Important Community Path Meeting This Wednesday, March 8!

The Belmont Community Path is coming. There’s a hearing on the east end of the project this Wednesday. (Image by Paul Roberts.)

In-brief: There’s a meeting to discuss options for the contested Eastern End of the proposed Community Path tomorrow (Wed) at 7PM in the Town Hall Auditorium. Come out to support smart, safe, 21st century infrastructure in Belmont! 

Police Chiefs Say Trump’s Law Enforcement Priorities Are Out of Step – The New York Times

An interesting article on push back to the promised Trump “tough on crime” policies. This is likely to hit home in Belmont as well, especially with a planned sanctuary community article at the upcoming April Town Meeting.

Not surprisingly, President Trump’s approach to crime, which began to take shape in a series of moves last week, generated swift criticism from liberals and civil rights groups. But it also stirred dissent from another quarter: prominent police chiefs and prosecutors who fear that the new administration is out of step with evidence that public safety depends on building trust, increasing mental health and drug addiction treatment, and using alternatives to prosecution and incarceration. “We need not use a

Source: Police Chiefs Say Trump’s Law Enforcement Priorities Are Out of Step – The New York Times

Happenings This Week and a Calendar for Progress Minded Folk

A shout out to my Blogging Belmont readership about a couple of events that are happening this week that you might want to put on your calendar and a note that I’ve created a Progress Belmont calendar which is designed to pull some of the happenings around town into a single place. You can view it on Blogging Belmont here or on Google Calendars here.

  • Thursday, March 2 at 6:30: there will be a meeting of the Belmont Democratic Town Committee at Belmont Town Hall. I’ve been to a number of meetings for progressives and other “resistance cells” in recent weeks and I always make a point of mentioning your local chapter of the Democratic Party as a great place to start if you want to get more involved in changing your community, state, country (and the party itself). This is definitely true in Belmont, where we have an active and engaged Town Committee that is working on excellent projects. Fashioning yourself as a member of “the resistance” is great, but the fact is that there’s already a healthy and national organization set up to further your agenda – it’s called the Democratic Party. Get involved! If you’re not a member, bring a checkbook and join up for a modest fee. Same if you are a member but haven’t paid your 2017 dues!
  • Saturday, March 4, from 2:00 to 4:00pm: There will be an Indivisible MA District 5 meeting at the Fox Library branch at 175 Mass Ave in Arlington. If you haven’t checked out Indivisible yet, you should. Their battle plan for fighting the Trump Administration and Republicans’ agenda went viral in the days after the November election, and the group has now gone national. This Saturday, two local MA chapters of Indivisible – District 5 Indivisible and Boston Metro Indivisible – are joining forces and holding a meeting to bring folks together. This meeting will include a brief overview of the group, its goals, and upcoming plans. Attendees will then split into groups based on different interests, among them: coordination with Rep. Katherine Clark’s office, Support for Indivisible groups in red and purple districts, and engagement on issues like immigration, ACA, and Russia.
  • Wednesday, March 8, 7:00pm. Closer to home: a note that next week there will be a meeting on the Belmont Community Path Feasibility Study Public Meeting. This meeting will be focused on the contentious eastern end of the path, stretching from Belmont Center to Brighton St. This will take place at Town Hall.

Put these all on your calendar! I hope to see you out. And keep fighting the good fight.

How America Lost Faith in Expertise | Foreign Affairs

Americans are increasingly dismissive of both facts and expertise, Foreign Affairs notes.

If you’ve found yourself growing frustrated at the “facts neutral” quality of debate about important public policies,  you’re not alone. Many of us share your frustration. While principled disagreement about policies is vital in a democracy, the debate in the U.S. has increasingly become not about policy or even facts – but narratives and fiction. Great swaths of the voting public are being inspired not by real events, but by fakery – outrage over policies that never existed (think: the Affordable Care Act’s “death panels,” fear and anger over things that never happened (that Bowling Green massacre).

The stakes here couldn’t be higher. Take this story from CNN that analyzed the claims made in a televised debate between Senators Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz over the future of The Affordable Care Act. By CNN’s count, of four claims made by Sanders to defend Obamacare and three made by Cruz to repeal it, finds 3 of Sanders 4 claims were supported by facts, with claim labeled an exaggeration (regarding the percent of Americans who report that they can’t afford the drugs prescribed to them by their doctor). As for Cruz? 0 for 3. All his assertions were found to be contradicted by the facts, CNN said.

Now the Trump Administration and Republicans might claim media bias by CNN – sidestepping the question of whether the statements made by Cruz were, in fact, falsehoods and attacking the messenger (the free press) instead.

Dangerous stuff. But, as this Foreign Affairs article notes: part of a larger trend in public life in the U.S.: the increasing skepticism about expertise of any sort – a willingness to believe that there is not meaningful difference between experts and laymen – that all opinions hold equal value.

By way of example, the FA article talks about a test by Public Policy Polling, which asked a sample of Democratic and Republican primary voters about their feelings about plans to bomb the country of Agrabah. From the article:

 Nearly a third of Republican respondents said they would, versus 13 percent who opposed the idea. Democratic preferences were roughly reversed; 36 percent were opposed, and 19 percent were in favor. Agrabah doesn’t exist. It’s the fictional country in the 1992 Disney film Aladdin. Liberals crowed that the poll showed Republicans’ aggressive tendencies. Conservatives countered that it showed Democrats’ reflexive pacifism. Experts in national security couldn’t fail to notice that 43 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats polled had an actual, defined view on bombing a place in a cartoon.

Their point? That our public discourse is frequently driven by opinions that are uniformed – at best- and manufactured, at worst. The precondition? A fertile ground of ignorance.

It’s not just that people don’t know a lot about science or politics or geography. They don’t, but that’s an old problem. The bigger concern today is that Americans have reached a point where ignorance—at least regarding what is generally considered established knowledge in public policy—is seen as an actual virtue. To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to demonstrate their independence from nefarious elites—and insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong.

This isn’t the same thing as the traditional American distaste for intellectuals and know-it-alls. I’m a professor, and I get it: most people don’t like professors. And I’m used to people disagreeing with me on lots of things. Principled, informed arguments are a sign of intellectual health and vitality in a democracy. I’m worried because we no longer have those kinds of arguments, just angry shouting matches.

Check out the full article over at Foreign Affairs: How America Lost Faith in Expertise | Foreign Affairs