The nature of this page — of all editorial pages, really — is that much space is devoted to criticism, to identifying and illuminating the flaws of legislation or legislators, candidates or ideas. By way of respite, we like to devote our Thanksgiving space to acknowledging the people, ideas and institutions that have given us reason for thanks over the last year. Here, then, are a few of the objects of our gratitude:
The voters of California. Not only did they elect a strong slate of leaders — including Gov. Jerry Brown, for a fourth and final term — but they also approved two measures that will help protect the state's future. The rainy-day fund, if administered wisely by the governor and Legislature, will provide a buffer against busts in the state economy, and the water bond will allow the state to begin making crucial investments in water cleanup, storage and conservation. The quests for economic health and secure water are constants of California history. Both were enhanced this year, and, as a result, the state will enter 2015 in better condition than it began 2014.
State leadership on water. In addition to the wisdom voters showed in approving the water bond, state and local officials have been surprisingly smart when it comes to drought and other water issues. Among other things, they completed and released the California Water Action Plan and adopted the first-ever California groundwater regulatory laws. Government can work.
The strength of the U.S. economy. With companies now creating jobs at a brisk pace, unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since 2008. And inflation has remained slow, despite the Federal Reserve's continued easy-money policies. On the down side, incomes remain stagnant for most Americans, and too many continue to be stuck in part-time jobs.
Former Sheriff Lee Baca. That may seem an odd choice, given that this page was frequently and sharply critical of the sheriff. In 2014, however, Baca recognized that the time had come for him to step down. That cleared the way for others to press for reform of the jails and other aspects of the department. The newly elected sheriff, Jim McDonnell, has a chance — and an obligation — to move the department forward.
The three-foot rule. California joined 24 states this year in adopting a rule that motorists must give bicyclists a three-foot buffer when passing them. Biking is good for public health, traffic and air quality, and the new rule gives clarity and protection to those willing to get out of their cars. It's good for drivers, too.
The growing understanding that the nation has relied too much on incarceration. U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. led the effort to revisit federal sentencing guidelines for drug offenders, and California voters passed Proposition 47, a welcome sign that this state no longer reflexively opts for longer prison terms for every offense.
The House Intelligence Committee, for issuing a bipartisan report on the Benghazi terrorist attack that confirms the Obama administration's recklessness and mendacity.... Oh, wait. Never mind.
Craig Spencer, Kaci Hickox, Colin Bucks and the many other doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers engaged in the ultimate act of giving by volunteering in West Africa, attempting to save the lives of the sickest Ebola patients and risking their own health in the process.
The decision by President Obama to issue an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation. As important as it was, however, the action is limited in its effect. The president has shown the way; it is up to Congress to follow.
Sriracha. Huy Fong Foods duked it out with the city of Irwindale when residents complained of chili odors coming from the company's hot sauce plant. Before you knew it, politicians from Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana and elsewhere were hovering, looking for a spicy version of the heist that lured Tesla to Nevada. Fortunately, the city and company were able to compromise. Sriracha is still a SoCal product. Delicious, too.
Former Princeton University President William Bowen, who used a commencement address at Haverford College to chastise students who had protested an invitation to former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau. Censoriousness on campus has become a tiresome emblem of student arrogance, and Bowen refused to ignore it. Instead, he said the protesters' insistence that Birgeneau apologize for his handling of an Occupy demonstration at Berkeley and comply with other demands was "immature" and "arrogant." Truth is refreshing.
Jerry Perenchio. The former chairman of Univision has long been one of California's most generous philanthropists, though he often gives his money anonymously. Uninterested in press coverage, Perenchio also generally declines interviews or public appearances. He broke both rules earlier this month, appearing at a news conference to announce that he is giving his exceptional art collection, valued at some $500 million, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and urging other wealthy patrons to donate to construction of the museum's planned expansion. Rich people, take note: To whom much is given, much is expected.
The outrage over Uber's privacy policies that was triggered by senior executive Emil Michael, who threatened a female journalist who'd been critical of Uber's treatment of women. The episode focused overdue attention on the dark side of the current tech boom: In the course of providing valuable new services, companies such as Uber collect a raft of personal information about their customers with little real protection against misuse.
The growing campus movement to divest from companies whose work contributes to climate change. This line of attack lacks some of the passion that fueled South African divestment in the 1980s, but it beats shouting down opponents at graduation speeches, and it demonstrates that creative and assertive protest remains a part of university life in the United States.
Leland Yee. It was a bad year for crime in Sacramento — at least inside the Capitol. Three state senators were charged with criminal offenses, but Yee took the prize for the most shocking indictment. The San Francisco senator and gun control advocate was swept up in an FBI investigation of a Chinatown gangster nicknamed Shrimp Boy and was indicted on charges of racketeering and gun trafficking, among other things. Why would we be thankful for a legislator facing federal prosecution? We're a newspaper, and it's a heck of a story.
Public support for net neutrality. The principle of neutrality — that no users of the Internet deserve preference over others — protects the freedom and innovation that have made the Internet a vital medium for communications and commerce. The challenge for the Federal Communications Commission will be to develop rules that keep investment flowing to Internet service providers as well as the companies that deliver content and services online.
Ashley Swearengin and Peter Peterson. Though neither candidate ended the GOP's losing streak in statewide contests, Swearengin, who ran for controller, and Peterson, who ran for secretary of state, showed that Republicans who run as moderates can make a good showing. If only that message gets through, we'll have more to be thankful for in the future.
Transportation progress. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority broke ground on the Westside subway extension, which will carry Purple Line riders to Wilshire and La Cienega boulevards in 2023, and voted to build an LAX station on the new Crenshaw light rail line that will finally bring travelers to the outskirts of the airport. Those projects, a legacy of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that his successor, Eric Garcetti, has embraced, mark an ambitious attempt to stitch together the region's transportation network.
A minor triumph of common sense. Sushi chefs and bartenders can, again, work their magic, sans gloves. On Jan. 1, California enacted a ban on handling food with bare hands. The restaurant industry rebelled, noting that hand washing was just as effective and didn't create plastic glove waste, and by July 1, the law was repealed.
Finally, a word of thanks coupled with hope: Congress raised the debt limit in February without threatening a ruinous default. Here's hoping lawmakers can do the same next year. As important as it is to improve the federal government's long-term fiscal health, refusing to raise the debt limit isn't the right way to go about it. It may be too much to ask elected officials to choose sanity over partisan advantage, but, hey, it's Thanksgiving.