Lupus Still Disparately Affects Black Women

By Glenn Ellis

Glenn Ellis

(Trice Edney Wire) – Many chronic diseases are the result of the body’s immune system mistakenly perceiving that the body is under attack from foreign bodies. A counterattack is then launched — an inflammatory response meant to vanquish the intruder. In reality, the immune system has misinterpreted the threat and is actually attacking the body’s own cells and tissue.

Immune system disorders cause abnormally low activity or over activity of the immune system. In cases of immune system over activity, the body attacks and damages its own tissues (autoimmune diseases). Immune deficiency diseases decrease the body’s ability to fight invaders, causing vulnerability to infections.

There are more than 80 known autoimmune diseases. Many of them have similar symptoms which makes them hard to diagnose. They usually fluctuate between periods of remission or no symptoms, and flares where symptoms become worse.

More and more, we are all hearing about friends, family, and even celebrities, like Nick Cannon, who are “victims” of autoimmune disease – especially Lupus.

Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease driven by inflammation in which the immune system indiscriminately attacks “self-tissues” throughout the body. It is estimated that more than 16,000 people are diagnosed with lupus each year in the United States. Approximately 1.5 million Americans, and 5 million people worldwide, currently live with lupus. Anyone can get lupus, but it most often affects women. Lupus is also more common in women of African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American descent than in Caucasian women. Women of color are two to three times more likely to develop lupus than Caucasians.

Lupus autoimmunity can cause variable symptoms from person to person. Parts of the body frequently affected by lupus include the skin, kidneys, heart and vascular system, nervous system, connective tissues, musculoskeletal system, and other organ systems. Lupus is not contagious, not even through sexual contact. You cannot “catch” lupus from someone or “give” lupus to someone.

Your immune system is the network of cells and tissues throughout your body that work together to defend you from invasion and infection. You can think of it as having two parts: the innate and the acquired immune systems.

When the immune system is working properly, foreign invaders (antigens) provoke the body to produce proteins called antibodies and specific types of white blood cells that help in defense. The antibodies attach to the invaders so that they can be recognized and destroyed.

Normally the immune system’s white blood cells help protect the body from harmful substances, called antigens. Examples of antigens include bacteria, viruses, toxins, cancer cells, and blood or tissues from another person or species. The immune system produces antibodies that destroy these harmful substances.

What causes the immune system to no longer tell the difference between healthy body tissues and antigens is unknown. One theory is that some microorganisms (such as bacteria or viruses) or drugs may trigger some of these changes, especially in people who have genes that make them more likely to get autoimmune disorders.

These diseases tend to run in families. Women – particularly African-American, Hispanic-American, and Native-American women – have a higher risk for some autoimmune diseases. The diseases may also have flare-ups, when they get worse, and remissions, when they all but disappear. The diseases do not usually go away, but symptoms can be treated.

An autoimmune disorder may result in: the destruction of one or more types of body tissue; abnormal growth of an organ; and/or changes in organ function.  Autoimmune diseases can affect almost any part of the body, including the heart, brain, nerves, muscles, skin, eyes, joints, lungs, kidneys, glands, the digestive tract, and blood vessels.

The classic sign of an autoimmune disease is inflammation, which can cause redness, heat, pain, and swelling. How an autoimmune disease affects you depends on what part of the body is targeted. If the disease affects the joints, as in rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, you might have joint pain, stiffness, and loss of function. If it affects the thyroid, as in Graves’ disease and thyroiditis, it might cause tiredness, weight gain, and muscle aches. If it attacks the skin, as it does in scleroderma/systemic sclerosis, vitiligo, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), it can cause rashes, blisters, and color changes.

Diagnosing lupus can be difficult. It may take months or even years for doctors to piece together the symptoms to diagnose this complex disease accurately. Making a correct diagnosis of lupus requires knowledge and awareness on the part of the doctor and good communication on the part of the patient. Giving the doctor a complete, accurate medical history (for example, what health problems you have had and for how long) is critical to the process of diagnosis. This information, along with a physical examination and the results of laboratory tests, helps the doctor consider other diseases that may mimic lupus, or determine if you truly have the disease. Reaching a diagnosis may take time as new symptoms appear.

There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases, and some have similar symptoms. This makes it hard for your health care provider to know if you really have one of these diseases, and if so, which one. Getting diagnosed can be frustrating and stressful. In many people, the first symptoms are being tired, muscle aches and low fever.

Most autoimmune diseases are chronic, but many can be controlled with treatment. Symptoms of autoimmune disorders can come and go. When symptoms get worse, it is called a flare-up.

If you or someone you love is living with an autoimmune disorder, it’s important to get all the facts on the condition. Though researchers don’t know exactly what causes autoimmunity, much has been learned about the risk factors involved. After an autoimmune disease diagnosis, your main priority should be getting the care you need to manage your particular disorder, and that may mean finding medical experts who specialize in your autoimmune condition.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself, and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. A health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, nationally and internationally on health related topics, Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics. 

Drake smashes Adele’s Billboard Music Awards record

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It was a big – no, huge – night for Drake at last night’s (May 21) Billboard Music Awards, as he walked away with an impressive 13 awards.

So while 13 might be unlucky for some, it certainly isn’t for Drake.

Rapper Drake poses in the press room with his awards for Top Artist, Top Male Artist, Top Billboard 200 Artist, Top Billboard 200 Album for 'Views,' Top Hot 100 Artist, Top Song Sales Artist, Top Streaming Artist, Top Streaming Song (Audio) for 'One Dance,' Top R&B Song for 'One Dance,' Top R&B Collaboration for 'One Dance,' Top Rap Artist, Top Rap Album for 'Views,' and Top Rap Tour during the 2017 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 21, 2017 in Las Vegas

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Related: Drake isn’t happy with Kanye West for “publicly shitting” on him by saying his music is overplayed

Smashing Adele’s 2012 record of a measly 12 awards, Drake picked up gongs for the likes of Top Male Artist, Top Rap Tour, Top R&B Song for ‘One Dance’ and Top Hot 200 Album. Phew.

Drake also picked up the biggest award of the night, Top Artist, beating the likes of Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Adele herself (again).

While there’s no denying bagging 13 awards in one ceremony is an achievement, we suspect that Drake might not be totally thrilled about his ever-growing trophy cabinet.

After being nominated for eight Grammys, and winning two, Drake revealed his frustration at being pigeonholed in the rap category because he’s a “black artist”.

Rihanna and Drake in the 'Work' video (GIF)

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“I’m apparently a ‘rapper’ even though ‘Hotline Bling’ is not a rap song,” he said. “The only category that they can manage to fit me in is a ‘rap’ category.

“Maybe because I’ve rapped in the past, or because I’m black, I can’t figure out why.”

Drake performs at The O2

Related: Drake turned down a request to cancel two UK shows for the Grammys

Adding that he was “proud” to be writing pop songs as well as rap, Drake admitted that winning awards for a rap category at this year’s Grammys felt “weird”.

“I feel almost alienated or you’re tryna purposely alienate me by making me win rap awards, or either just pacify me by handing me something, putting me in that category, cos it’s the only place you can figure out where to put me.”

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Lawmakers, Residents Worry about GOP Health Plan’s Impact on Maryland

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act earlier this month. Now, Baltimoreans are joining concerned citizens across Maryland in coming to grips with the possibility that the healthcare they were just getting accustomed to under the Obama administration may soon be a thing of the past.

Several members of the Maryland congressional delegation joined Baltimore citizens in expressing grave concerns about proposed Republican health care policies and the benefits that would be lost if the Affordable  Care Act (Obamacare) is repealed this year.

Affordable Care Act

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) believes the Affordable Care Act should be strengthened, not repealed.  For an issue as important as healthcare, Marylanders deserve a bi-partisan approach, he said.

“There are plenty of ways we can improve our health care system and work to bring costs down, but this partisan effort to dismantle our health care system and give tax breaks to millionaires and insurance companies will not prevail,” Van Hollen vowed.

According to The Maryland Office of Policy Analysis, Maryland has benefitted considerably from the Affordable Care Act.  The percentage of Marylanders who were uninsured due to cost fell dramatically from 7.0 percent in 2011 to 2.8 percent in 2014.

Rep. Paul Sarbanes, (D-3) serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, one of two House panels responsible for the GOP’s American Health Care Act.  Sarbanes voted against the legislation that narrowly passed the House of Representatives on May 3.

“Estimates show 400,000 Marylanders are in jeopardy of losing their insurance. Scaling back Medicaid will not only strip thousands of people off the health care rolls, but will hurt the state’s ability to address the growing problems of opioid addiction and mental illness,” Sarbanes lamented.

Maryland’s senior U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D) joined Van Hollen in pledging to wage a vigorous fight against turning back the Affordable Care Act.

“We will not lose track of Republican efforts to sabotage America’s health care system. We will fight it every step,” he said in a tweet after the passage of the Republican-backed health bill.  

According to the Center for American Progress, the healthcare policy recently passed by the U.S. House would leave an additional 313,300 Marylanders uninsured by 2026, and the average cost increase for those who could still afford insurance would expand by an additional $3,456 in less than 10 years from today.

Congressman Elijah Cummings was particularly concerned that the U.S. General Accounting Office had not had a chance to analyze the economic impact of the GOP’s American Healthcare Act before it passed his chamber. The legislation was proposed and passed quickly, leaving no time for an impact study.  Characteristically, the GAO would issue a report on how the proposed legislation would impact the overall economy and all stakeholders involved.  

Baltimoreans across the life spectrum like Simone Barrett and Johnny Jowers are joining their Congressional leaders and keeping a watchful eye on the U.S. Senate’s preparation of legislation to repeal Obamacare.

Barrett, who closely watches the health of her 19-year-old son as well as her mother who is in her senior years, said that the Republican-backed healthcare proposal will hurt many of President Trump’s core supporters as well as African Americans who overwhelmingly voted against Trump.

“The Republicans are talking about access to healthcare but access and affordability are two different things,” she said.

“They are playing word games with people. The healthcare initiatives proposed by Republicans and backed by Trump will hurt both poor Blacks and poor Whites.  If neither group can afford the healthcare they have access to, then everybody’s worse off,” Barrett added.

Octogenarian Johnny Jowers lives independently and is in good health right now but knows that the financial limits on coverage for major illnesses that is part of the Republic plan would be devastating for many of his contemporaries and their families.

“I’m a veteran so my health care needs are largely taken care of,” Jowers said. “Now that the healthcare debate has shifted to the Senate, I’m hoping that more seasoned and experienced voices will inform lawmakers of the impact of the healthcare policies being considered before they act.”

“I’m on a fixed income but able to watch my expenses and still live a comfortable life. Yet, I know very well that life on a fixed income changes considerably when you are faced with a major illness,” Jowers stressed, commenting on the dramatic lifestyle changes many families are forced to make unexpectedly when major illness strikes.  

Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-5), Elijah Cummings (D-7), John Sarbanes (D-3) and Jamie Raskin (D-8) protested in front of Gov. Larry Hogan’s residence in March of this year after Hogan failed to join four other GOP governors who issued their own proposals on overhauling Medicaid for low-income people. The lawmakers were concerned about Hogan’s silence about Republican healthcare policy, especially since Maryland is a state that opted to utilize Medicaid expansion, offering healthcare coverage to an additional 248,000 Marylanders as a result, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.  

Erasing The Stamp Of Racism: My Conversation With Award-Winning Author Ibram X. Kendi

Ibram X. Kendi is a historian at the University of Florida specializing in racist and antiracist ideas and movements. His second book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Nation, 2016) won the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

Robert: Ibram, it’s great to speak with you. My organization, Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, just launched its One Million Abolitionists project. The goal is to give our hardcover Bicentennial Edition of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to 1 million students leading up to Douglass’s 200th birthday in February 2018 and throughout the bicentennial year. After they read the book, we want young people to collaborate with classmates and teachers to create projects that will address issues concerning equality and justice in America. Certainly, one of those issues is racism.

Stamped from the Beginning revealed aspects about the notion of race that I never knew and that I think most Americans would find quite startling. Assuming they begin to understand this topic by first reading the Narrative that we present to them, how would you move into a conversation about today’s racism with our audience of young people ages 12 to 18.

Ibram: I would share with them the historical context in which Douglass’s Narrative emerged in 1845. It hit bookstores when Americans were being misled by politicians like South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun about slavery being a “positive good.” Americans were being told by powerful people that the mass enslavement of Black people was good for Black people, was good for America.

Today, Americans are being told by powerful people that the mass incarceration of Black people is good for Black people, is good for America. Douglass shared his story about how slavery had held him back, had harmed him. I would ask these young people to share any similarities between the mass enslavement of Black people and the mass incarceration of Black people. I would ask these young people to share any prison narratives they may know—from relatives or friends—that disputes the idea that Black people are fit for prison, that stop-and-frisk policies and mass incarceration policies and law and order policies are good and helpful for Black people, for America.

Robert: How important is it to engage young people, in particular, on the issue of racism and how can today’s youth succeed in eliminating racism where previous generations have failed?

Courtesy of Ibram X. Kendi

Ibram X. Kendi bringing clarity about racist ideas.

Ibram: I think it is important to engage all open-minded people who are willing to self-reflect on the racist ideas they have consumed over their lifetimes. Young people appear to be more open-minded. Young people appear to be more willing to self-reflect and self-critique, which is why I enjoy working with young people on racial issues.

Today’s youth can succeed in eliminating racism if we teach them antiracist ideas about racial equality, about there not being anything wrong with Black people as a group, or any group of Black people. When young people come to realize that the racial groups are equal—and all the ideas suggesting otherwise are racist—then they will come to realize that racial discrimination must be the cause of racial disparities and inequities in our society. And in seeing racial discrimination as the sole racial problem—they will stop trying to civilize and develop Black people. They will do what previous generations have failed to do—direct their racial justice work towards uncovering and challenging racist policies.

Robert: How does racism affect people in the U.S. who are not African American?

Ibram: In the epilogue to Stamped from the Beginning, I distinguish between unintelligent self-interest and intelligent self-interest. And I talk about the way in which racist ideas breed unintelligent self-interest among non-African Americans. Many intellectuals have shown how the White poor, for instance, have been manipulated into sacrificing and foregoing their class interests. But we have not spoken as much about how even the White middle class has been manipulated by politicians’ race-baiting about affirmative action, immigration, welfare, and crime over the last few decades to vote for them and their pro-rich policies that have increased the living costs of the White middle class and spiked income inequality. Tax cuts for the rich and growing expenditures for the military and prisons have contributed to cuts to programs that benefit middle income people, like public higher education. We have not spoken as much about how racism feeds sexism and elitism and ethnocentrism and religious bigotry and homophobia and nativism—just as those bigotries feed racism. In researching for Stamped from the Beginning, I was struck by how many of the racist voices were also prominent voices of all sorts of bigotries.

Robert: As a side note to the reader, I have to say that the research for Stamped from the Beginning was incredible.

Ibram, we have entered a very dynamic period where newspaper headlines have been dominated by issues such as immigration, globalization, income inequality, the environment and health care. What role, if any, does racism play in some of the subjects that we may otherwise perceive as unrelated?

Ibram: Many of these headlines are showing this debate about why inequities and hierarchies exist in our society, and whose lives matter. Racist ideas—just like bigoted ideas more broadly—teach us that inequities and hierarchies are normal and only certain lives matter—and the other lives can be impoverished, incarcerated, deported, barred, and killed.

Robert: The Michigan Civil Rights Commission (MCRC) recently identified systemic racism as a contributing factor in the Flint water crisis. Was this official report by the MCRC a watershed moment (pardon the expression) for those of us interested in defeating racism or do you think it will soon be forgotten?

@Rewire_news and @MiCivilRights

Ibram: It should be a watershed moment. It should be a moment that shows how deep racism has rotted to the core of America, such that certain American citizens do not even have the basic human right of clean drinking water. If left up to the progenitors of this crisis, it will soon be forgotten. But we should never forget what happened in Flint. I know I never will.

Robert: Can you help me close this blog on a note of optimism relative to racism as we get closer to the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass?

Ibram: I think every great activist, every great change agent like Frederick Douglass is philosophically optimistic. Because we have to believe that change is possible in order to fight, in order to put our comfort and lives on the line for change. So I am hopeful we can create an antiracist America. And I am also hopeful because there are so many Frederick Douglasses in our society; there are one million abolitionists. There are so many antiracists in our society who are challenging racial discrimination at every turn, who are refusing to be misled and manipulated by racist ideas. It is these antiracist descendants of Douglass that give me hope today. And they will give me hope tomorrow and forever more.

Robert: Ok, now I’m all pumped-up for our visit to Flint, Michigan, March 17 and 18. Please take my advice and read, Stamped from the Beginning. Thank you, Ibram.

It’s Time for the Government to Give Everyone A Job

The Center for American Progress has been a White House in waiting for mainstream Democratic candidates for over a decade now. When it places something on the agenda, that becomes part of mainstream discussion on the center left. And at its Ideas Conference this week, it embraced one idea that has been kicking around the left for a long time: guaranteed employment for anyone who wants a job.

In “Toward a Marshall Plan for America,” CAP frames this as an answer to growing despair and acute economic pain bred by stagnant wages and lack of opportunity. But few advocates who have been pushing a federal-job guarantee for so long were consulted or even cited in the proposal. And while they’re generally thrilled that their life’s work has entered a broader conversation, they’re concerned that something is getting lost in translation.

The federal-job-guarantee concept goes back to Huey Long’s Share Our Wealth plan in the 1930s. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. endorsed “employment for everyone in need of a job” in the civil-rights era. Under this framework, the government would fund jobs with a living wage and benefits similar to public-sector workers’. The open-ended program would be funded as needed, expandable in recession, and contractable when the economy recovers. Government would become the employer of last resort.

CAP’s version is somewhat targeted. Its focus is on non–college graduates specifically, which it says have been disproportionately left behind economically. Real income fell for workers without a college degree from 2000 to 2016, and mortality rates for this subset have grown. So CAP proposes a commission for a “national Marshall plan” to fund living-wage jobs at $15 an hour. “An expanded public employment program could, for example, have a target of maintaining the employment rate for prime-age workers without a bachelor’s degree at the 2000 level of 79 percent,” according to the policy brief. Right now, that would mean 4.4 million jobs at a cost of about one-quarter of Donald Trump’s tax cut.

What kinds of jobs would be created? CAP suggests that home health care, child care, and teaching aides are all urgently needed. It also cites infrastructure investment for job creation–roads and bridges, but also schools and hospitals. Interestingly, CAP also brings up the concept of public apprenticeships: paying people to engage in full-time training for high-growth occupations, with the idea of spinning out skilled workers to the private sector.

I talked to several supporters of public jobs and the federal-jobs-guarantee concept. All of them welcomed CAP to the discussion. “They’re invoking the language of a job guarantee which is a permanent program, that’s great,” said Pavlina Tcherneva of the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College. But while the adoption shows the momentum for public job creation as a political force, job-guarantee supporters had several concerns about CAP’s formulation.

NAACP announces new leadership, Brooks out in June

MIAMI (May 19, 2017) – The NAACP was founded more than a century ago in response to the rampant and violent lynching of black Americans. Over the past 100 years, the black community and communities of color as a whole have experienced tremendous advancements. Yet, as we continue to march towards the arc of justice, additional barriers have been placed in our way in the forms of voter suppression: increased police brutality, over criminalization of black bodies, income inequality and inadequate health care as well as anti-immigrant sentiments.

The NAACP intends to aggressively and nimbly respond to the current climate of political unrest, as well as the assaults upon human and civil rights that threaten our very democracy, as only it can. To do so demands that the Board of the NAACP ensure that organization has the right plan and the right leadership to address these 21st-century challenges.

In keeping with its longstanding history, and legacy, the NAACP Board announced today a transformational, system-wide refresh and strategic re-envisioning. The objective is to best position the respected national organization to confront the realities of today’s volatile political, media and social climates.

Board Chairman Leon W. Russell and Vice Chair Derrick Johnson, who were elected to their current positions in February 2017, will manage the organization on an interim basis until a new leader is named. Current CEO and President Cornell Brooks, will remain at the organization until June 30th, the end of his current term.


“Our organization has been at the forefront of America, making tremendous strides over the last hundred years,” said Leon W. Russell, chairman of the Board of Directors. “However, modern day civil rights issues facing the NAACP, like education reform, voting rights and access to affordable health care, still persist and demand our continued action.”

“In the coming months, the NAACP will embark upon a historic national listening tour to ensure that we harness the energy and voices of our grassroots members, to help us achieve transformational change, and create an internal culture designed to push the needle forward on civil rights and social justice,” said Derrick Johnson, vice-chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors.

In their announcement today, the NAACP Board made it clear that everyone will have a place at the table, including its invaluable staff, the new movements for social change, local organizers helping to rebuild our neighborhoods, the faith leaders and other traditional and historic African-Americans organizations that provide much needed services to their communities, social justice advocates tackling income inequality, the millions of marchers who have taken to streets for women rights and immigrant rights, the activists who are fighting for equality for the LGBTQ Americans, business leaders and philanthropists lending private sector support, and the long-time civil rights guardians who have spilled blood so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.

As part of that commitment, the NAACP Board also announced today that they will embark on a listening tour, for the first time in its history. As the organization reimagines ourselves, it is determined to be formed in the likeliness of the people whom it serves – and to do so, the Board will work to see, meet and listen to them.

“These changing times require us to be vigilant and agile, but we have never been more committed or ready for the challenges ahead. We know that our hundreds of thousands of members and supporters expect a strong and resilient NAACP moving forward, as our organization has been in the past, and it remains our mission to ensure the advancement of communities of color in this country,” said Russell.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. You can read more about the NAACP’s work and our six “Game Changer” issue areas by visiting

Leon W. Russell was elected as Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors in February 2017. Prior to assuming that role, Russell served as Vice Chair of the NAACP Board and has been a board member for over 27 years. He served as President of the Florida State Conference of Branches of the NAACP from 1996-2000, after serving for fifteen years as the First Vice President. He is also the former assistant secretary of the Board and the former Director of the Office of Human Rights for Pinellas County Government, Clearwater, Florida from 1977-2012, where he was responsible for implementation of the county’s human rights and affirmation action ordinances. The recipient of numerous civic awards and citations, Russell was also elected for two terms as the President of the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies. The IAOHRA represents civil rights agencies from the US and abroad responsible for enforcing state and local civil rights laws and the promotion of inter-group relations.

Derrick Johnson was elected as Vice-Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors in February 2017. Before taking this position, Johnson was the State President of the Mississippi NAACP and Executive Director of One Voice Inc. A former Mel King Community Fellow with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Johnson also serves on the Board of Directors of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, and as an adjunct professor at Tougaloo College.


Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. You can read more about the NAACP’s work and our six “Game Changer” issue areas here.

Honor Trayvon’s Memory: Direct The $1Tr

… the institution of American Racism. Zimmerman killed Trayvon … and the highest debt. African Americans still out-spend all other … and condone the institutionalized racism that systematically devalues and … to the Black community? African Americans can begin to … RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News

‘Promised Land’: Film Review | Cannes 2017

Award-winning filmmaker Eugene Jarecki explores the parallels between the rise and fall of Elvis Presley and America itself in this documentary premiering in the Special Screening section at Cannes.

Director Eugene Jarecki has built a well-deserved reputation for impeccably crafted, scrupulous researched and, above all, concisely argued and structured left-leaning documentaries, among them The Trials of Henry Kissinger, Why We Fight and The House I Live In. Sadly, although his latest, Promised Land, may be his most broadly appealing film so far, it’s arguably his messiest and least intellectually satisfying work. A road trip across America in a 1963 silver Rolls Royce that belonged to Elvis Presley, this admittedly often entertaining ramble round Elvis’ life and career unfolds during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election campaign, prompting musings from Jarecki and interviewees about how the American Dream itself has entered a decadent phase.

Like Elvis in his bathroom in 1976, the film argues, the country today is bloated, addicted to drugs and dying on the toilet.

Even if one agrees with Jarecki’s progressive political position, making Elvis into a metonym for the nation’s spiritual corruption starts to feel too much like a contrived rhetorical sleight of hand. Jarecki hammers the point home over the film’s near two-hour sprawl by deploying a battalion of editors — including Simon Barker, Elia Gasull Balada, Alex Bingham and Laura Israel — who keep cutting back and forth between Elvis stuff and political stuff.

Copious clips of the King (in both conversation and a little more action), from his many TV, newsreel and film appearances are juxtaposed with various talking heads, footage shot by Jarecki in the Rolls, and campaign scenes and speeches, especially from candidate Donald Trump, at one point likened to a corrupt, George III-style monarch, glimpsed throughout crooning his own hits such as, “Get Him Out of Here!” and “Bad Hombres.”

In the end, it’s as if Jarecki has made two films and put them through a digital blender. That said, the material on a segment by segment basis is mostly great. For starters, the study of Elvis as both a man and a cultural icon for good and ill is told with equal measures of sympathy and scrutiny. We hear from several of the surviving musicians who worked directly with him, people who knew him in his youth, close friends and ex-lovers who speak with clear-eyed affection. On the other hand, Jarecki also interviews public intellectual Van Jones who persuasively decries Presley’s cultural appropriation of black artistry, and Public Enemy’s Chuck D, on top form here, on his famous lines from the song “Fight the Power,” about how Elvis “never meant shit to me.”

Alec Baldwin, Ethan Hawke and Ashton Kutcher all climb into the Rolls’ back seat to mull variously over Elvis or politics or both, and elsewhere Mike Myers chips in his Canadian viewpoint from a living room, slipping in a line he’s used before but which remains a great one: “Celebrity is the industrial disease of creativity.” Dan Rather is interviewed — for no apparent reason although it looks great — at the top of the Empire State Building.

Less instantly recognizable but no less impressive figures such as veteran showrunner David Simon (blisteringly articulate), Greil Marcus (always a treat) and Luc Sante hold forth on a broad range of roughly relevant topics. It’s a shame the filmmakers couldn’t find more women interviewees outside of Emmylou Harris and few others. 

The parade of musical artists who climb aboard and regale listeners with some ace tuneage is less germane to whatever political point Jarecki is trying to make but enjoyable to watch all the same. Tiny but perfectly tuned Emi Sunshine and the Rain let rip with some fine blues licks, while the Stax Music Academy Singers offer a stunning a cappella rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.” The song choices have almost nothing to do with Elvis apart from the fact that the genres represented were all ones he drew from, but whatever, it’s fun.

At least Jarecki is generous enough to allow Presley the last note, almost, towards the end of the film where the aching, exquisite interpretation of “Unchained Melody” he performed for the 1977 Elvis in Concert CBS special is allowed to play out over a montage that includes footage of nuclear explosions, Elmo, the aftermath of Katrina, Miley Cyrus twerking and Monica Lewinsky. There might have been a kitchen sink too, but in the flurry of edits I probably missed it.

Production companies: Ghost in the Machine, Charlotte Street Films, Backup Studio
With: Eugene Jarecki,  Alec Baldwin, James Carville, Rosanne Cash, Chuck D, Emmylou Harris, Ethan Hawke, Van Jones, Ashton Kutcher, Greil Marcus, Mike Myers, Dan Rather, Luc Sante, David Simon, Immortal Technique, Linda Thompson, Leo “Bud” Welch
Director-screenwriter: Eugene Jarecki, 
Producers: Christopher St. John, David Kuhn, Eugene Jarecki
Executive producers: Barbara Biemann, David Atlan Jackson, Jean-Baptiste Babin, Joel Thibout
Directors of photography: Etienne Sauret, Tom Bergmann
Editors: Simon Barker, Elia Gasull Balada, Alex Bingham, Laura Israel
Music: Robert Miller, Antony Genn, Martin Slattery
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Special Screening)
Sales: UTA

117 minutes

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A Generation of Sociopaths

The day before I finished reading A Generation of Sociopaths, who should pop up to prove Bruce Cannon Gibney’s point, as if he had been paid to do so, but the notorious Joe Walsh (born 1961), former congressman and Obama denigrator. In answer to talkshow host Jimmy Kimmel’s plea for merciful health insurance, using his newborn son’s heart defect as an example, Walsh tweeted: “Sorry Jimmy Kimmel: your sad story doesn’t obligate me or anyone else to pay for somebody else’s health care.” Gibney’s essential point, thus proved, is that boomers are selfish to the core, among other failings, and as a boomer myself, I feel the “you got me” pain that we all ought to feel but so few of us do.

Gibney is about my daughter’s age – born in the late 1970s – and admits that one of his parents is a boomer. He has a wry, amusing style (“As the Boomers became Washington’s most lethal invasive species … ”) and plenty of well parsed statistics to back him up. His essential point is that by refusing to make the most basic (and fairly minimal) sacrifices to manage infrastructure, address climate change and provide decent education and healthcare, the boomers have bequeathed their children a mess of daunting proportions. Through such government programmes as social security and other entitlements, they have run up huge debts that the US government cannot pay except by, eventually, soaking the young. One of his most affecting chapters is about how failing schools feed mostly African American youth into the huge for-profit prison system. Someday, they will get out. There will be no structures in place to employ or take care of them.

The boomers have made sure that they themselves will live long and prosper, but only at the expense of their offspring. That we are skating on thin ice is no solace: “Because the problems Boomers created, from entitlements on, grow not so much in linear as exponential terms, the crisis that feels distant today will, when it comes, seem to have arrived overnight.” As one who has been raging against the American right since the election of Ronald Reagan, as someone with plenty of boomer friends who have done the same, I would like to let myself off the hook, but Gibney points out that while “not all Boomers directly participated, almost all benefited; they are, as the law would have it, jointly and severally liable”.

Dick Cheney … ‘Others became overly aggressive.’

Dick Cheney … ‘Others became overly aggressive.’ Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Gibney’s theories about how we boomers got to be sociopaths (inclined to “deceit, selfishness, imprudence, remorselessness, hostility”) are a little light: no experience of the second world war, unlike the Europeans; coddled childhoods owing to 1950s prosperity; and TV – “a training and reinforcement mechanism for deceit”, not to mention softening viewers up for ever more consumption of goods.

My own theories are based on my experience of the cold war. I think that the constant danger of nuclear annihilation and the drumbeat on TV and radio of the Soviet threat raised our fight-flight instincts so that some of us became overly cautious (me) and others overly aggressive (Dick Cheney). I also think that our parents were not “permissive”, but that they produced too many children in an era when there was nothing much for the children to do but get out of the house and into trouble – few time-consuming tasks around the house or on the farm, plus bored mothers and absent fathers, who felt a sense of despair when they compared themselves with the shiny advertisements of middle-class perfection they saw everywhere, not just on TV. This was what America had to offer – washing machines, high heels, perfect hairdos, Corn Flakes, TV dinners, patriotism and imminent destruction.

Gibney’s book includes more than 100 pages of documents and notes, and he is best at analysing the financial details of the various forms of national and environmental debt that our children and grandchildren will eventually have to pay. He slides around the obvious – to  me – solution of just shooting us so that we can’t suck social security dry (I am not in favour of shooting even rats: the gun rights advocate Wayne LaPierre, born the exact day I was due in 1949, though I came six weeks early, is surely the ultimate example of this book’s sociopaths, completely indifferent as he is to the lives lost to the gun rights lobby). Yet Gibney does convince me that those of us born between 1940 and 1965 (his definition) are a drag on the future.

His last chapter concerns what can be done before it is too late. “Remediating the sociopathic Superfund site of Boomer America will be expensive,” he writes. “In money alone, the project will require $8.65 trillion soon and over $1 trillion in additional annual investment.” Then he asserts that it can be done, that the investment will pay off, that “it will be helpful to view reform as a process of manageable fiscal adjustments”. Good luck with that, and I say that with deep sincerity. As I watch my fellow boomers, Paul Ryan, Donald Trump and Mike Pence grin and fistbump at the idea of killing their fellow Americans with their newly passed health bill, I suspect that no one, not even their children, can redeem these people.

The first sociopath I actually knew, in the 1980s, was born in 1961, just like Joe Walsh. In the 80s, he was in finance. When, over dinner, I objected to off-shoring jobs and destroying unions, he said, in a sneering, Ayn Randian way: “They don’t have a right to those jobs!” He ran through his millions and is now in jail for pimping his girlfriend. I doubt he has learned a thing.

Read A Generation of Sociopaths and hope for the best. Gibney is more optimistic than those who predict an imminent third world war, than the scientists who warn of sudden climate shifts and the end of antibiotics, and even – in one sense – than the evangelicals who believe in the Rapture. He also has a better sense of humour.

A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America is published by Hachette. To order a copy for £17.84 (RRP £20.99) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.