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Japan’s new prime minister has a rags-to-riches story. But can he save Japan from crisis?

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Japan’s new prime minister is at once the likeliest and unlikeliest person in decades to lead his country.

Suga Yoshihide was former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s right-hand man, serving in a role that mixes the duties of top spokesperson and chief of staff. He helped Abe govern for eight years until illness forced Abe to resign in August.

If there was anyone who could continue Abe’s legacy while attempting to stabilize the country, Suga was it. Many in the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) thought it’d be foolish not to stick by the figure in the party election to choose the next leader.

At the same time, Suga isn’t cut from the same cloth as Japan’s previous 98 prime ministers. He doesn’t have any familial ties to politics. He doesn’t come from a big city. He doesn’t have an elite education. He doesn’t really even have a faction within his own party. All he does have is a reputation as a hard worker and an effective operator who gets stuff done.

“The impression of him is that he’s Dick Cheney,” a prickly and shadowy behind-the-scenes mastermind, said Joshua Walker, president and CEO of the New York-based Japan Society, though he noted Suga is actually more personable, folksy, and charming than the public’s perception of him.

Suga “is the Japanese common guy who realized his dream,” Walker said.

Since he became prime minister last month, the 71-year-old Suga has worked to ensure his dream doesn’t turn into a nightmare. Parliamentary elections must be held by next October, which gives Suga no more than a year to make his case to stay in charge. That’s a daunting task, as he must curb his country’s Covid-19 outbreak while boosting a sputtering economy — and all in time for Tokyo to host the 2021 Summer Olympics.

If Suga doesn’t succeed, a younger cohort of party leaders who covet the premiership — some of whom are in his Cabinet — might move to unseat him. Their hope, experts told me, was for Suga to take the blows in the hard year ahead so they could take over in calmer times, untainted and unharmed. But such a play is risky as it rests on betting a popular bureaucratic infighter will fail.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (who is in the center of the front row) walks with his cabinet on September 16, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.
Issei Kato/Pool via Getty Images

“The prime ministership is a good place from which to advocate staying prime minister, so long as you have successes under your belt and are leading and moving the country in the right direction,” said Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has met Suga. “He’s going to have to make his mark now.”

The question of whether he can do that will dominate the next year of Japanese politics. Clearly not everyone is convinced Suga can stand out and survive, but perhaps the likeliest unlikely prime minister in the nation’s modern history knows how to take his shot.

“Everyone has always underestimated him, and he’s always blown people away,” said Walker. “Underestimating him is a mistake.”

From farm boy to national leader

Most origin stories about a new Japanese prime minister begin with their upbringing in a powerful political family or their time at a great university.

This is not that story.

Suga grew up the son of strawberry farmers in Akita prefecture, a mountainous rural region of northern Japan. Instead of taking over the family business, he moved to Tokyo after high school. To pay for his part-time education at Hosei University — which he chose because it was the cheapest option available — he worked at a cardboard factory and a famed fish market.

It was in school that Suga realized he wanted to be in politics. But with no support system in a country where political fortunes depend on them, he had to start from the very bottom.

In 1975, two years after graduation, he became the secretary for a representative in the government of Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city. It was an unglamorous job, as his daily tasks included fetching cigarettes and parking cars.

Twelve years later he sought office for himself, wearing down six pairs of shoes while running for Yokohama City Council. According to the LDP, he knocked on 300 doors a day, visiting 30,000 homes. He won his race, and quickly earned a reputation as Yokohama’s “shadow” mayor after pushing through some key initiatives, such as making it easier to get to the city’s port and reducing waitlists for day care centers.

But what distinguished him most in that time, and what continues to define him today, is his dogged work ethic. “He’s known for sleeping in his office,” Walker, the Japan Society chief, told me.

That workaholism is part of what initially attracted Suga to Abe, experts said. After serving 10 years in Japan’s lower house of Parliament, Suga was picked by Abe during his first stint as prime minister in 2006 to serve in his Cabinet, overseeing internal affairs and telecommunications.

Then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga listens to proposals for the government of Japan’s plan for Camp Foster on August 12, 2020.
Corporal Jessica Collins for U.S. Marine Corps

The former farm boy stuck by him ever after, even when a scandal led Abe to resign as prime minister the following year. When Abe returned to power in 2012, Suga’s loyalty was rewarded with the plum post of chief cabinet secretary.

That job is arguably Japan’s second-highest government position. Whoever assumes it must hold two press conferences a day and run the bureaucracy from the behind the scenes, basically combining the portfolios of the American press secretary and chief of staff. It’s both an incredibly visible job and a thankless one.

It takes someone with an innate sense of power and an insatiable drive to get the work done.

The right-hand man

Ask experts and people who worked with Suga about his time as chief cabinet secretary, and the first thing they note, unsurprisingly, is his assiduousness.

In his more than 2,300 days in the job, he woke up each morning at 5 am, read the newspaper, did 200 situps, and took a 40-minute walk — but always in a suit in case he had to run into the office for an emergency.

Michael Green, the Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, said Suga had breakfast every morning at a hotel near his office with someone who could teach him something. Sometimes that someone was Green.

“He liked to ask me about Obama or Trump and the state of American politics,” Green told me. Suga’s curiosity stemmed from a firm belief in the US-Japan alliance and that Japan must be a leading world power. “He’s a patriot,” Green said.

Once at work, Suga would visit Abe’s office multiple times a day to coordinate messaging, advise on economic policy, provide intelligence, and much more. With his staff, he was known for asking sharp questions about why the government should take certain positions. He could be prickly, sometimes even mean, with those who didn’t have a good answer.

“He’s a no-nonsense guy,” a Japanese official who worked with Suga told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity to speak freely. “Everyone was always on their toes around him and alert whenever they had to brief him.” Sometimes he preferred to read documents by himself, the official added, but he was always willing to take advice from senior aides.

His dedication to his job, many noted, was evidenced by his preference to live in a Parliament-provided apartment in Tokyo instead of his home in Yokohama, and how he only ate soba noodles for lunch so he could finish within five minutes.

But he wasn’t just the guy behind the curtain. He found ways to step onto the stage.

Innately understanding the needs of rural communities, Suga launched a “hometown tax” system in 2008 by which a Japanese citizen can donate money to any local government or prefecture (it doesn’t actually have to be the person’s hometown). In exchange, that person receives a tax deduction nearly equaling the size of the donation, as well as locally made gifts from the recipient to incentivize further donations.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during his press conference in Tokyo on September 16, 2020.
Carl Court/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

More recently, he pushed Japan’s three major wireless carriers in 2018 to slash their prices by 40 percent. He argued they basically had a monopoly in the country and that competition between them wasn’t lowering bills for everyday citizens.

That same year, he took charge of an effort to bring more foreign workers into Japan as a solution for the nation’s aging workforce — batting back years of resistance to such a reform. Japan is “aiming to be a country where foreigners will want to work and live,” Suga said in a statement advocating for the change.

In 2019, he also became the first chief cabinet secretary in three decades to visit Washington, DC, where he discussed national security issues at the White House. It’s unclear what the discussion was specifically about, but experts say it likely touched on North Korea and how much Japan should pay to keep 50,000 US troops stationed in the country.

That Suga made the trip, and not a high-level diplomat, underscored just how much Abe trusted him with major foreign policy matters, experts told me. After all, Suga also had oversight of the country’s national security team and could veto the firing of any government staffer, requiring him to have deep visibility into all bureaucracies, including foreign policy-related ones.

Speculation immediately swirled during the trip that the chief cabinet secretary might be angling to replace Abe once he stepped down.

By all accounts, Suga proved himself a capable operator over eight years. “He has an incredibly good reputation for being able to manage the levers of the bureaucracy,” said CFR’s Smith. “He’s astoundingly good at it.”

Whether he’ll be as effective as prime minister is what everyone is watching for now.

Suga’s make-or-break year

When Abe abruptly resigned in August, Suga pretty quickly consolidated support within his party to become the next prime minister. He faced challengers, but the consensus in the party was that Japan should have continuity at the top of its government during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Suga, Abe’s “Mr. Fix It,” fit the bill.

He vowed to stay on the course Abe set, pushing for a strong Japanese foreign policy and some economic reforms at home.

Then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga (right) presents flowers to now former Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after Suga was elected as new head of Japan’s ruling party at the Liberal Democratic Partyon September 14, 2020.
Eugene Hoshiko/Pool via Getty Images

The foreign policy part may not be a new challenge for Suga, analysts noted. China continues to be antagonistic to Japan, relations with South Korea are tanking, and North Korea is advancing its nuclear arsenal, but all that was true when he was the chief cabinet secretary.

His greatest immediate global challenge might actually be dealing with the US. “If he has a bad relationship with Trump or Biden, whoever is president, he’s toast,” said CSIS’s Green.

Indeed, the US-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of Tokyo’s global relations. Without a good working relationship with the American president, it’ll be harder for Japan to push back on adversaries or reach any reconciliation with South Korea.

But what will most occupy Suga and define his year in charge will be the coronavirus and the economic havoc it’s wreaking.

As of October 21, Japan — a country of around 127 million people — had more than 90,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 1,600 deaths. That’s not bad compared to much of the world, but the pandemic caused the nation’s economy to shrink by around 28 percent between April and June, the largest contraction since the country started keeping records in 1980.

That’s bad news on its own, but Japan was already dealing with a years-long economic slump due in part to an aging workforce. It’s a trend Suga’s keenly aware he must reverse, and doing so starts with minimizing the virus’s spread. “Reviving the economy remains the top priority of the administration,” Suga told reporters just after becoming prime minister on September 16.

But Suga has other ideas to help his country in the meantime. He’s ordered his government to create a new digital agency that, among other things, would help citizens file all necessary paperwork online instead of with old technology.

Experts say this is a needed change, especially since the coronavirus required millions of Japanese people to file paperwork to get their benefits.

The problem is the government’s response to most requests was very slow, as officials still prefer hard copies and fax machines to online forms and email because the hanko — a stamp with a family’s or individual’s seal — is still the main way Japanese people sign documents. Only about 12 percent of all of Japan’s administrative work is currently done online.

Suga and his administration minister Taro Kono — whom many believe wants the premiership — say it’s high time to change that practice. “The creation of a digital agency is a reform that will lead to a major transformation of the Japanese economy and society,” Suga said in September. “I’d like all ministers to cooperate in this major reform with all their might.”

CFR’s Smith said digitizing the government and the nation’s private sector will be hard, and Suga’s initial push was met with raised eyebrows. But now Smith is inundated with requests for Zoom meetings from Japanese colleagues, something that didn’t really happen until the new prime minister encouraged his nation to adopt more digital tools. “Once you begin that process of shifting gears, it can move very quickly in Japan,” she told me.

If Suga can maintain close ties with the US, improve the economy, and quash the coronavirus — making it possible to host the (spectator-less) Olympics in the summer — then he may have a chance of ensuring his party wins parliamentary elections whenever he calls them before next October. “There’s a lot on the line here for the LDP,” Smith said.

Analysts say the LDP is expected to prevail, though a victory doesn’t necessarily mean Suga remains prime minister. Party elders could decide it’s time for new blood, or Abe could come out and say he didn’t like the way his former top staffer ran things. In that case, the race would be on for yet another prime minister in Japan.

Then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga leaves after a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in Tokyo, Japan on August 31, 2020.
Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images

Suga could also make mistakes that lead him to lose his current mandate. For example, he surprisingly refused to accept the appointments of six professors to a state-funded science panel of over 100 academics because of their past criticisms of Abe. Some say he’s aiming to stifle dissent, and while his decision isn’t expected to become a major controversy, it calls into question his judgment.

But Suga, experts say, is keenly aware the job is his to lose. The best chance for him to enact his reforms and Abe-like foreign policy is if he stays in control. Few believe he’ll do anything to jeopardize that possibility in the months to come.

“He understands power very well. He knows you have to build up your position to gain your leverage,” said CSIS’s Green. “Anything he wants to do is just talk until he proves he can win.”


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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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