EDITORIAL: Glug, glug, hooray

Mr. Bloomberg is not persuaded. He tweeted, “We believe @nycHealthy has the legal authority and responsibility to tackle causes of the obesity epidemic, which kills 5,000 NYers a year.” The city will appeal.

The trouble is, a fatwa on sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces is not only intrusive, but it doesn’t work. Who will enforce it? Who will say “no” to a customer ordering a second 16-ounce drink? Mr. Bloomberg released a study on Monday linking sugary drinks to the city’s fattest neighborhoods. OK, but did the drinks come with or without chips? And who forced anyone to drink one? What about copycat bans in cities and states across the country? The next step is for the beverage and bottle makers to call their lawyers and line up to sue.

The sugary drink ban could, this being New York we’re talking about, survive on appeal to a higher court. His Nannyhood’s crusade against something sweet takes us back to Prohibition. We all know how that worked out. Though churches across the country were well intentioned, and there were no more stalwart members of the community than the members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League, do we really want our Applebee’s, Shoney’s and 7-Elevens locked down, stormed by do-gooders, or worse, federal revenooers?

Prohibition failed when bootlegging became widespread and organized crime took control of the distribution of booze. Soft drinks, even in 17-ounce cups, are not likely to make a speakeasy as much fun as jugs of rotgut and bathtub gin – assuming the funster survives.

No one disputes that sugar in excess has real health consequences. Good intentions in excess do, too. But hold the toasts in Dr Pepper and Pepsi. His Nannyhood’s sugar ban could return on appeal, and hypocrisy and waste will once more rule the land. Enter someone who looks a lot like Al Capone.

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CURL: 13 hours that changed the Republican Party

Sometimes, when you least expect it, Washington can be surprising.

No, it wasn’t a surprise last week when weather forecasters warned that a mighty blizzard would bury the nation’s capital under a foot of snow, and then rained all day. That’s been going on since the 1970s.

And it wasn’t surprising that an egotistical president would suddenly invite his adversaries to dinner to chew the fat. (Funny how the chief executive will suddenly change his tune when polls show Americans hate his latest policy.)

What surprised all of Washington – even all of America – was a first-term senator taking to the Senate floor for a filibuster: A real, honest to God, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington filibuster, not the milquetoast threat whined by the bloviating cowards who now populate the hallowed chamber.

Yes, a man – a real man – finally walked into the well of the Senate and said, “Nope. No more. Not one inch more, until I’ve had my say. Make yourself comfortable, gentlemen, this is going to take a while.”

But this man, an ophthalmologist mind you, didn’t just read from the phone book (as Sen. Alfonse D’Amato once did). No, this man took the millions watching little old C-SPAN through one of the single greatest and most profound enunciations of the U.S. Constitution – and in a single stroke both slayed the staid Republican old guard in the Senate and vaulted onto the national stage.

His name is Sen. Rand Paul, and he spoke for nearly 13 hours. All because he wanted the answer to a single question: Can America kill an American on American soil with a drone, simply drop a bomb on a citizen they deem a threat, with no judge or jury or protection under the Constitution?

The answer is simple, and just one word: No. The Founders had seen to that (and the document they produced is flush with guarantees that such a thing could never happen, not in the new country they were establishing).

But President No. 44, and especially his oily attorney general, have other ideas. Barack Obama and Eric H. Holder Jr. think the question isn’t cut and dried, isn’t black and white, that there are some shady gray areas, that there really isn’t just one little answer.

Mr. Paul had asked that question to Mr. Holder, who said this in response: “It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws … for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.” He was even more evasive during a Senate hearing, offering long, meandering philosophical answers to the easy query – and never mentioning the Constitution.

Well, that did not sit well with the eye doctor from Kentucky.

“I will speak until I can no longer speak,” the senator said shortly before noon Wednesday. “I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”

He wouldn’t yield the floor until nearly midnight. And he would be joined by some new, young bucks of the Republican Party – Sen. Ted Cruz, who read from a letter written by William Barrett Travis, a lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army who died at the Alamo (“I shall never surrender or retreat”), and Sen. Marco Rubio, who quoted rapper Jay Z (“It’s funny when seven days can change, it was all good just a week ago”).

Meanwhile, the old bulls, like Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain, were dining with the president at the pricey Jefferson Hotel. Mr. McCain, who gave a thumbs-up sign as he left the soiree, said Mr. Paul should “calm down” and called the filibuster a “political stunt.” For his part, the increasingly irrelevant Mr. Graham slammed the soliloquy as “ridiculous.”

But by mid-day Thursday, the White House sang a whole new tune. No doubt at the order of the president, Mr. Holder wrote a letter to Mr. Paul in which he said: “The answer to the question is no.”

“Under duress and under public humiliation,” Mr. Paul said with a smile, “the White House will respond and do the right thing.”

Yet there was more than just a simple answer to an elementary question. The stand taken by the spry young pups of the Senate, while the fat old dogs dined with the president, proves there are some new pack leaders in town. No longer will a president chew up the Constitution — not as long as we’re here, the alpha pups said. And we don’t need to ask nicely over and over and over — we’ll just stand here, all of us, until the president answers.

So if old dogs really can learn new tricks, they better learn ’em, and quick, ’cuz these new dogs are growling and showing their teeth. And one thing is clear: Their bite is worse than their bark.

• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times and is now editor of the Drudge Report.

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EDITORIAL: Rand against the drones

The drones are coming. Who could have imagined such a science-fiction tale, a president who could kill, via remote control, anyone he declares an enemy of the state – and on American soil. Until now, the White House refused to close the door on such a scenario, despite pretensions of taking civil liberties seriously.

Sen. Rand Paul won a big concession after a filibuster meant to block a vote on the confirmation of John O. Brennan as director of the CIA. On Thursday, the administration finally, after the 13-hour filibuster ended, answered the question it stubbornly would not entertain: Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general who had danced around the question for days, finally replied: “The answer to that question is no.”

As the national security adviser to the president, Mr. Brennan had backed the administration’s practice of using armed, unmanned drones to kill terrorists, mostly in Pakistan and Afghanistan. At his confirmation hearing last month, Mr. Brennan sidestepped questions regarding the constitutional propriety of killing Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, and whether such killing could happen on American soil. Following the Senate Intelligence Committee‘s approval of Mr. Brennan‘s nomination, Mr. Paul invoked the spirit of Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (and of Huey P. Long, Strom Thurmond and others), spending 13 hours on his feet on the Senate floor, detailing the folly of confirming the cheerleader for the drones as director of the CIA while fundamental constitutional questions remained unanswered.

The outcry over extrajudicial killings was growing, and the administration was scrambling to avert a public relations disaster. A 16-page Justice Department memorandum was leaked last month in an unsuccessful attempt to allay skepticism over the drone-strike program, in which 2,400 people have been killed. The document laid out conditions for the use of lethal force to kill a terrorist who is an American citizen, including the required approval by “an informed, high-level official,” together with a finding that “capture is infeasible.”

The central question was whether Mr. Obama would ever go that far on U.S. soil. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, grilled Mr. Holder about that at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday. After much hesitation, Mr. Holder agreed that such attacks would not be “appropriate,” but stopped short of saying the president’s use of drones to kill such Americans would be unconstitutional.

Clarity is important, because there can be no flexibility on the answer to the question of whether the government can assassinate Americans on American soil, and with weapons intended for foreign battlefields. It’s the job of law enforcement, duly restrained by an independent magistrate and the Constitution, to capture or kill dangerous criminals. If a terrorist can be seen, he can almost certainly be caught.

We all owe thanks to Sens. Paul, Cruz and their “band of brothers” who forced an answer from the Obama administration, but the issue is far from resolved. Rather than taking the president’s word that domestic drone strikes will never be used, Congress must adopt legislation that ensures the president, and all the presidents who follow, will never become the executioner in chief.

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