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Suburban women could be Trump’s undoing

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This is the first in a series of articles looking at the voters who could be the most decisive in the 2020 election.

Before she got Covid-19, Katie Mazzocco had a plan for every part of her life.

The 34-year-old entrepreneur and mother of two always voted, but she wasn’t involved with political organizing before Donald Trump was elected in 2016. Like thousands of others, Mazzocco was equal parts frightened and energized by Trump’s presidency. Ahead of the 2020 election, she had a plan to make hundreds of calls a day and knock on doors in her Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, suburb — part of a key swing district — to encourage her neighbors to vote this fall.

Now her old life is completely unrecognizable. Mazzocco’s once-packed days are mostly spent in bed, suffering long-term Covid-19 complications that oscillate between brain fog and excruciating chest pains.

“On a daily basis, I’m still trying to hold my body together,” Mazzocco told me in a recent interview. “Some days, I can’t even talk.”

Her once flourishing self-owned business is now on pause. She rarely has the energy to help her 10-year-old twins with their at-home schoolwork. Her husband, a teacher at a local school district, instructs his students from home these days. Mazzocco counts a good day as one where she can walk to the bathroom by herself and brush her teeth, rather than slumped over the shoulder of one of her daughters, her husband, or her mother — who lives with the family to assist with child care, cooking, and cleaning.

Mazzocco has long-term complications due to Covid-19.
Ross Mantle for Vox

Mazzocco with her husband. “Some days, I can’t even talk,” she says.
Ross Mantle for Vox

“It’s driving me insane because I’m such a go-getter and high achiever,” Mazzocco told me. “Some days my brain is online … some days it’s like being flattened. It’s agonizing.”

Mazzocco is part of a relatively small group of Covid-19 patients with long-term complications. But she’s one of millions of women across the United States whose working and personal lives have been upended by the pandemic. Vox interviewed several such women around the country and found them organizing from their kitchens and living rooms — deciding the time for complacency is over.

Many of them have stories similar to Mazzocco’s. They were previously engaged voters who paid attention to politics, but Trump’s win made them realize voting alone wasn’t enough. A grassroots army powered by women is developing through their networks of PTA moms, neighbors, and friends.

“I feel like when you activate women, there’s this contagiousness where other women see that and are like, ‘Okay, I can do this too,’” said Claire Reagan, a teacher and mother of two who lives in the suburbs outside Kansas City, Kansas.

Organizing is one of the few things Mazzocco can still do from her bed — getting out the vote by texting and writing letters. Her reach is impressive. She estimates she’s texted upward of 10,000 people encouraging them to vote and helping them make a plan, averaging about 100 to 200 conversations each week. And even though life is a daily struggle, Mazzocco is hopeful that this election will bring about real change.

“I think people are excited about it and hoping for change,” she told me. “I want everyone to realize they can be so connected; it’s not that hard.”

Suburban women, once a reliable bloc for Republicans, drove a blue wave for House Democrats in the 2018 midterms. If 2018 was a symbolic rebuke of Trump, pollsters of both parties expect a show of force against Trump from these women in 2020. The lasting effects of the pandemic have only intensified their revolt against the president.

“Common sense suggests that suburban women were skeptical about Trump before the pandemic,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “Having their lives utterly disrupted by school closings and trying to help 6- and 7-year-olds learn virtually while also holding down a job has simply exacerbated their preexisting skepticism about Trump.”

Why Trump repels many suburban women

In mid-October, Trump stood onstage in Johnstown, Pennsylvania — about 65 miles away from Pittsburgh — and practically begged suburban women to vote for him.

“Suburban women, will you please like me?” Trump pleaded. “I saved your damn neighborhood, okay?”

Trump has good reason to be worried about women in Pennsylvania and other swing states. National and state surveys show that Democratic candidate Joe Biden, on average, is polling around 25 points better than Trump among women (Hillary Clinton polled 14 points ahead of Trump with women in 2016). If Biden’s massive margin holds on Election Day, it would make it the biggest gender gap for a Democratic candidate in history.

Democrats believe they can count on Black women, the party’s most reliable voting bloc. They’re more worried about white women, a group Trump narrowly won in 2016 — driven especially by those without college degrees. White college-educated women voted for Clinton over Trump 51 to 44 percent in 2016, but their support has grown and solidified even more four years later. They prefer Biden by nearly 20 points, according to an early October Fox News poll. A late October Midwestern state poll from Fox contained more bad news for Trump; it showed suburban women preferring Biden by 35 points in Michigan, 29 points in Pennsylvania, and 21 points in Wisconsin.

There’s a simple reason for these numbers. Trump revels in being rude, macho, and chaotic — all things many women voters despise, pollsters told me.

“They really didn’t like Donald Trump’s personal style; they thought he was a bully, they thought he was divisive,” said veteran Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who advises Biden’s campaign. “They hate chaos. Suburban women really want stability.”

Ayres, the Republican pollster, agreed.

“It’s largely Trump’s attitude toward women, his belligerence, his style, and his conduct,” he said.

Trump’s list of insults has gotten so long that the New York Times started counting them (598 insults as of 2019). Lately, the target of the president’s ire is America’s revered top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, whom Trump called a “disaster” and one of a group of “idiots” on a recent call with his campaign staff.

A family listens to Joe Biden during a drive-in campaign rally in Dallas, Pennsylvania, on October 24.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Annie Howell, a Trump supporter and poll watcher, outside of the Luzerne County Board of Elections in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on October 22.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Trump’s rhetoric has gotten to the point where Claire Reagan, the teacher, and her husband keep the television off when their young children are around, to avoid them seeing the president at all.

“I don’t want my children to speak the way the president speaks,” said Reagan, who lives in a conservative-leaning suburb outside Kansas City, Kansas. “My kids, they know who Barack Obama is. We want them to see what strong, calm leadership looks like, and I can say the same thing if Mitt Romney had been elected. It’s been very difficult to navigate how we expose our children to national politics. It’s not something I think will enrich my children’s understanding of how people who make the rules behave.”

About four years after giving birth to her second child close to the 2016 election, Reagan was determined not to have her third child on November 3, 2020. She told me she had recently pushed back her scheduled C-section until after Election Day.

“I didn’t want to be in the hospital on Election Day,” Reagan said. “I was a billion months pregnant in the 2016 election; ironically, I’m a billion months pregnant right now.” She added, “I just remember how heavy 2016 felt.”

Suburbs like Reagan’s used to be prime Republican territory. The 2018 midterms were the first real wake-up call for the GOP that the suburbs, and white suburban women, were moving away from them.

It wasn’t always this way. In 2010, Democratic candidates lost college-educated white voters by a massive 19 percentage points. During the 2014 midterms, Democrats continued their downward streak with the group, losing them by 16 points (both midterms were banner years for Republicans). But the 2018 midterms saw white suburbanites do a stunning 180-degree turn: White college-educated voters voted for Democratic candidates by 8 points.

“Republicans for the first time in memory lost the suburban vote in 2018,” Ayres told me. “There is no sign at all that they are moving back toward Republicans. If anything, they are voting more strongly for Democrats today.”

The 2018 midterms saw a symbolic rebuke of Trump in the suburbs, giving Democratic House candidates wins even in reach districts in South Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

This year, Trump is on the ballot.

Trump has galvanized a movement among suburban women

The story about suburban women in 2020 isn’t just about them voting for a Democratic presidential candidate. It’s about a new wave of women-led grassroots organizing in some of the reddest parts of the country, focused largely on state and local races.

Erin Woods’s foray into organizing in her suburban Kansas City, Kansas, neighborhood really started after the Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, threatening to undo the protections for preexisting conditions without which her insurance costs would skyrocket.

Before the ACA, Woods had been rejected from multiple health insurance companies for having had a preexisting condition. She estimates she paid around $40,000 in unnecessary premiums over several years.

“I paid more for myself in premiums than we did for the rest of the family,” Woods told me. “Once I went back and looked at it, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this was a couple years of college.’”

No one in her neighborhood really talked politics before 2016, Woods remembers. But she started having conversations with other parents at PTA meetings and her friends, and then started emailing people encouraging them to call their senators and representatives during the 2017 ACA repeal push in Washington, DC. Her email list morphed into a physical group of 20 friends who also wanted to get engaged in politics. It has since grown to about 150 people who make phone calls, do literature drops, and write postcards to encourage others to vote, Woods estimates.

It’s turned into a large, spiraling network mostly of women who bring in their friends organically. These networks live in private Facebook groups and text and email chains that light up whenever a new Biden/Harris sign goes up on a neighbor’s front lawn.

Women like Reagan and Anita Parsa, who is friends with Woods and part of her organizing group, described themselves as informed and moderately engaged voters before 2016. Many identify as unaffiliated, supporting individual candidates over any one party. Now they are members of an army of galvanized women organizing from their homes. Some are nursing new babies, while others are watching their kids go off to college.

Rather than telling their friends whom to vote for, these women are just encouraging their friends to vote, period.

“I have gotten to know more women who are involved through my involvement,” said Parsa. “It’s kind of infectious; it gives you permission to talk about stuff that you wouldn’t otherwise.”

These women could leave a mark on their heavily Republican state. Kansas is certainly not considered a swing state. But it is not immune to the political changes of the suburbs — evident in a surprisingly competitive Senate race coming two years after Democrats won the governor’s race and a House seat. One Republican pollster recently told me the suburbs outside Kansas City are “ground zero for suburban women fleeing the president.”

Some of these neighborhoods boast mansions, the homes of doctors and lawyers. They’re traditionally moderate Republican areas, but there are many more signs for Biden, Democratic Senate candidate Barbara Bollier, and local Democratic candidates dotting the manicured lawns these days. Keeping in mind the old politics adage that “yard signs don’t vote,” Reagan noted that she sees more Democratic signs in front of people’s houses compared to Republican ones on the side of the road — a sign that voters casting ballots for Democrats are willing to make a public statement in 2020.

Biden supporters attend a campaign rally in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 7.
Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

“It’s a country-club-joining, fancy-car-driving neighborhood,” said Parsa, who lives in Mission Hills, a suburban neighborhood outside Kansas City. “I do not think we have shifted dramatically left in this area, I think this is a recognition of how extreme the candidates in the GOP are, and their feckless, fawning allowance of anything Trump wants to do.”

Trump may have spurred their involvement, but these women also recognize they can effect the most change in their local offices. Right now, the main focus for Reagan, Parsa, and Woods is to break the Republican supermajority in the Kansas legislature (there’s little chance of actually flipping it). And with women making up the bulk of this organizing group in Kansas City’s suburbs, there’s also a dream to get more women elected to office — in hopes of addressing issues like education, child care, and health care.

“It’s not that the men aren’t there, but if you’re reading the room, a lot of the people doing the work right now are women,” said Reagan. “A lot of the local campaigns that I’ve been in contact with, almost all of them are being run by women.”

Trump fundamentally doesn’t understand the suburbs

The second major factor driving the suburban revolt against the Trump-led GOP is the fact that American suburbs are simply a lot more diverse than they used to be. Far from the all-white enclaves of the 1960s and ’70s, America’s suburbs today are diversifying — much like the rest of the country.

“It’s hugely important to understanding how these suburbs are changing,” said Boston College political science professor David Hopkins, who has researched them extensively. Vastly changing suburbs could be the key to Democratic success in Southern and Western states that previously were reliably Republican. Red states like Arizona and Georgia now look to be in play for Democrats in 2020, owing to a combination of diversifying suburbs and moderate white voters turned off by Trump.

A 2015 Brookings Institution report found that nonwhite people represented at least 35 percent of the suburban population in 36 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas. And recent analysis from the New York Times found the number of census tracts with all-white residents in the United States has cratered — going from about 25 percent in 1980 to just 5 percent in 2017, most of which were located in rural areas.

Rather than focusing on health care or education even in the middle of a pandemic, Trump has settled on race-baiting messages about suburban housing and “law and order.”

“The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me,” Trump tweeted in August. “They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood.”

A Biden supporter attends a a Drive-In rally in Dallas, Pennsylvania, on October 24. Her sign reads “Republican suburban women love Joe.”
Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
Trump supporters listen while the president speaks during a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on September 19.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

But Trump’s political overtures to American suburbs in 2020 reveal his fundamental misunderstanding about who lives there.

“I think Trump has an understanding of suburbia that comes from kind of a bygone era,” said Hopkins. “When he thinks suburbia, he thinks white people who are scared of Black people in cities, and violence in cities.”

Suburbs today look a lot like the neighborhood of community college professor Daisy Foxx, 65, who lives in a suburban neighborhood outside Fayetteville, North Carolina — another major 2020 swing state where Biden and Trump are statistically tied. Foxx, who is African American, has lived here since 1996. She estimates her neighborhood is majority African American, with the rest of the population composed of Latino and white families.

“It’s just home,” Foxx said. “What matters to me is I have a nice place to stay, a church to go to.”

There are few yard signs for either party in front of the large homes in Foxx’s neighborhood, but she said there’s little doubt whom many people are voting for.

“In my neighborhood we’re very much concerned about Trump and, frankly, getting him out of office,” Foxx told me. “It has a lot to do with Covid-19 and how he’s divided this country. I’ve never seen it so divided. It’s like a sickness in the atmosphere, and it’s just horrific.”

Foxx has never liked Trump. But like so many other women, she’s seen Trump’s lack of leadership around Covid-19 directly impact her life in the past year. Foxx wondered aloud whether she should even put up her Christmas decorations this year, or if she’d see her grandchildren during the holidays. And she was fervent in her desire for white women to match their Black counterparts at the voting booths and cast a ballot for the Biden/Harris ticket.

“African American women have been clear: We know exactly who will do a better job for us and our community,” Foxx said. “I hope my white counterparts are looking at this.”

The political gender gap is cutting into marriages

The historic gender gap between women supporting Biden and men Trump in the polls cuts into everyday life — even some marriages.

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake noted the gender gap is “huge” among non-college-educated white men and women.

“You have a record number of non-college-educated married white women married to Trump voters,” Lake said.

Martha, a retired nurse who lives outside of Shreveport, Louisiana, is in one of these politically split marriages (she declined to give her last name due to privacy concerns). Martha told me she used to be a Republican and voted third-party in the 2016 election. Her husband, she says, didn’t really pay much attention to politics until he found Trump in 2016. This year, she’s voting for Biden and her husband is sticking staunchly with Trump. Politics has become a toxic subject in her household.

President Trump speaks during a rally in Bossier City, Louisiana, on November 14, 2019.
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
A mural painted on the side of a brick building in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“In a lot of ways he’s a very good man, but we don’t talk about politics at all,” Martha told me. “When we do, we fight. We argue terribly. I have gone to a couple marches; I told my husband I was going to them. He didn’t say anything. I can’t sit and phone bank because he would be sitting here judging me.”

Martha was suspicious of Trump from the get-go, believing in 2016 that the Republican candidate was a “con man.” But it’s not just Trump’s character she finds problematic; as someone who grew up low-income and relied on government support, she is deeply opposed to Republican efforts to dismantle the social safety net. She also disagrees with Trump’s actions to seal off the border to immigrants seeking asylum and dislikes the president’s trade wars with other countries.

“I think he has diminished our country in the world because of his separatist policies,” she said. “It started out as a character thing, but it’s evolved into both.”

The thing Martha struggles to understand the most is why her husband and other formerly close friends who support Trump defend him like he’s a member of their family, rather than a politician.

“Is [Trump] more important to you than me?” she remembered asking her husband once. “He just looked at me; he didn’t answer me.”


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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.

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


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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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