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Nation & World Briefly

Officials: NY police on forensic trail in IMF chief’s case

NEW YORK (AP) – Investigators cut out a piece of carpet in a painstaking search of a penthouse suite for DNA evidence that could corroborate a hotel maid’s claim that IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

New York detectives and prosecutors believe the carpet in the hotel room may contain Strauss-Kahn’s semen, spat out after an episode of forced oral sex, the officials said, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Strauss-Kahn, who was ordered held without bail this week after prosecutors argued the well-connected banker might try to flee to his native France and put himself beyond the reach of U.S. law, was scheduled for another bail hearing Thursday. He was arrested Friday and is being held in New York’s Rikers Island jail.

In addition to examining the Sofitel Hotel suite for further potential DNA evidence, investigators were looking at the maid’s keycard to determine whether she used it to enter the room, and how long she was there, officials said.

One of the officials said that the DNA testing was being “fast-tracked” but that the results could still be a few days away.

Media races to Calif. town seeking mother of Arnold’s child

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) – The revelation that Arnold Schwarzenegger has an out-of-wedlock child with a former employee turned into a tabloid frenzy Wednesday as scores of reporters and photographers swarmed a quiet suburban cul-de-sac in the middle of California farm country amid unconfirmed reports it was the home of the child’s mother.

The woman was not at the Bakersfield home when the flash mob showed up, its satellite TV trucks filling her quiet Bakersfield street and spilling onto another one. The media descended after the woman’s name surfaced in several Internet reports.

Adam Mendelsohn, a Schwarzenegger spokesman, declined to confirm or deny if the Bakersfield woman was indeed the mother of the child Schwarzenegger has acknowledged fathering.

Residents of the street of fashionable, relatively new homes sporting red-tile roofs and two- and three-car garages said they didn’t know if the woman’s son was fathered by Schwarzenegger.

But a next-door neighbor, Marilyn Steelman, told The Associated Press that after moving into the neighborhood about a year ago, the family told her the woman worked for Schwarzenegger and was planning on retiring soon.

Steelman said the real estate agent who sold the family the house told her Schwarzenegger was actually the buyer.

Gates: ‘Somebody knew’ in Pakistan that bin Laden was hiding there, maybe not top leaders

WASHINGTON (AP) – “Somebody” in Pakistan knew Osama bin Laden was hiding there, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday. But he said he’s seen evidence that the country’s senior leadership was unaware the terror leader was in a compound a short distance from a Pakistani military facility.

Both Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, however, said the U.S. must continue to work with and provide aid to Pakistan. But, amid rising anger and distrust of Pakistan across America and on Capitol Hill, both men acknowledged that Islamabad must take concrete action to eliminate the safe havens where militants are hiding along the border with Afghanistan.

“I have seen no evidence at all that the senior leadership knew. In fact, I’ve seen some evidence to the contrary,” Gates told reporters at the Pentagon. “We have no evidence yet with respect to anybody else. My supposition is, somebody knew.”

Asked about congressional pressure to hold back aid until Pakistan moves against militants within its borders, Gates and Mullen said Islamabad is already paying for its inaction.

The Pakistan military’s image has been tarnished by the successful U.S. raid that sent U.S. SEALs deep into the country to kill bin Laden – all without the knowledge of the now humiliated Pakistani leaders, said Mullen.

Gingrich begins White House bid with missteps, draws fire from conservatives and tea partyers

ATLANTA (AP) – Hardly the start he’d hoped for, Newt Gingrich’s first week as a presidential candidate has been riddled with missteps that have angered many of his fellow Republicans and exposed campaign vulnerabilities.

The former U.S. House speaker disparaged House Republicans’ Medicare proposal as “right-wing social engineering” and was all but forced to apologize after the conservative outcry. He tied himself in knots when he defended part of the Democrats’ health care law – which he says he opposes. And he refused to explain a $500,000 debt he once owed to the upscale Tiffany’s jewelry store though railing against President Barack Obama for what he calls excessive federal spending.

“He has severely damaged his campaign and his credibility,” said Debbie Dooley of Duluth, Ga., a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots who contended that Gingrich made things worse when he tried to explain his health care stance favoring a requirement that Americans have coverage. “If he continues with that position, for the most conservative tea party Republicans … it’s over,” she said.

Gingrich’s team says he’s not changing.

Advisers say Gingrich has repeatedly proven he can survive such troubles, and they insist there’s no need to recalibrate a campaign decades in the making.

For thousands whose homes were flooded by rising Mississippi, life is a tedious waiting game

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) – For thousands of people forced from their homes by the rising Mississippi River, life has become a tedious waiting game: waiting for meals at shelters, waiting for the latest word on their flooded homes, waiting for the river to fall.

The monotony of shelter life has taken a toll on victims who have already been displaced for weeks and may not be able to return for at least a month. The river is expected to crest Thursday in Vicksburg, but high water might not retreat in some areas until late June.

“Lord only knows when it’s going to recede. It’s so much water,” said Steven Cole, who has stayed for nearly two weeks at a church being used as a Red Cross shelter.

Cole’s bottom lip quivered as he described how he ended up here: He wrecked the truck he uses for carpentry work while helping evacuate several families. Then the house he shared with a friend flooded.

Without the shelter in Vicksburg, “I’d be out in the streets,” he said.

Biden and lawmakers eye farm programs, federal pensions and student loans for deficit cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) – The White House and key lawmakers are considering reductions in student loan subsidies, farm payments and support for federal workers’ pensions as they search for cuts that can clear the way for an increase in the national debt limit, according to officials in both parties.

The negotiations are still in the early stages, with no final decisions made, these officials said Wednesday. While the amounts involved so far are relatively modest, the talks led by Vice President Joe Biden appear likely to assume greater public prominence with the evident collapse of a freelance attempt by the “Gang of Six” senators to produce a sweeping bipartisan plan to reduce red ink.

“We’re talking (about cuts totaling) $200 billion, $150 billion and we have to get up into the trillion range or more,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., one of six other lawmakers taking part in the talks at Blair House across the street from the White House.

“We have a long way to go if we’re struggling at this level with this amount,” he said, adding that so far, the talks have generally focused on areas of agreement.

The group has yet to discuss military spending or deeper reductions in programs that already were trimmed in legislation that narrowly averted a partial government shutdown in April.

San Franciscans to vote on controversial male circumcision ban in November

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A group seeking to ban the circumcision of male children in San Francisco has succeeded in getting their controversial measure on the November ballot, meaning voters will be asked to weigh in on what until now has been a private family matter.

City elections officials confirmed Wednesday that the initiative had received enough signatures to appear on the ballot, getting more than 7,700 valid signatures from city residents. Initiatives must receive at least 7,168 signatures to qualify.

If the measure passes, circumcision would be prohibited among males under the age of 18. The practice would become a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. There would be no religious exemptions.

The initiative appears to be the first of its kind in the country to actually make it to this stage, though a larger national debate over the health benefits of circumcision has been going on for many years. Banning circumcision would almost certainly prompt a flurry of legal challenges alleging violations of the First Amendment’s guarantee of the freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs.

Supporters of the ban say male circumcision is a form of genital mutilation that is unnecessary, extremely painful and even dangerous. They say parents should not be able to force the decision on their young child.

Retail earnings reports show gas prices widening gap between wealthy and everyone else

NEW YORK (AP) – High gas prices are driving a wider wedge between the wealthy and everybody else. The rich are back to pre-recession splurging: Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom customers are treating themselves to luxury items like $5,000 Hermes handbags and $700 Jimmy Choo shoes, and purchasing at full price.

At Target and Walmart, shoppers are concentrating on groceries and skipping little luxuries. BJ’s Wholesale Corp. said Wednesday that customers are buying more hamburger and chicken and less steak and buying smaller packs to save money.

“The average shopper isn’t in the game, except for necessities,” said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of retail leasing and marketing at Prudential Douglas Elliman. At the same time, among the rich, “Luxury products are selling like bread.”

J.C. Penney, Wal-Mart and home-improvement retailer Lowe’s Cos. all said they’re noticing their customers are consolidating shopping trips to save money on gas as the average price hovers at $4 a gallon.

More than a half-dozen corporate earnings reports this week show that for the affluent, rising prices are merely a nuisance. For others, they can mean scrimping to put food on the table.