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Trump’s pullback of pollution controls is even more hazardous than you think

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The Permian Basin is one of the most prolific oil and gas plays in the world, responsible for more than a third of the United States’ oil and one-sixth of gas production last year.

The formation in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico that has minted fortunes and transformed the country into a global petroleum supplier is also ground zero for the worst oil and gas air pollution in the country.

“You don’t know what you’re breathing,” said Gene Collins, a minister and community activist in Odessa, Texas.

It could get worse.

The US Environmental Protection Agency in August rescinded controls installed by the Obama administration to curb releases of methane, a potent, planet-warming gas leaked during oil and gas production, processing, and transportation.

The action, expected but nonetheless condemned by environmentalists, had a little-noticed side effect: Experts say it could lead to higher emissions of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and hazardous air pollutants — chemicals that cause smog and are linked to cancer, respiratory illnesses, and a growing list of other ailments.

In documents supporting the rollback, the EPA predicted the industry will save $19 million annually in compliance costs. It acknowledged, however, that the change would likely degrade air quality.

“The EPA expects that forgone VOC emission reductions will degrade air quality and are likely to adversely affect health and welfare … but did not quantify these effects at this time,” the agency wrote in documents supporting the rule change.

Translation: The change will likely worsen air pollution and harm people’s health. But the EPA didn’t bother to estimate the potential extent of the damage, despite what’s at stake for people living in communities like Odessa.

A quick move to unwind the pollution safeguards

The oil and gas sector is the nation’s largest industrial emitter of methane, a greenhouse gas with 28 times more heat-trapping power than carbon dioxide.

Pumpjacks in a field near Lovington, New Mexico, on April 24, 2015.
Charlie Riedel/AP

Under President Barack Obama, the EPA in 2012 and 2016 finalized rules designed to curb emissions of both methane and VOCs from the oil and gas industry.

“These commonsense steps will help to combat climate change and reduce air pollution that harms public health,” Dan Utech, Obama’s deputy assistant for energy and climate change, wrote when the 2016 rules were proposed.

Many oil and gas groups were unhappy with the new constraints. The Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents thousands of independent producers and service companies, accused the EPA of siding with “extreme environmental activists” and said the regulations would have “virtually no impact” on reducing global warming. The American Petroleum Institute, the largest US oil and gas trade association, said the rules were duplicative and costly, and undermined the progress companies were making on their own to reduce emissions.

President Donald Trump’s EPA moved quickly to unwind the pollution safeguards in 2017, making good on the new president’s promise to remove regulations that stood in the way of the industry’s growth and promote US “dominance” of global energy markets.

The EPA argued that the two Obama-era rules were redundant, since methane and VOCs are often co-emitted. Because methane is the primary ingredient in natural gas, oil and gas companies also had a built-in incentive to limit leaks, the agency said.

“The Trump administration recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement announcing the rollbacks. “Since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has almost doubled, while methane emissions across the natural gas industry have fallen by nearly 15 percent. Our regulations should not stifle this innovation and progress.”

Independent research, however, suggests methane emissions in the oil and gas sector are far higher than what the EPA’s data shows.

President Donald Trump signs a memorandum to expand the offshore drilling moratorium to Florida’s Atlantic Coast on September 8, 2020, in Jupiter, Florida.
Evan Vucci/AP

One 2018 study, published in the journal Science, found that emissions in the oil and gas supply chain could be 60 percent higher than EPA estimates, “likely because existing inventory methods miss emissions released during abnormal operating conditions,” the authors wrote.

In a separate study published in Science earlier this year, researchers using new satellite data found that methane emissions in the Permian Basin likely were more than twice as high as what the agency’s data predicts.

The EPA’s own estimates show that upending the regulations will lead to the release of an additional 850,000 tons of methane, 140,000 tons of VOCs, and 5,000 tons of other hazardous air pollutants from 2021 to 2030.

Asked how these numbers square with the agency’s mission to protect the environment and public health, EPA spokesperson Enesta Jones didn’t answer. But she said overall air quality in the US “continues to improve” and average concentrations of ground-level ozone dropped by 21 percent between 1990 and 2018.

“Covered in a big cloud”

VOCs are gases, some of which pose serious health risks. Benzene, for example, is a carcinogen. Collectively, VOCs contribute to ground-level ozone, or smog, formation, which can exacerbate asthma and cause other respiratory problems. And new research shows VOCs and other hazardous air pollutants may worsen the effects of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Lisa McKenzie, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus, has found that benzene concentrations in the air around oil and gas operations in Colorado are about twice as high as they are in Denver, whose air isn’t exactly pristine. “The closer you live to an oil and gas site, the higher your risk of cancer … and the higher your risk for respiratory and neurological effects,” she said.

And exposures to VOCs — especially benzene — emitted from oil and gas operations might explain the increased risk of childhood leukemia and congenital heart defects McKenzie and her fellow researchers found near such operations.

David Brown, a toxicologist with the Pennsylvania-based Environmental Health Project, a research and advocacy organization, says VOCs can attach themselves to ultrafine particles and find their way deep into the lungs — and, ultimately, the bloodstream — causing heart disease and other ailments.

Exposures come not only from wells but also from compressor stations, which keep natural gas flowing through pipelines. Someone living near such a station might inhale a potent mixture of gases that includes formaldehyde (a VOC and a carcinogen) and carbon monoxide, Brown said. Airborne exposures can also occur when VOC-rich well water escapes from kitchen faucets and showerheads.

A worker monitors water pumping pressure and temperature at an oil and natural gas extraction site outside Rifle, on the Western Slope of Colorado, on March 29, 2013.
Brennan Linsley/AP

Sharon Wilson, a Texan who has lived in the oil patch, is certified to use an infrared camera to record video of emissions that are invisible to the unaided eye. For the past decade, Wilson has worked with the environmental group Earthworks to document air pollution and file reports with environmental authorities.

There are parts of the Permian Basin where the pungent odor that comes with oil and gas production is inescapable.

“Even driving down the highway, I have to put my hand over my mouth and nose just trying to filter it some way,” Wilson said.

Wilson bristles when she hears oil and gas companies and regulators refer to the emissions she records as “leaks.” This, she said, implies releases that are small and inadvertent, not intentional, large-scale venting or flaring of methane and VOCs.

The Permian Basin, where about 2 million people live on the Texas side alone, “is covered in a big cloud,” she said. “I’m not even worried about the leaks; I’m worried about the geysers.”

Seth Shonkoff, a public health scientist with PSE Healthy Energy, a nonprofit research group based in Oakland, California, co-authored a 2017 study that found 17.6 million Americans lived within a mile of an active oil or gas well and a review of 37 studies last year examining hazardous air pollutants released by upstream oil and gas activities — which identified 61 of these substances, including benzene and the VOCs toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes, a toxic brew commonly known as BTEX. The chemicals came from wellheads, storage tanks, and other infrastructure.

The EPA’s pullback on methane will likely only make things worse, Shonkoff said. “At the end of the day,” he said, “a loosening of regulations for methane emissions from oil and gas development will result in an increase in health-damaging VOCs.”

A brief respite from air pollution

In August, some oil and gas companies and energy-state politicians cheered as the EPA signed off on final rollbacks, which erased requirements that companies find and fix methane leaks and removed smog and greenhouse gas emission regulation of storage sites, large pipelines, and other parts of the transmission system. An agency spokesperson said the move corrected “legally flawed” actions made by the EPA under Obama.

But some large oil and gas companies, including BP, ExxonMobil, and Shell, criticized the move amid fears that increasing methane emissions would erode arguments that natural gas is a cleaner alternative to burning coal.

The American Petroleum Institute did not respond to requests for comment.

Jennifer Pett Marsteller, director of public affairs and communications for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, provided a policy document that argued the same technology is used to manage both methane and volatile organic compounds.

“There was never a need nor was there a justification to change the regulated emission for oil and natural gas production operations from volatile organic compounds to methane,” the IPAA wrote in the document.

From a climate change standpoint, 2020 has been especially brutal, with record-setting wildfires on the West Coast and a parade of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. Sending more methane into the carbon-soaked atmosphere is unlikely to be well-received by the public.

A Texas and American flag attached to cranes fly near the site where President Donald Trump delivered remarks about American energy to the Double Eagle Energy Oil Rig on July 29, 2020, in Midland, Texas.
Tony Gutierrez/AP

In September, a coalition of environmental and civil rights groups sued to block the EPA rollbacks, arguing the agency ignored evidence about methane emissions and their harmful health effects on communities of color. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last month issued a stay, temporarily preventing the rollbacks from taking effect.

Low oil prices hammered first by the lack of pipeline capacity and then the coronavirus pandemic have slowed US oil and gas production, including in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, providing some communities a brief respite from air pollution. The Permian Basin was producing around 4.4 million barrels a day of oil in September, down almost half a million barrels from its peak in March, data from the US Energy Information Administration shows. The number of oil rigs in the region dropped by nearly 70 percent during that same period.

But US energy officials expect drilling to pick up later next year. As oil and gas production bounces back, methane and VOC emissions are likely to follow and could climb higher due to the rollbacks, if the stay is lifted.

Ilan Levin, the Austin-based associate director of the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit watchdog organization, says VOCs given off by oil and gas activity in the Permian Basin are generating smog “in places where there didn’t use to be a problem,” such as the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico.

A major source of this pollution is oilfield flaring — the burning of excess gas for safety reasons. Flares are supposed to incinerate at least 98 percent of VOCs and other pollutants. In fact, Levin said, “They almost never operate as they’re designed to operate” and wind up disgorging much larger quantities. “If you find an unlit flare, that’s a really bad thing,” he said. “That means it’s venting pure, unburned gas.”

Flaring in Texas recently reached levels not recorded since the 1950s, state regulators said. And flaring across the Permian Basin peaked in 2019, according to data collected by independent research company Rystad Energy.

Collins, the minister in Odessa, doesn’t think the downturn will do much to reduce air pollution long-term. For decades, he’s pushed local and federal officials to conduct more health studies and do more air pollution monitoring.

For a while, though, when the pandemic first hit and drilling in the Permian Basin slowed, Collins had a little reprieve. He even got to take a break from having to use a nebulizer that makes it easier for him to breathe.

“I never had to use it for the three months that the economy out here was down,” he said.

Jim Morris of the Center for Public Integrity contributed to this story.


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

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Open Sourced logo

Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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