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TAXES

posted Aug 17, 2017, 1:52 PM by Lane Siekman   [ updated Aug 18, 2017, 7:12 AM ]

The talk in Washington D.C. has now turned to tax reform but what they really mean is tax cuts for the wealthy. Let's face it: No one likes paying taxes and no tax rate is low enough to make everyone happy. It has been a longstanding tradition in America to protest taxes since the beginnings of our Republic.  Even Lyndon B. Johnson once said "In 1790, the nation which had fought a revolution against taxation without representation discovered that some of its citizens weren’t much happier about taxation with representation." 

Protest is one thing but at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we need a tax system in this country that is based on the ability to pay. It is unacceptable that major corporations have paid nothing in federal income taxes, and that corporate CEOs in this country often enjoy an effective tax rate that is lower than their lower level employees. In 1953, the corporate income tax accounted for 32 percent of all federal revenue. Today, despite record-breaking profits, corporate income taxes only bring in 11 percent of total federal revenue.

President Trump and republicans in Congress claim that cutting tax rates for the richest Americans will improve the standard of living for the working class. Supposedly, top-bracket tax breaks will result in more jobs being created, higher wages for the average worker, and an overall upturn in our economy. It's at the heart of supply side economic and the infamous trickle-down theory. It has been tried before with very mixed results. 

The past 50 years have seen a gradual decrease in the top bracket's income tax rate from a high of 91% in 1963 to what is really, in 2010, the effective tax rate of large, profitable corporations in the U.S. was only 12.6 percent, not the 35 percent nominal tax Republicans and corporate tax lobbyists complain about.

These shifts in tax policy have given us an opportunity to study and evaluate whether or not lower taxes for the rich actually translate to more wealth for the average American. We can compare changes in the top tax rate with real GDP growth rate (a measure of the growth of the entire U.S. economy), and three other measures of how life is for the average working American: annual median income growth, annual average hourly wage growth, and job creation. 

If tax cuts for the rich really help the economy and the middle class then we would see an increase in the four indicators whenever the tax rate dropped. However, this is not the case. It does happen sometimes, but the opposite happens at other times. Empirical data from the past 50 years refutes the argument that cutting taxes for the richest Americans will improve the economic standing of the lower and middle classes or the nation as a whole. Cutting the top tax rate does not lead to economic growth, income growth, wage growth, or job creation. Top-bracket tax cuts are an ineffective attempt at stimulus that will not cause any growth -- unless, of course, if you're talking about the size of the deficit. Economic indicators  are dependent on a variety of factors, not just tax policy, but an attempt to stimulate economic growth by cutting taxes for the rich will do nothing -- it hasn't worked over the past 50 years, so why would it work in the future? 

So what do we do to really reform Tax Policy? 

Reform and simply the tax code to help ordinary people. Despite its complexity, our tax code fails in its basic task of raising enough revenue to finance adequate public investments. It also fails to raise revenue in a very progressive way. In 2015, the richest one percent of Americans received more than 22 percent of the income in the U.S. and paid less than 24 percent of total taxes in the U.S. In other words, when all the federal, state and local taxes that Americans pay under current law are taken into account, our tax system is not progressive.

The wealthiest 2.1 percent of households in America must pay their fair share. These changes would not affect any married couples with income below $250,000 or singles with incomes below $200,000.

End Tax Breaks for Capital Gains and Dividends for the Wealthy. This plan would repeal the special, low income tax rates on capital gains and stock dividends for married couples with incomes greater than $250,000. Capital gains and corporate stock dividends are taxed at lower rates than the wages and salaries most of us live on. This is why some billionaire investors like Warren Buffett are able to pay effective tax rates that are lower than what their secretaries pay. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 68 percent of this tax break went to the richest 1 percent of Americans in 2013.

Repeal the break that excludes capital gains on bequests and gifts from taxable income. This exclusion in effect subsidizes wealthy families who hold onto assets in order to pass them onto the next generation, increasing the sort of dynastic wealth that is a feature of economic inequality. Large exemptions for homes and other assets would ensure low- and middle-income households are unaffected by this change. This would also prevent the sort of complex schemes involving derivatives that have been used by some prominent billionaires to avoid taxes on capital gains. 

Higher Income Tax Rates for the Richest Americans.The overall impact of this personal income tax plan would be to make sure that the wealthiest 2.1 percent of households in America pay their fair share.

This plan would replace the top three income tax rates (33%, 35%, and 39.6%) with more progressive rates:

  • 37% on income between $250,000 and $500,000.
  • 43% on income between $500,000 and $2 million.
  • 48% on income between $2 million and $10 million. (In 2013, only 113,000 households, just 0.08 percent of all taxpayers, had income between $2 million and $10 million.)
  • 52% on income of $10 million and above. (In 2013, only 13,000 households, just 0.01 percent of taxpayers, had income exceeding $10 million.)

Limit tax deductions for the rich. Our tax code has several complex provisions to limit the benefits of tax breaks for the wealthy, including the Alternative Minimum Tax, the personal exemption phase-out (PEP) and the limit on itemized deductions. This plan would replace these provisions with a simpler one limiting the tax savings for each dollar of deductions to just 28 cents for high-income households. These new tax rates would be created by an additional tax on AGI (the income one reports on a tax return before subtracting most deductions) applying only to households with incomes above $250,000.

Remove Corporate Loopholes in the tax code. Large corporations in recent years have exploited so many loopholes in the tax code that they have paid nothing in federal income taxes and have actually received tax rebates from the IRS. For example, General Electric, Boeing and Verizon paid no federal income taxes during the combined 2008 through 2013 tax years. During that period, those three corporate giants racked up combined profits totaling more than $102 billion. In fact, they received income tax rebates from the Internal Revenue Service totaling more than $4.1 billion. 

Corporations have been setting up thousands of shell corporations in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes in the U.S. A report by the Congressional Research Service shows that each and every year, large corporations are avoiding $100 billion in U.S. taxes by stashing their profits in offshore tax havens. This situation has become so absurd that one five-story office building in the Cayman Islands is the “home” to more than 18,000 corporations.

We need to end the rule allowing American corporations to defer paying federal income taxes on profits of offshore subsidiaries.Under current law, U.S. corporations are allowed to defer or delay U.S. income taxes on overseas profits until this money is brought back into the United States. U.S. corporations are also provided foreign tax credits to offset the amount of taxes paid to other countries. This motivates large companies to shift as much of their profits as possible overseas and it allows corporations to receive huge tax breaks for establishing manufacturing facilities in countries with very low or no corporate tax rates. Congress can close these loopholes by requiring U.S. companies to pay taxes on all of their income by ending the deferral of foreign source income. This takes away the tax incentives for corporations to move jobs offshore or to shift profits offshore because the U.S. would tax their profits no matter where they are generated.

We can also repeal dozens of other loopholes and tax subsidies throughout the federal tax code that benefit oil, natural gas, and other special interests, saving $135 billion over the next decade. 

Another way American companies avoid U.S. taxes is through corporate inversions. Under this practice, an American company acquires or merges with a much smaller foreign business and then claims that the newly merged company is a foreign one for tax purposes — even though the majority of the ownership is unchanged and little or no personnel or operations have actually moved offshore. Congress should end this tax scam by treating corporations as American corporations for tax purposes when it is still majority owned by U.S. interests.

Close the many loopholes that allow U.S. corporations to artificially inflate or accelerate foreign tax credits. For example, when U.S. corporations earn profits overseas, taxes paid to the foreign country are credited against U.S. tax liabilities. Under current rules and tax planning strategies, corporations are allowed to claim foreign tax credits for taxes paid on foreign income that is not subject to current U.S. tax. As a result, companies are able to use such credits to pay lower taxes on their U.S. taxable income than they would if it was all from U.S. sources – providing them with a competitive advantage over companies that invest in the United States. We need to reform current law to limit foreign tax credits to offset income only from the country in which it is earned.

Bring back Estate taxes on the very wealthy. More than a century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt recognized the danger of massive wealth and income inequality and what it meant to the economic and political well-being of the country. In addition to busting up the big trusts of his time, he fought for the creation of a progressive estate tax to reduce the enormous concentration of wealth that existed during the Gilded Age.

“The absence of effective state, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power,” the Republican president said. “The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is passed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in … a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.”

A progressive estate tax on multi-millionaires and billionaires reduces wealth inequality and provides funds to invest in paying down the national debt or new programs. The estate tax now applies only to the wealthiest 0.2 percent of Americans, but Republicans have proposed to repeal it altogether. A repeal would cost $269 billion over the coming decade and would help just 5,400 families next year. Nearly three-fourths of the benefits would go to those families inheriting estates worth more than $20 million.Instead of repealing the estate tax, we must strengthen it by making the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share.

We can exempt the first $3.5 million of an individual’s estate from the estate tax. This would only impact the wealthiest 0.3 percent of Americans who inherit more than $3.5 million. 99.7 percent of Americans would not see their taxes go up by one penny under this plan.

Establish a new progressive estate tax rate structure as follows:

  • 45 percent on the value of an estate between $3.5 million and $10 million.
  • 50 percent for the value of an estate between $10 million and $50 million.
  • 55 percent for the value of an estate in excess of $50 million.
  • Include an additional billionaire’s surtax of 10 percent. According to Forbes Magazine, there are only about 530 billionaires in the United States out of a population of 320 million, making them the wealthiest 0.0002 percent of America. These are the only Americans who would pay the billionaires’ surtax under this plan.

End tax breaks for dynasty trusts. Billionaires have for decades manipulated the rules for trusts to pass fortunes from one generation to the next without paying estate or gift taxes. If we strengthen the “generation-skipping tax,” which is designed to prevent avoidance of estate and gift taxes, by applying it with no exclusion to any trust set up to last more than 50 years.

Prevent abuses of grantor retained annuity trusts (GRATs) by barring donors from taking assets back from these trusts just a couple of years after establishing them to avoid gift taxes (while earnings on the assets are left to heirs tax-free).The lawyer who invented this technique for the Walton’s claims it has cost the Treasury $100 billion since 2000.

Prevent wealthy families from avoiding gifts taxes by paying income taxes on earnings generated by assets in “grantor trusts.”

Sharply limit the annual exclusion from the gift tax (which was meant to shield the normal giving done around holidays and birthdays from tax and record-keeping requirements) for gifts made to trusts.

Close other loopholes in the estate and gift tax, including valuation discounts.

Protect farm land and conservation easements by increasing the maximum exclusion for conservation easements to $2 million.  This will protect family farmers by allowing them to lower the value of their farmland by up to $3 million for estate tax purposes.

We need to tax the speculators in our stock markets. One of the major reasons why the middle class is collapsing and the gap between the rich and everyone else is growing wider and wider is because of the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior on Wall Street. Millions of Americans lost their homes, life savings, and ability to pay for college because Wall Street gamblers crashed the economy in 2008. During this financial crisis, the taxpayers of this country provided Wall Street with the largest bailout in the history of this world — $700 billion from the Treasury Department and $16 trillion in total financial assistance from the Federal Reserve.

Wall Street has fully recovered from the recession but the typical middle class family is earning less income today than it did 26 years ago and students are drowning in debt. It is time for Wall Street to pay society back for the tremendous damage it did to the middle class of this country.

We can create a tax on Wall Street to significantly reduce speculation and high frequency trading which nearly destroyed the economy seven years ago. Importantly, this initiative would also raise the revenue necessary to make public colleges and universities tuition free, create jobs, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, protect our environment, and make other investments in our future. This would not tax investors, retirees, or parents saving to send their kids to college. Instead, it would impose a tax on Wall Street investment houses, hedge funds, and other speculators. If those Wall Street investment houses chose to pass the tax along to investors, this plan would provide a tax credit to individuals making under $50,000 and couples making under $75,000 to ensure that they would not be impacted.

Stock and investment trades would be taxed at a rate of 0.5 percent for stocks, 0.1 percent for bonds, and 0.005 percent for derivatives. This means, for example, that a trade of $1,000 in stocks would be subject to a tax of $5. A trade of $1,000 in swaps or other derivatives would be subject to a tax of five cents. Even at such low rates, this plan would provide a huge benefit by reducing one particular type of trading that does not benefit our economy: high-frequency trading that rewards technological schemes rather than investing in productive businesses.

More than 1,000 economists have endorsed a tax on financial speculation and 11 European countries have committed to enacting a financial transaction tax. This idea is also supported by more than 170 organizations in the U.S., including the AFL-CIO, National Nurses United, the National Organization for Women, NETWORK, Oxfam America, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club and many others.

We can also lift the cap on taxable income that goes into the Social Security Trust Fund. Right now, someone who earns $118,500 a year pays the same amount of money in Social Security taxes as a billionaire.  If we apply the Social Security payroll tax on all income above $250,000 to expand Social Security benefits and to ensure that Social Security remains solvent for the next 58 years. This plan would only impact the wealthiest 1.5 percent of wage earners; 98.5 percent of wage earners in the United States would not see their taxes go up by one dime under this plan.

The Tragedy in Charlottesville · August 12 near Rising Sun

posted Aug 15, 2017, 12:48 PM by Lane Siekman

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GETTING BIG MONEY OUT OF POLITICS

posted Aug 14, 2017, 9:04 AM by Lane Siekman   [ updated Aug 14, 2017, 9:14 AM ]

Running for public office, the first thing that you notice is all of the expenses involved in a campaign. Even a grassroots campaign needs websites, printing, signs, stickers, gas money, telephones, and much more. The bigger the office; the more it costs to travel and get the word out and that doesn’t include the personal expense of taking time off of work or foregoing other opportunities. Campaigns are expensive and they often require the support and guidance of many supporters.

Why are so many willing to pay such big money for an elective office?  More importantly, what do these big donors expect for a return on their investment? Money and the power that it buys often leads to corrupt bargains which hurt the process and this nation. 

We often hear that our political campaign finance system that is corrupt and increasingly controlled by billionaires and special interests. Our democratic process is being destroyed by big corporations and secretive groups that vote with their pocketbooks. No one likes to admit it, but big money buys elections. In 2016,  Luke Messer spend $1,113,729 for re-election in Indiana’s Sixth District and didn’t even bother to engage in a single debate with his opponents. He raised lots of money from the Insurance ($247,250),  Securities & Investment ($140,300), Real Estate ($138,395), and  Commercial Banking ($98,300) industries and that just the reported amounts. 

There are also "dark money" sources out there waiting to run separate “independent” campaign operations to get what who they want in office.  They don't disclose their donors or their goals. They engage in misleading advertising campaigns that seek to define the opponents of their chosen candidates and scare voters into acting against their own best interests.

This is because in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court in it’s Citizens United decision, by a 5-to-4 vote, essentially gave the wealthiest people in this country an open invitation to purchase the U.S. Government, the White House, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, Governors’ seats, legislatures, and the State judicial branches as well.  This disastrous Citizens United decision was based on the notion that money is speech, corporations are people, and giving huge piles of undisclosed cash to politicians in exchange for access and influence does not constitute corruption. I personally campaigned against this bad decision in 2012 and 2014 and during the 2016 campaign cycle, billions of dollars from the wealthiest people in this country flooded the political process.  Super PACs – a direct outgrowth of the Citizens United decision – enabled the wealthiest people and the largest corporations in this country to contribute unlimited amounts of money to campaigns. These super PACs, which are supposed to operate independently of the actual candidates, have more money and more influence over campaigns than the candidates themselves.

There is a movement in this country towards a political system in which a handful of very wealthy people and special interests will determine who gets elected or who does not get elected. This takes power from the voters and the people's interests go without representation.  

Former President Jimmy Carter said, unlimited money in politics, “violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now, it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. Senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.”

Real campaign finance reform is not a progressive issue. It is not a conservative issue. It is an American issue. It is an issue that should concern all Americans, regardless of their political point of view, who wish to preserve the essence of the longest standing democracy in the world, a government that represents all of the people and not a handful of powerful and wealthy special interests.

We must overturn, through a constitutional amendment, the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision as well as the Buckley v. Valeo decision. We need to pass legislation to require wealthy individuals and corporations who make large campaign contributions to disclose where their money is going.  More importantly, it is why we need to move toward the public funding of elections. 

America should be a nation in which all people, regardless of their income, can participate in the political process, can run for office without begging for contributions from the wealthy and the powerful. You should not have to sell your soul to win elective office in America. 

We must as candidates speak up for the majority of our people – working people, the middle class, low-income people, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor – and find solutions as that will improve lives for all of the people, not just those rich enough to hire a lobbyist or fund a congressman.

I will insist on complete transparency regarding the funding of campaigns, including through disclosure of contributions to outside spending groups, via legislation, action by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Election Commission, and Federal Communication Commission, and an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending.  I will fight to eliminate super PACs and other outside spending abuses and work to aggressively enforce campaign finance rules. I will be open and transparent about my campaign financing and my goals after election.

Getting big money out of politics is vital, but much more needs to be done to restore our democracy.  We must ensure that all Americans are guaranteed an effective right to vote.  We must restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, expand early voting and vote-by-mail, implement automatic voter registration, end gerrymandering and make Election Day a national holiday, so that everyone can be involved in the process. We need constructive change to bring more people into the political system. Our democracy cannot be truly representative unless elected officials hear from all of their constituents, not just the wealthy and the powerful.

It is often spoken of the power of the people. It is true that people have power but when they are too scared, or too bothered, or too turned off by the corrupt process to use it; we all lose.  We must reject cynicism and instead work on solutions, action and accountability that will work. We must:

  1. Fight to pass a constitutional amendment making it clear that Congress and the states have the power to regulate money in elections. End Citizens United
  2. Fight for a publicly financed, transparent system of campaign financing that amplifies small donations, along the lines of the Fair Elections Now Act.
  3. Insist on complete transparency regarding the funding of campaigns, including through disclosure of contributions to outside spending groups, via legislation, action by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Election Commission, and Federal Communication Commission, and an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending.
  4. Fight to eliminate super PACs and other outside spending abuses.
  5. Work to aggressively enforce campaign finance rules.

#CHANGE2018
#LANELISTENS

WHY I SUPPORT MEDICARE FOR ALL

posted Jul 19, 2017, 2:23 PM by Lane Siekman   [ updated Jul 28, 2017, 9:03 AM ]

Everyday, I deal with ordinary people that are facing the devastating consequences of catastrophic illnesses, long term health care needs, or problem recruiting qualified employees for their small businesses. They need answers to everyday problems and the debate in Washington overlooks these concerns. I grew up believing that this country could do anything. We won World Wars, conquered diseases, preserved democracy, and even put a Man on the Moon. No journey was too difficult, no mountain too high, and no hope was impossible. Yet, when it comes to caring about our people, we stumble as a nation. We are told that we can't do what is right because it would be too expensive, too much government, or even "take away freedom". 

The United States currently spends $3 trillion on health care each year—nearly $10,000 per person, and as a percentage of gross domestic product, than any other advanced nation in the world, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. But these nations are making the morally principled and financially responsible decision to provide universal health care to all of their people—and they do so while saving money by keeping people healthier. Why don't we provide every man, woman and child of America with basic health care from the cradle to the grave just like every other industrialized nation already offers it’s citizens? 

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more than 17 million Americans have gained health insurance. Millions of low-income Americans have coverage through expanded eligibility for Medicaid that now exists in 31 states. Young adults can stay on their parents’ health plans until they’re age 26. All Americans have benefited from increased protections against lifetime coverage limits and exclusion from coverage because of pre-existing conditions.  But now it's time to do more than just fight to preserve the ACA. It is now time to champion a health care plan that every American truly deserves: Medicare for all

With Medicare for all, all Americans will benefit from the freedom and security that comes with finally separating health insurance from employment. That freedom would not only help the American people live happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives, but it would also promote innovation and entrepreneurship in every sector of the economy. People would be able to start new businesses, stay home with their children or leave jobs they don’t like knowing that they would still have health care coverage for themselves and their families. Employers could be free to focus on running their business rather than spending countless hours figuring out how to provide health insurance to their employees. Working Americans wouldn’t have to choose between bargaining for higher wages or better health insurance. Parents wouldn’t have to worry about how to provide health insurance to their children. Americans would no longer have to fear losing their health insurance if they lose their job, change employment or go part-time. Seniors and people with serious or chronic illnesses could afford the medications necessary to keep them healthy without worry of financial ruin. Millions of people will no longer have to choose between health care and other necessities like food, heat and shelter, and will have access to services that may have been out of reach, like dental care or long-term care.

We outspend all other countries on the planet and our medical spending continues to grow faster than the rate of inflation. Creating a single, public insurance system will go a long way towards getting health care spending under control. By moving to an integrated system, the government will finally have the ability to stand up to drug companies and negotiate fair prices for the American people collectively. It will also ensure the federal government can track access to various providers and make smart investments to avoid provider shortages and ensure communities can access the providers they need.

The only way to lower healthcare costs is to take insurance companies out of the equation. Medicare for all is a viable option. Economist Robert Frank recently pointed out in the New York Times that Medicare’s administrative costs are only 2 percent of its total cost. Administrative costs for private insurance companies are about 6 times higher. This approach is estimated to save the American people and businesses over $6 trillion over the next decade.

In 2015, the average working family paid $4,955 in premiums and $1,318 in deductibles to private health insurance companies. Under this plan, a family making $50,000 — roughly the median family income — would only pay about $1,100 in health care income taxes. That’s $3,855 less than what it would pay out-of-pocket for the average premium ($4,955, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation) and $5,173 less if a deductible ($1,318, for individual coverage) is factored inThe average annual cost to the employer for a worker with a family who makes $50,000 a year could go from $12,591 to just $3,100.

The plan would be implemented through the gradual expansion of Medicare by expanding eligibility from the current age of 65 downwards. Another idea would be to start extending eligibility to younger Americans first since they in general have fewer health needs. In any event the goal is to slowly and responsibly expand Medicare until every American is covered. 

It's the right thing to do.

Lane



THE VALUE OF RURAL DEVELOPMENT

posted Jun 22, 2017, 1:29 PM by Lane Siekman   [ updated Aug 18, 2017, 7:13 AM ]

Many friends that I grew up with in Rising Sun got their first opportunity to buy their own home with the help of the United States Department of Agriculture. You might think that buying a house with an Ag program to be strange but it filled a vital need in rural areas for affordable housing. The program provided a loan guarantee to approved lenders in order to reduce the risk of extending loans to eligible rural home buyers. It made a difference as they bought their homes and put down roots in the rural community to work, raise their kids, and make a good life.
 
For more than 50 years, USDA rural development programs have improved housing, utilities and community facilities, and economic opportunity for rural Indiana. During this past Fiscal Year in Indiana, USDA Rural Development delivered over $740 million of investment throughout Indiana's 92 counties. 
 
The Department also provide loans and grants to help rural communities and organizations with many non-farm projects and has provided financial assistance for, among others: community facilities such as hospitals, assisted-living facilities, fire stations and community centers; telecommunications projects such as broadband expansion; and water-quality projects. 
 
The program also provides loan guarantees for rural businesses and home buyers that  have provided opportunities for better housing and investments all over southeastern and eastern Indiana. Its real value is the funding that might not otherwise materialize for projects in rural areas.

But recently the Trump administration proposed a 21 percent reduction to the ag budget and the elimination of the position of Under Secretary for Rural Development. These actions, if enacted,  will substantially diminish resources dedicated to improving rural communities and the lives of rural people.

We must protect and continue  funding to allow USDA Rural Development to continue its important mission of providing technical and financial assistance aimed at improving the living and economic conditions in rural America.

According to an analysis of socio-economic well-being prepared by the Wall Street Journal, rural counties are in worse condition than big cities, suburbs and small or medium metro areas. Rural communities, and the people who live in them, have higher poverty and unemployment rates as well as a higher incidence of substandard housing and rent overburden when compared to metropolitan areas.

Virtually every community in the country with inadequate drinking water has a population of 3,300 or less. Although much of the country has seen recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, rural America still lags behind. The past decade’s long trend of community bank closures and consolidation has hit rural areas particularly hard. The number of community banks in the United States has declined by an average of 300 per year over the past 30 years, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and a collapse in the price of agricultural commodities has added stress on many small towns and farming communities here in Indiana.

The Trump administration’s response to the problems facing  agriculture can only be described as a wholesale retreat from supporting rural America. The FY 2018 budget eliminates funding for two dozen housing and rural development programs. If approved, USDA will no longer provide direct rural housing loans, grants for mutual and self-help housing, financing for water and waste disposal systems, or loans and grants to small rural businesses, cooperatives and value added producers. Many other programs are reduced well below the current rate. What will be left is a hollowed-out Rural Development function, degraded within the department of Agriculture, with far fewer resources to help rural America. Rural Indiana will be left behind again. 

Lane Siekman
 
Lane Siekman is an attorney and community activist from Rising Sun, Indiana. He also works in economic development and is an adjunct instructor at Ivy Tech Community College. He is exploring running for Congress in Indiana 6th District in 2018.
 

Small Town

posted Jun 21, 2017, 12:38 PM by Lane Siekman   [ updated Jun 21, 2017, 12:47 PM ]

You know how a particular song just seems to speak to you at a point in your life. The words evoke memories and feelings that fill you with thoughts and emotions.  It tends to play constantly in your head and make you reflect on your life and where you are at in it. 

In 1985, Indiana native John Mellencamp released an album called Scarecrow. I rushed to the record store to buy a copy and ended up getting it on a cassette tape to play in my car. I listened to that tape until it eventually wore out and broke. You can’t do that now with MP3’s or steaming in Spotify but again you don’t get to keep playing the tape over and over again.  The tape wore out but the music didn’t.
 
One song on that album still pops up every now and then on my playlist. It is the song "Small Town". The opening bars of the song always take me home.  Mellencamp wrote the song about his experiences growing up in a small town in Indiana having been born in Seymour, Indiana, and living in Bloomington, Indiana, which, at the time of the release of the song, was much smaller.
 
I am a small town Indiana boy from a small town and grew up in Rising Sun which is smaller yet than Seymour. Mellencamp’s lyrics speak of the life of a small town where he grew up and still lives, where admits that he has little opportunity, learn about Jesus, and daydreamed as a hopeless romantic. In a recent interview in Salon Magazine, he attributed “his uncanny ability to capture the reality of America’s triumphant and tragic struggle to achieve the beauty of democratic and egalitarian promise in the midst of painful, even fatal failures to simply looking out his window.”
 
Maybe we all need to take the opportunity to look out our own windows to see if what we see is a happy or painful picture. Many small rural towns are hurting in this country. They suffer from a declining population where children grow up and leave for college or brighter pastures often never to return home.  Those that are left behind often have to cope with stagnant wages, limited opportunities, difficult personal lives, and recently a devastating opioid crisis. We seem to no longer value community involvement as before, or join service organizations and clubs and our local churches are shrinking. 
 
“I just looked out my window, and wrote what I saw,” said Mellencamp.  But we stopped looking out the window and turned to the internet and 24 hour news channels that tell us what to think and believe. Jobs, farms and local businesses are left to live and die on the decisions made by faceless bureaucrats in Indianapolis and Washington D.C.  Our once prosperous heart of America now hangs on the edge of oblivion. We just don’t seem to matter that much to them anymore.
 
“Small Town” still stirs memories but now it also raises fears that a small towns are just words in a song and not real places that build families and lives. I still live in Rising Sun where generations of my family have lived and I am proud of my small town. Like the lyrics say “I cannot forget where it is that I come from ... I cannot forget the people who love me.” 
 
Because of those people, I want a bright future for my small town and all small towns like it across this great nation.  Small town values do still exist and they matter. 

Lane Siekman

Lane Siekman is an attorney and community activist from Rising Sun, Indiana. He also works in economic development and is an adjunct instructor at Ivy Tech Community College. He is exploring running for Congress in Indiana 6th District in 2018.

Lane Siekman forms Exploratory Committee for Congress

posted May 8, 2017, 11:44 AM by Lane Siekman

Dear Friends

I wanted to take the opportunity to tell you this morning that I am forming an exploratory committee to test the waters for a congressional race in the Sixth District in 2018. 

Last week's actions in Washington cry out for an response on behalf of the people of the District. Luke Messer must be held responsible for his actions. It is also very likely that he will jump to take on Joe Donnelly for the Senate leaving the 6th as a open seat in 2018. Either way he must be stopped. We cannot afford to just crown another Republican successor in 2018. 

Federal Law prohibits me from announcing or running as a formal candidate unless I file the requisite paperwork with the FEC. The committee can raise $5,000 for an exploration and your help would be appreciated. 

There is a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/LaneSiekmanIN/

Please like and share with your friends. I would like to hear your thoughts and inputs. Please put me on your mailing list for any events that may be happening this summer. It's time to have some real town halls with the citizens of this district.

I value your support and friendship.
Thanks for all that you do.

Lane

Raise the minimum wage

posted Jan 6, 2015, 1:22 PM by Lane Siekman

The minimum wage hasn't even come close to keeping up with inflation over the past 40 years. Sadly, 40% of Americans make less today than 1968′s minimum wage, as measured in today’s dollars and if the minimum wage had risen in step with productivity growth since 1968, it would be over $18.00 an hour today.


The United States had no minimum wage until 1938, when Congress passed the FSLA as part of FDR’s New Deal. Before then, employers could pay workers whatever they wanted, and they usually wanted to pay very little. Between 1912 and 1920, 13 states plus the District of Columbia passed minimum wage laws, only to have them struck down by the U. S. Supreme Court because they were “unfair” to workers as it kept them from making low-ball offers. In 1933, congress passed a law that mandated a .25 per hour minimum hourly wage, only to have it struck down as well in 1935 (Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States).


In 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had to fight Republicans, conservative Democrats, the Supreme Court and corporate leaders to pass a lasting minimum wage law. In doing so, He warned “Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000 a day, who has been turning his employees over to the Government relief rolls in order to preserve his company’s undistributed reserves, tell you – using his stockholders’ money to pay the postage for his personal opinions — tell you that a wage of $11.00 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry.”(1938, Fireside Chat, the night before signing the Fair Labor Standards Act that instituted the federal minimum wage)


Studies from both conservative and liberal think tanks have recommended raising the minimum wage, and Australia has had positive results from raising theirs but opponents continue to promote two ideas that are antithetical to the economic well-being of American workers. The first idea being that the minimum wage hurts the economy by reducing job creation. The second being that the minimum wage reduces the opportunity for social mobility. These views are being promoted by Billionaire Charles Koch, who believes that the U.S. actually needs to get rid of the minimum wage altogether , which he counts as a major obstacle to economic growth.


But this isn’t what we have learned from the example set in Australia and its more than $16 an hour minimum wage which was the only major world economy to avoid the 2009 global recession. Australia also ranks ahead of the United States and its $7.25 an hour minimum wage in terms of social mobility and the opportunity for individuals to climb the social ladder. The United States came in 10th, far below countries like Denmark, which ranked first, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Spain and France.  Australia also had no recession like the U.S. and there was not a single quarter in which GDP declined in Australia.


While raising the minimum wage is ultimately no cure-all for the economy, countries like Australia show that guaranteeing workers a living wage will not result in economic Armageddon. Instead, it highlights how conservatives often revert to scapegoating low-wage workers for America’s economic woes. In the U.S., economic inequality has grown rapidly, and the lagging minimum wage is in large part to blame. Some states have moved to address the growing gap between what people earn and the rising cost of living, but nationally the minimum wage has barely moved in decades.


In a robust economy, the minimum wage really doesn't mean anything since the demand for labor is high and the market rate will likely exceed the minimum amount set by the government. However when the economy is in a recessionary or stagnant mode, the minimum wage is an important tool in maintaining the crucial relationship between labor and capital. In essence, it becomes a “buyer’s market” for labor and allows market forces to keep the value of labor artificially low.


The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 would have raised the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour over two-and-a-half years, in three steps of 95 cents each. It will also adjust the minimum wage annually to keep pace with the rising cost of living - a key policy reform known as "indexing," which 11 states are already using to prevent the minimum wage from falling in value each year and it will raise the minimum wage for tipped workers - which has been frozen at a meager $2.13 per hour for more than twenty years - to 70% of the full minimum wage.


An increase does not cost jobs. Research indicates that the higher cost of hiring someone is offset by the stability an employer gets out of it -— better paid workers quit less. It would reduce income inequality. Two different studies have shown that raising the minimum wage will help raise the incomes of poor people. Finally It could help the economy. People who make less money tend to spend a bigger portion of it. A 2011 study by the Federal Reserve of Chicago found that for every $1 increase in the minimum wage, the worker's household spends about $2,800 more a year. The Economic Policy Institute said in August that raising the minimum wage to $9.40 by 2014 would increase gross domestic product by $25 billion, and create 100,000 new jobs. The typical minimum wage worker today isn’t a teenager but an adult who brings home at least half of family income. An increase in the minimum wage will again help hard-working Americans raise their standard of living. No one who works full-time in this country should have to live in poverty.




Why don't we just let the teachers teach?

posted Apr 28, 2014, 2:23 PM by Lane Siekman


The Indianapolis Star says that Indiana's new academic standards are an "absurd jumble". I don't see this as really being a Democrat or a Republican issue but rather as one of the most overwhelming social issues facing this country today. As a parent, I want what is best for my children. We have had standardized tests in this country for a few years now and there has to be some hard data on what does and what doesn't work. The problem seems to be that too many spin the data to their own preconceived notion of what they think is best. Government should concentrate on providing the best resources for schools and educators and allowing them to innovate within their own systems. We need to stop the blame game and certainly we need to look at the motives of those who seek to impose their will from above. Teaching children is not the same as setting up a production line. I don't remember all that I was taught in school but I do remember the teachers. Why don't we just let the teachers teach?

Lane Siekman
April 28, 2014

Messer is wrong on the Hobby Lobby case

posted Apr 7, 2014, 3:35 PM by Lane Siekman

Recently Representative Luke Messer wrote an opinion which stated his position on the Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius cases now pending before The U.S. Supreme Court. Messer argues that the  Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraception mandate is an “infringement on religious liberty” and that emergency contraception is the same as abortion. He is wrong on both counts.

One of the major goals of the ACA is to provide access to certain forms of preventive care without additional cost to the patient, among them, contraceptives for women. Widespread access to contraception is an essential component of healthcare for women of childbearing age. It helps to prevent unintended pregnancy and protects the health and well-being of women and their children. There are medical and social consequences of unintended pregnancy and ensuring the availability of medically appropriate contraception for all women, regardless of their financial status and ability to pay is important. 

Emergency contraception, despite Mr. Messer’s statements, is not abortion. Emergency contraceptive pills work before pregnancy begins. According to leading medical authorities – such as the National Institutes of Health and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – pregnancy begins when the fertilized egg implants in the lining of a woman's uterus. Implantation begins five to seven days after sperm fertilizes the egg, and the process is completed several days later. Emergency contraception will not work if a woman is already pregnant. Susan Wood, a professor of health policy at George Washington University and a former assistant commissioner for women's health at the FDA stated “These products are not abortifacients and their only connection to abortion is that they can prevent the need for one.”

Allowing an employer a religious exemption to the ACA’s mandated coverage requirements would have consequences that extend far beyond contraception. Employers who object to any medical treatment, device, or procedure on personal religious grounds could similarly exclude such services from the coverage they provide—with potentially disastrous results. Employers could, for example, seek to exclude vaccinations that they deem offensive to their  religious beliefs, forcing individuals to pay for objected-to vaccinations out-of-pocket or worse, forgo the medically recommended vaccinations entirely.

Hobby Lobby and Grote are both privately and closely held but for-profit corporations.They  chose this business form for the their own business purposes and advantages. A corporation is a legal abstraction and exists only on paper and despite the beliefs of its owner, it cannot experience or exercise the intensely personal emotions which we associate with religious worship. Only a living person can have faith to believe in God. 

The Supreme Court has never recognized a religious exemption from an otherwise valid legal duty when its exercise would impose substantial burdens on third parties. It is the imposition of the employer’s religious beliefs on the employees that would violate the Establishment Clause. Despite Mr. Messer’s beliefs, health care decisions should be made by patients in consultation with their healthcare providers based on the best interests of the patient and not on the religious beliefs of their employers.

Lane Siekman

Lane Siekman is a Democratic candidate for Congress in the Sixth Congressional District.

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