And now some fresh pickings from the political grapevine:

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Tape's Authenticity Questionable
Some Swiss contrarians have put the kabosh on the latest bin-Laden-is-alive rumor. The Swiss Voice Research Institute (IDIAP) has performed an exhaustive study of an audiotape released this month and attributed to the Al Qaeda favorite. The institute compared the tape with 90 minutes of known bin Laden recordings -- and concluded that the most recent offering, broadcast with great fanfare on Al Jazeera, probably is a fake. Professor Herve Bourlard of IDIAP says, "The authenticity is certainly questionable, there is doubt. Based on the data, we are around 55-60 percent confident that it may not be bin Laden." But he cautioned the institute would need many more speech samples before it could say with complete assurance that the tape was the handiwork of an Usama wannabe.    

McGreevey Nurturing Relationships Business or Personal?
New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey, capping off a banner year for Bay State Democrats, headed off recently for the auld sod, his ancestral homeland of Ireland -- only to wind up in the doghouse. The trip began as a relatively modest $20,000 junket for the governor, his wife and assorted camp followers. But one thing led to another, and the final bill hit $105,800 -- including charges for first-class Continental Airlines upgrades, a Dublin hotel suite and a $16,000 cell phone bill. The Washington Post reports McGreevey traveled to Ireland with his wife, eight state officials, three state troopers and three dozen paying executives and friends. The governor said the trip would nurture relationships between Irish and American businesses -- which it no doubt did. But yesterday, he promised to pay his family reunion expenses, and the Democratic State Committee agreed to reimburse $57,517 of a trip it says cost $84,017 -- leaving taxpayers to pick up at least $26,500 of the junket's cost.
     
Mocking the Holiday Season?
Christians are lashing out at Planned Parenthood for the pro-abortion lobby's holiday greeting card. The cover features a snowflake design and the words "Choice on Earth." Several national Christian groups are protesting nationwide on Web sites, radio shows and newspaper letters columns. They say the language demeans the angels' "Peace on Earth" gospel. Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America noted that Christmas celebrates the birth of a baby to a young mother -- a baby who was laid in a manger because there was nowhere else to go. She says, "If Planned Parenthood had been around 2,000 years ago, then Jesus would have been a target to be aborted." 
 
Al Gore In the Lead for Dems in 2004?
And finally, according to a new Washington Post poll, former Vice President Al Gore holds a substantial lead over his potential rivals for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. Forty-nine percent of the Democrats surveyed said they favored Gore, while Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who was Gore's running mate in 2000, placed second with 10 percent. Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle and Sen. John Kerry were tied for third at 6 percent, while House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, who is relinquishing his post in preparation for a likely presidential campaign, runs fifth with 4 percent. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who has declared his candidacy, got 3 percent, while Sen. John Edwards and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean got 1 percent each.

With more than 35 years of journalism experience to draw from, Brit Hume currently serves as a senior political analyst for FOX News Channel (FNC) and contributes to all major political coverage. Hume also is regular panelist on FOX's weekly public affairs program, "FOX News Sunday" on Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET. Click here for more information on Brit Hume