Wente Watch

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Who is this person?

Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias thinks I shouldn't hide behind anonymity. I'm not sure what difference it makes, but just to make her happy you can now see my full name and photo (don't laugh too loud, please) by clicking the About the author link.

Wente's lobster dinner

Weekend Wente decides to make fun of animal-rights activists, but then towards the end of her piece sounds like she half-agrees with them, going so far as to compare the treatment of pigs today with that of slaves last century.

No joke, she really wrote that.

This demonstrates a key part of Wente's writing style. Her dislike of anything that sounds liberal or progressive is so intense that she has to make digs at them even when she is in agreement.

In any case, Wente glosses over the complexities of the story as usual. Clearwater's "lobster condos" were actually more a marketing stunt than a serious attempt at being humane to lobsters. Chicago's ban on foie gras may be easy to mock, but it didn't make much actual difference. Most Illinois restaurants had already stopped selling it, as people weren't buying after word got around.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

More Medicare muddles

Today Wente hosted a question-and-answer on medicare. Q&A sessions, by their nature, do not have the deliberately provocative tone Wente uses in her columns. Nonetheless, glimpses of her ideology, and the mindset behind them, can be seen through the cracks.

Wente appears to support the following proposals:

  1. Privatize most clinics and hospitals, and have them bill the government directly;
  2. Introduce user fees, perhaps with an exemption for the poor;
  3. Allow people to use private insurance to get faster treatment than in the public system.
  4. Weaken unions in the health-care sector (presumably through said privatization).

Wente insists she doesn't support a privatized American-style system (a bit surprising, given her general enthusiasm for all things American). She cites as models France, Australia, Sweden, and other European countries, all of which, she says, have elements of the above in their health-care systems.

Except that that most of these countries have a higher, not lower, percentage of public money in health care, as these figures show. Canada has 70 percent of health-care costs funded publicly. France (ranked best in the world by a WHO study) covers 78 percent, Sweden 85 percent. Australia does spend less than Canada does, but its performance is also worse; the same WHO study ranked Australia 32nd in the world, while Canada was 30th and the US 37th.

Wente's other points fare no better. Private clinics are not actually illegal in Canada. The stipulation is that they must either bill Medicare entirely, or not at all. It is combining the two that is verboten, since that would enable funding a private system with public dollars.

What about user fees? These have been extensively studied. Most research shows that the users who cut back most are the poor and the chronically ill. Furthermore, what is sacrificed is not urgent care, but preventive care. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but then, Wente believes that preventive medicine is a crock.

The most widely debated issue in the Canadian health sector, is, of course, whether to allow richer people to purchase private insurance for fast-track care. Here again the appeal to Europe is not entirely correct. The UK and Australia do indeed offer faster service in their private systems. But not France or Germany; they barely have wait times at all, even in their public systems, and the quality of care is as high in the public as in the private system.

So let's offer Wente a deal. You like French health care? Fine. Then give Canada the entire French package, and get rid of wait times across the board, for the rich and poor.

Canadians will never accept a private system as an express train for the rich while the majority remains trapped in cruel waiting lists.

An overweight argument

I actually agree with the substance of today's Wente. Obesity is rising because people are eating more and exercising less than they once did, and parents give their children too much junk food. Poor people are indeed more likely to be overweight than the well-off.

But as usual, Wente can't resist making her trademark digs - "Latte Land", and imaginary forces of political correctness that are supposedly covering up the problem. In fact, Wente herself has done her share on this score.

She once approvingly cited a book called The Obesity Myth and grumbled about the proselytizers and the demonizers, the moralizers and the food prudes who warned about the dangers of obesity, and whose ranks she now appears to have joined. In a later column, Wente again denied the presence of an obesity epidemic, and wrote public campaigns nagging fat people to slim down are useless. If that were true, why bother with today's column nagging parents?

You can't help but see the pattern - when Wente believed that obesity mostly afflicted rich people, she churned out columns denying or minimizing it, and told food-naggers to buzz off. Now that she sees it as a poor people's problem, moral hectoring is back in vogue.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Doctors should scrub floors

Margaret Wente has found the solution to Canada's health care funding crisis. Doctors should scrub floors! Why has no one thought of that before? That's just the thing to stop med school grads emigrating to the US!

I can see the recruiting posters now. Sign up for medical school and get your dream job scrubbing floors! We offer the newest and most exciting soaps, and the most technologically advanced mops in the world!

Maybe we could run ads in US medical journals aimed at Canadian emigrés. Bored with the best research labs in the world? Tired of all that fancy-ass medical technology? Come back to Canada and scrub floors!

That "bureaucratic" public health-care system wastes a mind-boggling $15 an hour on janitors. Free of "union costs" and "rigid work rules", the private clinics can hire doctors to do the job for as little as $200 an hour.

Isn't capitalism great?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Tied in knots over profiling

Wente's latest column is a bit incoherent. At first she talks favourably about racial profiling, but then admits that El Al does things differently, finally winds up by bashing British Muslims. Let's deal with her points in turn.

Racial profiling. Ah yes, the old conservative dream: let Muslims suffer in those hideous airport queues, while white people smoothly sail through. In answer, take a look at this photo:

The Iranian flags and T-shirts give away what country these people hail from, but not their physical appearance. Religion has no skin colour. There are more than a billion Muslims in the world and they come in all colours. Airport staffers cannot tell the difference between southern Italians and Arab North Africans, or between Indian Hindus and Muslims, or between Indonesians and Filipinos.

Conservatives might respond that surely, white, blonde types (i.e. those who look like Margaret Wente) aren't Muslim, and therefore couldn't be a security threat. Following such a policy creates an obvious weakness. If only people who "look like Muslims" (whatever that means) are profiled, terrorists have only to use those who don't. Wente herself cites an example; in 1986, a white Irish woman was found with explosives that had been planted in her luggage by her Lebanese boyfriend.

Profiling can backfire, sometimes comically, sometimes tragically. Today, two Monarch Airlines passengers were forced off a plane merely for speaking Arabic (the plane was also delayed three hours). Last year, London police shot dead a Brazilian man who turned out to be innocent of any wrongdoing, merely because he looked Muslim.

Never has racial profiling actually foiled a terrorist plot. More than one of the 9/11 hijackers were pulled aside for extra screening, but nothing came of it as they weren't carrying explosives or anything else that was then considered a weapon.

Perhaps realizing what thin ground she is on, Wente moves on to attacking British Muslims. Is it worrisome that 10 percent of that community wants to impose shari'a law on Britain? Of course. But then it should be equally worrisome that 22 percent of British whites think you have to be white to be British. Twenty-three percent said they would be unhappy if someone of another race moved next door. The BBC survey reporting these findings has, of course, received a fraction of the attention given to polls highlighting radicalism in the Muslim community.

There is no easy answer to the problem of Islamic radicalism in the UK, or anywhere else. But somehow, I don't think strip-searching young Muslim men in airports while they watch whites airily stroll by is going to help.

Friday, August 18, 2006

"Changing the behaviour of African men is probably hopeless"

Margaret Wente has made many ugly remarks during her career as a columnist, but this is the one that finally angered me enough to start this blog.

If someone had said that of "white men", or even just "men", can anyone doubt that Wente herself would be the first one screaming about radical feminism? But change the skin color of the men, and misandrist remarks become fine with her. Her jeer has no basis in fact; Uganda's famous ABC campaign proved that the sexual behavior of Africans, both men and women, could and would change with a community-based program of education.

But to Margaret Wente, this doesn't matter. Facts contrary to her ideological worldview don't exist. She is a writer who sees the world through the prism of good guys and bad guys. The good guys are capitalists, the United States, and white people; the bad guys are activists, critics of the US, and people of color. With that blinker in mind, her columns often follow a predictable formula:
1) Find a social issue, preferably one dear to the heart of liberal-leaning activists;
2) Blame it on nonwhite people;
3) Claim that only through conservative solutions can the problem be solved.

Back in May she tried to blame the Darfur genocide on Jack Layton and George Clooney, claiming that only US troops could stop the genocide, and Layton, Clooney, and other leftists were staunchly opposed to that. Never mind that the US administration was also opposed to sending troops, going so far as to block legislation in Congress that would have forced it to act.

So on we go to AIDS. In Wente's mind, AIDS must be the fault of darker-skinned peoples and their leftist enablers in the West. In her Tuesday column, she blamed Canada's AIDS problem on immigration from Africa. Today, she waxes eloquent on South African President Thabo Mbeki's claim six years ago that HIV was not the root cause of AIDS: I sometimes wonder why the protesters don't denounce South African President Thabo Mbeki the way they denounce George W. Bush. She doesn't seem to have read her own newspaper:

[Stephen Lewis] savaged the South African government, which has been reluctant to state that the human immunodeficiency virus causes AIDS, has been slow to offer drug treatment to the infected, and whose senior officials tout bizarre treatments..."It is the only country in Africa...whose government is still obtuse, dilatory and negligent about rolling out treatment. It is the only country in Africa whose government continues to propound theories...worthy of a lunatic fringe" Mr. Lewis said.

It is true that Mbeki has denied that HIV is the cause of AIDS. But it is also true that, under international pressure from AIDS activists (you know, those people Wente calls "madcap"), the South African president was forced to back down and approve what is now among the world's largest retroviral programs. We have not seen a similar concession from George W. Bush and Pope Benedict XVI, both of whom maintain firm opposition to the use of condoms and have pulled funding from programs to educate people about safe sex. In any case, Mbeki's opposition has no relevance outside his own land. What country now has the world's largest number of AIDS cases? Not South Africa, not anywhere in Africa, even, but India.

Wente recites the old canard that foreign aid to those corrupt darkies won't work, and that what African women need is education and microbicide. Exactly how the poorest countries on earth are supposed to pay for said education and microbicide without foreign aid she doesn't say. I suppose Santa Claus will provide the money. If he does, he might be accused of promoting feminism by Wente's ideological soulmates.

Wente tells Stephen Lewis to "take an Ativan". But guess who once wrote that "Those who compare AIDS to the Holocaust, in its scope and human devastation, are correct"? That's right - Wente, safe within the confines of a column accusing leftists of ignoring the disease. The Globe later had to apologize for the column under threat of a libel suit.

But no libel suit will come from the millions of people suffering and dying of AIDS around the world. No suit will come from the thousands of activists who have struggled to relieve their suffering. No one, apparently, cares to call out a spiteful, vindictive, ethnocentric columnist who uses a human catastrophe to score cheap political points on her ideological foes.