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RBG, the 2020 election, and the rolling crisis of American democracy

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For much of this fall, Americans have fretted about a legitimacy crisis surrounding the 2020 election. But now, after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the hypocritical Republican rush to fill her seat in an election year, it’s clear that the crisis is here.

Liberal democracy only functions when major parties accept the right of their opponents to govern. The purpose of the system is to take the antagonism that defines politics everywhere and channel it, creating rules and establishing norms that prevent one segment of the population from crushing others’ ability to participate in and shape the system.

The breakdown of these rules and norms is at the heart of our current crisis. And the reason for this breakdown is that one of our two major parties has waged a decades-long campaign against them.

Simply put, Republicans for decades have been delegitimizing the very idea of Democratic Party rule. Republicans shut down the government in the 1990s and impeached President Bill Clinton over far less than what Trump has done in office. Under President Obama, they fanned the flames of birtherism, held the global economy hostage to force spending cuts, prevented Obama’s Supreme Court nominee from even getting a hearing, and elevated obstructionism to the level of governing principle.

At the state level, they have rewritten electoral rules to block Democrats from voting and seized power from Democratic governors after they have won elections. On Wednesday morning, the Atlantic reported that the Trump campaign was preparing to ask Republican-controlled legislatures in battleground states to override the results of the actual vote and send their own, Trump-supportive electors to the Electoral College.

Under Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, the Republican agenda has devolved into one of minority rule: an abuse of the counter-majoritarian parts of the American political system in order to lock Democrats out of power, and a willingness to stop at nothing to pursue these goals.

For years, Democrats have refused to respond in kind, holding off on engaging in the same kind of procedural warfare that Republicans have made routine.

But a repeated gap between winning the most votes and winning power, thanks to the Electoral College and the Senate, has pushed Democrats toward a more aggressive stance. They now believe, with good reason, that they represent the majority of the country — and that beating back Republican efforts to tilt the electoral playing field and seize control of the Court requires its own brand of procedural radicalism. Once-unthinkable measures like court-packing and ending the filibuster are now in play, with the latest Supreme Court vacancy seemingly like a true tipping point.

“Nobody’s word means anything in this place anymore. All that matters is raw power,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted on Monday morning, reacting to news that Senate Republicans would push through a Supreme Court nominee six weeks from an election — a complete reversal of the GOP’s stated principle in 2016.

“Got it. New rules.”

Given this backdrop, many on the losing side in the battles over the Supreme Court and the election will almost certainly believe the other side’s victory is illegitimate. Depending on how things play out — and it’s important to be humble about our ability to predict the future — the November election has the potential to be a flashpoint that turns the escalating fight over control of America’s institutions into a full-fledged constitutional crisis.

How Republicans corroded the legitimacy of American democracy

To understand why we should be worried about what happens in the coming weeks and months, it’s worth dwelling a bit on the concept of political legitimacy in democracies.

“In general,” the political philosopher Samuel Freeman writes, “the idea of legitimacy in law and politics relates to the proper enactment and application of laws and bestowal of authority of upon officials, all according to generally accepted and respected procedures.”

The key words there are “proper” and “generally accepted.” In the context of an election, what that means is whether it’s perceived as free and fair by the country’s citizens. An election is legitimate in this sense when Americans generally accept that it was conducted properly. The same goes for the business of a president appointing, and the Senate confirming, a Supreme Court justice.

But citizens’ perceptions also should, in theory, correspond to reality. If real policies are actually making the United States’ voting and Supreme Court appointment procedures less fair, then it’s understandable if that country’s citizens lose faith in elections and the judicial system — as many have in former democracies that have gone authoritarian, like Russia and Venezuela. And when elections and judicial appointments are actually the product of fair procedures, you’d expect citizens to see them as legitimate.

In this respect, the fight surrounding American elections is somewhat strange.

Trump and the GOP have used dubious allegations of voter fraud to convince Republicans that elections they lose are illegitimate in ways that they actually are not. These arguments have then served as justification for new policies that actually do make American elections less fair — think voter ID and mass purges from voter rolls that disproportionately hurt Democratic-leaning voters — thus leading Democrats to lose faith in electoral legitimacy.

Put differently: A partisan strategy of falsely claiming elections are unfair has perversely served as justification for policies that make them less fair, damaging legitimacy among voters from both major parties. This process, which has escalated significantly in recent years, has laid the groundwork for an election that could end in crisis dwarfing the 2000 Bush v. Gore mess.

President Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Pennsylvania
Trump at a campaign rally.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

It should not be controversial, at this point, to assert that Republicans have been making false and misleading claims about the threat from voter fraud for years. Ben Ginsberg, a Republican attorney who has worked on the party’s election monitoring efforts since 1984, admitted as much in a striking Washington Post op-ed.

“Republicans … must deal with the basic truth that four decades of dedicated investigation have produced only isolated incidents of election fraud,” Ginsberg writes. “A study of results in three states where all voters are mailed actual ballots, a practice that has drawn the president’s outrage, found just 372 possible cases of illegal voting of 14.6 million cast in the 2016 and 2018 general elections — 0.0025 percent.”

This Republican effort has had the effect of turning electoral legitimacy into a partisan issue, causing Republicans and Democrats to adopt fundamentally different views about what makes American elections fair.

One study quantified this split using data from a survey of 10,000 voters (200 from each state) conducted in 2014. The authors found that in states that had strict voter ID laws, Republicans were considerably more likely to say they were “very confident” in the state’s vote-counting process than Democrats were. In states without those laws, things flipped — Democrats were the ones expressing higher confidence in the electoral system.

Trump, as is so often the case, took this long-running problem and escalated it dramatically. It started during the 2016 campaign, when he warned of an election “rigged” by “millions” of illegal votes cast on Hillary Clinton’s behalf. This rhetoric mattered — one study found that Trump supporters were notably less likely to believe the election would be fair during the campaign — but was obviated by Trump’s victory and Clinton’s concession.

As the 2020 incumbent, Trump’s rhetoric means a lot more — and, if anything, he’s turned up the heat. He said in August that “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” He has falsely claimed that Democrats are sending out “80 million ballots to everybody and there’s tremendous cheating going to go on.” He openly claimed to be blocking emergency funding for the US Postal Service to prevent universal mail-in balloting.

These are not one-off comments. The attacks on vote-by-mail and intimations that Biden could only win by cheating have become staples of the president’s rhetoric and right-wing media.

Trump’s assault on the electoral system damages public faith in the elections on both sides of the aisle: Many Republicans actually believe what he’s saying, while many Democrats see his comments as evidence that he’s trying to use his powers of office to rig the game in his favor.

After the 2016 election, about three-quarters of Americans thought the results were legitimate. By contrast, a mid-August 2020 NBC poll found that a majority of Americans had limited or no confidence in the fairness of the November elections, including 65 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of Democrats. In a mid-September poll from Yahoo/YouGov, only 22 percent of Americans expressed confidence that the elections would be “free and fair.”

And so we head into Election Day with large chunks of the population poised to doubt the legitimacy of whoever wins.

Republican hardball over the Supreme Court is eroding its legitimacy

The Supreme Court vacancy left by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death has now linked the November election, already dubiously legitimate, with the broader problem of Republican procedural radicalism.

Republicans have convinced themselves, thanks to past events like the Democratic rejection of Reagan’s appointee Robert Bork and the sexual misconduct allegations that dominated the hearings held for Clarence Thomas in 1991 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, that Democrats don’t play fair when it comes to this most powerful of American institutions. This sense of grievance has provided cover for a scorched-earth approach to judicial appointments, where anything and everything is justified in the name of ensuring conservative control.

Hence the Republican treatment of Merrick Garland, Obama’s Supreme Court nominee to replace Antonin Scalia on the Court. McConnell claimed it would be inappropriate to replace Scalia during an election year, and that justice died in February 2016. Now Republicans are vowing to install a Ginsburg replacement with about 40 days until an election, a blatant violation of the standard set for Garland. It’s a transparent exercise in power politics that threatens the legitimacy of the Court.

“If Trump and Republicans replace Ginsburg it will destroy the remaining public legitimacy of the Supreme Court. Full stop,” the conservative journalist Jonathan V. Last writes in The Bulwark. “The Republican party’s willingness to invent, bend, cherry-pick, or break rules and norms as needed in the pursuit of power would be undeniable.”

Obama Discusses U.S. Supreme Court At University Of Chicago Law School
Obama speaking about Merrick Garland in April 2016.
Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Such an appointment would cement the Democratic perception that a defeat in 2020 would not just be a normal political loss: It would threaten to lock them out of power for a long, long time. And, on this view, it would be because the Republicans bent or broke the norms and rules of American politics.

Fears about GOP capture of the Court are compounded by United States’ profoundly dysfunctional electoral system. It seems overwhelmingly likely that Trump will lose the popular vote — meaning that if he were to win, that win would, for the second time in a row, be handed to him by the Electoral College.

This is a weakly legitimate institution in the first place — a series of Gallup polls conducted between 1967 and 2011 all find majority support for its replacement with a national popular vote system — but Democrats have long been more supportive of its abolition than Republicans. This split has been intensified by the nature of the two parties’ current coalitions, which structurally advantages Republicans, both in the Electoral College and in the Senate.

It’s generally understood that if Biden wins, Trump can be expected to cast doubt on the results and maybe even refuse to concede defeat. But a Trump win, given Democrats’ reasonably justified skepticism about the GOP’s commitment to playing fair and general sense that the system is rigged against them, could create a crisis of its own. That’s especially if Trump wins via a Supreme Court decision against counting mail-in ballots or on some other flimsy legal challenge — a victory won with the votes of some or all of justices he picked to replace Scalia, Ginsburg, and Anthony Kennedy.

“If one side sees the other side as consistently cheating, the very premise of democracy is undermined,” writes Rick Hasen, an expert on election law at UC Irvine. “This year, the grounds for Democrats to fear an illegitimate election have only increased.”

What an American legitimacy crisis could look like

Legitimacy might seem like a fuzzy concept, maybe even an irrelevant one. Does it really matter whether people on the losing side think the election was fair?

The answer from political scientists is an unequivocal yes.

“This type of tension, in other countries, has led to civil war,” UC Berkeley’s Susan Hyde tells me.

A 2009 paper by Kristine Höglund, a professor at Sweden’s Uppsala University, surveys places that have been hurt by election-related violence — a diverse group ranging from Sri Lanka to Kenya to the Palestinian territories. When elections are perceived as unfair by the losing side, they become more likely to turn to violence as a result. Fighting becomes even more likely when elections have higher, group-based stakes — when they feel less like a competition between citizens and more like existential struggles between opposed ethnic or religious groups. Other causes of violence include “biased police,” widespread “access to arms,” and “political usage of electoral administration.”

The point of these comparisons, according to Hyde and others, is not that the United States is likely to experience a kind of new civil war (though it’s telling that she needed to raise that as a possibility). For a variety of reasons, including the professionalization of the military and the country’s long history of peaceful power transitions, that seems exceptionally unlikely.

Rather, the point is that American democracy is taking on features that are genuinely abnormal in wealthy, consolidated democracies — forms of polarization, social distrust, and politicization of ostensibly neutral government institutions like the Supreme Court that spell doom for public faith in electoral outcomes. When that faith is lost, political factions that have lost elections look to other forms of political activity for satisfaction.

Tom Pepinsky, a political scientist at Cornell, tells me that “we are in uncharted territory” — that no advanced democracy has ever had an election with this kind and degree of problems. The closest analogy he could think of, modern Thailand, was in no way reassuring: a political crisis surrounding the April 2006 election resulted in a military coup.

“There are lots and lots of differences” between the US and Thailand, Pepinsky notes. “But the important similarity is this idea that no side believes the election could be fairly held that they don’t win.”

There are a number of ways that 2020’s loser could challenge the election’s outcome. FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley sketches out one particularly troubling scenario, wherein Trump has a narrow lead in the decisive state of Pennsylvania on election night that ends up flipping after all the absentee ballots are counted. The state’s Democratic governor confirms a Biden victory and sends his electors to the Electoral College, while the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, following Trump rage-tweets, appoints a different slate.

According to Barton Gellman’s reporting in the Atlantic, the Trump campaign and its allies in Pennsylvania are actively considering this kind of push.

Direct appointment of electors “is one of the options. It is one of the available legal options set forth in the Constitution,” Lawrence Tabas, the Pennsylvania GOP’s chair, told Gellman.

The process of whose slate wins out in this kind of fight is, it turns out, shockingly indeterminate: This could easily end with Biden and Trump both claiming to be the real president on Inauguration Day. Massive protests would likely ensue; violence involving the police or armed militias, like the ones recently seen patrolling the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, are well in the realm of possibility in this or any other contested election scenario.

If Trump chooses to abuse his power as president, things could get even darker. Longtime Trump ally Roger Stone, during a September appearance on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s talk show, called on Trump to send federal marshals to seize allegedly corrupt absentee ballots, declare “martial law,” and arrest a list of political enemies that includes “the Clintons” and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

There just isn’t a good parallel for what we are currently living through in recent American history or that of any other wealthy democracy; comparisons with developing and post-conflict states, like Thailand or the United States of 1876, are closer but still not quite exact given the profound differences between these places and modern America.

This is terra incognita. The fairness of our elections has come under fundamental question, as has the Court that’s supposed to provide legal redress in exactly this kind of dispute. There is no road map for what may lie ahead, and getting out of it will require a genuine reckoning with what got us here — that one of our major parties has spent decades convincing itself that its rival wielding power is an unacceptable catastrophe.


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World

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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