The Dallas Morning News. Nov. 22, 2020

Southwest is losing millions a day, and it’s expanding. That’s not crazy

Once again, Southwest looks for opportunity in trouble

This year has been tough on all sorts of businesses. It’s been devastating for airlines.

Layoffs and furloughs by the tens of thousands have hit airline workers. Their companies, meanwhile, are burning through cash while often losing money on the planes that are still in air.

But here in Dallas, we see our own Southwest Airlines doing what it has done so often — looking for opportunity in troubled times.

Not that Southwest hasn’t been hurt too. It’s been losing $10 million a day or more, threatening its seemingly impossible 47-year record of profitability.

Despite that, Southwest didn’t give up on seeking markets where the company can tap demand. That’s the sort of thinking we’ve expected from a company that bucks trends and takes risks when and where others can’t or won’t.

Southwest has been able to do this in large part because it was smaller and more nimble than competitors. During hard times, that gave the airline the ability to look at areas that can generate revenue and move quickly to seize them.

We can’t say it’s much smaller anymore. But it apparently remains nimble.

Now, Southwest has announced it will fly out of 10 new smaller-market airports, a huge expansion by industry standards. Expanding in the pandemic might seem crazy. But the pandemic won’t last. And the routes very well could — creating new markets and recruiting new passengers.

It’s a bet, of course. But it’s also a bet we think has every chance of paying off for Southwest. With a strong balance sheet, relatively low debt and strategic selections of new routes, there is every reason to think this will prove to be smart business in hard times.

We certainly hope so. What’s good for Southwest tends to be good for Dallas. And we are happy to root for the home team.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Nov. 19, 2020

Our COVID-19 approach isn’t working. Here’s what Texas, Tarrant leaders must change

Tarrant County public health director Vinny Taneja began his weekly coronavirus pandemic briefing to county commissioners Tuesday by announcing he was going to “do something different.”

Taneja was talking about a change in his usual presentation. If only he’d meant a change in our approach to the virus.

As cases soar, death tolls mount and hospitals fill, it should be clear that what we’re doing, both locally and nationwide, isn’t working.

We need new messages for leaders and better strategies for persuading people. “Wear a mask” isn’t working. “Cancel Thanksgiving” falls on too many deaf ears.

It’s not necessarily the fault of city, county or state leaders. But they have to adjust their arguments to this fact: A significant segment of the population has decided that the risk to themselves is small and the tradeoffs of curtailing activities aren’t worth it, especially with “Covid fatigue” setting in.

We need prominent figures at every level, and not just in politics, to address this head on. Corporate, civic and religious leaders must find a new approach.

First, stop messages that are ineffective, if not actively counterproductive. The most serious of these is the push for an end to in-person school. Yes, some districts may have to adapt to large numbers of cases, particularly if they have staffing shortages. But there’s simply no evidence that schools are a significant source of coronavirus spread, while parents can see with their own eyes the damage done to their children by month after month of at-home instruction. Give families a choice — and respect their decisions.

Next, acknowledge the tradeoffs. People don’t trust messages that suggest no downside to canceling so much of life or even wearing masks. It stinks, all of it. There are mental-health effects, devastation to businesses and livelihoods, and long lines for food handouts. Trying to cheerfully dismiss them isn’t a good idea.

Talking about what works, what we can do rather than what we can’t, is helpful, too. Plenty of churches have found ways to have safe and meaningful, if small, services. County Judge Glen Whitley identified a few Tuesday, and more highlights of positive steps such as these would give people hope. Find examples of ways to help those most susceptible to the virus and spread the word. Give people ways to help.

We need more honesty, too, about what we know and what we don’t. Some people are asking how, with masks prevalent now, we have such a spike in coronavirus cases. It’s a reasonable question, but there’s no doubt things would be worse if not for masks.

We need public education campaigns about how to properly use masks, too; far too many people are wearing “chinstraps” or not covering their noses.

We’d benefit from more solid information about how the virus is spreading. We’re hearing a lot about small indoor gatherings, but also outdoor sporting events and other activities. Is there evidence for any of it? Is contact tracing yielding useful information, or do we need to try something else?

Thankfully, Texas doesn’t appear to have leaders such as those in California and Washington, D.C., who are brazenly exempting themselves from the very restrictions they impose on others. Our officials must recognize, though, that such news affects people everywhere. It’s natural to see such hypocrisy and tune out similar messages.

Too often, leaders are undermining each other. When the most direct message about stopping indoor gatherings comes from a high school football coach, as it did last week when Aledo’s Tim Buchanan called out “knuckleheads” having parties, there’s plenty of work to be done. We need to hear more from doctors and nurses about the horrors they’re seeing and the strain upon themselves and their colleagues.

North Texas is on the brink of new business restrictions under the governor’s standing order about occupancy limits. And the stakes are incredibly high. Taneja said Tuesday that 92% of intensive-care beds in Tarrant County are occupied. Just 36 are available, and just three for children, in a county of more than 2 million people.

That’s a sign something more than the county health director’s slideshow needs to change — fast.

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Austin American-Statesman. Nov. 22, 2020

Texas’ leaders should urge Paxton to step down

Above all else, public servants should serve the public.

No one can argue it serves the public interest for Attorney General Ken Paxton — still under indictment for an old scandal and now under FBI investigation for a new one — to remain the state’s chief legal and law enforcement officer. His integrity is tattered. His credibility is shot.

True to form, Paxton this week resolved to stay put and fight the allegations that he repeatedly misused his powerful office to help Austin real-estate investor Nate Paul, a donor who gave $25,000 to Paxton’s 2018 campaign. Paxton, who has firmly denied any wrongdoing, might prevail in the battle ahead. But the cloud of corruption over his agency does not serve the public, which relies on the attorney general’s office for legal opinions, help securing child support payments and prosecution of white-collar crimes similar to the ones that Paxton has been accused of committing.

Paxton won’t resign of his own accord. It is incumbent on other public servants — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republican leaders — to prevail on Paxton to step down for the good of Texas.

So far, the most prominent official to make that call is U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Hays County and Paxton’s former chief deputy, who publicly urged Paxton to resign when the latest scandal broke this fall. Roy rightly noted: “The attorney general deserves his days in court, but the people of Texas deserve a fully functioning AG’s office.” We’ve disagreed with Roy on other issues, but his decision here to put state over party is commendable.

Indeed, as a former colleague, Roy knows the credibility of the seven senior officials who went to the feds this fall to report serious allegations of misconduct against Paxton. This is no partisan witchhunt. These accusations come from some of Paxton’s closest aides, people who share his political views but couldn’t tolerate his abuse of his office.

Those whistleblowers allege Paxton took several actions to benefit Paul — most notably, appointing a special prosecutor to “investigate the investigators” who were going after the Austin-based investor. Paxton’s senior staff found no “good-faith factual basis” to challenge the FBI and other federal agencies who have been investigating Paul since 2019. But Paxton plowed ahead anyway, personally appointing a special prosecutor to do his donor’s bidding.

The whistleblowers also allege that Paxton pushed for a legal opinion to delay foreclosure auctions based on coronavirus crowd-size limits. That opinion, rushed out on the first Sunday in August, landed two days before some of Paul’s properties were posted for foreclosure. Meanwhile, in an unrelated case involving a nonprofit suing Paul over financial records, the attorney general’s office took the unusual step of intervening on Paul’s behalf.

All of this reeks of justice-for-hire, and the stench of scandal goes beyond Paxton’s dealings with Paul. Back in April, for example, Paxton used the weight of his office to lean on officials in Gunnison County, Colorado, which promptly lifted its coronavirus-related ban on visitors, allowing wealthy Paxton donors to return to their vacation homes in the Rocky Mountains.

Nor should we forget that Paxton still awaits trial on criminal charges of securities fraud, related to investments he urged others to buy before he was elected attorney general. While in office, Paxton has raked in tens of thousands of dollars for his legal defense fund, creating an irresistible opening for those who wish to curry favor with his powerful office.

This editorial board called for Paxton’s resignation in 2015, after his indictment was unsealed in the securities fraud case. We argued then that “the business of the people of Texas should not be made to suffer while (Paxton) fights for his freedom and reputation in the courts.” The picture has only worsened since then. The attorney general now faces accusations of bribery and improper use of office that make securities fraud seem trivial in comparison.

Seven of Paxton’s senior officials put their jobs on the line to call out the misconduct they saw at the attorney general’s office. Our state’s top elected officials must live up to their duty as public servants, too. Texans deserve an attorney general’s office that is effective and beyond reproach. Sadly, that is not what we have now.

Abbott and Patrick have already said the latest allegations raise serious concerns. Now is the time for them to stand up for Texans and urge Paxton to step down.

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