Passport

Romney ad links Obama to Che, Chavez, and Castro

When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he'd vote for Barack Obama if he could, you knew it was only a matter of time until the president's opponents used the unwelcome endorsement against him. First there was the ad released by Gary Bauer's Campaign for American Values PAC on the "dictator vote" that Obama had secured from Chavez, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Now, as the Miami Herald reports, the Romney campaign itself has released a Spanish-language ad on Spanish-language TV in Florida that shows Chavez and Raul Castro's niece Mariela expressing support for Obama, and even tries to tie the president to Che Guevara by noting that the Environmental Protection Agency sent out an Hispanic Heritage Month email containing a picture with a mural of the Marxist revolutionary in the background. The Obama campaign has responded by emphasizing the administration's efforts to expand trade with Latin America and criticizing Romney for "giving Chavez the attention he thrives on and that he doesn't deserve."

Romney approved the message, but he isn't promoting the ad on his YouTube channel and the Miami Herald says the campaign has refused repeated requests to furnish the ad to the paper. Why? Perhaps because the spot stoops pretty low in sending out subliminal messages about Obama being a closet socialist. Poor email judgment on the part of the EPA does not make Obama a Marxist revolutionary, and superimposing Obama's face on a famous Che poster -- and then showing the poster again, this time with Che's face -- probably won't convince voters otherwise.

The ad also doesn't mention that Fidel Castro has said a robot would be a better president than Obama, or that Chavez once called the president a "clown" after Obama criticized Venezuela's ties to Cuba and Iran. During the 2008 election, Obama's aides had to tamp down controversy after a flag with an image of Che Guevara was spotted at a volunteer office unaffiliated with the campaign. Are we really doing this again?

YouTube

Passport

Rumors swirl as Putin stays out of sight

Russia's vigorous-living, photo op-loving president has been lying low for the past few weeks. Putin reportedly rarely leaves his official residence, has postponed planned trips to Bulgaria, India and Turkey, and is sending Dmitry Medvedev in his place to a summit in Turkmenistan. 

Naturally, the rumor mills have been running wild. According to one media report, he was injured in September's ultralight crane flight. Other sources say he needs back surgery and has been seen wearing a brace. At the recent APEC summit in Vladivostok, he reportedly told Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that he's on a restricted diet. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed this talk

“He was suffering from some muscle pain then,” Peskov said, as reported by the Interfax news agency. “Actually, we have never tried to conceal it because any athlete has lots of injuries, which, however, do not mean any restrictions of his activities.”

It's not at all unusual for leaders to conceal illness or injury, but for one whose public image is as tied to health and vigor as Putin, it's not surprising that he doesn't want to be seen in public looking physically weakened. 

It's not clear if this is at all related, but Putin has also canceled his annual live telethon in which he takes direct phone calls from Russian citizens. We may be seeing a bit less of the president in his third term. 

SERGEY PONOMAREV/AFP/Getty Images