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The Legacy of ‘Going Postal’

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Registration, education and action. We’re supporting voting in partnership with iamavoter.com, a nonpartisan movement encouraging voting, and civic engagement.

This article was sent on Tuesday to subscribers of The Mail, Motherboard’s pop-up newsletter about the USPS, election security, and democracy. It is the first in a multi-part series about working conditions at the USPS. Subscribe to get the next edition before it is published here, as well as exclusive articles and the paid zine.

A bit of housekeeping, and some great news: The first edition of the zine has been printed, and is on the way to us as you read this. We’re expecting it later this week, and will be mailing it out to subscribers. For a sneak peek of what it looks like, check out this video of it getting printed. This is an experimental project, and we’re spending the money paying for art, printing, design, and, of course, postage. Thanks to everyone who has subscribed—if you like this project and want to ensure we do similar things to it in the future, there’s still time to sign up!

On the morning of November 14, 1991, recently fired letter carrier Thomas McIlvane entered the post office facility in Royal Oak, Michigan, walked to the area where management sits, and shot his former bosses. He killed four people, wounded four others, and then killed himself. It was not the first nor the last time a postal worker murdered his coworkers, nor was it the deadliest. But it was one of the most illustrative events of the “going postal” phenomenon.

By now, Americans are all too familiar with the pattern of media coverage after a mass shooting, much more so than they were in 1991. A common feature has always been the news interviews with coworkers, neighbors, and acquaintances of the shooter in an attempt to create some kind of profile of why this person committed such an atrocity.

Perhaps it is only in retrospect, having seen tragedies like this unfold so many more times, that I could truly appreciate how unusual those post-shooting interviews were in Royal Oak. Instead of the typical attempts to reckon with an unthinkable event, nobody at Royal Oak seemed to think it was so unthinkable. In fact, many of them had been waiting for something like this.

“When I heard there was a shooter, in my mind it could have been anyone,” one postal worker told a news crew shortly after the shooting. Then, he said something you almost never hear anyone say after a mass shooting.

“I understand why he did it.”


As I talked to some of my coworkers about this week’s edition—who doesn’t love someone slacking them about 30-year-old mass shootings?—I learned not everyone knows the term “going postal” refers to actual events. In the late 80s and early 90s, a spate of shootings by disgruntled postal workers became the primary way most Americans thought of the post office. Until Columbine, any outburst of violence was framed through the lens of “going postal.” But if you grew up in a post-Columbine world, “going postal” generally means “going berserk” regardless of whether a violent act took place. Gradually, it even became a joke.

In the meantime, a series of investigations into the post office’s workplace uncovered a culture that not only contributed to those shootings but many viewed as the main culprit. There were more than a dozen General Accounting Office (GAO) reports on labor-management relations at the post office and a full House investigation and hearings (the USPS Inspector General’s office, whose reports I have frequently cited in this newsletter, wasn’t created until 1996).

The findings of these investigations were scandalous. Time and again, they found the postal service fostered a broken and dangerous relationship between bosses and workers at best, a cruel and abusive one at worst. They found everyone knew the problem but no one could (or would) fix it. And they found that attempts to replicate small but successful experiments disappeared into a morass of bureaucratic complacency and petty fighting between USPS management and the various worker unions. The country largely averted its gaze from this story. And when it didn’t, it was turning “Going Postal” it into a late night comedy punchline.

To be perfectly clear, none of this is meant to excuse or condone the actions of any of the shooters. Ultimately, these dozen or so individuals—the number of these incidents fluctuates depending on exactly how one defines a workplace shooting—were a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of postal workers who found it agonizing to go to work every day. Most of them did not deal with this difficult situation by murdering anyone. Many of them simply kept suffering, afraid to leave their job because the post office was one of the few employers willing to provide middle-class wages with benefits to workers without a college education or any trade skill set.

It is easy to be fatalistic about the shootings and conclude that troubled people will always do troubling things. But the post office shootings are worth exploring again. Not because those dozen or so people committed murder, but because of the hundreds of thousands of other postal workers who didn’t. The post office’s workplace culture impacted more than 810,000 Americans at the time (yes, the USPS now employs some 180,000 fewer people than it did in 1994). Postal workers tried to get people to care, but they almost never could.

In recent years, thanks in large part to the rise of the gig economy and a resurgence in the organized labor movement, Americans have started to care a bit more about the conditions under which we work. And the post office ought to be no exception to that re-examination.

So today is going to be the first of a two-part series about working at the post office. This issue will be about the lessons learned from the postal shootings of the “going postal” era. The second will be about whether any of this has gotten better in the years since and what that says about the nature of labor in modern America. If you work for the post office and have thoughts for the second part after reading this issue, email me. I’d love to hear from you.

One final disclaimer: It’s impossible to talk about working for the post office as a singular, unified experience. Individual postmasters and supervisors play a huge role in determining whether that specific office is a good or bad place to work. What we’ll be discussing here are troubling trends that have repeatedly emerged in the USPS’s history. But by no means are they universal. Just like every other huge organization, the USPS has good bosses and bad bosses. Unfortunately, it has had an awful lot of bad ones.


On August 20, 1986, USPS employee Patrick Sherrill killed 14 co-workers and wounded six before killing himself at the Edmond, Oklahoma post office. While there had been shootings at other post offices earlier in the decade, the scale of this one—it was one of America’s worst mass shootings in history at the time—brought unprecedented attention to the USPS. The Edmond shooting is widely regarded as the beginning of the “going postal” era.

After the shooting, National Association of Letter Carriers president Vincent Sombrotto (who had been a key leader of the 1970 postal workers strike) gave an unconventional post-shooting statement to the Washington Post. “While we are shocked and dismayed by what happened and offer our prayers to those surviving victims now in the hospital, we cannot help but believe that Mr. Sherrill was pushed over the brink by irresponsible and coercive management policies by the Postal Service in the Oklahoma City region.”

While many at the time interpreted this as union posturing—a USPS spokesman called it “absolute balderdash”—a GAO report published three years later specifically on labor relations in the Oklahoma City area, which included Edmond, proved Sombrotto right.

For 16 years, relations between bosses and workers had been “poor” in the Oklahoma City region, the report found, but worsened in 1986 when “new management tightened its control over the workforce by implementing stricter policies and practices.”

This 16-year timeline would date the problems back to the founding of the USPS in 1970. It’s no coincidence that these long-standing conflicts between efficiency and harassment started to bubble up from the surface in the mid-1980s. Although the USPS was formally created in 1970, it received steadily reducing government subsidies for about a decade to ease it into self-sufficiency. The last of those subsidies came in 1982. From then on out, the USPS has been under constant fiscal and political pressure to operate more efficiently, to do more with less, to automate, and deliver on its universal service mandate while paying for itself. Since all price increases needed to be approved by the Postal Regulatory Commission and a unionized workforce means mass layoffs aren’t practical, the only lever the USPS has to pull is to squeeze existing workers as much as possible. That burden often falls on supervisors and middle managers, a situation one manager described to GAO as “a pressure cooker.” This manager added they “do not have time to practice human relations skills.”

The best illustration of the different worldviews workers and management had came in an anecdote about a San Francisco post office. The workers there filed a class action grievance against their station managers for widespread harassment. The GAO report said managers used harassment to “push carriers to meet productivity goals.” But management said they were just trying to “promote operational efficiency.”

As a general policy, supervisors punished workers without confronting them first or giving them an informal opportunity to improve. They retaliated against workers who filed union grievances and ignored contract provisions meant to protect workers from abusive management practices. Managers also obstructed union stewards from making legitimate union requests and moving through the grievance process, resulting in a general feeling among workers and union officials that they had no legitimate recourse against management’s increasingly abusive behavior. After Sombrotto’s remark to the Washington Post, management and labor officials stopped speaking to one another until high-level USPS officials intervened the following year. The breaking point was not when an employee murdered 14 people, but when, a few months later, there was a toxic chemical spill at one facility and management didn’t tell anyone.

This pattern of new managers coming in, instituting harsh new policies, and deteriorating relationships between labor and management was an oft-repeated one across the country’s post offices. Reviewing 145 discipline cases between 1985 and 1988, as well as interviewing 128 supervisors, the GAO found managers could and would punish the same acts completely differently.

The discrepancies were both within individual regions and when comparing regions to one another. Within one region, managers issued a warning for a second offense of absenteeism about 40 percent of the time, but a seven-day suspension 51 percent of the time, meaning it was roughly a toss-up whether you got suspended or not for the same infraction.

And punishments varied wildly between regions. In the Atlanta region, 92 percent of cases of absenteeism with one prior warning got a written warning. But in the Dallas region, those same cases would be issued that punishment just two percent of the time, instead getting suspensions or removals 96 percent of the time.

And some punishments could be straight up draconian. The GAO found a case of one employee suspended for seven days because he didn’t “refrain from talking in a loud and disruptive manner” and for “using the word ‘damn’ while talking to himself.” The suspension was eventually overturned by an arbitrator who noted another employee in the same facility that same day got only a written warning for a similar infraction.

During this period, the word “authoritarian” is repeatedly used to describe USPS management, sometimes by USPS leadership itself. In 1981, Postmaster General William Bolger announced an initiative to transform the USPS’s management philosophy “away from the traditional, authoritarian style of management and toward increasing worker involvement in finding solutions to problems in the work place.” Thirteen years later, a management official told GAO investigators “upper management should not expect a culture change quickly because ’employees have been used to an authoritarian whip them into shape mentality'”” The going philosophy among USPS management, according to outgoing Postmaster General Anthony Frank in 1992, was “I ate dirt for 20 years, now it’s your turn to eat dirt.”


One particularly problematic division, the GAO found, was Indianapolis. After a structural reorganization which installed new management, disciplinary cases doubled. According to the GAO, there were 2,700 disciplinary actions against 4,000 workers over a two-year period, about five times the national average. But because a spot-check of these punishments were found to generally be within USPS’s broad guidelines, at least technically speaking, the GAO concluded in 1990 there was “no basis for employee concerns about widespread mistreatment of employees.”

As a reward for his performance in Indianapolis, supervisor Dan Presilla was promoted to Postmaster in Royal Oak, Michigan.

One of the managers Presilla brought with him to Royal Oak was Chris Carlisle. Through subsequent investigations, a clear portrait of Carlisle emerges as a workplace bully who used the shield of USPS disciplinary procedures to pick on subordinates. In Indianapolis, Carlisle and an employee got into a shouting match which led to Carlisle jabbing his finger into the employee’s chest, attempting to provoke him into a fireable offense (an arbitrator later ruled against Carlisle and the USPS). Carlisle would “stand behind an employee and berate him or her hoping to provoke a response from this employee. If the employee then accosted Carlisle, he would discipline the employee.” Carlisle was also heard telling people he didn’t care if his decision to fire employees ultimately got overturned by an arbitrator, because the grievance process took so long during which time “the employee might lose his house or his family during the waiting period.”

One of the reasons Carlisle not only wasn’t fired but got promoted was because of a basic bureaucratic inefficiency. Royal Oak was in a different division than Indianapolis, so higher ups weren’t aware of what Presilla was bringing with him in the form of four of his favorite supervisors. This resulted in a situation much like what happens with police officers, where ones disciplined or fired in one department simply transfer to another one, a problem a GAO report later found was widespread.

The GAO found that problems like this were rampant, but rarely went into detail on any one facility. The 376-page House report delved into Royal Oak because there was a mass shooting there and local politicians had amassed a 621-page file on problems at the facility. It is one of the only in-depth reports on what working at the USPS could be like, so while it’s impossible to say specifically why a mass shooting occurred, we are able to at least get insight into the working conditions there.

But there were also profound problems with the way USPS hired and retained managers. A USPS headquarters official told GAO investigators in 1994 that “there are no criteria” to identify bad managers who should be disciplined or fired. Union representatives widely reported to those same investigators that supervisors were not held accountable for harassing employees or purposely violating the labor contract like Carlisle did. They knew, as Carlisle did, even phony allegations of getting an employee fired were unlikely to result in discipline against him, while the falsely accused employee would potentially lose everything.


In Royal Oak, Presilla and his crew picked up right where they left off, according to a detailed 1992 House investigation into the shooting. Local union officials noticed it immediately, telling investigators “management became especially ‘authoritarian’ beginning in 1990,” when the management change occurred. The most egregious incident occurred when “one female carrier, who was 6 weeks pregnant, was given a Letter of Warning for falling down on the cement which resulted in her losing the baby.” It was apparently not the only time a worker accidentally injured themselves on the job only to receive a formal reprimand.

Upper management received complaints about Royal Oak, but they didn’t do anything. One theory was because Royal Oak was hitting its numbers. In the USPS, managers are not given dollar budgets, but work-hour budgets. In 1991, Royal Oak was 1.4 percent below its work-hour budget (nationally, the USPS was .4 percent above budget). They were hitting these numbers, investigators later found, by intimidating workers and gutting service, reducing the number of window hours at the post office and rushing workers to deliver mail faster, leading to more errors and undelivered mail. Many of the complaints the USPS received about Royal Oak were not from workers, but from customers complaining about the deteriorating service. Nevertheless, it was only after new management came in did these trends change.

Nor was this limited to Royal Oak. The 1994 GAO report found widespread labor-management problems across the USPS. The GAO found “supervisors and managers are under pressure from postal headquarters and operate ‘by the numbers.’ That is, if they meet budget targets they are rewarded with good ratings regardless of how employees are treated.” Meanwhile, management said the problem stems from understaffed facilities and budget constraints, creating tension and stress. A union president said “an autocratic culture is prevalent at every level of the postal service.” After years of shootings, everyone agreed there was a problem, but not what the problem was or how to fix it.


The bullying by Royal Oak management very much included the eventual shooter, McIlvane. It’s impossible to say with any certainty what the exact relationship between McIlvane and management was like (partly because USPS re-used Carlisle’s work computer and wiped all the files rather than preserving it as evidence). The House report includes hundreds of pages of exhibits including official grievances, rulings, witness statements, and arbitrator findings in the year leading up to the shooting. Several managers attest to McIlvane’s crude and abusive language, including calling his female manager a “cunt” and “bitch” and Carlisle an “asshole.” In one incident, he allegedly reversed his vehicle aggressively towards his managers, although the record is unclear—and one-sided—about why he did this. There are 21 documented cases of McIlvane threatening to kill his managers after the termination process began.

“They pushed the wrong guy” is a phrase that comes up a lot when reading about Royal Oak. According to McIlvane’s disciplinary files, he was a mentally unstable worker with a history of vulgar and disrespectful conduct towards managers. His military records back that up, detailing a number of strange incidents like driving a tank over a car without authorization—it was empty, intended for a fire extinguishing exercise—and generally not following basic orders. He admitted to a military doctor he had a “short fuse” but thought he could control it.

As experienced bullies, management likely picked on McIlvane because they knew he was not a credible witness and they could get a rise out of him. On one occasion, three supervisors insisted the brake lights on McIlvane’s delivery truck weren’t working properly and made him go to maintenance to get them fixed. When he got there, the vehicle technician told him the brake lights were working fine, just as McIlvane asserted.

McIlvane is repeatedly accused in his files of thinking management was “out to get him” and of harboring a conspiratorial mindset. If one were to rely only on his disciplinary files and not the mountain of evidence amassed after the shooting, McIlvane sounded paranoid. But we now know the truth is more complicated.

The House investigation asked a question that I have been stuck on since reading it: had McIlvane never murdered his bosses, would the situation at Royal Oak have gotten better? Would it have received, in the words of the report, “the management attention it warranted?” Although the report doesn’t directly answer the question, it does imply the answer is negative. After all, less than a month before the shooting, the Detroit Division Postmaster John Horne publicly praised Presilla and his management team at Royal Oak, citing their “number of accomplishments.”

That question can be expanded to the USPS as a whole. If not for the shootings, would anyone—government investigators, the media, politicians—have ever paid attention to the terrible working conditions at the post office? Even after the shootings, USPS upper management were dismissing the problem as statistically insignificant or passing blame onto mentally disturbed military veterans with PTSD, excuses experts later dismissed. The deeply uncomfortable and unfortunate truth is there was no sense of importance in making the post office a humane place to work. The numbers were all that mattered.


In the second part of this series, we’ll dive into what has changed since then, and the legacy of “going postal.” Again, if you work for the post office and have thoughts for the second part after reading this issue, email me. I’d love to hear from you.

The Week In Mail and Postcards

I’ll send another email later this week with links and postcards. This email was long enough.

Talk soon,

Aaron

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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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