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Fear spreads through Minnesota city as ‘extremist group’ moves to open church

Maria Barron came to rural Minnesota from Mexico 10 years ago so her husband could work on a nearby dairy farm.

They quickly loved the pastoral fields of Murdock, a town of less than 300 people. They joined a Roman Catholic church and felt safe when their children, 12 and 14, played outside with children from Mexican and Central American families who settled nearby.

But in December, that sense of security collapsed when the mayor of Murdock and city council gave an organization for “European ethnicities” known to exclude anyone who is not white a permit to open a church. on Main Avenue, about four blocks from Mrs. Barron’s Church.

The group, the Asatru Folk Assembly, which describes itself as centered on “indigenous and pre-Christian spirituality,” has been identified as a white supremacist hate group by other pagan believers and organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The 3-1 vote in December to approve a permit for the group made Murdock, best known for soybeans, corn and its proximity to huge dairy farms, the subject of intense national attention.

The decision alarmed many locals, especially residents of color who until recently lived comfortably in the predominantly white city. Ms Barron said she and other mothers have discussed taking turns watching their children when they play outside. When the elementary school asked Latin American families to participate in a video production, Ms. Barron said, many refused.

“I don’t feel threatened at the moment. But I’m worried, ”she said. “What worries me is losing our sense of peace.”

Many locals fear that similar groups are trying to “grab some sort of hold here because they think it’s a safe haven where they can come and foment this hatred,” said Pete Kennedy, 59, engineer who has lived in the city for about 50 years. years.

City leaders insisted they had no choice but to grant a conditional use permit, or CUP, due to legal protections that prohibit governments from using regulations on the city. use of land to impose a substantial burden on people trying to practice their religion.

The approval “was strictly a matter of zoning that Council felt it had to legally follow,” Mayor Craig Kavanagh said in a statement to residents last month.

He added, “If you think this decision was a cinch and jump to the conclusion that because we approved CUP zoning we are racist, you are dead wrong.

Allen Turnage, a member of the Asatru People’s Congress who attended the city hearings, did not respond to messages seeking comment. The group has around 500 members across the country, said Lecia Brooks, chief of staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit known for its analyzes of hate groups.

According to its website, the Assembly believes that “these activities and behaviors favorable to the white family must be encouraged while these destructive activities and behaviors of the white family must be discouraged”.

The Anti-Defamation League called the Assembly an “extremist group”. In 2015, the FBI ended a plot to bomb or shoot Jewish synagogues and black churches by two men who subscribed to “an extremist white supremacist version of the Asatru faith,” an agent wrote in a report. federal affidavit. It is one of many like-minded groups that adopted imagery from the Vikings, Norse mythology, and medieval Europe.

Although the group may be small, Ms. Brooks said, “This worries us as it continues to advance the desire of white nationalists to create a white ethno-state.” Such groups sometimes settle in predominantly white communities because they believe it will help them recruit more members, she said.

Mr. Turnage told the Star Tribune in Minneapolis that the assembly was “specifically a religion of Northern Europe, and that’s it”.

“We believe our faith is worthy of honor and respect like everyone else’s,” he said.

Such explanations hide other intentions, said Karsonya Wise Whitehead, associate professor of African and African American studies at Loyola University in Maryland.

“They try to act like we don’t recognize racism when we see it and when we hear it,” she says. “The explanation that ‘we want to get involved and protect our heritage’ – this is just an update on the language that was used to create Jim Crow.”

The group said no more than 20 to 30 members would be in the building, a former wooden Lutheran church, said Donald Wilcox, the town’s lawyer.

In June, it was sold to the assembly for $ 45,000, according to county records. People have since been seen clearing the brush and repair the building. None of the members live in Murdock, according to city officials.

Mr Wilcox said residents have made it clear – through letters and protests – that they do not want the group to open a church.

The question for the Council, however, was whether the group was a legitimate religion with the protected right to use the building.

“We came to the decision that there was no sufficient evidence to say they weren’t,” Wilcox said. The church has yet to open and the group has yet to meet with the city’s building inspector, he said.

The city could have refused the permit on the grounds that it had a compelling interest in outlawing racial discrimination, said Timothy Zick, professor at William & Mary Law School. But it would have been a tough fight, he said.

The group could have argued that it was protected by the same federal law that protects Muslims or Jews from discrimination from municipalities that would prevent them from opening a mosque or synagogue, he said.

City Councilor James Diederich, who voted to approve the permit, said he did not want the city to be embroiled in a protracted legal battle. He said that before the vote, residents told him they opposed the organization’s presence. Others have left letters on his doorstep.

“Some nice and some not,” Diederich said. “All anonymous.”

At a nearby church, the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart, Reverend Jeremy Kucera said last month his assistant called the police after finding a rude message on the church’s voicemail. Apparently, the appellant had confused the church with the assembly.

“I hope someone shoots your church,” the caller said, according to a recording of the message.

Opponents of the Assembly plan to disseminate information about his beliefs and prevent him from recruiting, said Victoria Guillemard, a student at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, who lives in Murdock and formed the Murdock Area Alliance Against Hate.

Christian Duruji, a black lawyer who lives in Pennock, a town about 12 miles away, said he was comforted last fall when dozens of residents challenged Mr Turnage in a public hearing.

He attended the reunion with his wife, who grew up in Murdock and joined Ms. Guillemard’s group. The couple often visit Murdock to visit their 2-year-old daughter’s grandparents.

“The fact that this tiny tiny town in the back pocket of Minnesota came out and spoke out against racism – that was really encouraging for me,” Mr. Duruji said.

Mr Diederich, the city councilor, said he expected residents to closely monitor any permit violations and report them promptly.

“Until then,” he said, “we’ll watch and wait and see.”

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As virus spreads, CDC develops urgent fight plan

With coronavirus infections soaring across the country, federal health officials on Friday urged Americans in the strongest language to take steps to protect themselves – starting with consistent and appropriate use of masks – and have urged local governments to adopt 10 public health measures deemed necessary to contain the pandemic.

The guidelines reflected the agency’s deep concern that the pandemic is escalating further and that many hospitals are reaching a breaking point, which could disrupt health care across the country.

Agency officials have issued increasingly harsh warnings in the final weeks of the Trump administration, and President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has pledged a new national strategy to roll back the virus. On Thursday, Mr Biden said he would call on Americans to wear face protection for 100 days.

For some experts, the CDC’s call seemed to augur for a more comprehensive and coordinated national approach to controlling the pandemic – one consistent with messages from Mr Biden and his advisers.

“We are seeing the CDC and other public health institutions waking up from their policy-induced coma,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, who was the agency’s director under President Barack Obama.

“They’re the ones who align themselves more with the science, which also aligns them more with the Biden administration,” he added.

While none of the guidelines are new, experts said the increase in the number of cases demonstrates the need for a more uniform approach, rather than the patchwork of restrictions adopted by states.

“The role of the CDC is to lead with science,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, infectious disease physician and member of Mr. Biden’s Covid advisory group. “In the absence of strong national guidelines from the CDC, we have had a variety of responses across the country, some more scientifically based than others.

Scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of some health measures, such as wearing masks, has accumulated, and these measures are urgently needed now to stop the spread, CDC officials said.

While the agency released all of the recommendations from previous directions, the new summary represented the first time the CDC has released a multi-pronged list of state strategies, sort of a battle plan.

“This idea of ​​a 50-state solution is totally unworkable when we live in one country,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, epidemiologist at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. “We are not going to overcome this pandemic without a concerted national approach.”

The new recommendations place a high priority on keeping schools open, K-12, saying schools should be both “the last to close” and “the first to reopen” because of the critical role they play. ‘they play in providing meals and support services to children. The closures have a disproportionate impact on low-income families, the agency noted.

Officials warned that eating in indoor restaurants was one of the “particularly high-risk scenarios” as diners had to remove their masks. The CDC urged communities to demand face blankets on public transport, which Mr Biden also endorsed, and to expand routine screening to identify asymptomatic people, responsible for around 50% of transmissions.

Failure to follow preventive measures will lead to continued spread of the virus and more unnecessary deaths, said Margaret A. Honein, the CDC’s first author of the report.

She stressed that Americans can take many important steps themselves: wear masks, physically move away from others, limit their contact and avoid non-essential visits to interior spaces.

“We want to make sure that each person is aware that it is in their power to take this critical step: to wear a face mask and prevent transmission, and to maintain a physical distance from others,” said Dr. Honein, member of the Covid-19 agency. emergency response team.

The scientific evidence that masks can both stop an infected person from spreading disease and protect the user from infection is “compelling,” she added. “Obviously not everyone hears how important this is,” she said. “It’s an action anyone can take to protect themselves.”

Americans should also avoid indoor spaces outside the home, as well as crowded outdoor spaces, the CDC said. This includes restaurants and could also apply to some with alfresco dining: the report suggests switching to take-out food service instead.

Americans should be tested if they are exposed to the virus and should cooperate with contact tracers if they are infected, the agency said. They should stay home and postpone their trips, air and ventilate rooms, wash their hands frequently and get vaccinated as soon as they are available.

The exercise should be done outdoors, with a mask and social distancing, the agency said. Remote working should be encouraged and social gatherings should be limited.

In a change, the CDC also urged states and local jurisdictions to encourage and enforce these behaviors, including making it mandatory to wear masks in public spaces and on public transport.

The Trump administration blocked a CDC order in September that would have required passengers to wear masks on planes, buses and subway trains and in transit hubs. Officials in some states continue to resist mask warrants in public spaces. In Florida, which has reported more than a million cases of Covid-19, Governor Ron DeSantis reiterated his opposition to the masking of warrants earlier this week.

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The CDC urged officials to limit the use of high-risk non-essential indoor spaces, erect physical barriers and visual reminders highlighting the need for social distancing, and start planning now for the distribution and administration of the drugs. vaccines.

The agency is also pushing to increase testing of essential workers who come in contact with the public and people who are otherwise at high risk.

Even with mass vaccinations seemingly imminent, Dr Honein stressed the need to implement such measures. “We see this light at the end of the tunnel, but we need time to get there,” she said.

Johns Hopkins’ Dr Nuzzo and other experts have praised the agency’s new emphasis on prioritizing schools over places like restaurants and bars, a recommendation echoed by Mr Biden and his advisers .

Previous CDC guidelines, released over the summer and processed by the White House, also prompted schools to reopen but were not offset by a scientific assessment of the associated risks, Dr Nuzzo said, adding: “It looked more like a treaty rather than a treaty. than an analysis.

Having all 10 measures in one document is helpful and underscores the message that no strategy can prevent the spread of the virus, experts said. But the document was thin on some details, said Dr Nahid Bhadelia, medical director of the special pathogens unit at Boston Medical Center.

Dr Bhadelia was struck by the suggestion that there could be a coordinated program to distribute masks to people. “I’ve never seen this before, especially for those who are at high risk,” she says. But the CDC has not clarified whether states or employers should provide the masks, she noted.

The new guidelines also highlighted the importance of improving ventilation in indoor spaces, where airborne viruses pose a threat. But the agency might have detailed best practices to minimize confusion, Dr Bhadelia said.

She cited fully enclosed outdoor dining “booths” as an example of misguided solutions that can result from unclear guidelines.

The agency also did not specify what should be the triggers for the restaurant or school closings or which groups were recommended for an increase in testing because of their greater interactions with other people. “I would have liked to see a little more detail,” said Dr Bhadelia.

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US economy stumbles as coronavirus spreads widely

Layoffs are rising again and Americans’ incomes are dropping, the latest signs that a resurgence of a pandemic and declining government assistance are undermining the U.S. economic recovery.

Claims for state unemployment benefits rose for the second week in a row last week, the Labor Department said on Wednesday. Unemployment reports have risen by more than 100,000 from the first week of November, when they hit their lowest level since last spring, the start of the pandemic.

Forecasters have been warning for weeks that rising coronavirus cases could have dire economic consequences as consumers cut spending and cities and states reimpose restrictions on businesses and social gatherings. But while job gains and other markers of progress have slowed since the summer, the recovery has proved surprisingly resilient.

Now cracks are starting to appear. Unemployment claims, unadjusted for seasonal trends, jumped from 78,000 last week to nearly 828,000 – a big change after rising 18,000 the week before. It was the first time that deposits had increased for two consecutive weeks since the beginning of September, and the largest two-week increase since April. Measures of consumer confidence fell sharply in November, and real-time data from private sources shows the labor market is slowing or reversing.

Any reversal would be disappointing after months of economic progress. But that would hardly be surprising given the new wave of lockouts and trade restrictions that made further layoffs almost inevitable. In recent weeks, Chicago has imposed a new stay-at-home order, Los Angeles County has suspended outdoor dining, and Philadelphia has banned most private gatherings indoors. Several states have ended or restricted indoor dining. And even where authorities haven’t passed any new rules, many consumers are likely to voluntarily restrict their activity to avoid contracting the virus.

“The most obvious culprit for the increase in claims is the growing pandemic,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at career site Glassdoor. “It seems it was only a matter of time before it started showing up in the economic data.”

The latest data is not universally gloomy. The Commerce Department reported on Wednesday that orders for expensive products like machinery, a measure of business confidence, rose in October. New home sales have also jumped, as lower interest rates continue to push the housing market up. Households have $ 1 trillion more in savings than before the pandemic, money that could fuel consumer spending when vaccines become widely available and the threat of the virus subsides. And the stock market, that very imperfect barometer of the economy, has set new highs.

But for those people and industries most at risk, the outlook is bleak. In addition to the new round of trade restrictions, a new wave of school closures could push parents – and especially mothers – to withdraw from the workforce. A growing number of economists are predicting a “double dip” recession, in which economic activity contracts again early next year.

Unlike spring, families and businesses will have to weather the latest closures on their own. Federal programs that provided billions of dollars in support to small businesses and the unemployed expired over the summer, and efforts to revive them stalled in Congress. Many of the remaining programs expire at the end of the year.

Data released by the Commerce Department on Wednesday showed personal income fell 0.7% in October, with lower government assistance offsetting gains in wages and salaries. Consumer spending rose 0.5%, the smallest increase since the recovery started last spring.

“Part of the reason the recovery has worked so well is that there has been so much help for the businesses and workers affected, and now is really not the time to tear defeat from the jaws of victory, ”said Julia Pollak, labor economist at ZipRecruiter. Further help, she said, was needed to “prevent this temporary disruption from turning into permanent destruction.”

Both Democratic and Republican leaders have said they want to adopt a relief package before the end of the year. But the two sides remain far apart and the prospects for a quick deal look bleak.

Congressional aides and outside groups monitoring stimulus talks said this week they didn’t expect rising jobless claims to prompt Senate Republicans to agree to anything close to the 2-pack. trillions of dollars that Democrats have wanted for months.

Aid to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. foresees the possibility of another contraction in the economy and has called on lawmakers to approve a stimulus deal ahead of his inauguration in January. A small group of House Democrats have pressured President Nancy Pelosi to accept a smaller deal in order to reach a compromise with Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.

The stakes are especially high for the nearly 14 million Americans who receive unemployment benefits through a pair of emergency programs that will expire next month.

Data released on Wednesday showed that in early November, around nine million people were enrolled in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which covers freelancers, self-employed workers and others who are not. not eligible for regular state benefits. This program has been plagued by fraud and double-counting, and many economists believe the Department of Labor’s tally inflates the true total. Yet regardless of the measure, there are millions of people enrolled in the program who will lose their benefits when it expires.

An additional 4.5 million people are receiving payments under the Emergency Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program, which adds 13 weeks of benefits to the 26 weeks available in most states. Enrollments have grown rapidly as more people reach the end of their regular state benefits.

Some of these people will be eligible for a separate federal top-up program that existed before the pandemic. But this program is not available in all states.

For workers, the timing could hardly be worse.

“We’re going to be in the dead of winter, virus cases are likely to explode and the holiday season is over,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, economist at Careers Indeed. “It puts those who might drop out of these benefit programs in a really precarious situation.”

Adding to the risk: Federal rules to block evictions and allow borrowers to defer payments on mortgages and student loans also expire at the end of the year. The Trump administration could choose to extend them, but if they don’t, families could lose their only source of income and lose the protections that keep them at home.

“It’s kind of like hitting a giant brick wall,” said Elizabeth Pancotti, a policy researcher who co-authored a recent report on the cliff of benefits. “Not that there was a good time for all of these programs to end, but maybe all on the same day was not a good idea.”

Jim Tankersley contributed reporting.

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Ancient dog’s DNA spreads early in the world

Among other findings, Dr Larson said he found it particularly intriguing that once dogs had been domesticated, and even though they sometimes mated with wolves, no new wolf DNA entered their genomes. .

In contrast, pigs, for example, were brought to Europe by farmers from Anatolia. But the genes of these early domestic pigs were completely lost, replaced by the genes of European wild boars, even though the pigs remained domestic animals.

Although dogs interbreed, no new wolf genes survive over the years. One possibility, Dr Larson said, is that “wolfiness” just isn’t suitable for an animal as close to people as a dog. Pigs can be a little wild, but “if you’re a dog and have a bit of a wolf in you, that’s not a good thing and these things hit each other on the head really quickly or run away or disappear.” , but they do not fit into the dog population.

Dr Skoglund said another intriguing and unexplained discovery from the genomic data was the speed at which dogs spread around the world and diversified, so that 11,000 years ago, not only were there five lineages. distinct, but some fossil DNA has also shown that these lines have started to recombine.

“How did it happen?” he said. “In ancient humans, we don’t really know of any human expansion that would have facilitated this, on the order of 15 to 30,000 years ago.

Over the past 11,000 years, he said, the genomes of dogs have shown similar evidence to the human genomes of Anatolian farmers moving to Europe. But then there was the sudden loss of diversity in dogs from around 4000 years old.

Migrations from the steppes have also changed human genomes in Europe, but have virtually no effect on dog genomes. Conversely, the migrations from the steppes to the east have left an imprint on the genomic history of the dog, but not on man.