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The quest to build the most diverse Cabinet in US history, explained



Officially, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his campaign believe that three weeks before Election Day is far too soon to think about Cabinet nominees or how to fill any other top White House jobs. But there’s already a formal Joe Biden/Kamala Harris transition team in place doing just that.

Advisers say Biden wants to build “the most diverse Cabinet in history” as part of his goal of serving as a “transitional figure” in an increasingly diverse Democratic Party and country.

This is in some ways a low bar — every single Treasury secretary and every single secretary of defense (or “secretary of war,” as the position used to be called) has been a white straight man. Women are the lead contenders for both of these jobs, which would be a huge step forward.

People involved emphasize that this is not about tokenism; they are looking at the Cabinet as a whole. The reality is that not all Cabinet positions are created equal. They want to make sure women and people of color are represented in top roles at the departments of State, Defense, Treasury, and Justice, which are traditionally seen as the most important Cabinet positions. The heads of the Homeland Security Department and Health and Human Services occupy more of a second tier, and other departments are less visible.

High-level advisory positions are also in discussion; these roles don’t have to be confirmed by the Senate and involve a closer working relationship with the president than a typical Cabinet secretary.

There is a very real possibility that Republicans will continue to hold a majority in the Senate in 2021, which would turn every Cabinet selection into a brutal confirmation battle that could dramatically upend these efforts. But assuming a less contentious process, here’s a look at the buzz around some of the key figures and positions based on conversations with half a dozen Democrats providing input to the formal transition operation as well as several people formally affiliated with the transition, none of whom are authorized to speak publicly about their deliberations.

The big four

Secretary of defense: There seems to be a strong belief in Washington that Michele Flournoy, who is white, is the top candidate to serve as secretary of defense. Nobody I’ve spoken to has any other names on their list, though Axios’s Hans Nichols floated Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth. She’s emerged as the lead contender because she served as undersecretary of defense for policy in Barack Obama’s first term, making her the highest-ranking woman in department history.

Flournoy has rock-solid establishment credentials, including a stint at the Center for Security and International Studies, co-founder of the Center for a New American Security, and current gigs as a senior adviser to the Boston Consulting Group and on the board of Booz Allen Hamilton. This is not a résumé that progressives love, but may not be a battle they are interested in picking, given the historic nature of the selection and the atmosphere of inevitability around someone who’s been floated as “the first woman secretary of defense” since at least 2011.

A likely choice for secretary of state is former National Security Adviser Susan Rice. It was widely believed that Obama wanted to appoint her to the job in 2013, but at the time she was seen as unconfirmable, so then-Sen. John Kerry got the job instead. Biden considered her seriously for vice president and by all accounts likes working with her.

She’s not the only name on the list. Longtime Biden confidant Antony Blinken and veteran diplomat Bill Burns are also in the mix, and Politico’s Playbook reports that Sens. Chris Coons and Chris Murphy are also receiving some consideration. This pits one Black woman against a range of white men in a quest for a diverse Cabinet, so if Rice doesn’t get the job, there is more pressure to select people of color for one of the other top four jobs. The State choice is important on its own terms, and it will shape the rest of the Cabinet.

Treasury secretary: Lael Brainard, who is white, is seen on Wall Street and by her skeptics on the left as the most likely Treasury secretary. She made Democrats happy during her past six years as a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors by supporting pro-labor monetary policy while opposing Jay Powell’s moves toward bank deregulation. Progressives prefer former Deputy Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin, also white (they like her background in consumer protection and see Brainard as stemming from the Robert Rubin coaching tree) and argue that it would be counterproductive to add to the transition’s work by creating the need to replace Brainard at the Fed.

Raphael Bostic, who would be the first Black and first openly gay Treasury secretary, is also receiving some consideration. Bostic held a sub-Cabinet job at HUD in the Obama administration and is now president of the Atlanta Fed. He has strong qualifications but is a bit more of an outsider to Washington. Any of the three would be a historic choice, but what kind of history is made may be influenced by the holistic assessment of the Cabinet.

Attorney general: There’s considerable enthusiasm on Capitol Hill for the idea of Doug Jones, who is white, as attorney general. He has a rock-solid civil rights record and a strong relationship with Biden, and it’s broadly felt he deserves something after winning a Senate seat in Alabama. (Jones is running for reelection in an uphill battle.)

But Hispanic Democrats note there are no Hispanic candidates legitimately in the mix for the other three top jobs, or even for other prominent non-Cabinet jobs. There has been consistent criticism of Biden’s Latino outreach as a candidate, and some Hispanics on Capitol Hill tell me they believe this should be their spot. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is Latino and well known in Congress from his years there, is the leading candidate. But there is a range of party stalwarts, from Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, to Julián Castro, who made a lot of fans on the left during his presidential run, who may be plausible fits.

The next tier of the Cabinet

Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban American, ran US Customs and Immigration Services before becoming the No. 2 leader of the Department of Homeland Security; he’s now a top contender for homeland security secretary. This is a bit of a thankless job, as are the sub-Cabinet positions overseeing the various immigration enforcement agencies, as Nicole Narea has detailed for Vox. The activist wish list on immigration enforcement involves a fair number of things Biden may be pretty reluctant to do.

Presidents typically round out their Cabinet with some politicians, and secretary of health and human services is a likely spot for that. Reps. Karen Bass and Pramila Jayapal, women of color in Congress, are in the mix, as is New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Who gets this role may again hinge on other decisions, as there are a bunch of strong candidates, and Democrats love health care policy. Alternatively, Biden could go in a whole other direction and see HHS as primarily a management role rather than a political one. In that case, he might tap transition co-chair Jeffrey Zients, the “Mr. Fix It” who rescued HealthCare.gov under Obama.

The other agencies

Further down the line, Vox’s sources report fewer specific discussions with the transition, and the rumor mill is less fecund.

The left often gets what it wants on the secretary of labor pick, for which Data for Progress has a handy list of candidates. Note the inclusion of two Asian American women, Jenny Yang and Julie Su, here, either of whom would make progressives happy. Almost everyone I spoke to thinks Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is Latino, will be secretary of transportation if he wants it — Obama tried and failed to convince Garcetti’s predecessor in LA to take the gig, but Garcetti’s interest level seems higher.

America now has a substantial list of Black women serving as big-city mayors whom Biden might pick from to serve as secretary of housing and urban development: Atlanta’s Keisha Lance Bottoms perhaps has the inside track here. Bottoms is a much lesser figure in national circles, but some people want Biden to use the Cabinet to elevate people in states where Democrats have a weak bench, in which case Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who was previously the first woman and openly gay person to serve as chief of police of the Tampa Police Department, could be a fit here.

Former agriculture secretary (and current US Dairy Export Council president) Tom Vilsack is close with Biden and a leading adviser to him on agricultural and rural issues — somewhat to the chagrin of progressives, who’d like to see the department run with less industry input. Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s name has surfaced in the media as a potential secretary of agriculture, and she’s staying in the game as the leader of an advocacy group pushing to reconnect Democrats with rural voters.

During Hillary Clinton’s transition planning, there was some back-and-forth over the idea that the secretary of agriculture should break with precedent and represent the California-centric fruit and vegetable farmers of America rather than the traditional wheat/corn/cotton/soy staple commodities. The substantive logic of that is strong, but Democrats’ renewed attention to the importance of winning votes in the rural Midwest somewhat changes the calculation.

Last but not least, for months everyone has thought Pete Buttigieg, a Navy veteran who clearly wants some kind of administration job, would be a strong secretary of veterans affairs. He’d be the first openly gay Cabinet member unless Bostic or Castor were picked, but he’s been making a push for something bigger.

The Mayor Pete question

Buttigieg ran for president as a wildly underqualified 38-year-old, so he obviously has big ambitions. He’s recently been deploying his “go on television constantly” political strategy as a Biden surrogate and has won praise even from former detractors in that role, helping to bolster his case for a bigger role than VA secretary.

What some Democrats really want him to do is go on television frequently to serve as an aggressive media defender of the Biden/Harris administration. Logically, that suggests the role of White House press secretary, but as Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer wrote for Politico, “press secretary is far too small for him — right? Or maybe not!”

It’s arguably a very big role. The problem, from a Buttigieg-centric viewpoint, is it’s hard to see the path from press secretary to president. His camp wants him to be UN ambassador, which they think would add heft and substance to his résumé, but Biden is at maximum earnestness about national security and will likely want those jobs to go to longtime associates. It’s also not clear Buttigieg could actually do what progressives find valuable about him in that role.

You can make up any kind of White House title you like for anyone. And while it’s not traditional for the VA secretary to be a constant television presence discussing the whole range of policy issues, it’s also not traditional for the mayor of the fourth-largest city in Indiana to emerge as a serious presidential contender. A Cabinet job is as big as its occupant and the president want it to be.

Running the White House

Biden had three chiefs of staff as VP, and selecting either Steve Ricchetti or Bruce Reed to be White House chief of staff would infuriate progressives. Ricchetti used to run a lobbying firm, and Reed was a leading architect of some of Bill Clinton’s most contentious triangulation moves, including welfare reform. By contrast, Ron Klain was well-regarded in his work for Biden and then went on to have a very successful run as Obama’s Ebola czar. He was seriously in contention to be chief of staff in a Hillary Clinton administration and seems likely to get the job for Biden.

Blinken, a top staffer for Biden in the Senate who joined him in the VP’s office before ascending to be deputy secretary in the State Department, is likely to emerge as national security adviser, though he’s also in the mix for the top job at State.

There are three big economic policy jobs in the White House: heading the Council of Economic Advisers, which normally goes to someone more academic, and heading the National Economic Council and the Office of Management and Budget. There was tremendous overlap in terms of big-picture economic policy jobs between the Clinton and Obama administrations, and progressives would really like to see someone from outside that circle get a top position.

Jared Bernstein, who was Biden’s chief economist early in the Obama administration and who advises the campaign informally, is a strong contender especially at NEC. Diversity considerations weigh less on decision-makers’ minds when it comes to these jobs, though in part for that reason, the historical track record on diversity has been worse.

A key economic gig that will not become vacant right away is Federal Reserve chair. This job has a regulatory element and a monetary policy element, and there is some disagreement on the Biden transition as to which to view as more important. Those with a regulatory focus are unhappy with incumbent Jay Powell, while those more focused on monetary policy don’t have a huge complaint with him. After Trump broke with precedent by denying Janet Yellen a second term, there is also some sense that turnabout is fair play — it’s easy to see either Brainard or Bostic here if they are not at Treasury.

Reconstructing the administrative state

Last, but by no means least, there is an incredible alphabet soup of regulatory agencies — EPA, SEC, CFTC, FTC, FCC, etc. — that the president either wholly or partially controls, with similar considerations applying to some Cabinet jobs like secretary of the interior or energy and important sub-Cabinet jobs at Treasury and Justice.

What you see here is less a conflict over specific names and jobs and more a broad philosophical disagreement. Democrats have often made “revolving door”-type picks at these kinds of agencies, selecting people who, between Democratic administrations, either work directly in industry or for law firms or investment funds tied to industry. Progressives would like that to stop, both because they think people who lack industry ties are likely to make better decisions and more fundamentally because they want to reshape the Democratic Party as a whole into a more ideological institution that operates more like a mirror image of the GOP.

Proponents of the traditional approach will argue that ruling out people with industry ties involves ruling out a lot of people who know the institutions well and can hit the ground running on day one. Less plausibly, there is an ongoing effort to paint the revolving door as good for diversity. It’s also genuinely unclear that the revolving door litmus test serves its ideological goals correctly.

Progressives generally ended up seeing Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chair Gary Gensler as one of their favorite members of the Obama economic team despite his background at Goldman Sachs and were very frustrated with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, and regulatory czar Cass Sunstein, all of whom had impeccable résumés in public service and academia. What progressives really want are people who are happy to burn bridges with industry prospectively and implement left-wing ideas, even if it hurts their future job prospects, but this is a hard rule to enforce.

These battles will attract less attention than the headline Cabinet gigs, but they speak to the real tensions inside the Democratic Party over the relationship of finance to the real economy, regulation of the technology industry, and whether fracking and natural gas exploration more generally are things that should be encouraged or discouraged.

Nobody knows anything

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that the protestations from key decision-makers that they are not focused on this stuff are only half-nonsense. Biden and his very closest advisers really are spending the bulk of their time trying to win the election and not thinking through the details of staffing.

Anything the transition team cooks up is subject to revision when the president-elect has more time to focus on it. And because of both diversity considerations and the need to balance the ideological wings of the party, decisions made for one job impact the calculus for other jobs, so everything is written in pencil.

Most of all, the Senate gets a say in many of these decisions. Not only is the future makeup of the Senate not yet known, most of the people Democrats are counting on to deliver a majority for them are not Washington insiders and may have their own views about at least some posts. It’s much too late in the process to pretend it’s too early to be thinking about staffing, but it really is too early for much of anything to be certain.

But we do know what Biden wants his team to look like — very different from the current crop of white men running the government — and Democrats now have a talent bench in place that can deliver genuinely new diversity without compromise.

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



(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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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.

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.

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



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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