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Texas Sen. John Cornyn is facing his first real challenge from newcomer MJ Hegar

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For the second election cycle in a row, a prominent Senate Republican is facing a tough reelection campaign in Texas — a state that was once regarded as reliably red but has become one of the nation’s biggest battlegrounds. But unlike in 2018, when Democrat Beto O’Rourke became a cause célèbre for his near-miss against the incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, this year’s Senate race hasn’t captured the national spotlight.

That’s the way the two candidates — Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican seeking a fourth term, and his nascent Democratic challenger MJ Hegar — would probably prefer it. They have sought to make this race about Texas, rather than President Donald Trump. But in an especially polarized election year, national politics has nevertheless seeped into the race.

Cornyn, who has a reputation for being a bipartisan dealmaker in the Senate, has distanced himself from Trump, whose approval ratings have dropped in Texas since 2016 and who has only a slight edge over former Vice President Joe Biden in Texas polls. Rather than staking his candidacy on the president’s record, Cornyn has framed his reelection campaign as a fight to save Texas from coastal liberals.

“I think this election presents a clear choice between the people who recruited and supported MJ’s campaign, which want to make Texas more like California and New York,” he said during a televised debate earlier this month. “I want to make the rest of the country more like Texas.”

MJ Hegar speaks to voters in 2018.
Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images

Hegar, who ran for Congress in 2018 but has never held elected office before, has portrayed herself as an outsider who eschews political labels. She has resisted pressure to opine on what role she would play in her party if elected, while Cornyn has tried to paint her as someone who would help further the agenda of Democratic leaders. She has been clear that, unlike other Democratic candidates nationwide, she’s not running against Trump. Rather, she’s gone on the offensive against Cornyn, who she says has lost touch with his constituents over his 18 years in the Senate.

“I’m not running for president. I’m running for Senate,” she told Vox in an interview. “The problem of John Cornyn to Texas is a thorn in our side that predates Donald Trump.”

Cornyn’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Cornyn is still favored to win, with the latest polls showing him with anywhere from a 1- to 10-point lead, driven in part by his ability to compete with suburban and urban voters who have appeared to turn against Trump. Hegar is within firing distance and could still make up ground in the final weeks before Election Day, though early voting in Texas is already underway and will conclude on October 30.

The Cook Political Report recently shifted its race ratings in Hegar’s favor from Likely Republican to Leans Republican. Hegar, a former Air Force helicopter pilot, is leading among both Black and Hispanic voters, though she isn’t matching Biden’s support among those groups. She raised $13.5 million in the third quarter, outpacing Cornyn by a 2-1 ratio, and snagged an endorsement from former President Barack Obama. And the Democratic group Majority PAC made a late-stage $8.6 million ad buy on her behalf.

It’s also possible that, as was the case with O’Rourke, the polls are underestimating Hegar, who could benefit from record turnout. The secretary of state’s office has reported that about 16.9 million Texans have registered to vote this year, up almost 2 million since 2016 — in part a result of the efforts of O’Rourke’s campaign and grassroots organizers to expand the state’s electorate.

“There is a decade more of base-building that MJ is running on top of, including the work that she’s doing to activate her own voters,” Tory Gavito, a Democratic strategist and president of the donor network Way to Win, said. “Even if we don’t take the top of the ticket, we need to look for signs of growth. There’s no doubt that Texas is still on the purple trajectory.”

Hegar is asking voters not to trust Cornyn’s promises on health care

Hegar has made her health care plan a central pillar of her platform, and she’s hoping that resonates with voters in the middle of a pandemic that has hit Texans especially hard. Coronavirus hospitalizations peaked over the summer after Texas became one of the first states to reopen its economy, and there have been concerning signs that Texas is due for another surge as cases have recently spiked in El Paso and North Texas.

But pandemic or not, access to health care is an issue that looms large in Texas, which has the highest uninsured rate nationwide and is one of 12 states that have yet to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act’s joint state-federal program that has offered health care coverage to individuals with incomes below 138 percent of the poverty line (about $17,600 for a single adult) since 2016.

Hegar, who worked for a Texas hospital system for five years, has embraced a “Medicare-for-all-who-want-it” system modeled after the health care system in the military. That’s in line with Biden’s health care plan but doesn’t go as far as the Medicare-for-all proposal championed by progressives.

“I believe that individuals should have the choice to stay on private insurance if they prefer or opt in to Medicare,” Hegar told Vox. “We must protect the progress made by the Affordable Care Act while making much-needed improvements. We cannot go back to the past when insurance companies were able to discriminate against those with preexisting conditions or sell junk plans that leave folks vulnerable when serious health issues or injuries occur.”

This year, Democratic candidates across the nation have similarly run on health care, an issue that was critical to the party’s success in the 2018 midterms and that more than a quarter of voters, regardless of party affiliation, say is the most important issue in this presidential election.

MJ Hegar debates Sen. John Cornyn in Austin, Texas, on October 9.
Bob Daemmrich/Nexstar/AP

Hegar’s strategy has been not only to highlight how Texans would benefit if the US expanded health care access, but also to draw attention to Cornyn’s history as a leading proponent of repealing and replacing the ACA in the Senate and of receiving campaign contributions from pharmaceutical executives. Cornyn claims that, even if the ACA were repealed, he would still preserve the law’s protections for Americans with preexisting conditions, which most Americans support, and allow people under the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans.

“You know, preexisting conditions is something we all agree should be covered,” he said in a campaign ad that aired earlier this month, echoing other Republican senators in close races.

But he supported the Republican-led Better Care Reconciliation Act in 2017, which would have allowed insurers selling plans on the individual market to deny coverage or increase costs for people with preexisting conditions. He also supported the Protect Act in 2019, which, despite Senate Republicans’ efforts to bill it otherwise, would allow insurers to offer “thin coverage aimed at healthy customers, and considerably more expensive policies with comprehensive coverage for people who might actually need costly care,” according to the LA Times.

“It blows my mind that John Cornyn can sleep at night after trying to rip away care from millions of Texans,” Hegar told Vox.

Texas’s changing electorate is driving Cornyn to the middle

Texas is at a political turning point, largely brought on by demographic change. The state last backed a Democrat for president in 1976, and Republicans have held state legislative chambers and the governorship since 2003. But the state is becoming increasingly urban, and Hispanics are on track to become its largest population group by mid-2021, two trends that generally favor Democrats.

That long-promised transformation has been slow to arrive, in part because state Republicans have sought to curb voter participation: Just this year, they have banned counties from sending mail-in ballots to all registered voters, limited the number of ballot drop-off locations to just one per county, and tried to stop drive-through voting. Nevertheless, Texas Republicans are in real strife this year up and down the ballot.

Cornyn, for his part, has been forced to shift to the center on some issues as Hegar has climbed in the polls. That’s been particularly clear in the way he talks about his immigration policy.

Cornyn meets with Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on September 29.
Graeme Jennings/Getty Images

Though the Republican Party has largely mirrored Trump’s restrictive immigration policies, Cornyn made a Spanish-language ad buy in September touting his support for the DREAM Act, which would offer a path to citizenship for 1.8 million unauthorized immigrants nationwide who came to the US as children. The bill, which is some two decades in the making, has been blocked repeatedly in Congress, sometimes with his support and sometimes without.

He voted against versions of the bill in 2006, 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2018, which immigrant advocates cite as evidence that he is no ally of so-called DREAMers. If he really supported young unauthorized immigrants, he would have called for a vote on a standalone bill to legalize them that passed the House in 2019, Mario Carrillo, a Texas-based spokesperson for the immigrant advocacy group America’s Voice, said in a statement.

But Cornyn’s aides have touted his support for other versions of the bill, including a 2018 proposal that coupled permanent protections for DREAMers with $25 billion in funding for Trump’s border wall and other border security measures.

Cornyn’s decision to tout that vote suggests he’s struggling with key demographics, Gavito said.

“Even if he emerges as the victor, there is no doubt that the organizing that has gone into Texas has pulled him to the left,” she said. “It’s because he’s feeling heat, specifically among young voters, Latino voters, and multiracial suburban voters.”

Hegar and Cornyn are not O’Rourke and Cruz — but they still can’t escape national politics entirely

This Senate race isn’t a repeat of 2018: Neither of the candidates has the star power of O’Rourke and Cruz, and they’re defending their records to a Texas audience, not a national one.

In 2018, O’Rourke, then a three-term Congress member, traveled to all 254 counties in Texas and livestreamed the whole journey, drawing a national following and breaking fundraising records. Hegar, a political newcomer, had planned to do the same to get her name out there, but that wasn’t possible this year due to the pandemic.

“Hegar is plagued by what any Democrat running statewide in Texas would be plagued by, which is just scale of name recognition,” Gavito said.

MJ Hegar heads to an early polling site after talking with reporters in Austin on July 9.
Eric Gay/AP

Though Hegar is still at a relative disadvantage, Cornyn suffers from his own lack of name recognition in his home state: As of late August, more than a quarter of voters had no opinion of him or didn’t know enough about him to have an opinion. His approval ratings are also lower than those of Cruz, a much more fiery, divisive personality in the Senate.

Both candidates have tried to tailor their messaging to Texans: Cornyn has framed the race as a battle for Texas’s conservative values, arguing that Hegar’s policies are “too liberal for Texas.” Hegar, for her part, has cast him as a career politician who is too steeped in Washington politics to fight for Texans.

But national politics are still playing a role as Cornyn, despite his best efforts, cannot escape association with a polarizing president.

He has become more outspoken in distinguishing his politics from Trump’s in the final stretch before Election Day — what some have criticized as an about-face. In a recent interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he said that he disagreed with the president on issues including budget deficits, tariffs, trade agreements, and border security, but chose to voice those differences of opinion in private.

Speaking about his relationship with Trump, he likened himself to a “lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well.”

“I think what we found is that we’re not going to change President Trump,” he added. “He is who he is. You either love him or hate him, and there’s not much in between. What I tried to do is not get into public confrontations and fights with him because, as I’ve observed, those usually don’t end too well.”

In practice, Cornyn has frequently sided with the White House on issues ranging from trying to push through the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court before the election to acquitting the president in his impeachment trial earlier this year.

Cornyn shouldn’t be able to escape that record, Hegar said.

“What a Texan needs to be successful here is to show that they’re a damn Texan and not a DC spineless bootlicker,” she told Vox. “That is not John Cornyn’s seat. It’s not my seat. It is Texas’s seat, and it should be filled by a Texan who is going to fight for regular working families across the state and for Texas values like integrity and grit and backbone.”


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

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(CNN) —  

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

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

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

Coffee

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

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

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

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

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

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

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

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

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

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

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

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

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

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

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

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

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

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

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

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

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

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

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

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

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

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

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

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

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

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

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

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

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

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

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

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

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

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

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

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

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

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

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

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

Beauty

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

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

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

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

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

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

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

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

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

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

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

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

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

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

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

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

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

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

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

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

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

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

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

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

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

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

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

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

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

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

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

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

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

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

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

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

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

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

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

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

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

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

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

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

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

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

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

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

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

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

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

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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

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Open Sourced logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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