Michael Dukakis

Longing for 'The Comet'

If only…    The old New Haven Railroad put a unique three-car articulated high-speed passenger train called “The Comet’’ into service between Boston and Providence during 1935. The radically streamlined train was designed and built by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Company using the latest aerodynamic methods and technologies. Unfortunately, the speedy Comet was a bit too successful on the Boston-Providence run. When the New Haven's passenger business picked up at the start of World War II, the small train couldn't handle the crowds of people who wanted to ride it. The Comet was taken off the Boston-Providence run and spent the remainder of its service life on short-haul commuter runs in the Boston area. It was scrapped in 1951.

If only…

The old New Haven Railroad put a unique three-car articulated high-speed passenger train called “The Comet’’ into service between Boston and Providence during 1935. The radically streamlined train was designed and built by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Company using the latest aerodynamic methods and technologies. Unfortunately, the speedy Comet was a bit too successful on the Boston-Providence run. When the New Haven's passenger business picked up at the start of World War II, the small train couldn't handle the crowds of people who wanted to ride it. The Comet was taken off the Boston-Providence run and spent the remainder of its service life on short-haul commuter runs in the Boston area. It was scrapped in 1951.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal 24.com

It’s too bad that the Rhode Island Department of Transportation decided not to have a second set of tracks laid for the new Pawtucket commuter rail station and instead is building the station directly along Amtrak’s very busy Northeast Corridor tracks. As The Providence Journal’s Patrick Anderson reported in an Aug. 26 story (“Pawtucket station cost climbs to $51 million’’), “With the station directly on the Northeast Corridor, intercity or express trains couldn’t overtake trains stopping in Pawtucket.’’ That may well slow down traffic on that very heavily traveled Amtrak/MBTA line. And, Mr. Anderson noted, “ot building a second set of tracks could make it more difficult to create a Rhode Island-run rail shuttle.’’

The Transportation Department’s decision to forgo the tracks was done to save money but the project has included a hefty cost overrun -- $11 million so far -- at least in part because, Mr. Anderson reports, Amtrak rules (it’s their track!) “have forced the station work to be done at night and at other times of light traffic,’’ driving up costs. But the biggest false economy in this is for the long-term.

Of course, Amtrak itself needs more tracks to allow more and faster trains and help get as many vehicles as possible off the roads.


Kudos to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker for making a push for MBTA express trains between Boston and Providence. But this will require working it out with Amtrak, which runs on the same line. Again we need more tracks!! And an express train program may also require leasing electric-powered trains from Amtrak; the diesel trains now on the MBTA’s Providence-Boston route are less reliable than electric ones.

What could happen faster is having express highway lanes on highways in and around Boston that drivers would have to pay a toll to use. That would bring in money for transportation projects and encourage use of mass transit. Mr. Baker seems to like the idea, though many will yelp. But the region’s highway-congestion crisis has reached the point that strong, perhaps politically unpopular measures must be taken – and soon. (Some wags are calling the proposed express lanes “Lexus Lanes,’’ implying they’ll unduly favor richer folks who can more easily afford them.)

Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, former Amtrak chairman and now a Northeastern University political science professor, said at a Grow Smart RI meeting in April:

“The only way to solve this congestion problem is to have a first-class regional rail system not only for Massachusetts but for all of New England, with the six governors deeply and actively involved. It would take 60,000 to 70,000 cars off the road every day.”

Dukakis keeps going

Michael Dukakis.

Michael Dukakis.

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

Whatever you think of the politics and policy positions of former Massachusetts Governor and 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, his sterling character and concern for the common good are unassailable.

Consider that at 85, he still shows up at such events as a Massachusetts Department of Transportation meeting on Nov. 19 to present a report touting a long-proposed rail link between Boston South and North stations, which would speed up travel throughout eastern New England. At such meetings he patiently waits his turn to speak.

He displayed such patience – and deep policy knowledge and commitment -- even when he was governor. He has always been much more than a politician; he’s a devoted public servant.

The Boston Globe reports that he told the attendees: “It’s inconceivable to me that we are going to deal with congestion problem of ours without getting cracking in a hurry on a first-rate regional rail system.’’ At 85, still looking ahead.

MBTA commuter rail map as of 2018 showing separation of northern and southern segments. Amtrak's    Downeaster    connecting with Maine terminates at North Station; all other Amtrak trains terminate at South Station.

MBTA commuter rail map as of 2018 showing separation of northern and southern segments. Amtrak's Downeaster connecting with Maine terminates at North Station; all other Amtrak trains terminate at South Station.

James P. Freeman: Michael Dukakis: The last traditional progressive

Beaming over the convention of the consonant caucus, the speaker uttered what would be the second most memorable line in the 1988 presidential race: “This election isn’t about ideology, it’s about competence…” This dramatic statement was later bested by George H.W. Bush’s “read my lips…” tax pledge.

Atlanta’s Democratic National Convention that July proved to be, in retrospect, the last stand for Michael S. Dukakis, the last traditional progressive. As progressivism gallops to a new beat of populism, modern-day revivalists should look to Dukakis as their godfather.

He is last major living link to the progressive forefathers. Born in Brookline in 1933, he was also born into the first progressive era of Presidents Roosevelt, Wilson and Roosevelt. It would mark the first time the republic would rely upon government, not self-sufficiency, for sustenance, emblematic of modern times.

Citizens needed progress up from the Founders’ ideas. A strong central government, believing in its boundless abilities, could master public and private affairs, thereby delivering happiness. The Constitution was inelastic; its limitations were to be disdained as impediments to the very progress government sought to engineer. Politics became a science.

Dukakis’s long career in public service is writ large with progressive themes. In 1965, as a young Massachusetts state representative, he introduced a measure to legalize contraceptive use for married couples, an early imprimatur of his activism. For the commonwealth’s conservative Catholic bloc in the House, however, voting on birth- control laws written by Protestants in the 1890s proved to be controversial and complicated.  Boston's Cardinal Richard Cushing, remarkably, advised its members in the legislature: “If your constituents want this legislation vote for it. You represent them. You don’t represent the Catholic Church.” The bill passed.

Arguably, this episode — more than John F. Kennedy’s 1960 election to the presidency — helped convert a majority of Catholics from Republicans to Democrats in Massachusetts. Suddenly, it seemed, culture impacted Catholic politics as much as theology. Those majorities remain intact today. Dukakis was elected to the first of three  terms starting in 1974 and he remains Massachusetts’s longest-serving governor.

His first attempts as a reformer were rebuffed and he lost the 1978 primary. Not nonplussed, he was reelected in 1982 with an even more robust belief in government’s efficacy.

He originally opposed the initial concept of the Central Artery/Tunnel project in Boston but expanded its scope to accommodate business and government interests. Boston’s Big Dig cost nearly $4 million a day at its peak. Initially a $2.2 billion expenditure in the early 1980s, final estimated outlays are $22 billion, to be paid off in 2038. The administration of this public-private partnership exposed a skewed risk-reward model (socializing losses, privatizing profits).

Under his leadership, after delays and denial for exemption, Massachusetts was found to be in violation of the landmark Clean Water Act. Every day 100,000 pounds of sludge and 500,000 gallons of barely treated wastewater were dumped into Boston Harbor. A federal court, not political epiphany, ensured the cleanup.

Former EPA Administrator Michael Deland said that the commonwealth’s willful disobedience was “the most expensive public policy mistake in the history of New England.” Raw sewage stopped flowing into the nation’s oldest harbor in September 2000.

Dukakis in 2009 reflected on “two of the biggest projects in history at the time.” The harbor restoration — mandated, mind you — “came in on time and 25 percent under budget.” Of theBig Dig, he said: “We all know what happened with the other.”

The difference? “It was about competence of the people running the projects…”

Few remember that Al Gore (not the elder Bush) first raised the weekend-furlough matter during the presidential primary. Dukakis vetoed a bill in 1976 that would have denied murderers, like Willie Horton, such freedom. The program was ultimately abolished after questions were raised about criminal rehabilitation.

Before there was Obamacare and Romneycare there was Dukakiscare. He signed into law the nation’s first universal healthcare insurance program in 1988. A tiny Republican minority quietly disrupted its funding, leaving it an obscure footnote to history.

At 82, still residing in Brookline,  still a  progressive sanctuary, Dukakis leaves a lasting legacy. He has affected the lives of more residents in Massachusetts than anyone in a century. Clearly, that is a triumph of ideology over competence. As government at all levels struggles with executing competent stewardship, people should look at Dukakis in another light. He at least addressed competence as a core competency.

New-fashioned progressives have abandoned it.

James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer for the New Boston Post. and a former columnist with The Cape Cod Times.


Jim Stergios: Time to stop Boston mega-project mania

  Goya Giant I

One of Goya's Titan paintings.


Last year it was a billion-dollar expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, with an embedded $110 million giveaway to a hotel developer. This year it was the recently abandoned Boston 2024 Olympic bid. Now we’re talking about digging a tunnel to connect North and South Stations. Boston has a mega-malady, and it is a love affair with mega-projects.

Modern-day Massachusetts is acquiring a variant of French political sophistication, whereby Boston (Paris) is the showpiece and the rest of the state (France) is relegated to flyover status. Here are three quick facts to waken us from our dangerous flirtation with economic development in the grand continental style. The MBTA — buried under nearly $9 billion in debt and interest, and with a maintenance backlog of more than $7 billion — should focus on avoiding a replay of last winter’s horror story. A new tunnel does not make the MBTA’s list of top priorities.

Often lost in the heated discussions of particular parcels is the bigger question of what kind of a city we want to be. Cost realism has in the past reined in Boston’s appetite for megaprojects. In essence, that is what happened when the governor and legislative leaders commissioned a third-party evaluation of the Boston 2024 effort.

Former Gov. Michael Dukakis argues that the North-South Rail Link should be buildable for $2 billion, not the estimate of $8 billion. It should cost less, but it will cost more. We just learned that the Green Line extension is $1 billion over budget. No one has forgotten that the Big Dig was supposed to cost $2.8 billion, but ultimately broke the $15 billion sound barrier.

Cost estimates aren’t the only problem. Project benefits are routinely oversold. Exhibit A: The unrealistic pictures painted by convention center feasibility studies are legendary. The BCEC is doing between 30 and 40 percent of the business it was projected to do. Exhibit B: The Greenbush commuter rail line. Instead of, as projected, taking eight passengers off highways for each one lured from the MBTA’s South Shore commuter boat service, nearly half the current customers previously took the ferry. When those who rode other commuter rail lines are added in, more than 60 percent of Greenbush riders were already using public transit.

Rather than Boston’s mega-project megalomania, we need to return to a good old American sense of fair play. When Gov. Charlie Baker pulled the plug on the proposed BCEC expansion, he created an opportunity to do just that. Each year, tourism-related taxes generate tens of millions of dollars to underwrite the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. Between now and 2034, these taxes will provide the MCCA with $30 million more annually than it needs to operate. After 2034, when the bonds sold to pay for the construction of the BCEC are paid off, that amount will more than double.

Anyone who has spent time in Massachusetts cities outside Boston knows that they have significant infrastructure needs, including roadways, retail spines, bridges, and sidewalks. For years the Big Dig left these cities starved of investment; it takes no sophistication to understand that the litany of Boston mega-project proposals would continue that trend.

Cost estimates aren’t the only problem.Project benefitsare routinely oversold. Infrastructure upgrades will not, by themselves, refashion the futures of Massachusetts’ cities. But together with reforms to public schools, policing, and economic policies, state investment can go a long way toward making them more attractive places to live and work. In fact, creating an infrastructure fund for these cities to leverage needed reforms would prove a powerful urban revitalization strategy.

Greater Boston needs its fair share of infrastructure investments — and right now MBTA upgrades are what can do the region the most good. State government must keep in mind, however, that more than half of the state’s population is outside Route 128. Forgoing an $8 billion Boston mega-project would allow infrastructure upgrades across Massachusetts.

Jim Stergios is executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a Boston­-based think tank. This piece originated in The Boston Globe.

Watch Boston's nascent international think tank

  Do think tanks really think? It's not that these organizations -- mostly centered in Washington, D.C., but also scattered across America – don't harbor some fine minds among their scholars and fellows, but the problem is that we know what they think -- and have often known for a long time. The rest is articulation.

Among Washington think tanks, we know what to expect from the Brookings Institution: earnest, slightly left-of-center analysis of major issues. Likewise, we know that the Center for Strategic and International Studies will do the same job with a right-of-center shading, and a greater emphasis on defense and geopolitics.

What the tanks provide is support for political and policy views; detailed argument in favor of a known point of view. By and large, the verdict is in before the trial has begun.

There a few exceptions, house contrarians. The most notable is Norman Ornstein, who goes his own way at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (#). Ornstein, hugely respected as an analyst and historian of Congress, often expresses opinions in articles and books  that seem to be wildly at odds with the orthodoxy of AEI.

A less-celebrated role of the thinks tanks is as resting places for the political elite when their party is out of power. Former  U.S. Ambassador  to the United Nations John Bolton, rumored to be favored as a future Republican secretary of state, is hosted at AEI. National Security Adviser Susan Rice was comfortable at Brookings between service in the Clinton and he Obama administrations. At any time, dozens of possible office holders reside at the Washington think tanks, building reputations and waiting.

My interest in think tanks and their thinkers has led me to what might be developing into a think tank, although it's too early to say. It's so early that it has no headquarters, secretariat or paid staff. But this nascent think tank has gathered a loose faculty from a coterie of public intellectuals, mainly in and around Boston, and abroad in Hanoi, Tokyo and Berlin.

It's called the Boston Global Forum. Formed in 2012, it's led by two very different but, apparently, compatible men: Michael Dukakis, former Massachusetts governor and Democratic presidential nominee, and Nguyen Anh Tuan, who founded a successful internet company in Vietnam and now lives in Boston.

The concept of the forum is to study and discuss a single topic for a year. Last year, in forums and internet hookups between Boston and Asian and European cities, the topic was security in the South and East China seas, where war could easily erupt over territorial disputes. After a year of discussion, the participants concluded that a framework for peace in the region needs to be established and that current international arrangements and organizations don’t go far enough in that direction. This year’s topic is cybersecurity.

The Boston Global Forum has strong ties to the faculties at Harvard and Northeastern University, where Dukakis is a professor. Most forum meetings take place on the Harvard campus. Two of the forum's most conspicuous champions are Harvard Professors Joseph Nye and Tom Patterson. Patterson’s office at the John F. Kennedy School of Government serves as a kind of de facto headquarters.

This new entrant into the think tank cohort is very East Coast-tony, and very energetic. This year it has plans for meetings in Vietnam, Tokyo and somewhere in Europe, and has attracted  such media heavyweights as David Sanger, of The New York Times, and Charles Sennott, one of the founders of the online GlobalPost.

As the Boston Global Forum is a new think tank, questions abound: Will it get funding? Will it find premises and staff ? Will it get public recognition?

The big question about anything that looks like a think tank is, will thinking happen there? Will the Boston Global Forum be a crucible for big ideas? Or will it, like other think tanks, develop its own binding ideology?

Will the Boston Global Forum become, like so many, a smooth propaganda machine? Or will it be a place where the outlandish can live with the orthodox?

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of  “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His e-mail is lking@kingpublishing.com.

Linda Gasparello

Robert Whitcomb: Republicans bother to vote


‘’The people have spoken … and now they must be punished.’’


-- New York City Mayor Ed Koch’s quip after an election loss


The politicians elected yesterday to new jobs will soon be blamed for doing the same sort of things that their ousted predecessors did as they tried to mate good governance with reality and ambition/ego with idealism.


Distracted and often ignorant citizens, many of whom are usually fleeing reality at a good clip, will demand a perfection from their elected officials that they would never demand of themselves. They will also praise, or more likely blame, the politicians for everything from the weather to the economy’s gyrations. (The first is out of politicians’ control --- unless you factor in the need for us to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we’re pumping into the air. The second has so many global variables that government’s ability to manage economic cycles remains highly constrained.)


In its existential anxiety, the “the Public’’ will continue to depend on politicians to solve all its problems. Modern electronic media, with their instant ‘’analyses’’ and search for simple, vivid narratives, heighten this dependence and the resulting anger when public/personal problems aren’t immediately fixed.


Our news media (who roughly represent the citizenry’s character flaws) intensify our tendency to pour our hopes and fears into a few people, or even just one (especially the president). Such personalization is easier than trying to understand the details of, say, public policy, economics and history, let alone science.


My sense of the sloth of those who attribute all fault and praise in a big news event to one or very few individuals came together back in 1992, when President George H.W. Bush was in effect blamed for not restoring Dade County, Fla., to its pre-Hurricane Andrew strip-mall glory within 36 hours. Then in 2005, the public blamed his son for the Hurricane Katrina New Orleans mess, although that disaster was inevitable – New Orleans was/is a very corrupt, badly managed city most of which is at sea level or below.


And now some call the complicated (scientifically and otherwise) Ebola situation President Obama’s fault. (That his father was African may inform some of the attacks against him in this….)


Meanwhile, the public takes commands from the media and politicians about how they should feel. If the preponderance of the big (and small) media say that “Americans are pessimistic’’ or ‘’optimistic,’’ then we salute and feel accordingly, whatever the unemployment rate. But not for long, since the conventional-wisdom narrative can be changed overnight and the change “go viral.’’


That’s not to say that politicians’ characters and personalities don’t count – especially in great crises --- e.g., Lincoln in the Civil War or Churchill in the summer of 1940 as Britain stood virtually alone against the Nazi onslaught. But they rarely count nearly as much as we’d like to think they do. Life is far too complicated.



Now we look forward to more gridlock in Washington because the public doesn’t know what it wants (other than more services and lower taxes). It says “government doesn’t work’’ and ensures that it doesn’t by its conflicting and rapidly changing voting -- or, especially in a mid-term election, its nonvotes. The nonvoters are always among the biggest complainers.


Democrats have particularly little excuse for whining this year. A Pew Research Center survey shows that among those who were unlikely to vote last Tuesday, 51 percent favored Democrats and 30 percent the GOP. In this matter, Republicans are harder-working: They summon the energy to take 20 minutes to vote.




The lack of a direct long-distance rail connection between Boston’s South Station and North Station has always seemed to me ridiculous. Connecting them would make it considerably easier to move between southern and northern New England and further energize passenger rail as demographics (including a huge increase in the number of old people and a new propensity of younger people not to drive) makes public transportation ever more important.


The link should have been made at least a century ago. But the dominant New England railroads of the time – the Boston & Maine (at North Station) and the New Haven (at South Station) -- the city and the state’s couldn’t get it done, as it wasn’t done between New York’s Grand Central Station and Pennsylvania stations.


The Big Dig’s cost overruns haunt efforts to make this link. But rail projects make rich cities even richer by making them more efficient and attractive. The Big Dig made Boston more of a world city. Past gubernatorial foes Michael Dukakis, a Democrat, and Bill Weld, a Republican, recently joined to promote the link. All of New England will benefit if they succeed.


Robert Whitcomb is a Providence-based editor and writer and a partner in Cambridge Management Group (cmg625.com) a healthcare-sector consultancy. A former editorial-page editor for The Providence Journal and  a former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune, he's also a Fellow of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy and oversees this site, newenglanddiary.com