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The truth about violent crime in American cities, explained in 11 charts

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Next week, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will face each other for the first time on the debate stage. Some of the most pressing problems of our time will be front and center: the coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court vacancy, and the fight for racial justice. So far, the candidates’ discussion of justice issues has focused less on how to address America’s longstanding inequity and more on how cities are facing a violent crime surge in a time of unrest — and who is to blame.

Trump and his supporters have repeatedly spoken of bringing “law and order” to Democrat-run cities that are full of “anarchy and mayhem,” even though racial justice protests around the country this summer have been mostly peaceful. Biden, on the other hand, has mostly skirted talk of unrest, emphasizing that the crime rate dropped while he was the vice president and that a surge of murders happened under Trump’s watch.

Wading through these mixed messages of what’s happening in cities, it’s hard to tell just what the data says. Most types of crime decreased this summer, while serious violent crimes — such as aggravated assault and murder — increased, according to an analysis of crime rates in 27 major US cities by the Council on Criminal Justice, a criminal justice think tank. A preliminary crime report published by the FBI earlier this month shows similar trends nationwide.

To make sense of what this all means, the Marshall Project and Vox have parsed findings from January to June, as well as decades prior for comparison, of not just crime data but media reports, public opinion polls, and stats on policing and jail populations. Politicians and pundits are pointing fingers at what they believe caused the increase in violent crime rates: the protests against police violence, movements to defund the police, and efforts to release people from overcrowded jails and prisons ravaged by the coronavirus. But the data available thus far does not support that these are the culprits.

Understanding what drives crime rates is tricky because there’s no single cause or answer. This is especially true in the pandemic, which has introduced unfamiliar patterns. What is known, however, is that sensational media reports and misleading statements from politicians can blow the degree of violence out of proportion and make the public believe that crime is increasing, even when it isn’t.

As the country gears up for the presidential election — and the messaging of politicians and the media that comes with it — here are 11 data visualizations, along with analysis, that can help think through what the summer’s crime trends mean and how to move forward.

Violent crime was up in early summer; nonviolent and property crime was down

Beginning in late March, cities across the country saw a decrease in most types of crime, including burglary, theft, robbery, and drug crimes, according to the Council on Criminal Justice report.

In 27 major cities across the United States, reports of most types of offenses — burglary, larceny, robbery and drug crimes — dropped significantly, compared to the cities’ combined average crime rate of the past three years.

Richard Rosenfeld, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri St. Louis who authored the report, said that cities’ shutdowns beginning in March largely drove the decreases this summer. More people staying at home meant fewer houses were broken into; fewer people going out at night meant fewer opportunities for theft and robbery, for example.

But for some of the most violent crimes, such as shootings, aggravated assault, and murders, the number of incidents in the cities we examined have increased in the pandemic. Compared with a three-year average between 2017 and 2019, homicides increased 25 percent between April and June.

Data included in the Council on Criminal Justice’s report stops at the end of June, and doesn’t include cities like Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, where protest tensions rose and shootings occurred, by a counterprotester and a vigilante, respectively, in August. Or in Louisville, Kentucky, where two police officers were shot on Wednesday following a grand jury’s decision not to charge any officers for killing Breonna Taylor. That said, some reports show violent crime continued at elevated rates in July and August and property crime rates have gone down.

Reports of homicides, aggravated assaults and shootings, which are rarer but more devastating to the victims and their families, rose in 2020 compared to the past three years.

David Abrams, a law and public policy professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has examined major cities’ public crime data since the beginning of the pandemic. He publishes real-time crime trends on City Crime Stats, an online data portal that allows viewers to explore how specific types of crime changed in each city.

While the data portal shows similar trends in upticks of murder and decreases in other crimes, pinpointing the exact factors that drive up murders is much more complicated than understanding what caused the decrease in crimes like burglaries, Abrams said.

One of the main reasons: The motivation behind burglaries or larceny is often money, whereas the motivation behind murders and shootings is more varied, he said.

Many factors might play into these increases: A 60 percent surge in gun purchases can be followed by more shootings; trapping domestic violence survivors and abusers under the same roof during the quarantine may cause more assaults and murders; and Covid-19 has made police outreach work even more difficult. The pandemic has also turned families and support systems upside down — unemployment is high, schools and many summer programs have closed, and people, especially from low-income communities and communities of color, have faced illness and death in their families from Covid-19, making routines and structures impossible to maintain.

Dorothy Johnson-Speight, a community organizer in Philadelphia, said she is especially troubled by how many shootings and violent crimes involved young people this summer.

She noted that not only have schools closed, but so have most youth programs that can give young people a sense of structure and belonging. Johnson-Speight, who founded the violence prevention group Mothers in Charge after her son was killed in 2001 over a parking dispute, believes many of the shootings in Philadelphia this year involved people who are under the age of 18, though official police figures are not available. A recent example was a 16-year-old shot dead on September 21, with an 18-year-old and a 12-year-old shot on the same day.

“The anxiety and pain and grief are on steroids because of what’s happening with Covid,” Johnson-Speight said. “People have no way of seeing things getting better, and there is nothing at the end of the tunnel. What I hear from parents that lost one or two or three children is, ‘What’s going to happen next? Will my other children suffer the same thing?’”

While the pandemic brings much uncertainty, there is one thing that may lead to a drop in crime: the weather. Historical trends show that the violent crime rate often increases in the summer, reaches its peak in the fall, and drops to the lowest point in winter — as temperatures decrease and people retreat indoors again.

Crime increased after protests against police violence … briefly

Following the police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, in Minneapolis in May, protests against police violence and systemic racism quickly spread across the country, from major cities to historically conservative, majority-white towns — more so perhaps than any civil rights protests in the nation’s history. However, with the protests came news coverage focused on riots, lootings, and scenes of chaos, despite an estimated 93 percent of protests being peaceful.

President Donald Trump has said little about the police violence against George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, and other Black Americans, but has spoken consistently of “law and order.” In July, with Black Lives Matter protests still happening in major cities, Trump sent in federal law enforcement agents to nine cities led by Democratic mayors to stop what the president called “shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence,” whether or not any of those things were happening in those places.

“This bloodshed must end,” Trump said during official remarks in July. “This bloodshed will end.”

The implication was that the protests had caused the rise in violence, or “bloodshed” — but was that true?

The nationwide protests kicked off in late May, when homicides remained low. There was an increase in mid-June, but the Council on Criminal Justice’s data does not break down where the murders happened in each city, which makes it difficult to analyze protests’ direct impact on violent crime.

What is known is that Black Lives Matter demonstrations have been mostly peaceful. Researchers at the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project analyzed more than 7,750 demonstrations from 2,400 locations between May and August, and found that less than 7 percent of the protest were violent, which the researchers define as where “demonstrators themselves engage in violently disruptive and/or destructive acts targeting other individuals, property, businesses, other rioting groups or armed actors.” This can range from vandalism and looting to clashing with the police, a much wider net than police’s definition of “violent crime,” which include rape and sexual assault, robbery, assault, and murder.

If anything, aggressive and militarized government response has made demonstrations more violent, researchers concluded. For example, before Trump deployed the federal task force to Portland, Oregon, 17 percent of the demonstrations were violent; after federal law enforcement agents entered Portland, the share of violent demonstrations more than doubled, to 42 percent. Criminologists have warned that sending in federal law enforcement officers, like border patrol agents or Bureau of Prisons guards, with no training or knowledge on local issues can do more harm than good.

Another unintended consequence of escalating federal involvement in policing protests is that it hinders people’s trust in the police. Even before this summer, victims of violent crime said some of the most common reasons that stopped them from going to the police were they “dealt with it another way,” “fear of reprisal or getting offender in trouble,” and “police would not or could not help.” An increasing distrust in police may lead to more vigilantism and more unreported crimes.

Also, violent crimes are rare enough that small changes in absolute numbers can lead to large statistical swings, and that’s especially true for the most serious kind of violent crimes like murders.

For example, homicides in 20 cities tracked in Rosenfeld’s report increased by more than 50 percent around the last week of June, which is an alarming trend compared to the past three years. However, looking at the raw numbers, homicides increased from roughly 70 homicides per week to 101 per week, or fewer than one additional death in each city every day. Most of the increase took place in Chicago.

The police killing of an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis on May 25 sparked protests across the country. Compared with the past three years, in those first few days of unrest through June, reports of commercial burglaries surged before returning to normal levels just as quickly.

And then there is another historical trend: While the trauma and loss that accompany each murder cannot be measured by numbers, the level of violence in American cities does not come close to the level of violence during the 1990s, where nearly every 30 in 100,000 people were killed. In recent years, it’s been about 10 in 100,000.

The police killing of an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis on May 25 sparked protests across the country. Compared with the past three years, in those first days of unrest through June, reports of commercial burglaries surged before returning to normal levels just as quickly.

In all, criminologists say it’s difficult to draw any conclusions between protests and violent crimes — especially during a time when the US coronavirus death toll surpassed 100,000, the country was experiencing an unprecedented level of unemployment, and coronavirus-related precautions restricted police’s ability to solve crimes.

That said, some more common crimes associated with protests, such as burglary, can perhaps shed more insight on the impact of protests on crime. Commercial burglary — or breaking into a business establishment — is typically associated with what is commonly called looting. Among all types of crimes tracked in the Council on Criminal Justice report, commercial burglary had the most significant spike in the beginning of June, when police violence protests began to spread.

Within one week, the number of commercial burglaries in major US cities jumped from nearly 5,000 to almost 10,000. But the number of incidents dropped just as quickly in the following week, back to below-normal levels.

Compared with the past three years, most cities saw a brief spike in commercial burglary reports through June, shortly after protests against police violence broke out. In some cities, such as Denver, San Francisco and Chicago, commercial burglaries were already on the rise before protests began.

The evidence suggests that significant looting was confined to the first wave of protests. But there could be another explanation: Active police enforcement — or an emphasis on enforcing specific crimes — can swing crime rates up and down.

Crime trends are affected by police enforcement

Something to know about crime trends: They are shaped by police action and inaction. Crime trends reflect crime reports collected by law enforcement agencies. Crime reports are created when law enforcement responds to calls or uses tactics such as traffic stops or stop-and-frisk.

While the Supreme Court ruled that it’s illegal to stop and frisk someone simply for living in a “high crime area,” research still shows people in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods are searched a lot more frequently. Even though most people who are stopped are innocent, their interactions with the police can have lasting effects, including feeling discouraged to report a crime to the police themselves.

New York City is a good example of the power of police-initiated actions. When the city began to shut down in April, the number of drug crimes plummeted. Then it began to steadily increase through April and May, as people emerged from lockdown and police officers began patrolling again, getting close to pre-pandemic levels. And when the protests sparked by Floyd’s death spread across the city in late May and early June, the number of drug crimes again dropped overnight.

Reports of drug crimes in New York City had large swings this year compared with trends in the past three years, which experts and public defenders believe is a direct reflection of circumstances.

It’s unlikely that drug crime data represents how the number of people consuming and selling drugs changed over this summer, said Alice Fontier, managing director of the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, a public defender’s office.

What the data shows, Fontier said, is how the New York Police Department deployed its officers throughout the summer. When the pandemic first hit, the department was pulling back on drug searches, partially because many officers were under quarantine. Their practice began to return to normal until protests against police violence broke out, when many of the department’s officers shifted to crowd control instead, Fontier said.

NYPD did not respond to multiple inquiries by The Marshall Project, but during an interview with the Police Executive Research Forum, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said he found the narrative of police pulling back because of protests “offensive.”

New York’s trend in drug crimes is similar to what the data shows in many other cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia, and Memphis.

Many cities, such as Boston, Louisville and Memphis, demonstrated similar patterns in drug crimes as seen in New York City: a swift drop when the pandemic started, followed by a steady increase in April and May, only to drop again after the protests.

When a significant number of officers are under quarantine for Covid-19, or when police departments shift resources from making drug busts to responding to protests in riot gear, crime trends change accordingly.

“What we see and experience over time is that the number of drug arrests is directly correlated to the amount of focus and resources the NYPD puts into these cases,” Fontier told The Marshall Project.

Releasing low-risk people from jails and prisons didn’t drive up crime rates

As Covid-19 began to spread across the country in April, jails and prison soon became hot spots for the outbreak. It didn’t come as a surprise. Overcrowding in prison and jails means some facilities have people sleeping on the ground, and in most facilities, even basic Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines such as hand-washing with soap or covering your mouth when you sneeze are virtually impossible to follow.

At the beginning of the pandemic, some jails moved to cut down their populations, releasing people who were incarcerated for pretrial detention or who were almost finished with their misdemeanor sentences. And some prisons, which incarcerate people who are convicted, followed suit.

Public backlash came just as quickly. Some victims of crimes were upset about the early releases, and police departments claimed that coronavirus-related jail releases drove the spike in violent crime.

Data contradicts this narrative. A recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union shows that in 28 major US cities that saw a decrease in jail population between March and May, all but one (Denver) also saw decreases in the most serious type of crimes this summer.

At the beginning of the pandemic, some cities began to release pretrial detainees from jails to decrease their risk of getting the coronavirus. While critics warned these mass releases would lead to a spike in crime, an ACLU report found that most cities with a decrease in jail population also saw fewer reported crimes overall from March through May, compared to the previous year.

At the beginning of the pandemic, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said he heard warnings that releasing people from jail, or arresting fewer people, would lead to more crimes, and that the price of keeping jail inmates safe from Covid-19 is too high.

Yet there was no crime surge. Between March and May, San Francisco’s jail population dropped by more than 40 percent. Its crime rate also dropped sharply compared to the same period in 2019. Both trends, Boudin said, were “unprecedented.”

“If fewer people are incarcerated, then more people will be able to keep steady jobs, safe housing, and get the mental health help they need,” Boudin said. “That all leads to fewer crimes.”

In Denver, the only city that saw an increase in crime and the largest decrease in jail population (by almost 800 people), the trend is short term, and it’s hard to read too much into the numbers, Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen told The Marshall Project.

While virtually all types of crimes have gone down in Denver, Pazen said commercial burglaries drove up the crime rates — as businesses closed during the pandemic, his department saw commercial burglaries more than double this summer. More than 60 percent of the stores were broken into by people who are homeless, Pazen said.

It’s too early to tell if “defund” efforts have impacted crime rates

After the death of George Floyd, “defunding” the police, or moving money from police spending to social services, became central to the police reform conversation.

A few cities have started the defunding process, but it’s too early to affect recent trends. For example, Minneapolis City Council members vowed to disband the police department following Floyd’s death, but their effort is facing major setbacks. In New York City, the nearly $1 billion cut to its police budget took effect on July 1, after murders and shootings were already rising in the city.

How “defund” policies affect crime remains to be seen.

What is clear is the coronavirus is likely to cause the first major drop in police spending in decades, spending that has increased from $220 to $280 per resident from 2000 to 2017, even when violent crime decreased by more than 20 percent during the same time.

Nearly half of 258 police chiefs and sheriffs who responded to a recent survey said they are expecting or already receiving budget cuts in the coming year, according to the Police Executive Research Forum. Most of the cuts range between 5 and 10 percent.

Many police chiefs who responded to the survey warn that unintended consequences may come out of the budget cuts. Hiring freezes, for example, will mean fewer patrols, longer response time, and less proactive actions from the police department. The domino effect, they warn, will eventually lead to a spike in the crime rate.

Richard Auxier, a senior policy associate in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, said payroll costs often take up 60 to 70 percent of the police budget, meaning that things like hiring freezes, pay cuts, and layoffs are likely first steps.

But it’s too early to say how those budget cuts will affect crime rates. And even if more policing leads to less crime, activists warn that it carries collateral consequences, such as more arrests and the general harassment of minority communities, that other approaches don’t have. The more important part of the “defund the police” conversation should be about how we should spend the money instead, Auxier said.

For example, a 2018 study shows that one-quarter of people who died in police shootings showed signs of mental illness, and the recent police suffocation of Daniel Prude has reignited talk about how mental health professionals are better suited to handle these interactions than police.

Alternative programs are not new, and they’ve been proven to create a safer community. In Eugene, Oregon, a 30-year-old program has been successful at reducing police interactions with people who are in crisis, dispatching medics and mental health professionals to respond to 911 calls that are not about crime — like mental illness, homelessness, or addiction. In 2019, they responded to 20 percent of all 911 calls in the town, costing a fraction of the price of traditional police interventions. Cities like Olympia, Washington, and Denver have also adopted similar programs.

The way we see crime is politicized and influenced by news sources

So is violent crime out of control? That can depend on whom you ask — and which cable news station they watch.

For example, this summer, Fox News has spent more time covering violent crime than CNN and MSNBC combined, according to an analysis of data compiled by the Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer.

As protests for racial justice began to spread across the country this summer, a data analysis of major cable news network transcripts initially showed a spike in coverage of crime and shootings. Then, as protests proved to be largely peaceful, and MSNBC started spending less airtime on these topics, while Fox News continued with its coverage.

Since the police killing of George Floyd, Fox News has leaned into a narrative of looting and property destruction, filling its segments with headlines like “Portland Plagued by Violent Clashes, Riots” and “Businesses Experience Worst Looting in Decades.”

While CNN and MSNBC’s coverage of violence and crime also spiked after the Floyd protests took off in May, it has dropped significantly since then.

In the 2000s, cable and local TV news became more popular, contributing to a shift in public opinion on crime. Before the early 2000s, more and more people believed there were fewer crimes in the United States, according to Gallup polling data, which matched the truth — that crime rates were decreasing. However, that trend was completely reversed in 2001, and not much has changed since: As crime continues to decrease, more people believe the opposite is true — that crime is up.

Even as crime rates dropped in the U.S., people’s perception of crime didn’t change accordingly. Beginning in the early 2000s, fewer people said they believe crime is dropping, and more said it was increasing.

Dan Romer, research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said the rise of police television shows, like NCIS and CSI, and how much airtime local TV news gives to violent crime has fed the discrepancy.

Romer, who studies media and its social impact, said producers at local TV news stations face daily pressure to fill the evening report with different beats, like sports, local government, news, and crime — and the idea is to capture viewers’ attention.

“No matter what is going on, there’s going to be a crime in the news region of the news station,” Romer said. “It can be hit-and-run, it can be shooting — the crime news hole stays consistent over time. Stations get that’s an attention-getter. The crime rates could be changing dramatically, but they wouldn’t know it.”

Bias in reporting and story selection can also plague how crime is portrayed in local TV news, Romer said. For example, there has historically been emphasis on stories where the suspect is Black and the victim is white, even though Black men are more likely to be victims of violent crimes. This sways public opinion, too.

“People talked about media literacy and teaching it to children,” Romer said. “People need to know even though they see a lot of violence on local news or hero movies, it’s not necessarily what the world is like.”

This extends to how politicians paint America. Americans disagree on a lot of things, but a recent poll by Monmouth University shows that Republicans, Democrats, and independent voters all agree that maintaining law and order is a major problem in the country right now. What they disagree about is the root cause of the problem, let alone who is best positioned to solve the problem.

For example, while 24 percent of people believe the actions of protesters are fully justified, just as many people believe they are not justified at all. The split on whether Trump or Biden can solve the problem is similarly even. The disagreements often fall along party lines, which may also be influenced by where people get their news.

Abrams says the news — as well as politicians — won’t give you the full story when it comes to crime, though. Parsing data is more than just reporting the numbers.

“If there is a bad weekend with a lot of shootings, people want to know what happened, and rightfully so,” Abrams said. “But to really understand how crime has changed, let’s look at the week, the month, the year, the decade. Crime has gone way, way down from the peaks in the ’80s and ’90s. Even the highest spikes in a few cities over the summer are small blips in comparison.”

Earlier this week, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced six topics moderator Chris Wallace has selected for the first debate on September 29, including “Race and Violence in Our Cities.” This framing, that the two are interlinked, is the problematic narrative that Romer warned about. It is also a near guarantee that racial justice protests and the violent crime streak this summer will be focal points of the debate. Understanding the nuance and context of crime rates is crucial for evaluating each candidate’s story of what the unrest and division in this country is really about.


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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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