The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy

100 words or less: The Fed's latest Beige Book

The Federal Reserve Building in Washington, DC.
AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

Macroeconomic data! What could be more interesting, besides actuarial tables on dental malpractice and the fashion choices of aging corn farmers? 

In the interest of...brevity, I will now attempt to summarize, in 100 words or less, the Federal Reseve's most recent "Beige Book," a high-level snapshot of the U.S. economy.

Here we go.

The economy. Ehhh. Manufacturing was mixed, housing crummy, shopping and cars — good, good. Banking and financial services was all over the place, farming grew (heh, heh), and oil and coal...well, let's just say dirty energy is having a day in the sun. Hiring is picking up but wages aren't. Inflationary pressure on prices is building slightly but not yet showing up in the marketplace. Construction, sluggish. Renting versus buying? Renting is trending up. Healthcare hiring was uneven, but temporary staffing increased. Finally, tourism was a clear bright spot, and the big winner, city-wise, was New York, New York, baby!


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

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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.


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Why the IRS needs our pity

The top of a form 1040 individual income tax return.
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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

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

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales gives a presentation.
Wikimedia Commons

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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