy:

Time to tactically increase auto exposure. Net, with valuations that will screen attractive relative to other potential Harvey recovery plays, we would tactically look to increase exposure to the group. Separately, suppliers with meaningful Europe exposure should benefit from the Euro move. Among suppliers, larger beneficiaries could be: AXL, BWA, DAN, TEN. For OEMs, we would look to F.

If he is right, how long before a populist outcry demands that any industries benefiting from Harvey’s destruction should be taxed more?

For now one thing is certain – stocks of RV makers have surged on the Harvey news, whether on expectations that just like during Katrina, FEMA will splurge on recreational vehicles to house the tens of thousands of emergency workers, or simply on expectations that with their homes – and car – badly damaged, tens of thousands of Texans will opt to buy the one object that combines the two.

Which just may push US GDP even more into the green: recall that in the first quarter, the biggest contributor to personal spending came from sales of… recreational goods and vehicles.

Incidentally, for those who wonder, FEMA’s 2005 purchase of RVs ended up being a big hit to taxpayers. Back then, FEMA hurriedly bought 145,000 trailers and mobile homes just before and after Katrina hit, spending $2.7 billion largely through no-bid contracts. It then scrambled – unsuccessfully – to sell as many as 41,000 of the homes, netting about 40 cents on each dollar spent by taxpayers.

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OPEC Compliance Hits 89 Percent In August

Output from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) fell by 170,000 barrels per day this month, down from a year-long high in July, according to feedback from a new Reuters survey, which now stands at 32.83 million bpd. The drop in output came as Libya faced renewed conflict in the Oil Crescent and OPEC members increased their compliance to preexisting production quotas. The cartel’s No. 1 and No. 2 producers, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, cut output last month, causing compliance to rise by five points to 89 percent –…