Explaining Southern California's economy

Who is Tom Barrack, the latest billionaire to covet the Dodgers?

Bill Shaikin of the LA Times is reporting that Tom Barrack, an LA-based billionaire real-estate investor, has joined the ever-expanding list of potential bidders for the Dodgers. The team was put into bankruptcy by embattled owner Frank McCourt and has to be sold to somebody by April 30.

Prospective somebodies include Rick Caruso and Joe Torre; Magic Johnson; Mark Cuban; and a furtive Connecticut hedge-fund billionaire, Steven Cohen

Barrack ads some new local flavor to the action. I feel obligated, however, to explain how the various Very Rich Men who are interested in owning the team made their money — and what that could tell us about how they'd run the Dodgers.

I've already tackled how Steven Cohen amassed his hedge-fund billions. Now I'll take a look at Barrack.

At base, the guy does real estate. From the helm of his $34-billion private-equity shop, Colony Capital in Santa Monica, Barrack manages this most debt-intensive of investments. His mojo is to zero in on "distressed" assets — properties that could be worth a lot more than their apparent face value and, being real estate, provide an obvious form of collateral to use for leverage — and, to put it simply, fix them up. This is from a New York Magazine profile of Barrack, a 63-year-old USC grad, that appeared in late 2010:

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Why the IRS needs our pity

Mercer 17130

Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The top of a form 1040 individual income tax return.

The Internal Revenue Service: As tax season kicks off, we're reminded that no other federal agency is held in higher contempt. But the IRS is struggling with issues beyond its image. According to this story in USA Today, its "budget is too small and its workload too heavy" for the IRS to do its job. And this is while additional cuts to the IRS budget are being considered by Congress:

Driving the IRS workload increase is increasing complexity of federal tax laws and regulations and frequent changes in the tax code — an estimated 579 changes in 2010 alone that had to be explained to taxpayers, entered in IRS computers and added to the agency's auditor training programs.

Ah, the complexity bugaboo. This may increase the IRS workload, but given that tax collections are the government's main source of revenue, this is a problem that urgently needs solving. Especially for people like me, who advocate for a far more complex tax code, managed by more powerful technology.

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The Dodgers, dollars, and development

Dodger Stadium Bleachers

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The bleachers stand empty at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.

AirTalk had a great segment today on the many bidders for the Dodgers, currently in bankruptcy, but in need of a buyer from embattled owner Frank McCourt by April 30. Host Larry Mantle was joined by Bill Shaikin of the LA Times and KPCC's own Nick Roman to assess the suitors.

To me, it boils down to money guys versus sports guys, with the recently announced Rick Caruso-Joe Torre partnership as the best of both worlds. That said, McCourt controls the sale, as Shaikin pointed out. And so it may be that the team winds up going to the highest bidder.

I don't think anyone can outbid hedge-fund billionaire Steven Cohen. He has enough money to buy the team two or three times. 

But Nick made a strong case for developer know-how. Cohen made his bones on Wall Street as an aggressive trader. He rarely owned anything for more than a few days. In some cases, he probably bought and sold huge numbers of assets in a few hours.

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Presentations are the bane of business, but this isn't how to make them better

Jimmy Wales Presentation

Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales gives a presentation.

At Harvard Business Review blogs, Ron Ashkenas of Shaffer Consulting has some advice for fixing bad presentations, which he thinks are too long and boring, weighed down by data. He breaks the cure down into three simple initial steps:

So how can you get better at clearly conveying a message or helping your people develop this skill? Start with these steps to get it right:
1. When you prepare a presentation, work backwards. Start with the key message or takeaway that you want to convey. Then imagine that you had to send that message via Twitter instead of using slides, charts, documents, and discussions. Force yourself to summarize your key points in no more than 140 characters. Based on that focus, then think through what other information you'll need as backup and support.

2. Practice making your presentation without any slides or other supporting materials — and limit the time to six minutes. Think of it as a TED talk that's going be watched by millions of people on YouTube. Doing this (and getting a friend to capture it on video) will force you to be very clear about what you want to say and how to say it with conviction and zest.

3. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and imagine how they might react to your condensed message. What questions will they ask and what concerns might they have? How will you address these, and how open will you be to alternatives? Speculating about these scenarios ahead of time will give you confidence to state your position clearly and respond to audience feedback.

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American Public Media's new streaming partner: Why Slacker Radio?

The International Consumer Electronics Show Highlights Latest Gadgets

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

This morning, American Public Media — Southern California Public Radio and KPCC's parent organization — announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that it will partner with Slacker Radio to stream APM content through Slacker's services.

Of course, Slacker isn't the only Internet music streaming service out there. So why did APM choose it over, say, Pandora or Spotify?

Simple: Slacker enables programming. So do some other streaming services, but not in a way that would allow the APM and its programs, like the popular "Marketplace," to stand out. APM will be in good company: ABC News and ESPN are also Slacker partners.

At PCMag.com, Jeffrey L. Wilson provides a quick summary of what the various streaming radio and music services are all about. He says that Slacker is for "Tweakers" — that is allows users to customize their listening experience. Pandora, by contrast, permits much less involved modification; the whole idea is that you sit back and let the Pandora algorithm choose your music for you.

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