Five Best Thursday Columns

Jeff Leach on eating dirt, David Ignatius on diplomacy and drones, Ezra Klein on covering presidential 'gaffes', Juliette Kayyem on immigration reform, and Gail Collins on privatization.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Jeff Leach in The New York Times on eating dirt Leach writes that the unsung benefit to our country's new obsession with locally grown food is the dirt we eat along with it. "Increasing evidence suggests that the alarming rise in allergic and autoimmune disorders during the past few decades is at least partly attributable to our lack of exposure to microorganisms that once covered our food and us," Leach writes. He describes how our immune system works to sample "the microbial challenges from the environment," but notes how we've increasingly denied it those samples over time. "Autoimmune disease affects an estimated 50 million people at an annual cost of more than $100 billion. And the suffering and monetary costs are sure to grow," he writes.

David Ignatius in The Washington Post on diplomacy and drones Ignatius reports on a tense relationship between the American ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, and the CIA over questions about the wisdom of unmanned drone attacks. "[T]here has been relatively little public examination of how these covert weapons should coexist with the goals of statecraft," Ignatius says. "The technical issue was whether the ambassador, as chief of mission, had the authority to veto CIA operations he thought would harm long-term relations. Munter appears to have lost this fight." He traces the recent history of the ambassador's dwindling authority over the CIA initiatives, and suggests Obama pay as much attention to the diplomatic concerns his foreign service is raising as he does to the national security concerns his military highlights. Says Ignatius: "[H]e needs to remember that he is diplomat in chief, too."

Ezra Klein in Bloomberg View on coverage of presidential 'gaffes' Both President Obama and Mitt Romney deserve criticism for rarely making themselves available for press conferences or interviews outside controlled one-on-one settings. But Klein says press coverage of their "gaffes" gives the media just as much responsibility for the trend. By focusing on Obama's ill-phrased "the private sector's doing fine," as a potential for Republican attacks, the media created a self-fulfilling prophecy and ignored the policy reasons Obama held the press conference. "What Obama no doubt learned from his 'gaffe' news conference is that he shouldn't do many news conferences," Klein writes. "What Romney learned from Obama's news conference is that, if he's lucky enough to become president, he shouldn't do many news conferences, either. The sad part is, both politicians probably learned the right lesson -- at least for their purposes."

Juliette Kayyem in The Boston Globe on piecemeal immigration progress President Obama's decision to stop deporting many young illegal immigrants brought here as children shows Kayyem that we've focused too much on the hope for a comprehensive solution to the problem. "[T]he pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform is not a precondition to immigration sanity," she writes. With big solutions difficult to achieve, she says we can still accelerate reform on measures where the parties meet in the middle -- granting more visas to skilled workers, exempting young illegal immigrants in good standing. "Settling for a piecemeal approach is just that: settling. But it is not failure. Little by little, neither too cruel nor too kind, the momentum for change is increasing."

Gail Collins in The New York Times on privatization Collins uses a recent Times stories on New Jersey's attempt to privatize some prison services to address -- as humorously as she can -- the issue of privatization. The halfway house program she highlights in New Jersey has seen 5,000 prisoners escape since 2005. "Perhaps you could call it inmate self-privatization," she jokes. "Politicians of both parties are privatization fans, although the Republicans are more so." Among the various candidates for moves to the private sector, "John Donahue, the faculty chairman of the master's in public policy program at Harvard, says the best candidates for privatization are functions where performance is relatively easy to evaluate, like construction or food services."

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