Republican Version Of ‘Cadillac Tax’ In Obamacare Replacement Drawing Fire From Employers And Unions

Back in 2009, the Obama administration drew a lot of fire from employers and labor unions over Obamacare’s so-called “Cadillac Tax”, a tax on healthcare premiums over a certain threshold.  Apparently, the United Auto Workers in the Midwest had grown accustomed to their unlimited supply of Viagra, completely free of charge, and were unwilling to ‘go down’ without a fight.

Fast forward eight years and now several Republican plans for replacing the ACA include their own curb on generous health plans: a cap on how much of employer-provided health benefits could be shielded from taxes. Such a cap could force certain workers to start paying income tax on a portion of the cost of their coverage.

Currently, when an employee receives health insurance, the value of that benefit isn’t subject to either income or payroll taxes. On average, employer coverage for a single worker last year ran $6,435, while for a family, the tab was $18,142, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Employers bore about 82% of the cost for single plans, and about 70% for family coverage.

While the Republican plan would limit the deductibility of premium payments as opposed to implementing a special tax, as the Wall Street Journal points out, “in the end, they both would have similar effects,” including pushing companies toward skinnier health plans, according to Steve Wojcik, an official with the National Business Group on Health, which represents employers. “It’s six of one, a half-dozen of the other.”

Cadillac Tax


Of course, many politicians in Washington D.C. view a tax on “Cadillac” plans as a huge revenue opportunity that could add $20 billion annually to federal coffers by 2025.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) said recently he has long supported a cap on the health-benefits tax exclusion, but that it was an “open question” where Congress would end up on the issue. Mr. Hatch in a statement said, “We must study the open-ended tax preference and its impact on costs for employees and increased spending by employers.”


The tax exclusion for employer health benefits represents a huge pool of potential federal revenue, estimated at $266 billion in 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Capping the exclusion would bring in a small fraction of that total. The Cadillac tax, the CBO said, would raise federal revenue by $2 billion in 2020, growing to $20 billion in 2025—money that could help defray the cost of expanded health coverage under the ACA.

That said, it’s not just C-suite executives who would be hit by the “Cadillac tax” as many unionized employees are also at risk, after decades of negotiating ever better healthcare plans far in excess of what their counterparts in non-unionized, private-sector jobs get.

Still, the current proposals to limit the tax exclusion are drawing sharp pushback from employers, which say the change could limit their flexibility and add to their costs, and labor groups, which fear their members could end up paying additional taxes. A December letter to members of Congress that criticized both the Cadillac tax and the health-benefits exclusion cap was signed by groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation.


The cap is also drawing opposition from the Alliance to Fight the 40, a coalition that lobbies against the Cadillac tax, which would impose a 40% levy on the value of health plans above certain cutoff levels. Last month, the group, which includes employers, unions and health companies, paid to blast an ad at electronic devices in the vicinity of congressional Republicans’ Philadelphia retreat, with the message: “Taxes on employer-sponsored health care are a bad idea.”


Members of unions that have negotiated robust health benefits are among those likely to be hit by taxes tied to high-cost plans. Capping the health-benefits exclusion “would be a huge tax increase on the middle class,” said D. Taylor, president of Unite Here, which represents hospitality workers.

Meanwhile, economists have long said the tax exclusion for health benefits has negative effects, encouraging employers to offer too-generous health coverage. That, they argue, leads to excessive health spending because employees are shielded from the full cost of medical care.  The existing health-benefits tax exclusion “has been an important factor in promoting the kinds of inefficiencies in the health-care system that we have seen,” said Joseph Antos, an expert at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, who supports a cap on the employer health-benefits tax exclusion.

Of course, the real question is how Trump’s largely unionized supporters in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania will respond to an assault on their unlimited chiropractic visits, ‘therapeutic’ massages and Viagra.

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Coalition’s priority is to protect Yemen civilians

Tue, 2017-02-14

ADEN: The Saudi Arabia-led Arab coalition supporting the legitimacy in Yemen has made the protection of civilians its top priority and is taking all measures to minimize losses.
The coalition leadership, which reaffirms its commitment to international human rights and humanitarian law, has taken steps to protect civilians, members of medical units and humanitarian organizations as well as journalists.
The coalition works extensively with UN organizations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to support humanitarian efforts based on respect for international human rights.
An independent team formed by the coalition, consisting of top officials, military advisers and military, international and humanitarian law authorities, is working to assess incidents and accidents and investigation procedures.
The team is working to develop these processes and it provides reports about each incident that include studies, lessons learned, conclusions and recommendations for future action.
The coalition forces that participated in the Operation Decisive Storm and are now participating in the Operation Restoration of Hope have an interest in restoring legitimacy to Yemen and shows a great concern for the lives of civilians, their homes and for the provision of their basic needs such as water, food, schooling, hospitals and others.
The coalition is also determined to protect existing infrastructure in Yemeni cities and towns that are in the crossfire of Houthi rebels.
Despite the fact that the Geneva Convention and the additional protocol warn against the use of civilians as human shields, Houthis and ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces are still concentrated in residential areas.
Abdulrahman Berman, a lawyer with the Yemeni National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, said that Houthi rebels in Yemen are seeking revenge by using people as human shields.
As such, these rebels are legally and ethically accountable to the Yemeni people and the international community, he said.
The coalition has on several occasions, especially in conflict areas such as Saadah, evacuated civilians as soon as possible before launching airstrikes on hiding places of Houthis and other rebels.
A confidential report by UN experts monitoring the sanctions imposed on Yemen has also accused Houthis of using civilians as human shields.
The report revealed that Houthis deliberately hid fighters and weapons near civilians in Al-Mokha and Taiz in order to avoid being attacked, which is in violation of international humanitarian law.
Earlier, Mansour bin Ahmed Al-Mansour, media spokesman of the joint team for evaluating incidents in Yemen, rejected accusations that the Arab coalition targets civilians in Yemen as “inaccurate” and stressed that Houthis use civilian facilities for military purposes.

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Netanyahu to meet Trump amid ‘monumental’ shift in US ties

JOYCE KARAM | Special to Arab News
Tue, 2017-02-14

WASHINGTON: After eight years of hand-wringing and not-so-subtle backstabbing between former US President Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, a “monumental” shift in language and substance awaits the Israeli prime minister as he arrives in Washington to meet Obama’s successor Donald Trump.
Netanyahu’s visit on Wednesday will mark the first official meeting that Trump will hold with a Middle Eastern leader in the Oval Office since his inauguration on Jan. 20.
Netanyahu is also scheduled to meet Vice President Mike Pence, and have dinner with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday. He will also meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The change in optics will be accompanied by a shift in the discussions, according to experts, where Iran’s regional role and its nuclear program will likely dominate the meetings, followed by exploring ideas to jumpstart the peace process.
“The difference from the Obama administration is monumental,” said David Shor, a foreign policy expert based in New York. The strained relations between Obama and Netanyahu were no secret over the last eight years; Netanyahu dismissed the administration’s calls for a settlement freeze, rebuffed its Iran policies and went behind the White House’s back in addressing the Republican-majority Congress in 2015.
Key to the differences during the Obama days was “the enormous pressure (the administration put) on Israel to make concessions, while basically giving Tehran a free hand in the region,” Shor said.
And in that alone, a sea change is expected from the Trump Cabinet. Upping “the pressure on Iran — especially regionally, with a clear upgrading and enhancing of the US-Israel alliance” is expected, and “Israel surely hopes that Iran will once again be the central focus of American foreign policy in the Middle East,” the expert added.
Two weeks ago, Trump put “Iran on notice” following its ballistic missile test in late January, and rolled out targeted sanctions against companies and individuals worldwide that aid the program. There is also a debate within the administration on designating the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization.
This tempo of US escalation against Iran could employ military tools to curb Tehran’s regional behavior. The New York Times reported on Sunday that US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “was exploring whether the Navy could intercept and board an Iranian ship to look for contraband weapons possibly headed to Houthi fighters in Yemen.” The operation was called off because the ship was in international waters. Such an approach is music to the ears of the Israeli prime minister, who for years has called for a more muscular policy against Iran.
The network of pro-Israel officials that are stacked in Trump’s White House will also bolster the visit, said Shor. “Trump is surrounded with people who hold Israel in a very high regard,” added the expert, citing Trump’s most senior advisers Jared Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, along with Steven Bannon and Michael Flynn as among the White House officials who have had a close relation with Israel. The New York Times reported that Netanyahu has had long good family relations with the Kushner family, to a point that the Israeli prime minister once slept in Kushner’s childhood bedroom.
“Many around Trump are to the right of Netanyahu,” on policy said Shor. Trump told the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom on Sunday that Netanyahu is “a good man” and that they “always had good chemistry.”
In that same interview, Trump reiterated basic US foreign policy positions on Israel, saying he is “not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.” Trump also seemingly backtracked on moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, saying that he is “studying” the move and “we will see what happens.”
But such language is not necessarily a threat to Netanyahu, who is facing his own battle with the right back home. The Israeli government would likely rather see “the lion’s share of attention going to Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region … it surely doesn’t want settlements to dominate the discussion as it relates to its relationship with Washington,” said Shor.
Trump is using the pressure on Iran as well to try and build an Arab coalition that would have a key role as well in any peace process. The New York Times reported last week that the Trump administration is “developing a strategy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would enlist Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to break years of deadlock.”
Netanyahu’s visit to Washington is expected to cement a friendlier era in chemistry and politics with the Trump White House, building on a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress and a confluence in regional strategies around pressuring Iran and finding a new approach for the peace process.

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“A Never-Happened-Before Event”: As Oroville Dam Drains, A Problem Remains

As discussed previously, the biggest priority for California officials tasked with restoring the damaged Oroville Dam as they race against a coming Wednesday storm, is to plug the hole in the damaged spillway while draining as much water as possible ahead of the coming rainfall.

The good news, as the chart below shows, is how the water level at the Oroville reservoir has been declining over the last 24 hours. According to a spokesman for the Department of Water Resources water is pouring down the facility’s damaged main spillway at a rate of about 100,000 cubic feet per second, or more than twice the rate as water flowing into it. By 10 a.m., the lake’s water level was 4 feet lower than the emergency spillway, which suffered damage during its first ever water release over the weekend. Officials added that the water level of Lake Oroville has been steadily dropping at a rate of roughly 3 to 4 inches per hour.

9am- Lake Oroville down ~5.5feet since its peak early Sunday @CA_DWR

— Eileen Javora (@kcrajavora) February 13, 2017

A subsequent tweet by the California Office of Emergency Services updated that as of 12:30pm Pacific, the lake level had declined to 6 feet below the damaged emergency spillway.

Video from 12:30 today. Water released over Lake Oroville spillway at 100K cfs. Lake level 6′ below Emerg. spillway.

— Cal OES (@Cal_OES) February 13, 2017

Workers with the CA Department of Water Resources are scrambling to reduce the lake’s overall water level to 50 feet below the emergency spillway elevation of 901 feet. That mission has taken on added urgency ahead of the previously reported heavy rains expected later in the week. According to a subsequent tweet by the California DWR, the dam is now releasing over 110,000 cubic feet per second from the main Oroville Spillway, with the lake level dropping around 8′ per day.

The current flows from the dam can be seen in the tweet below:

Current flows at the #OrovilleSpillway #OrovilleDam

— Cal OES (@Cal_OES) February 13, 2017

Asked about the outflow, authorities admitted their confusion: “It’s hard to look at a crystal ball and predict how it’s going to evolve,” said Kevin Lawson of Cal Fire. The flow into the lake is roughly 37,000 cubic feet per second, so they’re shedding a net 60,000 or so cubic feet per second.  They’re hoping to drop 8 feet per day.

It’s unclear if they’ll hit the target of lowering the lake by 50 feet before the next rain hits. But they’re expecting a smaller level of precipitation at a cooler temperature, so it may not run into the lake as quickly, giving them more time.

“We’re going to deal with that as it comes in,” said acting state Department of Water Resources Director Bill Croyle.

There were also questions about problems with the emergency spillway, which began eroding instead of serving its function.

“I’m not sure anything went wrong,” Croyle said. “This was a new, never-happened-before event.”

* * *

Earlier in the day, California authorities released various photos showing the situation at the Oroville Dam as of noon Pacific time. As noted, water levels at the reservoir have receded, and the damaged emergency spillway is no longer receiving water. But the damaged main spillway is still going strong, as the photos below show. The photos also show the erosion along the emergency spillway.

Current images of the #OrovilleDam from @CHP_Valley Air Operations’ H24, which is providing law enforcement support. @Cal_OES @CaltransHQ

— Commissioner Farrow (@CHPCommissioner) February 13, 2017

A view from Chopper 5 over the #OrovilleDam Monday morning. Latest:

— KCBS 106.9 FM/740 AM (@KCBSNews) February 13, 2017

Oroville Dam current outflow 100K cfs, water level dropping +4ft since releases increased yesterday. Update planned for 12pm @kcranews

— Vicki Gonzalez (@KCRAVicki) February 13, 2017

While the lack of deterioration is good news, the LA Times has released the following map showing the areas which are still at risk of flooding near Lake Oroville.

And in addition to the threat of the upcoming rains, a residual risk with the emergency spillway is that the erosion from the overflowing water may erode the earth by the dam, destabilizing the structure. According to AP, the erosion at the head of the emergency spillway threatens to undermine the concrete wall and allow large, uncontrolled releases of water from Lake Oroville. Those flows could overwhelm the Feather River and other downstream waterways and levees and flood towns in three counties.

Department engineer and spokesman Kevin Dossey told the Sacramento Bee the emergency spillway was rated to handle 250,000 cubic feet per second, but it began to show weakness Sunday after flows peaked at 12,600 cubic feet per second.

The aerial photo above of the emergency spillway at Lake Oroville shows signs of major damage.

Meanwhile, perhaps because the worst possible outcome has failed to materialize, local officials have been forced to defend the order to evacuate nearly 200,000 people in the affected areas. The Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea on Monday defended his decision a day earlier calling for evacuations of more than 100,000 residents down river from the Oroville Dam after concerns that a spillway could fail and unleash a 30-foot tall wall of water on the region.

“I recognize and absolutely appreciate the frustration people who were evacuated must feel,” Honea said at a press conference. “It wasn’t a decision I made lightly.”

The calls for cities and towns downriver from Lake Oroville to evacuate were unexpected and triggered panic Sunday evening. Some people abandoned their cars on the highway and left with the clothes on their back after the Department of Water Resources announced that an emergency spillway would fail within the hour.

Honea shot down rumors the evacuation could end Monday afternoon. They’re working on a “repopulation” plan but there’s no timeline. “Getting those people home is important to me. But I have to be able to sleep at night knowing they’re back in that area,” he said.  His department had to move 500 inmates from Butte to Alameda County jail during the evacuation. They’re being held there for the time being.

This means that the over 188,000 residents of Yuba, Sutter and Butte counties who were ordered to leave their homes, are now in limbo and may not be able to return until the barrier at the nation’s tallest dam is repaired, according to Sheriff Honea. He did not say how long the fixes could take and offered no timetable for lifting the evacuation order. It also remains unclear what the current status of the plan to drop loads of rock on the eroded spillway at Oroville using helicopters.

Meanwhile, recalling the evacuation, local resident Nancy Borsdorf described a scene of chaos on her way out, including drivers abandoning cars as they ran out of gas. “People were just panicking,” said Borsdorf, who was at a shelter Monday in Chico.

“We’ve always loved and trusted our dam,” she said, having lived in Oroville for 13 years. “I’m really hopeful Oroville wasn’t flooded.”

Asked if the spillway was supposed to handle far more water, the acting head of California’s water agency said he was “not sure anything went wrong” on the damaged spillway according to AP. Bill Croyle said sometimes low-flow water can be high energy and cause more damage than expected. His comments came after officials assured residents for days that the damage was nothing to be concerned, then ordered everyone to get out in an hour.

The water level in the lake rose significantly in recent weeks after storms dumped rain and snow across California, particularly in northern parts of the state. The high water forced the use of the dam’s emergency spillway, or overflow, for the first time in the dam’s nearly 50-year history on Saturday. 

The sudden evacuation panicked residents, who scrambled to get their belongings into cars and then grew angry as they sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic hours after the order was given. Raj Gill, managing a Shell station where anxious motorists got gas and snacks, said his boss told him to close the station and flee himself. But he stayed open to feed a steady line of customers.

“You can’t even move,” he said. “I’m trying to get out of here too. I’m worried about the flooding. I’ve seen the pictures — that’s a lot of water.”

“It was so scary. It was like a bad movie, everyone was panicking and driving crazy. It was really scary,” said Maribel Cervantes, 35, of Yuba City. Cervantes threw some clothes in a hamper and joined throngs of evacuees fleeing Yuba City late Saturday. She said she’s worried about getting back to work as a nursing assistant, but she still has deep concerns about potential flooding.

“How can they assure us that it’s safe?” she asked. “How can we be 100 percent sure when one minute they’re saying the spillway was about to collapse?”

Raul Nava, 29, waited until about midnight to leave his home in Yuba City. “We’re scared about flooding, our house is right next to the levees,” he said. “We just packed food, water, you know the basics, and headed out.”

Nava said he and his wife and his dad first tried to get in to an evacuation center in Colusa but were turned away. It took them five hours to reach the shelter in Woodland, he said. With him he brought his two pit bulls, and 10 pit bull puppies. “We’re ready to go home,” he said.

Merida Lozano, 40, of also of Yuba City, said she too left in a hurry Saturday afternoon. She and her four kids got to the emergency shelter at the Yolo County Fairgrounds around 1 a.m. after being turned away from several area hotels that were full, she said. “We had no clue what was going on until about 4, when we heard about the evacuation orders,” Lozano said. “The roads were empty and all of the sudden there were cars everywhere. My emotions are all over the place…at least we made it here with the kids.” Lozano said her sister stayed behind in Yuba City.

“We’re just waiting to go home right now,” she said. “I hope they learn from this and reinforce the spillway so that we aren’t in this position if this were to ever happen again.”

A Red Cross spokeswoman said more than 500 people showed up at an evacuation center in Chico, California. The shelter ran out of blankets and cots, and a tractor-trailer with 1,000 more cots was stuck in the gridlock of traffic fleeing the potential flooding Sunday night, Red Cross shelter manager Pam Deditch said. A California Highway Patrol spokesman said two planes would fly Monday to help with traffic control and possible search-and-rescue missions.

Other shelters have been reporting they are now full.

The Paradise Alliance Church is not longer accepting new evacuees. If seeking shelter visit for updated list.

— Butte County, CA (@CountyofButte) February 13, 2017

While some shelter sites were at capacity, people were still trickling in to the Yolo County Fairgrounds Monday morning. The parking lot was about half full, and deliveries of cots and water were still coming in. Yolo County health officials, law enforcement and mental health experts were on site to assist.

To manage the chaotic exodus and ensure evacuated towns do not become targets for looting or other criminal activity, at least 250 California law enforcement officers were posted near the dam and along evacuation routes. 

This afternoon Oroville vice mayor Janet Goodson, who is marooned in Red Bluff after evacuating Sunday night, said she respects and understands the sheriff’s call for continued evacuations, and says that safety is the foremost issue, but she said she also feels frustrated.

“To be honest with you, there is a degree of frustration,” she said quoted by the SacBee. Asked whether it was a mistake not to have done more to improve the spillway earlier, she said she prefers to look forward.

“We are where we are,” she said. “We can learn from mistakes, things we failed to recognize. We have to move forward in a collaborative fashion and make sure this does not happen in the future. This is a learning experience for us.”

* * *

The California National Guard notified all its 23,000 soldiers and airmen to be ready to deploy, the first time an alert for the entire California National Guard had been issued since the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. So far their services have not been needed and the only incident to date came after Oroville police said they made one arrest and have identified a second suspect in connection with two looting crimes that occurred Sunday night.

Suspects smashed windows at a Dollar General and a liquor store, stealing alcohol and food. “Is it looting? That (term) probably does apply. We’re just calling it burglary,” Police spokesman Joe Deal said.

Otherwise, there have been few calls for service and few problems in town since the Sunday night evacuation call. Deal said 25 officers are on patrol, focused on residential areas and low-lying areas near the river. Oroville police are being supplemented by officers from the Orland police department, the CHP, and the sheriff’s department. Most calls Monday have been from people asking police to check on the welfare of relatives or friends.

* * *

But the biggest criticism facing officials is that the sudden decision Sunday to evacuate tens of thousands of people was a departure from earlier assurances, when officials had stressed the Oroville Dam itself was structurally sound. Unexpected erosion chewed through the main spillway during heavy rain earlier this week, sending chunks of concrete flying and creating a 200-foot-long, 30-foot-deep hole that continues growing.

Officials are most concerned about the dam’s emergency, earthen spillway that began taking on water after water was diverted from the main concrete spillway because of the damage. Engineers do not know what caused the cave-in. Chris Orrock, a Department of Water Resources spokesman, said it appears the dam’s main spillway has stopped crumbling even though it is being used for water releases.

The lake is a central piece of California’s government-run water delivery network, supplying water for the state’s Central Valley agricultural heartland and homes and businesses in Southern California.

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Cabinet appreciates US for acknowledging KSA’s role toward stability in ME region

Tue, 2017-02-14

RIYADH: The Cabinet, chaired by King Salman at Al-Yamamah Palace here on Monday appreciated the United States for its acknowledgement of the Kingdom’s role toward stability in region.
The Cabinet lauded the comments made by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his conversation on the phone with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques during which he expressed appreciation of the Saudi leadership and the Kingdom’s endeavor to bring about stability to the region and the importance of the role it was playing to achieve peace in the world.
The Cabinet also appreciated his assertion that the US underscores the importance of working with the Kingdom in general and forging a comprehensive plan to strengthen bilateral relations in the field of military cooperation and working together against terrorism as well as to further enhance economic relations.
Earlier, the king briefed the Cabinet about the telephone call he received from the Tillerson during which they reviewed historical and strategic relations between the two countries, especially in light of the identical orientations of the two countries in political, military and economic fields and ways of development of strategic relations to serve their common interests.
He also briefed the Cabinet about his meeting with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres during which they discussed the United Nations’ efforts and missions entrusted to it to achieve international peace and security. He also discussed his talks with Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov and the message he received from President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates.
Adel Altoraifi, minister of culture and information, said later that the Cabinet expressed its pride of the constructive role being played by the Kingdom under the leadership of King Salman in fighting terrorism and its efforts to achieve stability and peace in the region and the world.
The minister said the Cabinet was also briefed on the outcome of the fourth meeting of the heads of Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic missions. He stressed the contents of the speech delivered by King Salman including his instructions, particularly his insistence that they should properly introduce the Kingdom to the world. He cited the country’s keenness that peace and stability be
achieved in the world community. He highlight its approach and policies, which are based on moderation and tolerance as well as its keenness on good neighborhood, co-existence among peoples of the world and rejection of violence and terrorism.
The Cabinet also lauded the outcome of the first meeting of the Saudi-Turkish Coordination Council, particularly underlining the wish of the two countries to enhance the strategic relations and their keenness to confront the challenges facing the region.
Later, the Cabinet approved decisions that included authorizing the minister of health or his deputy to discuss with Malaysia and Indonesia two separate agreements to cooperate in the health fields.
An agreement is also considered for the minister of energy, industry and mineral resources or his deputy to discuss with Turkey issues in the industrial field. In addition, the minister of commerce and investment will discuss with Jordan a draft agreement on encouragement and mutual protection for investments.
The Cabinet approved a MoU in the industrial field between the ministry of commerce and investment and the ministry of trade of the Peoples’ Republic of China. It approved a MoU between Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University and each of the Renaissance Universities League, the Mohammadis University located in the city of Malang and the government-run Islamic Al-Raniri University of Indonesia. Another approval dealt with a MoU between the Saudi Broadcasting and Television Commission and the Turkish Broadcasting and Television Foundation.
Upon recommendation of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, the Cabinet approved the legal procedures as basics for enhancing confidence in the home rent market, necessitating registering house rent contracts on the Internet and stipulating the availability of house rents for issuing or renewing labor license for non-Saudis.

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Envoy announces office to boost Saudi visitors to UK

Mohammed Rasooldeen
Tue, 2017-02-14

RIYADH: Announcing the opening of the VisitBritain office in Riyadh, Ambassador Simon Collis on Monday said it would boost the number of Saudi visitors to the UK.
He said the office is located on the British Embassy premises, and will be headed by Bader Al-Mandeel, a Saudi who will coordinate its activities throughout the Kingdom.
Collis said 99 percent of Saudi applicants are given UK visas without any problems.
“These visas were given in a period of five days,” he said, adding that the consular section has introduced a “super priority service” that will enable applicants to get their visa on the same day.
“The opening of the new VisitBritain office in Riyadh builds on a century of strong trade and cultural relations,” said Collis. “Every year Britain welcomes more and more Saudis, with thousands visiting on business, for tourism or to study. I would strongly encourage Saudis to go and see for themselves everything that the UK has to offer.”
VisitBritain director for Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa, Sumathi Ramanathan, said: “Saudi Arabia is one of Britain’s most important and fastest-growing outbound markets. The appointment of Bader Al-Mandeel to head VisitBritain’s operations signals VisitBritain’s strong commitment to the market. We value the support of our media, travel trade, airline and social media partners, and Bader’s presence in the market will help us further build on these important relationships.”
Saudis are among the UK’s highest-spending visitors, spending on average £3,769 ($4,705) per visit. They also stay longer than other international visitors, with an average stay of 18 nights.
Research by VisitBritain shows that Saudi visitors are interested in luxury shopping and enjoy Britain’s high-end department stores and outlet shops, with more than 60 percent likely to have shopped at an outlet or department store during their visit.
Saudi Arabia is one of Britain’s top 10 most valuable inbound visitor markets, with spending forecast to reach £772 million in 2020. In 2015, there were 147,000 inbound visits from Saudi Arabia to the UK, with visitors spending £556 million.
The appointment of Al-Mandeel follows the development of a partnership with Al-Tayyar Travel Group Holding Co. that includes a campaign to promote London, Manchester and Edinburgh. The campaign will offer exclusive summer family travel packages to the UK, and an upgrade to visa processing via UK Visa and Immigration.

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Steinmeier election as new German president lauded

Tue, 2017-02-14

RIYADH: German Ambassador Dieter W. Haller has hailed the election of Frank-Walter Steinmeier as the new German president. He said that, “he is one of the most experienced politicians in Germany and has always been engaged in building bridges between nations and cultures. This is a good day for Germany and German democracy.”
The German Federal Convention has elected Steinmeier by an overwhelming majority to become the country’s new president.
Steinmeier, Germany’s former foreign minister was elected Sunday in Berlin with 931 of the 1,260 votes. The special election assembly is made up of the 630 lawmakers in parliament’s lower house and an equal number of representatives from Germany’s 16 federal states. Steinmeier’s term of office as president begins March 19.
In his acceptance speech, Steinmeier stated that during hard times, and when the world is facing instability, Germans can count on the solidarity of society. He added: “This country is a beacon of hope for many people around the world. Germany encourages people, not because everything is going well, but because we demonstrated that things can improve.”
The members of the Bundestag and the representatives of the 16 federal states joined outgoing President Joachim Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel in congratulating the newly elected president.
Merkel lauded the election of Steinmeier as president, “I am convinced that he will be an outstanding president,” she said.
Steinmeier started his political career in 1996 as undersecretary of state and director of the State Chancellery of Lower Saxony. He was appointed in November 1998 as an undersecretary of state at the Federal Chancellery as Gerhard Schröder took office as Chancellor.
On Nov. 22, 2005 Steinmeier became minister of foreign affairs and served until 2009, he also acted as vice-chancellor from 2007 and 2009. In 2009, Steinmeier was elected to the Bundestag and also became chairman of the SPD’s parliamentary group. After the elections of 2013 and the formation of a new grand coalition government, he was appointed as foreign minister for the second time in December 2013. He left his position in December 2016 and is succeeded by the current foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel.
During his time as foreign minister, Steinmeier visited the Kingdom five times. Moreover, he also traveled to Saudi Arabia as part of an official visit as chairman of the SPD´s parliamentary group in 2012.
His last visit to the Kingdom as foreign minister was in February 2016, on the occasion of the Opening Ceremony of Al Janadriyah Festival with Germany as the guest of honor. During his visit, he met King Salman as well as high-ranking Saudi officials.

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