Coming Up in CQ Researcher

The “New” Russia
When Russian voters elected a new president on March 2, the outcome was hardly in doubt. First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, 42, is both genuinely popular and had the backing of the incumbent, Vladimir Putin. The Bush administration is hoping Medvedev will improve current U.S.-Russian tension. In 2001, Bush said he looked Putin in the eye and saw a man who was “straightforward and honest.” But it was downhill from there. Relations between Washington and the Kremlin got steadily worse after Iraq, with some experts warning that further worsening could lead to a new Cold War. The contours of U.S.-Russian differences have emerged in disagreements over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, in diplomatic stand-offs over Kosovo, Ukraine and Georgia (Russian neighbors who want to join NATO), in disputes over gas and oil pipelines and above all in the Bush administration’s plan to put an anti-missile system in Eastern Europe. Caught in the middle as usual is Europe, the historic battlefield of Russian expansionism. French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed the general concern – increasingly reflected in the polls – that “ Russia is imposing its return on the world scene by playing its assets, notably oil and gas, with a certain brutality.”
By Roland Flamini

Campaign Finance Reform
As the 2008 presidential contest approaches, the campaign-finance system is in upheaval. Six years after Congress passed the landmark Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act to help curb the influence of unregulated “soft” money in politics, the so-called McCain-Feingold law is facing court challenges and persistent claims that it infringes on free-speech rights. Meanwhile, the system of public funding for federal campaigns is teetering, and Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama is poised to be the first major-party presidential candidate to bypass it in a general election. The Federal Election Commission, charged with enforcing the nation’s campaign-finance laws, has been paralyzed because of partisan bickering. And spurred partly by the effects of McCain-Feingold and the shortcomings of the public-financing system, candidates have been turning more and more to small donors, who are responding in unprecedented ways.
By Thomas J. Billitteri

Digital Television
After years of delays, the nation’s full-power television stations are facing a deadline of Feb. 17, 2009, to switch from traditional analog broadcasting and go all digital. Digital TV promises viewers better-quality pictures and sound. The switch also frees up valuable room on the electromagnetic spectrum for wireless communications. Broadcasters will be able to offer more programming and to match the digital signals of subscription cable and satellite services. But viewers with older TV sets and no cable or satellite connection have to buy special converter boxes to continue receiving most over-the-air channels after the switch. The government is offering coupons to help viewers pay for the boxes, but many people are still confused. And some stations may have reduced coverage with digital signals. Meanwhile, public-interest groups complain that broadcasters are getting a financial windfall without any new public-interest obligations.
By Kenneth Jost