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The battle to define the Biden economic team, explained

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The Biden team’s planning for a hypothetical administration is already well underway. And on questions of economic policy, the transition effort is already becoming a locus of a fight about what a Democratic White House should look like.

On one side stand progressives, urging the creation of something like an ideological social democratic party. They want to draw a firm line between Democrats and the business community — leaning sharply against selecting personnel who’ve spent the Trump years working in the private sector in favor of career public sector and public interest workers.

On the other side are the forces of business as usual in the Democratic Party, which has traditionally been a big tent, with plenty of participation by people with close ties to industry. Here you have people like Steve Ricchetti, who worked in the Clinton White House, then became a lobbyist, then went back to the White House then went back to lobbying then became chief of staff in Biden’s vice presidency, then went back to lobbying before becoming chair of Biden’s 2020 campaign.

These résumé-based factors aren’t perfect predictors of ideology. But there does tend to be a correlation. And while Biden has signed up on paper for a very aggressive policy agenda, there’s a real chance that his administration will be staffed largely by Obama administration veterans who spent the Trump years making money on K Street, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, or white-shoe law firms.

The left is not happy about it.

“Be you the practitioner of surprise medical billing, a social media platform monopoly, or a for-profit ‘college,’ you want to see Jeffrey Zients [a Biden transition co-chair] get a major job under a President Biden,” Jeff Hauser of the Revolving Door Project tells me. “If you are opposed to the practices of those corporations, you think Biden should be like FDR and look past the Zients of the world when staffing his administration.”

At the same time, as much as this battle is currently consuming the energies of those with a passion for factional infighting, a pandemic and an economic crisis are sweeping the country. The divide is very real, especially on regulatory issues, but the two wings of the party have drawn fairly close together on the need for a major stimulus bill — one much larger than the Obama administration passed in 2009.

Personnel is policy

The key debate of the transition hinges on an old saying among 1980s-era conservatives: “Personnel is policy.” Ronald Reagan’s election then constituted the conservative movement’s triumph over the Nixon/Ford moderate wing of the party on a symbolic level. But to the extent that Reagan appointed old establishment hands to key stances, conservatives would not actually govern. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) revived the slogan near the end of the Obama years, and quiet fights along these themes echoed in the abortive Hillary Clinton transition process.

Contemporary progressives shorthand their version of this largely in terms of concerns about the “revolving door.” They want to see a Biden administration composed overwhelmingly of people who’ve spent their lives toiling in public sector or nonprofit work, rather than cycling in and out of the corporate world or white shoe law firms.

Fundamentally, it’s an ideological concern rather than one about résumés. But for better or worse, career histories have become the dividing factor. As Hauser and David Segal of Demand Progress wrote in January, “even presidents whose campaigns have focused on taking on the powerful have found space for corporate insiders in their administration’s top roles.” And they’re determined to try to put a stop to it.

In pursuing that goal, they should have two valuable allies on the inside of the Biden transition: Gautam Raghavan, Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s chief of staff, and Julie Siegel, a longtime aide to Warren, both of whom were early senior hires for the transition on the domestic side.

Yohannes Abraham, who runs the transition on a day-to-day basis, doesn’t have equally sterling progressive credentials, but he does have a résumé that eschews the corporate world — going from the Obama campaign to the DNC to Obama’s reelection campaign to four years in the White House to a year at the Obama Foundation to three years teaching at the Harvard Kennedy School. He’s had ample opportunities to rotate into something more lucrative in the private sector, so has reason to look kindly on the argument that avoiding corporate work is the right choice.

Before going to work for the transition full time, he even taught a course titled Personnel Is Policy.

Also helping anchor the progressive side of things is Felicia Wong, the longtime president of the Roosevelt Institute think tank, who’s now accepted a formal role in the transition. She was not part of Clinton’s transition team, but on an informal basis was one of the key people charged with producing binders full of qualified progressive nominees. We spoke at the time about the theory and practice of identifying a diverse team of staffers with public interest backgrounds, and there’s no reason to believe her thinking on this has changed.

Still, this is the Biden transition team, not the Warren or Bernie Sanders transition, and there are heavy signs of establishment continuity.

Obama’s Mr. Fix-It

Jeff Zients is one of four co-chairs of the transition projects, alongside Rep. Cedric Richmond, political operative Anita Dunn, and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. But unlike the other three, Zients, who served in a number of roles in the Obama administration, including leading the National Economic Council in the second term, is someone you’d expect to see serving at a senior policymaking level in a Biden administration.

Zients is less a revolving-door type than an actual businessman who did a stint working for Obama. He got rich as a key lieutenant of David Bradley, running his consulting companies the Advisory Board and the Corporate Executive Board before founding an investment company called Portfolio Logic. A native of the DC area, he was part of the consortium that brought the Washington Nationals to town in 2005. After Obama left office, he became the CEO of Cranemere, a low-key private equity company (that among other things bought an anesthesia practice), and did a stint on the board of Facebook before resigning right when that was becoming an uncomfortable role for a Democrat.

Across eight nearly continuous years of government service, he had a remarkably low profile in the press. For most of Obama’s first term, he had the obscure job of “chief performance officer of the United States,” a role whose basic premise was that a whiz-kid consultant could improve public sector management.

The biggest exception to his below-the-radar persona stemmed from that job, as he was brought in on an emergency basis to rescue HealthCare.gov from its catastrophic launch. Later, as director of the president’s National Economic Council, he was simply not as well known as predecessors like Gene Sperling and Larry Summers. He was involved in an administration-wide push on competition policy, and allies seeking to bolster his progressive credentials say he was deeply involved in the “fiduciary rule” push that aimed to stop financial advisers from ripping off their clients (Trump later reversed this).

In practice, however, Zients was frequently Obama’s ambassador to the business world.

And they appreciated him. Josh Bolten, George W. Bush’s chief of staff and president of the Business Roundtable, told the Washington Post in 2018 that “Jeff is a staunch capitalist who was operating in an environment that was not consistently on the same page as he.” Thomas Donohue, of the more dogmatically right-wing US Chamber of Commerce, told the Post that “somebody had to deal with business, and Jeff appreciated entrepreneurs because he was one of them,” adding that the rest of the Obama administration was “of the belief that the best thing to do was regulate everything.”

This is exactly what worries progressives.

Energy in the executive

Four years of Donald Trump have only underscored the importance of executive branch personnel. The president, famously, is not particularly informed about or interested in public policy. And while he’s clearly drawn to hard-right ideas on “law and order” and immigration policy, Trump’s musings on economic and regulatory policy tend toward eclecticism. But his actual administration is staffed top to bottom with hardcore ideologues who’ve unleashed massive waves of regulatory change on virtually every front — allowing more pollution of air and water, less oversight of banks, and more hostility to labor unions, and making it much tougher to access social welfare benefits.

The Obama administration also delivered big regulatory changes.

But it simply wasn’t the case that Obama’s appointees had a clear mandate to do maximum progressive policymaking. Instead, his team included people like Cass Sunstein, who see themselves as honest brokers between the demands of left-wing activists and the lobbying of the business community. The left wants a team that will be as aggressive in deploying executive power to progressive ends as Trump’s has been to conservative ones. That means lawyers who seek statutory authority to do more, not find reasons to do less.

Realistically, the effort to anathematize people with private sector backgrounds — and especially lobbyists like Steve Ricchetti — is an imperfect proxy for ideological predispositions. Sunstein likely passes the left’s stated litmus tests, even though he was one of the figures progressive activists found most frustrating during the Obama years.

And all the wrangling in the world can’t change the fact that a great deal of continuity with Obama-era personnel was baked into the cake the moment Biden became the nominee. But Biden is not identical to Obama, and many key figures from Obama-era policymaking have changed their thinking on some issues.

Going big on stimulus

The issues where progressives will be fighting an uphill battle during the transition relate fundamentally to regulatory policy, especially as regards the financial sector and big technology — culturally liberal blue state industries with close ties to many Democrats.

There may simply be less to disagree about on fiscal policy, where more moderate Democrats might be more inclined to agree with the left that the Obama team was too timid on stimulus and too worried about budget deficits.

“Biden will need huge relief and huge new jobs stuff,” a top economic adviser to Obama who’s generally seen as on the more moderate side of the Biden economic brain trust told me at the beginning of September. “It does not make any sense to worry about debt in the recovery response.”

A key issue is that even though the Obama team doesn’t like to admit to error on any front, they believed in the winter of 2008-’09 that if Congress enacted too little stimulus it would be relatively simple to come back and ask for more. They worried at the time that an undisciplined stimulus process would result in a “Christmas tree bill” of dumb expenditures and pet projects.

Their takeaway from Obama’s first term is that the thing to worry about instead is “stimulus fatigue.” A new Biden administration would likely get one shot at fixing the economy, and if it doesn’t work, skittish members of Congress will become averse to doing anything more. Tactically, the right thing to do is to go as big as possible.

Jake Sullivan, a senior policy adviser to the Biden campaign, laid the groundwork for this kind of thinking in remarks to Politico’s Ben White last week.

“The magnitude of the crisis in 2008 was enormous, but this time we’ve got multiple overlapping crises,” Sullivan said. “As a result, the sense of possibility in both policy terms and political terms is big both in the scope of the agenda and the size of the investments the vice president wants to make.”

In other words, expect a really big bill. Senate staffers, similarly, tell me not to expect a repeat of the dual-track process of 2009 where fiscal stimulus and health care reform proceeded as separate pieces of legislation. Members with policy aspirations are instead going to work to get those aspirations tucked into a Covid-19 relief bill. If this includes things like Senate Democrats’ proposals for a child allowance and Biden’s proposal for universal housing vouchers, the relief bill could turn into a potent vehicle for permanent reductions in poverty.

Tensions are tighter when consideration flips from big-picture legislation to small-bore regulatory matters. Progressives would like to use the levers of the administrative state to try to cut many of the biggest players in corporate America — especially in the technology and financial sectors — down to size, by any means necessary.

The Obama administration didn’t see its purview that way. And while Biden has clearly ruled out some left-wing ideas like Medicare-for-all, banning fracking, or defunding police, he’s drawn no line in the sand on many regulatory issues. And at times, he’s indicated to the press that he doesn’t share his former boss’s enthusiasm for Silicon Valley.

Still, the hope for a bold new approach on regulation is not much more than a hope. The left has a real seat at the table in the transition, but at the end of the day, Joe Biden is the nominee and a great deal of continuity with Obama seems like the safest bet.

The presidential transition planning process has become increasingly formal since the 2012 cycle, as a result of new legislation designed to facilitate an orderly turnover of the literally thousands of political appointments throughout the executive branch. But there was no transition to be had in 2012, and the work done by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for Trump was largely thrown out in a post-election coup in 2016.

Biden’s team is hoping to have the chance to put their work into practice, crafting a road map for an administration that can address the Covid-19 crisis and implement a strategy to, as they say, “build back better.”


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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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