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Is the U.S. Already in a New Civil War?

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America’s COVID-19 numbers aren’t under control. In many places they’re getting worse. Large portions of the west coast are on fire, social media is fueling genocides, and political violence in the U.S. is increasing. People are marching in the streets, aligned with two ideologically distinct factions. Many of them (overwhelmingly from one side) are armed, and violence and death has resulted when these two sides have clashed.

The signs of a coming conflict are everywhere. Political polarization is up, gun and ammunition sales have spiked, killers such as Kyle Rittenhouse are being lauded by their political allies, and protests are widespread in American cities. Police kill unarmed people in the street, the government is polarized and corrupt, and our institutions are failing. Armed militias patrol U.S. streets and groups like the Atomwaffen Division and the Base plot to start a larger conflict. Mass shootings, sometimes ideologically motivated and other times not, occur frequently. Poverty and unemployment are widespread as mass evictions loom and Congress stalls to help those in need.

In Philadelphia last night, protestors surrounded a police precinct after an officer shot and killed 27 year old Walter Wallace Jr. Wallace had a history of mental illness and had a knife, when officers approached and opened fire. His mother begged them not to shoot. In the aftermath of the shooting, protestors have smashed windows and spray painted the police substation. Police say 30 officers have been hurt and one who was hit by a pickup truck has been hospitalized for a broken leg.

This is all happening during an election year, and we have a sect of the president’s supporters who have vowed to show up at polling places armed. If you have a terrible and ominous feeling about all this, you’re not alone.

Some on the far right are talking about another civil war. Some experts who have studied sectarian violence in the United States and other countries think we’re already in one.

INCIPIENT INSURGENCY

According to several experts I spoke with, a new civil conflict will look nothing like the first American Civil War. It’s not likely that clear sides will be drawn up with massive armies of Americans marching towards each other as drones strike from above. An insurgency is more likely—a period of sustained and distributed conflict where non-state actors carry out violence to achieve a political goal. Several said they believe we’re already in the early stages of one, a period before large-scale political violence the CIA defines as an “incipient insurgency.”

“A conflict in the pre-insurgency stage is difficult to detect because most activities are underground and the insurgency has yet to make its presence felt through the use of violence,” the CIA Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency says in its definition of the incipient insurgency phase. “Moreover, actions conducted in the open can easily be dismissed as nonviolent political activity. During this stage, an insurgent movement is beginning to organize: leadership is emerging, and the insurgents are establishing a grievance and a group identity, beginning to recruit and train members, and stockpiling arms and supplies.”

There are plenty of examples from around the world for what this might look like, and many civil wars today do not have soldiers marching on the battlefield. The early stage of the Syrian Civil War was fought by paramilitary groups in neighborhoods. For 30 years in Ireland, insurgent groups policed the streets, disappeared people from their homes, assassinated political enemies, and bombed buildings. The “Colombian conflict” was an asymmetrical war that lasted almost 60 years and involved various guerrilla groups (most famously the FARC) fighting each other and the government. During the Years of Lead in Italy, right-wing terrorists colluded with the police and assassinated leftists political leaders.

These and other conflicts are overwhelmingly what civil war looks like now. Armed groups with various objectives vying for territory, and cultural and political influence, often violently. According to several experts, if America goes to war with itself, it won’t look like it did in 1860. It’ll look more like Belfast in 1972 or Aleppo in 2011. But even these analogies fall short.

It’s hard to find direct historical analogues for what’s happening in the United States right now. This kind of political violence and civil strife isn’t new, but there’s a lot of factors that make America unique. The United States is a large country spread out across millions of square miles, social media is fueling the conflict, and our populace is heavily armed.

People, it is fair to say, are scared.

The strongest indicator that shit is about to get extremely bad is not hate. There’s always hate. It’s fear,” David Kilcullen, a member of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) nonprofit foundation, told me during a Zoom call. Kilcullen is a counter-insurgency strategist who serves on the FDD’s board of advisors for its Center on Military and Political Power. He was also the Chief Strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department from 2005 to 2006.

Because he studied insurgencies, Kilcullen knows what the early stages of a civil conflict look like, and he’s not excited about America’s future.

“The worst atrocities come from fear, not hate. Because people think they’re good,” he said. “And they can justify incredible atrocious violence to themselves on the basis that it is defensive…you need a belief that some other group is encroaching on your territory. And then you need to have lost confidence in the ability of the state to act as an impartial and neutral protector. We’re already losing that confidence because of COVID.”

Kilcullen isn’t the only person who thinks America is close to something incredibly dangerous.

“We are in a state of civil war, whenever, in more than one geographical location in the United States it becomes commonplace for multiple non-state armed groups, to fight each other with deadly force. When that is an occurrence that is common in more than one location in the country, that’s a civil war,” Robert Evans told me over the phone. Evans is a conflict journalist who’s reported from Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq. His work has appeared in Bellingcat where he reports on modern American extremist movements. He’s also a podcaster and his 2019 podcast “It Could Happen Here” described the possibility of a new American Civil War.

“To most people, the idea of a second American Civil War feels more like science fiction than a possible future,” Evans said on “It Could Happen Here.” “It feels silly when I stand in line at the DMV or hop on to a public bus or train. The systems that govern our lives here are so seemingly intricate, so stable, and so settled that any kind of mass upset feels impossible. Fantastic even. But I have walked through the cities where the busses still run, just without windows because the blast from mortars have blown them all out. I’ve watched people stand in line and fill out forms in government buildings while howitzers shake the foundations and machine guns chatter half a mile away. I have seen systems collapse. Everything I’ve seen and everything I’ve read over the past two years has convinced me that the United States is closer to that kind of terror than anyone is willing to admit.”

COLLAPSE IS NOT EVENLY DISTRIBUTED

Adam Isacson, director of the Defense Oversight Program at WOLA—a group that advocates for human rights in Latin America, says a civil war in the U.S. could look a lot like the Colombian civil war, where violence is happening but it’s not evenly distributed across the country. Like many current foreign conflicts, for most Americans a civil war, even one in their own country, will just be something they see on TV.

Even now, much of what’s happening in the United States can be put out of mind or avoided if you don’t go to protests and avoid large parts of the internet. Life marches on.

In the early 2000s, Isaacson was in Bogotá working with security experts and human rights activists who were detailing the horrors unfolding in Colombia’s countryside. In between meetings, he would grab a meal at a cafe.

“I’m eating my sandwich, I’ve got another meeting coming up, I’m going to hear more horrible things, and I look up and I just see the beginning of this soap opera that’s very popular in Colombia at the time, with this happy middle class family, eating together and dancing and hugging and you know, then they could go off and do their soap opera things,” Isaacson told me over the phone. “You realize that even in this horrible period for Colombia, for most of the country, this conflict was just something you saw on television. It doesn’t really impact their everyday lives.”

“Collapse,” he said, “is not evenly distributed…I’d say there’s a real danger that [America] is going to see sustained political violence.”

But Isaacson noted there are important differences between Colombia and the United States. In Colombia, the conflict happened mostly in the country and the different sides took and held territory. “In America, it will be more urban. It’s not going to be about controlling territory,” he said.  “A lot of it will be, like terrorism, an effort to display a show of force and make a statement. It’ll be more performative than what you’d see in Colombia where the guerillas really did intend to take over the country.”

Kilcullen thinks America has been in what he calls “pre-revolutionary conditions” for a while. “The COVID crisis caused a lot of people to become more militant than they were in the past,” he said. He pointed to the George Floyd protests, the more than 100 days of sustained direct action in Portland, the Kenosha shooting, the seeming execution of Michael Reinoehl, and the shooting of Garett Foster in Austin, Texas as just some of the stress points. “We’re starting to get to the point where there’s a bit of a critical mass building.”

THE PYRAMID OF POLITICAL UNREST

Kilcullen described political unrest using a pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid are the masses, the great bulk of people. Above that are movements—according to Kilcullen, usually around 20 percent of the population—large and loosely aligned political groups that are overwhelmingly non-violent. Think, broadly, the Black Lives Matter movement or Trump supporters. A step up from movements are militants. This is a small subset, usually, 3 percent, of a movement willing to engage in violence.

“Militant just means willing to engage in violence. They’re not necessarily organized, they’re not necessarily carrying rifles, but they have pepper spray or baseball bats and they’re willing to fight each other,” Kilcullen said. “This isn’t new. We’ve been seeing Proud Boys and Antifa fighting each other continuously since before the 2016 election in Portland.”

According to Kilcullen, the step above militants are militias. “Militias are a subset of militants who are actually armed and organized,” he said. “But they’re still mostly defensive. You get smaller and smaller groups as you go up the pyramid.” He’s seen a growing movement called Area Code Militias, groups that organize to defend specific area codes. They even have a website where they organize in the open. Organizing for community defense in America is not illegal.

Kilcullen also pointed to the Not Fucking Around Coalltion (NFAC) as an example of militia. NFAC recently fielded 300 armed and uniformed black members in Stonemountain, Georgia. A month later, NFAC marched in Louisville, Kentucky and outnumbered 3 Percenters—a right wing militia. Both sides were heavily armed and three NFAC members were injured when another member accidentally discharged their weapon.

At the very top of the pyramid are the actual insurgents. “A militia is generally defensive,” Kilcullen said. “Then you get people that are willing to travel a long distance to fight somebody else or they’re willing to go into somebody else’s neighborhood and carry out an atrocity.”

Members of the Atomwaffen Division have killed several people. In February, the FBI arrested several members of the group as part of a national crackdown and uncovered evidence that they were planning mass shootings and bombings. Those who escaped the early round of federal prosecutions have reformed under a new name.

There’s also the Boogaloo Bois, a loose cadre of extremely online shitposters armed with assault rifles and Haiwaiian shirts. In September, the DOJ arrested two self-proclaimed members of the Boogaloo movement after the FBI set them up to donate money to Hamas. A Hamas spokesperson later denied there was a link between the organizations.

In Michigan, the FBI arrested 14 people, including members of a group called the Wolverine Watchmen, for allegedly plotting to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The prosecution released videos of the group it said show the alleged conspirators conducting live fire training in preparation for the kidnap attempt. “If this whole thing starts to happen, I’m telling you what dude, I’m taking out as many of these mother fuckers as I can,” suspect Brandon Caserta said in one of the videos. “Every single one. Every single one.”

There’s also the Base, a group of neo-Nazi accelerationists who see America’s police forces as spread thin thanks to the protests. According to the Base, it’s a perfect time for a terrorist attack that could spread violence. The Base built its insurgency starting in 2018 and had picked antifascist, journalist, and government targets but was busted by the FBI in January 2020.

In Kilcullen’s pyramid, these groups sit at the top and are the real threat. Kilcullen was particularly worried about accelerationists.

“The bases are loaded and all the components are there. It really only takes a spark to set off a significant amount of violence and once you have that violence, it becomes self sustaining,” Kilcullen said. “If you and I see that, for sure the accelerationists do too. And their whole agenda is to set that spark. I worry that people that haven’t shown themselves yet, who aren’t doing street stuff, the underground cells, are planning a full on bombing, not a firework.”

AN ARMED POPULACE

Evans lives in Portland and has been covering the protests and violence there since it began more than 100 days ago. “I think it’s preparing everyone for the big one,” he said. “At some point, if this continues, you will have three large groups of armed people show up and begin firing at each other with live arounds and you’ll have multiple casualties.” Those three groups are, broadly, the left, the right, and law enforcement.

He said he’s worried about a scenario where there’s widespread violence and death at a protest. This might cause the groups involved to lose public support. Or, it might not. “Worst case scenario is that you develop a network of reprisals. That’s like The Troubles, that’s like fucking Syria.”

“Syria wasn’t just Assad and his army versus the people,” Evans said. “It was Assad and his paramilitaries. I’m much more worried about the United States winding up like Syria than about the United States winding up like Ireland.”

Kilcullen said that one thing that makes the American situation uniquely dangerous is the amount of weapons it has. “Something that’s not usual in other circumstances. You’ve got 100 million plus weapons in private hands…and about a five million spike in weapon purchases in the last six months and a nationwide ammo shortage,” he said.

Sales of guns, ammunition, and body armor are way up in the United States in 2020. We’ve had spikes in firearms sales in the past, they typically happen after a mass shooting as people panic-buy weapons they soon think might be illegal. This is different and it’s bigger. In the January after Obama’s re-election in 2012, an estimated 2 million guns were sold in America. The spike quickly dropped back.

In March 2020, Americans purchased an estimated 1.9 million guns. In April, the FBI processed 2.9 million background checks for guns. In June, it conducted 3.9 million background checks. Gun sales are so high that arms manufacturers literally can’t make ammunition fast enough to keep up with demand. Body armor sales are up as much as 600 percent for some manufacturers.

THE POLITICS OF FEAR

Trump isn’t helping. When asked to denounce white supremacists and reject conspiracy theories, Trump equivocates and either dances around the topic or gives what sounds like tacit endorsement.

Right wing paramilitary groups clashing with leftists while politicians egg them on is similar to the strategy of tension employed by Italy’s conservative Christian Democracy (DC) party during the Years of Lead from 1960s through the 1980s. “The strategy would involve trying to frighten the bulk of the population by saying, ‘We’re in a polarized society where the extreme left is very very powerful and may succeed, and if they do, society will fundamentally change and we need to be fearful of that,” Matt Clement, a senior Lecturer of criminology at the University of Winchester in the UK told me over the phone.

Clement and co-author Vincenzo Scalia published The Strategy of Tension: Understanding State Labeling Processes and Double-Binds in the March 2020 issue of the academic journal Critical Criminology. It describes Italy’s Years of Lead and how the Italian state exploited fear and paranoia to maintain power. “You had coup attempts that got so far, and then they were leaked so everybody knew about them in the press,” Clement explained. “The idea was that people would worry about, ‘if the left goes too far, clearly the right are ready to respond.’”

In a climate of polarization and paranoia, the truth became difficult to parse. “Most people would think, ‘I don’t care whose fault it is, I just don’t want it to happen.’ So the tension is the fear ramped up on either side, and then hopefully that will be enough to make people not vote for the communists and we can keep the DC in power.”

During those years in Italy, political cynicism among the population was de rigueur. “The political machinery of Italy looked broken,” Clement said. “There was a crisis of confidence in the ruling party and the left. The rush to violence was precisely because the conventional political options of either party were bad. As a result, people were on the streets and people were using violence on both sides.”

Clement sees the parallels between Italy then and America now and, like Kilcullen and Evans, he thinks much depends on the upcoming election. “If Trump lost and tried not to leave office, then clear that would lead to outrage and protests,” he said. “On the other hand if Trump loses, especially if he loses narrowly, you can imagine that many of his supporters would be very keen on the idea of actively demonstrating their beliefs…it’s ready made for further ruptures no matter what way the election goes.”

According to Kilcullen, the pandemic and social media as direct causes for the current climate of uncertainty and looming violence. Historical comparisons between Ireland in the 20th century and America in the 1960s and 70s are imperfect, though people have been bringing both up a lot lately. From 1971 to 1972, there were 2,500 bombings in the U.S. The explosions were ubiquitous and, in cities like NYC, a part of the background of city life.

But 2020 is different. “The difference is social media,” Kicullen said. “How many Americans knew there were that many bombings at the time? I’d say probably not many. What we have now, is every time there’s an incident it gets amplified and goes viral and the players become martyrs…when you have the amplification effects of social media, it takes fewer incidents than it did in the 1970s.”

“I don’t know how you pull back from the brink here,” he said. “At the end of the day, the least you’ve got right now is in the low tens of millions of people who’ve actively prepared to murder their countrymen and in many were looking forward to it. How does a Joe Biden electoral victory change that?”

Kilcullen wanted to stress that he could be very wrong about everything. Both he and Evans have spent their lives studying conflict and it has a way of affecting their point of view.

“I’ve spent 30 years getting pretty good at spotting [civil conflicts] when they’re starting,” Kilcullen said. “A colleague has joked that I’ve predicted eight out of the last two civil wars. I would take what I’m saying with a grain of salt.”

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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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