A pair of new Senate polls from the New York Times and Siena College this week show Democrats pressing for an advantage in two traditionally conservative states — Alaska and South Carolina — as November 3 closes in.
In Alaska, the Times/Siena poll found independent Senate candidate Al Gross — who is running as the Democratic nominee — trailing incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan by about 8 percentage points, with third-party candidate John Howe’s support at 10 percent.
And in South Carolina, the Siena pollsters found that Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham continues to face a far closer race than expected, with Democrat Jaime Harrison just 6 percentage points behind his rival and riding a wave of momentum. In 2014, by comparison, Graham won reelection by more than 15 percentage points.
Though Republican incumbents are still the favorites to win in Alaska and South Carolina, challengers Gross and Harrison have seen major influxes of campaign cash in recent weeks — Harrison set an all-time record by raising $57 million in a single quarter. Data for Progress’s Sean McElwee recently told Vox’s Matthew Yglesias that it isn’t too late for campaigns to use large cash injections — meaning these large fundraising hauls could affect the final outcome of each race. And other recent polls show much tighter races in both states.
One Alaska poll released this week, from Harstad Strategic Research, found Gross leading Sullivan by 1 percentage point, though that’s well within the 4 percentage point margin of error. A survey taken slightly before Harstad’s, Alaska Survey Research’s September 25 to October 4 poll, found Sullivan ahead by 4 percentage points.
This close polling is reflected in experts’ predictions of the outcome in the state: On Tuesday, Cook Political Report shifted its Alaska Senate race outlook from Likely R to Lean R.
And J. Miles Coleman, associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, told Vox’s Ella Nilsen in August, “I wouldn’t sleep on the Senate race.”
Cook also now rates South Carolina as an outright toss up, and Data for Progress found Harrison with a 2 percentage point edge over Graham in early October — again within the poll’s 3.5 percent margin of error. A Quinnipiac University poll taken in late September found Harrison and Graham tied, while a CBS News poll taken in the same period found Graham to have a 1 percentage point lead.
That either Democratic candidate is even remotely close to their Republican rival with just 17 days until the election is striking. The results of both elections won’t necessarily shake out the way polling suggests, but the fact Alaska and South Carolina are in play for Democrats underscores just how broad the Democratic path to a potential Senate majority has grown.
Democratic chances of a Senate majority are looking up
To gain the majority outright, Democrats need to pick up four seats in a chamber currently controlled by the GOP, 53 seats to 47 (including independent Sens. Bernie Sanders and Angus King, who caucus with the Democrats).
The work of pollsters and forecasters suggest a Democratic majority in 2021 is looking like an increasingly realistic outcome: According to FiveThirtyEight’s Senate forecast, Democrats are favored outright in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina against Republican incumbents; Montana and Kansas — in addition to Alaska and South Carolina — could be in play as well.
In total, Cook Political Report’s Jessica Taylor says that Democrats could pick up as many as seven seats if everything breaks their way on November 3.
In some states, this optimism is being reflected in spending.
In Colorado, for example, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is scaling back its investment in incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. The group has spent less than $150,000 in the state through the first half of October, according to the Denver Post, compared to millions spent in Iowa, Montana, and elsewhere.
And one Democratic PAC is also pulling its investment in Colorado — for the opposite reason. That group, Senate Majority PAC, is reportedly so confident in Democratic Senate nominee John Hickenlooper, who is leading by a comfortable margin stretching into the double digits, it is moving funding it allocated for the state to other races.
There are some areas of concern for Democrats, however. In Alabama, where Democratic Sen. Doug Jones won an improbable victory against Republican Roy Moore in 2018, Republicans are favored to unseat the Democratic incumbent. And the race in Michigan, where Democratic Sen. Gary Peters is up for reelection, is also shaping up to be competitive.
Joe Biden’s agenda might rest on a Democratic Senate majority
Though unseating President Donald Trump is Democrats’ top priority, control of the Senate could prove nearly as important heading into 2020.
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell — who is expected to win reelection in November — prizes his title as “Grim Reaper” of the US Senate. And if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden takes office in January with McConnell still majority leader, marquee Democratic priorities — like health care, climate change, and voting rights — are likely dead on arrival.
The good news for Democrats is that Gross and Harrison aren’t the only Democratic candidates swimming in money. From July 1 through the end of September, the Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue processed $1.5 billion in donations, ensuring the party’s slate of candidates will be very well funded heading into the last three weeks of the race.
These current polling and fundraising successes have some Republicans sounding the alarm: Republican pollster David Flaherty told the Denver Post this week that “the train wreck and implosion of the president will bring a historic number of other Republican candidates down, and if you don’t believe that then you have your head in the sand.” And Texas Sen. Ted Cruz raised the specter of “a bloodbath of Watergate proportions” for his party on CNBC last Friday.
As always, polls can be ephemeral — they’re a snapshot in time, not a forecast of how the race will shake out on Election Day. Things can change, and suddenly. But there’s not much time left in the race, and the current state of affairs has many Democrats feeling confident about their chances at the Senate majority.
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Nigeria’s SARS: A brief history of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad
In April last year, Kofi Bartels, a 34-year-old radio journalist in Nigeria’s Rivers State, was filming three police officers from the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) beating another man when they and three of their colleagues turned their attention to him.
In a series of tweets, he described being beaten and arrested: “They took turns to slap, punch and kick me while I was struggling with a swollen knee. At least six officers, one at a time.”
Philomena Celestine, 25, has also seen SARS brutality up close. In 2018, she was travelling home from her university graduation ceremony with her family in Edo State, when their car was pulled over by SARS officers and her two brothers taken out.
“My four-year-old niece was in the vehicle but they cocked their guns at our car and drove my brothers into the bush where they harassed them for over 30 minutes, and accused them of being cybercriminals. They could see my graduation gown but that did not deter them. My sister was trembling and crying in fear,” Celestine recalled.
These accounts are just two of many that sparked protests against the unit across Nigeria. It has been accused of harassing and physically abusing thousands of civilians since it was created in 1992. The #EndSARS protests resulted in the Nigerian government announcing earlier this month that it would disband the unit.
But this is the fourth time in as many years that the government has promised to disband or reform the unit that citizens say has terrorised them for decades.
And the problem of police brutality goes beyond SARS, the protesters say. According to Amnesty International, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial executions, other unlawful killings and enforced disappearances each year.
The Nigeria Police was first established in 1820 but it was over a century later – in 1930 – that the northern and southern police forces merged into the first national police force; called the Nigeria Police Force.
In 1992, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was formed to combat armed robbery and other serious crimes.
Before that, anti-robbery was the responsibility of the Nigerian Police Force generally although, from 1984, anti-robbery units existed separately as part of different states’ criminal investigation departments.
Other special units, which went by different names at different times, included the intelligence response team, special tactical squad, counterterrorism unit and force intelligence unit, formed to tackle rising violent crime following the end of the Nigerian civil war in 1970.
By the early 1990s, armed robbers and bandits were terrorising Lagos and southern Nigeria.
Police officer Simeon Danladi Midenda was in charge of the anti-robbery unit of the criminal investigation department in Benin, southern Nigeria, at the time. He had some success in combatting armed robbery, earning a recommendation from the then inspector general of police.
With crime on the rise in Lagos, Midenda was transferred there and tasked with uniting the three existing anti-robbery squads operating in the former federal capital into one unit in a bid to break the stronghold of armed gangs. As the new sheriff in town, equipped with 15 officers and two station wagons, Midenda formed an amalgamated unit and named it the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in 1992.
In the early days of the unit, combat-ready SARS officers operated undercover in plain clothes and plain vehicles without any security or government insignia and did not carry arms in public. Their main job was to monitor radio communications and facilitate successful arrests of criminals and armed robbers such as Chukwudi Onuamadike – best known as “Evans” – who was arrested in 2017 after the police spent five years tracking him and placed a 30 million naira ($80,000) reward on his head.
Extorting money in broad daylight
For 10 years, SARS only operated in Lagos, but by 2002, it had spread to all 36 states of the federation as well as the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. It was counted as one of the 14 units under the Nigerian Police Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department. Its mandate included arrest, investigation and prosecution of suspected armed robbers, murderers, kidnappers, hired assassins and other suspected violent criminals.
Emboldened by its new powers, the unit moved on from its main function of carrying out covert operations and began to set up roadblocks, extorting money from citizens. Officers remained in plain clothes but started to carry arms in public.
Over time, the unit has been implicated in widespread human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and extortion.
SARS officers then allegedly moved on to targeting and detaining young men for cybercrime or being “online fraudsters”, simply on the evidence of their owning a laptop or smartphone, and then demanding excessive bail fees to let them go.
In 2016, Amnesty International documented its own visit to one of the SARS detention centres in Abuja, situated in a disused abattoir. There, it found 130 detainees living in overcrowded cells and being regularly subjected to methods of torture including hanging, starvations, beatings, shootings and mock executions.
Now, Nigerians say they have had enough. Since 2017, protests have been building momentum across Nigeria, stemming from online advocacy to street protests. The anger about the unit’s activities culminated in a nationwide protest on the streets of 21 states this month after a SARS officer allegedly shot a young man in Delta State.
Amid the ongoing protests, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the unit would be disbanded. But this has not quelled the protests as young people continue to occupy the streets in large numbers demanding the immediate release of arrested protesters, justice for victims of police brutality, the prosecution of accused officers as well as a general salary increase for the police force to reduce corruption.
Young protesters say they have heard it all before. This is not the first time the government had disbanded SARS and promised reforms.
In 2006 and 2008, presidential committees proposed recommendations for reforming the Nigeria Police.
In 2009, the Nigerian minister of justice and attorney general of the federation convened a National Committee on Torture to examine allegations of torture and unlawful killings but made little headway. In October 2010, the then Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, allocated 71 billion naira ($196m) for police reforms.
In 2016, the inspector general of the Nigeria Police Force announced broad reforms to correct SARS units’ use of excessive force and failure to follow due process.
A climate of fear
Historically, police officers who are alleged to have unlawfully killed Nigerians have faced few or no repercussions. For years, Amnesty International has reported cases of unlawful killings and police brutality by law enforcement agencies in Nigeria.
Reports of human rights violations committed by SARS have continued to mount, despite repeated promises of reform and accountability by the Nigerian government. The police authorities created a Complaint Response Unit (CRU) in November 2015, through which the police could process complaints from the public. To date, no SARS officer has been found responsible for torture, ill-treatment of detainees or unlawful killing.
The following year – 2016 – Amnesty International documented 82 cases of torture, ill-treatment and extrajudicial executions by SARS with victims usually young men between the ages of 18 and 35 arrested during street raids on groups of people doing things such as watching a football match or drinking at pubs. Research by CLEEN Foundation, a Nigerian non-profit organisation which promotes public safety and access to justice, found that the Nigeria Police Force lacked an effective database on complaints and discipline management.
In March 2017, SARS arrested 23-year-old Miracle Ifeanyichukwu Okpara and detained him in Anambra State, eastern Nigeria, on a charge of having stolen a laptop. Amnesty International reported that he was tortured and hardly given any food during 40 days of detention before he was taken to court and charged with armed robbery. The court discharged the case for lack of evidence.
Finally, in 2017, Nigerians launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #EndSARS to document abuse and extortion by SARS officers and demanded the total overhaul or disbandment of the unit.
Promises from government flowed in again. In December 2017, the inspector general of the Nigeria Police Force announced plans to reorganise SARS units. In August 2018, Nigeria’s vice-president and then acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, ordered the overhaul of SARS but allegations of abuse by SARS agents continued throughout the year.
Socrates Mbamalu, a 28-year-old writer and journalist living in Lagos, described how he has been living in a climate of fear following multiple encounters with SARS officers. Mbamalu told Al Jazeera that SARS officers targeted him in the street and searched his backpack while he was studying in Ife, Osun State. He does not know why he was targeted – only that he is a young man who was carrying a backpack.
“They searched my backpack and saw my laptop which they accused me of stealing and demanded a receipt,” he explained. “They threatened to arrest and detain me, and searched my pockets, stealing my 1,000 naira ($3). In another instance, they detained me overnight in a smelly police station with dozens of others after they just picked us up on the street while walking at night. I still get traumatised whenever I encounter the police today,” he said.
Since protests began, young protesters have also been targeted by SARS. Judith Caleb, a 28-year-old blogger and one of the activists organising the protests in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, told Al Jazeera that the protest aimed to join in the fight to stop police brutality in the country and ensure accountability and justice for victims.
“In 2015, SARS killed one of our friends, Richard, a university student here in Kaduna. They accused him of buying a stolen phone, detained and tortured him until he died,” she said. “That is why we are out protesting. The police arrived here as early as 6am to stop the protest. They shot into the air to disperse us and arrested three people. But we were determined to continue with our peaceful protest. It is our right.”
‘I was saying my last prayers’
While demonstrations across Nigeria have remained peaceful, security forces have responded with more brutality. The police have shot tear gas, water cannon and live rounds at protesters across the country. Armed men have also disrupted rallies and attacked protesters, forcing the organisers to hire private security to repel the attacks.
Jimoh Isiaq, a 20-year-old university student, was shot dead on October 11, 2020, during an #EndSARS protest in Oyo State, southwestern Nigeria. Isiaq was killed when a police team monitoring the protest allegedly opened fire at demonstrators with live bullets.
On October 12, police officers in Lagos allegedly opened fire to disperse protesters, killing 55-year-old Ikechukwu Ilohamauzo, and arresting dozens of protesters. On October 16, police teargassed and used water cannon on a group of protesters in Abuja. Police officers attacked journalist Gimba Kakanda, injuring him, smashing his phone and slashing the tyres of his car. In a piece for Time about his experience, Kakanda wrote: “I was saying my last prayers. I really thought my life was going to end.”
Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria, has decried the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters and said that it makes claims of any commitment to ending violations of human rights by the Nigerian police redundant.
The #EndSARS movement is the biggest social protest the country has seen since the Occupy Nigeria movement of January 2012. It has attracted attention all over the world, with celebrities such as musician Kanye West, footballer Odion Ighalo, actor John Boyega and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey among a list of people to have voiced support for the protests.
Young citizens mostly in their 20s on the streets say they are tired of the promises of reforms and are expressing their anger at continuously being dehumanised and treated unjustly.
“The Nigerian police motto, ‘Police is your Friend’, has become a mockery,” said 22-year-old protester Maryam Ahmed.
For the #EndSARS protesters, restructuring the unit, changing its name and redeploying its officers to other units is not enough; reform must translate into accountability and justice.
“We are determined to continue these protests until justice is served,” Judith Caleb said as she arranged her placards, ready for another day of protest, hoping to fix a broken system, and along with her fellow citizens, begin to heal from the trauma.
‘Amplifiers for idiots’: Former Google CEO slams social media
Eric Schmidt says more regulation may be needed for social media, but US antitrust suit against Google is misplaced.
Former Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt said the “excesses” of social media are likely to result in greater regulation of internet platforms in the coming years.
Schmidt, who left the board of Google’s parent Alphabet Inc. in 2019 but is still one of its largest shareholders, said the antitrust lawsuit the U.S. government filed against the company on Tuesday was misplaced, but that more regulation may be in order for social networks in general.
“The context of social networks serving as amplifiers for idiots and crazy people is not what we intended,” Schmidt said at a virtual conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “Unless the industry gets its act together in a really clever way, there will be regulation.”
Google’s YouTube has tried to decrease the spread of misinformation and lies about Covid-19 and U.S. politics over the last year, with mixed results. Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. have also been under fire in recent years for allowing racist and discriminatory messages to spread online.
Schmidt also argued Google’s massive search business — the target of the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust suit — continues to be so successful because people choose it over competitors, not because it uses its size to block smaller rivals.
“I would be careful about these dominance arguments. I just don’t agree with them,” Schmidt said. “Google’s market share is not 100%.”
US officials say Russia, Iran have obtained voter information
Intelligence officials link Iran to threatening emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states.
The United States’ top intelligence official has accused Russia and Iran of obtaining US voter information and making moves to influence public opinion ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
John Ratcliffe, director of National Intelligence, made the announcement at a hastily arranged news conference on Wednesday that also included FBI Director Chris Wray.
The announcement two weeks before the November 3 election showed the level of alarm among top US officials that foreign actors were seeking to undermine Americans’ confidence in the integrity of the vote and spread misinformation in an attempt to sway its outcome.
“We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran and separately, by Russia,” Ratcliffe said during the news conference.
Most of that voter registration is public, but Ratcliffe said that government officials “have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage”
Ratcliffe was referring to emails sent on Wednesday and designed to look like they came from the pro-Trump Proud Boys group, government sources told the Reuters news agency. A number of voters in Florida and other key states in the election battle between the Republican president and Democrat Joe Biden said they had received the messages.
“You will vote for Trump on election day or we will come after you,” the emails said. “Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for.”
“I would take this seriously if I were you,” the message ends, adding the voter’s address.
In addition to the threatening emails, Ratcliffe said Iran also distributed a video that falsely suggested voters could cast fraudulent ballots from overseas.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” Ratcliffe said, adding that Russia and Iran seek to “to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos and undermine confidence in American democracy”.
The top national security official did not explain how the Russians and Iranians had obtained the voter information or how the Russians might be using it.
US intelligence agencies previously warned that Iran might interfere to hurt Trump while Russia was trying to help him in the election. Outside experts said that if Ratcliffe was correct, Iran would be trying to make Trump look bad by calling attention to support and threats by the sometimes violent Proud Boys group.
A spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations denied Iran had sought to meddle in the US election.
“Iran has no interest in interfering in the US election and no preference for the outcome,” spokesman Alireza Miryousefi said in a statement.
US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who received a classified briefing on Wednesday afternoon on election security, said he disagreed with Ratcliffe that Iran was specifically trying to hurt Trump.
“It was clear to me that the intent of Iran in this case and Russia in many more cases is to basically undermine confidence in our elections. This action I do not believe was aimed … at discrediting President Trump,” Schumer told broadcaster MSNBC in an interview.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Trump has directed government agencies “to proactively monitor and thwart any attempts to interfere in US elections, and because of the great work of our law enforcement agencies we have stopped an attempt by America’s adversaries to undermine our elections”.
Wray, the FBI director, meanwhile stressed that US election systems remained safe.
“We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections or any criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election,” he told reporters.
“We’ve been working for years as a community to build resilience in our infrastructure and today that infrastructure remains resilient – you should be confident that your vote counts.”
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