Senate women blaze a trail in Africa


Debbie Stabenow, left, traveled to Africa with Amy Klobuchar, right foreground, Heidi Heitkamp, far right, and two other fellow senators. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

It’s good to be a Democrat not up for reelection this year, not scrambling for your political life and not stuck visiting campaign spots in places you’d rather not go.

Better yet, it frees you up to go to the places you’d really, really like to see, like, say, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who chairs the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, this week led an all-woman delegation — possibly the first ever — on an 11-day trip to Africa via business-class military jet, with stops in Senegal, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rome. (Rome is the headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.)

The trip, Stabenow’s office told us, was to focus on “women’s economic empowerment, economic growth and development in the region” and meet with senior government officials (including Ethiopia’s prime minister) to discuss food security and economic growth.

But the group also squeezed in a couple of days at the Serengeti park, looking at dozing lions, zebras, giraffes and even a “cheetah hunting in the bush,” eTurboNews reported. (Staffers were seen working diligently to photograph the animals.)

Four other Democrats were on the jaunt, according to our copy of the Tanzania Daily News: Sens. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.). They’ll also “view elephants and rhinos in their natural habitats,” we’re told, and meet with folks fighting poachers. They’re also going “to learn about human-wildlife conflict and other issues of importance to local people,” the Daily News noted.

Beats fish fries and working the rubber-chicken circuit.

An un-American price hike

If you wanna go the way of Tina Turner and formally renounce your U.S. citizenship, you have less than a week to pay the rate the diva did last year.

Beginning Sept. 12, the State Department is increasing more than fivefold the fee it charges Americans to cut ties with the (overtaxed?) land of the free. It used to cost $450 to go through the lengthy process of permanently leaving the United States. It will now cost $2,350 to officially hand over your U.S. passport.

In announcing the fee change last week, State described the process as “extremely costly,” including two “intensive interviews” where the consular officer ensures that the American “fully understands the consequences of renunciation.” (No more apple pie and baseball games?)

There’s been a surge in expatriations in recent years.

The Globe and Mail in Toronto reported: “Through the first half of this year 1,577 Americans worldwide renounced their citizenship or gave up their green cards. In 2013, a record 3,000 of Americans renounced, up from just a few hundred a year in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.”

Many Americans living abroad are frustrated by U.S. tax laws that require them to still pay the Internal Revenue Service on salaries earned in other countries. A 2010 law, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, sought to crack down harder by requiring foreign banks to report on American accounts. It was intended to make it more difficult for tax-evading Americans to hide money in offshore accounts.

People are sure to be upset. But the new fee is chump change for the very wealthy compared with the potential tax savings, right?

A Lada won’t cut it

The Voice of America’s Moscow Bureau seems to be anticipating some rough times, especially in rural areas.

The VOA is looking for someone to provide a “Heavy Duty Vehicle for VOA Moscow Correspondent Bureau,” according to a solicitation listed in Fed Biz Opps last week.

The solicitation seemed fairly innocuous at first. They want you to “include trade in of current vehicle, 2001 Jeep, against the purchase price of a new vehicle.” (Pretty standard stuff.) They note that the Jeep’s in “poor” condition.

And they’re looking for a vehicle with “intelligent all-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes (ABS), Electronic Stability Advance Trac, including a system to prevent tipping (RSC), Hill-start assist uphill (HSA),” plus power steering and air conditioning and such.

Hmm. Moscow can get hot in the summer, but you really don’t need air conditioning. And the city has those famous Seven Hills, but they’re not huge. So maybe they’re thinking of trouble farther south, in more mountainous terrain? Maybe garden spots like Dagestan or Ingushetia, or back to Chechnya?

We thought perhaps we were overreacting, but then there’s this:

“(vi) Vehicle must withstand riot situations or crashes and have the ability to get into, and out of difficult physical situations in rural areas.”

Uh-oh. Sounds as though they have some inside info on Vladi­mir Putin’s real plans for Novorossiya. Is Donetsk hilly?

Life’s been good

Picture this. You’re a 20-something college guy chatting up a pretty girl at a rock concert. Happens all the time.

But then imagine it’s decades later and you married that girl. And the band? Its guitarist is now a fan of yours, helping you raise money for your political campaign.

That is apparently the story of Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who is running in a neck-and-neck race for the U.S. Senate against state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) in a year when every tight race could determine the upper chamber’s balance of power.

Enter Joe Walsh, the Eagles guitarist and a devoted Democrat, who sent a fundraising plea on Braley’s behalf last month, promising one lucky campaign donor a meet-and-greet at this Saturday’s concert in Des Moines.

“Bruce and his wife first met at an Eagles concert back when they were both students at Iowa State — and while I didn’t know him then, I’m proud to say I know him now and that I support Bruce in his campaign to become the next U.S. Senator of Iowa,” Walsh said in an e-mail posted on the Sunlight Foundation’s Party Time database.

Bet Braley didn’t foresee that the night he met his future wife, Carolyn, in 1976.

Walsh frequently throws his celebrity support behind Democratic candidates. In 2012, he endorsed Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) who was running to unseat . . . Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.)

— With Colby Itkowitz

Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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