‘Suspicious’ passengers released: Three airline passengers were released without charge this week after being detained for “suspicious activity” on a Detroit-bound flight on Sept. 11. Officials deployed two F-16 fighter jets to escort Frontier Flight 623 to Detroit’s airport after the crew became concerned at the length of time two passengers separately spent in the airplane toilet. But one of the passengers detained in Detroit later accused the FBI and flight attendants of racial profiling. Shoshana Hebshi, a U.S. citizen of half-Arabic, half-Jewish ethnicity, wrote on her blog that she had been “violated [and] humiliated” and that she was “taken from the plane simply because of my appearance.” The two other passengers were men of Indian descent, one of whom had taken ill. All three were strangers to one other. FBI officials denied they had overreacted by sending a military escort to guide the airplane to the ground. “The public would rather us err on the side of caution,” said FBI Special Agent Sandra Berchtold.
Warren to run: Elizabeth Warren, the outspoken Wall Street critic and consumer advocate, announced this week that she would run for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts next year. The Harvard Law professor will oppose Republican incumbent Scott Brown, who won the seat in a special election in 2010 after the death of Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Warren is best known for her passionate lobbying in favor of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is charged with protecting consumers’ rights in their dealings with banks and large financial corporations. She was the president’s first choice to lead the newly minted agency, but intense Republican opposition denied her the possibility of winning Senate confirmation.
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GOP wins two: A 70-year-old Republican novice capitalized on discontent with President Obama to score an upset victory this week in a congressional district the Democrats have held since 1920. Bob Turner, a former cable TV executive, beat Democratic candidate David Weprin for the seat last held by the disgraced Anthony Weiner, who resigned in June. Turner ran his campaign as a referendum on Obama, criticizing the president’s policies on the economy and on Israel, a topic of great importance to the district’s many Orthodox Jews. “We’ve lit one candle today, and there’s going to be a bonfire pretty soon,” said Turner. The district has three times as many registered Democrats as Republicans, and Democrats tried to cast Turner as a threat to Social Security and Medicare. In another special election seen as a referendum on Obama, Republicans easily retained a congressional seat in Nevada, a key swing state.
U.S. poverty levels rise: A total of 46.2 million Americans now live in poverty, according to the latest Census Bureau data, the highest figure in the half century the bureau has been publishing such numbers. Last year, 1 in 6 Americans lived below the poverty line—defined as an income of $22,314 for a family of four—and the median household income dropped for the third year in a row. A typical American family brought home $49,445 in 2010, a 2.3 percent drop from the previous year and a level last seen in 1996. The number of Americans without health insurance climbed to 49.9 million, equal to the populations of Texas, New York, Alabama, and Vermont combined. “We’re risking a new underclass,” said Timothy Smeeding, a poverty researcher at the University of Wisconsin.
Police chief fired: Ending a rocky two-year term during which he battled the mayor, prosecutors, and the city manager, Miami police chief Miguel Exposito was fired this week for insubordination. In a 3-to-2 vote, the City Commission dismissed Exposito from the job he had held since November 2009, because he had failed to follow orders regarding personnel matters. Exposito, who had been with the department since 1974, was criticized over the fatal police shootings of seven African-American suspects during what the police called a crackdown on high-crime neighborhoods. His departure ends a bitter feud with Mayor Tomas Regalado, who accused the police of spying on him. Exposito in turn accused the mayor of impeding a covert police investigation into video-gambling parlors. Insiders said the conflict had become a major distraction at City Hall. “Today, we turn the page and leave this ordeal behind us,” said Regalado.
Perry’s Merck connection: Potentially damaging new information surfaced this week that Gov. Rick Perry had closer ties to pharma giant Merck & Co. than he suggested at the Republican debate in Tampa. In 2007, Perry became the first U.S. governor to mandate the use of Merck’s human papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil, which can prevent infections that lead to cervical cancer, for preteen girls. At the time, his former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, was working as a state lobbyist for Merck. Perry has received nearly $30,000 from the firm since 2000, far more than the $5,000 he disclosed at the debate. Merck and its subsidiaries have also donated more than $380,000 to the Republican Governors Association since 2006, the first year that Perry took a leadership role in the Washington, D.C.-based group. The RGA, in turn, ranks among Perry’s biggest donors, giving his campaigns at least $4 million over the past five years, according to Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog group.