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Court-packing, Democrats’ nuclear option for the Supreme Court, explained

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When news broke on Friday night that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the longest-serving liberal justice on the Supreme Court, had died, it became clear almost immediately that President Trump would try to replace her with a conservative justice before the presidential election on November 3. It also became clear that Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader who famously blocked President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year in the name of letting the people choose, would work with Trump to push through the nominee ASAP.

The brazenness of the move, along with the prospect of a Supreme Court with six conservative justices, almost immediately sparked a liberal response in the form of calls for court-packing.

“Mitch McConnell set the precedent. No Supreme Court vacancies filled in an election year,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) tweeted. “If he violates it, when Democrats control the Senate in the next Congress, we must abolish the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court.” House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) sounded a similar threat if the confirmation happens during a “lame duck” period, tweeting, “If Sen. McConnell and @SenateGOP were to force through a nominee during the lame duck session—before a new Senate and President can take office—then the incoming Senate should immediately move to expand the Supreme Court.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has already signaled his openness to court-packing if he becomes majority leader, telling his caucus in a conference call, “Let me be clear: If Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year. Nothing is off the table.” On the lobbying/advocacy side, the organization Demand Justice, run by veteran Democratic strategist Brian Fallon, is pushing hard for additional Supreme Court seats and term limits. (For his part, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has stuck to his institutionalist instincts, holding off on endorsing such drastic moves.)

The calls for court-packing, though louder than ever, are not entirely new. Almost as soon as Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court this in June 2018 calls started pouring in from liberals and leftists for court-packing.

There is nothing in the Constitution mandating that the Supreme Court have nine members, and a simple act of Congress could increase that number to 11, or 15, or even more. That effectively creates a way for a political party in control of the House, Senate, and presidency to add a large number of ideologically sympathetic justices to the Court, all at once.

To many leftists and left-liberals, such drastic action is needed if any progressive legislation in the future is to survive — and if precedents on abortion rights and LGBT equality are to avoid reversal. Back in 2018, the Supreme Court effectively gutted public sector unions under the guise of the First Amendment. In 2012, there were four votes on the Supreme Court (including Anthony Kennedy) for striking down the Affordable Care Act in full. And there’s an emerging movement of judicial conservatives, championed prominently by Donald Trump’s appellate appointee Don Willett, which wants the courts to become much more aggressive in blocking economic regulation.

If that kind of judicial conservatism comes to dominate the Supreme Court, then even winning back the White House and Congress won’t be enough for programs like a $15 minimum wage, or Medicare-for-all, or a free college plan, to be passed and secured. The Supreme Court would stand ready to rule them unconstitutional nearly as soon as they are passed. In such a scenario, court-packing starts to look like a reasonable defensive measure.

The prospect of a Court slapping down progressive economic measures brings to mind the last time court-packing was seriously considered. In 1937, Franklin Roosevelt was facing off with a hostile Supreme Court that routinely ruled aspects of the New Deal unconstitutional on the same grounds. During that era, the Court interpreted the due process clauses of the Fifth and 14th Amendments as sharply limiting economic regulation and ruling out things like federal bans on child labor, minimum wage laws, and legislation limiting work weeks to 60 (!) hours.

Roosevelt’s plan to increase the court’s size — which would’ve allowed him as many as six new justices, for a 9-6 majority for the New Deal on a 15-member court — ultimately failed in the Senate, but not before successfully pressuring Justice Owen Roberts to switch his alignment from the Court’s conservatives to the liberals and rule for the constitutionality of minimum wage laws and the National Labor Relations Act.

If calls for court-packing grow loud enough, you could see something similar happen on the current court, if some of the Republican-appointed justices like John Roberts or Brett Kavanaugh start moderating their decisions to prevent the radical disruption of the Court by Democrats who fear being locked out of policy influence for a generation.

Alternately, a successful court-packing effort from Democrats could spur retaliation in turn from Republicans, and this process itself could undermine the Court’s authority. In some ways this might be desirable, and take decisions on important policy matters away from the court and in the hands of democratically elected legislatures. But it could also undermine faith in the rule of law itself, and increase the threat of democratic backsliding.

The case for court-packing

One of the most extensive arguments for court-packing comes from David Faris, a political scientist at Roosevelt University, whose book It’s Time To Fight Dirty argues for court-packing as part of a larger set of strategies to amplify Democrats’ political power, including statehood for DC and Puerto Rico, breaking California into multiple states, and expanding the House of Representatives.

The Republican Senate’s refusal to even consider Merrick Garland for Antonin Scalia’s seat, Faris writes, violated “a norm that presidents should get to nominate whoever they like, within reason.”

He continues: “Because of this unspoken agreement between the two parties, both sides regarded Supreme Court openings as what they are — lotteries to be won by lucky presidents, or lost by those unfortunate enough not to preside over an opening. The GOP’s treatment of Merrick Garland means that this informal agreement is trashed.”

That, to Faris, makes extraordinary measures like court-packing suddenly viable. And the threat of a conservative court undoing just about any legislative accomplishments of the next unified Democratic government makes it necessary: “A Court that strikes down a Medicare For All insurance system, or legislation establishing equal funding for public education, or that chips away at abortion rights, gay rights, and other issues that are now supported clearly by a majority of the public will create a profound crisis in American society of the likes that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.”

To lower the stakes of confirmation battles, Faris favors eliminating lifetime tenure for judges and adopting the nonpartisan group Fix The Court’s plan of nonrenewable 18-year term limits. But unless nominees voluntarily pledge to step down after 18 years (which would effectively be a form of unilateral disarmament if only one party’s nominees take that pledge), term limits would require a constitutional amendment to enact. Court-packing, by contrast, only requires an act of Congress and could pressure Republicans to accept term limits as a compromise.

“If the reactionary right is unwilling to go along with this idea, as they almost certainly won’t be due to short-term political calculations, Democrats must use the power granted to them by the Constitution to pack the Supreme Court, protect the legislation demanded by a majority of Americans and, hopefully, to convince their opponents that the current structure of the court system cries out for a bipartisan solution,” Faris concludes.

In the aftermath of Kennedy’s retirement, a number of leftist/liberal writers echoed Faris’s arguments. Attorney and writer Mark Pickett argued in the Outline, “increasing the size of the Court is an entirely proportional response the GOP’s abuse of process. Gorsuch’s appointment alone justifies it. In shifting the Court from a potential 5 to 4 liberal majority to a 5 to 4 conservative majority, the Republicans effectively stole two votes. Increasing the Court’s size to 11 justices would merely rebalance what was taken.”

Todd Tucker, a political scientist and fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, argued more explicitly on the basis of policy outcomes in Jacobin. “With union density near an all-time low and climate catastrophe on the horizon, future lawmakers will need tools even more robust than what FDR was able to get through — think a Green [National Industrial Recovery Act] on steroids,” Tucker writes. “A handful of justices pulled from Federalist Society debating clubs can’t and shouldn’t get in the way of a more democratic and sustainable economy.”

The existence of historical precedents for court-packing beyond FDR further bolsters the argument for it. In a 1968 article for the Baylor Law Review, political scientist JR Saylor detailed “seven occasions Congress has enlarged or diminished the size of the Supreme Court by one or two judges.” Each of these seven times, the changes were made either to “purge the Court of … justices making decisions objectionable to an incumbent of the White House or to a dominant party majority in Congress” or to “‘pack’ the Court in order that the policies of the government in power would be upheld as constitutional.”

Those seven times were:

  • In 1801, before the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson, the outgoing Federalist Party passed the Judiciary Act of 1801, shrinking the court from six to five members by providing that the next member to die or resign would not be replaced. Saylor describes this as “undoubtedly an attempt made by the Federalists to keep the Court wholly Federalist.”
  • In 1802, Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican party repealed the 1801 law and returned the court to six members.
  • In 1807, the Jeffersonian-dominated Congress expanded the Court to even members, to accommodate a new judicial circuit covering Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio, then new additions to the union.
  • In 1837, two new circuits were created and the Court’s size increased to nine; Saylor credits this to the geographic pressures of America’s westward expansion, but notes that Andrew Jackson quickly took advantage and appointed two new justices the day before he left office.
  • In 1863, Congress increased the Supreme Court’s size to 10 members in the midst of the Civil War. Saylor explains, “There was a widespread suspicion that Lincoln wanted another man on the Court on whom he could depend lest the body invalidate some of the crucial and doubtful wartime legislation which was coming before it at that time.”
  • In 1866, as pro-Reconstruction Republicans in Congress did battle with President Andrew Johnson, Congress passed a law barring Johnson from filling vacancies until the Court shrank to eight members, which occurred the following year.
  • In 1869, with pro-Reconstruction President Ulysses S. Grant in office, Congress increased the court’s size to nine, where it’s stayed ever since.

That history is not one of politically disinterested policymakers negotiating impartially as to the Court’s size. It’s a history of political manipulation with an eye toward partisan advantage, and some of the most heroic figures in American history — Lincoln, Radical Republicans in Congress like Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner, Grant — engaged in the practice.

The arguments against court-packing

Court-packing was unpopular with the public when proposed by Roosevelt, and there’s a reason that many constitutional scholars and political scientists continue to decry it to this day.

In How Democracies Die, Harvard comparative politics scholars Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt characterize 1937 as one of America’s close calls with democratic backsliding. “Democratic institutions depend crucially on the willingness of governing parties to defend them — even against their own leaders,” Levitsky and Ziblatt write. “The failure of Roosevelt’s court-packing scheme and the fall of Nixon were made possible when key members of the president’s own party … decided to stand up and oppose him.”

In their 2017 paper “How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy,” University of Chicago law professors Aziz Huq and Tom Ginsburg concur, writing, “The presidential effort to pack the Supreme Court represents a low point for the rule of law in the United States, and is a technique that has been followed by modern-day illiberal democrats.”

It’s not hard to see why political scientists taking a more international view would see court-packing as, on its face, a threat to democratic institutions. As Huq and Ginsburg note, court-packing is a frequently used tool in the toolkit of would-be authoritarians.

To give a few examples:

The pattern is clear: Court-packing is what autocrats do as they begin to consolidate their power. And it’s been a particularly popular method in the past couple decades. It’s not a thing of the past, and is currently used by the authoritarian backsliders (Orban, the Law and Justice party, Erdoğan) that people who worry about Trump’s anti-democratic tendencies compare him to.

A norm-busting tool to preserve democracy?

Supporters of court-packing could argue that just because the same method is used doesn’t mean that court-packing itself is anti-democratic. To give an analogy: When Italy abandoned proportional representation in 1923 by adopting the Acerbo Law, it did so to try to engineer landslide victories for Benito Mussolini’s fascists; but it doesn’t follow that any country that doesn’t use proportional representation (like the US or the UK or Canada) automatically is an autocracy. Court-packing is a tool: it can be used for authoritarian ends, or for democratic ones.

To which critics would reply: not so fast. Even a well-intentioned court-packing scheme (like FDR’s arguably was) can set off a cycle of mutual escalation that winds up discrediting and weakening the institution being battled over. The Supreme Court has no army. Its authority rests on the thin reed of public acceptance and political forbearance. If it were to be weaponized in a court-packing scheme, its rulings might suddenly stop being obeyed.

Let’s say that President Joe Biden packs the court in 2021, and the Court subsequently overrules Milliken v. Bradley and forces white suburbs across the country to bus their kids into inner-city public schools, and to accept (disproportionately black and Latin) students from poor neighborhoods bussed into their own schools. This would be the correct result, in my opinion. Milliken v. Bradley was a disastrous decision that drastically undermined the cause of school desegregation. But if such a ruling followed a court-packing effort, how much do you want to bet that the rich suburbs of Chicago’s North Shore would actually start bussing their kids to Englewood? Or that Beverly Hills would let students in from Compton? Or would they view the ruling as illegitimate and simply not obey?

You could imagine the same for any number of issues: Alabama refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses and disregarding any Supreme Court rulings forcing it to obey Obergefell v. Hodges; South Dakota banning all abortions save when the life of the mother is at risk, and ignoring Supreme Court rulings striking the law down. If this all sounds far-fetched, let me quote my colleague Ian Millhiser, who is broadly sympathetic to court-packing as a last-ditch effort to prevent the Supreme Court from entrenching economic inequality permanently: “packing the Court would effectively destroy the legitimacy of the federal judiciary and potentially embolden right states … to ignore decisions they don’t like. No more Roe. No more Obergefell. No more Fourth Amendment.”

Now maybe, ultimately, weakening the Supreme Court is a good thing. Plenty of legal scholars on both sides of the aisle have, for years, argued that the US goes too far in embracing judicial review; few other countries give their highest courts the power we give ours to strike down laws passed by democratically elected legislators. Even in Canada, the parliament and the provinces retain the power to reverse Supreme Court decisions with supermajority votes. Perhaps court-packing would set off a spiral that results in a dramatically weakened Court, and power returned to the states and Congress to settle contentious issues like abortion and desegregation and LGBT rights through democratic processes.

I’m extremely sympathetic to that argument. But it’s also possible that’s not what happens, that court-packing merely leads to more games of constitutional hardball and enables a future president to push through legislation that makes him and his allies basically impossible to dislodge from power, with a packed Supreme Court that is unwilling and unable to stop him. That, roughly, is what has happened in Poland, Hungary, Honduras, Venezuela, and Turkey. It could happen here too.

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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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