The Journal of Steffanie Rivers 

Jail Birds Of A Feather


I purposefully avoided the gym on New Year's Day because I didn't want to get caught up in the crowd of new people clothed in Christmas gift spandex and sneakers who had told themselves 2020 is their year to gain control of the fat and lose weight! Not even two weeks into the New Year the crowds seem to have waned. I don't know if that means people have settled on Lizzo's five-minute Lakers game twerk routine for results or they've turned their attention to other popular resolutions such as going back to school and getting out of debt. Here's what I do know:


College student loan debt is a problem for millions of Americans. So much so that some presidential candidates have campaigned for student loan debt forgiveness after I paid mine off already, but that's beside the point! Even so, some people in President Donald Trump's department of education are against student loan forgiveness even after a federal judge ordered them to do so.


While at least five of Trump's close associates have been convicted for illegal activities in relation to Trump's presidential campaign – which is bad enough - Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is on the verge of becoming the first member of his cabinet to face jail time for defying a judge's mandate to cancel debt by students who attended for-profit colleges.


This issue is less about the irresponsibility of some people when it comes to paying their bills. It's more about recruitment tactics used by some of these for-profit schools, some known as Everest College, ITT-Tech and others under the Corinthian Colleges, Inc. umbrella. These institutions promoted themselves as trade schools for students to improve vocational skills with the promise of technical degrees that would lead to high-paying jobs that never materialized. For some students who attended ITT-Tech they showed up to class one day, and the next day they were locked out because the school had gone out of business. No word about tuition refunds or federal student loan forgiveness. Good luck with marketing that technical degree you just earned from a now-defunct school.


Investigations found these for-profit schools in California charged six times more for the same degree than a community college. They targeted students from low-income households by offering federal grants coupled with high interest student loans, knowing that people who can't find jobs are more likely to go back to school to better their education and job prospects. Yet employers claimed students were poorly trained so they refused to hire (more of) them. That led to unpaid loans and more debt for people trying to catch a break! So a federal judge ordered the loan debt canceled.

Education Secretary Betsy Devos should be the first person to care, since these issues fall under her sphere of responsibility. But she didn't care, because nobody in her family has had to worry about the quality of public education, just like Trump's children. Devos was Trump's choice for Secretary of Education, not because of her experience in that arena. The president chose Devos – the same way he made a lot of his political appointments – based on her financial support to his presidential campaign.

Betsy is married to Dick Devos. He's one of the founders of Amway, the Michigan-based network marketing company. The Devos family is worth millions of dollars. And they donated a few million to Trump's presidential campaign. In return the president appointed her secretary of education.

Her lack of concern about the importance of her position is evident. Her defiance of a judge's order to stop sending collection notices is felonious. While she's probably not directly responsible for mailing student loan default notices, she's in charge of the people whose job it is to do so. Just like Trump, if you want to be in charge of the team and take credit for the win you better be ready to take responsibility for the malfeasance that could lead to an 'orange is the new black' experience.


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.