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The financial case for defunding the police

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Part of The Great Rebuild Issue of The Highlight, our home for ambitious stories that explain our world.


The costs of bad policing are exacted in lives, in lost time, in terror, and in money — and present an interconnected moral and economic case for defunding the police.

Take the story of Daniel Prude, a Chicago man brought to his brother’s home in Rochester, New York, for help with mental illness. After Prude left his brother’s house early one morning, his brother, worried, called 911. The police found Prude naked in the middle of the street, seemingly in a state of great confusion. As snow came down that March day, they did not clothe him, nor did they orient him; instead, they handcuffed him and hooded him and put their bodies on him. The 41-year-old died of asphyxiation.

Prude’s story — which came to light months after it occurred, thanks to the family’s petitions for the release of body camera footage — continues. But others have reached their conclusion.

Christina Eilman was arrested in 2006 in Chicago while on her way home to California after exhibiting signs of a mental crisis; officers released her in an unfamiliar neighborhood where she was raped and later fell from a seventh-floor window, causing serious brain injuries and paralysis. She ultimately received $22.5 million from the city to settle a police misconduct case on the same day it agreed to pay $10.25 million to Alton Logan, who was sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit due to testimony extracted by officers known for torturing and framing Black men.

According to the most recent data available from the US Census Bureau, in 2017, state and local governments spent $114 billion on police forces and $78.8 billion on prisons. Policing can take up a large chunk of city budgets; for instance, Chicago planned to spend $2 billion, 15 percent of its budget, on its police force in 2020.

The aftereffects of bad policing only add to the financial strain on governments, even after negligent and criminal officers leave the force. Over the past 10 years, Chicago has spent more than half a billion dollars settling police misconduct cases, plus more than $200 million in lawyers’ bills since 2004 defending police actions. And Chicago isn’t alone; police misconduct bills over the past five years in New York City have topped $300 million; in the 2018–2019 fiscal year, Los Angeles spent $91.5 million.

No city can afford these sorts of costs in the best of times — and these are not the best of times. Before Covid-19 shuttered parts of the economy, some cities whose finances were in disarray began to use bonds to pay police misconduct settlements. But these bonds put cities at financial risk: They find their credit ratings affected by them, and their ability to pay the bonds affects their ability to borrow in the future. It has put taxpayers — the people most easily called upon to make up financial shortfalls — in jeopardy.

Taxpayers also bear the weight of police overtime, a cost exacerbated by our extraordinary times. Cities across the United States have responded to anti-racist uprisings by deploying extra police, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to do so; for instance, New York spent $115 million in overtime in just two weeks earlier this year. But police across the country have also responded to those protesters with public displays of brutality, putting taxpayers in the position of paying to be beaten, tear-gassed, and, in some cases, arbitrarily detained — all raising the specter of future payouts to victims.

Cities don’t have this money. The coronavirus has left them in dire financial shape; early on in the pandemic, the mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, which will fall $26 million short this year, told Vox that the Covid-19 recession “feels like falling off a cliff.”

And other cities are faring far worse. New Orleans has forecast between $130 million and $170 million in losses. Boston is planning on $65 million in revenue losses for the next year. States are in just as much danger; Florida can expect a shortfall of $16 billion to $23 billion in the next three fiscal years; California has a $54 billion deficit. Cities and states are being forced to take action through cuts.

“We’re now shifting into this new paradigm of austerity, wherein a number of things will be de facto defunded,” said Seft Hunter, director of Black-led organizing for the grassroots social justice organization Community Change. “We need to then have a conversation around where cities and states should deploy resources.”

Part of that conversation is whether cities should continue to fund policing as usual. City leaders must answer whether it is wise to continue to spend millions of dollars on lawsuits; whether it is a good idea to budget for overtime that might result in police acting in ways that cement resentment; and whether it is a smart use of resources to force police to do the work of social workers and paramedics, without the same qualifications.

A number of cities are already beginning to defund police departments as a way of addressing budget shortfalls and the ringing alarm of protesters who, for months, have demanded disinvestment of resources in policing that is violent, biased, and ineffective. Some of these cities have reinvested that money in programs that activists argue will save money — and lives — in the long run.

But there is also a case to be made that defunding the police could bolster the economy. “We do have a shortage of a range of jobs that are necessary and a vision of reinvestment in Black communities and providing what communities need: First responders, child care — teachers and providers,” said Dorian Warren, Hunter’s colleague and president of Community Change.

Defunding the police would, in theory, lead to the creation of new jobs in these areas. And it could lead to spending on training people to fill those jobs, as well as on the infrastructure and support staff needed to make sure new social workers or mediators or paramedics are successful in their work. Some of these new jobs would come at the expense of old ones in policing, but could also provide new opportunities and diversify the types of well-paying jobs available. And in making that reallocation, advocates argue, any strain on budgets in the short term could pay great dividends later.

In many ways, said activist and Pod Save the People co-host Brittany Packnett Cunningham, defunding provides both social and economic benefits: “The long-term gains are really around the expanding of the political imagination that puts people first, and that recognizes that economic decisions have human costs.”


The public asks police to solve problems for them — through patrols, they are supposed to stop crimes from happening, and through investigations, they are supposed to solve the crimes they do not prevent.

But data and anecdotal evidence indicate police forces are failing at both. Instead, bias in patrolling has led minority communities to view police with suspicion — if not outright contempt — and an inability to solve crimes means most violent criminals are never caught

When it comes to patrolling, studies have found a stark racial bias — that Black and Latinx Americans are stopped more often than white Americans. And prominent work by researchers such as Harvard University economist Roland Fryer Jr. has found Black and Latinx people face violence at those stops more often than white people do; Fryer published a paper in 2019 that found Black and Latinx Americans are 50 percent more likely to suffer force from police than white Americans are. More recent studies have found that figure to be an undercount, and the likelihood of biased violence to be far higher.

The results of this research are reflected in narratives from the policed.

“I’ve always seen police mishandling me and my people,” one Baltimore man told the Portals Policing Project, which collects policing stories from communities of color. “I’ve had evidence planted on me. … I’ve had money and evidence removed over the years. I’ve had police get on the stand and flat-out lie.”

This research and these narratives serve as important reminders of the problem with executing patrols as they are currently conducted: Police cannot be seen as protectors because they too often brutalize those they are meant to protect. This leads to poor outcomes, reducing community trust and cooperation with police, and draining time that could be spent on proactive crime reduction and apprehending those who have committed crimes.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks “clearance rates” — essentially, solved crimes. The most recent data the FBI has is for 2018, and that year, law enforcement either arrested or killed murder suspects 62.3 percent of the time. Officers closed rape cases 33.4 percent of the time, robbery cases 30.4 percent of the time, and aggravated assaults 52.5 percent of the time. And these figures likely overestimate officers’ success, given that most violent crimes are not reported and thus are not included in the FBI’s calculations.

These clearance rates have remained fairly stable for several decades despite increases in police budgets, suggesting that giving departments more money does not necessarily result in better outcomes. And in an economy that has been devastated by Covid-19 lies an opportunity for smarter — rather than more — spending on police.

In the United States, activists have for centuries called for radical changes to policing and the criminal justice system. Post-Reconstruction, W.E.B DuBois made what has become a familiar argument against policing, writing that police forces were an enforcement arm of a larger white supremacist system meant to ensure “no power was left in Negro hands.” He gave examples, writing of police officers harassing Black communities while affording them none of the policing benefits white communities enjoyed.

Demands for better policing have been closely linked to the struggle for civil rights. Although people of all ethnicities are victims of police killings, people of color disproportionately bear the economic, mental, and physical weights of unfair and callous police action.

As a result, some activists have called for the abolition of police — an idea recently explained in detail by Josie Duffy Rice for Vanity Fair. This is exactly what it sounds like: a world without police. Instead of law enforcement, state and local governments would fund new groups mandated to solve mental health crises and domestic disputes, to enforce speed limits and prevent stampedes at large gatherings, to investigate crimes and unravel mysteries. And for many, abolishing police would go hand in hand with the abolition of prisons and a reimagining of what constitutes justice.

Immediately abolishing the police would radically change the lives of many of America’s people of color and free up hundreds of billions of dollars, giving cities and states freedom to allocate resources and plug budget shortfalls in new ways. But abolition is not an idea that has been accepted by politicians — or by most Americans.

What has gained more immediate traction — and what many police abolitionists see as a stepping stone to their ultimate goal — is defunding the police, or reducing police departments’ budgets, and reallocating money toward other programs meant to encourage crime prevention, community cohesion, and social welfare.

As Packnett Cunningham put it, “the seeds are starting to bloom.”

The push to defund has been spurred by a series of prominent police killings this year, like those of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but also by violent — and sometimes deadly — incidents involving people suffering from mental illness, like Prude.

Money taken from police departments would be used in part to build up cities’ capacity for crisis care, but also to hire public servants better suited to many of the tasks that consume police officers’ time, from dealing with traffic problems to assisting with substance dependency issues. While giving departments more money hasn’t increased the clearance rate, by redistributing officer duties, more crimes could perhaps be solved.

It would then be possible to reduce negative interactions with police as well as opportunities for police misconduct.

A number of cities have begun some limited experiments in defunding the police. The city council of Austin, Texas, recently voted to slash its department’s funding by $150 million — a third of the department’s budget — and proposed moving some of the money to programs aimed at expanding health care, access to food, and preventing violence. The cuts would be made possible by not filling vacant positions, moving some nonpolicing duties to other city agencies, and canceling plans for new cadet classes. New York City’s council approved cuts in similar areas and plans to redistribute $1 billion to youth programs, education, internet connection programs, and social services. In a reminder that making the cuts is only the first step, it has been noted that the feasibility of actually enacting and maintaining these approved cuts remains an open question.

Los Angeles; San Francisco; Baltimore; Washington, DC; Hartford, Connecticut; Portland, Oregon; Salt Lake City; Seattle; and Philadelphia are among the other cities that have already voted to cut police budgets. And the Minneapolis City Council has promised to work to “dismantle” its police department and rebuild it from the ground up, with some of its funding going to other programs.

These cities are just getting started, but there are a few prominent examples of how dismantling and defunding can work. Camden, New Jersey, dramatically reformed its police department in 2013, and despite some criticism, has seen some positive outcomes. And Eugene, Oregon, has moved much of its crisis response to a separate agency called CAHOOTS, which, at a cost of $2.1 million per year, serves residents having problems with mental health, homelessness, and substances. The program’s coordinator claims that $2.1 million investment saves his community more than $15 million per year.

Given their financial constraints and the fact that no federal aid for state and local governments appears to be forthcoming, some cities now defunding police would have made cuts to their police programs anyway. However, without the pressure from national uprisings and hardworking activists, they may not have reinvested that money — and might have failed to reap the future dividends of these reinvestments.

Defunding police departments successfully would create a virtuous cycle, in which communities reap social and political benefits that translate into economic benefits for cities, states, and the communities themselves.

An example might be found in one of the ways police departments do bring in money. A number of cities use police departments to generate revenue through ticketing, fines, court fees, and asset seizures; a recent study by Rebecca Goldstein, Michael W. Sances, and Hye Young You found that 80 percent of US cities benefit from police this way and that 6 percent of cities — mostly smaller ones — rely on funds generated by their police departments for more than 10 percent of their revenue.

A prime example is the small city of Ferguson, Missouri. Following the uprising in 2014, the US Department of Justice found the city’s police department was under pressure to generate revenue through tickets and court fees, and that it responded to this pressure by finding novel, often petty, ways to ticket and arrest citizens. That initiative was enacted largely on the city’s minority population, depleting the resources of an already disadvantaged population and further souring the community’s perception of officers.

Defunding the police could reduce the amount of money cities cull from these activities — and full abolition certainly would. But communities of color would then have more funds to invest in themselves and to inject into their local economies. Cities would be able to reap the benefits of that activity through taxation, be it from sales taxes made on purchases or investments in homes.


A common critique of defunding the police is that officers would lose their livelihoods. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot made a related argument in the New York Times: “You are eliminating one of the few tools that the city has to create middle-class incomes for black and brown folks.”

Activists have argued, however, that it is morally wrong to allow many people of color to suffer so that some may be allowed entry into the middle class.

“There are so many other options — especially for people who want to do right by their community,” Packnett Cunningham said. Options would include new jobs like those Warren imagined: new positions in mental health and educational services, in health care and at city hall. If those jobs had pay structures similar to police work, for which the median annual wage is $65,400, they would also be a path to the middle class. And as Hunter pointed out, with overtime, take-home pay for civil servants who respond to emergencies can rise quickly: “Sometimes, you see a line firefighter making more than the mayor,” he said.

Repurposing officers could also lead to the direct economic empowerment of others, Warren said. For instance, police could be put to work addressing wage theft — a crime mostly committed against low-wage workers (who are disproportionately people of color) that causes several billion dollars of lost income per year.

“We know that employers flout the law all the time, and there’s no penalty,” Warren said. “If you want to redirect police officers, hire them in the city labor department to enforce employers who are cheating Black workers out of wages.”

In so doing, Warren said, cities can begin to think “differently about who gets enforced and who doesn’t.” And it could have a political benefit as well.

Research by Vesla Weaver and Amy Lerman, as well as others, has found that civic engagement — including voting — declines not just following arrests but after police contact. The studies also suggest repeated negative encounters lead to steeper engagement declines. These declines, Owens and Walker found, could be countered through positive engagement with community organizations.

This research suggests eliminating — or even reducing — those negative encounters would increase civic participation and strengthen the public trust in government. It could ensure “that democracy is actually responsive to the aspirations and calls of the people,” Hunter said.


The benefits of defunding the police are limited only by imagination, the activists Vox spoke with said.

Funds taken from the police could serve as an immediate form of economic stimulus created and controlled at the local level — stimulus badly needed, given the federal government’s failure to craft a new aid package.

Using funds this way would allow cities to give “resources to people who need them now, [people] who cannot put food on the table, who can’t access basic services, whose water is getting shut off, whose electricity is getting shut off because they can’t make their payments because they’ve lost their jobs,” Warren said.

One of the most common forms of wealth in the US is a family’s home, but Black families have struggled with homeownership, particularly following the Great Recession. And many of the 40.6 percent of Black families who do own homes live in devalued neighborhoods; according to Andre M. Perry, a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, the average Black home is devalued by $48,000.

Higher home values brought on by community development would be good for cities as well, opening the door for new sources of property tax revenue.

There are myriad ways employment might be affected as well. Economists such as Jhacova Williams and Valerie Wilson at the Economic Policy Institute have detailed why Black Americans have higher rates of underemployment than white Americans. One reason is that Black people do not have the capital — such as from a home — that would allow for extended periods of unemployment; instead, they are forced to accept subpar opportunities out of an immediate need to pay bills.

If cutting police budgets leads to fewer police encounters as well as fewer arrests and fewer sentences, “there is a greater possibility for living wages,” Packnett Cunningham said. “The amount to which we see people pay unlivable wages, and the excuse is ‘You have a record’ — that excuse disappears.”

Looking at defunding the police from this perspective, the question becomes less about what cities and communities lose when police are taken out of the equation, and more, Packnett Cunningham said, “How much more can we gain in human brilliance and creativity and innovation?”

Sean Collins is the weekend editor at Vox, and reports on civil rights protests, the Trump administration, and the 2020 presidential election.

This story is part of The Great Rebuild, a project made possible thanks to support from Omidyar Network, a social impact venture that works to reimagine critical systems and the ideas that govern them, and to build more inclusive and equitable societies. All Great Rebuild coverage is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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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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