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The fight is for democracy

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I recently asked Melissa Schwartzberg, a professor of politics at NYU who specializes in democratic theory, why democracy survives in some countries and crumbles in others.

Why was I thinking about it? Oh, no reason. But her answer has been ringing in my head since. It explains much of what makes this moment in politics so distinct, so desperate.

“The really important question is when do electoral losers think that it’s in their interest to go along with their defeat, and when do they think they’re better off resisting and revolting?” Schwartzberg replied. “It has to be that they think they have some better chance of obtaining power in the long run by continuing to abide by the rules of the game.”

In American politics in 2020, both sides doubt that abiding by loss is the surest path back to power. This is an election — and more than an election, it is a politics — increasingly defined by a fight over what the rules of the game should be.

Democrats see a political system increasingly rigged against them and the voters they represent, and they are right. They are facing an Electoral College where a 2-3 point win in the popular vote still means Republicans are favored to take the presidency. They are vying to win back control of a Senate where Republicans have a 6-7 point advantage. The simple truth of American politics right now is this: Republicans can lose voters, sometimes badly, and still win power. Democrats need landslides to win power.

It gets worse. Democrats fear a doom loop. They are faced with the reality that when they lose power, Republicans will draw districts and change rules and hand down Supreme Court decisions that further weaken their voters, that pull America further from anything resembling democracy. Democrats have watched it happen in recent years again and again, as I document below. Losing begets losing, because in the American political system, electoral winners have the power to rewrite electoral rules.

But Republicans also see their position as desperate. They know their coalition is shrinking. They know that they are winning power but losing voters. They see a younger, more diverse, and more liberal generation building against them. They fear that Democratic efforts to expand the franchise and make voting an easily exercised right rather than a politically metered privilege will spell their long-term demise. They believe that mass democracy is inimical to their interests, and they state that fact baldly.

In March, when House Democrats proposed vote-by-mail options, same-day registration, and expanded early voting — a package Republicans blocked — President Donald Trump told the Fox and Friends hosts, “They had things, levels of voting, that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

President Trump holds a campaign rally in Muskegon, Michigan, on October 17.
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

In recent months, Trump has made clear that he intends to contest the results of the election if he loses, even musing about delaying the election entirely. During the presidential debates, neither Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence would commit to a peaceful transfer of power in the event of a loss. “I’m urging my supporters to go in to the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen,” Trump said darkly.

But Democrats, too, are preparing for a legitimacy crisis: What if Trump wins, but only because shocking numbers of mail-in ballots sent by Democratic voters were thrown out? What if Biden wins the popular vote by 5 points, but the election comes down to a 2000-style recount in Florida? What if the final vote on the Supreme Court is cast in Trump’s favor by newly seated Justice Amy Coney Barrett?

Of every election I have covered, this is the one where electoral losers seem least likely to automatically respect the results of the count. I am not saying crisis is inevitable. The likeliest outcome, judging from the polls, is that Biden wins by an indisputable margin and that outcome is respected. But the possibility of crisis is real, and if we have learned anything in recent years, it is to cease pretending that unlikely is a synonym for impossible.

The stakes are so high because the system itself is at stake — both sides are losing faith in the electoral system, and they doubt that they can win power in the future if they lose many more elections now. And perhaps they are right.

This is the fight behind the fight, the battle that will decide all the others. America is not a democracy, and Republicans want to keep it that way. America is not a democracy, and Democrats want to make it one, or at least more of one.

Republicans against democracy

“We’re not a democracy,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) tweeted during the vice presidential debate. As the backlash mounted, Lee poured cement around his position. “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”

Rank democracy. There is no subtext in this election, only text; no dog whistles, only foghorns. Lee, a former Supreme Court clerk and one of the GOP’s brighter intellectual lights, is stating his party’s position simply: Democracy is the enemy, the specter stalking Republican power.

A party that wins power even as it fails to win over voters will quickly turn against democracy itself. And when that happens, it will use the power it has to make it yet easier to win power without winning voters. And so the Republican Party is. A full accounting of the GOP’s recent assays against democracy would require a book, but a few examples:

  • In North Carolina in 2016 and Michigan and Wisconsin in 2018, Republican legislatures responded to electoral defeat by using lame-duck legislative sessions to entrench their own power and strip incoming Democratic governors and officeholders of key powers and privileges.
  • Republicans at the state level have consistently pushed policies — from voter ID laws, to voter roll purges, to shutting down polling locations in low-income communities — that disproportionately disenfranchise low-income minorities and Democrats more broadly.
  • The Supreme Court’s conservative bloc has handed down decision after decision undermining voting rights — including gutting the Voting Rights Act — while permitting money to flood politics. And it’s not just the Supreme Court that holds sway here. A recent study tracked 309 votes by judges in 175 election-related decisions and found that “Republican appointees interpreted the law in a way that impeded ballot access 80 percent of the time, versus 37 percent for Democratic ones.”
  • The Trump administration tried to add a citizenship question to the census, with the explicit intention of scaring off Hispanic respondents so the population counts would give Republicans a bigger electoral advantage. The Supreme Court narrowly rejected their machinations, but only because they had been so obvious about the political aims motivating the change.
  • A number of conservative pundits and Republican politicians — including Mike Lee — have called for repealing the 17th Amendment, which allows for the direct election of US senators. The alternative would be state legislatures choosing senators, which would maximize the GOP’s geographic advantages.
  • In 2020, Republicans — including the Trump campaign — filed lawsuits to prevent states from making it easier for Americans to vote, and have their vote counted, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. When groups like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund have tried to get judges to change or invalidate existing laws that make it difficult for Americans to vote and have their vote counted during the pandemic, Republicans — including the Trump campaign — have actively fought against them.

All of these efforts continue, with examples piling up even as I write these words. On Monday, the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 over a request by Pennsylvania’s Republicans to overturn a court ruling allowing election officials to count ballots received for up to three days after Election Day, due to restrictions and delays imposed by the coronavirus.

The 4-4 deadlock means the Pennsylvania court ruling will stand, and ballots will be that much likelier to be counted. But if Barrett had already made it to the Court, she might have joined the conservatives and provided the crucial fifth vote to grant a stay, leading more ballots to be trashed. And on Wednesday, the Court’s five conservatives joined together to block Alabama from allowing drive-up voting.

Nor is the turn against democracy just a Trumpist obsession, or just an Election Day question. More genteel conservatives, even those who loathe Trump, are casting their ideas in more boldly anti-democratic terms. In his book The Conservative Sensibility, George Will places James Madison’s “catechism of popular government” at the core of the conservative project. “What is the worst result of politics? Tyranny,” Will writes. “To what form of tyranny is democracy prey? Tyranny of the majority.”

To this tyranny — otherwise known as democracy — Will proposes that conservatives embrace a more profound form of judicial check, one that would render not just elections, but legislators, toothless. “Conservatives’ indiscriminate denunciations of ‘judicial activism’ serve progressivism,” he writes. “The protection of rights, those constitutionally enumerated and others, requires a judiciary actively engaged in enforcing what the Constitution actually is ‘basically about,’ which is compelling majority power to respect individuals’ rights.”

Will is clear as to the radicalism of intentions here. Lochner v. New York, the infamous — and later overturned — case in which the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for New York to limit bakers’ workweek to 60 hours, and which set off a period in which the Court ruled vast swaths of social and economic policymaking unconstitutional, “richly repays reconsideration.” If a 6-3 conservative Court did as Will counsels, even winning elections wouldn’t lead to progressive governance, because the Supreme Court would wipe out progressive legislation.

Democrats for democracy

Over the past decade, the right has understood that democracy is its enemy with far more clarity than the left has realized that democracy is its answer. But that is, perhaps, changing. In 2018, after Democrats took back the House, the first bill they considered was the “For The People Act,” which knit together a smorgasbord of proposals securing voting rights, curbing government corruption, and empowering small donors. But that bill is a dead letter in the Senate, where anything that isn’t purely budgetary in nature will fall to the filibuster.

But in the aftermath of Mitch McConnell’s obstructionist innovations and Supreme Court hardball, Senate Democrats are beginning to consider ridding the institution of the filibuster, and taking democratization seriously. And they are being pushed in that direction by the most senior members of their own party.

Speaking at Rep. John Lewis’s memorial, former President Barack Obama exhorted Democrats, “If politicians want to honor John — and I’m so grateful for the legacy of work of all the Congressional leaders who are here — but there’s a better way than a statement calling him a hero. You want to honor John? Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for. And by the way, naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, that is a fine tribute.”

Then Obama lowered the hammer: “And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster — another Jim Crow relic — in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do.”

President Barack Obama addresses Joe Biden supporters during a drive-in rally in Philadelphia on October 21.
Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

Just as surprising has been Joe Biden’s refusal to take expansion of the Supreme Court off the table, a notable position given the enthusiasm with which Biden disavows progressive policies he does intend to reject. And it’s not just Biden. Sen. Chris Coons (R-DE), who holds Joe Biden’s former seat in the Senate, and is a leader among the Democrats’ more cautious, institutionalist, wing, has also signaled openness to Supreme Court reform.

The fight to define the next era in American politics

In his book The Great Democracy, Vanderbilt law professor and former top Elizabeth Warren adviser Ganesh Sitaraman writes:

Many centrists, liberals, and even some moderate conservatives worry about tactics like these, but they also worry about fighting hardball with hardball. They are concerned, for example, about proposals to reform the Supreme Court, change filibuster rules, or regulate money in politics. …

They fear that more hardball will simply unleash a never-ending tit-for-tat process—an era of permanent escalation in which politics spins out of control. Although we cannot rule that possibility out, this view assumes that neither side can win outright. But this assumption might be wrong. Shortly after Lincoln declared that a “house divided against itself cannot stand,” he added, “It will become all one thing or all the other.”

Sitaraman’s argument is that we are in a time of transition, an unstable space between potential equilibriums. If Democrats win the fight to make America a democracy, the Republican Party will have to transform itself into a party capable of winning majorities in a country that is becoming more diverse and more secular. That will force the GOP to become a different type of party, with a different animating coalition, and a more broadly appealing policy agenda, if it wants to avoid irrelevancy.

But if Democrats lose the next few elections, they may lose democracy itself to a conservative Supreme Court and an anti-democratic Republican Party. In that world, the Democratic Party will have to become a different party than it is, and a different party than its voters want it to be, as it tries desperately to win over the older, whiter, more religious places that retain disproportionate political power, and to satisfy the demands of a conservative Supreme Court that Republicans control.

That is the political system Republicans explicitly intend to build, and that they will use their power to create if they win in 2020. (I recently had Sitaraman on my podcast to discuss his arguments. You can listen to that interview here.)

Right now, in other words, both sides fear that if they lose, the other side will change the political system such that they cannot win again. This is, to some degree, hyperbole: Victories are never permanent, and losses are rarely irrecoverable. But it is not entirely alarmism, either. This is a fight to decide the rules of American politics going forward, and those rules will decide the kinds of parties, agendas, and political competition we have.

“In moments of extraordinary politics, in moments of transition between eras, the struggle is not to save the old regime, and political hardball is not a permanent status,” writes Sitaraman. “The struggle is to achieve a new equilibrium.”


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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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