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Vision: 8 Ways We're Making America a Better Place -- in Spite of the Disasters Coming out of Washington

We can have the kind of economy, government, environment, and country we want, if we keep pushing, organizing, building, and otherwise doing the work of democracy.

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She's right. First of all, don't forget that it was the grassroots organizing, energy, and enthusiasm of progressives (especially young people) that created the Obama candidacy and presidency, so the activist base is far more solid and extensive than the corporate and political elite (forgive the redundancy there) want us to realize.

More importantly, local activism and success is intensifying as fast as faith in national politics is dissipating. The media mavens don't cover it (being far too busy touting the 11 percent of the public who say they identify with the corporate-backed teabag groups), but progressives are forging surprising coalitions, not only in San Francisco and New York City, but also in such places as Iowa, Houston, Syracuse, central Missouri, New Haven, Ohio, and Rhode Island. Here, outside the country's media centers, people are producing new solutions and structural changes that add up to real hope for a progressive America. On issues big and small, there's much we can be thankful for... and build on.

Wall Street

Rarely does the plutocracy reveal itself to the hoi polloi as crudely and flagrantly as it has done with Washington's ongoing bailout and shameless coddling of the Wall Street greedheads who wrecked our economy. While Republicans and Democrats alike have loudly decried the greed, they continue to reward the narcissistic barons and increase the power of the monopolistic financial giants.

Obama Democrats passed a meek reform bill that allows top bankers to keep grabbing obscene bonuses for continuing to run their banks as casinos, while letting the banks gain a tighter grip on our wallets and get away with no requirement to invest in productive enterprises, middle-class jobs, and housing. Worse than meek, Republicans are mendacious, having shamefully and openly tried to kill even the modest reforms offered by Democrats, in exchange for getting millions of dollars in campaign cash from Wall Streeters. Then comes the Tea Party, which initially rose from the public's red-faced outrage at banker greed, but got co-opted by GOP operatives. Far from going after Wall Street, the party has largely put its electioneering clout behind a host of congressional candidates taking banker money (often indirectly) and wailing about "big government" efforts to "punish" rich bankers.

Is there anyone who'll push honestly for justice and real change on Wall Street? Yes--the people themselves! Here are a few important grassroots efforts underway and gaining oomph:

1. National People's Action.

This is a growing network of more than two dozen community organizations across the country (workers, farmers, small business owners, retirees, students, clergy, homeowners, et al.) focused squarely on the unchecked greed of big banks. They have successfully confronted Federal Reserve honcho Ben Bernanke and bankers who secretively finance and profit from payday lenders (who charge 400 percent interest for 30-day loans). Deploying more than 200 organizers, their Showdown In campaign seeks to break up the too-big-to-fail banks, decentralize Wall Street power into small and medium-sized banks, impose a moratorium on home foreclosures, and recover some $140 billion of bonus money being siphoned off this year by banker elites.

2. Financial Speculation Tax.

Having poured trillions of the public's dollars into the rescue of Wall Street, the Republicans, 'Blue Dog' Democrats, and Tea Party leaders insist that there is no money left for the bold job creation initiatives (such as a nationwide program for green jobs and for repairing and extending our country's essential infrastructure) that America and the middle class desperately need. Disingenuously, they ask: where would you get the money?

Easy. Get it from where it went--the pockets of Wall Street's high-rolling, casino-style speculators. They do nothing but game the system for their own fast-buck profits, dumping trillions into rapid-fire computer trades involving such nonsensical, unproductive schemes as credit default swaps. Put even a tiny tax on these gaming transactions (ranging from 0.02 to 0.25 percent), and America could recoup over $100 billion a year for job creation and deficit reduction.

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