The Uphill Battle Facing Small Business

This article was orginally published at Strella Social Media on November 19, 2012.

Uphill Battle Facing Small BusinessNext Saturday, November 24th has been deemed Small Business Saturday, positioned between Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the post-Thanksgiving shopping spurt. On the surface, this is a very good thing. It brings widespread awareness to small business in general and should cause consumers to think of the little noticed shops they may routinely pass on their way to the big box store.

I must admit, however, that I have some skepticism about this initiative. First, it was launched by American Express, a multi-billion dollar, multi-national, corporation that may be about as far from “small” as one can get. AMEX has also registered the terms “Shop Small” and “Small Business Saturday,” which means that an actual small business may get into trouble if they used these terms in this context without permission or sanction from AMEX. I don’t mean to dump too much on American Express as I still think this is a great awareness campaign for small businesses, but let’s be frank; it is a big advertisement for their financial services.

There is also a bit of cynicism with the term “small business” itself. It has been volleyed around the political world in recent times as a mere catch phrase, well focus-tested and positive. In a way, saying you’re in favor of small business is like saying you’re for “world peace,” a great sounding concept, but totally meaningless unless you’re willing to look at the finer details needed to achieve such a lofty goal.

In the past political season, we’ve heard both sides speak how they were in favor of “small businesses” or the “middle class.” But when you look at some of the finer details, you see that the opposite is true. When the IRS audits a large corporation, they receive an average of $9,173 per man hour in recovered tax revenue. When small and medium size business are audited, that figure is only $702 per hour, a ratio difference of about 13 to 1 in actual dollars for the U.S. Treasury. Yet small-and-medium-sized-businesses are audited about 30% MORE than large corporations. Why?

The answer is that small businesses are easier targets. They don’t have the resources to properly fight these audits, so they are “low hanging fruit” for bureaucrats who are more concerned with their own success rates than actual dollars recovered for the taxpayers and, of course, this proves devastating for many small business owners. This stat alone should make you furious but there are many more examples of the deck being stacked against small business.

The point is, small business is a great attribute in a free society but there are many unnecessary burdens that inhibit our growth and survival. Most people agree that they want small business to thrive and it is time we all take some responsibility in challenging these burdens.

Clear and Unfiltered

This article was orginally published at Big Blue Bullfrog on October 3, 2012.

First Presidential Debate in DenverYesterday was the final day of the regular season in Major League baseball, and what a regular season it was. Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers won the triple crown (finished first in home runs, RBIs, and batting average) a feat accomplished for the first time in my lifetime, the Oakland A’s won their division on the final day, the Washington Nationals became the first team from DC to make the postseason in merely 80 years, and the Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. But the baseball regular season wasn’t the only thing that ended last night.

With the first presidential debate last night in Denver, the fog of deception that was fabricated to make Mitt Romney look like he is an unacceptable choice for the highest office in the land has been permanently dispensed. In fact, some of the more enjoyable moments of the debate were those when President Obama appeared absolutely lost because Mitt Romney refused to accept the caricature of his positions created by the left. But Mitt Romney is not a caricature and his legitimacy shone brightly in contrast with the president last night in this debate which focused exclusively on domestic policy.

Without the filter of campaign commercials or slanted media analysis, the candidates were presented bare (without teleprompters) and had to rely on their own knowledge and wits. In this setting, it was clear who had command of the issues of the day and that was the challenger. A long running CNN poll, which has been taken after every Presidential debate since 1980 had Romney winning by an astonishing 67% to 25%, shattering all previous margins.

A lot of the initial analysis of the debate claimed that Romney won because he was more “aggressive” and one analyst actually said Romney got the edge in time using a football analogy. Actually, President Obama clocked in with nearly five more minutes than Governor Romney and it only felt like Romney spoke longer because his words had so much more substance than Obama’s well used platitudes and stereotyped preconceptions.

There are still two presidential debates remaining this month along with one vice presidential debate, so this race is far from over with 33 days until the election. However, anyone who paid close attention last night has got to like Romney’s chances at this point.

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The R & R Music Express


Mitt Romney and Paul RyanI was a professional disc jokey for several years starting in the late 1980s through the early years of this century. One of those incarnations of my DJ business was called R & R Music Express, which was a partnership between my buddy “Rico” and me . This morning I found that we have a new “R & R express” as Mitt Romney chose Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan.

I love this choice as Ryan is brilliant, bold, young, and from a modest working class background. In the last two years, he has become the clear fiscal leader in Congress and has put out a bold budget each year as a fiscal guru. This has made him a lightening rod from some quarters, but shows his willingness to put himself out there as an agent of change in an era when the Senate hasn’t passed a budget in over three years. In this health care summit in early 2010, Ryan shows his absolute mastery of budgetary matters:

Ryan is 42 and has been in congress for most of his adult life, having been first elected in 1998. This makes him a good counter-balance to Romney’s vast business experience (as well as in several other factors). Yet, in a near-hilarious article in The New Yorker this morning, Ryan Lizza lamented Paul Ryan’s lack of private sector experience by stating he has no business-world experience “…besides summer jobs working at McDonald’s or at his family’s construction company, or waiting tables as a young Washington staffer…” As if to say we don’t want anyone who has had to work THOSE kind of jobs. No, Ryan does not fit into the left wing’s narrative about Republican “Wall Street” elitists. In fact, even though Ryan has been in Washington for nearly 14 years, he still sleeps on a cot in his office when congress is in session and returns to his wife and three children in Wisconsin at every possible opportunity.

In announcing Paul Ryan as his VP running mate this morning, Romney mistakenly called him the next PRESIDENT of the United States. Well, perhaps not the NEXT President.

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Am I Really a God?


GhostbustersYears ago (I believe it was the mid 1980s) I had a business in New York City with a few partners. Although I am prohibited by pending litigation from disclosing the finer details about this company, I can say that we were a startup which used cutting edge technology and set up shop in an old municipal building. Anyway, we were out on a service call one night when one of my partners said to me “Ray…” (they called me ‘Ray’ back then, long story) anyway, he said;

Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say ‘YES’!”

Although this was some sound advice which I’ve never forgotten, I really hadn’t given it much thought through the years as, surprisingly, no one has really asked me if I’m a god in the past 30 years or so. But lately I’ve been considering it.

About a year ago, my son Jacob and I were driving home from visiting my eldest son in New York City. When we passed the exit for Annandale (New Jersey) I was naturally moved to exclaim;

California tumbles into the sea, that will be the day I go back to Annandale…”

At first Jacob looked at me strangely, not getting the reference but just then “My Old School” by Steely Dan (the very song I had just quoted) came on the satellite radio. Was this a coincidence? I think not!

Angry BirdsJust this morning, a new Walmart commercial came on the television in which they advertised all the brand name clothing that they are offering this back-to-school season. At the end of the commercial they showed the logos for all these brands and I noticed an “Angry Birds” logo. “Angry Birds?” I asked out loud, “Since when do they make clothing?” “What was that, dear?” my wife asked. “Angry birds!” I shouted, just as a large bird flew into our bay window with a loud “thump!” Now would someone please explain just what supernatural forces I conjured up to compel that bird to risk life and wing at the very moment when I shouted?

This is something that will need much more exploration.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes


SmokeToday is the 20th anniversary of my giving up cigarettes once and forever. I smoked for ten years during my younger days from ages 13 until 23, but only ever really “enjoyed” it during the first few years when I was youngest and dumbest.

I started because I wanted to look cool – really no other reason. I had friends who smoked and friends who didn’t and I never really made a distinction between the groups morally, but liked the rebellious and “grown-up” image of having a smoke between my fingers or lips. In the earliest days it was all a kind of an adventure, a certain kind of mischievous fun. I didn’t smoke all that much in those days, just during strategic social moments. In fact, I remember there was a group of seven of us who walked to school together and we would each chip in a dime to buy a pack each morning at the corner store (that’s right, cigarettes were only about $0.69 a pack at the time!) Of course, there was the rebellious sense of getting away with something that grown-ups would not approve of, and my friends and I would constantly share new and creative ways of hiding the evidence from parents and teachers.

However, within a few years smoking was no longer as much fun. I was now able to do it more openly and stopped enjoying a cigarette as a symbolic indulgence but more as a necessary crutch to get me through the day. For several years before July 13, 1992, I had wanted to quit as I became more and more aware of the dangers and really started to loath the side effects of the habit itself. In spite of this, I had never once actually tried to quit because I wasn’t only physically addicted, but more so psychologically addicted. I could not get to sleep at night if I had less than a few smokes in my pack because I had a fear that I might wake up several times during the night and need a cigarette. Think about how crazy that is – I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid that I might wake up and not be able to sleep! Further, I had seen many friends try to quit, struggle, and ultimately fail after a few days, weeks, or even months and couldn’t justify going through the “ritual” if I was ultimately going to fail anyway.

My dear ol' Mom during her smoking daysIt was ultimately my concern for a loved one which moved me into action. My mother, who had also been a smoker since her teen years, was now about 50 and I was really becoming concerned for her health. I implored her to quit and she would always comeback with,”I’ll quit when you do.” I was in a box. I had no comeback other than I was a lot younger and had “much more time” to quit. It was a weak argument and I knew it, so I reluctantly agreed to a pact with her that we each give it up for Lent that year (1992). To my mother’s credit, she kept her word. To my shame, I did not and I just kept on smoking, not even making a token effort to give it up. My mother quit a 30-something year habit, not just for Lent, but for good and for the next months between the spring and summer, I lived with a heavy guilt that I had not kept my word (and I HATE to break my word). Finally, I decided I would make a legitimate effort to kick the habit.

There was nothing remarkable about the date July 13th other than it was a Monday and Mondays always seem like a good day to start things like resolutions and diets and such (although I’m not really quite sure why). I woke up that day, took my shower, and headed off to work as normal, except on this day I left my pack of cigarettes at home. I remember struggling quite a bit through the morning and having some serious doubts whether I could really do this. But then came lunchtime, and I was in a convenience store buying an iced tea and found myself in line when the guy in front of me requested a pack of Marlboro Lights (my favorite brand). At that very moment, something inside me just clicked and I thought to myself, “that will never again be me” and I felt an overwhelming great feeling of relief. It was only Noon of the very first day that I had ever attempted to quit smoking and I knew I had it licked for life. Sure, I did go through the physical withdrawals from nicotine over the coming weeks, but my psychological outlook had totally changed and there was rarely a fleeting moment of doubt from that day forward.

I had done it with no patch, no gum, no hypnotism or support group, just cold turkey and success on the very first attempt. Now, I’m not claiming that my method is for everyone and I know a tobacco habit comes with a serious physical addition. But the lesson I learned was that when you’re sure something is the right thing to do, you just need to do it, even when the odds seem ludicrously against success. You may surprise yourself and discover abilities or resolve that you did not know you had.

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R.A.