AN ANTIDOTE TO AUSTERITY: The austerity push in the United Kingdom has taken its toll, with few areas harder hit than local governments, which have seen their funding slashed by nearly 30 percent. But now some local councils are calling for another path to a more balanced budget: a tiny tax on financial transactions, also known as the Robin Hood tax.
In early March, two councils, one in Wales and the other in London, issued letters calling for the tax. “We’re offering one of the many alternatives to what the government is doing at the moment,” said David Daniels, a member of the Torfaen County Borough Council in Wales, about 150 miles from London’s financial district. “I’m a believer in the tiny acts amounting to big change.”
A Robin Hood tax could collect up to £20 billion a year, according to one London-based think tank. And while it’s a leap from Torfaen to Parliament, proponents of the tax have larger forces on their side. In February, eleven countries in the European Union, including the four biggest EU economies after Britain, announced plans to implement a financial transaction tax by 2014. Public opinion could help too, as frustration over austerity combines with outrage over continuing scandals in the UK’s massive financial sector. “We hope this could be one of the most popular taxes there’s ever been,” said Simon Chouffot, a spokesman for the Robin Hood Tax Campaign, a coalition of NGOs and activists working with local councils. The idea—to raise revenues while discouraging reckless speculation—has deep roots in Britain: John Maynard Keynes was a proponent.
The letters from the Torfaen and Lewisham councils have not swayed the austerity-obsessed government. The latest budget unveiled by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne features more cuts and no Robin Hood tax. But the pressure for the tax keeps mounting, one county at a time. MAX STRASSER
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PROMISES TO KEEP: On March 12, more than 350 people packed the National Museum of the American Indian for the New York City launch of the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign. Four hundred years ago, representatives of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, a league of indigenous nations more commonly known as the Iroquois, negotiated the first of many treaties with European settlers in what would become upstate New York. Commemorated in a Two Row Wampum belt, the agreement was supposed to establish a permanent relationship of peace and sovereignty. But the Europeans and their American offspring repeatedly reneged.
The event featured Onondaga Nation lawyer Tonya Gonnella Frichner, Syracuse peace activist Andy Mager, legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, and Onondaga faithkeeper and longtime indigenous rights leader Oren Lyons, who exhibited the original treaty wampum and described it as proof of the age-old agreements. “You write your records, and when you lose them, you come back to us and we’ll have the belt,” Lyons said. “This belt is a covenant between two peoples…and if your leaders want to ignore it, you can’t.” Onondaga Chief Jake Edwards said the treaties should have been honored 400 years ago: “Our environment wouldn’t be in the bad shape it is if we paid attention to the original agreements.”
One target of the campaign is hydrofracking, the controversial method for extracting natural gas. Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to decide whether to permit fracking in New York’s Southern Tier, a region in the Onondagas’ traditional homeland and close to their reservation near Syracuse. “If there’s the possibility of you, me or anyone else contaminating one drop of water, then we’re doing wrong,” Edwards said. “Don’t hydrofrack. It’s a no-brainer.” ANDREW BARD EPSTEIN
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MOVING UP IN THE WORLD: Congratulations to Nation editor at large Chris Hayes, who will have his own show on MSNBC every weeknight at 8 pm starting April 1. Chris has done stellar work on his weekend morning show, Up With Chris Hayes, and we will miss waking up to his intelligent analysis and freewheeling political discussions. The range of subjects and the diversity of his guests have put the usual inside-the-Beltway fare to shame, as has the show’s willingness to present a more honest and nuanced take on controversial topics. We look forward to seeing Chris bring his smarts, his humor and his politics to prime time. Onward and upward! THE EDITORS