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American Voter: Alexandra Nichole Salazar Vasquez

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US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are battling for the presidency in a sharply divided United States.

Trump has been focusing on “law and order” while Biden has been trying to strike a conciliatory note. The Black Lives Matter movement – and whether Trump will release his taxes – are among the many issues Americans will consider when choosing their president.

As the hotly contested election approaches, Al Jazeera has been speaking to voters across the US asking nine questions to understand who they are supporting and why.

Alexandra Nichole Salazar Vasquez

Age: 27

Occupation: PhD Student and Podcaster 

Residence: Voting in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, but living in Texas 

Voted in 2016 for: Hillary Clinton 

Will Vote in 2020 for: Joe Biden 

Top Election Issue: Racial Justice 

Will you vote? Why or why not?

“As soon as I get my absentee ballot, I will be mailing it out.”

“I’ve been reading a lot of books and articles on race and colonisation, so my views have shifted. In an ideal world, the goal is to get rid of these structures. I think [singer] Selena Gomez had on a shirt that said ‘vote or die’ and I felt very uncomfortable by it, and I thought ‘Why am I uncomfortable with this shirt?’ It’s because not everyone has access to voting. If not, what can we learn from the Black Lives Matter movement or the Black Liberation movement? If Black people aren’t free, then nobody is free. Liberation for Black people is liberation for all.

“If you apply that logic to voting, it is not a liberating act for everybody. There are people who are undocumented who don’t have access to voting. There are people who have a criminal record and don’t have access to voting, you know. There are so many who don’t have the choice to vote. So in a lot of ways, voting is a privilege.

“Of course, if you look at the history, women were not allowed to vote, people of colour were not allowed to vote, Black people were not allowed to vote, and so on the flip side, you feel this sort of, not guilt, but this will to vote, just because you know the fight that it took. But then the fight was not for everybody, so that is upsetting.

“I think voting is anxiety-inducing for me, because I think about the history and all the power structures at play. I just have to bring myself back to the real world and think about what is going to have a real-life impact, and that would be to vote. So that’s why it’s important — because I understand it’s not just about me, it’s about justice for everyone. However, again, it’s not really justice for everyone. In an ideal world, I would burn [the power structures] all down.”

What is your number-one issue?

“Structural racism, because racism is institutional, it’s structural. It’s not just verbal interaction – it is in the systems, it is in the power structure, it is in our education system, it is in mainstream media, it’s in our prison system, it’s in the police, it’s in everything.

“It has a lot to do with climate change as well, so if we were to get rid of institutional racism, then, because everything is intersectional, it would create change for a lot of things, not just what people think of as ‘racism’. It would change the course of our education system, the people in power, power itself, climate change, queer rights, trans rights, etc.”

Who will you vote for?

“Joe Biden.

“However, if it was up to me, I would want a trans woman of colour. I would want an indigenous person. Why does it have to be so individual and competitive? Why can’t it be a coalition?”

Is there a main reason you chose your candidate?

“I chose Biden as my candidate because it feels like that’s the only choice I have in terms of getting Trump out of office. Although I know it’s not the only choice, because we can come together and change the course of things.

“At this moment, I don’t know if I have the mental capacity to do anything, because we’re going through a pandemic, and there’s a lot of other things. I’m voting for Biden because I feel like that is the best option.”

Are you happy with the state of the country?

“No! The ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan runs through my head a lot, because it’s very confusing to me — because America was never great. Literally, America was founded on genocide and slavery – literally the foundation of America is not good, it’s evil, it’s racist, it’s inhumane, it’s horrible. When people say ‘make America great again’, I wonder at what point they’re talking about — during slavery or when women didn’t have a voice? Are you talking about when queer people and trans people were dying at the hands of police? Oh wait, all of that is still happening in a lot of ways!

“I’ve always worried about the state [of our country], and I’m going to continue to worry about it, because power structures are at play and they will continue. And so we really need to work to end them. I don’t know what the solution is other than having critical conversations [and] holding people accountable. I’m worried and I’m going to continue to worry until these power structures are out, white supremacy is out.”

What would you like to see change?

“I want institutional racism, homophobia, transphobia, queer-phobia, classicism, all the ‘-isms’ to [go]. There are so many things that we need— the power structures that are at play need to be abolished in order for change to happen— real, meaningful change.

“And like I said at the very beginning, what can we learn from the Black Lives Matter movement? It’s that liberation for Black people means liberation for everybody. What does that look like? What does it mean? What do we have to do to get there?”

Do you think the election will change anything?

“To be honest, I’m a little scared, because I know that Trump supporters are violent, and I worry that if Trump is voted out, they will become very violent. They already feel that it’s okay for them to be racist and homophobic and sexist, etc, because they have a president who sort of enables and encourages it and does not stop white supremacy— look at the debate! He did not blatantly, outright say anything about white supremacy or white supremacists. And so, I’m worried about the violence that’s going to come out of it from the Trump supporters.

“That is something that I think about, but at the same time, do I think something will change? Well, I hope— that’s the thing— I cannot say for sure until I see it actually happening, but I hope that things are changing for the better.”

“The things that I think are a priority right now are police brutality, the pandemic, climate change, and poverty. Again, it’s all intersectional, but I hope that if Biden were to become the next president, that we’d have a quick change on the way we’re handling COVID and defunding the police.”

What’s your biggest concern for the US?

“White supremacy, structural violence, structural racism. I think the US itself— what is the US? It’s white supremacist-state operated.”

Is there anything we haven’t asked about the election that you want to share?

“I was very nervous about what the voting process was going to look like [during the primaries] because of COVID. I knew that, statistically speaking, the voting sites for lower-income communities are not as accessible as the ones in affluent neighbourhoods. We saw that really come to light during the pandemic because we had little to no polling sites in lower-income neighborhoods, so the lines were really long and also that means you’re at a higher risk for contracting COVID as opposed to the affluent neighbourhoods.

“Going out to vote was not an option for me — it was too much of a risk. I requested my absentee ballot and it just never came – it never arrived – so I wasn’t able to vote. It wasn’t until a month or two later that it actually came in.

“I didn’t feel disappointed, I guess, but I was of course upset. It just reminds you of the way power works and how people of colour or oppressed people, queer people, people at the margins aren’t supposed to belong in the state apparatus. It was just a reminder of where we’re supposed to be and where our place is.

“When Trump became president, a lot of people were surprised. I was not, because that’s the way white supremacy works, that’s the way that power structures work.”

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

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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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Classic toy tie-up: Etch A Sketch maker to acquire Rubik’s Cube

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Spin Master Corp., the company behind the Etch A Sketch and Paw Patrol brands, has agreed to acquire Rubik’s Brand Ltd. for about $50 million, tying together two of the world’s most iconic toy brands.

The merger comes at a boom time for classic toymakers, as parents turn to familiar products to entertain kids stuck in lockdown. Like sales of Uno, Monopoly and Barbie dolls, Rubik’s Cube purchases have spiked during the pandemic, according to the puzzle maker’s chief executive officer, Christoph Bettin. He expects sales to jump 15% to 20% in 2020, compared with a normal year, when people purchase between 5 million and 10 million cubes.

By acquiring Rubik’s, Toronto-based Spin Master can better compete with its larger rivals, Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc. All three companies have pivoted to become less reliant on actual product sales, diversifying into television shows, films and broader entertainment properties based on their toys. Spin Master CEO Anton Rabie said he wouldn’t rule out films or TV shows based on Rubik’s Cubes, but he was focused for now on creating more cube-solving competitions and crossmarketing it with the company’s other products, like the Perplexus.

“Whoever you are, it really has a broad appeal from a consumer standpoint,” Rabie said in an interview. “It’s actually going to become the crown jewel; it will be the most important part of our portfolio worldwide.”

Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik created the Rubik’s Cube in 1974, a solid block featuring squares with colored stickers that users could twist and turn without it falling apart. It gained popularity in the 1980s and has remained one of the best-selling toys of all time, spawning spinoff versions, international competitions of puzzle solvers, books and documentaries.

The toy has been particularly well-suited to pandemic conditions. During lockdowns, parents have sought to give kids puzzles that boost problem-solving skills useful in math and science careers. Normally, toys tied to major film franchises are among the most popular products headed into the holidays, but studios have delayed the release of major new movies because of coronavirus. So classic products are experiencing a mini-renaissance.

“The whole pandemic has really increased games and puzzles,” Rabie said. “But whether the pandemic existed or didn’t exist, we’d still buy Rubik’s. It’s had such steady sales for decades.”

Rubik’s CEO Bettin said it was the right time to sell the company, with the founding families behind it ready to move on. London-based Rubik’s Brand was formed out of a partnership between Erno Rubik and the late entrepreneur Tom Kremer, while private equity firm Bancroft Investment holds a minority stake in the company.

Early on, Bettin felt Spin Master was the right home for the puzzle toy, he said. Spin Master, which was started by a group of three friends in 1994, has expanded through the purchase of well-known brands, including Erector sets and Etch A Sketch. Rabie says he works to honor the “legacy” of those products, which Bettin cited as a key reason to sell the brand to Spin Master over larger companies that were interested.

“It was important for us to not be lost in the crowd, and to be sufficiently important and cared for,” Bettin said. “And there’s a balance between being with someone large enough to invest, and agile enough to ensure you are key part of their plans.”

Spin Master won’t own Rubik’s Cubes in time for the holiday season – the transaction is expected to close on Jan. 4. At that time, the company will move Rubik’s operations from a small office in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood to Spin Master’s new games operations center in Long Island.

Some of Rubik’s Brand’s 10 employees will be part of the transition, but they won’t stay permanently, Bettin said.

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