Saturday, November 19, 2016

Snow shocker and going back to work

 Basically on the first of November a crazy snow hit us and it stayed for two weeks or so. Then two days ago it started to melt and now it is all gone. So intense. I do not like snow, ice, icy roads, more accidents and danger, cold temperatures... Kids like snow but not that much after 30 minutes. That is when they cry: "Inside! Cold" View from our window, the first days of November:

In the store parking lot. Now there is just a small puddle left.

It may not look like that much of snow on it but it sure felt like it when I was trying to get it off. The door on the driver side did not open, so I climbed in from the passenger door, then I had to drive for 20 minutes for the door to melt open, then after I got back I sprayed some silicone on the sides of the door to keep it from freezing shut. I am glad the snow is gone and I hope it will never come back... of course that is impossible but I have the right to dream.

Another big things is that I went back to work in September, part time, teaching 12 lessons a week - Estonian and literature. I teach one 8th grade, one 7th-grader (individual study), and one 10th grade. In Estonia, teacher teaches different classes and I love it. Different ages, different levels (math and Estonian are in level-based groups from 7th up until 9th grade, in our school, not every school), different courses for high school. It means more work but it also means more fun, more learning for me (and I love learning) and being able to relate one  course to the other. Like I have 4 parallel courses for 10th grade, just one lesson a week per course: Language and society, Literature from ancient times until 19th century, Practical Estonian and the last course is Analysis and Interpretation of texts. I thought at first that is just too much but now it all flows nicely, all of the courses are mostly related to each other, you can draw lines between them all the time and it makes more sense for the students, kind of a broader picture. My favorite of them all is text analysis and interpretation. It is just pure fun and gold. And the kids are always amazed with where do I get weird texts like that for them to read. Anyway, I love teaching and it is just so much joy. And I feel stupid/insecure at times too but that, I just read, is just a sign of well developed emotional IQ. I decided to believe that. 

Here is my classroom. The windows are in the ceiling but that means more space to put stuff up, like a huge time-line made out of wallpaper roll. Or students works, group work posters etc. I have great tech stuff up, like a projector, smart board that I am still trying to figure out. They even gave me a brand new lap-top to use. I love the school and the students.

It is hard to schedule work with Matthew but so far we are a live and going strong.

My super awesome husband! Phd - check!

He does not know this but I am secretly doing this blog post after I found the photos off the internet.

Congratulations, Matthew, for getting your doctoral degree! You have been working so hard for this.

Here, the main man of the university is ready to give him a special doctor´s scarf:

Here is the coolest photo of him, like saying: "Hahahaa, take that, suckers. You thought I would not get here and you were sooooo wrong!"

Once again - congrats!

Friday, November 18, 2016

No, Putin is not invading

Some of you may have read a recent piece in Foreign Policy predicting a Russian hybrid warfare invasion in Latvia.  If you did see the piece and are worried about what President Trump means for our safety in the Baltic's no need to be afraid, we will be just fine.  To note, I think President Trump's reset 2.0 with Putin is a bad idea and will embolden him.  It is also troublesome to have a US president in power who doesn't care about the Baltic states or NATO at a time of such high security tensions in the region.  That said, an incompetent President Trump doesn't doesn't necessarily mean another war.  The impact of the reset will be more felt in places like Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. 

Miller has most likely never been to Daugavpils and so a few shortcomings should be noted.  First, Putin is not crazy.  He has interests, goals, and is willing to take appropriate measures to accomplish those goals and defend his interests.  Consolidating gains in Ukraine is important for Putin.  Getting rid of sanctions is important to Putin.  Increasing Russian influence in the region is important.  Weakening the EU as a unitary actor is important.  Reducing US influence (unilateral influence in particular) is important.  Geographical conquest in the Baltic states is not important. 

Russia tried to gain ownership and control of key energy infrastructure in the Baltic states and was rebuffed.  Their response was to simply build their own despite the expensive costs.  The Baltic states do not represent the Russian religious nation like Miller claims. Ukraine and Crimea in particular have a much more historical and normative value for Russia than the Baltic states. The only reason for Russian hostility against the Baltic states would be to discredit NATO, but that isn't as high of a priority with future NATO expansion already off the table. 

The cost of military incursion in the Baltic states is also significantly higher than Ukraine.  Even if a president Trump decided that he would not invoke article 5 Germany and other European countries would and would send troops and arms into the Baltic states.  It would be a military incursion that would cost Russia significant amounts of blood and treasure.  It could even cost Russia in terms of non Western support like China, which is always very cautious about international intervention and the changing of borders. 

Lastly, Miller overlooks the domestic situation in the Baltic states. Russia's hybrid warfare is much more difficult to pull off because of the well functioning governance.  Russian speaking minorities are less likely to riot, protest and much less likely to support Russian intervention.  The pensions, wages, and options are all better.  The use of paid imported protesters, mercenaries, and trouble makers would not have the same impact due to the Baltic states readiness for such tactics.  Internal security is a high priority and riot reaction and other crisis reaction measures have been gamed out in detail over the past two years. 

The last flaw in Miller's argument is the idea that a military confrontation will automatically escalate to WWIII.  Russia's hybrid warfare is designed to reduce Russia's responsibility for the intervention.  If there was some type of "local" militia that would pop up NATO forces could be called in to suppress it and Russia would then be faced with the decision to confirm that it is Russian troops involved or to just let the militia lose and back down.   I wouldn't put it past President Putin from trying to test the waters a bit but he would not be willing to risk WWIII over Daugavpils. Would President Trump be willing to send in some troops to help Latvia put down a Russian backed "local militia"?  Most likely.  I doubt Trump would appreciate being stabbed in the back by Putin.  There are other arenas to wage the war of geopolitics and other interests that Russia has to worry about other than Daugavpils. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Not my relief society president

It's beyond disappointing to see Julie Beck and Robert Oaks support Trump and all the evil that he stands for.  Kate Kelly was excommunicated for trying to empower women and here the highest ranking woman in the Church (until 2012) openly comes out and endorses a serial sexual predator. No words for that people. For both Oaks and Beck, they used their status as former high ranking members of the Church in a political manor.  This is a particularly troublesome form of priestcraft.  I'm glad my little girls didn't grow up listening to her general conference talks only to later find out that she is a hypocritical fraud.  A modern day pharisee.  I was relieved to read about the exit polls that said the most active Mormons did not support Trump.  Looks like the vineyard doesn't need to be burned down just yet.

Hopefully the Church will look into it and update their guidelines for political activeness among former general authorities and general auxiliary leaders.  Hats off to Marvin Jensen who considered running for Lt. Governor as a Democrat.  That campaign would have largely been about his previous status as a general authority, I'm glad that he didn't let it come to that.

Not my president

They say that every country deserves its government.  Life is going to get ugly real fast for a lot of people.  Let's make one thing sure.  For the 61 million who voted for Trump, this one is on you. What could one president do you ask? Unfortunately quite a bit.

Foreign policy: We aren't totally sure what Trump will do on a lot of issues.  The secretary of state will give a big hint and we had better hope for Corker and not Gingrich. A good review can be read here from the Brookings institute.   Ian Bremmer wrote a great article on it before the election.  From the article: 

"America First won’t strengthen America. It will alienate friends and embolden rivals. In the process, it will badly damage U.S. commercial interests. It will undermine the institutions that the U.S. and its allies created from the ashes of World War II and which continue to extend U.S. international influence into the future. It will cast grave doubt on what America stands for."

For those wondering if Trump's election will mean an invasion of the Baltic states an interesting article is here.   I think that threat is way overblown, but I concur with a lot of what McFaul, the former ambassador to Russia said in this piece in the Financial Times

We can't leave out climate change, which will probably be the biggest negative impact from Trump's presidency. 

In short, a hope for a cosmopolitan system of global governance is dead.  The Liberal World Order is a thing of the past and confusion and conflict will pop up in the time of transition. 

Domestic policy

Domestically the lives of tens of millions will be ruined.  I expect a large increase in the number of deportations.  The people he has surrounded himself are all hard liners on immigration.  The end result will be families torn apart and a radical reduction in immigration- including highly skilled and educated workers.  

The repeal and replace plans for health care will leave tens of millions without coverage.  How many people are left without coverage is up for debate, but if Trump even tries to do what he has said he tens of millions are going to be out of luck.  

Enable messages of hate that will have drastic impacts on the lives of many minorities.  Bullying in schools for example.  Hate crimes on the rise everywhere in the US. 

I'm blessed to be in a situation where I don't have to leave the US.  Estonia was ranked 4th on the top destinations for Americans looking to flee Donald Trump's America.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

You maniacs!!!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The day America dies

Fortunately for America and the world it looks like Hillary Clinton is going to win the election. Trump is still keeping things somewhat close which to me is morbidly horrifying.  Normally it doesn't matter that much who is president, there are a number of checks and pressures that tend to keep policies moderate and US grand strategy similar.  Sometimes there are exceptions like the Iraq war under George W. Bush's presidency which probably would not have happened under Al Gore. That said, Donald Trump is the type of president who would test the limits of those checks and restraints.

First, we have to put things into perspective.  There is not a mechanism that resolves the gridlock between the legislative and executive branches.  This is a flaw in the US system and we are fortunate to not have ended up like Latin American democracies.  Trump's style and ideology would take the gridlock to a new level and set an even higher precedent on an imperial presidency.

This is a good Vox explanational video on Trump's nationalist ideology:

In addition, the area a president can act with the fewest restraints in dealing with foreign policy.  Currently the liberal world order is under a tremendous amount of strain by the rise of China and the rise of the rest.  The best strategy for the United States to guide this transition phase would be a relentless focus on norms, rules, and enforcing those rules.  Instead, the US has acted in its own interest, undermining its own authority.  Trump's foreign policy strategy at a time of uncertainty would have devastating consequences.

Stay tuned on Tuesday for the final outcome and let's hope that America will live to see another day.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Happy Halloween!

 We hope everyone had a happy Halloween.  It is not always easy to celebrate US holidays abroad, but we had a Halloween party on Friday.  The kids were supposed to go to one at Church but I didn't get back home with the car in time so we just did one at home.  We had big candy days on Friday and Monday.

Our youngest was Spider-man and our oldest was a pink fairy.  I was working Monday night but was super super happy to know that we had trick or treaters! The upstair neighbors saw our pumpkin in the hallway and came by for candy.