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Minority rule in America

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On a blustery November day, I found myself on the Boston Common with what turned out to be a very small group of protesters. Our view was that Al Gore, who had clearly gotten more votes than his opponent, should be seated as the next president of the United States.

It didn’t happen, and in fact, the line of argument we pursued — that democratic legitimacy ought to count for something — wasn’t even taken up by the Gore campaign or Democrats. They instead pursued a legalistic argument that was denied by a 5-4 majority of conservative Supreme Court justices. Two decades later, we’re staring down the barrel of exactly what I worried about that November: not an old Constitution with some funny quirks, but a self-reinforcing spiral of minority rule.

It’s time to start doing something about it.

Hardball on a tilted playing field

When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared it was too close to the date of a presidential election to hold hearings on the confirmation of a successor.

When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September 2020, McConnell clarified that the rule only applied to situations in which the Senate majority and the president are of opposite parties, and that naturally, a replacement for her should be confirmed as quickly as possible.

The hypocrisy is, of course, galling to liberals who are also simply frustrated by the prospect of defeat. But for all the talk of Merrick Garland’s “stolen” Supreme Court seat, McConnell wasn’t cheating. He was playing what Georgetown University Law Center professor Mark Tushnet calls constitutional hardball, “practices — legislative and executive initiatives — that are without much question within the bounds of existing constitutional doctrine and practice but that are nonetheless in some tension with existing pre-constitutional understandings.”

And while you may not like hardball, to an extent, that’s the point. This is a country with elections, and the idea is if politicians’ deployment of hardball tactics becomes unpopular, they’ll lose their elections and things will change.

McConnell’s actions were unpopular. Polls showed that voters believed the Senate should have held hearings on confirming Garland to the Court. And when the votes were counted in November, Hillary Clinton got more than Donald Trump and Democratic Senate candidates got more votes than Republican ones. But the GOP retained a Senate majority, Trump became president, and Neil Gorsuch sat on the Supreme Court.

Which is just to say that the problems with the current American political situation only really come into view when you zoom out and view the whole landscape. Every electoral system has its quirks, and elected officials are entitled to throw some elbows if they think it’s important. But McConnell’s brand of hardball isn’t a fair game — his ideas don’t need to be popular to win, and his unfair advantage in one arena extends its power into other arenas.

The circle of entrenchment

Thurgood Marshall did not want a Republican to nominate his successor. But in 1988, George H.W. Bush won a historically unusual third straight term for the GOP and Justice Marshall’s health gave out in October 1991, when he had to step down for medical reasons. This was not yet the era of constitutional hardball in the US Senate, so a Democratic-controlled body confirmed Clarence Thomas to succeed him. Thomas’s confirmation was nearly derailed by sexual harassment allegations, but even if the body had handled Anita Hill’s charges more responsibly and blocked Thomas, some other conservative would have gotten the job.

Nine years later, a 5-4 conservative Supreme Court majority that would not have existed had Marshall retained his health for one more year cut short the vote-counting in Florida and ensured that George W. Bush would become president. One of the five, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, was heard to tell friends that fall that she preferred a Republican president because then she could retire with her succession in GOP hands. And retire she did in 2005, creating the vacancy now held by Justice Samuel Alito. Her fellow moderate conservative, Anthony Kennedy, also strategically retired in 2018 — choosing his timing not only so that a Republican could pick his replacement but so as to help GOP Senate candidates in a tough midterm fight.

Public perceptions of the Supreme Court are often dominated by abortion politics, where O’Connor and Kennedy often sided with the left. But the fact that both justices preferred GOP-selected replacements is a reminder that there are many other issues on the docket, and their own view is that on most matters, they leaned to the right.

That was true on the decisive Bush v. Gore litigation. It was also true of Kennedy’s siding with the right on voting rights, gerrymandering, and campaign finance issues.

Control of the courts allows Republicans to further tilt the electoral playing field. Waging judicial politics on a tilted playing field allows Republicans to control the courts.

Minority rule politics

In 2018, the Democrats won such a landslide in the popular vote that they were able to overcome the 3-4 point skew of the House map. But the Senate map gives rural areas 2.5 times the voting power of big cities, meaning Democrats need to win Senate races by 6 to 7 points.

This puts Democrats at a disadvantage. But the problem is actually more serious than that. The House gerrymanders, for example, while large are clearly not insurmountable.

But even when they are surmounted, what you get is a House where the pivotal members represent seats that Donald Trump won even while he lost the popular vote. This impacts not just electoral outcomes but actual governance. If a majority of the House represented anti-Trump districts, then the House would be politically empowered to act aggressively to check Trump’s abuses of power. But since the Democratic majority relies on Trump crossover voters, Democrats have hesitated to move aggressively with oversight or to use the power of the purse to back up the rule of law.

Nancy Pelosi’s gamble, which is not too far-fetched, is that Trump is unpopular enough that if Democrats just put their heads down and talk about basic policy issues — health care, the pandemic, the minimum wage — they can hold their majority and Joe Biden can beat them. But it’s a big gamble. Trump would almost certainly be reelected even if he loses the popular vote by a point or two, and could conceivably be reelected while losing by three. In the 2018 Senate map, Democrats won a very large majority of the votes but actually lost seats. So on the one hand, there’s a risk Pelosi’s gamble fails, Trump retains power, and, having established all manner of abusive precedents, proceeds to consolidate it. But there’s also the risk that even if Pelosi’s bet pays off, Democrats will be unable to govern.

Constitutional hardball in defeat

In the 2018 midterms in Wisconsin, Democrats swept narrow victories in the statewide races and secured 53 percent of the votes cast in elections for the lower house of the state legislature. But because of gerrymandering, the GOP won more than 60 percent of the seats. And knowing they’d be insulated from public backlash, the legislature held a special lame-duck session during which they stripped power from the state executive branch and reassigned it to themselves. Something similar happened in Michigan that same year, and in North Carolina two years earlier.

This is another case where minority rule begets minority rule.

Once the minoritarian legislature becomes comfortable with its exercise of power, it starts gobbling up the other institutions not despite its lack of democratic legitimacy but because of it. Only because the US Senate is so egregiously malapportioned did it make sense for McConnell to trample so blatantly over public opinion and the president’s traditional prerogatives. And if Republicans retain a Senate majority despite a Biden win, which is a very plausible outcome, they may well do the same on the whole panoply of executive branch appointments. We’re accustomed to seeing the president as the main driver of his Cabinet, with the advise and consent function limited — even by an opposition Senate — to smoothing off only the roughest edges.

But it used to be the case that presidents could get Supreme Court appointments through an opposition-held Senate. Will there be a housing and urban development or health and human services secretary in 2021 if Republicans hold a Senate majority? Absent filibuster reform, will any legislation pass at all even if Republicans are consigned to the minority? Of course, even faced with gridlock, a president can wield executive authority. But will six conservative Supreme Court justices allow any of it?

Given the extent of the tilted maps — 2 to 3 points in the Electoral College, 4 in the House, 6 to 7 in the Senate — Republicans could probably hold majorities forever if they wanted to. But they choose to play their hand more aggressively than that, moving forward boldly with unpopular policy initiatives and then obstructing during period defeats.

Someone should do something about it

Neither Joe Biden nor Senate Democrats seem inclined to pursue these measures yet, but if Democrats win a Senate majority this fall, there is a partial solution at hand:

  • End the filibuster so a Senate majority can govern.
  • Admit DC, Puerto Rico, and ideally the US Virgin Islands as US states.
  • Adopt tough legislative curbs on partisan gerrymandering.
  • Expand the lower courts, at a minimum, as a way of improving the operation of the federal judicial system and putting the Supreme Court on notice to behave itself.

In a pinch, you add seats to the Supreme Court itself. Either way, Democrats need to get out of the funk of thinking of these moves as outrageous norm violations. The actual issue is that the American democratic tradition carries within it two overarching super-norms that are contradictory. One is adherence to the Constitution and to the rule of law. The other is adherence to the concept of political equality — that all citizens are equal and ought to have their interests and views considered equally by the political system.

This latter idea is not part of the original constitutional order, but is implicit in the Declaration of Independence, in the 14th Amendment, in the landmark Baker v. Carr case requiring “one person, one vote” in state legislative districts, and in much of our political culture. McConnell’s own statement on Ginsburg’s passing invokes the concept of popular sovereignty, arguing that “Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary.”

But of course Americans did no such thing. Most voters preferred the opposite outcome. What gives McConnell his power is not the will of the people but the lines on a map. If Democrats win, they would have not only the power that McConnell currently wields but also the genuine popular mandate he pretends to — and they should use it.

The harder question is what to do if, this November, most people vote against Trump and against McConnell and they win anyway. Twenty years ago, before I was a journalist, I thought the answer was to take to the streets — an idea that at the time found little support among elite political actors. In the desperate year of 2017, Democrats did turn to mass resistance outside the electoral system as a political tool, but after the midterms, they dropped it, to their detriment. It was protests that toppled Mariano Rajoy’s corrupt right-wing government in Spain in 2018, Park Geun-hye’s corrupt right-wing government in South Korea in 2017, and Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson’s corrupt right-wing government in Iceland in 2016. And it is mass protests in Belarus that may topple a corrupt and authoritarian government there.

So far, nobody in charge of anything seems to be thinking along these lines. But after a summer of uprisings and sporadic rioting, it’s worth remembering that while patience is a virtue in politics, charging ahead with unworkable ideas is not. People are upset about the direction of the country, and rightly so. If institutions block change through electoral means, then anger will unleash itself in other forms. It would be much better for the country for that to be smart, well-designed acts of civil disobedience led by responsible and strategically minded people. But if responsible leaders won’t lead, then irresponsible ones will.


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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Open Sourced logo

Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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


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The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.

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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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