Comedian leads Ukraine Polls as Runoff Approaches

Following an unanticipated political campaign, Ukranian comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy is leading the polls to become the president of Ukraine. Zelenskiy, the 41-year-old man who has shaken up Ukrainian politics, is the star of the immensely popular television show “A Servant to Servants,” which satirizes current political events and well-known politicians. He plays the role of Vasyl Holoborodko, an ordinary teacher who becomes president after a student films his political tirade. The show is incredibly popular with over 20 million viewers, only a little less than half of the country’s entire population. Following the airing of the last season right before the election, however, Zelenskiy himself decided to follow in the footsteps of the fictional character Holoborodko and run for president.

His success has been powerful and startling, as he has received immense support from across the country. In the latest run of elections, occurring on Mar. 31, he took first place in a crowded field of 39 candidates, relegating incumbent Petro Poroshenko to second and putting ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko out of the running. The comedian is set to face incumbent Poroshenko in the coming election on Apr. 21, the result of which will decide the presidency.

The exact draw of the comedian, however, is a puzzle to political analysts across Ukraine and the world. Some attention has been given to his fluency in Russian, his native language, which is spoken in many parts of Eastern, Southern and Central Ukraine, therefore appealing to key areas. The widest draw, however, seems to come from his lack of political background. Robert Binkley, a former British ambassador to Ukraine, says “He is doing well because there is a widespread mood in Ukraine of alienation from politicians and the political class, which is not unique to Ukraine.” Indeed, the general disillusionment of the people with politicians seems to be the driving force of his campaign.

His large support base is surprising, not only for his lack of practical experience but for his rather moderate view. In the last few elections, Ukraine has swerved to support right-populist ideals. Zelenskiy, however, seems to be a relatively moderate candidate, with no clear political platform. When asked questions of policy, he often promises to rely on the support of “experienced professionals,” and remains vague about his future plans. Poroshenko, who is in a semi-public feud with Zelenskiy, has mocked this lack of a platform, saying “He dreams of a soft, submissive, gentle, giggling, inexperienced, weak, ideologically amorphous and politically uncertain president.”

Despite this evident lack of a platform, there are a few essential promises that form the crux of Zelinskiy’s campaign. The most notable of these revolve around the Russian influence and control over eastern Ukraine, which has become a central point in the Western vs Russian faceoff in Europe.  He openly seeks to reconcile with Russian supporters in eastern Ukraine and an end to Russia-Ukraine the conflict which has killed over 13,000 people since 2014. Other distinct promises include a call for a stronger military as well as forcing Russia to return Crimea and to end their “disgusting and horrible” attempts to seize land from Ukraine.

His campaign is not without controversy, however, and he and the sitting president have begun an intense feud as the second round of voting approaches. The most threatening of these to Zelenskiy seems to be accusations from the president that he is a political puppet for oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, the owner of the TV channel which airs “A Servant to Servants.” However, given his lead in the first round, earning 30% to the president’s 16%, it is unclear if the rumor will impact his wide voter base.

As he stands primed to take control of the presidency amidst a slow decrease in inflation and an escalating feud with Russia, the country watches with expectation. Zelenskiy himself seems optimistic about a new political era, saying after his vote “A new life begins. A life without corruption and without bribes. Life in a nation of dreams comes true.”

AKP Loses Major Cities in Turkish Election Fraught with Surprises and Controversy

The leading party in Turkey faced major setbacks during the Mar. 31 election, losing both the capital of Ankara and the populous Istanbul to opposition candidates. The election, which the president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan triumphed as a “democracy lesson” for the rest of the country on voter turnout, had multiple controversies including the “unlawful” election of several officials for alleged terrorist affiliation or corrupt practices.

The first surprise of the election came in the form of the leading electoral party in Turkey, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), losing two major cities in the nation. First, the capital of Ankara went to the opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CPH) Mansur Yavas, who won by a relatively wide margin and struck a strong blow to the long-dominant AKP party. However, it is Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey and the seat through which President Erdogan first came to power, where the leading party faced the most unexpected and devastating loss. The city went to CPH’s Ekrem İmamoğlu in a close vote, ending nearly a quarter century of AKP mayorship.

A recount of this exceedingly close vote was quickly demanded by Erdoğan who cited the illegal registration of voters as the primary reason for İmamoğlu’s lead. Several of these district-wide recounts took place throughout the city, with the AKP party attempting to expand the size of the recount from 6 districts to 15 and eventually to a city-wide recount. Their efforts sparked scorn from the CPH party, who insisted their win was fair and legal. In the midst of the recount issue, CPH Deputy Chairman Ozgur Ozel tweeted “The AKP doesn’t know how to lose. Democracy means knowing how to lose.” The demand for a city-wide recount was ultimately denied by the High Elections Board, the committee with the final and decisive word in Turkish elections.

Following this denial, The president escalated demands on April 10 when he suggested that the Istanbul election should be annulled and a new vote should ensue. To justify his actions, he focused on multiple non-civil service people holding positions at the ballot boxes in Istanbul, which breaks the country’s election requirements. However, despite the opposition’s protests,  İmamoğlu remains the mayor of Istanbul and continues to lead by over 14,000 votes after the majority of the recount has been completed. He has expressed his own exasperation at the continuous recounts, saying “Let me tell those who don’t know: we won. It’s done, enough. You’ve been counting for 10 days, bottom to top, top to bottom, right to left, left to right.” The ultimate decision to go through with the annulment and to redo the election in Istanbul rests solely with the High Elections Board, who have yet to respond.

This sudden power switch within the major cities was not the only controversy in the Turkish elections, which was scorned for somewhat biased coverage of only President Erdoğan while neglecting coverage of other campaigners. In the weeks following the election, multiple individuals elected into positions have been stripped of power or are being investigated for various charges of corruption.

Among these is the newly elected mayor of Diyarbakir, Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı, who is now the subject of a terror propaganda investigation. Diyarbakir is significant as a majority Kurdish area of Turkey. The primary focus of the accusation is on a ceremony allegedly attended by Mizraki and two officials of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic party, which incorporated both song and a moment of silence for the outlawed Kurdish military party. Mizraki’s investigation is ongoing and his position remains unclear. However, this replacing of newly elected public officials due to a terrorist link is a practice which has become popular, with 95 mayors being replaced in their municipalities since 2016.

These election complications and the humiliation for the nation’s leading political party occurred amidst tense relations between Turkey, the United States and Russia. As Turkey finalizes the missile-defense purchase made from Russia early April and the resulting standoff over the US condemnation of the purchase continues, Erdoğan’s party is recovering from the humiliation of losing both Ankara and Istanbul.

Joe Biden Gets ‘Me Too’d’ and What It Means

On Mar. 29, Democratic Nevada state legislator Lucy Flores published an article for The Cut detailing an uncomfortable experience she had regarding ex-Vice President Joe Biden, stirring up conversations about the Me Too movement, gender and power, and Biden’s possible presidential candidacy.

Flores writes in her article that Biden contacted her to help with a campaign rally in Nevada back in 2014. Just before she gave her speech, Flores says Biden came up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders, then “inhaled [her] hair” and “proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of [her] head.” Flores states that the encounter left her “uneasy, gross, and confused,” and that “even if his behavior wasn’t violent or sexual, it was demeaning and disrespectful.” She claims that the political and gender power differences between them made it impossible for her to confront him or report his behavior.

This is not the first time Biden has been criticized for his behavior towards women. The politician has a reputation for being “America’s creepy uncle,” a term coined in 2015 by an article for The Washington Post. Over the years, multiple pictures have been released of him hugging, touching or kissing other women. One such instance is a video clip of Biden massaging the shoulders and whispering into the ear of Stephanie Carter, the wife of the Ash Carter, who was the Defense Secretary at the time. While Carter spoke out to defend Biden’s behavior, his overly-tactile manner is described as an “open secret” among politicians.

In response to the article, Biden released a statement indicating that he did not recall the interaction in the same way Flores did, but that “men should pay attention” to women relating their experiences. He also promised to be more mindful in the future, then later joked about the situation in a speech at an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) in Washington, D.C. After hugging IBEW president Lonnie Stephenson, Biden said, “I just want you to know, I had permission to hug Lonnie.” Later, after putting an arm around the shoulders of a child who had joined him on stage, he added, “By the way, he gave me permission to touch him.” Biden also declined to apologize directly to the women who accused him of improper conduct. “I’m sorry I didn’t understand more,” he said. “I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything I’ve ever done.”

Lauran Whitworth, visiting professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, notes the importance of generational divides in Biden’s situation. “The issue is that consent culture hasn’t permeated that age group in the same way it has [the younger generation],” she said. Consent culture and the Me Too movement are relatively recent occurrences, which could affect how Biden interacts with the women around him. “I think there’s a real call from progressive circles for a culture change, and for younger politicians,” Whitworth said.

The Me Too Movement itself is also a point of contention in society, with some appreciating the efforts of the movement to empower women to report sexual assault, and others saying the movement has gone too far and caused people to be too lenient on what is considered sexual assault and who has committed it. Whitworth suggests that in it is less important to add Biden to the “laundry list of offenders” and more worthwhile to consider the broader impacts of what his behavior means about gender and power. “What we’re not talking about is what unites all of these situations, which is the differential power dynamics,” she said.

Of additional importance is considering how this will impact Biden’s possible bid for the 2020 presidential election. “Hearing Biden’s potential candidacy for president discussed without much talk about his troubling past as it relates to women became too much to keep bottled up any longer,” Flores writes. Progressives are calling for a younger candidate who is more in-touch with current politics like the Me Too movement, but others still see Biden as the best chance for removing Trump from office. Whitworth expressed that it may come down to whether or not Biden can handle the negative press in response to his refusal to apologize and jokes about consent. “I think there’s still time for him to apologize and acknowledge this,” she said. “It will be interesting to see how it impacts him moving forward.”

The President of Sudan has been ousted from office after a 30-year-rule

Sudan faces its latest round of political unrest after major protests which began in Dec. 2018.  The Guardian reports that on Apr. 6, thousands of demonstrators held a sit-in outside of a major military installation in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, which also houses the president’s mansion, while smaller demonstrations erupted throughout the country. Four days after, on April 10, the military took over after and successfully ousted President Omar al-Bashir after 30 years of repressive rule. The current authority is now negotiating with the protestors to form a transitional government.

A 10-member delegation representing the protesters delivered their demands during talks late on Saturday, according to a statement by umbrella group the Alliance for Freedom and Change. The group insists civilian representatives should be accepted on to the military council, and that a fully civilian government should be formed to run day-to-day affairs. “We will continue … our sit-in until all our demands are met,” said one of the alliance’s leaders, Omar al-Degier, reports The Guardian.

Bashir came to power through a coup in 1989 and the establishment of a four-year transitional government ending in elections. The December protests erupted after Bashir tripled the price of bread and claimed that he would seek a third presidential term in 2020 even though this would require a constitutional amendment. Subsequent crackdowns on anti-government demonstrations killed 51 and imprisoned hundreds more who can face torture and expedited trials.

Due to spiraling unrest, Bashir declared a year-long state of emergency in February. This declaration gave the security forces a free hand in suppressing protests and censored press as well as opposition political organizations. Even though Bashir admitted that the protesters have “legitimate” grievances he has reaffirmed the need for change through the ballot and claimed that the protests are being hijacked by people who want to throw Sudan into chaos. In a further move towards authoritarianism, Bashir dismissed the state and federal governments in February and appointed military officials to take their place.

The Guardian reports that the most recent protests are led by The Sudanese Professional Association which released a statement claiming that “the demands of this revolution are crystal clear… the regime and its head must step down.” The Professional Association had also reached out to the military, in the hope that it would assist in the establishment of a transitional government. The military had remained relatively aloof during the demonstrations, and some soldiers had even shown sympathy towards the protests. On April 6 and 9, military units fired on each other as one group defended the protesters against soldiers directly loyal to the president. One military officer even let the protesters hide in a military installation when a pro-government militia opened fire on a demonstration.

On April 13, the military council claimed that it would prosecute Bashir but would not extradite him. Bashir faces a genocide indictment from the International Criminal Court for his government’s actions in Darfur. Darfur, a region of western Sudan, has been in a state of civil war since 2003 that has killed 300,000 and displaced millions. Since the military became increasingly unreliable, Bashir had even brought in the Janjaweed, a pro-government militia accused of mass-murder in Darfur and South Sudan, reconstituting them as Rapid Support Forces according to The Guardian. The Janjaweed have attacked protesters in Khartoum, and are attempting to starve the sit-ins of food and water by establishing checkpoints throughout cities to prevent aid from reaching the demonstrators.

One positive event that emerged during the protests was a viral photo on social media which became the defining image of nearly four months of protests against Bashir’s authoritarian rule. The powerful image shows a woman in a traditional white Sudanese gown and moon-shaped golden earrings standing on top of a car with her right arm raised and a finger pointing to the sky. The image is of 22-year-old engineering student from Khartoum, Alaa Saleh.

The photo also represents the significant role women have played during the protests. Authorities have jailed hundreds of women since the protests began in December, according to The National. Now that Bashir is out of office the future for citizens like Saleh is uncertain, but hopefully a better future is on the horizon.

Mueller Report: Attorney General Barr plans to release redacted report this week

With the Russia investigation complete, a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report is expected to be released this week, according to Attorney General William Barr, but he does not plan to provide Congress with an unredacted version by demand of congressional Democrats.

Barr said that Justice Department lawyers and members of Mueller’s team would not remove information that would harm the “reputational interests” of Trump, according to the New York Times. Barr also said that he had not overruled Mueller’s team on any proposed redactions from the Mueller report, and he had not discussed with the White House sensitive information that Mueller’s team is blacking out before release.

House Democrats have clashed with Barr over his unwillingness to give an unredacted version of the report, including the investigation’s underlying evidence and material he may have edited from the report, says CNN.  Democratic lawmakers argue that they need such material to fully grasp the implications of Mueller’s findings and judge whether or not Barr fairly represented what was found. This comes after Barr’s decision to share the report’s main findings in a four-page letter, with which Democrats criticized him for failing to fully represent their findings. However, Barr reassured senators that he would be willing to re-evaluate his decision to try to accommodate their concerns.

Barr said he was preparing to review “both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign,” including the possibility that the government spied on the Trump campaign, reported The New York Times. Barr said, “I am not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it’s important to look at them”. He says he will restrict details that fall into four categories: grand jury material that is subject to federal secrecy rules, information that could reveal intelligence sources and methods, details that could compromise current investigations related to the Mueller probe and information that could impact the privacy of “peripheral” third parties. The result could be a heavily edited document with blacked out print on lots of pages.

The Attorney General also gave a few more details about the report under intense questioning from Democratic senators. He said he spoke with Mueller about why he did not reach a prosecutorial decision on obstruction of justice but did not disclose specifics about their conversation.

As for Trump, he says there is nothing to clear up, adding that he “won” and “totally exonerated,” reported The Hill. Speaking to reporters at the White House, the president reduced the investigation to an illegal “attempted coup.”

A comprehensive review of the Russia investigation will be completed around May or June by Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz. This will include whether law enforcement officials abused their surveillance powers to spy on a Trump campaign aide, according to Barr. As part of his investigation, Horowitz has been looking into the early stages of the Russia inquiry, including wiretap applications, informants and whether any political bias against Trump influenced investigative decisions.

His findings could once again ruffle some feathers between the Justice Department and F.B.I since their clash over their handling of separate investigations into both Hillary Clinton’s emails and ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Barr already laid out what he described as Mueller’s bottom-line conclusions in a four-page letter, saying the special counsel did not find evidence to establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election, nor that Trump obstructed justice. Those details are all that Congress and the public have received from the Justice Department about Mueller’s 22-month probe since it ended three weeks ago, and they have dramatically increased the curiosity for a glimpse at the special counsel’s report.

MD leads country with first all-female state National Guard command staff

As of last fall, the top four leaders in the Maryland National Guard are all women— three of them African-American— and all mothers.

Led by Maj. Gen. Linda L. Singh, the first African-American and first woman to hold the position of adjutant general for the Maryland National Guard since 2015, says the leaders went up the ranks through exemplary capability. According to Singh, the all-female leadership was entirely unintentional— she simply wanted the most qualified candidates available.

“What I didn’t want is to have a female leadership team that’s not competent,” Singh said, reported the Washington Post. She says that these female leaders have been tested in ways many of their male counterparts haven’t. She also credits perfect timing which aligned just right to allow for the all-female command team, such as the paths of each of the women’s careers, along with the “moves and retirements.”

When Singh proposed the likelihood of an all-female leadership team to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), she stressed to him that was no gender favoritism but that these were the right individuals for the positions. Hogan agreed and signed off on her recommendations.

Last June, Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead began serving as assistant adjutant general, and two months after, Brig. Gen. April Vogel took over as assistant adjutant general for Air. Then, in December, Command Sgt. Maj. Perlisa D. Wilson became senior enlisted adviser for Maryland’s National Guard.

This historical feat shows how far the country has come since the 1950s when women were first allowed to join the National Guard only as medical officers. It was not until the 1990s when a woman would become a state adjutant general, the top commander of a state’s military forces. Nationally, women continue to rise up in military ranks, taking on roles that were previously only filled by men.

However, even in Maryland, the military still has a long way to go. The field is overpoweringly male-dominated. Before Gen. Birckhead was promoted to brigadier general, she was the only woman out of 25 colonels in the Maryland Army National Guard. Each of the women credited other female National Guard leaders for noticing their skills and helping to elevate them. Sgt.

Wilson remembers how a high ranking female sergeant inspired her to rise up the ranks as well early in her career.

When she was promoted to private second class, she watched as the female superior was promoted to staff sergeant. At the promotion ceremony, the staff sergeant told her she wanted to someday reach her rank. As Wilson went up to receive her private second-class pin, she told the first sergeant: “I want to get to where she gets.” Both women have since far exceeded their goals. When Wilson ended up being promoted to sergeant major, the other female leader pinned her at her ceremony.

The four top female leaders are also all mothers. Brig. Gen. Vogel and other female leaders say they can empathize with soldiers seeking advice for balancing motherhood with their military occupations. Vogel said, “I can’t tell you the number of young women who have asked to speak with me and said… ‘How did you handle this?’ What do you do when you’re being questioned because you have to go home to take care of your kids?”, she discussed with the Washington Post.

For Maj. Gen. Linda L. Singh, she recalls not wanting anyone at work to know she was pregnant. She told the Washington Post, “The company commander at that time … he was the only one that knew,” Singh continued, “If it wasn’t for me having to wear a dress uniform, which I couldn’t fit, they probably wouldn’t have known until I was like seven or eight months because I just kept buying a bigger jacket. And just to tell you how it was during those days, they did not want me in the motor pool because I was pregnant. I went, ‘Really?’ … ‘Well, you’re pregnant.’ ‘Okay, well, I don’t have leprosy.’”,

Since the four women have taken their leadership positions, there has also been a noticeable shift in the leadership style of the Maryland military. Wilson says that as women, they are more detail-oriented and nurturing to the people. However, usually the gender makeup of the command staff is not a constant thought. Wilson says, “When you see a male leadership team, you don’t think anything of it. That’s the point we need to get to, where it becomes the norm. And we’re not quite there yet.”, reported the Washington Post.

Netanyahu wins his closest election race yet amidst corruption indictments

On Apr. 9, Israel recently held elections which decided the nation’s ruling coalition and consequently the future prime minister. Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is the current Prime Minister of Israel, and he won a fifth term in office. He is now the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history.

CNN reports that Netanyahu’s increasingly right-wing Likud Party won in a very tight race against the newly formed opposition Blue and White Party. Benjamin Gantz, a former member of Likud and the former Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defense Force, leads the center-left Blue and Whites supported by minor Arab and left-wing parties.

The absentee ballots have not been fully counted yet. However, it appears that Likud and minor right-wing and religious parties won 65 out of 120 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. However, Israel’s Election Committee said more than 28,000 invalid votes were cast in the previous day’s Knesset election, lending credence to complaints filed by several parties over alleged ballot theft and tampering, according to Israeli news outlet, i24News.

This was Netanyahu’s closest race as both parties declared victory on election night, however Gantz conceded on Apr. 10. Netanyahu stated that “the right-wing bloc led by the Likud won a clear victory. I thank the citizens of Israel for the trust. I will start forming a right-wing government with our natural partners as soon as tonight.”

To gain support among conservative Israelis, Netanyahu has pivoted right during this election. He promised to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank, even though the international consensus states that these settlements are illegal encroachments on Palestinian land. Additionally, Netanyahu has stated that he will form a coalition with Likud’s “natural allies.” The New York Times reports that among these natural allies are far-right parties like Yisrael Beiteinu. This party advocates for massive population transfers to create ethnic Jewish and Arab states; and on top of this, it seeks to deny citizenship to Arabs. In a previous election Yisrael Beiteinu’s slogan was “No loyalty, no citizenship.”

This close race was heavily influenced by the corruption indictments against Netanyahu, one of which was for allegedly offering preferential regulations for a newspaper in exchange for positive coverage. The Supreme Court will rule whether Netanyahu can hold office given his legal struggles. Despite these allegations, Netanyahu has won several victories in foreign policy.  The Trump administration moved its embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the contested city as the sole property of Israel and pulled out of the Iran deal, which Netanyahu vehemently opposed and Netanyahu has presided over relative peace in Israel proper. Due to the general cohesion between the Trump and Netanyahu administrations, it is not surprising that after the preliminary election results came in President Trump claimed that “the fact that Bibi won, I think we’ll see some pretty good action in terms of peace.”

Palestinian activists and politicians, however, seem to disagree with Trump’s assessment that Netanyahu will bring peace. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Council, stated that “Israelis overwhelmingly voted for candidates that are unequivocally committed to entrenching the status quo of oppression, occupation, annexation and dispossession in Palestine.” Despite the stakes, Palestinians turned out in record low numbers, and this is likely due to the perception that the Blue and Whites are not much better than Likud on Palestinian rights.

Mohammed Sultan, a teacher living in Gaza, told The Guardian that “whatever the outcome, the situation for Palestinians in Gaza will not differ. Whether Netanyahu wins or not, nothing will change.” Sultan specifically pointed to Gantz’s campaign ad, which showed a video of Israeli jets bombing a Gazan neighborhood in 2014, and boasted of the terrorists that he killed. The 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict that Gantz oversaw killed 2,251 Palestinians, 65% of which were civilians, and wounded over 11,000, including nearly 7,000 women and children, according to The United Nations Human Rights Council.  

Dozens of Department of Homeland Security Officials Depart Amidst Immigration Tensions

Dozens of high-level security officials have resigned or have been replaced in what top news outlets have been calling an “overhaul” of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Among the departing officials is the DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and the Secret Service Director Randolph D. Alles.

The stream of departures began on Sunday, April 7 when Secretary Nielsen turned in her resignation. The announcement came in the midst of mounting pressure over immigration at the border and administrative policies, which Nielson has struggled with since her nomination in October 2017. Her resignation makes her the third DHS Secretary to leave during the current presidential administration. Following the resignation, she tweeted on Sunday that “Its been an honor of a lifetime to serve with the brave men and women of @DHSgov.  I could not be prouder of and more humbled by their service, dedication, and commitment to keep our country safe from all threats and hazards.”

The day following Nielsen’s resignation, the Department of Homeland Security was faced with a variety of resignations and dismissals. Chief among these was Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles who was fired Monday, April 8 after 40 years of service. In response to his dismissal, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement saying “ “Randolph ‘Tex’ Alles has done a great job at the agency over the last two years, and the President is thankful for his over 40 years of service to the country.” His dismissal was part of a coordinated overhaul of top security position that the Trump administrations had been planning as tensions over border immigration increased in the previous months. Other essential departures from the security administration include, Nielsen’s Undersecretary Claire Grady, the US Citizen and Immigration Services Director Lee Cissna and DHS General Counsel John Mitnick.

The exodus from the DHS leaves a wide space in essential security positions. In a tweet on Sunday that acknowledged Nielsen’s service, Trump simultaneously announced her replacement to be Kevin McAleenan, who is the current US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner. Trump has he has “confidence that Kevin will do a great job!” and has remarked upon McAleenan strong immigration stance, a strong point of contention between him and ex-Secretary Nielsen. Alles’ replacement has also been announced as James M. Murray who will take over pending Alles’ official departure in May of this year.

The dozens of officials who faced dismissal or resignation were a part of a planned purge by the Trump administration in order to establish a “tougher” stance on border security. In the previous months, arrests made at the border have jumped into the hundreds of thousands while detention facilities remain filled beyond maximum capacity with immigrants. Issues of border security have been a tense issue in relations between DHS and the White House, as Trump and his staff have repeatedly questioned top security’s office’s role in immigration. On the dismissals, Wisconsin Representative Ron Johnson (R) said that the country was in need of “steady, informed and effective leadership in the administration and in Congress to have any hope of fixing our out-of-control border security and immigration problems.”

Nielsen, Allens, Grady, and the other officials are apart of a long list of top government officials who have been dismissed or have submitted resignations during the Trump administration. As issues of remain tense after Trump’s recent threats to close sections of the US-Mexico border, the new high-level DHS officials are transitioning into new roles.

Roy Wood Jr. Delivers Thirteenth Annual Twain Lecture

On Friday, April 12, actor, comedian, and “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” correspondent Roy Wood Jr. delivered the Thirteenth Annual Twain Lecture, an annual event organized by Professor of English Benjamin Click.

Wood, who began his comedy career in 1999, has appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam,” and was a finalist on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.” He is most well-known for his role as a correspondent for “The Daily Show.”

The event began with opening statements from President Tuajuanda C. Jordan, who discussed the need for humor in turbulent political times. “The truth seems to be, well, whatever we want it to be these days,” said Jordan, “you can have a dream and you can make it a fact, because you had the dream, so it has to be real.”

Jordan introduced Dr. Click, who has organized the Twain lecture since its inception in 2007. Click has taught courses on American humor, rhetoric, southern literature and Mark Twain since joining the College in 1998.

Dr. Click, after opening remarks, introduced Roy Wood Jr., who performed thirty minutes of comedy, discussing topics such as race, films, comic book readers, and Golden Corral customers during his routine and drawing many laughs from the audience.

“I enjoyed his routine, and how he kept pushing the boundaries with the audience and then called attention to the fact we were uncomfortable or not as responsive,” said Lindsay Wooleyhand, who works as a fellow for Click, “he seemed to be in tune with us.”

Wooleyhand also noted that the Q&A session after the lecture “felt more meaningful than some of the past Twain lectures.” Wood took questions from students about celebrities, the comedy industry and the Daily Show after the lecture. “I think it was a combination of better questions were being asked, and [Wood] was able to successfully articulate his thoughts on the spot.”

The Twain Lecture takes place annually,  with occasional additional lectures such as “Laughing to the Polls.” St. Mary’s has previously hosted author David Sedaris and co-founder of The Onion Scott Dikkers.

Senator Van Hollen Addresses the St. Mary’s Community

On Monday, April 8, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D) visited St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where he gave a lecture on political participation, while promoting new legislation put forward by the Democratic house. He then briefly took questions from the audience. The event was heavily attended by both students and members of the community, with barely any seats left open.

The lecture was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Democracy as well as the Patuxent Partnership, an organization working to “advance science and technology through speaker programs, forums, and networking,” focusing on “the exchange of ideas, information, and data related to technologies.”

Prior to becoming a senator, Van Hollen served in the House, representing Maryland’s Eighth Congressional district. He was elected to the Senate in 2016, when he ran to replace Barbara Mikulski. He is joined by Senator Ben Cardin (D) in representing Maryland in the Senate.

Van Hollen was introduced by President Tuajuanda C. Jordan, who briefly spoke about how thankful the college was that the senator made time to visit. Dr. Jordan also held a moment of silence for Michael Busch (D), the Maryland Speaker of the House, who passed away only a few short days ago. Busch was the longest serving speaker of the House in history, according to a tweet from Governor Larry Hogan (R).

Van Hollen took the stage to a warm welcome of applause, beginning by explaining that he had planned to talk about college debt, but decided against it, realizing that as students we are all too familiar with this concept. He did quickly elaborate on the need for more Pell Grants, scholarships and federal support, explaining that many students are “behind already because they have to dig themselves out of a big hole,” a comment which garnered many nods and murmurs of agreement from students.

Instead of focusing on the ever increasing levels of debt students are faced with, the senator launched into a discussion of the surrounding area, stating that “Southern Maryland is known for bringing together different parts of this community,” citing the Patuxent River Navy Base and the many local industries.

After a few short minutes Van Hollen pivoted, moving on to promote the “For The People Act” (H.R. 1), the first bill from the new Democratic majority in the House. Van Hollen summarized the legislation as a way to “refresh our democracy, to known down barriers, and to encourage more Americans to participate in the election and political process.” The bill is ambitious, and is composed of numerous goals, such as campaign finance reform, lobbying and better participation in elections.

Van Hollen focused on the abysmal voting rates among American citizens, stating that “It is disappointing when you look at how few people exercise their right to vote.” He went on to compare the United States with other nations where “people are yearning for the right to vote and participate in elections,” declaring that “here in the United States we take that for granted.” He drove this point home by reading out the statistics on voting in both the presidential elections and midterms, explaining that in presidential elections, roughly 60% of eligible voters cast votes, but that in midterms that rate drops severely to about 40%. The senator then compared these rates to that of younger voters, stating that in presidential elections there is about a 40-50% turnout, and 20-25% in midterms.

He also spoke about the need to make voting easier, thereby removing some of the barriers to participation that have historically stood in the way. Van Hollen was asked by an audience member if he supported making election day a national holiday, to which he replied that he was in favor, saying “It’s so important.” He highlighted the benefits of same day voter registration, a piece of legislation already enacted by the Maryland General Assembly, as well as the need to reaffirm the weakened Voting Rights Act.

Van Hollen also tackled the issue of dark money in politics, a term referring to money spent influencing elections by organizations that are not required to disclose the identity of their donors. He lambasted the the Citizens United decision, stating that it “took a bad system and made it much worse,” adding “I believe they twisted the first amendment.” Using this court case, Van Hollen dove home the importance of voting, explaining that this vote was a 5-4 decision, and like in so many other cases and elections, one vote made all the difference, setting a standard for decades to come. He pushed back against the idea that money in politics will self-regulate, stating that “when you unleash millions and millions of dollars, that doesn’t self-police,” gaining laughter from the audience.

The senator ended by re-emphasizing the need to participate in democracy, stating “Bottom line, every vote counts. Please do everything you can to participate in our democracy. At the very least take part in our elections.”