This past year has witnessed an increase in political involvement and a relative amount of progress on many different fronts. This growth in unity and action can be characterized as a politically energized ground game and a job well-done.
The rising wave of hate-mongering and divisiveness that was promoted by assorted extremists of the political right who took refuge within the Republican and Tea Parties and used them as podiums to spout their venom was generally dealt a defeat by the majority in the recent elections.
As a part of a broad and diverse coalition, Latinos mobilized and turned out at the polls to express their unity and indignation against these regressive forces. The attempts to suppress and deny the right to vote for minorities, the elderly and low-income people, were also beat back through political pressure and court suits filed by vigilant civil rights groups and their attorneys.
Actively participating in this new and diversified alliance, a surge of Latino voters and especially young ones in states like Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and of course New York, Illinois and California, turned the tide and guaranteed the electoral defeat of the extreme right. A higher Latino turnout was also experienced in Texas and Arizona and a majority of Latinos in California voted for Proposition 30 which will allow taxes on the wealthy to be raised and the revenue used to stem the fiscal bleeding of education and other social programs.
In addition, this progressive surge resulted in the election of even more women and Latinos to political office in different states. The social safety net comprised of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security has been defended this past year from the extremist slash-and-burn cutters who want to chop these essential government programs in return for a Republican deficit deal that would only slightly increase taxes for the wealthy.
Reeling from this surge of opposition and now in a defensive mode, the Republicans have even decided to discard ex-vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan's extreme economic deficit plan which had proposed massive cuts to vital social programs and the privatization of Social Security and Medicare.
The growing howl of race baiting and hysterical immigrant bashing that was widespread during the past year has been turned back but not totally defeated. This tactic of ethnic warfare and rampant scapegoating is a key weapon of the extreme right. It is used to divide ethnic groups and gloss over the causes and inability of the system to provide decent paying jobs, housing and healthcare for the country's middle and working classes.
Hoping to deflect the true responsibility for these problems, these mercenary propagandists blame Mexicans and particularly immigrants as somehow being the cause of these deficiencies that are structurally ingrained within the economic system. Although this promotion of xenophobic hatred and scapegoating was countered politically this past year, our efforts need to be accelerated even further in order to extinguish these poisonous activities.
The housing situation in terms of foreclosures has finally begun to slow down and stabilize while the level of Latino employment rose gradually in 2012 but is still too high. People's general standard of living will be assisted by the U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold most of ObamaCare as this will provide coverage for many of the forty million plus people who do not have health coverage.
The recent rise in tuition costs and major cuts to education which severely harmed Latino students have been temporarily halted while federal aid for college students was increased. Reform efforts to improve the quality of education at schools with predominantly Latino students have made some small quantitative gains as the resistance by entrenched adult interests who are attempting to obstruct progress is slowly receding.
In addition, more Latino union members are organizing to oppose further job cuts and demand an improvement in their stagnant pay and deteriorating working conditions. Others are attempting to unionize within a number of service industries where the low pay is insufficient to support a family. Recent examples of this growing dissatisfaction and rising resistance is the recent strike by Longshoremen and Teamsters that closed the port of Los Angeles and the efforts to organize Walmart and other low-paying service chains.
In short, the economic policies of stimulating the economy to create jobs, defending the social safety net, and attempting to close the loopholes and subsidies enjoyed by the wealthy in order to force them to pay their fair share of taxes have all made some progress this year. However, we need to press ahead and push even further on these issues.
The two undeclared and misguided wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were launched by former President Bush and his neo-con clique over ten years ago have finally began to wind down in 2012. The financial and human cost has been over a trillion dollars and thousands of U.S. lives lost and many more disabled. The fatalities to the Iraqis and Afghans have been in the hundreds of thousands with more being added on a weekly basis. The result of these two fiascoes and years of fighting is a hostile Iraq which is now closely aligned with Iran and experiencing widespread sectarian violence while Afghanistan is slowly unraveling out of control with our Afghan soldier "allies" increasingly turning their guns on American troops.
We are reaching the point where the majority of U.S. troops should now come home and hopefully we can keep them here. The overwhelming re-election of the independent-minded populist Hugo Chavez by the Venezuelan people was achieved democratically despite the continuous meddling and opposition to his candidacy by the U.S. The positive aspect was that there was no American military intervention carried out against Venezuela which would have been the usual reaction in the past.
Two negative foreign policy issues marred the year.
One is the ongoing U.S. led war on drugs in Mexico and its accompanying violence which continues to drag on at a cost of over 60,000 Mexican lives and hundreds of millions of wasted tax dollars. In essence, what we have is an alliance of U.S. and Mexican military-police on one side who are struggling against an opposing alliance comprised of U.S. drug consumers and the gangs who supply them and profit from this growing demand. A safe and sane solution to this violence and killing is urgently needed similar to the one that ended Prohibition.
The second issue is the stubborn refusal by the Obama administration to lift the 52 year-old embargo of Cuba with its naive and failed objective of attempting to strangle their proud people into submission. The U.S. has relations with countries that it fought wars against such as China, Vietnam, Germany and Japan, yet the hostile Cold War embargo of Cuba who has never fought us militarily continues to be in force. This outdated and illogical embargo policy only results in harming the Cuban People and poisoning relations between the two neighboring countries.
Lastly, a positive lesson of 2012 is the growing realization that it is our duty to question and criticize unjust and misguided wars and people's participation in them as this issue can no longer be covered over with false patriotism as it involves a fundamental and moral question of right and wrong. This question of taking a strong and principled stand also applies to the unnecessary and out of control military spending which has doubled during the last ten years and consumes a large part of our budget. It is these wars and military spending that have created the present "fiscal cliff" of debt and which need to be cut and the money used for human needs.
Progress within the realm of education was still hindered by certain obstacles. The Mexican-American Studies programs and ethnic-themed books in Arizona are currently banned in the schools by that state government. This is in addition to the racial profiling and harassment still being carried out within Chicano communities by the Arizona police. In Texas, university affirmative action policies are under legal assault as a court case involving the University of Texas will soon be heard before a conservative U.S. Supreme Court which could negatively affect affirmative action policies throughout the country.
The drastic rise in tuition and other college costs such as in California have prevented many Latino students from continuing their education. Meanwhile, the graduation and academic achievement rates for Latino high school students have improved, but are still way below those of white and Asian students. This is going to require more political pressure to intensify reform efforts in order to finally reach the level of what is considered to be a quality education.
Adding to this problem is a lack of technical-vocational job training programs as this also contributes to the high rate of high school dropouts and even affects graduates who are not properly skilled and prepared to survive in our present economy. An unfortunate consequence of these educational deficiencies has been the creation of a higher rate of poverty within our working-class communities which then leads to other social problems such as gang involvement, drug use and a high rate of incarceration.
These problems require immediate prevention and intervention programs in order to reduce their harmful effects. There has also been a rise in police abuse cases which require the creation of civilian review boards to monitor any malpractice. For middle-class Latinos, these are problems that cannot be ignored as we all need to rise together or get dragged down separately.
Another deplorable situation that has not improved is the condition of the farmworkers and their families who labor in the fields to produce our food. Their level of unionization is now minimal to none as they live in substandard living conditions with many of their children not attending school. An additional setback for labor and Latino union members was the victorious Republican-led victory to convert Michigan into a right-to-work and anti-union state.
Lastly, a comprehensive reform of the broken immigration system was previously blocked by the Republicans and aided by certain conservative Democrats during Obama's first term. A new vote on this issue is once again threatened by this unprincipled alliance. Tens of thousands of immigrants were deported during the past year by Obama's Secure Communities program which was supposed to only deport hardened criminals. Unfortunately, the broad net of this federal immigration program and its agents has stopped and deported many who were not criminals and split up families unnecessarily.
To her credit, California's Attorney General Kamala Harris recently issued a legal directive to the state's police authorities to not cooperate with Obama's Secure Communities program as it has harmed innocent families and police relations with many Latino communities.
The Republican-dominated House of Representatives will once again most likely block any newly proposed comprehensive immigration reform plan. So, it is imperative that President Obama who is a political centrist provide much stronger leadership and support this time around and comply with his campaign promises. However, his effort has to be reinforced and strengthened through mass political pressure and support from below which demands that a comprehensive immigration package be approved.
This political pressure is also needed to approve legislation for social services that are needed by our communities and which are not currently being sufficiently provided for. Whether we realize it or not, we are now a part of a wide and diverse political movement and coalition that stands for change and progress.
The political momentum is on our side as more Latinos, especially young ones, are now taking a stronger role and leadership on key issues in this emerging movement as what is good for us is generally good for the majority of working people within the country.
Voting is not an end within itself, but simply a part of a broader and ongoing political activity as politics affects every aspect of our lives. Organized political pressure needs to be utilized to hold politicians, especially Latino ones, educators and even parents accountable for their actions in order to insure a positive outcome.
The progress on our 2012 scorecard has to be strengthened and moved forward while the issues that negatively impact our daily lives need to be tackled and collectively resolved. We must then build on our positive achievements this coming year and use them to eliminate the negative problems that affect our communities.
By doing so, our political batting power and collective clout will increase further so that the scorecard for 2013 will show even more improvement and progress.