Saturday, November 25, 2017

It is 2017, abortion is not legal in Germany, and a doctor is in court for saying she offers the procedure

All three claims in the title of this post are true.

The one that will become patently untrue in a little over a month from now is the first one. Unless the world ends before that.

The other two will continue to be true in 2018.

To the blogster, much of what constitutes the legal system in any of the countries where it* has lived, has elicited more WTF moments than the tweets of a certain president.

"Abortion is not legal in Germany" was one such moment. A few minutes of research showed that the statement is correct. The German penal code is nice enough to have kept the same number for the paragraph that has governed abortion from the times of the newly formed country to this day: paragraph 218. We quote the first part of 218 below under ** and ***.
There are minor differences, from funky spelling in 1982 to a reduction of the maximum sentence from 5 to 3 years, or a fine.
But both versions are clear: a felony it is.

Leaving aside the fact that abortion in the first 12 weeks was legal in East Germany, the basic legal view has been consistent, which leads to the question how German women do get abortions today without the sort of international outcry we see when women in other countries with a felony statute run afoul of the law.

The legal trick is in paragraph 219, which states that no prosecution according to 218 will take place if the pregnant women undergoes specialist consultation and then waits for three days before having the pregnancy terminated. This post does not detail the exact requirements and times, you can look them up elsewhere. Instead, we go to paragraph 219a, which explains the third item of the post title.

"A doctor is in court for saying on her website that she offers the procedure". On 21 November 2017, gynecologist Kristina Haenel from Giessen, Germany, was sentenced to a fine of 6000 Euros for violating § 219a of the penal code, which prohibits "advertising" of abortions. Legal experts have questioned the wide scope of the provision, which basically covers providing any sort of information on terminating a pregnancy outside of the narrow confines of prescribed consultation or medical publications. At first glance, the statute may seem reasonable because it penalizes the activity if it is performed "for financial gain". But courts have held that even doing it at a loss still constitutes "financial gain".

What did the gynecologist do to warrant a felony conviction?
On her website, she lists services offered by her office. Abortion is just a one word bullet point link to an email form where the public can request a flyer.

This outdated provision has been used for decades by self-proclaimed "pro-life" organizations to file reports against individual doctors or organizations.

Mrs. Haenel has indicated that she will fight the conviction in the hope of getting the absurd provision taken up and eliminated by the legislature.

* The blogster does gender neutrality.
**  [1. Januar 1872–8. Juni 1926]  
§ 218.
(1) Eine Schwangere, welche ihre Frucht vorsätzlich abtreibt oder im Mutterleibe tödtet, wird mit Zuchthaus bis zu fünf Jahren bestraft.
***  [16. Juni 1993]
§ 218. 
(1) Wer eine Schwangerschaft abbricht, wird mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu drei Jahren oder mit Geldstrafe bestraft.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Look ma: virtually no East Germans in the country's elite

November seems to be Germany's "Quick, let's write about East Germany Month" for a couple of great reasons:

One, the Berlin Wall/Iron Curtain came down on 9 November 1989, signalling momentous change in Europe.

Two, 9 November 1989 made it so that the Nazi pogroms of Kristallnacht of 9/10 November 1938 were pushed back in public discourse and that the end of Word War I with the armistice of 11 November 1918 lost even more of what little import it had in Germany.

Just for the sake of completeness, the 11th minute of 11th hour of the 11th month is also the traditional start of the carnival season in large parts of Germany.

Obviously, the opening of the Wall is a convenient date to publish not just the trivial but also the thoughtful about the part of the country that is home to just under 20 percent of its population.

We all know about the crimes of the Stasi, the feared apparatus of state oppression, the doping in sports, the prison industry producing cheap goods for the West. We hear little about the fact that a full one third of businesses in East Germany were privately owned. And even less about the fact that some owners found out they were millionaires because they had hoarded so much inventory in the face of supply shortages.

This became part of the past on 9 November 1989. From thereon out, everything would be wonderful.

Freedom and blooming landscapes would be the future.

Many things happened, and books have been written about that. So, yes, the autobahns in the East are a driver's wet dream, as the blogster has pointed out before. You can tell even today where the border was because, going East, the freeways widen and straighten out.

But this year's main topic goes to the heart of the matter: the almost complete absence of East Germans at the top levels of leadership in Germany more than 25 years after the Wall fell.

This fact has been obscured because Angela Merkel, the country's chancellor for over a decade and going on two decades, grew up in the East. Germany even had a president from the East.

But outside of that, the elite is thoroughly Western, and there is no improvement in sight.
For example, 105 out of 109 department chiefs in the federal government are Westerners.

Sociologists are now accepting the marginalization of the East in the 1990s as a fact, attributing that period largely to the "lack of qualified personnel" in the aftermath of the fall of the Wall and the challenges of reunification.

Today, though, claims the continued marginalization is "self marginalization" misses the point.

Complaining that East Germans don't want to put in the hard work needed to advance into the top levels of power and industry ignores what the complete dissolution of a country does to its inhabitants, it ignores the resilience of power networks once entrenched.

What's left?

The rhetorical question asked by ZEIT whether a quota for East Germans should be established.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Germany's working poor: Almost 1 in 10 Germans cannot pay their bills anymore

In the 'stream of semi consciousness' that is the reporting in German daily news on economic issues, the country's working poor drift in an and out of focus.

Mostly, they remain out.

The frequent claim that the media are giving bad news too much attention does not seem to hold up when it comes to debating the problems of those who work full time and still are over their heads in debt.

The latest short blip that tells us 1 out of 10 German adults cannot pay their bills anymore is only days old. The data are interpreted in somewhat different ways, with the more liberal ZEIT online pointing out that overall increase in the number of indebted households has slowed down.

The conservative WELT, however, sounds the alarm, calling the phenomenon "the erosion of the German middle class" because almost all of the increase over the past year has occurred in what German economists call "the backbone of society", the quasi mythical had working middle.

The main reasons for getting trapped in unmanageable debt are unemployment, family crises (separation, child support), and loans. Unlike in the US, unpaid medical bills are not a cause of major debt.

According to experts, reckless consumption is also not a factor.

Oh, and the numbers are expected to continue to rise, so expect calls to reduce the tax burden on the middle class.

Very soon, the question what to do about rising household debt will be replaced with the usual arguments, for example, blaming poor immigrants for the woes of the German middle class.

Squabbling over what to do with the surplus tax revenue is a much sexier topic than asking why the poor in this country face the same relative tax burden as the wealthy. For those of you who don't know how this is done: indirect taxes, like high sales tax, and other speciality taxes, like taxes on electricity, insurance policies, and a slew of others accomplish this, while giving those who pay high income taxes the opportunity to feel oppressed and exploited.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Trump's Twitter outage - a reminder of social rank and the dreaded loss of control

Every now and then the blogster feels like telling teens that their impression that adults mainly muddle through in life is fundamentally correct.

It is also basically true that human societies have been trying to reduce the muddling through with some degree of success.

That's why we have formal education systems, accreditation, bar and board exams, and similar structures. Yes, the blogster is aware of the fine moral and philosophical underpinnings of schooling and training, but that was apparently not why mandatory schooling was introduced on a large scale in the 1800s.

Sporadically, we are reminded that control can be lost easily, that an unremarkable, lowly individual can press a single key on a computer keyboard with worldwide ramifications.

On 11/2/2017, a Twitter employee did just that. He or she deactivated the account of "realDonaldTrump" for a few minutes.

And the former employee was offered praise, pizza, and drinks.

6h6 hours ago
Ted Lieu Retweeted Katie Couric
Dear Twitter employee who shut down Trump's Twitter: You made America feel better for 11 minutes. DM me & I will buy you a Pizza Hut pizza.