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America needs a democratic revolution

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The outcome of the 2020 presidential race is very much in question, but nobody — including President Donald Trump’s biggest boosters — thinks he stands much of a chance of winning more votes than former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump fell well short of that benchmark in 2016; he has never had an average job approval rating of 50 percent or higher; and he’s running weaker this year than he did four years ago. Trump’s strategy — which some analysts say has a decent chance of working — is to take advantage of the fact that the tipping point states in the Electoral College are likely 2-3 percentage points more favorable to him than the national electorate.

If Biden wins the election, the Democratic Party will almost certainly gain seats in the US Senate. But it’s far from clear whether Democrats will be able to secure a majority. In the 2018 Senate races that led to Republican gains, most votes were cast for Democrats. Democrats also won a majority of votes in Senate races in 2016, but again, Republicans secured a majority.

Republicans benefit from dynamics in states across the country. Two years ago in Wisconsin, for example, Democrats swept narrow victories in the statewide races and also secured 53 percent of the votes cast in elections for the lower house of the state legislature. But because of gerrymandering, the GOP won over 60 percent of the seats. And knowing they’d be insulated from public backlash, the legislature held a special lame duck session during which they stripped power from the state executive branch and reassigned it to themselves. Something similar happened in Michigan that same year, and in North Carolina two years earlier.

All of these outcomes — in which Republicans hold power despite winning fewer votes — are baked into the American system. They won’t go away if Trump is removed from office. It’s become commonplace for Democrats’ rhetoric to cast Trump’s presidency as a threat to American democracy. But it would be more accurate to say his presidency is a consequence of our constitutional system’s democratic shortcomings. If Democrats manage to win in November, they owe it to their voters to make a serious effort to lead a democratic revolution in the United States that would truly bury Trumpism once and for all.

The skewed Senate

“Democracy,” in the American context, is often taken to mean something like direct popular control through elections. So when George Mason University economist Garrett Jones writes a book titled 10 Percent Less Democracy, he means we should conduct more policymaking in institutions like the Federal Reserve that empower technical experts rather than being responsive to mass opinion.

That’s an interesting topic for debate. But the soul of democracy is not just in the act of voting for politicians. Nobody voted for Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, but he, rather than Merrick Garland, is sitting on the Supreme Court as a direct consequence of election outcomes. And there’s nothing undemocratic about that. The core principle of democracy is political equality — the idea that all citizens are equal under the law and deserve to have their interests considered equally by the political system. That’s where Gorsuch becomes a problem for democracy.

Not only did Trump ascend to the presidency while winning fewer votes than his opponent, but the Senate that blocked Garland’s confirmation in 2016 was one where most Americans were represented by a Democrat — but most senators were Republicans, because the entire Senate is a massive violation of the principle of political equality.

America’s founders did not believe in either concept of democracy, so the fact that the hard-boiled compromise between large and small states is inegalitarian did not bother them very much.

Over the past 230 years, the population gap between the smallest and largest states has only grown. At the time of the 1790 census, Virginia had a bit less than 13 times the population of Delaware. Today that’s about the gap between Wyoming and Washington state, but Washington has only about one-fifth the population of California.

But the significance of the Senate’s skew has also changed. In the early years of the Republic, the Senate overrepresented the slower-growing South, and many political battles were fought over the admission of new states that could shift the balance between the North and South. During the relatively low polarization politics of the 20th century, the key thing about the Senate was it overrepresented rural interests — distorting policy around farm subsidies, for example — but mostly in ways that were unimportant to the main themes of political conflict.

Today, however, the electorate is increasingly polarizing around the interrelated lines of urbanization, population density, and race. The Senate, by happenstance rather than design, has evolved into what Jonathan Chait aptly terms “the most powerful source of institutional racism in American life.” Right now there are about 0.3 senators for every million people. But because the states that are overrepresented in the Senate are whiter than the national average, there are 0.35 senators for every million white people and only 0.26 for every million African Americans and just 0.19 for every million Hispanics.

“The Senate gives the average black American only 75 percent as much representation as the average white American,” writes David Leonhardt in the New York Times. “And the average Hispanic American? Only 55 percent as much.”

And yet the Senate is only the beginning of the ways racial inequity is perpetuated by America’s failures of political equality.

The scourge of gerrymandering

The term gerrymandering comes from an 1812 political cartoon that rendered it in essentially aesthetic terms. The district, drawn up by Massachusetts’s then-Gov. Elbridge Gerry, was characterized by his political opponents as a monstrous beast, the Gerrymander, rather than a more conventional shape.

The 1812 political cartoon that gave us the term “gerrymander.”
Elkanah Tisdale/Boston Gazette

This focus on aesthetics leads to the conclusion that “both sides do it” since you can unquestionably find funny-looking maps drawn by both Democratic and Republican state legislatures.

The real issue, once again, is political equality. And the segregated nature of American housing patterns means it’s generally not possible for Democrats to gerrymander as effectively as Republicans do. A healthy chunk of the Democratic base vote consists of nonwhite people living in overwhelmingly nonwhite neighborhoods, that lend themselves to “packing” Democrats into inefficient lopsided districts.

Before the 2018 midterm elections, redistricting expert Dave Wasserman worked with the team at FiveThirtyEight to create an Atlas of Redistricting that makes the point well. Take a highly competitive state like Pennsylvania, for example. Under the most efficient GOP gerrymander, there are likely 13 safe Republican seats, with the Democrats packed into one Pittsburgh seat and four in and around Philadelphia. Under an aggressive pro-Democratic gerrymander, they likely secure just nine safe seats. Even in a blue-leaning state like Minnesota, the best Democratic gerrymander likely secures five safe seats while the best Republican one secures six.

This also filters down to state legislatures where “Republican-drawn maps in 2012 had a much larger partisan bias than Democratic ones,” says David Shor, a Democratic data analyst. He calculates that none of the top 15 most-skewed maps were drawn by Democratic legislatures — not because Democrats are uniquely virtuous, but because residential patterns in the United States don’t lend themselves to hyper-aggressive Democratic gerrymanders.

A lot of time and energy is wasted among analysts in debating how exactly to characterize skewed maps that result from residential segregation. Jowei Chen and Jonathan Rodden, for example, argue that “while conventional wisdom holds that partisan bias in U.S. legislative elections results from intentional partisan and racial gerrymandering, we demonstrate that substantial bias can also emerge from patterns of human geography.”

Intent, however, is simply not the main issue here. The Senate’s biases are largely unintentional, but even more severe. The problem is that state legislatures, the House of Representatives, and the Senate are all biased in the same way — and further reinforced by the Electoral College. If Democrats want to pull the country out of its current state of madness, they need to address it.

Political inequality is the source of our crisis

In June, Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) warned that if Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, become states, “Republicans will never be in the majority in the United States Senate.”

Mathematically, this is absurd. Right now, the are 53 Republican senators and 47 in the Democratic caucus. If Puerto Rico and DC became states tomorrow and sent four Democrats to Washington, the balance would shift to 53-51 and Republicans would be still in the majority. One key reason: Admitting these two states would narrow the racial inequality in Senate representation, it would not eliminate it.

What’s telling about Risch’s remarks, however, is less the math than the defeatism behind it. The notion that Republican electoral victories require massive political inequality flies in the face of all kinds of common sense. Republicans are serving today as the governors of Massachusetts, Maryland, and Vermont while Democrats govern Kansas, Louisiana, and Kentucky. There’s always a pivotal voter somewhere, and always a basic contestation between the principles of the left and the right.

But Republicans — not just Trump but mainstream ones like Risch — have just given up on the idea of formulating an agenda that appeals to the majority of the population. That’s contrary to the interests of most people. But it also fuels dysfunctional habits like hyper-engagement with Fox News over external reality. And once you’ve habituated yourself to ignoring the normative force of political equality, you end up on a very slippery slope.

Today’s Republicans strip power from governors in lame-duck legislative sessions. They not only defend the life-long disenfranchisement of ex-convicts, they use control of the courts to subvert referendums that pass to re-enfranchise them. They try to subvert the accuracy of census counts, and block the use of safe voting methods in the middle of a pandemic.

In their defense, tradition is on their side. The United States de facto or de jure denied the vote to African Americans for most of its history, and until the Baker v. Carr (1962) ruling, it was standard practice to draw state legislative districts that violated the one person one vote principle. The generation or so after the passage of the Voting Rights, when the Electoral College never made a practical difference in presidential elections, was an exception rather than the rule. But the principle of political equality is a good one and worth fighting for.

The time for structural reform

If Democrats do well in November, pressure will be overwhelming on members of Congress to deliver in key ways for interest groups that supported them. For members representing swing districts, it will seem risky to spend time and energy on process issues that might be seen as partisan power grabs. But these are not power grabs.

People of color who live in cities should have equal voting rights as rural whites. It’s a core demand for justice, and the fact that the system does not work that way makes it exceptionally difficult to make enduring progress on any economic, racial, or environmental justice topic. These inequities have never been justifiable, and the fact that they align sharply with partisan politics makes them worse, not better.

The good news is that Democrats have begun some of the necessary work to get changes done. In 2019, House Democrats wisely made political reform a top priority by writing and passing HR 1 — a package of election reform measures that included automatic voter registration and federal curbs on partisan gerrymandering. It went nowhere in a Republican-controlled Senate, but that could change if the majority flips.

Senate staffers generally say that it’s good to look at what’s already passed in the House to get a sense of what a hypothetical Democratic-controlled Senate might take up. The House has also passed legislation to turn Washington, DC, into a state. This could get 50 or 51 votes in the Senate, too, if Democrats do well in November.

But as Vox’s Ian Millhiser writes, neither bill has any chance of securing 60 votes, so hopes for Democratic reform hinge entirely on the prospects for enacting another democratic reform — abolition of the filibuster.

If change happens, historians may look back on former President Barack Obama’s eulogy for Rep. John Lewis as a watershed. Speaking at Lewis’s funeral, he called for an end to gerrymandering, statehood for DC and Puerto Rico, a national holiday on Election Day, and other democratic reforms. Most of all, “if all this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do,” Obama said.

Just because Obama says it doesn’t mean the rest of the party will agree. But Obama sees his role in the present moment as guiding a consensus among Democrats, not picking fights. He wouldn’t have taken those positions if he didn’t think they were viable as priorities with the party establishment. And the framing around Lewis was exactly right, underscoring that there can be no meaningful “reckoning” on race in America without reckoning with the way American institutions embed racial inequity in representation.

Structural reforms designed to advance political equality are also a viable legislative agenda in terms of public opinion. Civis Analytics, a top Democratic polling firm, tested a wide range of reform ideas complete with partisan framing to try to determine those popular enough to move forward on. They found that DC and Puerto Rico statehood, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, re-enfranchising ex-felons, requiring the use of independent redistricting commissions, and blocking corporate campaign contributions are all above water with the public. To get any of that done, Democrats would need to first secure a majority in the Senate and then end the filibuster.

Busting the filibuster and using a newly unleashed majority to uncork several major changes to the structure of American politics would be a shocking turn of events. Pressure will be intense after the madness of the Trump years to declare that things are “back to normal” and to avoid taking actions that the GOP will easily agree to oppose. But Democrats should consider how frequently and somberly they’ve intoned that the future of American democracy is at stake. The fact is that an undemocratic system doesn’t go away just because Democrats win one time.


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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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