David Brooks in The New York Times on tax loopholes as welfare The American perception that we have a smaller welfare state than European countries is a myth, writes Brooks. "We're just better at hiding it. The Europeans provide welfare provisions through direct government payments. We do it through the back door via tax breaks." Child tax credits and health care exemptions for employers have the same purpose and effect as state-run childcare and health care. When politicians give a $10 billion tax break to a manufacturer for an airplane, the effect is the same as if they'd paid $10 billion for the plane, but this way they claim they've reduced taxes and the size of government, Brooks writes. He sees hope in the rhetoric of both parties, who are moving closer to compromise on closing loopholes. "This should be the top priority: A tax reform effort that simplifies government frees the economy and focuses social support on those who actually need it."
Fouad Ajami in The Wall Street Journal on Obama's passive Syria response The so-called "Friends of Syria" are meeting in Tunis Friday to discuss how to support the opposition to Bashar al-Asad, but they've already ruled out armed intervention. "Syria is not Libya, the mantra goes, especially in Washington... The silence of President Obama on the matter of Syria reveals the general retreat of American power in the Middle East," argues Ajami. He notes that Syria's geography would probably make intervention a "regional affair," involving Turkey, Lebanon and others. But he says Obama's reelection campaign, partly founded on ending America's wars, hits the disadvantaged Syrian opposition at a very inconvenient time. America shouldn't be indifferent because of Syria's relationship with Iran and the danger that it becomes open to terrorists. So we can do more by recognizing the Syrian National Council or providing training and weapons. "In a battered Syria, a desperate people await America's help and puzzle over its leader's passivity."