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Why Vienna opera singers are ready to risk their lives to perform in a pandemic



VIENNA — As baritone Klemens Sander waited for the curtain to rise in the world premiere of the opera Toteis in mid-September, he felt privileged and “very emotional” about returning to the stage.

“It was like coming back into a family you have not seen for a very long time,” he said.

Sander hadn’t performed in an opera for six months. The originally scheduled Toteis premiere, on March 13 in Northern Italy, had been canceled, as the pandemic ushered in a season of silence at the world’s opera houses. Back then, he hopped on a train to Vienna only 24 hours before the borders closed, and promptly learned that all of his performances for the usually busy spring and summer seasons had been called off.

Packing theaters and concert halls is a risky business right now: We know most coronavirus transmission happens inside, especially when people are less than 6 feet apart.

Singing, like loud speaking or coughing, is also a particularly dangerous activity. It launches into the air respiratory droplets and aerosols, which, if a person is infected, can efficiently spread the virus to others. In one notorious case, a single person at a choir practice in Washington state infected 52 others, leading to two deaths. A database of Covid-19 superspreading events around the world lists numerous choir practices and a few concerts as sources of contagion.

With transmission of the virus still relatively high or surging again in big cities, many performing arts organizations are turning to livestreaming and outdoor performances, or canceling their fall and winter programs altogether. On September 23, the Metropolitan Opera in New York announced that it will stay closed until at least September 2021, only resuming performances when “a vaccine is widely in use, herd immunity is established, and the wearing of masks and social distancing is no longer a medical requirement.” (The decision will cost the house more than $100 million in revenue.)

These changes have pushed classical music (which wasn’t exactly booming pre-pandemic) into a precarious state. “It’s like being on the Titanic,” one concert pianist told Vox. Opera houses and companies around the world are furloughing workers, cutting salaries, and laying off staff. Two of the biggest classical music talent agencies — Columbia Artists Management in the US and Hazard Chase in the UK — recently folded.

But in some corners of Europe, where governments have included provisions for the arts in coronavirus stimulus packages, the picture is slightly cheerier. Concert halls and theaters are finding ways to adapt and carry on. And even as Covid-19 cases rise across the continent, opera season in Vienna, the world’s capital of classical music, just reopened.

These days, Sander and his colleagues are singing centuries-old arias under a new set of conditions: smaller choirs, smaller audiences, plexiglass barriers, masks, and a lot of Covid-19 testing. Theirs is a middle-road approach for live indoor performances — between the full closure of the Met and pre-coronavirus normalcy.

Vienna is considered the world’s capital of classical music.
Joe Kkamar/AFP via Getty Images
Guests disinfect their hands as they arrive for a concert at Vienna’s State Opera.
Joe Kalmar/AFP via Getty Images

Concert houses in Vienna reopened their doors in June.
Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

But pulling off safe rehearsals and stagings is as resource-intensive and elaborate as the operas themselves. Reopening also puts considerable strain on artists, who are forced to choose between their love of performing, their livelihood, and their health. And as we head into winter, when coronavirus case counts are expected to rise, it’s not clear how long the curtain will stay up.

Coronavirus at the opera

A startling sign about the potential danger of live operas in the pandemic came from Russia earlier in September: Anna Netrebko — the Beyoncé of the opera world, who often plays the role of the prima donna dying of infectious disease (think Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata) — tested positive for the virus.

Netrebko had sung in the first post-lockdown performance in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre with another singer who had also been infected. But her decision to carry on was one she didn’t regret.

“I don’t regret going back to performing because I strongly believe that we need culture, now as ever,” she tweeted. Since then, she has been Instagramming from her hospital bed in solidarity with other artists. “The categorical cessation of work for artists in most major theaters is preventable and does not need to come to this,” she wrote on September 23 of the Met’s closure. “Without culture, there’s no society.”

What’s gotten less attention are the live indoor performances that run safely — at least for well-resourced institutions in locations where Covid-19 isn’t spreading widely.

This summer, the Salzburg Festival, an opera music event that takes place in indoor concert halls in the Alps every August, drew an audience of visitors from around the globe. In late May, organizers announced that they’d go ahead with the program to celebrate the festival’s 100-year anniversary — with a pandemic plan in place, and face masks stamped with the centennial logo.

Coronavirus transmission had been relatively controlled in Austria, with 100 cases per day for months. And festival organizers worked with public health experts to come up with infectious disease prevention protocols that would keep it that way.

Among the rules: Audience members were asked to wear masks and social distance at one meter. Seating capacities were reduced, and every second seat in every concert hall was locked so people couldn’t get around the restrictions. There were no intermissions at performances, or refreshments available.

Simply buying a ticket meant agreeing to engage in contact tracing, if it came to that: Tickets were personalized with names, and audience members had to show an ID when they entered any venue. There were also disinfectant dispensers everywhere, and venues were cleaned more than usual.

Employees of the Salzburg Festival wear protective face shields on August 2.
Barbara Gindl/AFP via Getty Images
Seats are left empty between guests in order to enforce social distancing rules during the music festival.
Barbara Gindl/AFP via Getty Images

In the end, the festival attracted more than 76,000 visitors — a little more than a quarter of last year’s — from 39 countries during August. According to the festival’s final report on the event, “not a single positive case has been reported to the authorities.” And of the 3,600 coronavirus tests carried out on the 1,400 people involved in festival preparation, just one came back positive in early July. That individual had a “very light case” and didn’t pass the virus on to any others, the festival organizers said.

“Who could have imagined that in times of corona, something like [the operas] Elektra or Così would be possible again?” Markus Hinterhäuser, the festival’s artistic director, said in a press release. “The message sent from Salzburg will be the strongest, most vital and essential one can broadcast to the world.”

The success at Salzburg helped the Vienna State Opera House, or Wien Staatsoper, restart indoor performances in September with a little more confidence. And so far, it’s kept outbreaks at bay with behind-the-scenes infection control practices that rival those of a hospital.

When rehearsals started in August, every one of the nearly 1,000 staff members was tested before entering the house and asked to mask up. They were then split into four groups according to their risk level: Singers and people working directly with the singers are part of the red group and are tested every week (since they can’t always wear masks or keep distance onstage). Administrators are part of the orange group and are tested every four weeks. The yellow and white groups — people who don’t have close contact with artists, such as delivery people — are only tested if there’s a known exposure. And everyone wears colored lanyards to denote their risk, while groups are instructed to stay apart.

Like the Salzburg Festival, the Staatsoper has a host of protocols during performances: Audience members, who must divulge personal details for contact tracing, are assigned entrances to minimize exposure to others. They’re also asked to wear masks until they reach their seats, which are assigned in a checkerboard pattern. There’s a plexiglass wall in front of the orchestra. Of course, there are no bravos allowed. “Please express your enthusiasm exclusively by clapping as loudly as possible,” the instructions from the opera house read.

But Uta Sander — the artistic administrator of the company’s Young Artist Program and wife of baritone Klemens Sander — said enthusiastic audiences don’t always comply, and even the stringent approach hasn’t kept out the coronavirus entirely.

On September 10, a singer in her program tested positive for the virus after attending a student performance in Vienna. At that point, testing at the opera house became even more frequent, Sander said: Anyone who had contact with the singer was tested every day for 10 days. “They found and isolated a few people who had no symptoms at all but were positive,” she added, and the cases didn’t turn into an outbreak.

The Russian soprano Anna Netrebko (center) seen on stage in Saxony, Dresden, on June 19. Since then, she’s tested positive for the coronavirus.
Robert Michael/picture alliance via Getty Images

With cases rising in Austria since late August, no one knows how long the opera house will stay open. If the situation worsens, the government could cancel the performing arts again. For now, though, Sander said, “Looking to other countries, it feels like being on an island of the blessed.”

Artists risking their lives

The elaborate coronavirus prevention program at the Staatsoper is possible because it’s supported by the deep coffers of public funding for the arts in Austria. But most of the performing arts economy is made up of smaller institutions without generous state support. And they either can’t afford or aren’t obliged to regularly test crew members and artists, who are predominantly freelance or self-employed.

That includes Klemens Sander. For Toteis, which opened at the Akzent Theater in Vienna, the main Covid-19 protection he and his colleagues relied on was herd immunity: Several performers who were part of the production caught the virus in March in Italy. Sander still took precautions during rehearsals, wearing a mask whenever possible and trying to keep his distance from others — but he hasn’t had to submit to testing.

This means artists are left to take health risks at the same moment they’ve been hit with even more financial uncertainty than usual, said Franz Gürtelschmied, a Vienna-based tenor. Before September, he hadn’t earned any money since March, when 25 of the remaining performances he had scheduled around the world got canceled.

His next major gig, a part in The Magic Flute at the Paris State Opera House in January, hasn’t yet been called off, but with coronavirus cases rising again in France, he’s not hopeful.

“We don’t know what will happen in the next week,” he said. “There are no guarantees, and all the contracts — you can blow them in the wind too.”

In a post on Facebook, another Austrian baritone painted a grim picture. Because fewer people are attending the shows that are open, artists are getting paid less, he wrote, and new contracts put the burden of cancellation on the artists. “No matter what we try to build, a week later, [it could] collapse like a house of cards,” he wrote.

Guests arrive to a concert at Vienna’s State Opera on June 8.
Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

There’s also the challenge of performing in houses that aren’t nearly as full as they once were. Marlis Petersen, an established German soprano who is currently rehearsing a new role in Brussels, said she’s worried about the dynamic that will create for artists. “Opera is very much performing a role or a piece in order to move the audience, in order to make them feel, to make them cry, make them laugh,” she said. “There [will be] something very big missing.”

Still, life without performing feels devoid of meaning, said Gürtelschmied. During the lockdown, many of his colleagues fell into a depression. These days, he’s happy to be working again — even with the anxiety about the virus.

“You’re standing in a choir and you don’t know the person singing next to you — where they have been before and if he or she is positive or negative,” he said. “We are working at our own risk. If I want to work, if I want to sing, I have to cope with that.”

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



(CNN) —  

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

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

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


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

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

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

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

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

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

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

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

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

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

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

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

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

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

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

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

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

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

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

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

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

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

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

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

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

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

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

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

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

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

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

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.


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

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

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

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

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

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

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

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

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

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

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

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


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

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

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

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

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

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

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

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

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

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

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

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

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

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

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

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

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

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

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

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

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

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

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

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.


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

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

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

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

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

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

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

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

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

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

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

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.


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

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

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

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

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

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

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

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.


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

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

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

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

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

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

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

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.


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



Open Sourced logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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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