8 a.m. ET: If you can tear yourself away from "The Michael Jackson Memorial Orgy of Excess" on every network today, you might just catch a few tidbits of news from President Obama's ongoing visit to Russia, where he is trying cautiously to build better relations between the two powers.
Obama continued that incremental effort today, speaking at a graduation ceremony at the New Economic School. "Let me be clear: America wants a strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia," he said, while also lightening the mood with references to Alexander Ovechkin and the chilly Moscow weather. As he did during his famed speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Obama prefaced criticisms of his hosts with acknowledgements of his own country's flaws. "By no means is America perfect," he said, before emphasizing the corrective powers of democracy and free speech.
Yesterday's agreement between Obama and Dimitry Medvedev on nuclear arms reductions got prominent play, leading many newspapers and even some TV networks that weren't already on full Jackson alert. But while coverage of the nuclear agreement itself was positive, most portrayals of the trip so far have been leavened with a dose of realism about what has and hasn't been accomplished. "The two sides took small steps toward scaling back their nuclear arsenals but left wide differences and lingering difficulties on other issues, such as Iran, missile defense, American military support to Russia's neighbors and human rights," the Los Angeles Times writes. Similarly, the Financial Times notes that while Obama and Medvedev "talked much about co-operating on Afghanistan, they barely said a word in public on Iran, where there are big gaps between their policies."
Back in the U.S., in non-Jackson-related cult of personality news, speculation and analysis continues on why Sarah Palin is resigning and what it means for her future. "I am not a quitter. I am a fighter," Palin told CNN Monday in a brief interview "standing on the shores of Dillingham, Alaska, wearing hip waders." Can Palin continue to say she's not a quitter after announcing that she's quitting? The jury is still out on that question. For his part, Roger Simon writes that Palin would be through in politics were it not for the fact "that if the Republicans were picking a nominee today, they would pick Sarah Palin." Simon says that other well-known candidates might be able to build credible campaigns by 2012, but today, "Palin would be the winner, because more than anyone else, she has won over the hearts and minds of the Republican rank and file." Rich Lowry opines that Palin "needs substance" if she's going to have a chance in 2012, and also mocks her contention that she is resigning for the sake of Alaska, calling that explanation "too absurd" to be taken seriously.
On the health-care front, leading hospital associations agreed last night to contribute $155 billion toward the cost of the uninsured, following the example of the pharmaceutical industry -- volunteer to help defray the cost of the reform before the government forces you to do it anyway. Max Baucus vowed Monday night that health care reform would be on the Senate floor before the August recess, though the path to 60 votes remains unclear. That path could get a little clearer if the White House caves on wanting a public option in the final bill, and Rahm Emanuel appeared to give the administration some extra wiggle room on that front in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Emanuel mentioned the possibility of a public plan "trigger," an idea that many Democrats strongly oppose.
Al Franken will be sworn in as a senator today. Joe Piscopo, impersonating Frank Sinatra, will administer the oath. Sorry, had to make one last Saturday Night Live reference before Franken becomes boring. Actually, based on Franken's remarks yesterday -- "I'm going to work day and night to make sure kids have a great future and that America's best days lay ahead" -- he has already taken his boring pills. The senate needs some spark, which reminds us that Palin is now out of a job. Keep your fingers crossed.
July 7, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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