Wente Watch

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A hack attack

Wente complains about the Qu├ębec-as-a-nation debate rearing its ugly head again.

No argument there. I don't know of anyone, except maybe Michael Ignatieff, who really wants to reopen the constitutional file. Wente could have ended her column after the first two thirds and it would have been pretty good.

But then, of course, she has to delve into hackery. Stephen Harper is a Conservative; therefore, everything he does must be good. So she gushes on how his parliamentary motion "drove a stake through the vampire's heart."

Only someone who slavishly worshiped the Conservative Party and everything it stands for would write something so obviously bizarre. Oh wait...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Privatize your ankle

Wente tells a story, with the apparent implicit point that medicare should pay for private clinics.

Actually, several provinces do pay for private clinics. The issue is not whether they are publicly or privately run, the issue is whether they are run for a profit. If medicare pays for these, it has to pay for the clinics' profits as well as their operating costs, which are not any lower than public clinics. For this particular example, they are even higher, since this is the very clinic where doctors scrub floors.

Why does the private clinic offer instant surgery while the public system has multi-year waits? Very simple: the private clinic charges $20K an ankle. Funny how high fees make waiting lists vanish.

The bottom ideological point Wente is trying to argue is that punitive waiting times are an inevitable consequence of publicly-run medicare. That is false. Countries like France, Germany, Japan, Belgium, and Austria have no waiting times to speak of, and they manage with publicly-run systems.

France spends less on health care per capita than Canada does, yet it manages to have nearly twice as many acute-care hospital beds, and 50% more doctors, per capita, as does Canada.

And why is that? Because deficit hawks in Ottawa and Queen's Park made careers out of closing hospitals, shuttering beds, capping nurses' salaries, and cutting medical school enrollments in the early 1990s, convinced that "medical technology" had made actual practitioners obsolete. They were wrong. Patients are paying the price - and ideologues like Wente are neatly deflecting the blame.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Wente and autism

Wente believes medicare should cover children's treatment for autism.

For someone who has long supported two-tier medicine, Wente sure makes plenty of demands on the public sector. Last week it was $3,000-a-dose cancer drugs, now autism.

The Autism Society of Canada estimates that 1 in 200 children born today will suffer this illness. Canada has 9.5 million children. Divide by 200, multiply by $50,000, and you get a price tag of $2.4 billion a year.

Only a nut would think that the private sector could possibly turn a profit out of funding autism treatment. Governments must supply the money, and that means what it always does: cutting other programs, or raising taxes.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Intellectual quackery

Wente's latest rant is attacking alternative medicine.

Rather oddly, most of the evidence she cites is actually in favor of alternative medicine. She reports that alternative practitioners offer faster service, more personal care, and spend more time with patients than conventional doctors. Furthermore, in the only two case histories Wente cites - herself and her friend Pam - both patients got better!

Instead of medical quackery, let's take a look at intellectual quackery - specificially, Wente's old tactic of finding some crank nobody else has heard of to support her right-wing, ethnocentric views. In this case, the pigeon is Zhang Gongyao, a philosophy professor who has called for the end of TCM treatment in China.

The Chinese Ministry of Health refused. About 25 percent of medical care in China is based on TCM, amounting to more than 300 million visits per year. Not exactly a sign China is retreating from it.

Wente's little mind may be incapable of realizing this, but this is not an either/or situation. It is possible to combine conventional and alternative medicine. Millions of people do this, in both China and North America, and lead healthier lives as a result.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Medical dilemmas

Wente writes about a cancer patient whose treatments are not covered by medicare, and is paying out of pocket.

Perhaps she wrote this as a way of boosting her own pet project, two-tier medicine. If so, she's undermined her case. For, of course, this is two-tier in action; the patient she describes is not forbidden from going outside the system for his care. And the results are not pretty. The patient is going into debt to save his life, just as is common in the United States.

Medicare should cover the cost of these treatments. But it is expensive to do so, and the Wente crowd would be the first to oppose a tax increase.

But why are the drugs so expensive in the first place? Wente carelessly assumes that this is due to the high costs of drug research and development. It is not.

The real reason is that there is no free market in pharmaceuticals. New drugs are under patent for twenty years, sometimes longer. The drug company has no competition. It is free to raise the price as high as it likes, and the patient must either find up to $3,000 a dose, or face sickness or even death.

Drug companies and their conservative apologists claim that they need these monopoly profits in order to fund research and development. This, however, does not explain why they spend twice as much on marketing as they do on research.

When patent protections are excessively generous, companies are taken off the treadmill of speeding new drugs to market as fast as possible before older patents expire. They are then free to squeeze blood money out of patients, pounding them with intense and sometimes misleading marketing, and footing them with the bill.

What research is done is distorted, with illnesses affecting a small number of people in rich countries getting more attention than deadly diseases that kill millions in poor countries.

Cutting patent protection down to ten years, from the current twenty or more, would almost certainly lower drug costs without hurting innovation. But Canada's hands are tied; largely at U.S. insistence, the 20-year protection is written into "free" trade agreements.

A misnomer if there ever was one; patent protection is a restriction on trade, not a freeing of it. Would Wente call for reopening the WTO and NAFTA to help out patients like these, and cut the costs faced by public health-care programs?

A true believer in free markets and lower taxes would say "yes". A partisan hack would say "no". Let's see what side Wente is on.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A climate of ignorance

Once again Wente makes a fool of herself on global warming.

This is almost too easy. For starters, Wente combines three separate conservative critiques of global warming; 1) it isn't happening; 2) it's happening but is due to natural causes, and 3) it's man-made but isn't dangerous to human life.

Only #3 has even a smidgen of scientific respectability, but Wente is apparently unable to distinguish between them. In fact, of the various "smart people" she quotes, only one (Bjorn Lomborg) is an advocate of this position. The others (oil-funded cranks and tired old Thatcherites) are in camps #1 and #2.

Trust it to Wente to claim that conspiracy theorists are actually the lone brave souls defending the world against a conspiracy theory.

It's telling that Wente chooses to write yet another lame climate change denial column, instead of on the major news event of the week, the American midterm elections. Her hero George W. Bush got his ass kicked, but Wente, like him, is still living in fantasyland.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

View from a bubble

Wente's Remembrance Day column starts out as a fairly standard, if boring, family memoir about veterans. But it reveals its true colours at the end.

She writes of her childhood as a "still-patriotic age", implying that neither Canadians nor Americans today are patriotic anymore. Oh really?

She writes nobody argued about the morality of wars back then. It was a simpler and more innocent time. Wrong on two levels. First of all, if you fight and kill without hesitation, that makes you less innocent, not more. Second of all, neither of World Wars I and II were uncontroversial. Quebec largely opposed both and reacted furiously when conscription was imposed. The United States delayed entry into both for years because of its strong sense of isolationism.

She goes on to complain that war is no longer a universal experience, and that, apparently is a "loss". The estimated 650,000 Iraqis who have died in that country's conflict would beg to disagree. Rich, powerful countries no longer fight each other as they did decades ago; they pick smaller, weaker victims who do most of the suffering and dying.

And let's not forget that Margaret Wente supported the war in Iraq - a war that even she now admits was a mistake. It is easy for her, sitting comfortably in her cosseted newspaper office, to call for death and destruction to be rained on someone else's country.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's not her, don't worry

A couple readers have pointed out that one "Margaret Wente" has been appointed to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Not to worry. Reader skdadl points out that this is actually the niece of the columnist.

Aunt Wente admitted, in a column last year, that her niece violently disagrees with almost everything I write, going so far as to not even read the elder Wente's columns.

Wish I'd done that.

Blaming the victim, again

I can almost entirely agree with today's Wente on income trusts.

Except for her characterization of retail investors as dumb clucks. Elsewhere in the column, Wente admits that the real villain is the financial services industry, which basically swindled its customers. Yet her natural sympathy for the rich and powerful shines through, as it always does.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Wente, the faux citizen

A good citizen pays attention to what is happening in their community and tries to keep informed. A faux citizen, like Margaret Wente, engages in silly screeds.

Wente believes that Toronto business taxes are too high, and this is the fault of the mayor and council. Would that be the same mayor and council who earlier this year approved a 40 percent cut in business taxes over the next 15 years?

As for gridlock, what does Wente propose be done about it? She has only contempt for public transit. Does she propose bulldozing existing homes and businesses to free up land for new expressways? Who is going to pay for them? Not the private sector - look up "407" in the rip-off file.

The province bailing out Toronto is not a favour it does for the city. It is a consequence of the policies of Wente's old hero, Mike Harris. It is he who downloaded expenses onto the municipalities without sharing tax revenue, and large cities were the hardest hit.

Wente might spare a word to curse Harris' megacity plan, which failed in nearly all its objectives. It did not hold down taxes or spending, it did not improve city services. It didn't even rein in the old left-wing downtown council Harris so despised - today the NDP holds the mayoralty and a plurality of councillors in the entire metro.

If Wente wants to take lessons from Calgary, she might want to start with its highly regarded public transit system, including inexpensively-built LRT lines and free downtown fares. Discovering oil wouldn't hurt either.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Wente the liar

Wente continues her jihad against South Asian culture, saying, again, that it is backward and patriarchal compared to white culture. And once again she fails to present any actual evidence in support of her case, only anecdotes.

Is there a bias in South Asian culture that condones violence against women? Of course there is. Every culture in the world condones violence against women, bar none, and white Western culture is certainly no exception. If Wente believe that it is, then she, not feminists, is the one covering up for abusive husbands.

Indeed, for someone who claims to be writing all this in the name of feminism, Wente has a low opinion of feminists. Just listen to her various accusations:

  • Yet [Western feminists] also excuse and even endorse patriarchal behaviour -- so long as it's imported from somewhere else. Feminists (along with folks like Mr. Khalid) were among the leading proponents of introducing sharia law in Ontario.
  • you don't hear very many Western feminists standing up to argue for the right of South Asian and Muslim women to not be slapped around by their husbands
  • Western feminists endorse the veil as an instrument of female empowerment.

Wente does not quote a single actual feminist who really believes any of these things. Real feminists argue for the right of all women, not just South Asians, to not be "slapped around by their husbands." I know of no Western feminist who has endorsed the veil - at most, merely saying that women should not be forbidden from wearing it. And as for sharia law, that is a flat lie. Feminist groups led the successful campaign opposing it.

The reactionary imam she quoted, M.D. Khalid, endorsed Stockwell Day in the 2000 election, not exactly in agreement with most Canadian feminists, unless you count Wente.

Not only is Wente a hypocrite and ethnocentrist, she has now revealed herself a deliberate liar as well. She is pounding away at a straw man - or straw woman - who simply does not exist, and Wente knows it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Who beats who?

One of Margaret Wente's favorite themes is to equate women's rights with white ethnocentrism. In her mind, white culture is the only one that respects women's rights. All others - aboriginal, black, Muslim, and now South Asian are patriarchal and abuse women.

She is able to get away with this because of the stereotypes that these cultures are backward and retrograde compared to white Western culture. It may seem an alien concept to Wente, but how about discarding stereotypes for a moment and looking at actual facts?

  • 51% of Canadian women have been victims of at least one act of physical or sexual violence since age 16;
  • Nearly 30,000 Canadian women report spousal violence each year. And that's just the tip of the iceberg - nobody knows how many cases go unreported.
  • In Wente's favorite country, the United States, 22 percent of women report being a victim of domestic violence. Fully 60% of the population knows someone who is a victim.

Canada is 87 percent white, the United States 75 percent.

For all Wente's pontificating, she has never presented any hard data showing a correlation between ethnicity and domestic violence. An intellectually honest journalist would try to ascertain the facts before casually stereotyping a community, but Wente is neither intellectual, nor honest, nor a journalist. Her agenda is ethnocentrism, and she uses women's rights as a club to bash nonwhites.

When it comes to white women, Wente's feminism disappears. Another of her regular themes is the so-called excesses of Western feminism. She loves quoting anti-feminists, from Anne Cools to Christina Hoff Sommers. She repeatedly claims that Western culture makes fun of men and masculine virtues.

On Google, Wente's most highly ranked article jeers at Naomi Wolf's claim that she was sexually harassed as an undergraduate. And yet, Wente accuses South Asians of being the ones who minimize the problems of women, or ostracize women who report abuse.

Across Canada today, there are thousands of women being beaten. They come in all ages, sizes, and colours. But Wente has no real sympathy for them. They are not people to her, not human beings each with a unique story. If they are dark-skinned, they are political fodder, weapons to use in her campaign to divide ethnic groups against each other, to set fear and suspicion between the nation's many cultures. If they are white-skinned, they mean nothing to her.

This is not journalism. It is not commentary. It is hackery, and both she and the newspaper that employs her should be ashamed of themselves.