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The controversial 1994 crime law that Joe Biden helped write, explained

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One of the most controversial criminal justice issues in the 2020 election may be a “tough on crime” law passed 25 years ago — and authored by Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

If you ask some criminal justice reform activists, the 1994 crime law passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton, which was meant to reverse decades of rising crime, was one of the key contributors to mass incarceration in the 1990s. They say it led to more prison sentences, more prison cells, and more aggressive policing — especially hurting Black and brown Americans, who are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated.

If you ask Biden, that’s not true at all. The law, he’s argued on the campaign trail, had little impact on incarceration, which largely happens at the state level. As recently as 2016, Biden defended the law, arguing it “restored American cities” following an era of high crime and violence.

The truth, it turns out, is somewhere in the middle.

The 1994 crime law was certainly meant to increase incarceration in an attempt to crack down on crime, but its implementation doesn’t appear to have done much in that area. And while the law had many provisions that are now considered highly controversial, some portions, including the Violence Against Women Act and the assault weapons ban, are fairly popular among Democrats.

That’s how politicians like Biden, as well as previous Democratic rivals like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), can now justify their votes for the law — by pointing to the provisions that weren’t “tough on crime.”

But with Biden’s criminal justice record coming under scrutiny as he runs for president, it’s the mass incarceration provisions that are drawing particular attention as a key example of how Biden helped fuel the exact same policies that criminal justice reformers are trying to reverse. And while Biden has released sweeping criminal justice reform plans that aim to, in some sense, undo the damage of policies he previously championed, Biden’s history has led to skepticism among some progressives and reformers.

Now, with Tuesday’s presidential debate looming, the 1994 law may be another way for President Donald Trump to attack Biden as Trump tries to spin his own punitive criminal justice record positively.

The 1994 crime law had a lot in it

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, now known as the 1994 crime law, was the result of years of work by Biden, who oversaw the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, and other Democrats. It was an attempt to address a big issue in America at the time: Crime, particularly violent crime, had been rising for decades, starting in the 1960s but continuing, on and off, through the 1990s (in part due to the crack cocaine epidemic).

Politically, the legislation was also a chance for Democrats — including the recently elected president, Bill Clinton — to wrestle the issue of crime away from Republicans. Polling suggested Americans were very concerned about high crime back then. And especially after George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election in part by painting Dukakis as “soft on crime,” Democrats were acutely worried that Republicans were beating them on the issue.

Biden reveled in the politics of the 1994 law, bragging after it passed that “the liberal wing of the Democratic Party” was now for “60 new death penalties,” “70 enhanced penalties,” “100,000 cops,” and “125,000 new state prison cells.”

The law imposed tougher prison sentences at the federal level and encouraged states to do the same. It provided funds for states to build more prisons, aimed to fund 100,000 more cops, and backed grant programs that encouraged police officers to carry out more drug-related arrests — an escalation of the war on drugs.

At the same time, the law included several measures that would be far less controversial among Democrats today. The Violence Against Women Act provided more resources to crack down on domestic violence and rape. A provision helped fund background checks for guns. The law encouraged states to back drug courts, which attempt to divert drug offenders from prison into treatment, and also helped fund some addiction treatment.

All of this was an old-school attempt to attract votes from lawmakers who otherwise might be skeptical — and it succeeded at winning over some Democrats. Bernie Sanders, for one, criticized an earlier version of the bill, written in 1991 but never passed, for supporting mass incarceration, quipping, “What do we have to do, put half the country behind bars?” But he voted for the 1994 law, explaining at the time, “I have a number of serious problems with the crime bill, but one part of it that I vigorously support is the Violence Against Women Act.”

Biden also opposed some parts of the law, even while he helped write it. In 1994, he reportedly called a three-strikes provision — that escalated prison sentences up to life for some repeat offenses — “wacko” and illustrative of Congress’s “tough on crime” attitude.

But Biden and other Democratic authors of the law were clear about their intentions: supporting a more punitive criminal justice system to rebuke criticisms that they were “soft on crime.” (The legislation wasn’t enough for some Republicans in Congress, who complained the bill included too much social spending and pledged to pass tougher laws as part of their 1994 campaign to take back the House.) On the website for his 2008 presidential campaign, Biden referred to the 1994 crime law as the “Biden Crime Law” and bragged that it encouraged states to effectively increase their prison sentences by paying them to build more prisons.

Asked about Biden’s support for the law, the Biden campaign pointed to provisions like the Violence Against Women Act, the 10-year assault weapons ban, firearm background check funding, money for police, support for addiction treatment, and a “safety valve” that let a limited number of low-level first-time drug offenders avoid mandatory minimum sentences. They also cited some of his past criticisms of punitive sentences, including the three-strikes measure, and pointed out that a Republican-controlled Congress later cut funding drastically for drug courts.

In a 2016 interview with CNBC, Biden said that there were parts of the law he’d change, but argued that “by and large what it really did, it restored American cities.” (Although crime has dropped since the ’90s, the research suggests punitive criminal justice policies played at best a small, partial role in that decrease.)

Biden also took credit for the law: “As a matter of fact, I drafted the bill, if you remember.”

The 1994 law didn’t really cause mass incarceration

In a 2020 context, the 1994 law has been criticized for contributing to mass incarceration. This goes back to at least 2016, when activists and writers like Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, cited the law to criticize Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Facing these kinds of criticisms, Biden has argued that the 1994 law, as a federal statute, couldn’t have caused mass incarceration. He argued in May, “Folks, let’s get something straight: 92 out of every 100 prisoners end up behind bars are in a state prison, not a federal prison. This idea that the crime bill generated mass incarceration — it did not generate mass incarceration.”

This is a bit of a dodge as to whether the bill intended to increase incarceration, but Biden is generally correct that the bill, despite its intentions, didn’t actually succeed at expanding incarceration much.

Beyond the changes to hike federal penalties, the 1994 law attempted to encourage states to adopt harsher criminal justice policies. It provided money for states to build prisons and adopt “truth in sentencing” laws that increase prison sentences by requiring inmates to serve out at least 85 percent of their prison sentences without an early release. It’s here where the law could have had most its impact on incarceration — since, as Biden indicated, nearly 88 percent of inmates are held at the state level.

Yet evaluations of the 1994 crime law suggest these state-level provisions didn’t really work out. The 1994 law led only a few states to adopt harsher criminal justice policies, and the tougher policies the 1994 law encouraged weren’t the only measures that fueled mass incarceration overall.

A 1998 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), for which federal investigators talked to state officials about whether the 1994 law influenced state policies, noted that just four states adopted “truth in sentencing” laws (TIS) solely as a response to the 1994 law:

At the time of our review, based upon determinations made by DOJ, 27 states had TIS laws that met the requirements for receiving federal TIS grants. For each of these 27 states, we contacted state officials to determine whether the availability of such grants was a factor in the respective state’s decision to enact a TIS law. Based on the responses to our telephone survey, the states can be grouped into three categories—TIS grants not a factor (12 states), TIS grants a partial factor (11 states), and TIS grants a key factor (4 states).

Why did most states apparently not take much direction from the 1994 law? Many state officials said they were already interested in “tough on crime” measures before the federal law, GAO investigators found:

According to Ohio officials, the state passed its TIS law in 1995, which is later than the enactment date of the 1994 Crime Act. However, the officials told us the state law was based on a July 1993 report by the Ohio Sentencing Commission. Thus, according to the state officials, the availability of federal grants did not influence the state’s decision to pass TIS legislation. Rather, according to Ohio officials, a widespread concern about early release of violent crime offenders was a major factor in the state’s decision to pass TIS legislation.

Some state officials also argued that the funding incentives were too small to drive big policy changes. Vermont, for instance, said meeting the federal requirements for “truth in sentencing” would cost several million dollars but only result in about $80,000 in federal grants.

A more recent report, published by the National Institute of Justice in 2002, produced similar findings: “Overall, Federal TIS grants were associated with relatively few State TIS reforms. There was relatively little reform activity after the 1994 enactment of the Federal TIS grant program, as many States had already adopted some form of TIS by that time.”

“Truth in sentencing” laws were also only one way that federal and state governments embraced mass incarceration. They also flat-out increased prison sentences, adopted harsh mandatory minimum sentences, and encouraged police and prosecutors to be tougher on criminals — most of which happened separately from the 1994 law.

That’s reflected in the statistics, which show that incarceration rates were climbing rapidly before the 1994 crime law and actually started leveling off a few years after.

A chart showing incarceration rates in the US, from 1925 to 2015. Prison Policy Initiative

This is relevant to Democratic attempts to reverse mass incarceration, too. For example, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who previously ran for president, has introduced a bill that would encourage states, with financial incentives, to cut back incarceration — a sort of antonym to the 1994 crime law. But as Fordham Law School criminal justice expert John Pfaff wrote for Vox, the approach overstates “the role of federal policy in expanding state prison populations” and “the role federal policy might play in reducing those populations.”

In this way, a clear reading of the 1994 law’s actual effects is very relevant not just to Biden’s politics, but criminal justice reformers’ efforts to undo mass incarceration.

Still, the 1994 law reflects Biden’s “tough on crime” history

Whatever the effects of the 1994 crime law and Biden’s reasons for supporting it, it is only one piece of Biden’s much longer history backing “tough on crime” policies that at the very least attempted to escalate incarceration nationwide.

Here are some examples from his record, drawn partly from Jamelle Bouie’s previous rundown at Slate:

  • Comprehensive Control Act: This 1984 law, spearheaded by Biden and Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), expanded federal drug trafficking penalties and civil asset forfeiture, which allows police to seize and absorb someone’s property — whether cash, cars, guns, or something else — without proving the person is guilty of a crime.
  • Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986: This law, sponsored and partly written by Biden, ratcheted up penalties for drug crimes. It also created a big sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine; even though the drugs are pharmacologically similar, the law made it so someone would need to possess 100 times the amount of powder cocaine to be eligible for the same mandatory minimum sentence for crack. Since crack is more commonly used by Black Americans, this sentencing disparity helped fuel big racial disparities in incarceration.
  • Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988: This law, co-sponsored by Biden, increased prison sentences for drug possession, enhanced penalties for transporting drugs, and established the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which coordinates and leads federal anti-drug efforts.

Just as with his comments around the 1994 law, Biden was also explicit about what his goals were with these other measures. In 1989, at the height of punitive anti-drug and mass incarceration politics, Biden even went on national television to criticize a plan from President George H.W. Bush to escalate the war on drugs. The plan, Biden said, didn’t go far enough.

“Quite frankly, the president’s plan is not tough enough, bold enough, or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand,” he said. He called not just for harsher punishments for drug dealers but to “hold every drug user accountable.” Bush’s plan, Biden added, “doesn’t include enough police officers to catch the violent thugs, not enough prosecutors to convict them, not enough judges to sentence them, and not enough prison cells to put them away for a long time” — a direct call for more incarceration.

All of this reflected a broader movement in the Democratic Party to both address the growing issue of crime and overcome successful Republican attacks about how Democrats are “soft on crime.” This helps explain not just why Biden said and did all these things, but why Bill Clinton signed the 1994 crime law and ran on its “tough on crime” provisions — including his support for the “death penalty for drug kingpins” — during his reelection bid in 1996.

Biden has repented for some of his past, acknowledging that creating extra punitive penalties for crack was “a big mistake” and supporting efforts to reel back those penalties. “I haven’t always been right,” Biden said earlier this year, speaking to criminal justice issues. “I know we haven’t always gotten things right, but I’ve always tried.”

As part of his presidential campaign, Biden has also released sweeping criminal justice reform proposals. Among many measures, Biden has promised to fund police reforms, decriminalize marijuana, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes, end the death penalty, abolish private prisons, get rid of cash bail, and discourage the incarceration of children.

Biden is also now running against Trump, who still proudly calls himself “tough on crime” and continues to push for tougher prison sentences, more aggressive police tactics, and wider use of the death penalty. While Trump signed criminal justice reform in the First Step Act, it appeared to be a political favor and a weak attempt to win over minority voters, not a genuine change of heart. And Trump’s administration has undermined the law, with federal prosecutors actively resisting the release of some inmates who qualify under the First Step Act. If the choice is between Biden and Trump, Biden is clearly better for reform.

Still, Biden’s record remains a concern for reformers. A big worry in the criminal justice reform space is what would happen if, say, the crime rate started to rise once again. If that were to happen, there could be pressure on lawmakers — and it’d at least be easier for them — to go back to “tough on crime” views, framing more aggressive policing and higher incarceration rates in a favorable way.

Given that the central progressive claim is that these policies are racist and, based on the research, ineffective for fighting crime in the first place, any potential for backsliding in this area once it becomes politically convenient is very alarming.

The concern, then, is what would happen if crime started to rise under President Biden: Would he fall back on old “tough on crime” instincts, calling for harsh prison sentences once again?

“[E]ven if Biden has subsequently learned the error of his ways,” Branko Marcetic wrote for Jacobin, “the rank cynicism and callousness involved in his two-decade-long championing of carceral policies should be more than enough to give anyone pause about his qualities as a leader, let alone a progressive one.”

That’s what the debate over the 1994 crime law is about. It’s not just that Biden messed up by helping write and supporting the law a quarter-century ago, but what his involvement says about him today and in the future.

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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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