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American Voter: Niq Hunter



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”, 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.

Niq Hunter

Age: 35

Occupation: Content Creator

Residence: Jefferson County, Texas

Voted in 2016:  Trump

Will vote in 2020: Biden

Top election issue: Get Trump out of office

Will you vote? Why or why not?

“I will be voting because I think that this is going to be a major election. Obviously it’s going to be a major election because the country is so divisive, but I think especially where I’m at, because I’m in Texas, and we historically have always been a red state.

“I think that the people are fed up, because what got Trump into the White House was the silent majority, now, I think the silent majority is not in his favour, and it’s going to be pretty historic to see Texas become a blue state for the first time.

“I’m a registered Republican, but I won’t be voting for Donald Trump. I think this is going to be the best chance ever in the history of modern politics [for Texas to vote for a Democratic president].”

What is your number one issue?

“For it to not be Donald Trump. And I hate that that’s the hill that I’m gonna die on, because the reason why I voted for him in the first place was because he wasn’t Hillary Clinton.

“Now when you look at what he’s done in the White House, everything, all the reasons why I wasn’t gonna vote for vote for Hillary Clinton, he’s made those things look miniscule. I mean, when you look at the fact that there’s Russian bounties on American soldiers, you look at all the different things that have gone on in the White House, just the blatant lies and misinformation, the fact that we don’t rely on science and education to make decisions we go with.

“It’s however he feels and … if he doesn’t like you, he just fires you or gets you out of the way and there’s no debate, there’s no open dialogue. There’s no room for anyone to have an opinion other than what his is, it’s gone from being a democratic society to a totalitarian society and I just can’t stand for that.”

Who will you vote for?

Joe Biden.

Is there a main reason you chose your candidate?

“The the only reason why I’m gonna vote for Joe Biden is because [third party candidate] Jo Jorgensen is not going to win the election. So I’m not going to waste a vote putting it into the Libertarian Party.

“So for me to do anything that’s going to be able to make a difference, it’s going to be to vote in somebody who can replace Trump.”

Are you happy with the state of the country?

“Not at all. There’s a number of different reasons.

“One, I’m a Black man in America. So I’ve always known that the rules in the society that I live in aren’t the same as the one [white Americans] live in. And I’m okay with that. I know that that’s the society that we live in. I know that that privilege exists.

“I’ve been able to take advantage of it. I mean, I’m half white and half Black. So even in my own microcosm of society, when I’ve gotten pulled over in my pickup truck when I was listening to country music, well, I would get let off with a warning. But when I was 20 years old, and driving a Hummer with 20-inch rims on it, I definitely got a ticket and got searched on the highway. Those are my experiences.

“So to see that and to see where we are and to see how divisive our country has become because of the leader that we have. We don’t have someone that’s uniting the country. We have someone that’s being divisive. That’s calling his own citizens thugs, that’s using the military and the police against peaceful protesters for photo ops.

“So yeah, I’m definitely not happy with the state of our country. Not just for the racial issues, but for just the lack of humanity and empathy between neighbours. I feel like that now with the way that social media has created these echo chambers. If you don’t agree with someone, then they have an army of people behind them to validate their points rather than open their minds and see things from the other side.

“I think that there aren’t too many people that are in positions of leadership that are pushing to have an inclusive society rather than a divided society.”

Do you think the election will change anything?

“I think it’ll be a step closer just based on the fact that I don’t believe that we’re going to have someone in the White House who spends 40 percent of their time golfing, watching Fox News and tweeting, rather than trying to run the country and put us into a better place.”

What is your biggest concern for the US?

“My biggest concern is that people who don’t take COVID seriously are the loudest voices out there.

“I just don’t understand how those voices are the ones that are garnering the most attention and that they are the ones that are getting some of the most influence. To me it just doesn’t make sense.

“I feel like that right now we’re in some really scary times and what we need to be relying on is facts and science rather than these half-baked ideas about miracles that are gonna happen.”

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

“If any time you’ve ever thought that your vote doesn’t matter, now isn’t that time. You have to go out. You have to express your opinions. Even if you don’t agree with me, even if you think that Donald Trump has done a great job, which I would like to see some facts that actually prove that, but even if we differ on opinions, you definitely need to go out there. You definitely need to vote. You definitely need to make sure your voice is heard.”


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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.

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.

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



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



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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