Five Best Thursday Columns

Dana Milbank on the Africa summit, Bruce Ackerman on the CIA, Amara Konneh on Liberia's crisis, Rich Lowry on Obama, and Amy Weiss-Meyer on snacks at work.

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Dana Milbank in The Washington Post on how the Ebola virus has infected the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Milbank writes that media coverage of the outbreak of Ebola has detracted from the positive tone President Obama wanted to strike in his three day conference with African leaders. "The host country’s fascination with the outbreak is a source of irritation for African leaders, most of whose countries are not affected. Macky Sall, the president of Senegal, said at a forum Tuesday that Ebola 'is not an African disease. You have to see this virus as a threat against humanity' ... The frustration is understandable. When Africa makes news in the United States, it’s usually about famine, civil war, genocide, terrorism or AIDS. It’s just bad luck (or bad timing by U.S. health officials) that two Americans with Ebola flew here for treatment as the summit was beginning."  Milbank suggests that attempts by the White House to distract from the Ebola story reduced coverage of the conference. "Not a single event on Kerry’s schedule Wednesday was listed as open to the media. That may have prevented pesky questions about Ebola, which fits with the Obama administration’s decision to keep the disease largely off the agenda."

Bruce Ackerman in The Los Angeles Times on why the CIA spying on the Senate is equivalent to Watergate. Ackerman explains that ever since increased flexibility was given to the CIA after September 11, the agency has overreached. "Harry Truman and Congress knew that they were playing with fire in creating a permanent spy agency after World War II. To protect the integrity of the constitutional system, they barred the CIA from all forms of domestic spying. But in response to 9/11, the National Security Act of 2004 enabled the agency to remove many of the barriers that separated it from domestic operations to permit a coordinated defense against international terrorism. This necessary step increased the danger that the national security establishment would intervene unconstitutionally in domestic politics." Ackerman calls on the President and the general public to insist on stronger oversight measures with regards to the CIA. "Unless Congress and the public force a reappraisal, Obama may continue to let the security establishment call the shots. The Constitution demands action."

Amara Konneh in The Financial Times on why the Ebola virus could threaten Liberia's economy even more than the health of its citizens. Konneh explains how the recent spread of the Ebola virus is effecting the lives and livelihoods of Liberians. "In the four months since the crisis began, the government has lost revenue equivalent to 2 per cent of our annual receipts. This figure could grow many times greater before the outbreak is fully contained. To make matters worse, our reduced budget will have to stretch further, threatening spending on schools, security and other priorities... It is a harsh blow for a country that had been recovering from the economic damage done by more than a decade of conflict." What Liberia needs is support from the IMF and other economic powers. "It is crucial that, as we work to limit the virus’s spread, the international community puts in place plans to support our return to the path of economic recovery we were successfully following before the crisis began... The economic impact is already being felt. Monrovia’s hotels are emptying of international business executives, tourists and staff from non-governmental organisations. British Airways has suspended flights to Liberia. Concession operations from mining to agriculture may be hit next. Palm oil production, a crucial industry, is particularly at risk."

Rich Lowry in Politico on why Barack Obama's presidency has lacked maturity. Lowry sharply criticizes Obama for what he sees as a failure to lead effectively. "It’s a trope on the right to say that Obama has quit, that he’s not interested in the job anymore. It isn’t true. If you are smug, overly self-impressed and unwilling to bend from your (erroneous) presumptions of how the world works, this is what presidential leadership looks like." Lowry continues to press the argument the the President cannot (or will not) compromise with Congress. "Ever since he lost the House in 2010 and could no longer operate on the basis of sheer brute force, the president has relied almost entirely on tactical cleverness. [...] After 2010, Obama had two options if he wanted to revivify his presidency: either work with the opposition, which would have required making truly painful compromises, or crush it. He couldn’t bring himself to do the former and didn’t have the power to do the latter, so all he can do now is wield his 'pen and phone' — and whine."

Amy Weiss-Meyer in The New Republic on why the trend of stocking modern offices with rotating snacks is detrimental to employees. There is apparently no such thing as a free lunch: "Free snacks in the workplace are more than just a metaphor. As start-up culture proliferates as a corporate ideal and offices strive to ensure that their employees remain happy, the kind and quality of the food they stock has become ever more visible — a selling point for prospective hires, a bragging right for current workers, and a sore spot for their less well-fed friends... The Tumblr office in Manhattan, for instance, has five kitchenettes, each fully stocked with granola bars, chips, yogurt, fresh fruit and veggies, cold brew coffee, and a seltzer machine." She writes that this practice is fueling a workplace culture of unhealthy snacking. "... having all those snacks available may have taught us to think that we 'need' them. Other studies show that we often feel hungry as a result of learned environmental cues, even when our bodies could do without the food. The 2013 review from the British Nutrition Foundation’s Nutrition Bulletin cites several examples of research suggesting that snacking can be a conditioned response to external stimuli rather than just a natural, internal response to energy deficit."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.