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:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Food for Thought as Election Day 2010 Approaches

You can relax. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for on Tuesday, November 2. But, there are some serious issues you should keep in mind when you go into the voting booth.

First, there are a few good candidates on both sides of the aisle. But, there are also some real fruitcakes seeking office! Consider your choices and remember that no egotist or wacko ever led America to a better place. Be prudent when you vote and realize that we are in the midst of a major generational change. One colleague expressed it to me this way. “It’s the establishment against the new age. We can either forge ahead through some rough terrain or surrender our future as well as our hopes and dreams to the special interests in Washington and Wall Street who only care about lining their wallets, and go backwards.” By the way, this comment is from a registered Republican.

I think my colleague accurately reflects the feelings and emotions of so many Americans who are sick and tired of being screwed over by the establishment. This candid assessment on the part of a 34 year-old got me thinking. Our economy is still a mess. We spent hundreds of millions of dollars bailing out the very people who deceived us and now they’re planning to pay themselves over $150 Billion in bonuses according to news accounts! What gives?

To make matters worse, more than 30% of all homeowners are upside down in terms of how much they owe on their mortgages and what their homes are actually worth. It’s reported that 22% of all homeowners face the threat of foreclosure. At the same time, banks and other mortgage lenders are seizing homes using underhanded -- and possibly -- illegal methods instead of working with homeowners to help them stay in their homes, repay their mortgages, maintain their neighborhoods and continue to pay local property taxes. Doesn't that make more sense? Apparently not to bankers!

With regard to unemployment, the figures are dismal. 60 Minutes reported last week that more than 27% of the American workforce is either unemployed, under-employed, surviving on government welfare programs or they’ve quit looking for a job.

Yes, Congress is spineless, beholden to special interests and deserves to be ousted. And, yes, for better or for worse, President Obama has pushed through Wall Street reform, a health care initiative that will insure another 14 million uninsured Americans, and signed major consumer protection legislation to protect citizens from credit card vultures and unscrupulous financial institutions.

As my colleague noted, “It doesn’t seem like we’re making much progress, but from my perspective, we’ve taken a number of baby steps in the past two years, and we’re moving in the right direction.” I agree. Many of these reforms are long overdue and will keep us moving forward as a nation and a society.

Now, if we could only figure out how to retire at age 60 like the French, we’ve have it made! What’s that? The French are raising the national retirement age to 62! OMG! We’re doomed!

About the Author.
Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with more than 100,000 members in 44 states. He can be reached at:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Americans Can Learn the Art of Customer Service from Asia

by Thomas Hinton

It’s no surprise that customer service has been on the decline for the past ten years in America. Company executives are quick to blame the economic downturn for the decline in service. But, frankly, that’s just a weak excuse for companies that are not willing to spend the money to train their employees in the art of customer service. But, there’s a deeper problem that is causing the decline in customer service among American companies. And, it’s a two-headed monster!

The first head on this menacing monster is a mindset among the bean counters within corporate America who fail to see the correlation between superior customer service and profit. For these mindless bureaucrats, who fatten the top line of most businesses and contribute little to the bottom line, customer service is a cost-center. From their narrow vantage point, teaching employees how to smile, be polite and answer customer questions doesn’t translate into more revenue. This mindset is problematic, but it can be cured by enlightened leaders who understand that customer service is a philosophy not a department!

Unfortunately, the second head on the monster is more challenging because it is rooted in our changing national culture which has drifted away from customer service because of greed, technology and the unwillingness of consumers to fight back for better service and fair treatment. How do we go about restoring customer service as a way of life in America?

Perhaps, the answer can be found across the Pacific Ocean. On a recent trip to Hong Kong, Macau and Tokyo I found customer service is alive and well. Certainly, these destinations have been hit with tough economic times; and yet, their commitment to superior customer service is unwavering. Why is that?

I think the answer is cultural. There is something inherent among Asian cultures that teaches people to be of service, to be kind and help each other. There is also a deep regard among Asians for respect and common courtesy. I remember an advertising campaign by Toyota in the early 1990s that emphasized uncommon courtesy. It was brilliant because it captured the essence of a traditional Japanese custom -- courtesy -- and Toyota’s commitment to superior customer service based on respect for people.

That sentiment is alive and well in Asia. At every stop, the overwhelming majority of people -- from hotel clerks and waiters to taxi drivers and flight attendants -- practiced the art of superior customer service. For them, it is a way of life to be of service. For Americans, it’s part of our job. Regrettably, too many Americans fail to practice the basic tenets of superior customer service (courtesy, respect, quality and going above-and-beyond the call of duty for our customers) in their everyday life. For most Americans, practicing superior customer service takes too much time and effort. We’d rather be ill-mannered and arrogant. We’d rather blame the customer for their stupidity than bow respectfully -- as do the Asians -- and humbly apologize in order to retain the customer’s loyalty. And, let me add, Asians do this regardless of how wrong the customer is. Why?

Well, I think the Asians understand the concept of “winning a customer for life!” Contrarily, in the United States, if the customer is wrong or acts like a jerk, we would rather tell him/her to go jump in a lake!

So, if you’d like to rediscover the beautiful art of customer service, I encourage you to visit to Hong Kong, Macau or Tokyo. In addition to their spectacular beauty and wonderful sites, you will find customer service is alive and well -- and, by the way, so is business!

About the Author:
Tom Hinton is president and CEO of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with more than 93,000 members in 44 states. Mr. Hinton can be reached at:

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Great Week for America's Consumers

by Thomas Hinton

Three important events took place this week which will reshape the lives of millions of Americans and, perhaps, give hope to a billion Chinese.

1. Healthcare Reform. It’s been nearly a week since President Obama signed the historic Healthcare Reform legislation and the sky has yet to collapse on us. From all the hysteria and political rhetoric hurled by opponents to this mega-legislation, I was concerned the world would end as the president signed the new law. It didn't.

The healthcare debate is a keen example of what happens when politicians place the needs of special interests ahead of their constituents. They lose focus of their obligation to represent Americans and make absurd claims that have no basis. In the process, they lose credibility. This is what happened last week to the entire Republican congressional delegation when not one Republican in the House or Senate supported the passage of this monumental healthcare reform legislation. Of course, as consumers began to realize the benefits of the healthcare legislation, some Republicans will blatantly lie and claim they supported it. But, the average consumer knows better. Consumers will remember those elected representatives who had the courage to vote "yes" and, hopefully, reward the party of “Can Do” on Election Day.

Now, millions of Americans, who have been victimized by the unscrupulous and greed-driven health insurance industry, will have the opportunity to obtain affordable healthcare insurance and not go bankrupt if they become seriously ill.

While the new legislation is far from perfect, it’s a good start. Consumers have finally been heard after more than 60 years of repressive practices by the self-serving healthcare insurance industry. As the new legislation takes shape, the abuse of middle-class Americans by medical piranhas and health insurance companies will gradually end. This is good news for all Americans -- even those who vigorously opposed the healthcare reform bill. For, they shall also reap its benefits.

College Funding: Another positive benefit of the healthcare legislation is the financial-aid portion of the bill that shifts student loans from private lenders such as Sallie Mae and banks to the federal government. This will save $61 billion over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and make more money available to struggling middle-class families who are trying to find ways to pay for college. Also, the bill will eliminate outsourcing of loan-servicing jobs to foreign countries by requiring all student-aid workers to be in the United States. Once again, Democrats in Congress are entitled to all the credit for helping middle-class Americans deal with the mounting cost of college. Not one Republican supported this legislation to help middle-class families afford college. What in the world were they thinking? Are the Republicans that far out of touch with middle-class Americans? I guess so.

2. Google Stands-up to China. Integrity matters. Finally, there’s an American company that has told the Chinese communist government where to go! Thank you, Google for putting ethics, integrity and freedom of speech ahead of profits by sending a strong message to the Chinese communist bullies that you aren’t going to play by their repressive rules. Now that Google has cracked the Great Firewall of China, it’s time for other companies to support the Google Revolution by telling the Chinese government they cannot censor ideas, rewrite historical events like Tienanmen Square, control births or suppress free speech.

Let’s not forget how quickly the Berlin Wall came down after President Reagan rallied world opposition during his speech in Berlin and challenged Russia to "tear down this wall." American companies and their global partners should rally round Google and send a united message to the Chinese extremists that free-thinking people are not going to play their crooked game. Imagine the potential market under a reformed China! Imagine how much business can be had if the handcuffs of freedom are removed from the Chinese people. They, too, deserve a chance to enjoy the basic freedoms of speech, thought, dissent and democracy.

While Google has taken the first step in this economic war against the Chinese oppressors, American consumers can support this effort by boycotting Chinese goods for 30 days. If just half of America’s consumers refused to buy anything made in China (which is a lot of stuff) for 30 days, it would send a strong message to the Chinese government’s repressive leaders and fuel the fires of freedom for a billion people. This means companies like Wal-Mart would have to put ethics and human rights ahead of profits. Unfortunately, I'm not holding my breath because greed runs deep in corporate America.

3. Mortgage Relief is Coming. Finally, the third significant issue is meaningful mortgage relief. The Obama Administration has realized that its well-intentioned mortgage relief program introduced last year was worthless. Banks and other lenders got richer while under-water homeowners slipped further into debt because the mortgage bailout was a sham. Now, new rules designed to provide meaningful relief to homeowners and prevent foreclosures are being introduced and these new guidelines will force banks to forgive some debt and reassess the current market value of homes so that mortgage payments can be lowered.

This makes sense for everyone. While some mortgage holders and lenders will experience a loss on certain properties, neighborhoods will be preserved and families can stay in their homes. As the economy recovers, more people will find jobs and, in turn, be able to start making a reasonable mortgage payment.

All in all it was a great week for American consumers!

About the Author.
Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with over 92,000 members in 45 states. He can be reached at:

Friday, March 5, 2010

Why Can''t Toyota Come Clean with Consumers?

Over the past few weeks, Toyota has been chastised harshly for mishandling its recall of 8 million vehicles and misrepresenting the facts to consumers and federal regulators. And, rightfully so.

At the same time, Toyota’s powerful public relations machine has been pumping out commercials and newspaper ads showing how dedicated its employees are and the positive financial impact Toyota has on U.S. communities where its manufacturing plants are located.

What’s happening here is a strategic ploy by Toyota to shift public opinion by touting its commitment to consumers and the company's good citizenship while distancing itself from the lawsuits and congressional hearings that are dominating the news. Frankly, this is a disturbing attempt by Toyota to dodge the central questions -- why are your vehicles malfunctioning and how long have you known about it?

Toyota's public relations strategy could have serious negative consequences if the auto company does not get to the root cause of its recall problems and come clean with consumers. To date, it appears the quick fix approach Toyota is using with regard to sudden, unintended acceleration and steering malfunctions isn’t working. More than 60 Toyota owners have filed complaints with federal officials in the past month stating ongoing problems with sudden acceleration despite their vehicles being “fixed” as part of the massive recall.

These post-recall complaints suggest Toyota doesn’t know what the root cause problem is, nor does Toyota have a meaningful solution to fix it. Perhaps this is why Toyota cannot come clean with American consumers? Furthermore, as the problem persist, Toyota's public relations strategy could backfire. Consumers are not stupid. They know Toyota is trying to soft-pedal the problem by showering us with touchy-feely commercials that are designed to boost consumer confidence in their flawed vehicles and restore integrity to Toyota’s tarnished image. What Toyota needs to understand is this situation could become another Enron if Toyota doesn't come clean with consumers and tell us the whole truth.

No one is suggesting Toyota has been corrupted from the top down. Rather, Toyota has a technology flaw that is causing some of its vehicles to lose control and injure or kill people. But, instead of coming forward and being candid with consumers, it appears that a handful of managers within Toyota's North American operation made serious mistakes in judgment by hiding the truth and failing to candidly discuss the problem. It is also possible that these same individuals kept evidence from federal regulators and lied to unsuspecting customers about the potential risks of driving certain vehicles. If these accusations are true, Toyota cannot tolerate such behavior. These people must be fired and, possibly, prosecuted. It runs against the grain of Toyota's values and culture of excellence.

With each passing day, more negative revelations are being uncovered about Toyota’s mis-management and how they either ignored or covered-up the truth on the sudden acceleration problems. This is a serious indictment against a once-proud company that has dropped the quality ball and placed profits and market share ahead of its customers’ safety and welfare.

Nobody wants to see Toyota fail despite its gross mishandling of the recall problem. After all, Toyota, Lexus and Scion dealerships employ more than 115,000 people. And, since 1991, Toyota has awarded more than $464 million to numerous organizations across the nation.For more than 50 years, Toyota has been a respected and honorable company in the United States.

But, unless Toyota Motor Corporation’s president, Akio Toyoda, wants American consumers to change his name to “Mud,” he’d better take action and fire those executives who allowed this problem to become the company's worst nightmare. Mr. Toyoda should also direct his team to come clean with consumers. For starters, it would help to know the whole truth and whether or not Toyota really understands what’s causing its vehicles to go out of control. Until Toyota gives us all the facts, consumers are not going to trust this once-proud brand and buy its vehicles.

About the Author. Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with over 92,000 members in 44 states. He can be reached at:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Economy Remains Unsettled: Just Ask Consumers

Over the past two months, I’ve been invited to speak at several meetings and conferences to offer my insights on the economy and consumer sentiment. The truth is nobody has a crystal ball that can successfully forecast 2010 or the future. In fact, I’m more convinced than ever before that the so-called "experts," with very few exceptions, haven't the slightest clue what they’re talking about! It's mostly gibberish coming out of New York and Washington, D.C. And, the media is also clueless.

Think about it. One day the stock market is up and everyone predicts a bright future. The next day it’s down and the doomsayers come out of the woodwork. When an earthquake in Chile can not disrupt a country, but also causes a serious spike in prices at Chicago and St. Louis gas pumps, something is terribly wrong with our economy or the proverbial crystal ball economists are using to predict the future.

But, there are two things I know for certain that you can take to the bank. Actually, these days you’d be better off taking them to a credit union!

First, consumers are very uneasy about the economy because of slow job growth, rising foreclosures due to loan manipulation by unscrupulous lenders who are not really modifying troubled mortgage loans and the mounting cost of health insurance. Despite what Wall Street tells us, Americans are not buying the spin that our economy is rebounding; and, that’s why most consumers are sitting on their wallets and not making major purchases or planning expensive vacations to Europe and Asia. Frankly, very few consumers have any money to spare. It’s just that serious!

Secondly, consumers are not convinced our elected leaders know what the hell they’re doing in Washington or at their state capitals. Just look at the irony in California. Governor Gray Davis was recalled by voters for failing to control energy prices. But, over the past several years, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has created a bigger mess and saddled Californians with more debt than ever before! It’s beyond the point of absurdity. Our leaders are not only inept, but also beholden to special interests. Consumers have been left out in the cold.

Meanwhile, in Washington, although President Obama has ideas and charisma going for him, very little is getting done. Many consumers are beginning to question how and when the economy will be fixed. Or, will Mr. Obama and the cowardly Congress continue to throw billions of taxpayer dollars down an economic rat hole to reboot the economy? If so, most small businesses that could jumpstart an economic revival and lure consumers back into the marketplace, haven’t seen a penny of that $750 Billion stimulus money we keep hearing about. And, neither have most consumers. It appears most of that money has gone to big business, big banks and big political donors.

The final straw will happen in November. If things don’t improve quickly, voters will throw the bums out on Election Day. This applies to every elected official regardless of their party affiliation. Consumers are sick and tired of seeing Congress issue bailouts to poorly managed companies that turn around and reward themselves millions of dollars in bonuses for their incompetence. It makes no sense to most Americans.

And, big banks, which have tightened credit instead of making affordable low-interest loans to small businesses -- and continue to jack-up their credit card interest rates -- aren’t helping matters any. Frankly, consumers are disgusted with the whole lot of them!

Just as Toyota’s misguided management is learning how angry and volatile consumers can get when their Camrys and Corollas malfunction, so to will the politicians and Wall Street fat cats feel the wrath of consumers if the American economy doesn’t rebound soon.

My crystal ball tells me that Congress and big business are in serious trouble. They had better wake-up soon and realize that “we’re mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore!” I predict another revolution is coming and this one will be waged with votes and boycotts by millions of angry, disgruntled consumers.

About the Author. Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with over 90,000 members. He can be reached at:

Monday, February 1, 2010

Toyota Needs to Answer Some Serious Questions to Regain Consumer Trust

by Thomas Hinton

What began as a gas pedal design flaw and floormat problem for one of the world’s most respected automotive companies has mushroomed into a public relations nightmare for Toyota. Consumers are deeply troubled by Toyota's media posturing and potholed explanations. We want to know the full story. Consumers are entitled to know why this problem developed into a serious issue and resulted in the deaths of innocent people who trusted the Toyota brand. Telling the American consumer the full story is the only way Toyota can salvage its brand image and reputation because the problem is now beyond damage control.

Some journalists and persons familiar with the recall claim that Toyota's leadership knew about the gas pedal and accelerator problems nearly two years ago. But senior management failed to take action to correct the problems until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration forced its hand by mandating a recall of 4.2 million vehicles. If this is true, Toyota’s reputation for quality and customer care will be severely tarnished.

If, in fact, Toyota’s management had early knowledge of a manufacturing and performance flaw with its accelerators and gas pedals, and failed to act, the company is not only potentially guilty of criminal acts, but its management is guilty of customer abuse - pure and simple! Whenever management places its bottom-line interests ahead of the safety and lives of its customers, it should be terminated.

Amid the growing crises, Toyota has tried to put a positive spin on the issue by taking out full-page ads in 20 newspapers across the nation to reassure customers they are fixing the problem. But, Toyota’s message in the ads is neither clear nor reassuring to consumers. The ads only raise more questions including “Who knew what, when?” And, "why didn't management act sooner to protect the lives of Toyota's valued customers?"

The underlying issue for Toyota's customers is one of credibility. Consumers are questioning Toyota's integrity. Public opinion is turning against Toyota because consumers think the company's senior leadership knew about the faulty gas pedal design and accelerator flaw long before any action was ever taken to correct these problems thus jeopardizing unsuspecting drivers including a California Highway Patrol officer who was a skilled driver but could not control his malfunctioning Lexus as it accelerated to 120 mph. He and three family members died in a fiery crash near San Diego.

The fact that Toyota's senior management allowed this problem to escalate into a public relations disaster also raises questions about their competence let alone their commitment to Toyota's high principles and values. But, the key question consumers want answered is this. Why did people have to endure injury and even die as a result of Toyota’s slow response, or worse, management inaction? It is these questions that are keeping potential buyers out of Toyota dealerships. If Toyota wants customers to start visiting showrooms again and buying their autos, the company must come forward and respond truthfully and completely to these serious allegations and unanswered questions.

Allowing Toyota’s North American chief, Jim Lutz, to appear on NBC’s Today show to explain how the company is fixing the problem is not the answer. Consumers already know Toyota is fixing the problem. What consumers want are answers to the troubling questions like “Who knew what?" and "When did they know?”

Toyota should remember that consumers can be very understanding and forgiving during troubled times when a company does the right thing. Consider the tremendous outpouring of support Johnson & Johnson experienced from consumers in 1982 when seven people died after taking pain-relief Tylenol capsules that had been laced with cyanide poison. Today, Tylenol and Johnson & Johnson enjoy a greater market share than ever before because they did the right thing. In fact, the Tylenol tampering incident has become a model case study for how a company should behave and respond in times of crisis.

Regrettably, it seems Toyota’s management hasn’t read the Tylenol case study. If only Toyota’s leadership had acted sooner, perhaps those people who tragically died from the flawed gas petals and accelerator malfunctions would still be alive. These people are the ultimate victims of management deceit, incompetence and inaction.

About the Author. Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with more than 90,000 members and 38 state affiliate organizations across the United States. He can be reached at:

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Disappointing Consumer Report Card for President Obama and Congress in Year One

by Thomas Hinton

With the new year and decade just one month old, consumers are twitching nervously over the slow progress President Obama is making with his Democratic majority in Congress to jump-start America’s sluggish economy. Promises have been made and the president and his party have been very slow in delivering results. From a consumer perspective, the president fairs no better than a C+ while the Congress barely earns a passing grade of D.

Despite all the posturing, politics and rancor on Capitol Hill, not much has been accomplished to give consumers hope that a new era is upon us. The expression “herding cats” comes to mind when one thinks of the challenges Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) faces in getting his Democrats lined-up to support vital consumer legislation including Financial/Banking Reform, Consumer Protection, Health Care Reform and Mortgage Relief.

These issues should have been a slam dunk for the Democrats, but a lack of leadership and lax discipline has allowed the opposition to muddle the process and paint Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senator Reid into a very uncomfortable corner labeled non-performance. At least that’s how a majority of consumers responded when asked recently about the performance of President Obama and the Democrats for the past year. Certainly, the president and his party must do better if they expect to win the hearts and minds of concerned consumers.

Despite his gift for oratory, his persuasive personality and political charm, it appears Mr. Obama drifted from his Change theme in the 2008 election and allowed Congress to derail his legislative agenda. These are tough times and they call for strong-arm tactics similar to what LBJ used to push through his Great Society legislation and Civil Rights reform. Instead of wasting his time trying to build a consensus with Republicans, President Obama needs to produce results. As demonstrated by the stunning election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, voters have a short memory and will always vote their pocketbook, especially in tough economic times.

From a consumer perspective, the president needs to get out in front of the band and start leading the change he promised to deliver. If consumer confidence is any indicator, Americans remain seriously concerned about three issues: the lack of jobs and high unemployment; mortgage delinquencies and foreclosure rates; and, the rising cost of health care. With the exception of giving our military what it needs to win the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, everything else can wait. It may be important, but it’s not vital to our economic recovery.

Trying to win the hearts and minds of the opposition is a waste of the president’s time. With all due respect to the opposition, I would say the same thing if the Republicans occupied the White House. Of course, when Mr. Bush was president, he was deferential to Democrats, but plowed ahead to get his legislative issues passed by Congress. And, the Democrats controlled both chambers!
So, my advice to the president and the Democrats can be summed up in the words of Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Sorry. No more Mr. Nice Guy!”

There’s much work to be done and the time is now for President Obama to refocus his priorities and redouble his efforts to put Americans back to work, solve the mortgage and foreclosure problem in favor of struggling homeowners and get health care reform approved. If he can accomplish these three things in 2010, his Consumer Report Card grade will improve significantly. But, the clock is ticking!

About the Author: Thomas Hinton is president & CEO of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization dedicated to helping consumers make safe, reliable purchases of products and services that strengthen the American economy. He can be reached at:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

America Needs Consumer Protection and Financial Reform Now!

It’s hard to believe that a year after the American financial system nearly collapsed due to corporate greed, shady lending practices and shoddy regulatory oversight, Congress has yet to pass a financial reform bill. However, we are moving in the right direction with the recent passage by the House of Representatives which approved a financial reform bill intended to re-regulate Wall Street and increase protections for Main Street.
The bill, which passed in a 223-202 vote, would create a new federal agency dedicated to protecting consumers that would police consumer credit products like mortgages and credit cards. It also establishes new rules for the trading of derivatives and increases the transparency of the credit-rating process -- two previously under-regulated parts of the economy that played a large role in last year's economic collapse.
What is very disturbing was that not a single Republican voted for the bill. Twenty-seven Democrats broke with the rest of their party to vote against it. I would think there would be bipartisan support for financial reform because, without it, America’s economy is vulnerable and susceptible to another financial disaster of epic proportions. But, politics and lobbyists continue to undermine this important legislation.
Despite the millions Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce spent fighting the will of the American consumers, the House of Representatives found the political will and courage to pass the proposed financial reform legislation and send it on to the Senate for their deliberation and vote.
While the proposed legislation will disappointed some consumer groups, the American Consumer Council strongly endorses the reform legislation and encourages the United States Senate to pass it.

About the Author: Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization which administers ACC’s Green C™ Certification Program. He can be reached at