As President Obama would have it, the federal government said, “Let there be an Internet,” and there was an Internet — only to see its mighty benevolence ignored by those who profited from its creation. “Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money,” he told a crowd in Roanoke, Va., in mid-July, in the process of making an unfortunate case that businesses ultimately owe their success to the state. The contention is false in detail and in principle. The Internet as we know it today was developed by a combination of the U.S. Department of Defense, Xerox, the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee, and a wide range of private companies that were left largely to their own devices. Whatever role the state played, it did it within its legitimate function as defender of the realm, not as an economic partner seeking to stimulate the economy. Al Gore could not be reached for comment by e-mail.
While a few miles down the highway the city of San Bernardino was declaring bankruptcy, California governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that will commit the state to tens of billions of dollars in new spending for a high-speed-rail project, the first leg of which will connect the mighty metropolises of Fresno and Bakersfield. The state has no money, several of its cities have gone into bankruptcy, and the finances of its largest city are perilous; if past is precedent, the projected $68 billion expense will end up being much more. Ultimately, the project will connect Los Angeles with San Francisco, though to what end is not clear: Air travel between the cities can be had for $120 or so and takes just over an hour. As anybody who has ever languished on the 405 can attest, California’s acute problem, particularly in the southern end of the state, is travel within its cities, not between them. Governor Brown boasts about the jobs that the project will create, but jobs created by spending tens of billions of dollars on superfluous public-works projects leave the public worse off.
Whole towns and villages in Syria have been reduced to ruin. The dead number 18,000 at a minimum, and 125,000 are refugees. The rebels — otherwise the Syrian Free Army, and realistically the Sunni majority in arms — planted a bomb that killed four of Bashar Assad’s inner circle, including Assef Shawkat, his brother-in-law and an outstanding thug in this thugocracy. When the SFA then attempted to build on success by capturing the two main cities of Damascus and Aleppo in what would have been an endgame, Bashar Assad and his supporters — otherwise the Baath Party and realistically the Alawite minority — reacted true to form. Helicopter gunships have destroyed yet more districts and sent the rebels flying. Atrocities are fostering irreconcilable hatred. The violence of Bashar Assad has put an end to the Syrian state. Some observers believe that he is driving Sunnis out in order to regroup Alawites into an enclave of their own. The leader of the Kurds, another minority in Syria, says that his people could now gain independence very rapidly. Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia prop up the Alawite regime in a coalition whose real interest is to counter any influence the United States might still have in the region. The regime is likely to collapse anyway, and we will regret not having exerted any influence on the opposition by helping it.
Israeli tourists on a charter flight landed in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas, where a suicide bomber was waiting for them. He had long hair, probably a wig, and he carried a bulky backpack. As soon as the Israelis boarded a bus, the suicide bomber exploded this backpack. He himself, five Israelis, and the Bulgarian tour operator (who by chance was a Muslim) were killed, and some 30 wounded or badly burned. The identity of the culprit remains obscure. One witness says he actually had short dark hair, and another that he spoke English with an Arab accent. His attempt to rent a car failed because his Michigan driver’s license was fake. There may have been accomplices. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu confidently laid the blame for the outrage on Iran, which has previously been caught red-handed trying to kill Israelis in countries ranging from Thailand to India to Kenya to Argentina. His defense minister, Ehud Barak, more specifically singled out Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy. The likelihood, then, is that here was another front in the undeclared war that Iran’s nuclear program is forcing upon so many, and Israel first of all.