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4 upcoming Supreme Court cases will reveal who Amy Coney Barrett really is

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Well, that happened.

Just over one month after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, the Senate voted almost entirely along party lines to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court.

President Trump has been quite clear that he thinks “it’s very important that we have nine Justices” if we have a contested election, strongly suggesting that Trump expects Barrett to rule in his favor if the election ends up in front of the Court. The incoming justice has been coy about whether she would do so — or even whether she will hear cases involving the 2020 election in the first place.

During her confirmation hearing, Democratic senators repeatedly asked Barrett whether she would commit to recuse from cases related to the 2020 election, due to the appearance of impropriety created by Trump’s comments. Barrett, however, would only offer a vague promise of “fully and faithfully applying the law of recusal” if asked to sit out an election case.

Similarly, while Barrett’s record suggests that she agrees with the Republican Party’s opposition to abortion and Obamacare, much of her scholarship discusses legal theory at a very high level of generality and offers little insight into how she would decide specific cases.

We know that Barrett will be a very conservative justice. But we don’t yet know if she will embrace the radical, even nihilistic approach preferred by someone like Justice Clarence Thomas, who has suggested that federal child labor laws are unconstitutional. We don’t know how much she’ll feel bound by precedent, or whether she’ll be moved by public opinion in cases where conservative “originalists” like herself read the law in ways that are wildly at odds with the public’s preferences.

But these are contentious times, and the Supreme Court has an unusually contentious docket. Almost immediately after joining the Court, Barrett will confront cases that seek to move the law dramatically to the right — often relying on arguments that even many leading conservatives view as ridiculous.

The four cases below will likely help us gain an understanding of whether Barrett is a right-wing outlier, even within an increasingly conservative federal judiciary. The votes she casts in these cases, and the specific legal arguments that she signs onto, may show us just how hostile the Court’s newest member is to democracy, and whether she’s willing to embrace deeply radical legal arguments that undermine progressive policy or punish interest groups aligned with the Democratic Party.

To be sure, Democrats should not necessarily heave a sigh of relief even if Barrett rejects the conservative position in each of these lawsuits. These four cases represent some of the most extreme arguments before the Court, and there are others that could well be revelatory. How Barrett rules on them should offer a window into just how radical the newest justice is likely to be.

1) Pennsylvania mail-in ballots and the 2020 election

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court handed down a brief order in Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Boockvar, which left in place a Pennsylvania state Supreme Court decision allowing some mail-in ballots that arrive after Election Day to be counted — although it is far from clear that this decision will remain in place now that Barrett is on the Court.

On the surface, Republican Party was a defeat for the GOP, which hoped to have these ballots tossed out. But the Court divided 4-4 in Republican Party, meaning that Barrett could potentially provide the fifth vote to trash these ballots.

The Pennsylvania GOP has already asked the Supreme Court to reconsider this case. So Barrett’s very first action as a justice could be to hand the GOP a victory against voting rights.

One of the GOP’s primary arguments in Republican Party — an argument that three justices seemed to endorse in Bush v. Gore (2000) — is astonishingly radical. The GOP argues that only the state’s Republican-controlled legislature — not the state Supreme Court or some other body — is allowed to determine how Pennsylvania chooses presidential electors. Taken to its logical extreme, the Republican Party’s argument could invalidate state constitutional provisions protecting the right to vote, at least in presidential elections.

It could even allow Republicans to steal the 2020 election for President Trump.

This latter point may seem far-fetched, but bear with me. The Constitution provides that “each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct,” members of the Electoral College. In its briefs in Republican Party, the GOP focuses on the word “Legislature,” claiming that only the Pennsylvania state legislature may set the state’s rules for choosing presidential electors, and not the state Supreme Court.

For more than a century, the Supreme Court has understood the word “legislature,” when used in this or similar contexts, to refer to whatever the valid lawmaking process is within that state. As the Court held most recently in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (2015), the word “legislature” should be read “in accordance with the State’s prescriptions for lawmaking, which may include the referendum and the Governor’s veto.”

Similarly, if a state’s constitution protects voting rights and gives the state Supreme Court the power to interpret state law, then the state Supreme Court may make binding decisions regarding how state law or a state constitution should be interpreted during a presidential election.

The Arizona decision was 5-4, however, with the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing the majority opinion. While the four dissenting justices in Republican Party did not explain why they voted with the GOP, it’s not unreasonable to think that they voted the way they did because they agree with the GOP’s hyper-literal interpretation of the word “legislature.”

Indeed, two of those four dissenters, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, signaled that they do agree with the GOP’s approach in an opinion handed down Monday night.

So what would it mean if Justice Barrett provides the fifth vote for this interpretation of the Constitution? For starters, it could mean that state constitutional provisions protecting the right to vote would no longer function in presidential elections. The GOP is quite explicit about this in one of its briefs, claiming that to the extent that the Pennsylvania Constitution conflicts with the GOP’s understanding of the word “Legislature,” “the State Constitution must give way.

But that’s only the beginning. If the Supreme Court embraces the GOP’s understanding of the word “Legislature,” Republicans could potentially hand down pivotal rulings in battleground states that hand Trump a second term.

Although every state has a law providing that the state’s electoral votes will be decided in a popular election, the Constitution does not actually require such an election. Again, it provides that “each State shall appoint” presidential electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.”

Under the Republican Party’s theory in the Pennsylvania lawsuit, only the elected representatives in the state’s legislative body are allowed to make this determination. The state courts are cut out of the process because the judicial branch is not the “Legislature.” A similar logic could apply to Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor — again, because the governor is part of the state’s executive branch, not the “Legislature.”

In other words, Republican-controlled legislatures in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan could potentially overrule the voters of their state, or stop a close and contested count, and simply assign their states’ electoral votes to Trump. All three states have Democratic governors, but if the Supreme Court reads the word “Legislature” in a hyper-literal way, those governors would not be allowed to veto such legislation.

One of Barrett’s very first actions as a justice could be to weigh in on such a question. To be clear, we don’t know for sure if the Court’s conservatives would take such an argument all the way to that conclusion. But the Court’s 4-4 vote in Republican Party certainly left the door open to such a reading.

2) Obamacare

On November 10, just one week after Election Day, the Court will hear oral arguments in California v. Texas, the latest effort by Republican lawyers to repeal the Affordable Care Act through litigation. Unlike previous efforts to convince the Supreme Court to take out Obamacare, however, the plaintiffs’ arguments in this lawsuit are widely viewed as laughable even among conservative opponents of Obamacare.

As Yuval Levin, a prominent conservative policy wonk, wrote in the National Review, the Texas lawsuit “doesn’t even merit being called silly. It’s ridiculous.”

As originally enacted, the Affordable Care Act required most Americans to either carry health insurance or pay at least $695 in additional taxes. The Supreme Court upheld this requirement, commonly known as the “individual mandate,” as a valid exercise of Congress’s power to levy taxes in National Federation of Individual Business v. Sebelius (2012).

The 2017 tax law signed by President Trump, however, effectively repealed the individual mandate by reducing the amount of the tax for people who do not have insurance to zero dollars. The plaintiffs argue that this zeroed-out mandate — which tells people that they must be insured or else they’ll be forced to pay absolutely nothing — is unconstitutional. Their theory is that the original mandate was upheld as a tax, and a zero dollar tax is no tax at all.

That’s a plausible argument, but hardly an airtight one. It also shouldn’t be more than an academic argument. Who cares if a “mandate” that does nothing at all is constitutional or not?

The answer can be summarized in one word: “severability.” When a court strikes down a provision of law that is part of a broader statute, it often must ask whether the rest of the statute can stand without the invalid provision. Ordinarily, this is a speculative inquiry. The court must try to figure out what law Congress would have enacted if it had known that a single provision of that law would be struck down.

But in Texas, no speculation is necessary. Congress spent the bulk of 2017 debating whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Ultimately, it didn’t have the votes to do so. So it repealed just one provision: the individual mandate.

We know, in other words, that Congress would have preferred to leave the rest of the law intact if the zeroed-out mandate were struck down, because Congress left the rest of the law intact!

This conclusion is bolstered by the Supreme Court’s decision in Murphy v. NCAA (2018), which held that courts should preserve as much of the statute as possible if they strike down one provision. “In order for other … provisions to fall,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the Court in Murphy, “it must be ‘evident that [Congress] would not have enacted those provisions which are within its power, independently of [those] which [are] not.’”

There’s also another glaring problem with the Texas lawsuit. Federal courts are not allowed to hear a lawsuit challenging a particular legal provision unless the plaintiff has been injured in some way by that law — this is a requirement known as “standing.” But no one is injured by a zero dollar tax, so no one should have standing to raise the arguments presented in the Texas case.

Yuval Levin, in other words, is correct. The plaintiffs’ arguments in Texas are ridiculous. If Barrett accepts them, it raises very serious questions about whether the new justice is capable of distinguishing her own conservative political views from the law.

3) The census and undocumented immigrants

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution provides that “representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed.” This is unambiguous text. With a narrow exception for certain Native Americans, all “persons” must be counted in the decennial census, regardless of their immigration status.

And yet, last July, President Trump released a memorandum announcing that “for the purpose of the reapportionment of Representatives following the 2020 census, it is the policy of the United States to exclude from the apportionment base aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status.” Thus, in violation of the plain text of the Constitution, Trump would not allow the census to count undocumented immigrants for the purpose of determining how much representation each state receives in the House of Representatives.

Notably, about 20 percent of the estimated 10.6 million undocumented immigrants in the United States live in California. If Trump’s unconstitutional plan — which is now before the justices in Trump v. New York succeeds, then the nation’s largest blue state could lose as many as three House seats. (It’s likely that Texas, a one-time Republican stronghold that is starting to trend toward Democrats, would also be hit hard.)

In his memorandum, Trump tries to get around the Constitution’s explicit text by claiming that undocumented immigrants do not count as “inhabitants” of the state where they live.

“Although the Constitution requires the ‘persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed,’ to be enumerated in the census,” Trump claims, “that requirement has never been understood to include in the apportionment base every individual physically present within a State’s boundaries at the time of the census.”

As Trump correctly notes, there are many people who may be present in the United States — tourists visiting from other nations, foreign diplomats, and businesspeople, for example — who are not counted by the census. “The term ‘persons in each State’ has been interpreted to mean that only the ‘inhabitants’ of each State should be included,” Trump argues, and “determining which persons should be considered ‘inhabitants’ for the purpose of apportionment requires the exercise of judgment.”

At the most general level, Trump is right that someone needs to determine which individuals who may be temporarily present in a state do not count as a resident of that state. But that doesn’t mean that Trump himself gets to make this determination, or that this decision can be made arbitrarily.

As a federal court that rejected Trump’s argument explains, “it does not follow that illegal aliens — a category defined by legal status, not residence — can be excluded” from the census by claiming that they are not “inhabitants” of a state. “To the contrary,” the court continues, while quoting from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, “the ordinary definition of the term ‘inhabitant’ is ‘one that occupies a particular place regularly, routinely, or for a period of time.’”

Many undocumented immigrants reside in a state for “many years or even decades.” They are as much “inhabitants” of those states as any other resident. The three-judge panel — two appointed by George W. Bush, one by Barack Obama — ruled unanimously.

The legal questions in the New York case are, in the words of the lower court that rejected Trump’s arguments, “not particularly close or complicated.”

4) Union-busting litigation

More than four decades ago, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), the Supreme Court held that public sector unions may, under certain circumstances, charge “agency fees” to non-members of the union. These fees are intended to reimburse the union for services it provides to such non-members.

Then, in 2018, the Supreme Court decided Janus v. AFSCME by a 5-4 vote along party lines. Janus overruled Abood, and held that public sector unions may not charge agency fees to non-members.

So, from 1977 until 2018, agency fees charged by public sector unions were legal. And they were legal because the Supreme Court said they were legal.

Nevertheless, anti-union litigators have, since Janus, brought a wave of cases claiming that unions have to pay back many of the agency fees that they charged prior to the Court’s decision in Janus — again, during a period when it was legal for unions to charge such fees. Though these cases have not fared well for the anti-union side in the lower courts, many of them are now before the Supreme Court.

For the time being, at least, the Supreme Court has not announced whether it will hear these cases or not. But the justices have discussed these anti-union cases at multiple conferences — a sign that at least some members of the Court want to take them up.

As one of the federal appeals courts that rejected these lawsuits explained, “the Rule of Law requires that parties abide by, and be able to rely on, what the law is,not what the law may become in the future. It would be extraordinary if Barrett — or any other justice — voted to sanction unions for actions that, again, the Supreme Court itself held to be legal at the time that the union engaged in those actions.


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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Open Sourced logo

Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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