Last October, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was speaking at Amherst College, she was asked how she thought people in the future would characterize this period in American history. Ginsburg’s answer: “as an aberration.”
And yet her death means that the age of Trump will almost certainly be our new normal. With Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, the power to shape our Constitution was split between four liberals, four archconservatives, and Chief Justice John Roberts — a conservative whose respect for institutions and for procedural regularity sometimes tempered his fellow conservatives’ tendencies.
Justice Ginsburg’s death means a sixth Republican appointee and Trump’s third. On issues ranging from abortion to elections to health care, the Supreme Court will now be entirely dominated by conservatives.
In another era, Ginsburg spearheaded one of the most successful litigation campaigns in American history. Before the Court’s 1971 decision in Reed v. Reed, a case where Ginsburg co-authored the merits brief, the Supreme Court never held that the Constitution limits gender discrimination. That decision, and some of her cases that followed, sparked a feminist revolution.
By the time she donned her black robe for the first time in 1980, appointed to the federal bench by Jimmy Carter, the Supreme Court agreed with her that all laws that discriminate on the basis of sex must be viewed with great skepticism.
Later in life, Ginsburg the Supreme Court justice became the avatar of a new cause: voting rights — although she enjoyed less success defending this cause to her younger colleagues on the Court. When asked during her Amherst visit to name which Supreme Court cases did the most harm during her tenure as a justice, Ginsburg listed three: the Court’s decision dismantling much of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder (2013); the decision in Rucho v. Common Cause (2019), holding that federal courts may do nothing to stop partisan gerrymandering; and the decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010), which permitted corporations to spend unlimited money to influence elections.
The common thread uniting these cases is that they are all about elections. Ginsburg spent her final years struggling in vain to preserve democracy against a Supreme Court majority that was often ambivalent towards it.
Indeed, the irony of Justice Ginsburg’s life is that her influence over American law seemed to recede even as she gained positions of greater prominence and official power. Ginsburg’s most transformative accomplishments came while she was still just a lawyer, convincing a panel of nine male justices to see the Constitution as a feminist document.
Over the course of her life, Ginsburg witnessed the full range of American possibility, from the New Deal and the Great Society to the death of Jim Crow and the rise of feminism. Her life traced the most hopeful era in American history; her death seems poised to usher in a new era of liberal pessimism about our future.
A dual identity
Near the end of her life, Justice Ginsburg took on a dual identity. By day, she was Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an almost excruciatingly rigorous lawyer. By night she was the Notorious RBG, a vessel for the frustrations of younger liberals fearful that the hopeful era Ginsburg helped build was dying.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a former civil procedure professor, who would often seek out cases involving complex procedural issues because those were her favorite cases to write. Conversing with her was a slow, plodding experience, because she seemed to pause after each word to consider which, of all the words she could possibly say next, would most accurately convey her intended meaning.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the woman Chief Justice Roberts once praised for her “work ethic, intellectual rigor, precision with words and total disregard for the normal day-night work schedule adhered to by everyone else since the beginning of recorded history.”
Yet, while her colleagues knew her as the mild-mannered Ruth Bader Ginsburg, many Americans, especially progressive feminists, knew her as a superhero.
The Notorious RBG was a crusader, known for her sharp dissents defending liberal democracy. She threw zingers — she said of the Court deactivating much of the Voting Rights Act: “when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” And she became a vessel for the anger and disappointment of a generation of liberal feminists who saw the equal society they’d been promised slipping away from them.
It was always an awkward fit. The real Ruth Bader Ginsburg carried herself with Yoda-like calm. “Anger, resentment, envy. These are emotions that just sap your energy,” Ginsburg says in Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik’s Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She attributes her success as an advocate to the fact that she fights “in a way that will lead others to join you.” As Carmon wrote in the New York Times, Ginsburg will only show her anger after she’s “tried everything else.”
Likewise, Ginsburg was never a radical, and she often cautioned against lawyers (and judges) who tried to do too much, too fast. One year before joining the Supreme Court, Ginsburg criticized the all-at-once approach the Court took to legalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade. Had the Court moved more gradually, Ginsburg told an audience at New York University School of Law, state legislatures may have moved forward with laws expanding abortion rights — building popular support for those rights in the process. Instead, Roe offered a focal point for “a well-organized and vocal right-to-life movement” that “rallied and succeeded, for a considerable time, in turning the legislative tide in the opposite direction.”
Indeed, Ginsburg was so committed to incrementalism that her preference for gradual change was sometimes confused with conservatism. When Ginsburg was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, NARAL’s Kate Michelman warned that the future justice’s “criticisms of Roe raise concerns about whether she believes that the right to choose is a fundamental right or a lesser right.”
Ginsburg may owe her opportunity to sit on the Supreme Court to Orrin Hatch, the staunchly conservative former Republican senator, who urged President Clinton to choose Ginsburg over other “likely candidates from a liberal Democrat administration.”
The most accomplished lawyer of her generation
Ginsburg was the most accomplished lawyer of her generation, and arguably the most accomplished lawyer of her lifetime next to Justice Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights lawyer who argued Brown v. Board of Education.
Like Marshall, however, Ginsburg never won the kind of transformative victories as a member of the Court that she achieved while arguing before it. The Court had a conservative majority during Ginsburg’s entire tenure as a justice, and it only moved further to the right with time.
Which is not to say that Ginsburg lacked accomplishments as a justice.
Ginsburg’s opinion in United States v. Virginia (1996), which held that the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) must admit women, was the culmination of her efforts to banish gender stereotyping from the law. In response to the state’s claim that “males tend to need an atmosphere of adversativeness,” like the military education offered at VMI, while “females tend to thrive in a cooperative atmosphere,” Ginsburg responded that the Constitution does not care what most men or most women prefer.
The state “may not exclude qualified individuals based on ‘fixed notions concerning the roles and abilities of males and females,’” Ginsburg wrote for her Court.
Justice Ginsburg also brought this insight — that we must be judged as individuals and not according to stereotypes — into other areas of the law.
Take, for example, her opinion in Olmstead v. LC (1999), which held that the Americans with Disabilities Act often requires people with mental disabilities to be placed in community settings and not institutions. “Institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings,” she wrote, “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life.”
Ginsburg’s greatest influence was often felt in the decisions she did not write — but that were nonetheless steeped in her feminist approach to the law. She loved to tell the story of Nevada Department of Resources v. Hibbs (2003), where the Supreme Court held that states must comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act’s unpaid leave requirements.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a staunch conservative who used to brag that “my wife became resigned long ago to the idea that she married a male chauvinist pig,” wrote the opinion in Hibbs. Yet his opinion sung with feminism. “Stereotypes about women’s domestic roles are reinforced by parallel stereotypes presuming a lack of domestic responsibilities for men,” Rehnquist wrote in his opinion explaining why a universal right to family leave helps tear down these stereotypes.
Ginsburg’s punchline, when she told the story of this case, is what happened after she showed the Hibbs opinion to her husband, Marty — he asked her, “Did you write this?”
And yet, as the Court lurched even further right due to the weight of Bush and Trump appointees, Ginsburg’s influence on her conservative colleagues began to wane. And she became more and more known for her sharp dissents.
On occasion, these dissents inspired legislative action, as was the case after the Court held, in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber (2007), that certain women victims of pay discrimination have just a narrow window to challenge their employer’s decision to pay them less than their male colleagues — or else those claims are lost.
Ginsburg closed her Ledbetter dissent with a call to action. “This is not the first time the Court has ordered a cramped interpretation of” a landmark employment discrimination law, Ginsburg wrote before citing a pair of decisions that were later overruled by a 1991 federal law. “As in 1991, the Legislature may act to correct this Court’s parsimonious reading of Title VII.”
And so it did. The very first bill that President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned Ledbetter.
For every dissent ending in triumph, however, there were far more that ended only in frustration. Consider her dissent in Vance v. Ball State University (2013), a case that stripped many victims of sexual and racial harassment of their ability to hold their employer liable for this harassment. Ginsburg ends her Vance dissent with a conclusion similar to the one she wrote in Ledbetter — “The ball is once again in Congress’ court to correct the error into which this Court has fallen.” Congress has not taken Ginsburg up on this charge.
Ginsburg won her greatest victories by helping men understand that sexism hurts them too
Much of Ginsburg’s genius arose from her ability to see cases through the eyes of someone who was skeptical of her position, but who was also capable of persuasion.
On the day the Supreme Court decided Reed v. Reed (1971), the first Supreme Court decision holding that the Constitution restricts discrimination on the basis of sex (and for which Ginsburg co-authored the merits brief), only nine women had been appointed to the federal bench in all of American history. None of these women sat on the Supreme Court, which meant that she had to convince a panel of nine men to start tearing down the patriarchy.
She did so in part by showing them that sexism hurts men too, often in very obvious and direct ways. Ginsburg often said that her favorite client was Stephen Wisenfeld, a stay-at-home father who successfully challenged a law that denied widowers benefits that Wisenfeld would have received if he were a woman that lost her husband.
Similarly, Ginsburg wrote a seminal amicus brief in Craig v. Boren (1976), a Supreme Court decision holding that “classifications by gender must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to achievement of those objectives.” The plaintiff in Craig was a man who challenged an Oklahoma law permitting women to buy low-alcohol beer at age 18, but not men.
Ginsburg’s goal was to convince the Court to hold — as it eventually did in Virginia — that the government “must not rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of males and females” when it makes law. She achieved this goal, in no small part, by confronting male judges with cases where an overbroad generalization about the capacities of men or women cut against men.
As an advocate, she understood that she often must meet the court where it already was, rather than trying to yank it into an unfamiliar future. Ginsburg’s insight was that male judges, rooted in a society that was so sexist that many of them had never had a female colleague, could be convinced to dismantle that sexism.
And she won.
Justice Ginsburg stood against her colleagues as they dismantled voting rights
Ginsburg’s best known voting rights opinion is her dissent in Shelby County, the decision dismantling much of the Voting Rights Act.
The fully functional Voting Rights Act required many states and local governments with a history of racial voter discrimination to “preclear” any new voting laws with federal officials in Washington, D.C. This preclearance regime was one of the most important provisions of the law because it addressed the fact that white supremacist lawmakers are often more nimble than courts.
Without preclearance, these lawmakers could enact a voter suppression law, run an election or two under that law before the courts eventually struck it down, and then enact a new one shortly thereafter. This cycle could repeat forever, locking voters of color out of power.
The premise of Chief Justice Roberts’s majority opinion in Shelby County is that America simply isn’t racist enough to justify a fully operational Voting Rights Act. In a distant past, Roberts wrote, “voting discrimination against African-Americans was so entrenched and pervasive in 1965 that to cite just one example, less than 7% of African-Americans of voting age in Mississippi had been able to register to vote.” But now, “our country has changed,” and this progress means that the “extraordinary measures” contained in the Voting Rights Act are no longer needed.
In dissent, Ginsburg offered a very different explanation for why racial voter suppression declined after the Voting Rights Act became law — it declined because of the Voting Rights Act. “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes,” Ginsburg clapped back at Roberts, “is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
An even clearer window into who Ruth Bader Ginsburg was, both as a person and as a justice, is Ginsburg’s more obscure dissent in Veasey v. Perry (2014).
Veasey involved Texas’s voter ID law, the strictest in the country. A federal trial court found that Republican lawmakers passed this law to “gain partisan advantage by suppressing” the “votes of African-Americans and Latinos.” And yet a conservative appeals court blocked that decision, relying on a 2006 Supreme Court decision saying that courts should be cautious about altering election procedures close to an election because such late-breaking decisions can foster “voter confusion.”
After a majority of her colleagues voted to let this appeals court decision stand, the octogenarian Ginsburg pulled an all-nighter writing a dissent that the Court released shortly after 5 am on a Saturday. In it, she firmly rejected the notion that voters should should be disenfranchised because of vague fears that some of them might be confused. Or that Texas should be rewarded for its own failure to prepare for a decision striking down its law.
“Texas knew full well that the court would issue its ruling only weeks away from the election,” and it “had time to prepare for the prospect of an order barring the enforcement of” the voter ID law. Thus, Ginsburg wrote, “any voter confusion or lack of public confidence in Texas’ electoral processes is in this case largely attributable to the State itself.”
This one dissent, perhaps more than any other opinion, is a microcosm for Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s entire career. Here we see her indignation in the face of inequality. We see Ginsburg the civil procedure professor picking apart the ways that a seemingly sensible procedural rule can lead to great injustice. We see Ginsburg’s “total disregard for the normal day-night work schedule” as she labored almost until dawn to produce her opinion.
And we also see Ginsburg’s optimism. Justice Ginsburg worked that sleepless night because she believed that her dissent could matter. She believed that, by sheer force of her reason, she could convince her nation to be more respectful of voting rights next time.
An optimism that didn’t see catastrophe on the horizon
Ginsburg’s final years were gravid with warnings that perhaps this optimism was unwarranted. She not only witnessed the election of Donald Trump, she also read the dissenting opinions in Department of Commerce v. New York (2019).
If you want to know what the future without Ruth Bader Ginsburg will look like, read those opinions. New York involved the Trump administration’s effort to add a question to the 2020 Census’s main form asking if respondents were citizens — a question that hasn’t been asked since the Jim Crow era. The Census Bureau’s own experts determined that such a question was likely to reduce response rates in noncitizen households by more than 5 percent.
As a leading Republican expert on gerrymandering revealed in files uncovered after his death, this question “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.” It would have shifted House representation and federal resources away from immigrant communities and toward white communities dominated by Republicans. And yet, the Trump administration made the unbelievable claim that the question was added to the form to help enforce the Voting Right Act’s protections against race discrimination.
Chief Justice Roberts, to his credit, called the Trump administration out on this lie — although he used the more polite word “pretext” to describe the administration’s effort to couch voter suppression as voter protection. But Roberts was the only Republican on the Court willing to do so. (The Court’s decision in New York effectively prevented Trump from adding the citizenship question to the 2020 Census, but it also left the door open for a future Republican president to revive this question in a future census.)
In the coming years, as we watch the conservatives of the Court — Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and whoever Trump appoints — remake American law, progressives might find themselves agonizing over Justice Ginsburg’s decision to hang on to her Supreme Court seat instead of retiring when President Obama could have appointed her replacement. Why didn’t she see the urgency in beating back the right-wing revolution? After Trump took power, why did she believe his regime would be an aberration?
Perhaps part of the answer is that Justice Ginsburg’s life spanned the most hopeful period in our nation’s history. She was one of America’s greatest public intellectuals, someone who did more than any other lawyer to write feminism into our constitutional law.
She spent her career surrounded by many of her nation’s brightest minds, but when asked who the smartest person she ever knew was, she named Celia Amster Bader — her mother. “What’s the difference between a bookkeeper in New York’s garment district… and a Supreme Court justice?” Ginsburg asked in her Amherst talk. “The difference is one generation.”
Ginsburg saw President Franklin Roosevelt lift America out of the Great Depression. She saw Nazism crushed and she saw Jim Crow beaten into submission. She saw her mother, alive with talent but unable to use it in a sexist age, and she swore to free women from that existence. And then she did it.
Justice Ginsburg died an optimist because she’d seen the impossible happen. She made much of it happen herself.
May the memory of that age of optimism be a blessing.
All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year
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.
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.
Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)
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.
Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)
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.
Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)
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.
Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)
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.
Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)
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.
Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)
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.
Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)
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.
Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)
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.
Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)
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.
Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)
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.
Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)
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.
Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)
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.
Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)
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.
Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)
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.
Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)
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.
Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)
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.
Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)
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.
Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)
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.
Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)
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.
Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
1/4 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. https://t.co/hVl4b032W6
— U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad (@US4AfghanPeace) October 27, 2020
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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