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COMMENTARY: Panic buying adds additional stress in COVID-19 pandemic

NNPA NEWSWIRE — In some ways, the trend of panic buying is a way for people to take back control in uncertain times. Many psychologists have suggested that panic buying can be understood as playing to our three fundamental psychology needs in (1) autonomy—as in the need for control; (2) relatedness—better defined as “we shopping,” rather than “me shopping,” and (3) competence—whereby a level of accomplishment is achieved and making a purchase gives people a sense that they are “smart shoppers.”

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Katharina Wittgens, a psychologist with the behavioral strategy agency Innovation Bubble, suggests that shoppers are creating too much anxiety in themselves, which is never good during either clear or uncertain circumstances. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

You don’t need a year’s supply of toilet paper

By Merdies Hayes, Managing Editor, Our Weekly News

Panic buying has been rife around the globe in wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Customers have been stockpiling goods like hand sanitizer, bottled water, canned goods, paper towels and toilet paper.

The trend has seen stores in some nations ration products. The U.K. is limiting sales of hand hygiene products. Australians have seen restrictions on paper goods. Americans now have to wake before dawn to purchase cases of bottled water, which are now limited to two per customer.

America not alone in frenzy

America isn’t alone in experiencing empty shelves. Mass demand for rice and noodles in Singapore prompted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to assure the public that there was enough to go around. In Auckland, New Zealand, supermarket spending shot up 40 percent in about 72 hours. Shoppers in Malaysia wanting to pad their “pandemic pantries” have driven an 800-percent increase in weekly hand sanitizer sales. All of these places have confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Psychologists explain this phenomenon as “retail therapy,” defined as when, where and what we buy to better manage our emotional state. Experts suggest that the answer may lie in a fear of the unknown and believing that dramatic events warrant a dramatic response — even though in this case, the best response is something as mundane as washing your hands for 20 seconds.

In some ways, the trend of panic buying is a way for people to take back control in uncertain times. Many psychologists have suggested that panic buying can be understood as playing to our three fundamental psychology needs in (1) autonomy—as in the need for control; (2) relatedness—better defined as “we shopping,” rather than “me shopping,” and (3) competence—whereby a level of accomplishment is achieved and making a purchase gives people a sense that they are “smart shoppers.”

Conflicting messages add to uncertainty

In the U.S., people initially received conflicting messages from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and President Donald Trump. It was no surprise that people were worried when one organization says the matter is urgent, and another says it’s under control. With the virus present in all 50 states, and daily life has been altered from coast to coast, an unexpected “fear contagion” has taken hold.

Often in times of uncertainty, people can enter a “panic zone” that makes them irrational and—in rare cases—borderline neurotic. In other disaster conditions like an earthquake, tornado or hurricane, people tend to prepare because they know how many supplies they will need. It’s hard to do that with a virus that scientists around the world are still learning about.

Peter Noel Murray, a New York-based member of the American Psychological Association and the Society for Consumer Psychology, is uncertain that persons in authority have the power to calm the panic-buying trend.

“On the emotional side, the answer is self-affirmation,” he said. “In our minds, we know one day we are going to be dead, and the mind deals with it through [seeking] control.” He said there is an “over-estimation” of fear and people’s minds need to respond to those kinds of feelings.

A need for ‘self-affirmation’

“The need for self-affirmation is triggered and that drives us to do unreasonable things like buying a year’s worth of toilet paper,” Murray explained. “It overwhelms the knowledge that we don’t need to be doing that.”

There is a difference in disaster panic and general panic. Toilet paper has become the symbol of the latter. For instance, weather forecasters are able to predict with much greater certainty that a hurricane is barreling toward a certain region. They can provide more information about a cluster of tornadoes about to come your way (though warning times are uncertain at best). With an earthquake, of course, there is little way of predicting that. In these cases, you know it is going to happen and you usually know ahead of time that the emergency will last a couple of days. You’re able to prepare yourself by being somewhat rational with what you buy.

In public health issues we have no idea about the duration and or intensity. Therefore, the messages we receive daily may encourage some to go into panic mode and purchase far more than needed because it’s often the only way to maintain a sense of control.

But why purchase huge amounts of toilet paper? Dr. Dimitrios Tsivrikos, an expert in consumer and behavioral science at the University College London, has for the past few months witnessed this phenomenon and offered an unexpected assessment:

“Because toilet paper has a longer shelf-life than many food items,” he said. “And it’s prominently featured in aisles and is big in size. We’re psychologically drawn to purchasing it in times of crisis. It’s in big colorful packages; the bigger they are, the more important we think they are.”

Take precautions, but don’t panic

While the threat is very real and all precautions should be taken to stay healthy, some shoppers may overestimate the risks of dying from coronavirus. Katharina Wittgens, a psychologist with the behavioral strategy agency Innovation Bubble, suggests that shoppers are creating too much anxiety in themselves, which is never good during either clear or uncertain circumstances.

“Far more people die in car accidents or household accidents per year, but we don’t panic in the morning before we go to work about these things,” Wittgens said. “It’s hard to convince our brains of facts, hence why statistics often don’t work.” Wittgens said the surge in panic buying will probably decline after a month when people have had time to think more rationally.

“When we stand in front of empty shelves, people fear that stocks will run out, so they buy far more than they need,” she said. “This becomes dangerous as some goods such as soap, medicines and sanitizers become unavailable for those in immediate need.” And because it is more obvious when the paper goods aisle is empty—compared to smaller items—this can also lead to craze over the item intensifying.

There have been plenty of examples of price gouging in response to the coronavirus pandemic. There have been reports of a 20-pack of face masks costing more than $100 on e-commerce sites like eBay and Esty. These prices have caused companies to put measures in place to stop speculators from taking advantage of a spike in demand. This month, for example, Amazon announced it removed more than a million basic-needs products for misleading claims and price gouging.

Face masks won’t stop infection

The U.S. government has recommended people stop buying face masks, not only because surgical masks aren’t sufficient protection from coronavirus, but because there may not be enough for healthcare professionals who need them to do their jobs.

Americans have witnessed this type of irrational behavior before. In 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, when nuclear war seemed imminent, American families filled their basements with enough canned food and bottled water to survive an atomic blast. Then there was Y2K at the turn of the millennium. There were widespread fears of a catastrophic glitch when computers’ internal clock reset to “00” for the year 2000. It was believed that the glitch could crash global markets or send missiles flying across the globe. People just didn’t hoard nonperishables and bottled water, but lots of money: In 1999, the U.S. Treasury was ordered to print an extra $50 billion in the expectation that people would withdraw and stockpile cash.

A better plan than panic buying would be to be prepared year-round for a possible emergency or crisis. It’s also worth keeping everyone else’s needs in mind as these types of events unfold. Stock up on what you and your family need and no more. Avoid the urge to hoard enough supplies to fill a doomsday bunker.

“Anxiety needs to be acknowledged and managed,” Wittgens said. “We do not want complacency, but high levels of anxiety are not useful to prepare [or] prevent catching it.”

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COMMENTARY: Telling Our Family Stories Keeps Black History Alive

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of our favorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

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Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

Let’s Talk Black Education

By Dr. Margaret Fortune, President/CEO Fortune School

When we were kids, my dad would take us to football games at the University of Southern California (USC). I didn’t care much for football, but I loved it when we’d stay after the game to hear the USC marching band play. His love for marching bands is why we have a drumline at the public charter school I founded and named after my parents — Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School.

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of ourfavorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

As the story goes, one day back in 1947, my grandma sent little Rex to the corner store to get some eggs so she could bake a cake. My dad bought the eggs and put them in his pockets. On the walk home, he encountered a marching band high-steppin’ down the dusty road to his mother’s house. Little Rex got so excited that he followed the band, beating on his legs like drums all the way home and, yes, breaking all the eggs.

“Rex and the Band” explores a day in the life of Rex, a spirited young boy who dreams of one day playing in a high-energy marching band like the ones he enjoys watching with his father during North Carolina A&T football games.

Reading my sister’s beautifully illustrated book, I cried tears of joy. Telling our family stories is such an important way for African Americans to keep our history alive. Griots, or storytellers, are the reason why we know the truths that we do know about our family history and ancestors.

I believe all of us can think back to when our grandparents would tell us stories about our ancestors who may have passed on before we were born. It was their way of making sure our stories were not only told but preserved.

The Black press has been the clearinghouse for many stories that have impacted the Black community over time. My sister published her first poem in Ebony Jr. as an elementary school student and then in high school she interned at the Sacramento Observer newspaper.

Gwen founded Cocoa Kids Books to publish books like “Rex and the Band” that encourage Black children to dream, aspire for more, and soar because they see themselves reflected in stories that are engaging, authentic, uplifting, and inspiring. I’m so proud of my big sis! You can buy Gwen’s book at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/rex-and-the-band.

Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

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American Cancer Society and Four Historically Black Colleges and Universities Announce Groundbreaking Diversity in Cancer Research Program to Improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The awards provided through the DICR program are unique in cancer research. They provide a large amount of salary support for the four colleges to select clinical faculty who need more dedicated time for their cancer research and scholarly activities. They also fund other student and postdoctoral programs and underpin the awards with career development funds and mentorship by established American Cancer Society Professors.

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These grants are designed to build capacity and enhance the competitiveness of faculty at MSIs when applying for nationally competitive grant support and aid in faculty development and retention. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

The American Cancer Society (ACS), along with four historically black medical schools including Charles Drew Medical School, Howard University, Meharry Medical College, and Morehouse School of Medicine, today announced a groundbreaking Diversity in Cancer Research (DICR) Program to help improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the cancer research field.

The inaugural initiatives of the overarching program include DICR Institutional Development Grants. The four HBCUs have received DICR grants in a pilot program for 2021-2022.

The awards provided through the DICR program are unique in cancer research.

They provide a large amount of salary support for the four colleges to select clinical faculty who need more dedicated time for their cancer research and scholarly activities.

They also fund other student and postdoctoral programs and underpin the awards with career development funds and mentorship by established American Cancer Society Professors.

The grants will build sustainability for both clinical and scientific cancer-focused careers, launching or sustaining the careers of 104 individuals by 2025.

The impactful program will create a more inclusive research environment to address health disparities more effectively and could lead to targeted recruitment efforts focused on bringing people of color into clinical research protocols.

Establishing a research community that is made up of a diverse group of people is vital to ensuring scientific excellence.

“The American Cancer Society is committed to launching the brightest minds into cancer research and to reducing health disparities,” said Dr. William Cance, American Cancer Society Chief Medical and Scientific Officer.

“To accomplish this, we believe it is essential to invest in the minority workforce and their dedicated efforts to solve disparities and establish equity in cancer care.”

“There are many reasons the Black community continues to experience disparities in cancer care outcomes. But one of the most critical factors behind the imbalance, and one of the most promising paths to closing the gap, is diversity in cancer care research. We must improve diversity and representation in our laboratories if we expect different outcomes in our hospitals,” said Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, president of Howard University.

“As a cancer surgeon and as the president of an HBCU, I believe the Diversity in Cancer Research Program will prove to be pivotal in altering the field of cancer care research and improving cancer care outcomes for Black Americans. I am deeply appreciative of the American Cancer Society’s efforts behind this initiative.”

Data show that African Americans and Black people, Hispanics and Latinos, indigenous people and native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are underrepresented in grant funding.

Fewer than 2% of applicants for the National Institute of Health’s principal grant program come from Black/African Americans, and fewer than 4% from Hispanic/Latino populations.

“We are incredibly excited about this new program with the American Cancer Society,” said Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, Ph.D., MD, President and CEO of Meharry Medical College.

“There is a significant imbalance in the representation of minority populations in clinical research which has led to poorer outcomes for specific racial and ethnic minority groups. To eradicate the varying health disparities that affect these populations, we must prioritize diversifying clinical trials and those who conduct trials to ensure treatment is safe and effective.”

This is a fantastic step to ensuring minority populations receive effective treatment and provides great opportunities for our students and faculty to engage in cancer research,” Dr. Hildreth stated.

“The development of diverse, highly competitive, and independent research faculty has been a goal at CDU since its inception 55 years ago,” shared Dr. David M. Carlisle, President and CEO of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, located in South Los Angeles.

“This generous grant from the American Cancer Society will directly support a range of programs towards that goal, including the Center to Eliminate Cancer Health Disparities as well as our Clinical Research and Career Development Program, which provides training and mentoring in health disparities and community-partnered participatory research to minority scholars and junior faculty at CDU. This funding will undeniably help CDU in forming a solid foundation in social justice for future cancer research leaders.”

With the DICR program, ACS has committed to a $12 million investment to support four HBCU medical schools with DICR institutional development grants to fund a four-year program that aims to increase the pool of minority cancer researchers by identifying talented students and faculty from HBCUs.

This program will inform efforts to develop a national program to boost cancer research and career development at minority-serving institutions (MSIs).

These grants are designed to build capacity and enhance the competitiveness of faculty at MSIs when applying for nationally competitive grant support and aid in faculty development and retention.

“Here in Georgia, cancer health disparities exist by age, gender, race, income, education, and access to care, among other factors, with Georgia residents in rural communities experiencing worse cancer health outcomes than their urban counterparts,” said Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD, president and CEO at Morehouse School of Medicine.

“The DICR program will be a much-needed and welcome contribution to our work at the Morehouse School of Medicine Cancer Health Equity Institute, forever changing the field of cancer research. The program will not only ensure diversity and inclusion in research, but address health disparities in diverse communities, and assist in our mission in leading the creation and advancement of health equity.”

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OP-ED: Welcome Back, NLRB – America’s Workers Missed You!

NNPA NEWSWIRE — All indications show that Jennifer Abruzzo, the President’s new general counsel, is helping to lead the charge and losing no time. She has put together a list of Trump-era decisions for reconsideration and is pushing to get important cases before the board quickly. She also indicated that she is in favor of the PRO Act, the most sweeping piece of labor legislation in 50 years and re-establishing the long practice of ordering companies to bargain with unions based on signed cards of support, rather than secret ballot elections. This is a game changer for union organizing and for workers who want a voice in their workplace.

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Right now, 68% of Americans approve of labor unions. That number is at a more than 50 year high.
Right now, 68% of Americans approve of labor unions. That number is at a more than 50 year high.

By Ray Curry, President, UAW

Before I get into just what the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) means — and has
meant — to the working men and women of this nation, I want to start by citing a couple of pieces of data because I think they tell a real story.

Right now, 68% of Americans approve of labor unions. That number is at a more than 50 year high. So, what does it mean? As a union man myself, I would say it means that America’s workers are hurting, and they know they need a voice in the workplace. And they’re right. My second piece of data: According to a recent AFL-CIO analysis, the average CEO of an S&P 500 company made 299 times what the median worker made in 2020. In other sectors — like retail where Amazon lives — this number is much higher.

But this blog is not about numbers, it’s about people. Working people. And unions, the one force that has the power to close that shameful gap in earnings. The NLRB is a key player in making it possible for workers to organize and improve their lot. So I want to talk a little bit about where we’ve been and where we are going under labor friendly President Joe Biden.

Let me start with a little background on the NLRB. The president appoints this federal board, which has done so much to shape American labor practices since its inception 85 years ago. However, the board that President Biden inherited isn’t exactly what was intended.

In fact, it’s nowhere close.

Dark days

This story begins in the early ‘80s with President Ronald Reagan coming to presidential power and the shift from worker’s rights to corporate profits that his NLRB put into motion. I’ll spare you the decade of gory headlines and cut to the chase. A retrospective 1988 Washington Post article highlighting what the anti-labor, pro-management Ronald Reagan administration created put it perfectly, “It’s one of the great ironies of the day: The National Labor Relations Act, which is supposed to guarantee U.S. workers the right of unionization, is being used to deny them that vital right.”

Under Reagan’s two terms, the Board reversed previous NLRB policy in more than two dozen major cases, almost totally changing the direction the board had followed since its inception under President Franklin D. Roosevelt to pro-management positions.

Instead of taking up worker complaints, Reagan’s NLRB backlog of unresolved complaints against employers rose to at least three times what it was before he took office. Delays of up to two years become common. Even more stymying to the labor force, his board took just as long to act on worker petitions to hold union representation elections and to certify fair union wins.

Fast forward almost 30 years to 2017 and President Donald Trump’s first year in office where we find his labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, cheerfully announcing that Ronald Reagan, who did so very much to weaken organized labor, was voted into the Labor Hall of Fame.

There are truly no words adequate to express labor’s outrage at this. President Ronald Reagan joining the ranks of towering labor leaders like George Meany and the UAW’s own Walter Reuther! How cynical and what a harbinger of what was to come under President Trump for America’s workers.

Sadly though, he was just warming up. One could easily argue that President Trump’s NLRB went the furthest in systematically rolling back the right to form a union and engage in collective bargaining, efforts that struck a further blow to America’s wage inequality and directly harmed workers, their communities, and the economy. This board also went on to diminish worker protections under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA/Act) with the administration’s NLRB general counsel (GC), putting into play policies that leave fewer workers protected by the NLRB while working toward changes in the law that directly roll back workers’ rights.

In short, the whole thing was a siege on the American worker.

A new dawn for labor

And then in 2020, the working men and women of this nation had enough and made their voices heard loud and clear at the polls. The 2020 election saw a record number of Americans voting. And what did they say? Enough of the corporate, anti-labor agenda.

This record turnout sent President Joe Biden to Washington and he got to work on the first day. On Inauguration Day, within a few hours of being sworn in, the new president acted boldly and decisively by firing Peter Robb, President Trump’s appointed NLRB GC. Lynn Rhinehart, a senior fellow at the Economic Policy Institute and former general counsel of the AFL-CIO, characterized Robb’s anti-union activities this way: “A report by the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that Robb was dismantling the agency from the inside. He reduced staff size, destroyed employee morale, and failed to spend the money appropriated by Congress. This all occurred while Robb was pursuing an anti-worker, pro-corporate agenda.”

Biden then turned to Deputy General Counsel Alice Stock, who became Acting General Counsel with Robb’s ouster and asked her to resign as well. She also refused. Two days later, she too was shown the door.

Gutsy moves. In fact, it is the first time in more than 70 years that a president has exercised that power. Thanks to President Biden’s swift actions in January, as of August 28, Democrats are now in control of the federal labor board for the first time in four years and pursuing aggressive measures to regain for unions the ground lost during the Trump administration and even looking to go beyond the limits pushed by President Barack Obama’s NLRB.

And all indications show that Jennifer Abruzzo, the President’s new general counsel, is helping to lead the charge and losing no time. She has put together a list of Trump-era decisions for reconsideration and is pushing to get important cases before the board quickly. She also indicated that she is in favor of the PRO Act, the most sweeping piece of labor legislation in 50 years, and re-establishing the long practice of ordering companies to bargain with unions based on signed cards of support, rather than secret ballot elections. This is a game changer for union organizing and for workers who want a voice in their workplace.

We’ve already seen this new NLRB in action. During the month of August alone, the board ruled that Amazon illegally discouraged union organization in Bessemer, Alabama, which may lead to a new vote; heard a case against Google for firing multiple employees for circulating a petition calling on the company to stop doing business with ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement); and filed a complaint against Home Depot for penalizing an employee for wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt. These are just a few examples of Biden’s new NLRB.

This new NLRB is an agency returning to its original purpose in a time when America’s workers need it most. Change for the rights and wellbeing of workers is on the way and I expect some of those numbers I cited at the beginning of this discussion are going to improve for my brothers and sisters.

We, as a nation and as a labor movement, are building back!

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