Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting Through Airport Security This Holiday Season

by Thomas Hinton

There’s been a lot of huffing, puffing and whimpering lately about the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) tough new airline boarding security checks. Some people are threatening to stage protests in the TSA screening lines and disrupt Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday travel for the rest of us. This would be a serious mistake. It would also be an act of pure stupidity, selfishness and change nothing.

As a frequent traveler, I don’t like having to unpack my liquids, take off my belt and shoes and walk barefoot through metal detectors or a band scan machine. But, let’s get real, folks. We live in an era where very bad people hate you and want to do bad things to Americans. I certainly don’t want to be on an airplane where the passengers were not screened because someone felt their personal privacy was being invaded or their constitutional rights trampled by a government employee. Are you kidding me?

While I don’t like to operate from a fear-based mindset, I know the terrorist threat is real and we cannot afford to allow the bad guys to slip through our national security net because a small group of well-intentioned citizens don’t like going through the airport screening device or getting body pat downs. That’s too bad. They’ll need to adjust to the times we live in.

Let’s look at the facts. First, a relatively small number of the 34 million people who have flown since the new procedures went into effect have been subject to body pat downs that have come under withering criticism in recent days. While the process is somewhat invasive, it’s necessary as terrorists come up with innovative ways to blow up airplanes and disrupt our way of living. So, until we can find innovative ways (to screen passengers) that are less invasive and time-consuming, I suggest we get in the queue and make the best of an unpleasant -- albeit brief -- experience. Smile, follow the instructions and just deal with it.

Can you imagine the consequences of not screening passengers? As we already know, it only takes one madman to disrupt a flight or bring down an airplane. It would be irresponsible and selfish for anyone to organize delaying actions or contest body scans once they are in line at the airport. It will only result in delaying thousands of travelers who want to go home and see their loved ones for the holidays. The TSA is not going to compromise on airport security procedures nor should they.

So, here’s my advice. You don’t need to like the current screening procedures or the time-consuming process. But, you need to think through your choices and consequences. Your choices are simple. If you disapprove of the current TSA screening procedures at the airports, you don’t have to fly. You can drive, take a bus, train or stay home. You can also picket outside the airport with a big sign that is sure to attract the media.

But don’t come to the airport with your bags packed and airline boarding pass ticket in hand with the intention of disrupting my boarding process and, possibly, causing me to miss my flight and lose precious time with my family this holiday season. I will not take kindly to your selfish and stupid act. Neither will those three huge rugby players behind me. They might just want to see if you can fly through a body scanner – head first!

Finally, be kind to the TSA employees. Thank them for doing a thankless job this Thanksgiving. They deal with enough idiots as it is. I’m sure they’d rather be home with their families than padding down your sweaty armpits and over-sized buttocks!

About the Author: Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a consumer education organization with over 100,000 members and 44 state consumer councils across the United States. Email:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Where Do We Go From Here?

by Thomas Hinton

The lame-duck Congress reconvened this week in Washington following the November 2nd election. You would think Congress would have a sense of urgency to act on major issues affecting our economy and consumers, but it appears not much will get done in the next six weeks. This is unfortunate because there is a sense of urgency among millions of consumers who are unemployed and cannot find work. It’s unfortunate because there are millions of homeowners who face foreclosure as well as declining home values and cannot sell their homes.

While many economists proclaimed the recession is over, if you look around at the shuttered storefronts and discontent among voters, it apparent our economy is not improving fast enough for most consumers. Regrettably, there is a growing sense of resignation among millions of Americans that things will not get better in the near term.

What can Congress do in the short-term to get our economy back on track? I recommend the following five steps:

1. Make the Bush tax cuts permanent.
The more money we can place in the hands of consumers, the faster are economic revival will happen. Yes, we have a serious national debt, but once our economy gets back on track, federal revenues will outpace borrowing and the debt will decline. Also, it’s time to seriously reconsider the flat tax idea so everyone (and every corporation) pays their fair share. Congress should eliminate tax deductions (except for charities and college tuition) and simplify the tax laws so all Americans can pay a fair tax and feel good about it.
2. Incentivize Small Businesses to hire people. Congress should enact legislation that provides small businesses with a $15,000 tax credit for each person they hire to work for 35 hours or more a week. Small business is the backbone of America’s economy and until small businesses start hiring people, our economy will crawl along.
3. Solve the Foreclosure Mess. Congress should redirect already-approved stimulus funds to homeowners-in-distress to help them remain in their houses. In does no good to throw families out on the streets. It’s bad for the families, it’s bad for the city tax rolls and abandoned homes cause serious legal problems for lenders and neighborhoods. Reduce mortgage payments by 50% for a five-year period until homeowners can get back on their feet and the economy rebounds.
4. Cut Government Spending. There’s too much waste and duplication at the state and federal levels. Government must provide the basic needs of fire, police, roads, parks, education, courts/prisons, child protection and the DMV. Beyond that, everything else needs to be re-evaluated based on our ability to pay for it. This includes salaries and benefits for elected officials at all levels of government as well as reducing pensions and matching pension contributions to reasonable levels.
5. Cooperate. Americans are sick and tired of the in-fighting and political posturing that takes place in Washington and the state capitals. Consumers want results. We really don’t care who gets credit as long as our elected officials get the job done. So, check your egos at the doors, roll up your sleeves and start doing the job you were elected to do.

Finally, we should be reminded that earlier this year, President Obama appointed the Debt Reduction Committee to examine the national debt and bring forward recommendations on how to close the gap. The Commission’s plan calls for deep cuts in domestic and military spending, a gradual 15-cent-a-gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax, limiting or eliminating popular tax breaks in return for lower rates, and benefit cuts and an increased retirement age for Social Security.

Those changes and others, none of which would take effect before 2012 to avoid undermining the tepid economic recovery, would erase nearly $4 trillion from projected deficits through 2020, the proposal says, and stabilize the accumulated debt.

Both liberal and conservative groups will condemn much of the Debt Commission’s plan because no one likes to disrupt the status quo. But, that’s precisely what’s got us into this mess and, frankly, it’s why voters rebelled on November 2nd and re-structured Congress.

So, it would serve the current lame-duck Congress well to remember what voters want and need. To delay action on these vital issues will only exacerbate our problems and stall a meaningful economic recovery for all Americans.

About the Author. Thomas Hinton is president & CEO of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with over 100,000 members in all 50 states. Contact: