Italy's Playboy Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Hot Water

Now some fresh pickings from the Political Grapevine:

Sex, Lies and Audiotape

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is defending his playboy lifestyle yet again as opposition parties step up calls for his resignation. Berlusconi is the focus of a probe into allegations he offered cash or rent-free housing in exchange for sex with several young women.

Italian media published wiretapped conversations that emerged after prosecutors opened an investigation into allegations Berlusconi compensated a 17-year-old nightclub dancer for sex at his villa outside Milan when she was a minor.

The newspaper of Italy's Catholic bishops calls the investigation a devastating tornado.

Berlusconi denies any wrongdoing, calling the allegations laughable.

Back From Vacation

More than a month after stepping aside to answer allegations of official misconduct, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Michael Somare is back in the office with the explanation that he was on extended holiday leave.

Australian media report in mid-December Somare issued a statement saying his deputy prime minister was assuming all duties so he could clear his name. But today, Somare's chief of staff said his boss is back at the helm after using his accrued vacation days.

The opposition called his return a joke.

Policy Change

And finally, taxpayers may soon be footing the bill for sex-change surgeries in Berkeley, California.

The city council is set to vote tonight on setting aside $20,000 annually for gender-reassignment surgeries for Berkeley employees who qualify, since the city's health insurance providers don't cover the procedure.

The city councilman who originally proposed the idea in 2007, tells the San Francisco Chronicle the benefit is what is "just and fair" for the transgender community. But some residents oppose the idea, saying the city should be spending more time and money on basic services like road repair.