And now some fresh pickings from the political grapevine:

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Tough Liberal?
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry is sitting out this week's Democratic National Committee meeting -- doctor's orders. But that doesn't mean he won't be trying to compete with his fellow presidential hopefuls. Kerry already has met with party grandees, and attendees at this weekend's meetings are receiving questionnaires that ask them to indicate their support or lack thereof for Kerry's candidacy. Meanwhile, Vogue magazine has published a gushy piece about Kerry, bearing the headline: "Can a Blue-Blooded Mega-Millionaire Win the Heartland?" In the article, Kerry reiterates his opposition to the death penalty -- except for terrorists -- but admits, "If somebody killed somebody in my family, I'd want to strangle the son of a bitch with my own hands." Kerry told Vogue his record as a prosecutor showed "a toughness that does not fit a quote 'liberal from Massachusetts.’"

It Wasn't All in Fun, Pop Goes the Weasel!
And apparently weasel enthusiasts don't appreciate the fact that Germany's Gerhard Schroeder and France's Jacques Chirac have been likened to their favorite animals. They say it's unfair to weasels everywhere. And when The New York Post put weasel heads on the suited bodies of U.N. reps for Germany and France, Weasel Central, a Web site, went into red alert. The writers reaffirmed their dedication to "ending the irrational hatred of 'mustela nivalis' that has dominated Western culture." People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' Ingrid Newkirk tells The Post, "It's a bad stereotype...they (weasels) are fierce warriors, Rambo types." She offers the rather predictable alternative of poodles, which are "Pretty, chic, pensive. They like to make love, not war."

Keeping the Cost Down
And finally, you may recall that a White House advance team recently created for a presidential economic speech a backdrop comprised of boxes bearing the gaudy designation: "Made in the USA." The designation covered up the fact that the receptacles actually were made in China.   Well now, according to The Hill newspaper, there's a scandal involving a new George W. Bush talking doll, which says things like "I come from Texas." You guessed it, the dolls were made in China as well. Jim Wessling, CEO of Talking Presidents, the California company that markets the $29.95 doll, doesn't see a  problem: "We couldn't find a factory in this country that could do the work and keep the cost down." The White House had no comment.