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Trump used the RNC to gaslight America on Covid-19

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President Donald Trump speaks at the 2020 Republican National Convention on August 27, 2020. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Trump argued his response to the coronavirus pandemic was great. Experts, and the data, disagree.

If you believed the Republican National Convention, you’d think President Donald Trump has taken unprecedented action to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic. He bragged about the US doing more testing than any other country, the approval of new treatments, support for Americans hit hard by the economic downturn, and his work to expedite a vaccine.

“To save as many lives as possible, we are focusing on the science, the facts, and the data,” Trump said. “We are aggressively sheltering those at highest risk — especially the elderly — while allowing lower-risk Americans to safely return to work and school.”

Experts, and the data, tell a very different story — one in which Trump has let Covid-19 win.

“It begins in many ways, and you could argue it ends in many ways, with the Trump administration,” Ashish Jha, faculty director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told me. “If George W. Bush had been president, if John McCain had been president, if Mitt Romney had been president, this would have looked very different.”

The virus rages on, affecting every aspect of American life, from the economy to education to entertainment. Nearly 180,000 Americans are dead. Schools are closing down again after botched attempts to reopen, with outbreaks in universities and K-12 settings. America now has one of the worst ongoing epidemics in the world, with the most daily new deaths to the virus, after controlling for population, among developed countries.

As fall approaches, in-person teaching is back in parts of Europe, fans are returning to baseball stadiums in Taiwan and South Korea, and dine-in reservations have jumped to previous years’ levels in Germany — while many states in the US are scaling back their already limited reopenings as the disease spreads. (Only Spain, with Covid-19 cases recently rising, is an exception in the developed world, alongside the US.)

A chart showing coronavirus cases in the developed world.Our World in Data

Trump has tried to deny this reality all along. Back in March, as the country woke up to the threat of the coronavirus, the US could reopen by Easter Sunday in April. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country,” Trump said in March. “I think it’ll be a beautiful time.”

The US can’t open in August, much less April, but the episode exemplified the magical thinking that has animated Trump’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic before and after the novel coronavirus reached the US. It’s a problem that’s continued through August — with Trump and those under him recently denying the existence of a resurgence in Covid-19, falsely claiming rising cases were a result of more tests. With every day, week, and month that the Trump administration has tried to spin a positive story, it’s also resisted stronger action, allowing the epidemic to drag on.

A pandemic was always likely to be a challenge for the US, given the country’s large size, fragmented federalist system, and libertarian streak. The public health system was already underfunded and underprepared for a major disease outbreak before Trump.

Yet many other developed countries dealt with these kinds of problems too. Public health systems are notoriously underfunded worldwide. Australia, Canada, and Germany, among others, also have federalist systems of government, individualistic societies, or both.

Instead, experts said, it’s Trump’s leadership, or lack thereof, that really sets the US apart. Before Covid-19, Trump and his administration undermined preparedness — eliminating a White House office set up by the previous administration to combat pandemics, making cuts across other key parts of the federal government, and proposing further cuts.

Once the coronavirus arrived, Trump downplayed the threat, suggesting it would soon disappear “like a miracle.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took weeks to fix botched tests, and the administration actively abdicated control of issues to local, state, and private actors.

“There was a failure to realize what an efficiently spreading respiratory virus for which we have no vaccine and no antiviral meant,” Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me. “From the very beginning, that minimization … set a tone that reverberated from the highest levels of government to what the average person believes about the virus.”

A few other developed countries — including Belgium, France, and Italy — were caught off-guard by the Covid-19 pandemic and were hit hard early, suffering massive early outbreaks with enormous death tolls. But after those outbreaks, these countries and those around them generally took Covid-19 seriously: implementing lengthy and strict lockdowns, widespread testing and contact tracing, masking mandates, and consistent public messaging about the virus.

The US did not, even after an outbreak spiraled out of control in New York. It was this failure to act even after a major epidemic, and a continued failure to implement stronger measures as other large outbreaks occurred, that makes the US unique.

 Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
President Donald Trump talks to journalists during a news conference about his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on July 22, 2020, in Washington, DC.

Experts worry that things will again get worse: Colder weather is coming, forcing people back into risky indoor environments. So are holiday celebrations, when families and friends will gather from across the country. Another flu season looms. And Trump, experts lamented, is still not ready to do much, if anything, about it.

The White House disputed the criticisms. Spokesperson Sarah Matthews claimed Trump “has led an historic, whole-of-America coronavirus response” that followed experts’ advice, boosted testing rates, delivered equipment to health care workers, and remains focused on expediting a vaccine.

She added, “This strong leadership will continue.”

The US wasn’t prepared for a pandemic — and Trump made it worse

During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, President Barack Obama’s administration realized that the US wasn’t prepared for a pandemic. Jeremy Konyndyk, who served in the Obama administration’s Ebola response, said he “came away from that experience just completely horrified at how unready we would be for something more dangerous than Ebola,” which has a high fatality rate but did not spread easily in the US and other developed nations.

The Obama administration responded by setting up the White House National Security Council’s Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which was meant to coordinate the many agencies, from the CDC to the Department of Health and Human Services to the Pentagon, involved in contagion response.

But when John Bolton became Trump’s national security adviser in 2018, he moved to disband the office. In April 2018, Bolton fired Tom Bossert, then the homeland security adviser, who, the Washington Post reported, “had called for a comprehensive biodefense strategy against pandemics and biological attacks.” Then in May, Bolton let go the head of pandemic response, Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, and dismantled his global health security team. Bolton claimed that the cuts were needed to streamline the National Security Council, and the team was never replaced.

In the months before the coronavirus arrived, the Trump administration also cut a public health position meant to detect outbreaks in China and another program, called Predict, that tracked emerging pathogens around the globe, including coronaviruses. And Trump has repeatedly called for further cuts to the CDC and National Institutes of Health, both on the front lines of the federal response to disease outbreaks; the administration stood by the proposed cuts after the pandemic began, though Congress has largely rejected the proposals.

The Trump administration pushed for the cuts despite multiple, clear warnings that the US was not prepared for a pandemic. A 2019 ranking of countries’ disaster preparedness from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and Nuclear Threat Initiative had the US at the top of the list, but still warned that “no country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics.”

A federal simulation prior to the Covid-19 pandemic also predicted problems the US eventually faced, from a collapse in coordination and communication to shortages in personal protective equipment for health care workers.

 John Moore/Getty Images
A doctor tests a patient at a drive-through testing center for Covid-19 at Lehman College on March 28, 2020, in the Bronx, New York.

Bill Gates, who’s dedicated much of his Microsoft fortune to fighting infectious diseases, warned in 2017, “The impact of a huge epidemic, like a flu epidemic, would be phenomenal because all the supply chains would break down. There’d be a lot of panic. Many of our systems would be overloaded.”

Gates told the Washington Post in 2018 he had raised his concerns in meetings with Trump. But the president, it’s now clear, didn’t listen.

There are limitations to better preparedness, too. “If you take what assets the United States had and you use them poorly the way we did, it doesn’t matter what the report says,” Adalja said, referring to the 2019 ranking. “If you don’t have the leadership to execute, then it makes no difference.”

As Covid-19 spread, Trump downplayed the threat

On February 25, Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters that Americans should prepare for community spread of the coronavirus, social distancing, and the possibility that “disruption to everyday life might be severe.”

Six months later, Messonnier’s comments seem prescient. But soon after the briefing, she was pushed out of the spotlight — though she’s still on the job, her press appearances have been limited — reportedly because her negative outlook angered Trump. (Messonnier didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

The CDC as a whole has been pushed to the sidelines with her. The agency is supposed to play a leading role in America’s fight against pandemics, but it’s invisible in press briefings led by Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, advisers, and health officials like Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx who are not part of the organization. CDC Director Robert Redfield acknowledged as much: “You may see [the CDC] as invisible on the nightly news, but it’s sure not invisible in terms of operationalizing this response.”

University of Michigan medical historian Howard Markel put it in blunter terms, telling me the US has “benched one of the greatest fighting forces against infectious diseases ever created.”

Meanwhile, the president downplayed the virus. The day after Messonnier’s warning, Trump said that “you have 15 people [with the coronavirus], and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” This type of magical thinking appears to have driven Trump’s response to Covid-19 from the start, from his conviction that cases would disappear to his proclamation that the country would reopen by Easter.

Trump has long said he believes in the power of positive thinking. “I’ve been given a lot of credit for positive thinking,” he told Axios reporter Jonathan Swan during a wide-ranging discussion about Covid-19 in July. “But I also think about downside, because only a fool doesn’t.” Pressed further, he added, “I think you have to have a positive outlook. Otherwise, you have nothing.”

.@jonathanvswan: “Oh, you’re doing death as a proportion of cases. I’m talking about death as a proportion of population. That’s where the U.S. is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc.”@realdonaldtrump: “You can’t do that.”

Swan: “Why can’t I do that?” pic.twitter.com/MStySfkV39

— Axios (@axios) August 4, 2020

The concern, experts said, is the signal this messaging sends. It tells the staffers under Trump that this issue isn’t a priority, and things are fine as they are. And it suggests to the public that the virus is under control, so they don’t have to make annoying, uncomfortable changes to their lives, from physical distancing to wearing masks.

It creates the perfect conditions for a slow and inadequate response.

The CDC botched the initial test kits it sent out, and it took weeks to fix the errors. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also took weeks to approve other tests from private labs. As supply problems came up with testing kits, swabs, reagents, machines, and more, the Trump administration resisted taking significant action — claiming it’s up to local, state, and private actors to solve the problems and that the federal government is merely a “supplier of last resort.”

South Korea, which has been widely praised for its response to coronavirus, tested more than 66,000 people within a week of the first community transmission within its borders. By comparison, the US took roughly three weeks to complete that many tests — in a country with more than six times the population.

Asked about testing problems in March, Trump responded, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” In June, Trump claimed that “testing is a double-edged sword,” adding that “when you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people — you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’”

The testing shortfall was a problem few thought possible in the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth. “We all kind of knew if a biological event hit during this administration, it wasn’t going to be good,” Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist, told me. “But I don’t think anyone ever anticipated it could be this bad.”

Trump also consistently undermined the advice of experts, including those in his administration. When the CDC released reopening guidelines, Trump effectively told states to ignore the guidance and reopen prematurely — to “LIBERATE” their economies. When the CDC recommended masks for public use, Trump described masking as a personal choice, refused to wear one in public for months, and even suggested that people wear masks to spite him. (He’s changed his tone recently.) While federal agencies and researchers work diligently to find effective treatments for Covid-19, Trump has promoted unproven and even dangerous approaches, at one point advocating for injecting bleach.

 Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield leave a press conference on the coordinated public health response to Covid-19 on February 7, 2020, in Washington, DC.

The most aggressive steps Trump took to halt the virus — travel restrictions on China and Europe imposed in February and March, respectively — were likely too limited and too late. And to the extent these measures bought time, it wasn’t properly used.

The federal government is the only entity that can solve many of the problems the country is facing. If testing supply shortfalls in Maine are slowing down testing in Arizona or Florida, the federal government has the resources and the legal jurisdiction to quickly act. Local or state offices looking for advice on how to react to a national crisis will typically turn to the federal government for guidance.

But the inaction, contradictions, and counterproductive messaging created a vacuum in federal leadership.

In the months after Trump’s prediction that coronavirus cases would go down to zero, cases in the US grew to more than 160,000. They now stand at more than 5.5 million total reported cases.

Months into the pandemic, Trump has continued to flail

After the initial wave of coronavirus cases began to subside in April, the White House stopped its daily press briefings on the topic. By June, Trump’s tweets and public appearances focused on Black Lives Matter protests and the 2020 election — part of what Politico reporter Dan Diamond described, based on discussions with administration officials, as an “apparent eagerness to change the subject.”

Then another wave of coronavirus infections hit beginning in June, peaking with more than 70,000 daily new cases, a new high, and more than 1,000 daily deaths.

America’s response to the initial rise of infections was slow and inadequate. But other developed countries also struggled with the sudden arrival of a disease brand new to humans. The second surge, experts said, was when the scope of Trump’s failure became more apparent.

By pushing states to open prematurely, failing to set up national infrastructure for testing and tracing, and downplaying masks, Trump put many states under enormous pressure to reopen before the virus was under control nationwide. Many quickly did — and over time suffered the consequences.

 Mario Tama/Getty Images
A restaurant worker wears a face covering and gloves for handling takeout orders on April 5, 2020, in Los Angeles.

Rather than create a new strategy, Trump and his administration returned to magical thinking. Pence, head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, wrote an op-ed titled “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’” in mid-June, as cases started to increase again. Internally, some of Trump’s experts seemed to believe this; Birx, once a widely respected infectious disease expert, reportedly told the president and White House staff that the US was likely following the path of Italy: Cases hit a huge high but would steadily decline.

Trump trotted out optimistic, but misleading, claims and statistics. He told Axios reporter Jonathan Swan in July that the US was doing well because it had few deaths relative to the number of cases. When Swan, clearly baffled, clarified he was asking about deaths as a proportion of population — a standard metric for an epidemic’s deadliness — Trump said, “You can’t do that.” He gave no further explanation.

Seemingly believing its coronavirus mission accomplished, the Trump administration, the New York Times reported, moved to relinquish responsibility for the pandemic and leave the response to the states — in what the Times called “perhaps one of the greatest failures of presidential leadership in generations.”

“The biggest problem in the US response is there is not a US response,” Konyndyk, now a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, told me. “There is a New York response. There’s a Florida response. There’s a Montana response. There’s a California response. There’s a Michigan response. There’s a Georgia response. But there is not a US response.”

When the coronavirus first hit the US, the country struggled with testing enough people, contact tracing, getting the public to follow recommendations such as physical distancing and masking, delivering enough equipment for health care workers, and hospital capacity. In the second wave, these problems have by and large repeated themselves.

Consider testing: It has significantly improved, but some parts of the country have reported weeks-long delays in getting test results, and the percentage of tests coming back positive has risen above the recommended 5 percent in most states — a sign of insufficient testing. The system once again appeared to collapse under the weight of too much demand, while the federal government failed to solve continuing problems with supply chains. Months after Congress approved billions of dollars in spending to deal with testing problems, the Trump administration has not spent much of it.

Some of Trump’s people even seemed to listen to his calls to slow down testing: On August 24, the CDC updated its guidelines to recommend, in effect, that fewer people get tested. It suggested people exposed to others with Covid-19 don’t necessarily have to get tested — in a move that experts have called “dangerous” and “irresponsible.”

Mask-wearing also remains polarized. While surveys show that the vast majority of Americans have worn masks in the past week, there’s a strong partisan divide. According to Gallup’s surveys, 99 percent of Democrats say they’ve gone out with a mask in the previous week, compared to 80 percent of Republicans. Leveraging surveys on mask use, the New York Times estimated that the percentage of people using masks in public can fall to as low as 20, 10, or the single digits — even in some communities that have been hit hard. Anti-mask protests have popped up around the country.

 Karen Ducey/Getty Images
Supporters of Patriot Prayer, a far-right group, rally outside Vancouver City Hall in protest against the Washington state mask mandate on June 26, 2020, in Vancouver, Washington.

Testing and mask-wearing are two of the strongest weapons against Covid-19. Testing, paired with contact tracing, lets officials track the scale of an outbreak, isolate those who are sick, quarantine their contacts, and deploy community-wide efforts as necessary to contain the disease — as successfully demonstrated in Germany, New Zealand, and South Korea, among others. There’s also growing scientific evidence supporting widespread and even mandated mask use, with experts citing it as crucial to the success of nations like Japan and Slovakia in containing the virus.

It’s not that other developed nations did everything perfectly. New Zealand has contained Covid-19 without widespread masking, and Japan has done so without widespread testing. But both took at least one aggressive action the US hasn’t. “While there’s variation across many countries, the thing that distinguishes the countries doing well is they took something seriously,” Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at the University of California San Francisco, told me.

One explanation for the shortfalls in the US response is Trump’s obsession with getting America, particularly the economy, back to normal in the short term, seemingly before Election Day this November. It’s why he’s called on governors to “LIBERATE” states. It’s why he’s repeatedly said that “the Cure can’t be worse than the problem itself.” It’s one reason, perhaps, he resisted embracing even very minor lifestyle changes such as wearing a mask.

The reality is that life will only get closer to normal once the virus is suppressed. That’s what’s working for other countries that are more earnestly reopening, from Taiwan to Germany. It’s what a preliminary study on the 1918 flu found, as US cities that emerged economically stronger back then took more aggressive action that hindered economies in the short term but better kept infections and deaths down overall.

“Dead people don’t shop,” Jade Pagkas-Bather, an infectious diseases expert and doctor at the University of Chicago, told me. “They can’t stimulate economies.”

The window to avert further catastrophe may be closing

As cases and deaths have climbed, and as the November election nears, Trump has once again tried to spring back into action. He’s brought back his coronavirus press conferences. He’s changed his tone on masks, suggesting that it’s Americans’ patriotic duty to wear one (although not always doing so himself).

But he still seems resistant to focusing too much on the issue, recently changing the subject to former Vice President Joe Biden’s supposed plans to destroy the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream.” He continues to downplay the crisis, saying on July 28, as daily Covid-19 deaths once again topped 1,000, “It is what it is.”

So while combating Covid-19 aligns with Trump’s political incentives (it remains Americans’ top priority), he and his administration continue to flounder. And White House officials stand by their response so far, continually pushing blame to local and state governments.

“There’s no national plan to combat the worst pandemic that we’ve seen in a century,” Jen Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told me.

The recent surge of Covid-19 has calmed now, although cases across the US have so far flattened out at a much higher level than they were in the previous wave. That’s likely a result of cities, counties, states, and the public taking action as the federal government doesn’t.

 Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images
Bikers in Central Park walk their bikes past a sign that reads “Keep this far apart” on May 17, 2020, in New York City.

Experts now worry that the country could be setting itself up for another wave of Covid-19. Schools reopening across the country could create new vectors of transmission. The winter will force many Americans indoors to avoid the cold, while being outdoors in the open air can hinder the spread of the disease. Families and friends will come together from across the country to celebrate the holidays, creating new possibilities for superspreading events. And in the background, another flu season looms — which could limit health care capacity further just as Covid-19 cases spike.

“The virus spreads when a large number of people gather indoors,” Jha said. “That’s going to happen more in December than it did in July — and July was a pretty awful month.”

There are reasons to believe it might not get so bad. Since so many people in the US have gotten sick, that could offer some element of population immunity in some places as long as people continue social distancing and masking. After seeing two large waves of the coronavirus across the country, the public could act cautiously and slow the disease, even if local, state, and federal governments don’t. Social distancing due to Covid-19 could keep the spread of the flu down too (which seemed to happen in the Southern Hemisphere).

But the federal government could do much more to push the nation in the right direction. Experts have urged the federal government to provide clear, consistent guidance and deploy stronger policies, encouraging people to take Covid-19 as a serious threat — now, not later.

“I’m really concerned that the window might be closing,” Kates said.

Without that federal action, the US could remain stuck in a cycle of ups and downs with Covid-19, forcing the public to double down on social distancing and other measures with each new wave. As cases and deaths continue to climb, the country will become even more of an outlier as the rest of the developed world inches back to normal. And the “beautiful time” Trump imagined for Easter will remain out of reach.


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World

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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