About That “City On A Hill”

Back when Republicans were (mostly) sane–when they cared about good government at least as much as raw power, I worked in the Indianapolis mayoral administration of Bill Hudnut. Bill had his faults, as we all do, but he passionately loved the city and tried to do what was best for all of its inhabitants.

He was also a former Presbyterian minister who often compared America–and to a lesser extent Indianapolis– to “The Shining City on the Hill.” We were to be a beacon, an ideal to which others aspired.

In the absence of a real newspaper, I can’t offer an educated evaluation of today’s Indianapolis, but no one in their right mind thinks today’s United States is a beacon to be emulated. It isn’t simply our massive and embarrassing policy failures (think health care, the environment, criminal justice, race relations, women’s rights and economic justice, for starters…)

It’s the corruption.

As the New York Times has recently–amply, overwhelmingly– documented, our President is a crook. Not that most of us are surprised, given the indictments of his associates, the scandals of his cabinet , and his whole sordid history.

Paul Krugman has responded analytically to the evidence:  

The blockbuster New York Times report on the Trump family’s history of fraud is really about two distinct although linked kinds of fraudulence.

On one side, the family engaged in tax fraud on a huge scale, using a variety of money-laundering techniques to avoid paying what it owed. On the other, the story Donald Trump tells about his life — his depiction of himself as a self-made businessman who made billions starting from humble roots — has always been a lie: Not only did he inherit his wealth, receiving the equivalent of more than $400 million from his father, but Fred Trump bailed his son out after deals went bad.

So, Krugman says, voters who bought Trump’s highly inaccurate version of Donald Trump bought snake-oil. But the bigger, and much more damaging fraud is the story we tell ourselves about America the Meritocracy.

The tale of the Trump money is part of a bigger story. Even among those unhappy at the extent to which we live in an era of soaring inequality and growing concentration of wealth at the top, there has been a tendency to believe that great wealth is, more often than not, earned more or less honestly. It’s only now that the amounts of sheer corruption and lawbreaking that underlie our march toward oligarchy have started to come into focus.

Until recently, my guess is that most economists, even tax experts, would have agreed that tax avoidance by corporations and the wealthy — which is legal — was a big issue, but tax evasion— hiding money from the tax man — was a lesser one. It was obvious that some rich people were exploiting legal if morally dubious loopholes in the tax code, but the prevailing view was that simply defrauding the tax authorities and hence the public wasn’t that widespread in advanced countries.

But this view always rested on shaky foundations. After all, tax evasion, almost by definition, doesn’t show up in official statistics, and the super-wealthy aren’t in the habit of mouthing off about what great tax cheats they are. To get a real picture of how much fraud is going on, you either have to do what The Times did — exhaustively investigate the finances of a particular family — or rely on lucky breaks that reveal what was previously hidden.

We’ve had some of those “lucky breaks,” as Krugman points out. Thanks to the Panama Papers and other leaks, we now know that outright tax evasion by the very wealthy is pervasive. Researchers estimate that the rich pay on average 25 percent less than they owe–enough to pay for the entire food stamp program. And of course, that tax evasion serves to entrench privilege and allows it to be passed on to the heirs of that privilege.

Just like Trump’s daddy did.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have been “systematically defunding the Internal Revenue Service, crippling its ability to investigate tax fraud. We don’t just have government by tax cheats; we have government of tax cheats, for tax cheats.”

It’s not just that the president of the United States is, as veteran tax reporter David Cay Johnston put it, a “financial vampire,” cheating taxpayers the way he has cheated just about everyone else who deals with him.

Beyond that, our trend toward oligarchy — rule by the few — is also looking more and more like kakistocracy — rule by the worst, or at least the most unscrupulous. The corruption isn’t subtle; on the contrary, it’s cruder than almost anyone imagined. It also runs deep, and it has infected our politics, quite literally up to its highest levels.

So much for “the Shining City on the Hill.” America is more like an inner-city neighborhood where kids look up to the rich drug dealer.


  1. How about “The Reeking Outhouse On The Hill”; from my position down wind from it, that is the best description I can think of.

    My memories of the Mayor Bill Hudnut administration are why I find our current White House inhabitants so foul smelling. I began with City government under Mayor Richard Lugar (the before picture) which was overrun with racism, sexism, bigotry, nepotism, political patronage, requiring the swearing in oath and a signed document to “work for and support the Republican party” at the home of my precinct committeeman. That translated to being told when and where to work for the Nixon reelection campaign and stand in line every payday to “donate” 2% of my paycheck to the party. It was my first office job and I was appalled at the incompetence throughout the City-County Building. Mayor Bill Hudnut cleaned up inside City government as well as bringing progress to this city, even with those faults (I have forgotten them) Sheila mentioned, he was the People’s Mayor. (the during picture) I then watched Goldsmith systematically destroy it all…a hint of what was to come throughout the Republican party and bringing us to where we are today. (the after picture)

    Regarding Sheila’s reference to our “absence of a real newspaper” I have had a running battle with my daily Indianapolis Star delivery on my front porch for about four years; getting nowhere but the Gannett contact has repeatedly reported the problem. Four of the past 6 days I have had to hunt for my morning Star in my yard and flowerbeds; in my complaint I also mentioned the lack of local news in Section A, the few pitiful examples of national and international news in the sample copy of USA Today. All articles are listed with the writer’s name, Indianapolis Star, USA TODAY INDIANAPOLIS, obituaries have become large articles taking up much space (but better than the time I found them in the Sports Section) and we now have an Op Ed page only on Thursday and Sunday. My contact informed me that reporters are listed that way because they are all part of the USA TODAY INDIANAPOLIS team and that there was a notice 2 weeks ago about the change regarding the once daily Op Ed pages, no reason listed. Do local residents no longer have opinions to share or is our freedom of speech being curtailed by Gannett, Inc.? I had already mailed this month’s payment but it will probably be my last.

    “It’s the corruption.”

    Those few words from Sheila explains it all; from our once almost reaching Mayor Hudnut’s goal “The Shining City On The Hill” to today’s “The Reeking Outhouse On The Hill” and the current inhabitants of our once proud and historical White House. In less than two years conditions have deteriorated beyond fumigation as a solution.

    “Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have been “systematically defunding the Internal Revenue Service, crippling its ability to investigate tax fraud. We don’t just have government by tax cheats; we have government of tax cheats, for tax cheats.”


  2. There is no honor among thieves. It didn’t take long to connect the dots between the corporations, billionaires, the political parties AND the media. The Donor Class uses the newspapers, radio, and television to communicate to consumers…convince them to buy something from them. The last thing they’ll support is also being held accountable by the same.

    When Ball State University wired $8.5 million to a West African man working for a firm called Betts and Gambles (yes, I verified the name on LinkedIn), and then lost the money, they didn’t call the newspaper to report their stupidity. Jo Ann Gora, the president of the university, worked with the governor Mitch Daniels, to conceal the loss from the public. Turns out they lost another $5 million to a con man out West.

    Bloomberg uncovered it when covering the lawsuit against the men in the Southern New York District under the name, “Midwest University”.

    After I exposed the loss, the university and their lawyers worked with the local Gannett owned newspaper to whitewash the whole affair including the lies the president told about the original loss (covered it up).

    That case was a great example of how the Meritocracy works together with the help of the media which is owned by them as well. It’s all very oppressive in nature.

    I have to laugh about Krugman pointing this out along with the story on Trump’s daddy in the New York Times. Why did they wait until two years into his first presidential term to compile the story?

    The Times had the dirt on Harvey Weinstein over a decade before actually releasing the story to the public. How many women were assaulted while they held onto the story collecting ad money from his movie production company?

    And Trump has operated in their backyard for how long? 😉

    One other note…we would know almost nothing about Koch’s vast network without George Soros donating money to researchers in Wisconsin. None of the newspapers would touch it even though they control 24-26 statehouses. Head on over to the IndyStar and do a search for the Koch brothers or the American Legislative and Exchange Council (ALEC). 😉

  3. When, over time, the rules and regulations for a system of government and its economy are chipped away, eventually that system will collapse. What we are all experiencing these days is the frantic efforts of the last true believers to shore up a society that has outlived its prime as the greedy majority continue to take an ax to its frail underpinnings.

  4. Let me just say a word on behalf of the IRS. I have had my frustrations with them, but on the whole they have been one of the most reasonable government agencies I have dealt with. The Republican marketing machine has made them out to be “jack booted thugs” and that’s how most people see them. But, if you have a problem, a reasonable explanation of your thinking and your interpretation of the tax code will usually satisfy them and they will work something out with you.

    The real problem with our tax code is that it is a patchwork of things applied haphazardly over 115 years. No one really knows what’s in it and, like the Bible, you can find support for any and all evasions somewhere in there. You only need a good team of tax accountants working for you to find a way to pay nothing.


  5. The left keeps talking about Trump, why? What will they do to counter him in 2020? This should be the conversation today and every day. Today’s headline: “Trump Raises $100 Million for 2020 War Chest”. I see no coherent plan to defeat or attack him. This is like a really bad science fiction film where some slime-ball alien has attacked our planet to raid our resources and all of the countries are just sitting around discussing the slime on the alien… and then they fall to the invader. We don’t need more ammo on the “Trump’s a bad “X” (President, Businessman, Husband, etc.) side of the ledger. Show me a possible path to victory because I don’t see one.

  6. The difficulty in fixing the issue of tax cheats will be that one side of the spectrum doesn’t see that behavior as bad – it’s actually seen as a virtue to cheat your way out of paying taxes. “Starve the beast” anyway possible is doing God’s work. But, of course, they still want what the “beast” can give them at the same time.

    As an example, I have a good friend who is conservative/libertarian. He is very much into the idea that all taxes are bad and all government is bad. He still cashes his post military service payments each month. I have nothing but love for him, but the irony of his behavior is lost on him completely. He believes any money he receives he earned/deserves. Any money anyone else gets is tyranny being forced on him – someone else stealing his money.

    I think that thought process is pretty common.

  7. TLentych `
    From your lips to God’s ear! This blog post comes as no surprise to those of us who think critically and would be ignored as based on “fake news” by the dolts who voted for “The Don”. Not only do we need a viable candidate for 2020, we also need to wake up the 40% eligible voters who chose to stay home to get off their butts and VOTE!

  8. If the DNC doesn’t do well in the election 20 days away, 2020 is merely of academic interest.

    One thing that I have learned on social media is that the Trump base is never going to let go of the lip lock on his butt cheecks. They are so deluded by their entertainment media that he’s absolutely right, he could shoot someone on Fifth Ave in broad daylight with witnesses and they would blame the victim. They are truly a lost cause exactly as, and exactly for the same reason as, the slaves were in Orwell’s 1984: they have been victimized by propaganda to the degree that they have become a cult every bit as dysfunctional as Jim Jones had gathered.

    They can’t be dealt with. Our only hope is that the numbers are such that they are in power only because Putin cared more about who our President is than many American voters did who stayed at home and watched the takeover.

    Who’s more passionate? The Trumpanzees or those of us who remember competent government here? Two waves will collide on Nov 6. One will overcome.

    Will we overcome?

    There is a worldwide economic collapse coming, the most prolific breeding ground for tyrants. We must prepare government for what they must do and we are as unprepared now as we ever have been.

    It truly is now or never.

  9. It is in capitalism’s nature to be corrupt. Capitalism is a mindless lunge at profits. It cares not a whit about decency, society, people or the law. When it is un-regulated, it destroys everything it touches including, eventually, the perpetrators of capitalism, the oligarchs. The oligarchs end up fighting amongst themselves for supremacy and the entire systems collapses into chaos. The Dark Ages were an example of how the Lords v. Serfs “experiment” ends.

    TLentych: The possible path to salvation of our nation, our society and our peoples’ welfare is the people themselves. Without participation (low voter turnout), there is no path to salvation OR victory of any sort. The oligarchs win. We are in a state of utter and total corruption thanks to the oligarchs funding/bribing their political whores to the point where it IS legal to perpetrate corruption. The solution lies in our hands. It’s almost comical that we should have to have get out the vote campaigns when the peoples’ voices were required to operate as the controllers of corruption inherent to capitalism.

  10. Peggy; it is our local tax law regarding tax sales on abandoned houses and buildings where tax problems begin. I think it requires 3 years of unpaid taxes for Marion County to attach the property; it often sits for a few years then goes on the market, often in blocks of properties. Buyers are NOT buying the property but the tax lien, original owner has another year to come up with the money to pay their back taxes. So purchasers don’t take a chance and put money into property they do not own; they also have no responsibility for protecting it, neither does the county because they no longer own the tax lien. Properties sit for years and many deteriorate to conditions that it is not worth putting money into to repair, rehab and reuse. This has been the unchanged law under Republicans for decades; condition of houses and buildings often are deciding factors in city/county/township infrastructure maintenance and repair. The county keeps the money paid for the tax lien whether from an individual or developers who buy blocks of properties but never attend to them. I guess that is a tax write off.

    Gentrification is a major problem regarding tax incentives, often to out-of-state buyers to lure them here to renovate entire areas. But…ever wonder what happens to all those residents who were forced from their homes and businesses, most of them seniors, disabled and low-income? It has happened here and is still happening; no one is helping them relocate or finding the huge cash requirement to move if they do find another home they can afford.

    “Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have been “systematically defunding the Internal Revenue Service, crippling its ability to investigate tax fraud. We don’t just have government by tax cheats; we have government of tax cheats, for tax cheats.”

    Tax cheating begins legally at the local level; those who are involuntarily moved out of their homes to give developers tax breaks are the very people who worked for years and paid the taxes to create those neighborhoods. How many will become homeless? This is not only happening in low-income areas of Indianapolis; there is currently a situation in Irvington at 222 South Downey Avenue where low-income, senior and disabled will soon be evicted from their very nice and very secure homes to benefit the out-of-state developer who bought that property. I have tried government agencies and elected officials here but no one has ever responded. Including the Democratic Representative and City Councilor.

    VOTE BLUE! but keep your fingers crossed.

  11. Today’s commenters have been superb as a group. My award for best of this very good lot goes to Vernon for this concise gem:

    “It is in capitalism’s nature to be corrupt. Capitalism is a mindless lunge at profits. It cares not a whit about decency, society, people or the law. When it is un-regulated, it destroys everything it touches . . .”

    Einstein, the master of physics in his time, wrote equations that expressed complex concepts in precise and relatively simple form (e=mc2, G=T). Before a better physicist or mathematician beats me to it, the examples above are much simplified, but I use them to make a point, and, I ask others to improve on my equation, inspired by Vernon’s comment and Einstein’s work toward a unified theory of physics:

    First, in extremely simplified form: PC=K, where PC equals Pure Capitalism and K equals Chaos. In more detailed form: PC=G+D+TL-(VRA+FD+M)xCU2=K, or, in longform: Pure Capitalism equals Greed plus Deregulation plus Tax Loopholes minus Voting Rights Act and Fairness Doctrine and Morals multiplied by Citizens United squared equals K (Chaos).

    In order to reconstruct our city on a hill we need to first deconstruct my equation. This requires two elements not currently in great supply. 1) motivated voters, and 2) a Democrat party not owned by the Koch’s.

    I now hang up my lab coat and invite criticism of my work.

  12. The NYT article on President Agent Orange’s financial schemes should come as no surprise to anyone. Limiting the discussion of tax evasion, money laundering, etc., to President Agent’s Orange’s family ignores the far bigger problem of endemic fraud the American Oligarchs engage in.

    As Bernie Sanders has said:
    Let’s be clear, the business model of Wall Street is fraud. In my view, there is no better example than the recently-exposed illegal behavior at Wells Fargo.

    The CEO of Wells Fargo admitted today that he knew in 2013 the bank was scamming customers, but he took no action to fire or reprimand the senior executives in charge of supervising this activity. Instead, they were given millions in bonuses, while the value of the stock that the CEO owned shot up in value by more than $200 million.

    Wells Fargo’s abuse of its customers is not an aberration. In April, the bank reached a $1.2 billion settlement with the Department of Justice for ‘reckless’ and ‘shoddy’ underwriting on thousands of home loans from 2001 to 2008. In 2012, Wells Fargo was fined $175 million to settle claims of discriminatory and predatory subprime lending in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

    We have got to end the two-tier justice system — one for the poor and working class and one for Wall Street and the wealthy — that has existed for far too long in this country. The American people cannot understand how major banks paid more than $200 billion in fines and settlements since 2008, but not one Wall Street executive was prosecuted. That has got to change. ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ cannot just be words engraved on the entrance of the Supreme Court. It must be the standard that applies to all Americans, including the CEO of Wells Fargo and other financial executives.

    Will the DNC and the Corporate Democratic Party look at the President Agent Orange’s tax schemes apply the bigger observation that Bernie Sanders did concerning Wall Street Fraud???

    The answer is, Hell No.

    So many issues the Corporate Democratic Party could have used to energize their base and independents, Universal Single Payer Health Care, free higher education, protection of the environment, closing tax loopholes, cracking down on money laundering schemes, a comprehensive immigration plan, or rebuilding our public infrastructure.

    The Corporate Democratic Party has done nothing to energize the independents to vote, except fear mongering.

  13. How come previous Democrat administrations never attempted to do away with the loopholes advantageous to the oligarchs? Now, we are expected to support the party that did absolutely nothing years ago and pretend these loopholes just became reality under Trump?

  14. Capitalism has one rule: make more money regardless of the impact on others.

    Who could possibly believe that one rule leads to nothing but good?

  15. As undergrad I was assigned a book called THE PURITAN OLIGARCHY . Predestined salvation or damnation manifested by earthly wealth and success or failure and poverty. Morality only superficially relative. The oligsrchy lives. Dominant American cult.

  16. Wray,

    Thanks for the compliment. It saddens me beyond description to see all this playing out in front of our eyes and the corrupt thumb their noses at us, flaunt their illegalities, flip us off when we call them out and otherwise behave like enabled criminals.

    The city/beacon on the hill no longer shines to those seeking hope and refuge from the horrors of the human condition. Our money moguls have doused that candle with the abject corruption. Our politicians remain their handmaidens and work diligently to destroy our nation for the sake of money.

    I’m glad I’m old.

  17. Right on many counts, Vernon. They’re criminals and they’re still walking around out there (MOST, anyway). Why hasn’t DT (who gives me the DT’s) been locked up ages ago? You and I and all the rest on here would have been.

    Aside: Where’s Marv?

  18. City on the Hill, it is now a days an island somewhere.

    Tax evasion: blacklist of 21 countries with ‘golden passport’ schemes published. OECD says schemes selling either residency or citizenship threaten efforts to combat tax evasion.

    In exchange for donations to a sovereign trust fund, or investments in property or government bonds, foreign nationals can become citizens of countries in which they have never lived. Other schemes, such as that operated by the UK, offer residency in exchange for sizable investments.

    Guardian investigation reveals how a small firm of wealth advisers built up a $3bn ‘golden passports’ industry and gained influence in the Caribbean.

    The “golden passports” business is now a pressing concern for European governments and their intelligence agencies. For a few hundred thousand dollars, the right passport, from the right place, can get its owner into almost any country.
    Will either of our binary American Parties investigate these scams?? Do not hold your breath. If it is one thing both of our political parties are united on it is protecting the Oligarchy, from the Proles.

  19. So; this week’s Trump distraction from the reality of this Fascist Monarchy he has created and the mid-term elections will be Saudi Arabia and the mysterious disappearance in their Turkish embassy of an American resident journalist and the Saudis who know nothing about it. Adding to the mystery are the reports of someone entering the embassy with a bone saw. And only three weeks left for Americans to decide if they want to continue this nonsense and the escalating debt we are incurring. What next; cries of “Off with their heads!” coming from the White House? Almost makes “Lock her up!” a welcome war cry from the Republicans. And Congress remains idle.


  20. Don’t know if this will reach whoever can correct the problem but; I again have not received today’s blog or current comments. I did receive Sheila’s daily E-mail notice regarding “Arabian Knights”. My last post yesterday is more fitting with today’s blog.

  21. thanks, best effort yet to define this plague. but as i see it, new york state tax officials sleep with the wall street bunch,as with the locsl mafias, sen schumer is probably no diffrent. when corprate senators and the like, decide to hold office,the tax scam is again passed down. if the working class were to again reconize the game plan in washington,and be lead by politicals who see and make aware without hessitation, the scam game, reel in the game, divest in countries who still allow the working class to be mere pawns in a game,to pay the richs taxes,and pave thier self interests. only then we can become a nation,without corruption. the working class has become dupped and made a laughing figure by those they have hired( paid elections).. in my 63 years, only Sen,Sanders has crossed this line. though he is modest by his words, im not. if the working class, came to power again,and honestly made a effort to demand order in congress, then the economy where small buisness can again flourish,money in mainstream pockets, health not a i$$ue, and a possitive landscape for growth in new fields to directly impact the Americans who do the work. the euro union is also getting some right wing flack, but i see a post war mentality that wont allow the right to go past its ideology. but, too little is mantioned about the panama papers,where a scope of corruption is world wide, and shows how deep greed is, and its powers to still avoid accountability,that doesnt exist today..people like robert riech need a better media to talk to the middle class,easy context to get some mainstream talking and action on the streets,news,and everyday conversations. pipe dream? no, when unions were strong,so was the economy…
    the corprate world,and its greed,has distroyed America…vote, like its your last time,and
    boycott every advertiser on fox news/channel.

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