Talk about your basic blast from the past.

White House officials don't want to hear from Osama; they're trying to rally the country against Saddam.

In fact, it's remarkable how bin Laden, who was denounced daily by the president in the months after 9/11, had become an official non-person. The United States had to get him -- "dead or alive," Bush said -- but the administration eventually stopped talking about him. And bin Laden all but disappeared from the American radar screen, but for the occasional did-he-bite-the-dust piece.

Now he's back.


We don't really know.

Al-Jazeera, naturally, had the al Qaeda tape, this time an audiotape whose authenticity is obviously harder to check.

The initial take of the TV experts was that the man on the tape knew an awful lot and was probably the chief evildoer.

Why no action video? Perhaps he looks frail and wants to maintain his mystique.

The media were buying the story.

"It appears that Osama bin Laden is alive, or at least was," Dan Rather said.

But not everyone. "I still think he's dead," said Fox's Fred Barnes, adding that even an ailing bin Laden could have put on makeup for a videotape, just like Fox panelists.

In one of those online CNN polls that is utterly unscientific, 72 percent said they think bin Laden is still around.

Let's say he's alive. How much should we care at this point? How much should it distract us? Isn't it more important to deter future attacks than to obsess on bin Laden? Isn't it more important to take on Iraq's pursuit of nuclear weapons?

Or is bin Laden's status as a hero to radical Islamics, as an inspiration to future terrorists, worth whatever resources it takes to try to hunt him down?

These are not easy questions, especially when U.N. weapons inspectors are preparing to go to Baghdad.

If it is bin Laden, he's up to his old infuriating tricks, praising the recent attacks in Bali and the hostage-taking in Moscow as a response to "what Bush is doing, killing our sons, our old people and children by American planes in Palestine."

Did the planes that slammed into the twin towers and the Pentagon make any distinction between young people and old people? Not a chance.

All this is a reminder, as if any were needed, that the war against terrorism is hardly over, even though it sometimes seems to be reduced to a fight over personnel rules in a homeland security bureaucracy.

Here's the Los Angeles Times story:

"After more than a year of suspense over whether Osama bin Laden is dead or alive, U.S. officials said they believe the man heard on an audiotape yesterday praising recent attacks against civilians in Indonesia and Russia and urging new strikes on the United States and its allies is the terrorist mastermind.

"Several U.S. officials cautioned that the National Security Agency, CIA and other authorities would continue to analyze the high-quality audiotape throughout the night for conclusive confirmation that the voice is that of Bin Laden. But they said they believe that the founder and leader of the Al Qaeda network -- silent, hunted and unseen since last year -- is the man heard issuing a series of threats and calls to arms to Muslims around the world. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"The 4 1/2-minute tape was provided to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television network and broadcast globally beginning Tuesday afternoon under the heading, 'New audio statement by Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. to the peoples of the countries allied with the tyrannical U.S. government,' according to a transcript released by U.S. officials last night. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"The tape rang alarm bells at the White House, CIA, Pentagon and elsewhere in Washington, officials said, because Bin Laden has been known to make such public pronouncements just before a terrorist strike, as was the case before Al Qaeda truck bombs killed 224 people at two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998."

Speaking of anti-terrorism efforts, this is what happens when you win an election:

"The White House won over key Senate Democrats yesterday, reaching a deal to approve long-stalled legislation to create a mammoth new department of homeland security," reports USA Today.

"Hours after President Bush called the bill's passage 'the single most important business' in Congress' brief post-election session, lawmakers announced a compromise on the battle over labor-protection laws affecting the department's 170,000 workers. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Several GOP Senate candidates, including incoming Republican senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, successfully used the issue against Democrats in last week's elections. The Democrats' election losses and minor concessions by the White House prompted some senators to rethink their opposition.

"Yesterday moderate Democratic senators John Breaux of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Republican Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island agreed to a measure that would give Bush much of what he seeks but would also give unions some say over proposed changes to workforce rules. The new bill also would allow federal mediators to handle disputes."

You can bet the Dems were tired of getting pounded on this one.

Terry McAuliffe still seems to have a bullseye painted on his back, according to the New York Times:

"In telephone calls and private gossip, grass-roots activists, big donors and presidential prospects alike are assessing the party's trouncing, and for some of them, Mr. McAuliffe is a big target.

"'I think we should get rid of him immediately,' said Toni Goodale, a veteran Democratic fund-raiser in New York City who was incensed that Mr. McAuliffe did not do more to help H. Carl McCall's campaign for governor of New York. 'He's not ready to be the image and the spokesman for the Democratic Party. We need strong moral leadership at the top of the party. We don't need somebody who says, "O.K., let's find the next loophole." We don't need a cheerleader. We need a leader without the cheer, who looks at this realistically.'

"Few party loyalists are half as blunt, at least for quotation. But even those who most need Mr. McAuliffe's bulging Rolodex of donors -- the 2004 presidential prospects -- largely declined to defend his performance, and even his supporters quietly acknowledge the long and well-known bill of particulars against him."

According to the criticism, "he is too close to former President Bill Clinton, his patron and golfing partner, who remains toxic to many swing voters. He is too relentlessly optimistic to be an effective spokesman for a party in trouble. Democrats and Republicans alike have been quick to note that Mr. McAuliffe turned a $100,000 investment in Global Crossing, one of the companies that has emerged as a symbol of corporate wrongdoing, into an $18 million profit after it went public."

The Democrats may not be the only party with a woman out front:

"House Republicans are expected today to counter the Democrats' likely selection of Nancy Pelosi for a leadership post with a female voice of their own.

"Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio is the front-runner in the race to succeed Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma as House Republican Conference chairman -- the party's No. 4 leadership slot in the House. Ms. Pryce has served for the past two years as vice chairman of the conference, which is charged with communicating the party's message.

"She is running against Reps. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona and Jim Ryun of Kansas in one of the few contested House Republican leadership races, which will be decided today."

Isn't this the sort of gender politics the GOP is against?

The Pelosi-bashing, meanwhile, is under way, with Pete DuPont (whose GOP presidential campaign was an utter flop) unloading on OpinionJournal:

"The first step to recovery is the election of a far-left leader, Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. Her congressional district gave Al Gore a 61-point margin over President Bush in 2000, and the president outpolled Ralph Nader by a mere six points. Ms. Pelosi is articulate and telegenic, and she represents the beliefs of her district as elected officials are supposed to do. But the Eighth District of California doesn't even come close to representing America, so to place someone of her philosophy in charge of the Democratic caucus is risky. The far left will be delirious, but if the Pelosi program becomes the Democratic program, President Bush's opponent in 2004 may lose as badly as Messrs. McGovern and Mondale did when they ran for president.

"What is the Pelosi program? It is opposition to American military intervention (she voted against the 1991 Gulf War and authorizing the use of force against Iraq this year), support for higher taxes (she voted for the Clinton tax increases and against the Bush tax cut); opposition to free trade (she voted against giving the president 'fast track' negotiating authority). She is against the death penalty, against school choice of any kind (even for poor children in unsafe schools) and against expanded personal health insurance (medical savings accounts). She also voted against the welfare-reform bill that President Clinton signed into law, which freed more than seven million people from dependence. She voted for partial-birth abortion, in which a living baby is killed as it emerges from the birth canal. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle were against the Bush tax cut, but when asked if they would repeal it, they always hedged. Ms. Pelosi would say Yes! Yes! That is what the Democratic Party is for--higher taxes!"

It sounds as though the right is delirious over having a new target -- and assumes that the congresswoman will force her party to adopt all her views.

The Boston Globe goes out on a limb on the '04 sweepstakes:

"Boston stands on the cusp of being named host of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, pending a vote this morning by a site selection committee and, possibly, the signing of a contract drafted in anticipation of a deal, according to parties involved in the discussions.

"It would be the first presidential nominating convention of a major party held in Boston, as well as the largest conference in the city's history."

In a surprise to absolutely no one, Bill Webster has fallen on his sword:

"Weary of the controversy surrounding his appointment, former federal Judge William Webster quit as chairman of the new accounting oversight board before the board held its first meeting," says the Wall Street Journal.

"Mr. Webster's decision, conveyed in a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission dated Nov. 11 and released Tuesday, creates even more turmoil in federal securities regulatory apparatus, which is still reeling from the resignations of SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt and SEC Chief Accountant Robert Herdman, in part over their handling of the selection of Mr. Webster.

"The White House, meanwhile, is focusing on finding a successor for Mr. Pitt, who has said he will stay in the post until it is filled permanently or by the naming of an interim chairman from the SEC's ranks. People close to the administration said that Frank Zarb, former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Market, has been approached by the administration, but has said he's not interested."

What, Zarb did such a great job with Nasdaq, whose value has plummeted by 75 percent? That would sure inspire confidence.

Slate's Tim Noah takes on a recent book whose vision, shall we say, hasn't quite materialized:

"You'd think that the Nov. 5 election would have pitched The Emerging Democratic Majority straight into the remainder bin. The Democrats lost their slim majority in the Senate; failed to acquire majorities in the House and in state governorships; and lost their plurality of state legislatures. It was an unambiguous rout. Yet interest in John Judis and Ruy Teixeira's new book seems, if anything, to be picking up.

"Joshua Micah Marshall cited it approvingly in a post-election analysis for the Boston Globe's Sunday 'Ideas' section. David Brooks said in the New York Times' Sunday 'Week in Review' section that Judis and Teixeira's thesis is 'still compelling.' Indeed, Brooks observed, the Democratic debacle was, in a way, good news for Judis and Teixeira; the fact that their predicted Democratic majority will 'take a long time to emerge' ensures their book 'an extra-long shelf life.'

"Authors of books that predict big, bold change are always well advised to put a face-saving caveat into the fine print. James Glassman and Kevin Hassett, authors of Dow 36,000, took care not to say precisely when their prediction would be realized. ('Hey, be patient!' read the subhead of an op-ed Glassman and Hassett published in the Wall Street Journal this past August.) In The Emerging Democratic Majority, Judis and Teixeira wrote that the EDM would emerge 'sometime in this decade,' which gives them seven years to claim victory. They also argued that the midterm 2002 elections were unlikely to reflect the trends discussed in their book. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Judis now says (in post-election pieces in the New Republic and the Guardian) that the midterm election was, indeed, a referendum on the war against terrorism and proved only that the public still prefers Republicans to Democrats when national security is the paramount concern."

Salon's Eric Boehlert ridicules the media's recent reporting of diplomatic efforts on Iraq:

"At this point, even staffers at the White House Communications Office must be shaking their heads at how easy it is to spin to the mainstream press, which sometimes seems so willing -- even eager -- to lend unquestioning support to a popular president. The latest example of the uncritical relationship came in the wake of the United Nations resolution, approved Friday, calling for the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq.

"After eight weeks, the U.S. finally convinced key U.N. skeptics France and Russia to vote for the resolution that makes clear the international community's intention to deal with Saddam Hussein. The vote was unanimous, but to read the press accounts or to turn on cable TV, news consumers would have thought the White House had just brokered peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

"CNN labeled the U.N. vote a 'stunning victory for President Bush.' The New York Times called it 'a well-deserved triumph for President Bush.' MSBNC reported that thanks to 'tough arm-twisting,' the president 'got exactly want he wanted.' Fox News reported the unanimous vote was 'almost a miracle,' while the Wall Street Journal's editorial page had no doubts about divine intervention, describing the Security Council vote as 'one of those miracles of diplomacy.'

"Yet here's another way of analyzing the vote: After eight weeks of tedious negotiations, including two failed resolution proposals, the Bush administration finally gave in to long-standing demands from France and Russia, effectively handing control of the Iraqi conflict over to the U.N. and dimming the odds of a quick American strike. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"For a press corps that already marveled last week at Bush's midterm election results, the notion that the U.N. vote was anything short of a sweeping show of strength for the White House went largely ignored."

The Louisiana Senate race remains a spicy gumbo, says the American Prowler:

"Some of the issues that doomed the candidacy of Democratic Senate candidate Erskine Bowles appear to be clouding Sen. Mary Landrieu's runoff in Louisiana.

"Bowles failed to make peace with prominent black Democratic leader Dan Blue after beating him in the primary, and paid for it by getting a lukewarm endorsement and poor black turnout. Now, Landrieu is looking at the same kind of mess down on the bayou. Democratic state senators Don Cravins, Cleo Fields and Greg Tarver announced that they will not work on behalf of Landrieu because she has not been supportive of black issues.

"Tarver told local reporters in Shreveport that 'I'm not going to campaign against her. I'm going to serve her like she has served my people.' Fields has a political grudge against Landrieu, who chose not to support his bid for governor last time around.

"Landrieu garned 46 percent of the vote on November 5 general and faces the top Republican vote getter, Suzanne Terrell. That wide margin between Landrieu and Terrell actually isn't that wide. Combined, Republicans in the five way open race totaled 51 percent of the vote. And in 1996, when Landrieu almost lost to Republicans Woody Jenkins, more than 50 percent of her support came from black voters."

Reporters of the world, New Orleans awaits.