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Covid-19 is killing restaurants. So why is Michelin still obsessing about star ratings?

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(CNN) — Walk into almost any fine dining kitchen and the chances are its chefs would say there’s only one holy grail of achievement in their profession: to be awarded a Michelin star.

Since 1926 in France, and more recently around the world, these accolades have come to represent the pinnacle of cuisine and also helped raise the profile of French tire giant Michelin.

Although not every chef seeks to earn them for their restaurant — some have famously refused and returned them — it’s undeniable that there’s no more influential mark of success.

But these are times of seismic upheaval for the global hospitality industry. Tens of thousands of restaurants are closing, hundreds of thousands of people have been put out of work. Livelihoods have been destroyed and dreams shattered.

And yet, this year, as ever, Michelin is continuing to award or remove stars and publish its exacting reviews of fine dining establishments.

For some in the industry, that’s a step too far for Michelin that will do little to enhance the dining guide in an age when many restaurant workers are becoming more vocal about what they say are the damaging pressures of trying to live up to such rigorous standards.

As the pandemic continues, Michelin’s determination to carry on publishing could see the guide face its own reckoning with the coronavirus.

As always, it’s a polarizing debate, with passionate views on both sides.

‘Uphill battle’

London's Ledbury restaurant is among Michelin-starred establishments to close for good during the pandemic.

London’s Ledbury restaurant is among Michelin-starred establishments to close for good during the pandemic.

John Stillwell/PA Images/Getty Images

Other prestigious awards have already made calls to suspend activity, given this year’s extraordinary circumstances.

Covid-19 was one of a number of factors behind this year’s cancellation of The James Beard Awards, the prestigious American benchmark of culinary success, in their Restaurant and Chefs categories.

Clare Reichenbach, the foundation’s CEO, cited the “grave negative effects of Covid-19” and said that doling out prizes would “do little to further the industry in its current uphill battle.”

Beyond the virus, that battle, say some, extends to other major issues currently challenging global society.

Among them, David Kinch, chef-owner at California’s Manresa, who had earlier announced on Instagram he was withdrawing himself for consideration as a James Beard Outstanding Chef nominee.

“The hospitality industry is rife with rampant gender and racial inequality and numerous obstacles impede restaurateurs’ ability to pay living wages to their teams, focus on sustainability and foster positive work environments,” he wrote.

So, given the current parlous state of the restaurant business, why is Michelin still visiting restaurants, inspecting and awarding its stars? And in this time of uncertainty and anguish, do the stars it awards continue to carry the prestige they once did?

The guide’s international director, Gwendal Poullennec, insists that now more than ever Michelin’s inspectors have a role to play. He says their critical gaze is a force for good that can help support the beleaguered industry.

The selections they make for next year’s guide, he says, will “put a spotlight on the industry and restaurants which in some parts of the world are still facing the effects of the crisis.”

“It is also a way to invite foodies to go back to restaurants.”

Gastronomic pulse

Gwendal Poullennec says Michelin is a vital spotlight on the dining scene at a time of crisis.

Gwendal Poullennec says Michelin is a vital spotlight on the dining scene at a time of crisis.

MARTIN BUREAU/AFP via Getty Images

Whether those foodies will still have an appetite remains to be seen. Many Michelin restaurants — especially those with two or three stars — derive income from international visitors now absent due to global travel restrictions.

In London, The Ledbury and The Greenhouse, both holding two Michelin stars, have shut permanently. In New York, Michelin-starred eateries Gotham Bar & Grill, Jewel Bako and Nix have also closed for good, as have Trois Mecs and Somni from Chef José Andrés in Los Angeles.

There are, unfortunately, plenty more examples, notably in the United States where strict lockdowns in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C. and California all hit areas where Michelin awards stars.

Consequently, the release of the 2021 Michelin Guides in the United States will be delayed. “Official timing will be announced as the pandemic recovery takes shape,” the organization recently told Food & Wine magazine.

Meanwhile, the dining guide has launched what it calls an “international barometer” to keep track of those premises still in business.

“Our purpose was to take the pulse of global gastronomy in order to inform and build awareness of our ecosystem,” says Poullennec. He says the barometer currently registers that, at time of writing, 85% of Michelin-starred restaurants were open.

While that’s a distinct improvement compared to the height of the crisis — back in April, only 13% of global restaurants holding Michelin stars were still operating — it doesn’t register the extent of terminal closures.

“At the time, the number of restaurants that have closed permanently is almost impossible to give as it is a volatile one,” Poullennec adds. “The situation is moving and changing on a daily basis.”

Michelin also points out its special projects such as “Le Bon Menu” in France, which uses social media to support chefs helping out those in need and highlight restaurants that have pivoted to takeaway, delivery and other business models.

That hasn’t stopped calls from a number of chefs to get Michelin to do more to support businesses in such dark days.

Under pressure to survive

Shane Osborn:

Shane Osborn: “I don’t really think it’s a time for Michelin to be judging restaurants.”

Jonathan Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Australian Shane Osborn, from Hong Kong’s one Michelin-starred Arcane, is one of the most respected chefs in the city, someone with a history of Michelin-garlanded success at restaurants including London’s Pied à Terre.

Given the bleak scenarios facing many in the industry, he says there should be a moratorium on reviews.

“It’s a tricky one but I don’t really think it’s a time for Michelin to be judging restaurants when businesses are under extreme pressure to stay afloat,” he says.

“Working with limited staff because places have made layoffs, staff are stretched, while even the supply chain of ingredients is affected, particularly here in Asia. We usually get two deliveries from Japan a day — recently we were only getting three a week.

“So businesses are under immense pressure just to survive, but I also understand that from a chef’s point of view, most in the industry absolutely adore Michelin. It’s everything they work for and it’s that bit of good news they look forward to, it validates all the hard work and effort they’ve put into it, working 16 hours a day.

“But is it really time to celebrate? Judging restaurants where meals can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars when people are losing jobs all over the world?”

Other chefs are adamant that recognition is more important than ever in the current climate.

Gal Ben-Moshe, chef-owner at Prism in Berlin, says his restaurant faced a potentially disastrous loss of bookings as Germany went into lockdown earlier this year.

But, he says, Michelin’s decision to award Prism a star quickly reversed his fortunes.

“When the star was announced, the restaurant just filled up in a matter of minutes, for the next month,” he says. “It was crazy.”

However the impact was arguably greater personally and professionally than financially:

“It gave us the validation and encouragement we needed all along, that we were craving for years,” he adds. “On a personal level, It has also made us feel like this whole journey is worthwhile, with all the sacrifices we make in our private lives.”

‘Bit of a boost’

Gal Ben-Moshe says the Michelin guide is still a positive influence on the fine dining industry.

Gal Ben-Moshe says the Michelin guide is still a positive influence on the fine dining industry.

Christoph Soeder/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

As to whether Michelin should be awarding stars this year, Ben-Moshe believes the guide is right to press ahead, insisting it can be a force for good and that its food critics are professional enough to take into account the changes restaurants are making to cope with the current crisis.

“I can tell you that the effect it had on me as a chef and on the restaurant as a business has been uncanny,” he says. “I can only imagine that receiving a star at such crazy times can really save a lot of businesses and give the whole industry a bit of a boost and relevance.”

Steve Zagor, an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School who focuses on restaurants and food businesses, says that while the Michelin guide continues to have relevance under normal circumstances, it may struggle right now.

“Michelin is a religion, people subscribe to it,” he says. “They believe in it. In the world today you need credible opinions and not just Yelp opinions. This is a credible, knowledgeable company that provides a resource for people looking at where they want to go.

“From that perspective, it has value. It has history and it’s a meaningful judge of what’s going on.”

However, he says, 2020’s unique circumstances mean that it’s far from the usual environment.

“Right now is a little bit like reviewing restaurants on a ship in a hurricane. It’s just an exceptional situation. I don’t believe you’re getting a complete validation of what the restaurant owner is trying to do.”

He explains that the dining experience is now so fundamentally different from the usual scenario that there are question marks over whether Michelin can apply the same sort of inspection criteria as previously.

“You can’t compare year-to-year, this is not the same as it was in 2017, 2018. Social distancing means menus have changed, preparation, techniques, capacities have changed.

“So the experiences are different, there’s too much else going on, most restaurant operators are just trying to stay solvent and do the best they can. So I think it’s cheapening the entire Michelin experience.”

‘History and culture’

Vicky Lau:

Vicky Lau: “Michelin has an important role now more than ever.”

May Tse/South China Morning Post/Getty Images

Vicky Lau, chef at Tate Dining Room in Hong Kong, a restaurant that’s held one star since 2012 thanks to her elegant cuisine melding Chinese and French influences and ingredients, says Michelin offers a beacon of certainty in uncertain times.

“I think Michelin has an important role, now more than ever, to help restaurants and sustain tourism — and then boost them when everything is back to normal,” she says.

“It still has an important space in chefs’ hearts, to maintain a food language that speaks of history and culture.”

CNN reached out to a number of other high-profile chefs in countries including France and the United States to ask their opinion on the Michelin debate, but they declined to answer.

No doubt Michelin’s insistence on continuing to critically survey the fine dining landscape is, in part, due to commercial obligations, not least the guides it produces in partnership with tourism boards or private companies.

Asked about these, Michelin stressed its purpose remained defined by independence and the mission of its anonymous inspectors to recommend the best experiences to “international foodies.”

“Of course, this year having been an exceptional one, our inspectors have had to adapt their work and their editorial publication.

“In some places, they have had to delay the unveiling of their selections in order to fairly and properly finish their selection work but in each destination, they have done their best to issue consistent and relevant restaurant selections.”

Some Michelin guides for this year, such as Taiwan and Slovenia, have already appeared. When the rest emerge, one thing is for sure: They will, as they have since the star ratings were launched back in 1926, continue to provoke discussion and debate.

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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.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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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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