Friday, August 6, 2010

Here, Have Some Cake

First lady under fire for her glitzy Spanish vacation
As her husband celebrated his 49th birthday in Chicago with Oprah, first lady Michelle Obama was halfway around the world, on vacation with her 9-year-old daughter, Sasha, in Spain. The two are traveling on what the White House has described as a four-day "private trip" with several Obama family friends along the country's ritzy southern coast.

Of course, no first lady's life is truly ever private, and already plenty of drama is swirling around Michelle Obama's foreign jaunt. Some critics have laid into the trip's price, while others are highlighting an apparent diplomatic gaffe between the United States and Spain.

Fox News reports that prior to the first lady's arrival, the State Department had issued a travel warning to Americans advising that "racist prejudices could lead to the arrest of Afro-Americans who travel to Spain." The wording was reportedly removed from the State Department website Monday, ahead of Michelle Obama's arrival in the country Wednesday.

Yet the bigger public furor concerns the cost and appearance of the trip. In a scathing editorial published Thursday, New York Daily News writer Andrea Tantaros trashed Michelle Obama as a "modern day Marie Antoinette" for taking such a glitzy vacation while most of the country is struggling to make ends meet.The Obama entourage is staying at the luxury Hotel Villa Padierna, a Ritz-Carlton property often described as one of the world's top 10 hotels. Rates range between $500 and $2,500 a night. It's not clear that the Obama delegation picked this hotel specifically, or if the Secret Service — which often gets final say over where a protectee stays — made the accommodations call.

Either way, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that the first lady will pay her personal expenses — as will the friends who are traveling with her. But that only covers a small part of the ultimate expense, given that she has full-time Secret Service protection and has to travel with an entourage of staff. That cost, as well as her travel on board an official Air Force charter plane, is covered by taxpayers.

As the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet reports, by the end of the summer, the first lady will have taken eight vacations. That includes a June trip to Los Angeles, where she and her daughters attended the NBA Finals, as well as an upcoming trip to the Florida Gulf Coast next weekend and a 10-day visit to Martha's Vineyard later this month with the president.

Michelle Obama is hardly the only first lady to travel overseas without her husband. Laura Bush and her daughters, Barbara and Jenna, traveled to Africa in 2007, where they went on safari. Yet her trip was regarded as an "official" visit and included several public events. According to the White House, this trip is entirely private, save for a photo-op with the Spanish royal family, who has invited the first lady and her daughter for an official visit.

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