The never-ending negotiations about the pending fiscal cliff sometimes amount to nothing more than a dizzying array of numbers. Who can count that high? The negotiations also make us think that the only stastistics that mattered in 2012, or will matter in 2013, involve dollar signs. A year in pictures may be compelling and beautiful, but the year in numbers gives a strong hint of what to anticipate in the year ahead.
5: The number of Supreme Court justices who voted to uphold a majority of provisions in Obamacare. Maybe Chief Justice John Roberts turned his back on the conservative movement, but five remains the magic number (the anticipated retirement of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg won’t change the overall breakdown). Roberts may just have been trying to save the court’s reputation, and could be rejoining his usual allies in important cases on the court’s 2013 docket on affirmative action and gay marriage.
71: The percentage of Hispanic voters who cast a ballot in the 2012 presidential election for Barack Obama. This unprecedented thumping of the Republican Party by 10 percent of the American electorate will animate a 2013 call for comprehensive immigration reform. As the Republicans try to curry favor with a constituency that doesn’t seem keen on having been vilified throughout primary season, next year will see the party figure out how to say “hola” and really mean it.
323: The number of soldiers who have died so far this year by their own hand, making 2012 the worst year for military suicides. More soldiers commit suicide than die in combat now, a consequence of our reduced commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the wars’ impact has not ended for the Pentagon, which is going to face the lingering repercussions of long wars fought with voluntary troops on multiple deployments.
6.6 feet: Height, in feet, of potential sea rise level based on a US government study. As if Superstorm Sandy weren’t an obvious sign that coastal areas are at risk, this assessment of the threat of global sea level rise by the end of this century reflected a dramatic increase from past predictions because of the unanticpated speed of climate change. In response, alterations to ocean planning, zone management in coastal cities, and how the federal government pays for disasters will be a big battle in the year ahead.
153,050: The number of refugees who fled Syria this year, a toll that is expected to rise to 1 million if Bashar Assad falls and the nation moves to a sectarian civil war. The pressure on Syria’s neighbors already has led to Lebanon considering banning entry and a request for Israel to take some of the refugees in. The Middle East peace process, and likely much of democratic reform in the Arab world, will take a back seat to a war that everyone hoped would have ended this year.
86: Fidel Castro’s age. The possible death of Castro in 2013 could mean the opening of greater relations with our enemy-neighbor, as the Cuban-American population seeks loosening of restrictions. Overall, look to Latin and South America as the real “pivot” in American foreign policy based on changes in leadership in Mexico, the continuing threat of the drug trade, and increased economic investment in nations like Brazil.
1,550 to 1,100 to 311: The range of potential reductions to our nuclear count without leaving America vulnerable. The United States spends about $12 billion annually on its 1,722 deployed nuclear warheads. Almost every assessment of the Pentagon’s budget, along with obligations under the New START program, recommends reductions, some as low as 311 nuclear weapons. Whatever the exact number, look for a new secretary of defense to guide this draw-down. Potential nominee Chuck Hagel has the one qualification to do this: He is a Republican.
30,000: The estimated number of deaths this year from all gun violence. This fact, coupled with the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., will have urban mayors, police chiefs, and parents everywhere pushing for some rational solution. The National Rifle Association’s tone-deaf and bitter response Friday to the Newtown killings set the stage for a serious push for gun control in 2013. Thanks for that, NRA.