The Magazine

Death in Europe, Metro riders, and more.

Jun 25, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 39
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EUROPEANS LOVE THE DEATH PENALTY

WITH GEORGE W. BUSH visiting Europe last week as Timothy McVeigh was being put to death, it was perhaps only natural that newspaper readers would be treated to a sample of European opinion on capital punishment.

"Almost as One, Europe Condemns Execution," clucked a typical headline in the June 12 New York Times. Well, at least they said "almost."

In the body of the article, we discover that the headline refers, first off, to other headlines. "Assassination of an Assassin," from the lefty French tabloid Libération, is one piece of evidence adduced for European condemnation. And joining Europe’s journalists are, of course, Europe’s bureaucrats. The Times helpfully reminds us that the anti-death penalty consensus is so firm that a nation must ban capital punishment before it can join the European Union.

But then the article’s thesis suffers a collision with its reporting. It turns out that European public opinion—the non-elite jumble of incorrect feeling and thought that right-thinking Eurocrats in Brussels spend their careers trying to suppress—is far from unanimous. Take the French, described in the article as "not even Europe’s staunchest abolitionists; they split about 50-50 on the death penalty." Of course a 50-50 split means the country comes nowhere near to being staunchly abolitionist.

The Spanish, for their part, are staunchly opposed to capital punishment. Elsewhere in Europe, however, public opinion closely resembles the same split in favor of executions that one finds in the United States. The British are about 60 percent in favor of capital punishment (about where American opinion stands). A Dutch poll recently found 52 percent of respondents to be in favor. And though the Council of Europe may in one voice call the execution of Timothy McVeigh "sad, pathetic and wrong," Swedes and Italians are also close to being evenly divided on the death penalty.

Furthermore, it was only in the 1990s that the death penalty was outlawed in Ireland, Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Greece. It would have been more accurate for the Times to have said, "Almost as Half, Europe Condemns Execution," but that has no ring to it.

The following day, the same paper’s editorial page intoned, "For many Europeans, talk of shared trans-Atlantic values rings hollow so long as America carries out executions." For many Americans, talk of shared trans-Atlantic values will ring just as hollow so long as the anti-democratic ethos of Europe’s institutions is as entrenched as it is on capital punishment.

ANOTHER REASON TO AVOID THE METRO

POSSIBLY BECAUSE OF ITS HEAVY CONCENTRATION of transportation experts, the Washington, D.C., area is famed for its traffic jams and nightmare commutes. Hence, one of the most popular features of the Washington Post is the "Dr. Gridlock" column, which specializes in letters from a seemingly inexhaustible supply of angry and often deeply unattractive D.C. commuters. This reader’s June 11 letter, though, may never be surpassed for cold-heartedness.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding the pregnant woman who asked for others to accommodate her on Metrorail, let me first say that pregnancy is a choice. It is not a handicap, nor is it related to aging, neither of which is a choice; these people—not the pregnant ones—should be offered the seats closest to the doors.

If a person’s balance and circulation are adversely affected by a chosen state (pregnancy), perhaps public transportation is not the best choice for that person.

Asking people to change their behavior out of common courtesy for all riders is perfectly valid. I would not offer my seat to a pregnant woman any more than I would offer my seat to a woman wearing high heels.

Choices have consequences, and one of the consequences of being pregnant or wearing high heels is that you may be uncomfortable sometimes.

If you don’t want to deal with these consequences, don’t get pregnant or wear high heels. If you need to sit, ride the train during a non-rush hour or choose another means of transportation.

In other words, instead of expecting others to change their behavior to make you comfortable, change your own behavior to make yourself comfortable.

Amy Michaud
Arlington

And still transportation experts wonder why Americans resist mass transit.

VINDICATION

DO WE NEED TO REPEAT the case against campaign finance reform? As THE SCRAPBOOK has explained many times in the past—oh wait; let’s turn instead to Ron Brownstein’s excellent June 11 column in the Los Angeles Times, on the recent British elections:

In America, conservative critics of campaign finance reform argue that limiting the amount that candidates can spend will shift power to the media to set the campaign agenda. The experience here suggests they are right. Since the British parties have such limited capacity to reach voters themselves—and so little campaign time to do it—the media have much more power to set the terms of debate than in America. That means issues rise and fall largely at the whim of the press, whose attention span is as fleeting here as in the U.S.

Case in point: Just a week before election day, associations representing British school principals and surgeons released dire warnings about the state of the schools and hospitals. Blair was duly questioned about it the next morning, but the reports effectively vanished by the next day’s news cycle, before most voters probably ever heard of them. In America, it’s easy to imagine the opposition party pounding home those grim reports through weeks of television ads. Here, to a large extent, the parties can keep campaign arguments before the voters only as long as the press lets them.

We couldn’t have put it better.

CRIME AND ABORTION

TWO ACADEMICS caused a big stir a couple of years ago with a study claiming to show that roughly half the large drop in crime during the 1990s was due to legalized abortion. By lowering the number of unwanted children, argued Stanford’s John Donohue and the University of Chicago’s Steven Levitt, Roe v. Wade brought a wave of peace to America’s streets.

Few were happy with the study. Liberals didn’t like it because it suggested a hidden eugenic agenda for supporting abortion. Conservatives didn’t like it because it implied that mass abortion had an upside. But the argument received more headlines than rebuttals.

No longer. A new study by economist Ted Joyce of Baruch College and the National Bureau of Economic Research calls the abortion/crime link into serious doubt. The link is also questioned in a second new study by John Lott of Yale Law School and John Whitley of Australia’s University of Adelaide.

The crucial flaw of Donohue and Levitt’s analysis, says Joyce, is that it doesn’t account for crack cocaine, which seems to explain the big rise in crime starting in the mid ’80s. The drop in crime they credit to abortion probably came from a decline in crack and the violence that went with it.

Donohue and Levitt’s analysis also suffers a more subtle flaw, Joyce says. It assumes that states with high rates of abortion have far fewer unwanted children than states with low abortion rates. But easy access to abortion probably causes people to be less careful with contraceptives and more sexually active. "Take New York," Joyce says. "New York is a very liberal state. We finance abortions for Medicaid-eligible women. We have no parental-consent laws. We have abortion providers all over the place. So abortion may be a more readily available substitute for contraception in a place like New York than it would be in Mississippi."

Donohue and Levitt don’t account for this. When Joyce does—and when he parses the crime statistics to account for crack—what does he find? No link between abortion and crime.