When I worked as an investigative reporter covering government in Maine, my favorite stories took conventional wisdom and turned it on its head. Granting tax breaks to big businesses creates jobs, right? That’s what politicians in my state said as they pushed legislation to provide those breaks. But it turned out that the premise had never been independently verified; the breaks were simply based on statements by the companies that they needed them.

I was thinking about counterintuitive stories like that today. That’s because, this Thanksgiving week, I am selecting the stories we did on the politics desk in 2021 that I am especially thankful for. Among my favorites: a story that fits right into this category by Rutgers law professor Alexis Karteron, written in the midst of calls nationwide for Congress to reform policing in the U.S. after the high-profile killings of Black men by white police.

The problem with those calls, wrote Karteron, is that they were targeting the wrong lawmakers. “The federal government has almost no control over state and local police departments.”

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, passed by the House of Representatives, offered the possibility of significant policing reforms, Karteron wrote. “But for those looking to the federal government to solve what’s wrong with policing in America, the legislation can’t ensure that every police department will make meaningful changes.”

Below is my very-partial list of stories I’ve loved this year. It’s like picking your favorite children – can’t be done. And here’s a recipe for baked cranberry cardamom preserves, which I’ve made for family and friends for the last 30 years. Don’t cut back on the sugar, as this recipe suggests – we need more sweetness in our lives.

Naomi Schalit

Senior Editor, Politics + Society

Legislation pending in Congress would contribute to reforming how police conduct themselves – but there’s a limit to what federal legislation can do. Seth Herald / AFP/Getty Images

Congress can’t do much about fixing local police – but it can tie strings to federal grants

Alexis Karteron, Rutgers University - Newark

While many in America are looking to Congress to pass police reform legislation, the federal government has almost no control over state and local police departments.

The three branches of U.S. government often find themselves in tension. White House, Eric Kiser; Capitol, John Xavier; Supreme Court, Architect of the Capitol

Why disputes between Congress and the White House so often end up in court

Sarah Burns, Rochester Institute of Technology

When presidents have tried to address pressing issues through executive action, members of Congress are quick to ask the courts to step in.

An early 20th-century NAACP map showing lynchings between 1909 and 1918. The maps were sent to politicians and newspapers in an effort to spur legislation protecting Black Americans. Library of Congress

How Black cartographers put racism on the map of America

Derek H. Alderman, University of Tennessee; Joshua F.J. Inwood, Penn State

Mapping is one way African Americans fight for equality and help each other navigate a racially hostile landscape.