Compiled by SARA RATHOD ’15
Nation and World Columnist
Supreme court strikes down cap on overall campaign contributions
Last week, the Supreme Court abolished the limit on the total amount any individual can donate to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle. The divisive 5-to-4 decision reflected a deep split in the court between conservative members, who are skeptical of the government’s role in restricting participation in politics in the form of campaign contributions, and liberal members, who are fighting to preserve the campaign finance restrictions they say are critical to assuring that politics is not distorted by the wealth of a select few. Justice Stephen G. Breyer read his dissent from the bench, a rare act of opposition highlighting the controversy within the court. “If Citizens United opened a door, today’s decision, we fear, will open a floodgate,” he said, noting that the ruling “creates serious loopholes in the law and undermines, perhaps devastates, what remains of campaign finance reform.” Those who voted to strike down the limit argued that the government should only be permitted to restrict campaign contributions to target quid pro quo corruption. In all other instances, the First Amendment trumps concerns about the indirect influence of money in politics. Donors are still restricted to $2,600 per candidate, although dissenters fear that the ruling will pave the way for further dismantling of campaign finance laws.
Senate passes extension of unemployment benefits, bill expected to die in House
On Monday, the Senate successfully passed a five month extension of long-term unemployment benefits for nearly 3 million Americans, transferring the bill to the Republican-controlled House where is is expected to face a difficult road toward passage. The bill would restore the benefits cut off on Dec. 28 and extend them through June 1. In the past, unemployment benefits were available for 26 weeks after someone loses his or her job. However in 2008, that was extended to as long as 99 weeks. Last year, Congress cut the maximum amount of time someone can receive aid to 73 weeks. In December, federal aid lapsed altogether, cutting off nearly 1 million people at once. Seven House Republicans from districts with high unemployment or swing districts wrote to Speaker of the House John Boehner urging him to take up the bill. Other Republican lawmakers hope to attach it to supposed job creation measures, such as building the Keystone XL pipeline and limiting employer-mandated health care coverage to employees who work 40 hours a week, rather than 30. Boehner has stated several months ago that he will not take up the bill unless the benefits come hand-in-hand with job creation. Others oppose any form of unemployment benefit extension, arguing that “emergency” benefits are no longer necessary six years after the recession.
Protesters in eastern Ukraine call for further Russian intervention
In Donetsk, Ukraine, several hundred protesters declared a separatist republic and announced a referendum to be held by May 11 to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. The demonstrators have also called on Moscow to send troops into the region as a peacekeeping force, although there does not appear to be an imminent threat to the peace. The Ukrainian government has denounced the protests as being orchestrated by Russia in order to justify an eventual invasion into the Ukrainian mainland. The Obama administration has also expressed deep skepticism of the legitimacy of the protests, stating that there is evidence that some of the protesters had been paid. Even so, there has been no indication that Russia is prepared to respond to the demands. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov stated that Russia has no intention of taking military action in eastern Ukraine. The United States has threatened further sanctions on Russia if it takes any action, whether military or covert, to undermine the authority of the Ukrainian government.
Israel-Palestinian peace talks reach an impasse
Negotiations between Israel and Palestine, brokered by the United States, broke down this past week as both sides accused the other of violating the terms of the negotiations. After Israel failed to release Palestinian prisoners by the agreed-upon deadline, Palestinians responded by formally applying for membership with 15 international bodies, defying their promise not to seek international recognition as a state during the nine months of peace talks. Israel then announced that it would not release the prisoners and was considering further sanctions against the Palestinians. Secretary of State John Kerry, upon his return to the United States, is scheduled to meet with President Obama to reassess the role of the United States in the peace talks and consider whether there is a path forward. Kerry has pushed the peace negotiations to the top of the Obama administration’s international agenda and hoped to achieve a comprehensive peace accord within nine months. Following the recent impasse, he told reporters, “There are limits to the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend, if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps in order to be able to move forward.”