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Joe Biden’s plan to beat the coronavirus

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Joe Biden’s plan to beat back the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States is founded on a simple premise: leadership matters.

President Donald Trump has badly botched the response thus far, according to most experts, and the numbers tell the tale: 200,000 Americans are dead. He’s tried to discredit the scientific institutions tasked with managing the response. Millions of people are still out of work. Thousands of businesses have closed that will never reopen.

Biden’s campaign has spent the last six months coming up with its plan to fix it.

“What worries me now is we’ve been living with this pandemic for so long, we’re at risk of becoming numb to the toll it’s taken on us and our country,” Biden said last week. “There are 200,000 moms and dads, sons and daughters, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, friends and coworkers who are no longer with us. And so many of them didn’t have to lose their lives to this virus if only the president had acted sooner.”

If he’s elected president, Biden sees his role as, fundamentally, removing the obstacles set up by the Trump administration that hindered an effective Covid-19 response. The Trump White House has pressured states to reopen before they contained their outbreaks; Biden would encourage mask mandates and, if necessary, new lockdowns. The president has undermined the government’s top scientists; Biden is promising he will empower them. Congress has failed to appropriate any new funding for Covid-19 response since the spring; Biden and congressional Democrats want to make major new investments.

Biden believes the public needs to hear a new message from the government, one founded in good science. His top adviser and presumed chief-of-staff in waiting is Ron Klain, who oversaw the Obama administration’s Ebola response. He has convened an informal panel of experts, who have briefed him regularly on the state of the US outbreak and on the best strategies for containing it.

Taken together, the campaign is working toward what public health experts say is the most effective strategy for containing Covid-19: a test-trace-isolate program, making mask-wearing and social distancing mandatory, and, once the science supports it, an equitably distributed vaccine. Totally suppressing Covid-19 to the same level that South Korea or New Zealand have is likely a lost cause at this point. But the Biden campaign believes it can flatten cases and deaths until a vaccine is widely available, potentially saving thousands of lives in the process.

The Biden plan faces enormous challenges. As Vox reported at the beginning of the pandemic, local officials are largely tasked with executing these public safety measures, and it’s entirely possible Republican governors aren’t going to want to go along with Biden’s way of doing things. It could be difficult to restore public trust in the scientific process. And equitably distributing a scientifically sound vaccine to the general population is something the candidate himself has compared to a large-scale military operation.

Still, Biden says he is up for the challenge.

“We can, as we have so many times in our history, begin anew,” Biden said this week. “We can get control of this virus.”

Step 1: Fix America’s test-trace-isolate problem

America has never had a cohesive Covid-19 testing strategy. Since February, there have been regular supply shortages delaying test results. States have been fighting each other for precious resources. Contact tracing has not been a priority for the federal government, and most states have still not hired nearly enough people to perform that work. Without an effective test-trace-isolate program, the US has never had a realistic chance of stamping out the virus.

After talking with some of Biden’s Covid-19 advisers, it’s clear that his first priority as president would be to use the tools at the federal government’s disposal to improve US testing. The goal is more testing and faster testing that then allows for better contact tracing to identify which people need to be isolated, all in order to slow down Covid-19’s spread.

The core of Joe Biden’s Covid-19 response plan is ramping up and better coordinating testing across the United States.
William Campbell/Getty Images

Biden wants to set up a pandemic testing board to oversee the allocation of testing materials around the country. That could help the kind of testing bottlenecks the US has periodically experienced throughout the year; tests in Florida during its summer spike were taking a week or more to come back, making them effectively useless for contact tracing and isolating, while people in a state like Connecticut, where cases had actually fallen off, could get results in a day or two.

The Trump administration has explicitly tried to limit testing to symptomatic individuals only, after the president has said both privately and publicly he wants less testing because more testing means more cases are identified. The FDA currently has a restriction in place that limits rapid-results antigen tests to symptomatic individuals, when the expert consensus says those tests should actually be used to screen asymptomatic people. Because people with Covid-19 can spread the virus before they show symptoms, that broader community-based testing would help identify infectious individuals early so they can isolate and avoid spreading it to others.

A Biden-led Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would likely issue new federal guidelines on Covid-19 testing, encouraging more testing of asymptomatic individuals and front-line workers as well as in nursing homes.

“I had thought for the first several months, this was an allocation problem, getting the tests where they need to be,” David Kessler, the former FDA chief who is advising the Biden campaign on Covid-19, told me. “But there is this artificial impediment to testing, by setting up this restrictive criteria.”

High-level coordination conducted by a centralized testing board, as Biden is proposing, would also be important for equitably distributing those new antigen tests, a process that will likely take months. Right now, NBA and NFL players can get tested all the time because their leagues can afford to buy the available antigen tests. But essential workers might not have the same opportunity.

That’s the kind of disparity a Biden administration would want to try to fix as tens of millions of antigen tests are shipped around the country in the coming months.

“This is turning into an equity problem, a world of haves and have-nots,” said Thomas Tsai, a Harvard health policy professor who has worked on testing issues.

Testing ultimately matters only if sick people isolate themselves and public health workers can contact the people they may have exposed so they can isolate, too.

Most US states have also still not hired enough contact tracing workers. Biden has said he wants to establish a new US public health job corps that would perform that contact tracing work, with federal money to hire at least 100,000 people and train them, a plan that would likely require new funding from Congress.

Polls have shown a lack of public comfort with smartphone contact tracing apps, and public health workers have anecdotally reported encountering skepticism from people they’ve interviewed, who are wary of sharing personal information with the government. Biden campaign advisers believe federal leadership that encourages trust could lead to more buy-in from the public for these public health efforts, though it will likely remain a challenge given the deep political polarization in the US.

The pandemic is not going to end without an adequate test-trace-isolate program; anything else, including eventual vaccine distribution, depends first on slowing Covid-19’s spread.

Step 2: Provide people, businesses, and states with more economic relief

Trump has presented the pandemic and the economic crisis as fundamentally at odds, saying the US cannot let the cure (lockdowns) be worse than the disease (Covid-19). But public health experts say the two are inevitably linked. The only way to fully restore the economy is to get the virus under control; people aren’t going to resume their normal lives if they are worried about getting sick at a restaurant or a store.

The Biden campaign and Democrats in Congress are planning another round of economic relief as millions remain out of work and businesses close.
Noam Galai/Getty Images

Still, the economic pain is real, and that pain puts pressure on government leaders to allow some business activities to resume lest jobs and businesses be permanently lost. One way to alleviate that pressure and allow more time for better public health interventions to start suppressing Covid-19’s spread is to provide more economic relief.

The US economy has regained some of the jobs lost since March, but millions are still out of work. It’s clear by now that the V-shaped recovery hyped by the Trump administration is not going to happen. The unemployment and business relief provisions Congress passed earlier in the year have started to expire, and nobody in Washington seems optimistic that any new deal on extending that assistance will be reached by the end of the year.

Biden could take administrative actions that would provide Americans with some economic relief. But the most powerful tools will need to be approved by Congress — and the difference between President Biden negotiating with a Congress fully controlled by Democrats versus a Congress split between a Democratic House and a Republican Senate is substantial.

Democrats in Congress say their first order of business would be a new Covid-19 relief and response package. It would likely incorporate the necessary funding to improve testing and tracing, according to Senate Democratic aides, as well as specifications about how federal money should be spent.

It would also be expected to include economic provisions. Increased unemployment aid and new funding for state and local governments would be a given, based on the legislation already passed by House Democrats and interviews with aides. Democrats will likely want to extend the now-expired $600 additional unemployment benefit. Congress could also add funding specifically for state Medicaid programs, which have had enrollment swell during the economic downturn, aides say.

Democrats will have to decide whether their first big bill will focus narrowly on Covid-19 or whether to include bigger permanent reforms. On health care, they could either stick with more incremental improvements, such as covering treatment for the people with long-term Covid-19 complications, or go bigger by enhancing the Obamacare tax subsidies and even possibly establishing the public health insurance option Biden says he supports.

Senior Democrats acknowledge there will be enormous pressure from the more progressive members to go big. Nobody is ruling anything out, but as one health policy expert put it recently: “First, you have to stop the bleeding.”

Step 3: Fast and equitable use of an effective Covid-19 vaccine

More economic relief should lower the pressure on states and businesses to reopen, while more testing and tracing should help reduce Covid-19’s spread. But to actually put an end to the pandemic, we will need a vaccine.

And for all Trump’s antics around a Covid-19 vaccine, the bottom line is that an effective vaccine does seem likely to be developed in record time. Several candidates are already in phase 3 trials, and there is hope that within a matter of months, one or more will be approved.

Then comes the hard part, which is distributing the vaccine to people. That mission will require a tremendous amount of coordination: producing the doses, shipping them around the country, figuring out which populations will be prioritized, setting up vaccination sites, and getting the message out to the public about how to get their vaccine.

“Distributing a vaccine to the entire population is as complex and challenging as the most sensitive military operation,” Biden said in remarks earlier this month.

With clinical trials underway, there is optimism about a Covid-19 vaccine. But distributing it to 330 million Americans will be a challenge.
Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

He promised to develop a more detailed plan for vaccine distribution before assuming office, but he did lay out what that plan would cover:

  • a detailed timeline for when people would get the vaccine
  • a clear delineation of which populations would be prioritized
  • the specific means for shipping and storing the vaccines at appropriate temperatures
  • which government agencies would be responsible for implementing that plan

The Trump administration, through its Operation Warp Speed, already placed orders for some of the most promising vaccine candidates and it has paid drug companies to start manufacturing doses even before they know whether the vaccine will be viable. It also, somewhat controversially, asked state and local health departments to develop distribution plans so they’d be ready to start vaccinating people as soon as October.

Some saw that as an example of Trump applying government pressure to get a vaccine sent out before the election. Practically speaking, however, that directive should still encourage health agencies to make preparations before Biden takes office. They won’t be starting from scratch.

Rather, Biden’s leadership role will be just as critical as his operational responsibilities. Public trust in an eventual Covid-19 vaccine is not very high right now, polls show, and it has been deteriorating over the last few months. If too few people take a vaccine because they don’t trust it, then it’s going to be harder to completely stamp out the virus.

So Biden will have a public health imperative to strengthen the American public’s faith in a vaccine. He has had to equivocate during the campaign, emphasizing that while he doesn’t trust Trump himself, he does trust vaccines and scientists as a rule.

“I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists,” he said recently. “But I don’t trust Donald Trump — and the American people can’t either.

If Biden is the president, then he can empower those scientists and even make them the face of a vaccine push. But even under the most optimistic scenarios, vaccinating some 60 percent of Americans will take months. Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the government scientists Biden says he trusts, has said as much.

A President Biden couldn’t do everything to stop Covid-19. He couldn’t mandate a national stay-at-home order, and it would take a huge amount of political capital to get Republican governors on board with one. He couldn’t require masks nationwide, though he could urge states to issue their own. And he certainly can’t speed along the science that will, hopefully, eventually lead to a vaccine.

That’s why Biden’s Covid-19 plan starts with improving US testing and tracing. That’s how the country gets through those intervening months. It’s the first step toward the end.


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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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