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Nepotism and the 2020 election, explained

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It has been clear for over a year that Team Trump’s main plan for running against former Vice President Joe Biden was to try to gin up a scandal related to Biden’s son Hunter’s work in Ukraine.

It was clear from President Trump’s efforts to coerce the Ukrainian government into launching a criminal investigation into Hunter Biden over this ended with his impeachment. That, in turn, led Trump to back away from the issue, for a while.

But this October, Rudy Giuliani and the New York Post have used a hard drive they say a computer repair store in Delaware gave them to revive the story. They don’t have evidence that Hunter’s influence was why a Ukrainian prosecutor got fired. But the laptop does contain evidence (yet to be authenticated) that Hunter had wide-ranging business interests, and no particular qualifications as a business partner other than his father being vice president.

It is true that on basic anti-nepotism grounds, Joe Biden is far from an ideal candidate. He certainly falls short of the standard set by several modern presidents.

But Trump himself stands out from his predecessors as particularly bad on the corruption front. Not only does he still own and profit from businesses involved in dealings with foreign nationals, he has several adult children and in-laws who have business careers that are enmeshed with his political fortunes.

To assess nepotism as an issue in the 2020 campaign requires a comprehensive look at the two candidates’ approaches.

Hunter Biden makes a living off the family name

It seems pretty clear that Hunter Biden, along with the traumas in his family and his personal struggles with addiction, has for years basically been cashing checks based on his relationship with his father.

In the world of political scandals, there are actual crimes and there’s simply shady behavior — and perhaps the real scandal is what’s legal. To be clear, there does not appear to be anything illegal about Hunter Biden’s various roles, but someone getting jobs because his dad is important doesn’t sit well with those who want to see less special interest influence in Washington.

Back when MBNA was a major Delaware-based credit card issuer and Joe Biden was a congressional champion of the credit card industry, Hunter was on their staff in a murky consulting role. The simple corruption story would be that Sen. Biden was backing the industry’s priority legislation because Hunter was a consultant for MBNA. But that interpretation is surely backward: Senators support their home-state companies’ priorities all the time, especially in a small state like Delaware. It’s much more likely that Hunter just got to cash some lucrative checks as part of his fortunate family situation enmeshed in the Delaware elite than that he had to work for anything.

In 2006, George W. Bush appointed Hunter to the Amtrak board. Introducing him at confirmation hearings, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) basically explained that Hunter’s qualifications were just being a Delaware politics guy who rides the train a lot:

More specifically, though, and for our purposes and for the purpose of this nomination, Hunter Biden has spent a lot of time on Amtrak trains. Like his father, like our Congressman, Mike Castle and myself, Hunter Biden has lived in Delaware while using Amtrak to commute to his job as we commute to our job in Washington almost every day of the week. You know, you learn a lot about what could work and what would work better at Amtrak by riding trains and talking to the passengers, the commuters, the passengers, the folks who work on the trains and make them work every day. You also have a chance to see the huge economic benefit the region receives from having a strong passenger rail corridor, something that should be available in a lot of other parts of our country.

A senator’s unqualified son being appointed to the Amtrak board is not the reason that US passenger rail underperforms by developed world standards. Rather, US passenger rail underperformance reflects the fact that the US political system doesn’t take Amtrak seriously — treating it like the kind of organization where a senator can stash his somewhat embarrassing son.

That’s the context for Hunter’s work at the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. It’s overwhelmingly clear that getting Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin fired was a consensus view, including among Senate Republicans and the European Union.

Back when Barack Obama was president, US officials and Western governments believed that Ukraine’s chief prosecutor was soft on corruption. He eventually was fired in March of 2016, and the New York Times reported that “the United States and other Western nations had for months called for the ousting of Mr. Shokin, who was widely criticized for turning a blind eye to corrupt practices and for defending the interests of a venal and entrenched elite.”

Shokin, of course, did not like that interpretation of events and eventually latched onto another story that painted him in a better light. In that version, he was fired because he was investigating corruption at a Ukrainian company called Burisma that had bought the loyalty of the United States government by giving Biden’s son Hunter a lucrative job on the company board. This story is not true unless you believe that Hunter could control Senate Republicans, the European Union, and the government of Canada.

It’s clear, however, that Hunter Biden had no particular qualifications to be on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. Presumably, the company was hoping in some diffuse sense to secure political friendship in Washington. It doesn’t seem to have been put to any particularly noteworthy use or involved any noteworthy acts of corruption.

The whole Hunter Biden situation, from top to bottom, reeks of the kind of cozy cronyism that makes a lot of people detest establishment politics and explains the appeal of the idea of a rich businessman who can’t be bought swooping in to drain the swamp.

And then there’s the reality of Trump.

Trump’s daughter wields unprecedented influence

Joe Biden’s son got a job on the Amtrak board that he was not particularly qualified for. Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who was no more qualified than Hunter for any public sector position, instead got a role as a White House senior staffer. Her husband, Jared Kushner, also is totally unqualified for government work and also has a job as a White House senior staffer. Their father intervened to get them security clearances.

Ivanka Trump is involved in policymaking in a way that’s simply unheard of for a presidential child, especially one with zero prior experience in politics and government:

While not qualified for any of these roles, she’s also managed to repeatedly break the law in public service. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington once documented a 48-hour period in early October during which she violated the Hatch Act eight times. She then violated it 11 more times by October 20.

It’s normal for a politician’s adult child to be involved in promoting his election campaign. But that in turn underscores how unusual (and inappropriate) it is to also install your daughter in the West Wing as a senior government official.

Ivanka is not just someone who lacks the résumé for such a position; she has an extremely checkered career in business that’s involved extensive excursions into legal gray areas:

The overall picture is one of much more nepotistic influence over government policy and much more involvement in graft and corruption than anything that’s been alleged about Hunter Biden. But Trump has more kids! And it’s actually Trump’s son-in-law who is truly in the eye of the corruption storm.

Jared Kushner has myriad conflicts of interest

Jared Kushner is a fascinating figure.

His father, Charles Kushner, is a wealthy criminal (and Democratic Party donor) whom Chris Christie sent to jail back when Christie was the US attorney for New Jersey during George W. Bush’s administration. Also during this period, Kushner had the misfortune of being a case study in Daniel Golden’s book about corruption in the college admission process. Golden details the ways Kushner’s father wielded his influence, not only as a Harvard donor but as a donor to Ted Kennedy and other influential figures, to help his son gain admittance to Harvard. Then, in a somewhat harsh section of the book, Golden details Kushner’s lack of conventional intellectual or academic qualifications:

“There was no way anybody in the administrative office of the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard,” a former [official at Jared’s high school] told me. “His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought for sure, there was no way this was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, Jared was accepted. It was a little bit disappointing because there were at the time other kids we thought should really get in on the merits, and they did not. I believe that Jared, for the longest time, didn’t want to talk about any of this, because he felt a little bit upset or guilty that he may have taken somebody else’s place. One of the things the Ivies ask is, ‘was this student in the most challenging courses offered in the school?’ We could not answer that question yes.”

But at school, rather than coasting like an underqualified rich kid might be inclined to do, Jared used his dad’s money to become a landlord who owned several rental properties in the nearby town of Somerville. Kushner, according to a 2006 profile in the New York Sun, regarded spending his dad’s money and occasionally calling a plumber to be a major achievement:

Having raised venture capital from his parents and a handful of family friends, the younger Mr. Kushner in 2000 established Somerville Building Associates — a division of his father’s Kushner Companies — and put down a reported $10 million on seven residential rental buildings in Somerville, Mass., which borders Cambridge. Soon thereafter, he purchased an additional investment property in Somerville.

“I’d be in class, and get a call that a toilet broke, and have to get a contractor over there,” Mr. Kushner, a Livingston, N.J., native, said.

“At this point, multitasking is what I do best,” he said. “I believe you have to push yourself, until one or the other begins suffering and then you have to make choices.”

That multitasking experience is important, because as a White House staffer, Kushner has in his portfolio everything from overseeing the US-Mexico border wall, ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and solving the opioid crisis to managing the nation’s medical stockpile amid the coronavirus crisis.

The combination of a vast policy portfolio, no obvious qualifications for government, and a large fortune inherited from his criminal father has left Kushner with myriad financial conflicts of interest. Consider the real estate investment firm Cadre where Kushner has a 25 percent stake that he initially failed to disclose on government forms.

Cadre has benefited from Opportunity Zone tax breaks that were created by the 2017 tax reform law and, while intended to help low-income communities, were in fact structured with such lax terms that they’ve been a windfall for people like Kushner. The Guardian reported in 2019 that Cadre has received $90 million in opaque investments from offshore vehicles, meaning that we don’t really know who Kushner’s foreign business partners are. But as David Corn reports, we do know that Cadre was actively seeking investment opportunities related to the pandemic even as Kushner was coordinating the nation’s medical supply procurement.

The White House has refused to answer questions about Kushner’s business meetings in China, but a 2018 report in the Washington Post revealed: “Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.”

Kushner’s conflicts of interest are so vast as to almost defy accounting. But a few highlights:

Kushner’s business partnerships and White House portfolio are so wide-ranging that it’s hard to know where to even draw a line around graft. But Trump has two more sons who play a more defined role in the world running the Trump Organization’s hotel business, and their profiteering can be more precisely defined.

Donald Jr. and Eric Trump are breaking the rules

On the 2016 campaign trail, Trump consistently promised to divest from control over the Trump Organization’s business assets. The fact that he chose to break this promise has come to make it seem inevitable that he would, but it’s worth recalling that he absolutely did promise to do this and he could have done it.

Nothing was stopping him from selling his various hotels and golf clubs and then placing the proceeds into a blind trust investment or just putting the money into index funds.

Instead, Trump simply turned active management of the businesses over to his sons Eric and Donald Jr. And as the New York Times reported a year ago, they’ve been actively pursuing business arrangement all around the world:

Last month, the Trump family business received approval from a local government in Scotland for a major expansion of its golf resort near Aberdeen, marking the largest real estate development financed by the Trump Organization since the 2016 election.

In August, President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., flew to Jakarta to help kick-start sales at a pair of Trump-branded luxury resorts planned for Indonesia. He appeared at a private event with wealthy prospective buyers and joined his politically connected billionaire Indonesian business partner at a news conference.

And last year, Donald Jr. visited India to sell condos at future Trump-branded towers, appearing at an event that also featured India’s prime minister.

This is roughly the wrongdoing that Hunter is accused of. But unlike Hunter, the Trump sons are actively involved in their father’s business interests and their father’s political career — speaking on his behalf at the Republican National Convention, appearing as frequent surrogates in the media, and serving as all-around political confidants.

Foreign money has poured into the Trump International Hotel near the White House, and Trump’s sons’ international travel has cost the Secret Service hundreds of thousands of dollars. Of course, security expenses for the president’s family are a public investment worth making. But it does seem notable that a large share of that Secret Service tab has ended up being paid to properties the Trump family owns. In other words, it’s not just that Eric and Donald Jr. are touring the world at taxpayer expense to use their family connections to cut business deals; they are personally pocketing some of the government’s cash as they do it.

The stakes in 2020

Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all had kids who were too young to be involved in business while they were in the White House. Clinton’s predecessor, George H.W. Bush, had two grown children who obviously did seek to capitalize on their dad’s political connections, but did so primarily in order to advance their own political ambitions rather than for money.

That kind of situation is probably better for everyone than the one that exists with top officials’ adult children kicking around with independent business careers.

Since both the Trump and Biden families are similarly situated, in this case, you can get a good comparative look at the situation. Hunter seems to have a more troubled personal life than many of the Trumps or various Trump-in-laws.

But the relevant figures of the extended Trump clan are simply more numerous, creating a wider range of actual and potential conflicts of interest. More importantly, Donald Trump has made his family members key advisers on critical political and policy decisions in a way that Biden simply hasn’t. The Trump kids show a lot more hustle and ingenuity at using their positions of privilege to attract more privilege. Jia Tolentino recounts the story Ivanka Trump tells in her biography of how she milked her family’s domestic servants for kickbacks via a lemonade stand:

When Ivanka was a kid, she got frustrated because she couldn’t set up a lemonade stand in Trump Tower. “We had no such advantages,” she writes, meaning, in this case, an ordinary home on an ordinary street. She and her brothers finally tried to sell lemonade at their summer place in Connecticut, but their neighborhood was so ritzy that there was no foot traffic. “As good fortune would have it, we had a bodyguard that summer,” she writes. They persuaded their bodyguard to buy lemonade, and then their driver, and then the maids, who “dug deep for their spare change.” The lesson, she says, is that the kids “made the best of a bad situation.”

This is fundamentally similar to the Kushner situation at Harvard — there for reasons other than his own merit, instead of coasting, he further peddled his dad’s money into a little business hustle. With Trump in office, Jared and Ivanka make policy. Eric and Don Jr. tour the world actively seeking new business opportunities.

It’s much more entrepreneurial than the Hunter Biden story, and much more in keeping with a certain vision of the American work ethic. But it’s infinitely more corrosive than a guy who has had drug problems scoring the occasional no-show job thanks to his dad’s influence.


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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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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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