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Reports from Japan indicate that media and consumers over there think the U.S. Congress is engaging in “Toyota bashing” because of the U.S. government’s investment in GM, and over nationalistic issues. I’ve heard some Americans speculate on the same thing. I don’t think it is true, or relevant in fact, but it is a common perception nonetheless. While some Congressmen might find it appealing to constituents to be a little over-enthusiastic in going after Toyota, others may have the opposite incentive, as Toyota has significant manufacturing facilities in some of their states and a strong national American dealer network. Of course, it’s not surprising that U.S. auto companies may see Toyota’s safety issues as a selling opportunity for themselves. When one looks at the current financing pages for GM cars, one finds a box titled “Toyota and Lexus Owner Assistance” that connects to special discounts and financing deals for Toyota trade-ins. But news reports have Akio Toyoda now headed to China to hold a news conference related to reports of accelerator problems there, and today reports out of Japan indicate some 38 reported incidents there of accelerator problems with Toyotas. So, if Toyota has any nationalistic prejudicial perception issues, their current issue is a very real one — quality control/safety problems that appear to be blind to national borders.

Without the Electoral College, there’d be no such thing as red and blue states. It is an odd collage of a college, grown directly out of a rushed and convoluted 3-month, 18th century political quest, at the very end of the Constitutional Convention, for a middle ground among the founding fathers. The presidential electoral process represents a compromised straddling and intermingling of the principles of popular democracy and state’s rights federalism, along with those of a republican (with a little “r”) approach to government. Yet our system remains unique in the (small “d”) democratic world.

My premise tonight, on the eve of another presidential election, is that in these times, we’ve seen one electoral collage too many. This anachronism of the Constitution receives failing marks, in a modern era when the electorate has easy access to full disclosure of fact and opinion regarding all the candidates via 24/7 media coverage and the internet. The presidency’s accountability is not just to the states, but clearly to the American people at large.

We’ve come a long way from the time Convention delegate George Mason said, “The extent of the country renders it impossible that the people can have a requisite capacity to judge.”

Toyota’s CEO Akio Toyoda gets an “A” for his efforts at credibility at yesterday’s Congressional hearing. He seemed sincere, in charge, and determined to get to the bottom of Toyota’s safety problem. His theme, a new commitment “to put our customers first” came through clearly, and was well backed with planed actions.

His remarks suggested that Toyota will begin to significantly decentralize their decision-making in key worldwide markets, much as McDonald’s did as they grew into a global brand, particularly where it affects safety and quality control. I remember from the 70s, when I was mid-America PR chief for Toyota, that big decisions often required trips by U.S. management to make their case in Japan. This slowed down decision-making, and this slow-down is part of what got Toyota in trouble in reacting to their accelerator problems.

In another departure from Japanese tradition, I think there is a good chance Mr. Toyoda will not resign over this issue, which has so damaged their reputation, but rather stay to lead reform. The company now seems to be doing all the right things, both in terms of reputation management and quality control. They are effectively utilizing both mass media (Mr. Toyoda’s good performance on the Larry King Show last night is one example) and social media (web site, Twitter, Facebook) to interact with and inform their customers and demonstrate transparency.

In QC, they are creating a new “Special Committee on Global Quality” management structure, with a senior U.S. executive to be named. But it’s not over: 1) Toyota is yet to rule out possible electronic problems in contributing to sudden acceleration (are our cars to be subject to the same troublesome glitches as our PCs?), 2) the lawsuits growing out of the debacle are just beginning and will keep the issues in the news for months, if not years, and, 3) the impacts on Toyota’s sales and competitive position, the changes in regulatory issues stemming from all this, and the impacts on Toyota’s stock, are all yet to be seen. If Toyota winds up slowing U.S. production, letting go U.S. factory and dealer employees, and having continuing QC/safety issues, their reputation could be further impacted.

As for myself, while I rented a Hertz Camry and drove in comfort and safety through 200 miles of Arizona desert last week, this week I took delivery on a new Buick Enclave (no thanks to Tiger Woods). For most of my adult life, I’ve purchased foreign cars, but a few years ago, I discovered that U.S. iron has dramatically improved in design and quality, and is very well priced. So I’m driving my second Detroit car now. Will be fascinating to see how the future of the automotive industry evolves, as demand, innovation, energy and economy — not to mention further adoption of mass transit — transform lifestyles and global markets.

Is this cool, or what?

Vegawatt — Vegawatt™ Cogeneration System

Vegawatt is a fully automated and work-flow integrated energy cogeneration (CHP) system that generates on-site electricity and hot water for foodservice operations by using the waste vegetable oil from their fryers as a fuel source.

via Kitchen Innovations.

By 1750, in Samuel Johnson’s era, the population of London had reached 650,000, more or less. It had been growing at a steady rate since 1500, and by 1650 had outstripped Paris and Naples, and by 1750 had overtaken Constantinople, Peking and Cairo. One in six of the population of England had been drawn to London at some time in their lives. As Johnson wrote, “It is not the showy evolutions of buildings, but in the multiplicity of human inhabitations which are crowded together, that the wonderful immensity of London exists.” On another occasion, he uttered the enigmatic line, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

For the privileged of mid-18th century London, those steeped in the professions and arts, “clubbing together” had become a way of life. Johnson enjoyed the club life as a way to take his mind off his dictionary-in-the-making and “enjoy literary conversation, and amuse his evening hours.” His biographer Boswell went to a club that Benjamin Franklin belonged to, at St. Paul’s coffee-house, every other Thursday. “Wine and punch upon the table, some of us smoke a pipe…at nine there is a side-board with Welch rabbits and apple-puffs, porter and beer. Our reckoning is about eighteen pence a head.”

The most famous of the periodic gatherings favored by Johnson, Boswell and their friends came to be known as the Literary Club, and here a few similarities with our own club of the 21st century begin. For many years they met to talk over dinner and drinks at an agreeable inn, on Monday evenings at 7pm, much as we do today.

While there were many differences between the membership and activities of London’s original club and today’s Chicago Literary Club, there is also a lineage that seems to me comprehensible, and almost tactile, if not exactly direct. So, I’d like to take you back nearly 250 years to meet Dr. Johnson and some of the “clubbable” personages of his cozy assembly, early on simply called The Club. We’ll look in on their backgrounds, their foibles, their personalities and relationships. We’ll even sit in on a meeting of their club.

Our silent interlocutor tonight is probably today the best-known of Johnson’s fellow club members, and that is James Boswell, among the most candid and prolific diarists and biographers of all time.

The rest of the essay can be fond at

Watching Olympic medal ceremonies last night, I noticed a Canadian and a Brit gold medal winner singing their respective national anthems, and did not see an American doing so. A Wall Street Journal report reveals that 21% of gold medal winners at Vancouver to date have sung their anthems, and another 18% have mumbled parts of them. Shaun White was busy pointing to the audience, raising his fists and playing air guitar during his ceremony — no singing included.

Of course, this raises the question of whether these athletes see themselves competing for their respective countries, or for themselves. In most cases, I suppose the realistic answer is: both. Also of course, only 60% of Americans know all the words to our own anthem — I thought I might be among the other 40%, but I just recited all the words to myself. But then again, I’m in my 60s.

Nationalism is a strong emotion, but then again, wars have been fought over such emotions, so whether nationalism is a “good” emotion is an open question, at least from certain perspectives. However, as long as the Olympics involves raising national flags and playing national anthems for the gold medalists, the gold medalists might at least demonstrate they can do as much as school children learn to do in every country when their national anthem is played — sing it. They are role models for youth, right?

Tiger didnt need to attack the media; obviously he wanted to. While there were some good copy points in his statement, he leaned too hard on his discussion of therapy and Buddism, and less on regret and remorse. As someone else pointed out, in the “old” days, most legitimate media would have declined to cover, given the restrictions of the event — this is not a national security issue. Seemed to me it was focused on sponsor-retention. My view is that celebrities whose fame and fortune is based on their public appeal have obligations to that public, which Tiger has not yet adequately honored. All that said, its good he has apologized to his publics, but sad that its taken him this long to do it. He clearly wants his family back, and his sponsors, but its not clear to me he feels the same about the public, or their surrogates in the media.

via Discussion: Golin/Harris Alumni Network | LinkedIn.

February 2010

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