The Journal of Steffanie Rivers 

The Half Dome Challenge


I celebrated my birthday last Friday by hiking to the top of Half Dome at Yosemite National Park.

The round-trip hike from the bottom to the top and back took twelve hours. In the middle of a forest traversing rocks the size of those that covered the entrance to Jesus’ tomb while I stumbled my way up to 8,800 feet elevation isn’t how most people want to celebrate their birthday. I’ve never been like most people and at 52 I’m not going to start now!


But I must admit I wasn’t even an hour into the 6-hour ascent before I thought to myself: My mouth wrote a check my ass can’t cash! With every step it got harder to breathe.I stumbled over rocks the size of pebbles, because my legs felt like logs. And then it dawned on me that in my altered state I could become easy prey for wild animals! Then questions with my mother’s face on them started to pop into my head: ‘What if this happens,?’ or ‘What about that?’ All the ‘what if?’ questions crowded my mind, coupled with the unanticipated weight of my hiking boots had started to make my second guess my decision to memorialize my birthday in this manner.

Besides, black people don’t hike, which was pretty much proven by the fact that there were just three African Americans at Yosemite that day; myself, the man I came with (We'll call him Springs-for-legs) and one other guy who worked at the park. Even though he wore a park employee shirt with a name badge, I confirmed his status before I asked him for directions to the bathroom for what turned out to be my last trip to a real toilet for the next twelve hours.

Of the thousands of hikers I saw that day Springs-for-legs and I held it down for all the chocolate people! I guess I should clarify: He held it down. I was just trying to keep up with him. Judging from the looks on the faces of some of the white people who passed us they were surprised to see us there too. If it wasn’t for the fact that he kept stopping every 200 yards or so to wait for me to catch up some might have assumed the distance between us meant we weren’t together!


I’ve never been a hiker, but I like a challenge. So when I read about the woman who fell to her death weeks earlier while trying to climb to the ope of Half Dome I challenged myself to do what some have died trying to accomplish. Springs-for-legs helped me to stay focused and moving forward. Afterwards he told me my reliance on him is what kept him in the game. There we were, two chocolate drops, representing the African Diaspora and keeping each other motivated while getting the workout of a lifetime.

Hikers must have a permit to climb to the top of Half Dome. Permits are distributed by a lottery. Even though we had a permit we almost stopped short of climbing the last 400 yards because the summit only can be accessed via the infamous cable staircase and it was getting close to sundown. Before we started the hike I said aloud how we should reach the top of Half Dome in under  four hours, giving us plenty of time to get back down the mountain before dark. But with two hours of time lost on the way up we started to consider surviving half dome instead of just climbing it.

Then it happened: Somebody who just left the summit told me it only took them fifteen minutes to climb the cables instead of the hour some others had claimed. I wasn’t about to let a fifteen minute cable climb keep me from my goal? So we put on our gloves and up the cables we ascended!

They lied. It took at least thirty minutes for me to reach the top. When I got there Springs-for-legs was waiting! I won’t tell you how long he sat at the top waiting for me before I arrived. The main thing is we made it and he sang ‘Happy Birthday’ when I made it to the top! By that time I had forgotten what day it was. The view from 8,800 feet was amazing, though!


Africans Target Of Visa Policy Hit List


President Donald Trump doesn't like brown people. His persistent fight with congress to fund the wall (that he promised Mexico would pay for), his fake national emergency designed to take the money under false pretenses and his attempts to illegally turn Latinos away at the border by telling them “We just don't have anymore room” when they legally are seeking asylum are examples of his obvious disdain. But you already know that! Here's something you might not know: Since he can't have his way with brown people at the southern border, Trump has turned his attention to the black people from those 'shit hole countries' - his words, not mine - who legally enter America through the State Department's visa program.

He wants to start charging an immigration admissions bond on visa holders. Not all of the visa holders. Just some of the visa holders. Trump finally accepts the fact that most illegal immigration doesn't come from people sneaking across the Mexican border, rather most illegal immigration occurs when people don't leave after their visas expire and they go off the grid and get lost in the system. To address this, number 45 wants to include a monetary fee, known as an immigration bond, as a requirement to enter the visa program. This upfront bond will be held like a security deposit by the State Department. If the visa holder follows the rules and leaves the United States when his visa expires then his immigration bond will be returned. But if he illegally overstays his visa the bond money will be forfeited. While it sounds like a good way to address the issue, planned implementation of the program is biased. Here's why: The only people who would be required to pay the immigration admissions bond are those from countries that have higher than a ten percent visa violation rate.

Based on Trump's ten percent rule, most of the visa offenders are from third-world countries, including Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Liberia, the Solomon Islands, Benin and Burkina Faso. Yes, African countries. But the biggest visa offender, Canada, isn't on that ten percent hit list. That's because even though more than 90,000 Canadians overstayed their visas in 2017 (the last available numbers available) that number is under the ten percent threshold Trump wants to target. More than 9 million Canadians were granted visas that year. Those third-world country visa holders amounted to less than 30,000 altogether the same year. So all it would take for them to get on Trump's ten percent hit list would be a few thousand offenders. Canada, the biggest offender, gets overlooked. How convenient! Just like the electoral college, percentages work better for Trump than using simple math.

If qualifying for a visa isn't hard enough with all the paperwork and fees and interviews associated with getting approved, now Trump wants to add another hurdle to the process. Not for everybody, just for those people who already have to sacrifice to come up with the money to participate in the legal process to begin with. Most of them come here for short term study or work programs. Now they could be forced to forego the opportunity altogether if Trump has his way.

Not the rich white people. Mostly just the poor black people. I know all Canadians aren't rich white people and all Africans aren't poor black people, but for a president who doesn't like black or brown people, it's simply a matter of black and white.

Since Trump's 2018 travel ban didn't gain the traction he had hoped, now he's turning his attention to the visa program as a way to show his supporters he's still tough on immigration leading up to the 2020 election. He's looking for a win any place he can get it.



All The President's Chess Moves


When President Donald Trump agreed to enact prison reform legislation, pardoning dead people and giving rich politicians get-of-jail-free cards isn't what we had envisioned. Maybe if Meek Mill would have attended the president's forum on prison reform last month at the White House as he promised instead of letting Jay-Z talk him out of going Trump would have a better idea of who some of the people are who legitimately can benefit from a pardon because they were wrongly accused and still are alive. But I digress!

Typically pardons and commutations are handed out to people who might have run afoul of the law as it's written, but their guilt is morally or ethically debatable. But Dinesh D'Souza pleaded guilt to illegal campaign contributions. Trump pardoned him anyway. The next two people in line for pardons should've pleaded guilty judging from all the evidence against them: Among the 17 crimes that took former Illinois governor Rick Blagojevich from the governor's mansion to federal prison included bribery. He was caught on audio recordings soliciting payments in exchange for an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he was elected president in 2008. Martha Stewart was convicted of conspiring to and committing insider trading. When she lied to investigators about it prosecutors added obstruction of justice to the charges and convicted her in 2004. She and Blagojevich appeared as contestants on Trump's Celebrity Apprentice. Stewart served her time, lived through the disgrace and rebuilt her image. She's worth more than $300 million. Clearly she doesn't need a pardon.

To most Americans these pardons aren't important. To others who understand how Trump operates it's akin to watching a chess game. These pardons aren't to benefit random people for no particular reason. These people are like pawns on a chess board that get moved around at the president's whim. It's all about him! When Stewart was indicted it was then U.S. Attorney James Comey who approved the federal case against her. Yes, the same Comey who Trump fired from his position as FBI director. Comey said Trump fired him because he wouldn't pledge loyalty to Trump and agree to suppress or end the investigation into Russia-gate. To pardon Stewart would be a chess move.

Trump's first chess move, to appoint Jeff Sessions (his knight) as U.S. Attorney General so Sessions could end the Russia collusion investigation, fell flat when Sessions recused himself citing a conflict of interest. Trump later asked Sessions to 'un-recuse' himself. He wouldn't. So Trump bashes him every chance he gets. Not sure how Sessions could claim a conflict of interest one day then reverse himself the next day unless he had a time machine that allowed him to go back in time and undo the conflict of interest. Sorta like claiming you gave birth one day then denying you had a baby the next day. That's not how it works!

Anyway, with Sessions unable to block the investigation and Comey (his other knight) unwilling to pledge loyalty, Trump fired Comey. But that strategy backfired! When Robert Mueller was appointed FBI director and was chosen to lead the Russia-gate investigation he became the pebble in Trump's shoe that he can't get rid of.

Trump admitted his tweets and fake news claims are to confuse people so they second-guess what's true and what's not. As for the pardons, if he pardons people who have nothing to do with the Russia collusion investigation, when he gets around to pardoning people connected to Russia-gate his obstruction of justice defense will be set in motion. His defense: He's pardoned lots of people for various reasons. Some of them just happen to be connected to Russia-gate. So his intention isn't to obstruct justice, especially since - according to Trump - there was no collusion. This chess game has more moves than the Warriors in game 2.



Thou Dost Protest Too Much!

James Fields Jr., the guy who rammed his car into protesters in Charlottesville killing Heather Heyer and injuring others, has been charged with murder and five counts of malicious wounding. But if some state lawmakers had their way Fields wouldn’t be facing any criminal charges. That’s because six states want to pass laws that will protect drivers who hit protesters. Yes, you read it correctly!

Republican lawmakers in six states are pushing legislation to protect drivers who hit protesters when those protesters block traffic without permits. Never mind the freedom to assemble and freedom of speech laws protected under the U.S. Constitution.

Republican state representative Keith Kempenich sponsored the bill in North Dakota. He called protesters terrorists! He said when they block cars from passing, essentially they create intentional acts of intimidation, which – he said – is the definition of terrorism.

Although some people might agree that protesters who block traffic without a permit should face some form of punishment, disrupting the lives of those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo is the best way to initiate change. Changing the laws to protect people who use violence against conscientious objectors is itself intimidation.

These state house bills were introduced around the same time that citizens started to use their right to assemble for Black Lives Matter rallies and to protest against things such as President Donald Trump’s travel ban and against police brutality. Instead of upholding the U.S. Constitution, some lawmakers choose to use their political power to villainize their constituents.

If the law was in effect in North Dakota and Fields just happened to have killed or injured protesters there or in the five other states that want to protect people like him, he could use the ‘I felt threatened’ defense just like the ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws in effect around the country. You remember SYG, the one that allowed George Zimmerman to get away with murdering Trayvon Martin. Although it never was used as an official defense in Zimmerman’s murder trial (because doing so would’ve required Zimmerman to testify and he didn’t want to), jurors said SYG was why they acquitted him, but I digress.

Besides North Dakota, Florida, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Texas have their own versions of the proposed law that would make it okay for drivers to hit protesters blocking a thoroughfare without a permit. But the Charlottesville incident pointed the spotlight on those proposals before they could get them passed. Now some or all of them might be voted down due to bad publicity. If you live in one of these states or you know people who do, make them aware of what’s going on.

And if you live in Texas like I do here’s more news from the ‘I can’t believe these people are in charge of making laws’ file:

Starting September 1 an open carry law against knives with blades longer than five and half inches will go away. That means people legally can walk the streets with blades as long as samurai swords! Last June state lawmakers on both sides voted down the current law that made it illegal for anyone to carry a knife with a blade longer than five and half inches. Police said it was hard to enforce that law because determining the length of the blade was subjective. So legislators decided to make it open season for knives of any size. At least with open carry gun laws you have to have a permit.

Even though open carry laws for knives and guns are on the books in Texas, there are still some establishments where they are banned, including churches, courthouses, hospitals and schools.

Other states are looking at passing the same kind of bill. Do your research in your state. It might be too late to stop it, but we all should be aware of current laws so can make informed decisions for ourselves and our loved ones.

These are just a few of the laws that state lawmakers (try to) get passed without notice because people are so preoccupied with the musical chairs debacle at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or worrying about the latest reality TV show.