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Kurt Gödel’s Loophole and Donald Trump’s Defiance

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In “Journey to the Edge of Reason,” Stephen Budiansky’s wonderfully engrossing new biography of the Austrian-born logician Kurt Gödel, some light is shed on a famous story. Gödel is legendary for having published, in 1931, at the age of twenty-four, the most important logical proof of the past century, the incompleteness theorems. Gödel showed—though any non-mathematician who pretends to understand this in more than a rudimentary way is not being honest—that you can’t “axiomatize” arithmetic or geometry, and that any systems containing arithmetic will have arguments that can be neither proved nor disproved. The foundations of even secure-seeming systems, such as mathematics, are subject to “recursive” paradoxes, and can always end up referring to themselves, like an Escher illustration or the lyrics to “Monster Mash.”

Kurt Gödel never defined the constitutional loophole he’d found, but he was far too exacting a logician not to have spotted something.Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt / The LIFE Picture Collection / Shutterstock

Gödel was a remarkable character, who sadly descended into mental illness as he aged, though his ailment always took in the context of his fiercely logical mind. One piece of evidence, for instance, of what was termed his “paranoia” was that he insisted to his psychiatrists that the Institute for Advanced Study, at Princeton, where he had taken a position in 1940, after the Nazi Anschluss, would have to fire him, since he had done nothing there of value equal to the work he’d done when he was twenty-five. This “delusion” was, in fact, perfectly true and acutely seen—he hadn’t achieved anything equivalent, but then no one could. An institute benefits from the presence of the most famous logician of his age, even as a genial presence. (The same was true of Albert Einstein, who was at the I.A.S. as much to be Einstein as he was to do physics.)

The story goes that Gödel, while preparing for a U.S. citizenship test, in the nineteen-forties, imagined, in best Viennese form, that it would be a real test, not the pro forma examination it was. He studied the local laws ferociously—trying to learn why, in New Jersey, a township is distinguished from a borough—and buried himself in the Constitution, which he studied as though it were the “Principia Mathematica.” And he emerged confident that he had found a logical contradiction in the Constitution that could reverse democratic government itself. He shared this discovery with Einstein, and also with Oskar Morgenstern, the co-founder of game theory and a mutual friend; both men begged him not to make an issue of it during the test. But, at the ceremony, the judge asked Gödel where he came from, and he explained that he was from Austria, which had once been a democracy but was now a dictatorship. Isn’t it good that such a thing can’t happen here, the judge replied. “But it can!” Gödel declared. “I can prove it!”

Gödel’s loophole, as some have called it, remains a mystery. He never defined it, and no trace of his discovery seems to linger in his papers. But he was far too exact a reader, and far too exacting a logician, not to have spotted something. Indeed, the question of Gödel’s loophole has inspired a remarkably large speculative literature, in serious scholarly journals as well as among scholars in this magazine, and recently among academics writing online. What was it? Probably not a loophole by which a Vice-President can simply refuse to recognize a slate of electors, during the Electoral College vote tally, and substitute one of his own choosing, thereby keeping his boss in power. That, presumably, was a bridge too far even for a logician. Dartmouth’s Dan Rockmore suggests that it might conceivably involve the contradictions of gerrymandering, which is constitutional but democracy-defeating, or the minority-empowering Electoral College. Another Gödel biographer, Jim Holt, turns to Harvard Law School’s distinguished professor emeritus, Laurence Tribe, suggesting that what Gödel had in mind was Article V of the Constitution, “since it sets no limits on how the Constitution can be amended.” Holt goes on,

The U.S. could be turned into a Constitutional dictatorship by a
series of amendments. But it’s more interesting than that. Article 5
makes the document self-referential: it refers to “this Constitution.”
It says, in effect, “I can be amended by such-and-such procedures.”
And it seems to leave open the possibility that Article 5 itself is
subject to amendment. This would permit a very direct route to
dictatorship: amend it so that any diktat of the President is
automatically an amendment.

And that would, of course, be a neatly Gödelian recursive arrangement, of a sinister turn.

But, when you think it through, there’s an overabundance of possible loopholes in the Constitution. The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, with no named constraints; his power to act in that sphere is largely undefined and has altered significantly through the years, restrained sometimes by acts of Congress but mostly by assumptions that are not enumerated in the text, possibly because no one imagined that they would need to be. The President also possesses, under Article II, virtually unlimited pardon power for federal crimes, so he could, logically, have henchmen arrest or even kill elected federal officials who oppose him, and then pardon those same accomplices. Or, to take an instance in the opposite direction: the power of impeachment resides in the Congress, with the assumption that it is reserved for cases clearly involving a strong violation of law—a high crime or misdemeanor—so extreme that it alarms all sides. This has long been the case, and all three modern Presidential impeachments were treated as trials, with arguments, evidence, etc. But, given that high crimes and misdemeanors are not defined in the Constitution, and are effectively what a sufficient number of legislators decide they are, there is nothing to prevent impeachment from simply being an ejection seat: at any point when one party has a majority in the House and a two-thirds majority in the Senate, it can summarily expel the President by pure fiat.

The point being that there is no need to find one logical flaw in the Constitution, because, like any legal document, even a foundational one, it inevitably contains flaws, traps, ambiguities, and inconsistencies. Indeed, that’s why we have a Supreme Court: to arbitrate among competing constitutional logics. But these, too, can turn out to be undecidable, since one set of interpreters can ascertain an implicit right to privacy, which is invisible to another—or even an explicit right to private ownership of guns, which has been invisible to every preceding set of interpreters.

The logic of the law, which impresses most of us sufficiently to make drivers stop at red lights and pedestrians wait their turn—well, outside New York City, at least—in fact exists by mutual consent more than by vigilant enforcement. As Gödel’s great contemporary and opponent Ludwig Wittgenstein might have said: we don’t follow rules as much as we inhabit them. Without a social consensus of commitment to the law, no law matters. (That is why so many autocracies have admirable constitutions.)

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President Joe Biden’s ‘fine’ Secret Service agent is a viral heart-throb

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One of President Joe Biden’s Secret Service agents has gone viral on TikTok after users spotted similarities between him and a ’90s heart-throb.

A Secret Service agent on President Joe Biden’s protection detail is catching many a starry-eyed looky-loo in thirst traps.

There’s a hot, new agent on the scene who’s arousing social media, drawing comparisons to Tom Cruise in Top Gun – Ray-Bans, swagger and all.

“Forget about the PRESIDENT. The ‘SECRET SERVICE’ be looking fine,” wrote Nantucket-based Matthew Notarangelo, known as @life_with_matt on TikTok, in a clip posted over the weekend that now has more than 2.7 million views.

“Biden’s Baddies is how I will refer to his Secret Service from now one,” one titillated commenter quipped.

The New York Post reported, the Bidens were spotted stepping out on Massachusetts island where they’re known to celebrate the thanksgiving holiday, before making their way back to the White House on Sunday.

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While many residents came out for a chance to spot the President, it would seem that they stayed for one ravishing agent, dressed casually in khakis, knitted jumper, black trench coat and classic, black Wayfarers – with a Secret Service badge affixed to his belt, flashing beneath the jacket.

“I called dibs first,” added TikTokker @magsmur, who included text over her angle of the scene, saying she “wasn’t the only one lookin’ at the secret service man” in response to @life_with_matt. The video shows the unidentified agent shaking hands and chumming it up with, ostensibly, a fellow plainclothes agent.

One enraptured admirer suggested he is “defending the nation with hotness.” Meanwhile, @sadieethomas12 jumped in with another video of the same occasion – “the third angle y’all been waiting for.”

Others managed to spot the unidentified agent at other sites throughout Nantucket, including @carolinecray, who found the agent greeting churchgoers with his metal detector at an undisclosed house of worship. Her montage of footage also sees the agent from behind, plus one clear shot of his Cruise-esque mug.

“He is giving me Tom Cruise in Top Gun vibes,” one fan pointed out.

Another joked that the now illustrious officer is “not so secret anymore”.

Now, feverish followers are scrambling to discover the identity of the attractive agent in question, even suggesting they be apprehended by the officer – on purpose – as one asked, “How can one be arrested by the Secret Service? Asking for a friend.”

This article originally appeared on the NY Post and was reproduced with permission

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Judges grill Trump lawyers over privilege claims

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Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather at the west entrance of the Capitol during a “Stop the Steal” protest outside of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. January 6, 2021.

Stephanie Keith | Reuters

A skeptical-sounding panel of federal judges grilled lawyers for former President Donald Trump on Tuesday about his bid to block the release of White House communications and other records to the lawmakers investigating the deadly Capitol invasion.

Trump had filed the lawsuit against the House select committee that seeks those documents as part of its probe of the riot, when hundreds of Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol and temporarily stopped Congress from confirming President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

Lawyers for Trump argue some of those records should be protected by executive privilege, the doctrine that allows some executive branch communications to be kept confidential. They argue that Trump’s assertion of privilege should outweigh the decision of Biden, the incumbent president, to waive privilege over the documents.

The lawyers have asked the appeals court to reverse the opinion of a federal judge, who ruled that the National Archives is allowed to hand the disputed records over to the select committee.

“This all boils down to who decides,” Judge Ketanji Jackson said during oral arguments in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. “Who decides when it’s in the best interest of the United States to disclose presidential records? Is it the current occupant of the White House or the former?”

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The judges spent more than 90 minutes questioning Trump’s attorneys, Jesse Binnall and Justin Clark, about why the former president’s privilege claims should outweigh the incumbent’s — as well as whether the court even has jurisdiction to hear the case. The judges frequently interrupted Trump’s lawyers and at times sounded frustrated by the answers they heard.

After Clark argued that, on some issues, the former president will have a better grasp of the context and issues surrounding a certain set of documents, Jackson shot back, “The incumbent president will know better the needs of the executive branch” and its relationship with Congress.

“Why, then, would it be that the court should preference the former president’s concerns about confidentiality, even though he may have the superior knowledge,” the judge asked, when “we’re in a different world today because we have a different president who’s taking into account not only confidentiality but other things?”

The arguments, which were still ongoing after more than two hours late Tuesday morning, were heard by a panel of three judges on the D.C. circuit that was seen as an unlucky draw for Trump. Two of the judges, Robert Wilkins and Patricia Millett, were appointed by former President Barack Obama, while Jackson was appointed by Biden.

President Donald Trump looks on at the end of his speech during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, in Washington, U.S, January 6, 2021.

Jim Bourg | Reuters

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Mohali sees decline in Covid testing numbers

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The district administration has decided to reach out to schools and colleges in the wake of speculations on the rise of Covid-19 cases. The Deputy Commissioner (DC) Isha Kalia also formed teams to expedite the sampling to prevent the spread of the infection. There is also a decline in the number of testing which shall be increased across the district.

Speaking to The Indian Express, the DC said that testing will be increased and they are targeting the students of various educational institutes. The testing of students will take place in all schools across the district which will start on December 1 and be completed by December 16. When asked about the low number of sample collection in the district, the DC said that they had set a target to collect around 3,400 samples per day but in the last few months, due to a decrease in the number of Covid-19 cases, people become reluctant and do not bother to get themselves tested.

“Our teams are holding camps for testing but people are coming in fewer numbers, I urge the people to come and get tested and not take even the minor fever lightly,” the DC further said.

At present the health department is testing around 1,000 people against a target of 3,400.

The positivity rate of the district is also below 1 percent. The health department collected a total of 6,57,969 samples out of which 5,76,019 people had been tested negative.

The district had reported a total of 1,072 deaths due to the infection. The DC added that the protocol was already in place for international travellers and their teams have been following up with people coming from abroad. She said that the administration gets a list of passengers who have arrived in the state from abroad following which the health department teams continue to regularly check with them over phone calls and taking feedback.

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