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What Trump has done to the courts, explained

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In less than three years as president, President Trump has done nearly as much to shape the courts as President Obama did in eight years.

Trump hasn’t simply given lots of lifetime appointments to lots of lawyers. He’s filled the bench with some of the smartest, and some of the most ideologically reliable, men and women to be found in the conservative movement. Long after Trump leaves office, these judges will shape American law — pushing it further and further to the right even if the voters soundly reject Trumpism in 2020.

Let’s start with some raw numbers. Both Obama and Trump appointed two justices to the Supreme Court but Trump’s impact on the highest Court far exceeds Obama’s, because Trump replaced the relatively moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy with the hardline conservative Brett Kavanaugh (that was after appointing conservative Neil Gorsuch to fill Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat). Obama’s appointees — Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — largely maintained the balance of power on a conservative Court, while Trump has shoved that Court even further to the right.

And that’s not counting Trump Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who is likely to be confirmed soon.

President Obama and Vice President Biden applaud Obama’s nominee for Supreme Court Justice, Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor, at the White House on May 26, 2009.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama and Vice President Biden announce U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan as a Supreme Court nominee at the White House on May 10, 2010.
Christy Bowe/ImageCatcher News Service/Corbis via Getty Images

On the courts of appeal, the final word in the overwhelming majority of federal cases, more than one-quarter of active judges are Trump appointees. In less than four years, Trump has named a total of 53 judges to these courts — compared to the 55 Obama appointed during his entire presidency.

In their first terms, Obama appointed 30 appellate judges. President George W. Bush filled only 35 seats on the federal appellate bench; President Clinton, 30; President George H.W. Bush, 42; and President Reagan, 33.

On the district courts, the lowest level of federal courts, Trump’s impact has been less significant — although he’s still appointed judges far faster than Obama. Obama appointed 268 federal trial judges in eight years, while Trump’s appointed 210 so far. But district judges deal far more often with routine matters like individual criminal sentences and trial schedules, and far less often with the kind of blockbuster cases that shape thousands of lives. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in a candid moment while she was still a lower court judge, “the court of appeals is where policy is made.”

University of California at Berkley Professor Goodwin Liu swears an oath of truth before testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit on April 16, 2010.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It’s tempting to assume that Trump’s judicial appointees share the goonish incompetence of the man who placed them on the bench, but this assumption could not be more wrong. His picks include leading academics, Supreme Court litigators, and already prominent judges who now enjoy even more power within the judiciary.

Before he became president, Trump promised to delegate the judicial selection process to the Federalist Society, a powerful group of conservative lawyers that counts at least four Supreme Court justices among its members. “We’re going to have great judges, conservative, all picked by the Federalist Society,” Trump told a radio show hosted by the right-wing site Breitbart while he was still a candidate.

The Federalist Society spent decades preparing for this moment, and they’ve helped Trump identify many of the most talented conservative stalwarts in the entire legal profession to place on the bench.

There’s no completely objective way to measure legal ability, but a common metric used by legal employers to identify the most gifted lawyers is whether those lawyers secured a federal clerkship, including the most prestigious clerkships at the Supreme Court. Approximately 40 percent of Trump’s appellate nominees clerked for a Supreme Court justice, and about 80 percent clerked on a federal court of appeals. That compares to less than a quarter of Obama’s nominees who clerked on the Supreme Court, and less than half with a federal appellate clerkship.

In other words, based solely on objective legal credentials, the average Trump appointee has a far more impressive résumé than any past president’s nominees.

And they’re young, too. “The average age of circuit judges appointed by President Trump is less than 50 years old,” the Trump White House bragged in early November, “a full 10 years younger than the average age of President Obama’s circuit nominees.”

Trump’s nominees will serve for years or even decades after being appointed. Even if Democrats crush the 2020 elections and win majorities in both houses of Congress, these judges will have broad authority to sabotage the new president’s agenda.

There is simply no recent precedent for one president having such a transformative impact on the courts.



How Trump’s judges will change America

In an age of legislative dysfunction, whoever controls the courts controls the country. In the past decade or so — or more precisely, since Republicans took over the House in 2011 — Congress has been barely functional. You can count on one hand — and possibly on just a few fingers — the major legislation it has enacted.

Judges, by contrast, have become the most consequential policymakers in the nation. They have gutted America’s campaign finance law and dismantled much of the Voting Rights Act. They have allowed states to deny health coverage to millions of Americans. They’ve held that religion can be wielded as a sword to cut away the rights of others. They’ve drastically watered down the federal ban on sexual harassment. And that barely scratches the surface.

The judiciary is where policy is made in the United States. And that policy is likely to be made by Republican judges for the foreseeable future.

There are likely now five votes on the Supreme Court, for example, to effectively give the judiciary a veto power over all federal regulations. Similarly, the Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014) signals that religious conservatives may now ask the judiciary for an exemption from any law — and courts are likely to become quite generous in passing out such exemptions in the coming years. Republicans spent most of 2017 trying and failing to repeal Obamacare — but that failure means little to a federal appeals court that is expected to strike down the Affordable Care Act any day now.

Justices of the United States Supreme Court sit for their official group photo at the Supreme Court on November 30, 2018. Seated from left, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts. Standing from left, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

And that’s not all. In the coming months, the courts are poised to gut abortion rights, eviscerate gun control, and neuter landmark environmental laws. Federal judges have already stripped workers of their ability to assert many of their rights against their employers, and this process is likely to accelerate in the near future. Many of our voting rights lay in tatters, thanks to conservative judicial appointments, and this process is likely to accelerate as well.

When Congress has been unable to function, the executive branch has relied on existing federal laws that delegate some policymaking authority to federal agencies, in order to deal with many of the nation’s pressing needs. But with the Supreme Court poised to give judges a veto power over these agencies’ actions, the courts could in effect strike down any regulation they dislike. In a Republican-controlled judiciary, this likely means that Republican administrations will retain broad discretionary authority, but Democratic administrations will be hobbled.

And here’s the thing: We probably will not fully understand just how much power Trump’s judges will wield until after Trump leaves office. Right now, the executive branch is ideologically aligned with Trump’s judges, so those judges are less likely to object to the Trump administration’s actions than more liberal jurists. But it’s a fairly safe bet that Trump’s judges would spend an Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden administration wreaking havoc on the new president’s agenda — and that any future Democratic president will face similar opposition.

Two reasons why Trump’s been able to stack the courts

Broadly speaking, there are two reasons why Trump has had such an outsized influence on the federal courts.

The first reason is the effective blockade Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell imposed on appellate court confirmations the moment Republicans took over the Senate. McConnell’s effort to block Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland is well-known. Less well-known are the many lower court nominees who received similar treatment. Under Trump, McConnell’s turned the Senate into a machine that churns out judicial confirmations and does little else — he’s ignored literally hundreds of bills passed by the House. Under Obama, by contrast, McConnell’s Senate was the place where judicial nominations went to die.

The numbers here speak for themselves. In the final two years of the Obama presidency, when Republicans controlled the Senate, Obama successfully appointed only two federal appellate judges — and one of those judges, Kara Farnandez Stoll, was confirmed to a highly specialized court that primarily deals with patent law.

By contrast, 10 such judges were confirmed during the same period in the George W. Bush presidency — a period when Democrats controlled the Senate.

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, left, and Justice Neil M. Gorsuch share a laugh before the start of the State of the Union address in the US Capitol on February 5, 2019.
Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The second reason for Trump’s outsized impact on the judiciary is that, when Democrats last controlled the Senate, one especially important Democrat — Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (VT) — took an unusually expansive view of the rights of the minority party.

An informal tradition known as the “blue slip” sometimes gives home-state senators an exaggerated influence over who gets confirmed to federal judgeships within their states (the tradition gets its name from blue pieces of paper that home-state senators use to indicate whether they approve of a particular nominee).

Traditionally, the Senate Judiciary Committee showed some level of deference to senators who disapprove of their home-state nominees, although the level of deference given to these senators varied wildly depending on who chaired the committee and whether that committee chair was politically aligned with the incumbent president.

Leahy, who chaired the Committee for most of the Obama presidency, gave home-state senators a simply extraordinary power to block judicial nominees. Under Leahy, a single senator of either party could veto any nominee to a federal judgeship in their state (although federal appeals courts typically oversee multiple states, each individual seat on these courts is traditionally assigned to a particular state).

Before Leahy, just one committee chair imposed such a rigid blue slip rule: Sen. James Eastland (D-MS), an arch-segregationist who took over the committee not long after the Supreme Court’s school integration decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). A strict blue slip rule allowed Southern senators to block judges who might try to desegregate public schools.

Leahy, to be clear, is not a segregationist. He’s a reliably liberal Democrat. But he nonetheless reinstated the Eastland Rule during his tenure as chair of the Judiciary Committee.

Leahy says that he did so to protect the “rights of the minority.” And protect Republicans he did. Red-state Republicans used the power Leahy gave them to hold many judicial seats open until Obama left office. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) effectively held a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit open for eight years until Trump could fill it.

It’s tough to estimate the full impact of Leahy’s adherence to the Eastland Rule. The rule often stopped the Obama White House from nominating anyone to a vacant judgeship. According to Daniel Goldberg of the liberal Alliance for Justice, Obama “did not even make a nomination” to two seats on the Fifth Circuit because the blue slip would have doomed anyone he named; those seats were eventually filled by Trump nominees.

In other cases, the blue slip allowed Republicans to drag out negotiations over a particular vacancy until McConnell took over the Senate in 2015 and imposed a blockade on nearly all of Obama’s appellate nominees.

The Eastland Rule also weakened Obama’s hand in negotiations with Senate Republicans, and sometimes forced him to name relatively conservative judges in order to placate senators who could veto judicial nominees. Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), for example, effectively held one of Obama’s Eleventh Circuit nominees hostage until Obama agreed to also name Judge Julie Carnes — a George H.W. Bush district court appointee — to a second vacancy on that same court.

Republicans did not reciprocate when they came to power. Not long after Trump took office, then-Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) started confirming appellate court nominees over the objection of their home-state Democratic senators. (Republicans, for what it’s worth, have largely honored the blue slip tradition when a home-state senator objects to a district court nominee.)

Leahy continued to defend the Eastland Rule well into the Trump administration. In a 2018 Senate floor speech, he touted the fact that he was “criticized by advocacy groups and even the editorial page of the New York Times” for allowing Republicans to veto Obama’s nominees, and he painted himself as a hero who “resisted such pressure.” Leahy also warned in the 2018 speech that Republicans were “failing to protect the fundamental rights of home-state senators.”

By that point, Leahy’s adherence to the Eastland Rule had denied Obama the opportunity to fill many seats forever.

Filibuster reform fundamentally changed who gets to be a judge

In 2013, in a preview of how they would later treat the Garland nomination, Senate Republicans filibustered three Obama nominees to the powerful DC Circuit in an effort to keep Democrats from gaining a majority on that court. In response, Democrats fundamentally altered the filibuster to allow lower court judges to be confirmed by a simple majority.

Under the old rules, the minority party could block a vote on any nominee, and it took 60 votes to end that filibuster. Now, only 51 votes are required to move forward to a confirmation vote.

One consequence of filibuster reform is that it enabled Democrats to fill seats that Republicans held open with a filibuster. Democrats controlled the Senate for more than a year between the November 2013 reform vote and January 2015, when Republicans took control of the Senate.

So filibuster reform prevented Republicans from holding many judicial vacancies open until Trump could fill them. It also fundamentally altered who gets to be a federal judge.

Then-Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) swears in the newly elected members of the first session of the 113th Congress in the House Chambers on January 3, 2013.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Democrats controlled the Senate for less than 14 months after filibuster reform. Yet nearly half of the former Supreme Court clerks Obama appointed to federal appellate judgeships were confirmed during this brief period — nearly as many as Obama appointed in the almost five years before filibuster reform.

Similarly, nearly three-quarters of Obama’s post-reform appointees to the federal appellate bench clerked for a court of appeals judge — as compared to less than 38 percent of Obama’s pre-reform judges. One immediate impact of filibuster reform, in other words, is that it made it far easier for nominees with elite credentials to become federal judges.

Here’s why: In the pre-reform Senate, a sterling résumé was often a liability for a judicial nominee because it flagged the nominee as a potential candidate for a future Supreme Court appointment. Both parties can tell stories of fallen martyrs, like George W. Bush nominee Miguel Estrada or Obama nominee Goodwin Liu, whose immaculate résumés painted a target on their backs. Both Estrada and Liu fell to filibusters.

By filibustering plausible Supreme Court nominees before they got on the bench in the first place, the opposition party could diminish the governing party’s pool of potential justices and make it harder for the governing party to find an ideologically reliable Supreme Court nominee when the time came.

But filibuster reform did not just improve the quality of nominees’ resumes. It also cleared the path for known ideologues to join the bench. And it appears to be altering how many sitting judges behave.

As the 2016 election drew nigh, then-10th Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch looked like he was openly campaigning for a promotion. During this period, the Federalist Society grew increasingly obsessed with limiting the power of federal agencies to create binding regulations — an agenda that could hobble government bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. Gorsuch signaled his loyalty to this anti-regulatory agenda by writing gratuitous opinions laying out new limits he hoped to impose on federal agencies. In one case, Gorsuch even attached a separate concurring opinion to his own majority opinion.

As David Kaplan reports in The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court’s Assault on the Constitution, one of these anti-regulatory opinions “proved decisive in clinching” the Trump White House’s decision to name Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch’s opinions, according to Kaplan, were “a way for Gorsuch to call attention to himself, and it worked.”

When I speak to judges, I often hear them use a derisive term to describe this kind of behavior: “auditioning.” In a world without the filibuster, ambitious judges have less to fear from the opposition party. So they have every incentive to audition for the job that they want. After all, the best way to win the prize that Gorsuch captured for himself is to catch the eye of the Federalist Society and its adherents.

The future of the judiciary favors Republicans

While Trump’s been very successful at filling the bench with brilliant Republican partisans, a Democratic president is unlikely to enjoy similar success.

A badly malapportioned Senate means that to get even a bare majority in the Senate, Democrats have to win commanding popular vote majorities — and if Democrats don’t control the Senate, Democratic nominees could face the Merrick Garland treatment. Just look at the last two years of the Obama presidency if you want to know how a Republican Senate is likely to treat Democratic judicial nominees.

Judge Merrick Garland, Obama’s pick to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, was blocked by Senate Republicans who refused to hold a hearing and vote on his nomination.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Even if Democrats do overcome the odds to capture a majority, moreover, the balance of power is likely to be held by red-state Democrats who could be vulnerable to pressure from conservative interest groups hoping to keep Democratic nominees off the bench.

In other words, it’ll be a long, long time before Democrats can undo the work Trump and the Republicans have done to turn the judiciary rightward.

In the early months of the Trump presidency, so-called “Never Trump” Republicans often directed a derisive phrase against Trump supporters: “But Gorsuch.” It was a taunt that mocked the idea that it was worth selling your soul to a manifestly unfit TV celebrity who has been accused of sexual assault and misconduct by more than a dozen women in order to keep control of the courts.

But, as conservative columnist Hugh Hewitt wrote in 2018, “this bit of childish taunting always struck me as an unknowing admission of ignorance about the role assumed by the Supreme Court in modern American governance.” Certainly, Mitch McConnell understood this role. It’s why he was willing to use any means necessary to ensure Republican control of the judiciary.

The truth is, by worshipping at the altar of Trump, Republicans haven’t simply ensured conservative dominance of one branch of government. They may have entrenched conservative governance for decades.

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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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