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‘As long as you love Jesus’: The battle for Pine Ridge’s children

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The Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota covers approximately 2.8 million acres (1.13 million hectares) and is home to almost 20,000 members of the Oglala Lakota people. Within the reservation’s borders is the Badlands National Park, a vast expanse of karst table mesa formations, and a dozen small towns and settlements.

On the quiet main street of its largest town, also named Pine Ridge, there is a new supermarket, a Taco John’s fast-food restaurant, a gas station and a Pizza Hut.

There is also the Holy Cross Episcopal Church facing the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which is a stone’s throw from the Joint Presbyterian-Lutheran Ministry and an adjacent retreat centre that is used for Christian-themed gatherings and for handing out food parcels. The churches and other Christian buildings, a hodge-podge of structures built in the 1960s and 70s, look dated and worn.

Further down the broad main street is Higher Ground, the town’s sole cafe. Last year, before the COVID-19 pandemic, it belted out Christian rock and pop music to a stream of largely non-Indigenous customers. Many of them were Christian missionaries – a few of the younger ones were on their first visit to the reservation but many were middle-aged and returned year after year.

A short distance further out of town is the Potter House Church and a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Churches, retreat centres and missions dominate Pine Ridge’s streetscapes and bucolic badlands. In fact, there is one church here for every 388 people – making it second only to Indianapolis in the United States (with a church for every 289 people) in terms of the number of religious organisations per capita.

The vast Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota is home to the Oglala Sioux Nation [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

A history of abuse and cultural cleansing

But Christian missionaries and churches hold a grim place in the historical consciousness of Native Americans.

In the late 1800s, boarding schools were set up and run by religious orders with the sole remit of assimilating Native American children into the Christian culture of the white settlers while attempting to destroy their connections to their own culture, languages, traditions and families.

For almost a century, Indigenous children were taken from their homes and sent to one of the hundreds of boarding schools across the US and Canada. There, they suffered starvation, neglect, illnesses such as tuberculosis, and physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Many children did not survive the schools.

In addition, the US government policy of forcible assimilation led to thousands of Native American children being adopted by white families during the 1950s and 60s.

But despite the decades of abuse and cultural cleansing, today, Native American children still find themselves surrounded by missionaries.

Davidica Little Spotted Horse is working to shed light on missionaries’ conversion efforts on the reservation [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

‘They don’t see what they’re doing as wrong’

Davidica Little Spotted Horse is a 47-year-old musician who lives in Oglala, a town about 15 minutes’ drive north of Pine Ridge town. It is home to about 1,300 people and the Re*Creation & Worship Center, the Oyate Concern Missionaries and the Our Lady of the Sioux Church. With their brightly-painted wine and teal coloured roofs, the structures – some of the largest in the community – stand out against the mainly ageing trailers and mobile homes inhabited by residents.

She recalled the first time she saw missionaries on the reservation. “I was driving along with my ex-husband in Oglala. It was a Sunday morning and I saw all these cars parked together,” she said. “I asked him what was going on and he said it was a Christian service gathering. I’d never heard about this before.”

She was not immediately concerned and, like many other parents in the community, allowed her children to play at the Re*Creation and Worship Center, a mission church with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God group of churches, for the simple reason that it had a playground.

But then, one day, her daughter, who was about 10 years old at the time, came home complaining of pain in her knees. She had been made to kneel on the gravel, she said.

“Then someone from our community called and told me [the centre] had a wall lined with certificates of baptisms, and they saw my kids’ names on them,” she recalled.

“I asked my kids and they said there was a small wading pool where the children were told to lie down and they were dunked in.”

“They had no idea what had happened.”

Little Spotted Horse said she confronted the centre’s leaders and was asked to leave. Her children never went back. The Re*Creation and Worship Center declined to respond to Al Jazeera’s queries about whether baptising children without their parents’ permission was or remains among its activities.

“They don’t see what they’re doing as wrong,” said Little Spotted Horse. “They think they’re entitled to do this weird stuff.”

These incidents prompted Little Spotted Horse to begin investigating what churches and missionaries were doing across the reservation.

Christian propaganda material is still commonly distributed around Native communities on the reservation; this one claims Jesus is greater than the Lakota god, Tunkasila [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

‘Poverty porn’

She started speaking to members of her community and asking them to share their accounts of incidents with religious groups.

“About 130 people flooded forward,” she explained. “They said that there were incidents of sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse. Picking up children without permission, their parents not knowing what is going on.”

She relayed the story of a mother who allowed her child to be taken by missionaries to play with other children at a nearby religious venue, but when the child was not returned at the prearranged time, she panicked, calling the police and organising a search. The child was returned several hours later, but the missionaries left without ever explaining the reason for the delay or being spoken to by tribal police.

Little Spotted Horse also said she believes missions are using images of Native children to fundraise for their own organisations.

“Honestly, I think all the churches are here just to make money because they do the poverty porn thing – ‘Look at these poor Natives, give to us, give to us, we’re going to save them.’” She exhaled and looked down at her infant granddaughter who was trying to wriggle free from her arms.

Her activism culminated in a 2017 tribal ordinance that requires groups coming to the reservation to report to the tribal authorities and adhere to background checks and drug testing for individuals working around children. “If they don’t, we can call the cops and have them escorted off the reservation,” she said.

About 60 percent of children live under the poverty threshold on Pine Ridge Reservation, compared with 21 percent nationwide [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

‘Thanks for asking’

Duane Yellowhawk, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council’s law and order committee, estimated that there are 70 to 100 churches on the reservation.

“I can’t exactly say, but there’s a lot of churches around,” he said.

An additional 30 to 45 missions descend on the area every spring and summer, he explained.

The missions – which bring people from across the US to the reservation – take Lakota children swimming, camping and on other trips while introducing them to Christianity. Some missionary organisations also work on much-needed infrastructure projects, including building ramps for wheelchair users and painting homes.

But Yellowhawk said he does not believe the churches or missions are required to get permission from the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council that runs the reservation before they arrive.

The situation is unclear. While the law and order committee is responsible for enforcing the ordinance, Yellowhawk said during his term he has not seen any background checks provided by Christian organisations. Little Spotted Horse, however, maintains that it is the law.

Other tribal council members contacted by Al Jazeera declined to comment on the role Christian organisations play in life on the reservation.

While a number of groups carry out important infrastructure and relief work, some reports of disturbing incidents have emerged. In March 2019, a priest with the Holy Spirit church who had previously worked on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe located 160km (100 miles) northeast of Pine Ridge was sentenced to six years in jail for sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl in Rapid City, South Dakota, 65km (40 miles) northwest of Pine Ridge.

In a 2019 article, the newspaper Indian Country Today reported on the case of T, a woman from Pine Ridge who was allegedly sexually abused as a child over four years by a member of the Re*Creation and Worship Center. T declined to speak to Al Jazeera for this article, citing acute discomfort with dredging up the past.

“When she finally came forward because no one believed her, [tribal police] said they couldn’t prosecute because it was her word against the guy’s word,” said Little Spotted Horse, who is familiar with the case.

Eric Sutton, the lead pastor at the centre, told Indian Country Today of the alleged perpetrator, “I fired him as soon as I heard about the charges. The last I heard, he was in Pennsylvania.”

Queries put to Sutton by Al Jazeera via email as to whether background checks are currently being performed on volunteers working around children were answered with: “We have no comment. Thanks for asking.”

The Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Pine Ridge town centre is one of the many Christian institutions that dominate streetscapes across the reservation [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

‘Is Jesus Christ your saviour?’

Travelling around Pine Ridge before the pandemic forced it to close its borders to visitors for a time earlier this year, the presence of missionaries and their apparent evangelising could be seen everywhere.

At the local Pizza Hut, about a third of the customers in a one-hour period were non-Native. Many wore T-shirts bearing the names of mission groups and churches.

At the Higher Ground cafe, a middle-aged white woman spoke to two Native high school students. “Is Jesus Christ your saviour?” she asked them. She spoke intensely to the children, who disclosed which high school class they were in but otherwise remained mostly silent. “Jesus Christ never did anything wrong,” she stressed before buying them a drink, giving them some money and leaving.

Calls later made to the cafe’s owner requesting comment on missionaries’ activities on their premises did not receive a response. Emails sent to a number of mission groups asking whether Lakota children they or their volunteers interact with receive money for any reason also went unanswered.

A ban on proselytising

The Oglala Lakota Nation Wacipi and Fair celebration usually held at the pow wow grounds on the outskirts of Pine Ridge every August (but cancelled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic) is an important social, cultural and spiritual gathering for Lakota peoples from across the US. Hundreds of Lakota gather over three days to watch and take part in drum-beating, dance and regalia competitions and events. The sound of Lakota ceremonial songs fills the still South Dakota air. Next to the pow wow grounds are a rodeo event, a carnival, and a campsite where friends and families chat late into the night.

But here too, the missionaries were prominent last August. Next to the main entrance was a stand for the Jehovah’s Witnesses by which a well-dressed, young white man and a young Native woman stood. When Al Jazeera directed a question to the woman, the man interjected, asking that press questions related to their work on the reservation be directed to their website. Emails to the Jehovah’s Witnesses general counsel in New York, asking whether the organisation thought it appropriate to appear at this traditional, spiritual Lakota event, went unanswered.

The annual pow wow or ‘wacipi’ is a spiritual, family event for Pine Ridge’s residents, but here too missionaries make their presence felt [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

Of course, many of the Christian groups aim to help a community where 60 percent of the children live under the poverty threshold (compared with 21 percent nationally), where life expectancy is the lowest in the US and where, in August, a suicide emergency was declared following reports of 177 attempts by young people to take their own lives in the first eight months of this year. But at the heart of these problems and others is the intergenerational fallout of white America’s efforts to eradicate Native American identity – something that many missionary groups appear to be replicating.

Although not all organisations are strictly missionary-orientated.

The Re-Member organisation is a non-profit based 10 minutes east of Pine Ridge town that expressly points out in its volunteer preparation package that proselytising is forbidden. It also warns that clothing depicting religious imagery should be avoided.

“Although many of our volunteers do come from churches, we are very upfront in our terms and conditions, pre-trip information, and on-site orientation, that Re-Member is a not-for-profit volunteer organisation,” said Cory True, an executive director. “Re-Member insists that all volunteers adhere to our policy against any proselytising whatsoever during the course of their visit.”

According to its Facebook page, this year Re-Member installed several ramps, 14 outhouses and delivered close to 70 beds to communities on Pine Ridge, spending approximately $25,000 on construction material in the process. In addition, some of the items for sale in its online store are the work of Lakota artists.

Yet Re-Member is not a secular organisation. It was co-founded by a preacher in 1988, and many of its donors and contacts are religious institutions. None of its current officers or board of directors is Lakota.

Every year it brings about 1,200 volunteers, some as young as eight years old, to the reservation, charging adults nearly $600 per trip – money it says is used to pay for food and accommodation. It puts significant effort into fundraising and, according to public records, in 2018, it had an income of more than $515,000 through “programme service revenue” and received a similar figure in the form of “contributions and grants”.

‘As long as you say you love Jesus’

Local community activists say the presence of well-resourced Christian groups creates and feeds an unequal power dynamic and relationship of dependency with Native children. And when the weeklong mission experience ends and volunteers go home, local children are left to return to their everyday lives.

What is more, some say missionaries are outbidding local efforts to help people in need. “You have these churches coming in here, building what they call ‘poverty porn’. They got all this money to do all kinds of stuff in those communities,” said Milton Bianas, who is Oglala and works with male criminal offenders through the Oglala Sioux Tribe Victim Services. “They got more connections; they can get in there and do a lot more than we can do – as long as you say you love Jesus.”

Milton Bianas and Jenn Black Feather of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Victim Services [Stephen Starr/Al Jazeera]

Incarceration rates among Native Americans are twice that of white and Hispanic Americans. Bianas said in many communities on Pine Ridge, his is the only tribal programme doing culturally and spiritually relevant work in the jails. “The other 10 programmes are all different denominations of Christian groups,” he explained.

Last year, Little Spotted Horse embarked on a needs-test project that, she said, will take her to every house on the reservation to, in part, document residents’ religious affiliations. She says the information would better inform people’s needs but also offer insight into whether the presence of so many Christian groups is merited. While the pandemic has halted that effort for now, as well as forcing missionaries to stay away this year, she expects to pick it back up once the COVID-19 emergency passes.

“Ninety-five percent of our reservation is traditional. Ninety-five percent of us are not Christians,” she said. “They’re going around saying we’re evil devil-worshippers, that something is wrong with us, that we don’t believe in Christianity, so they need to save us. It’s really disgusting. They want to come here to supposedly save us.”

“People here are poor,” added Little Spotted Horse. “People will go to the churches and revivals [meetings organised to recruit new converts] because they know that afterwards, they give them food.”

Still, the pandemic-fuelled travel restrictions this year that have prevented missionaries from coming to Pine Ridge have led to some positive developments.

“We haven’t had to be watching out for the kids or heard complaints from people [about the missionaries],” said Little Spotted Horse. “The Tribal Council has stepped up with aid and support for people, which goes to show that we can do this without having the missionaries here.”

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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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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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