Thanks and no thanks
On this traditional day of thanks, we pause from our usual editorial routines to reflect on those people and institutions that over the last year have made contributions worthy of acknowledgment and appreciation. And to prove we haven’t gone suddenly soft, even for the holiday, we include as well a few that deserve no thanks.
President Obama deserves thanks for a number of reasons, though he has disappointed as well. The administration gave a significant boost to the future economy and environment by approving ambitious fuel-economy standards calling for new-car fleets in 2025 to average 54.5 miles per gallon. Obama also deserves credit, along with House Speaker John Boehner, for attempting to strike a grand budget deal when intemperate Republicans threatened to drive the United States into default. And Obama’s refusal to countenance waterboarding as an interrogation technique — indeed, barring it as a form of torture — is a defining and admirable feature of his presidency.
The Federal Communications Commission replaced outdated subsidies for phone service in rural and remote areas with subsidies for broadband in rural areas and low-income communities. Almost everyone in rural America has a phone, but millions lack a broadband connection. The FCC’s new approach positions those communities to take advantage of the future.
Los Angeles taxi companies. Yes, there are taxis in Los Angeles, and they have quietly been converting to more fuel-efficient vehicles. Hybrid cabs are good for the city’s air quality and easier on drivers’ wallets. And for those in the back seat: Those little hybrids actually have more legroom than the old Crown Victorias.
Rick Perry. For being himself, and making everyone’s choice that much easier.
The voters of Mississippi are some of the nation’s most conservative, and even they refused the overreach of this country’s anti-abortion extremists when they rejected a proposed “personhood” initiative earlier this month. By nixing the nefarious attempt to define personhood as beginning with conception, they have saved lives that would have been lost to illegal abortions, protected mothers with complicated pregnancies and reinforced the beleaguered American center.
Frank McCourt. Oh, where to begin? We’re grateful he at last recognized that his end as the owner of the Dodgers was at hand. Yes, he fought and obstructed and bankrupted and alienated, but his eventual abdication was his finest moment. We’ll really be grateful to him when he’s gone.
Daniel Hernandez, a young intern in the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), was helping out at the congresswoman’s community event in Tucson when she was shot in an attack that injured 13 others and left six dead. Hernandez pulled the wounded Giffords upright into his lap and applied pressure to her head wound, helping keep her alive until paramedics arrived. It’s nice to know that some bystanders actually run toward the gunfire when people are hurt.
Judge Michael Nash, presiding judge of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court, is stepping up where the Legislature has fallen down. Nash is preparing to open Los Angeles dependency courts, where the fates of foster children are decided, to public scrutiny by reversing the presumption that those hearings should be closed to one that assumes that they should be open. It’s a welcome opportunity to at last hold participants in that system accountable.
Glen Campbell. The Grammy-winning singer and guitarist reminded Americans that those who live with Alzheimer’s can contribute despite suffering from the disease. After announcing his diagnosis this year, Campbell went on a farewell tour. He departed on a graceful note, one shared by his appreciative fans.
Tim Naftali. The director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum overcame the reluctance of some Nixon loyalists and dedicated the museum to an accurate, full portrayal of Nixon’s life, including the Watergate scandal. Naftali is stepping down, but he leaves a credible institution.
Los Angeles city officials and employees. It came in fits and starts, but the city workforce is facing up to the reality of rising pension costs. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has done his share on this issue, as has City Council President Eric Garcetti. They’re not finished yet, but they’re making progress.
Gov. Jerry Brown defies easy appreciation, but he is fighting honestly to restore order to Sacramento. Although he caves too often to interests, he’s making headway against the budget shortfall, he’s tackling pension reform and he’s tough. He also writes a snappy veto message.
Tony Rackauckas. Orange County’s flamboyant district attorney overreached when he charged 11 Muslim students with crimes for disrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador at UC Irvine. The students were wrong and deserved a university sanction, but if every act of rudeness were a crime, our jails would be even fuller than they are now.
Rand. The Santa Monica-based Rand Corp. does important, groundbreaking research, but it fell down on the job with a sloppy piece of analysis on the effects of marijuana dispensaries on crime. The think tank eventually withdrew the study, but not before it stirred plenty of debate around misinformation.
Congress. Not only did the brinkmanship on the debt ceiling persuade one of the major credit rating agencies to downgrade U.S. bonds for the first time in history, but House Republicans showed an appalling willingness to shut down the government and default on financial obligations in order to force their agenda. Meanwhile, the Democrats’ and Republicans’ mutually exclusive economic philosophies stymied every meaningful attempt to address unemployment. And finally, the deficit-reduction “super committee” punted its duties, rounding out a year of division and inaction.
President Obama. As noted above, he did much to deserve thanks this year, but the other side of his ledger has some entries as well. He proposed to allow government agencies to lie in response to requests for material under the Freedom of Information Act (by pretending documents do not exist). And as long as the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay remains open, he will have work to do.
Thanks and farewell:
Steve Jobs. The late Apple co-founder and chief executive was a tough boss, but he delivered time and again for consumers and investors. His legendary sense of style and uncanny sense of timing helped turn three fringe products — MP3 players, smartphones and tablet computers — into mainstream devices and platforms for innovation.
Harry Pachon. This modest and endearing scholar helped focus national attention of the emergence of Latinos in politics and education. His work helped give intellectual depth to the civil rights efforts of activists and demonstrated the diversity of political and cultural beliefs among the nation’s Latino population.
Andy Rooney was easy to spoof — he spoofed himself, in fact — but he was a wise and often genuinely funny commentator for decades.
Elizabeth Taylor had a stormy personal life, but her screen image is as indelible today as it was when she captivated audiences in 1944 in “National Velvet.” Her passionate commitment to eradicating AIDS demonstrated depth to match her beauty.
Warren M. Christopher. Los Angeles’ preeminent counselor advised mayors and civic leaders, presidents and kings. Nationally, he was an esteemed figure who served presidents — Jimmy Carter called him the finest public servant he’d ever known. In Los Angeles, his leadership in the wake of the Rodney G. King beating in 1991 put the Police Department and the city itself back on course.
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