You've probably seen the photos by now; they've certainly been circulated enough. They are pictures of three world leaders and one exceedingly grim-looking first lady taken at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.
The powerful trio is British Prime Minister David Cameron, President Obama and, between them, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. And they seem preoccupied with taking a selfie — a self-portrait — much to the apparent irritation of Michelle Obama. Various versions have the first lady appearing to stare icily off in the distance as the three position themselves for their group photo. Or giving the Danish prime minister the distinct side-eye. Or looking at all three of them in seemingly undisguised disapproval. In one, she's even switched places so she's sitting between the president and Thorning-Schmidt.
The interwebs are having a field day.
The New York Post gleefully put it this way: "Michelle looks annoyed by Obama's selfie at Mandela memorial."
Then there's TIME magazine's take on things, which notes the trio bumped what had been fascination with the handshake the president exchanged with Cuban President Raul Castro.
There was a lot of speculation that the reason Mrs. O might have been frowning was because she was a little ... peeved ... that her husband was having such a good time with the attractive Danish prime minister. But I don't think that was the root reason.
Her glacial countenance was, IMHO, because she thought all three world leaders should have known better — and certainly her husband should have — than to take photos of themselves as if they were at a Kool and the Gang concert. They were at a state occasion, representing their respective countries.
Yes, the South Africans have told us, since Mr. Mandela's passing, that they celebrate life at their services — but there's a difference between remembering the departed with joyful song and documenting how cool it is that you were there to see him off. And let's face it: Heads of state have different rules than the rest of us. We hold them to a higher standard.
Mrs. O's frosty face might have been because she felt the grown-ups should have acted more grown than her own children (who took their own selfies at the last inauguration, but hey, they're kids!) And I'm betting there was probably some conversation about that on the way home.
Maybe beginning with, "Don't make me pull this plane over ... "
Uruguay will become the world's first country to approve the growing, selling and use of marijuana, after the country's Senate voted for the change, which the president has promised to sign into law.
Reuters describes the move as "a pioneering social experiment that will be closely watched by other nations debating drug liberalization."
Sen. Constanza Moreira, who voted with the majority, called the vote on Tuesday "an historic day."
"Many countries of Latin America, and many governments, will take this law as an example," she said.
The Senate vote was 16 to 13, with the ruling Broad Front majority united in favor, The Associated Press says.
Reuters says that under the new law, set to go into effect in April, "Cannabis consumers will be able to buy a maximum of 1.4 ounces each month from licensed pharmacies as long as they are Uruguayan residents over the age of 18 and registered on a government database that will monitor their monthly purchases."
"When the law is implemented in 120 days, Uruguayans will be able to grow six marijuana plants in their homes a year, or as much about 17 ounces, and form smoking clubs of 15 to 45 members that can grow up to 99 plants per year."
Even so, the AP writes:
"Two-thirds of Uruguayans oppose a government-run marijuana industry, according to opinion polls. But [President Jose Mujica] said he's convinced the global drug war is a failure and feels bureaucrats can do a better job of containing addictions and beating organized crime than police, soldiers and prison guards."
Hundreds of riot police have stormed an anti-government camp in the capital's Independence Square, with police dismantling barricades amid shouts of "Shame!" and "We will stand!" from protesters.
As we reported on Monday, it follows a similar move by police against a protester camp near City Hall.
The protests began late last month after President Viktor Yanukovych backed away from an agreement to strengthen economic ties with the 28-nation European Union — a pact that enjoyed the support of roughly half of the people in the former Soviet republic.
By moving closer to the EU, Ukraine would have weakened links with Russia, which has dominated the region for centuries.
The Associated Press says:
"The confrontation at the protest camp unfolded as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland were in the city to try to talk to the government and the opposition and work out a solution."
The police crackdown comes as Yanukovych meets with former Ukrainian presidents Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko for a "round table" discussion apparently aimed at figuring a way out of the political crisis.
"Senior envoys including the European foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, and an assistant secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, arrived in Kiev to convey the message from Western governments that the protests should not be dispersed violently."
"The renewed diplomatic maneuvering was intended to prevent a repeat of the bloodshed during a crackdown by the police in Kiev on Nov. 30, and to contain the widening civil uprising, which has plunged the nation into deep uncertainty."
The fight over taxes, entitlements and income inequality has clearly been reignited in the Democratic Party, sparking questions about whether, and how hard, to push economic populism as the party approaches the 2014 midterm elections and beyond.
The latest flare-up came between centrist Democrats at the Third Way think tank and liberals who view Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as their champion.
Two Third Way co-founders panned Warren's approach — more specifically, her call to expand Social Security and raise taxes on the wealthiest. That their op-ed ran on the conservative opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal didn't help matters.
Was it a sign of things to come, another intraparty tug-of-war reminiscent of the mid-1980s when the now-defunct, centrist Democratic Leadership Council was formed to pull a very liberal party to the political center?
Steve McMahon, a Democratic political strategist with Purple Strategies, doesn't think it will get to that point in 2016.
"I don't think Elizabeth Warren is going to run for president, and Hillary Clinton is more a centrist than a Ted Kennedy liberal," McMahon said in an interview. "I don't think we're going to have that" 1980s-style fight between liberals and centrists.
"People on the left understand that pragmatism wins elections," he said. They have two two-term Democratic presidents as proof of that proposition.
"Hillary Clinton is progressive but pragmatic, as President Obama and President Clinton both are and were," McMahon said. "And that's what wins."
Clinton hasn't announced that she's running in 2016, but she's widely expected to and already has a commanding lead among Democrats in preference polls.
One thing the economic populists have going for them is that the issue set resonates with many voters. Last April, Gallup polled this question: "Do you feel that the distribution of money and wealth in this country today is fair, or do you feel that the money and wealth in this country should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people?"
Fifty-two percent of respondents supported redistribution. More than a quarter of Republicans agreed with that. That suggests the existence of a healthy audience out there for a message of economic populism.
President Obama has teed up economic fairness issues for the 2014 and 2016 elections with his vow to address income inequality and social mobility for the rest of his time in office.
Obama's support for raising the minimum wage and closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy and corporations, backed by most congressional Democrats, is part of that economic populist push.
Congressional negotiators announced Tuesday that they'd reached a budget proposal to restore about $65 billion worth of sequestration cuts in exchange for cuts elsewhere and additional fees.
If approved by both the House and Senate, the plan — hammered out by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington — would avoid another government shutdown on Jan. 15.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday evening, Ryan said the budget plan doesn't raise taxes and that it's a "step in the right direction."
He said he sees the deal passing in the GOP-controlled House.
"What am I getting out of this? I'm getting more deficit reduction. So the deficit will go down more by passing this than if we did nothing," he said.
Murray said: "We have broken through the partisanship and gridlock" that could have caused another government shutdown.
President Obama called the proposal a "good first step," but he urged Congress to extend federal unemployment benefits past their expiration at the end of the calendar year.
The Tea Party Express, which calls itself the nation's largest Tea Party political action committee, said the deal announced Tuesday was disappointing.
"If the Sequestration was a baby step forward, this is a baby step backward," Chairman Amy Kremer said in a statement. "Americans deserve better than a compromise that continues excessive spending, adding fees in lieu of taxes."
A statement from Murray's office says the two-year deal would "set overall discretionary spending for the current fiscal year at $1.012 trillion—about halfway between the Senate budget level of $1.058 trillion and the House budget level of $967 billion."
"The agreement would provide $63 billion in sequester relief over two years, split evenly between defense and non-defense programs. In fiscal year 2014, defense discretionary spending would be set at $520.5 billion, and non-defense discretionary spending would be set at $491.8 billion."
The Associated Press writes:
"Officials said the increases would be offset by a variety of spending reductions and increased fees elsewhere in the budget totaling about $85 billion over a decade, enough for a largely symbolic cut of roughly $20 billion in the nation's $17 trillion debt."
The Washington Post wrote earlier:
"Senior aides familiar with the talks have said the emerging agreement aims to raise agency spending to roughly $1.015 trillion in fiscal 2014 and 2015. That would bring agency budgets up to the target already in place for fiscal 2016.
"Republican leaders were also seeking additional savings [to] reduce deficits projected to exceed $6 trillion over the next decade. But the deal is not expected to trim the debt, which is now larger, as a percentage of the economy, than at any point in U.S. history except during World War II."
According to the AP:
"The bipartisan push for a budget agreement stems from automatic cuts that are themselves the consequence of divided government's ability to complete a sweeping deficit reduction package in 2011."
"If left in place, the reductions would carve $91 billion from the day-to-day budgets of the Pentagon and domestic agencies when compared with spending limits set by the hard-fought 2011 budget agreement."
"Support for a deal to ease the reductions is strongest in Congress among defense hawks in both houses and both parties who fear the impact on military readiness from a looming $20 billion cut in Pentagon spending."
FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said in a statement before the news conference on Tuesday: "It's disingenuous for Republicans to surrender the only real spending reforms [sequestration] accomplished under the Obama Administration, and call that a deal.
"Immediate spending and revenue hikes without long-term reforms to spending and entitlement programs isn't a deal, it's just another manufactured, govern-by-crisis shakedown."