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Trump could be in a lot of legal hot water if he loses the election

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A surprising revelation in the New York Times story about President Donald Trump’s taxes is that the “audit” he’s long claimed prevented him from releasing his tax returns to the public is real. It turns out the IRS perked up when Trump claimed business losses during the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. The losses were so large that they could be retroactively applied to previous years and cancel out millions of dollars’ worth of tax liability from his days as host of The Apprentice.

It’s legal to use huge business losses to offset other income (though whether it should be is another question), but it’s not at all legal to cook the books in order to generate paper accounting losses to avoid taxes. It’s not clear whether Trump broke the law, but the existence of the years-long legal battle over the audit suggests the IRS has reason to believe he did. And some of the accounting practices documented on his tax returns are extremely fishy — characterizing aspects of his lifestyle and wealth transfers to his heirs as business expenses.

While nothing about being audited prevents you from releasing your taxes, it would seemingly make it unwise to do so. The IRS is limited in its investigative capabilities, while journalistic and scholarly interests are eager to put resources behind hunting through Trump’s tax returns. What the Times story, and the paper’s previous reporting on Fred Trump’s taxes, showed is a lot of dodgy tax avoidance going on.

But as long as Trump is president, he can shield himself from accountability for any tax-related crimes. He can also likely shield himself from debt collectors, who seem to have significant claims coming due over the next four years. From obstruction of justice to sexual assault allegations to campaign finance law violations, Trump is counting on the fact that he’s president to stop the law from coming after him.

As he prepares to take the stage to debate former Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday night, he’s making a case not only for continuing his governance approach, but also for maintaining his personal immunity to legal liability. The tax matter raises the stakes in the election and gives a president who’s rarely been law-abiding more reason to bend and break the rules in his quest to maintain power.

Tax-free gifts to kids

One of the most intriguing revelations in the Times’s reporting on Trump’s long-hidden tax returns is that money he gave his daughter Ivanka was treated as a tax write-off.

The full details are not available on Trump’s tax returns. They show instead that his company once paid $747,622 to an unnamed consultant for hotel projects in Hawaii and Vancouver. Payments to consultants can be legitimate business expenses, and there’s nothing unusual about deducting something like that. But in this case, the consultant appears to have been his daughter, whose own public financial disclosures show receipt of $747,622.

This is the kind of thing the IRS could easily overlook because it requires checking two different forms, realizing that the numbers match, and then seeing that the $747,622 payment was almost certainly to Ivanka. There’s nothing wrong with giving your daughter a six-figure gift if you are rich enough to do so. But when you receive gifts of this size, you need to pay a gift tax on them. If you structure your gift as a consulting fee, it passes to your heir untaxed. Taking what’s really a gift and pretending it’s a business expense is against the law.

Gifts as corporate payments are not without precedent in the Trump family. An earlier New York Times story about Trump’s father’s taxes showed that not only did the president inherit a vast fortune, he did so largely while avoiding paying estate taxes. Some of that involved aggressive use of avoidance strategists that experts say are legal. But one thing Fred Trump did was set his kids up as owners of a company called All County Building Supply.

All County gave building supplies — at inflated prices — to buildings owned by Fred Trump. This generated tax-free gifts for the Trump kids and deductible expenses for Fred, and was even used in applications to New York state housing regulators as a reason to raise rents on rent-stabilized units. By the time this story emerged, the statute of limitations had passed, so it was impossible to hold anyone criminally responsible. But Trump’s sister was a senior-status federal judge at the time, so a petition was filed to open an ethics inquiry into her potentially illegal conduct — conduct she would have shared with her brother. But the moment the ethics board agreed that an inquiry should move forward, she retired from her position.

It’s possible that a thorough investigation would show the payments to Ivanka were legit. But it’s also possible that it wouldn’t. Now that the returns are public, we know that an investigation is warranted. And that’s true of many of Trump’s claims.

Dubious deductions

The news that Trump deducted $70,000 worth of hairstyling expenses also raises a question of whether such a deduction is valid.

The law of personal appearance deductions is both vague and, at least in theory, fairly strict. Bench, a vendor of small-business accounting services, cautions that “hair care expenses only qualify as a tax deduction when they are specifically for work-related photo shoots or shows.”

“You can write off makeup used for stage or photo shoots, but not if you wear the same makeup during your normal day,” according to Chuck Sloan at Backpage, a trade publication for actors. “The same applies to your hair care costs.”

That doesn’t mean that abuse isn’t routine. Ryan Grim, DC bureau chief for the Intercept, reports that a particular tax accountant who is widely used by DC writers regularly recommends that clients who appear frequently on television claim these deductions.

That does not, however, mean it’s actually legitimate. The IRS rules for taking a home office tax deduction, for example, state that “you must regularly use part of your home exclusively for conducting business.” Plenty of people with home offices that sometimes serve as guest rooms or television-watching rooms or excess coat storage during a party nonetheless claim a deduction based on the fact that it’s hard to prove you’re lying about it.

But the rules are the rules. Much of Trump’s lavish lifestyle seems to deliberately blur the lines between personal and business expenses. If you own a luxury golf resort in Scotland, then flying on your private plane to Scotland and taking a week-long vacation could arguably be business as long as you discussed things with the property manager and had some meetings with local officials.

When someone says that Trump is rich, they likely mean he has lavish consumption habits. When Trump tells the IRS he’s “poor,” that doesn’t mean he’s “a bad businessman” who’s pretending to be rich. It means he’s managed to classify a large amount of lavish personal consumption — from haircuts to flights on his giant private jet — as business expenses.

Getting away with it

According to the FBI’s uniform crime reports, fewer than 14 percent of car thefts or burglaries are actually solved by the police. But in elite circles, the fact that it’s relatively easy to get away with these crimes does not imply that they’re not really crimes, that there’s no ethical problem with committing them, or that the difficulty of enforcing the law against stealing cars implies that the whole charade is pointless and car theft should be legalized.

Unfortunately, the kind of people who’d never countenance burglary often do not take this approach to tax cheating, where they tend to apply a “whatever you can get away with is fine” mentality. As Trump said four years ago of his tax avoidance, “that makes me smart.”

But there has also been a concerted effort to make it easier to get away with cheating on your taxes. Back in the day, the IRS routinely conducted so-called “lifestyle audits” when a person seemed to be living too high on the hog, but Congress banned the practice in the 1990s. Natasha Sarin and Lawrence Summers estimate that there’s about $1 trillion in uncollected taxes of rich people that the IRS could get its hands on with a larger enforcement budget. Instead, as Paul Kiel and Jesse Eisinger have reported for ProPublica, the agency’s budget was cut 20 percent after Republicans took control of Congress in 2010 — meaning there are plenty of people getting away with various kinds of abuses.

In other words, while it’s possible Trump’s meager tax payments are a situation where the real scandal is what’s legal, it’s also possible that he is simply one of the large number of wealthy Americans who’ve been cheating on taxes and getting away with it. Trump has appointed an IRS head and an IRS chief counsel with business ties to him, and a whistleblower within the IRS has told Congress that political appointees have interfered with the audit of Trump’s taxes. If true, this would be just one of several instances where Trump’s status as president is shielding him from the law.

If Trump had lost, he’d have dealt with the law

Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen is currently serving a prison sentence for three separate crimes, one of which — as my colleague Andrew Prokop has written — is “arranging six-figure hush money payments for two women alleging sexual encounters with Trump — well above the federal limit for a campaign contribution. The first of these was a payment to Karen McDougal from the National Enquirer’s parent company, and the second was a payment to Stormy Daniels from Cohen himself.”

These payments, according to sworn statements by Cohen accepted by prosecutors and the court, were made at the direction of Trump.

In a normal prosecutorial situation, that would mean the next investigative target would be the candidate himself. But it’s Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted for a crime, so the Southern District of New York prosecutors who made the case against Cohen simply dropped it. Similarly, in his report to Congress, then-special counsel Robert Mueller describes Trump as being guilty of the factual elements of obstruction of justice. But Mueller took the view that he should simply describe the facts and leave it up to Congress what to do with them.

In either case, the House could have impeached Trump, but Democrats decided that doing so would be politically unwise. The fact remains, however, that it’s not unusual for a person to be charged with obstruction of justice or campaign finance crimes even in the absence of a larger conspiracy. Trump is skating by because it’s DOJ policy not to indict the president, not because the material isn’t there for an indictment.

Somewhat similarly, E. Jean Carroll has an ongoing defamation suit against Trump stemming from his response to her allegation that he raped her in the 1990s. This is not, on its face, a matter of concern to the American government. But Attorney General Bill Barr’s Justice Department has taken over the case from Trump’s private attorneys, and arguments related to his status as president are being used in court to explain why he doesn’t need to provide DNA samples and otherwise cooperate with the litigation. The president is also facing investigation by the New York state attorney general for alleged bank fraud and by the district attorney for Manhattan for allegations of related financial crimes. In both cases, Trump is fighting subpoenas with arguments that draw on his status as president.

Trump also has hundreds of millions in debts that are coming due over the next four years — debts that banks are much more likely to take a lenient view on if the debtor is also the president.

Trump, in other words, may not be able to afford defeat.

Trump is in a very dangerous place

Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush both left office defeated and unpopular. But they departed without complaint and swiftly rebuilt their reputations, becoming widely admired figures as former presidents whose children went on to have careers in public life.

Trump’s prospects as a former president are not nearly so bright.

He is the target of investigations into multiple financial crimes, and the potential target of campaign finance and obstruction of justice charges. Separately, he is facing civil litigation and the bill is coming due for his substantial debts. As president, he wields significant powers that can be used to block accountability on all these fronts. And as president, he commands the loyalty of the Republican Party, which has taken the view that holding Trump accountable would undermine their larger partisan and ideological projects. Even if a Biden administration chose to look forward rather than back on the loose threads from the Mueller and Cohen cases, the rest of these charges are unlikely to magically vanish.

This is all relevant context to the president’s various musings about how a “ballot scam” may give him reason to refuse to concede defeat in November. Nobody likes to lose. But Trump has reasons that go far beyond pride, bad manners, or even lust for power.


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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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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.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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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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