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As the economy endures high unemployment and a jittery stock market, President Obama has preached sacrifice and fiscal discipline. But the pictures coming out of a sun-splashed Spanish resort this week may be sending a different message.

Critics portrayed the foreign getaway as tone-deaf to the deep economic anxiety back home. Earlier in the week, the first lady was photographed walking through the streets of the Costa del Sol region wearing a one-shouldered Jean Paul Gaultier top.

Every first family takes vacations. The criticism aimed at Michelle Obama is that she chose to visit a foreign country rather than remain in the U.S. and support its fragile economy.

The opulence of the European trip also has drawn scrutiny. The president has urged frugality in lean economic times. He once cautioned that families saving money for college shouldn’t “blow a bunch of cash in Vegas.”

Though her friends arrived in Spain on their own, Michelle and Sasha Obama flew in on a type of aircraft that is also used by Vice President Joe Biden. It costs the government $11,555 an hour to operate the plane, according to the Air Force. Assuming a nearly eight-hour flight to nearby Malaga, the total round-trip cost of the flight is about $178,000.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has declined to answer questions about the vacation, saying only that it is a “private trip.”

After the first lady returns home, she and her family will soon head out for another vacation. They will travel to the Gulf Coast for the weekend of Aug. 14, followed by a 10-day vacation on Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts.

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