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California Inc.: Tech titans to be grilled on foreign influence, liberal bias

California Inc.: Tech titans to be grilled on foreign influence, liberal bias
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is among Silicon Valley figures expected to testify Wednesday about foreign influence over social media and a perceived liberal bias. (AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to California Inc., the weekly newsletter of the L.A. Times Business Section.

I'm Business columnist David Lazarus, and here's a rundown of upcoming stories this week and the highlights of last week.

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Hot days have meant hot returns at the box office. A crush of blockbusters boosted moviegoing this summer, providing some welcome relief to Hollywood movie studios and theater chains after a dismal summer in 2017, when ticket sales plummeted to the lowest level in more than a decade. This summer’s ticket sales are projected to increase more than 14%.

LOOKING AHEAD

Labor Day: Monday is Labor Day. Markets are closed. No economic announcements. Go out and have some fun.

Auto sales: Monthly auto sales will be released Tuesday. The numbers should be good compared with last August, when the Houston hurricane tamped down sales. But analysts are worried that a global auto sales slowdown has already begun and will squeeze profits at automakers already making big investments in electric cars, driver-assist technologies and data communications.

Tech talk: Silicon Valley leaders are scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill on Wednesday in two separate hearings: one to discuss foreign influence on social media, the other to answer to charges of liberal bias. Testifying will be Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Twitter's chief executive, Jack Dorsey.

Jobs report: The Labor Department releases the August jobs report Friday, and the unemployment rate is expected to have ticked down to 3.8%, tying the lowest rate since 1969. Analysts forecast job growth picked up to about 187,000 from July’s 157,000 figure.

Femmes fatales: On Friday, two films featuring women you don’t mess with. “Peppermint” stars Jennifer Garner as a woman who wakes up from a coma hungry for revenge and, as is often the case in such situations, kills lots of bad guys. “The Nun” is a spinoff from “The Conjuring 2” and is apparently not a thoughtful meditation on spiritualism in contemporary society.

THE AGENDA

Monday’s Business section examines the trend of older workers delaying retirement and then having to find work. Labor Department data show more individuals 55 and older are employed than ever before and have a lower jobless rate. But they remain out of work longer than their younger peers when they lose a job, and their hourly pay also starts to decline as they enter their 60s, regardless of their education.

STORY LINES

Here are some of the other business stories that ran in The Times in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:

Missed deadline: Despite a furious few days of talks and intense pressure from President Trump, U.S. and Canadian officials failed to meet a White House-imposed deadline to reach a deal on a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement. Negotiators plan to resume talks this week to discuss Canada’s protected dairy market and other areas of dispute.

Neutrality law: Nearly nine months after federal regulators voted to do away with net neutrality rules, state lawmakers sent a broad proposal to Gov. Jerry Brown that would prevent broadband and wireless companies from favoring some websites over others by charging for faster speeds and from blocking, throttling or otherwise hindering access to content.

Stockholder revolt: Elon Musk’s plan to take Tesla private came to a quick end when major shareholders told him they wanted the electric-car maker to stay public. But the flamboyant entrepreneur’s inflammatory tweets and flouting of corporate-governance rules has raised questions about his future with the company he founded.

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Tax windfall: Pretax profits at U.S. companies climbed 7.7% in the second quarter, the most since 2014, according to Commerce Department data. The earnings reflect the strong economy, which has gotten a lift from the GOP tax cuts. Companies have responded by boosting investment but also are on a share buyback spree.

Corporate dictate: Citing a lack of diversity, state lawmakers sent the governor a bill that would require women to be included on the boards of directors of firms headquartered in California. At least one woman would have to be seated by the end of 2019, and at least two by July 2021. Boards with six or more members would need at least three women by mid-2021.

WHAT WE’RE READING

And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:

Baby steps: The Atlantic says Republicans would be wise to actively oppose Medicare for All. “Free-market partisans might lament the fact that calls for Medicare for All are wildly popular while paeans to high-deductible health plans and health-savings accounts don’t stir the soul in quite the same way, but it’s a fact all the same. Sober incrementalism must be the order of the day.”

Vile virus: From Wired, the untold story of NotPetya, possibly the most devastating cyberattack in history. “The malware’s goal was purely destructive. It irreversibly encrypted computers’ master boot records, the deep-seated part of a machine that tells it where to find its own operating system. Any ransom payment that victims tried to make was futile.”

Trump slump: These are challenging days for the gun industry, and not because of mass shootings, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Gun executives have termed it the ‘Trump slump.’ An industry that capitalized on fear of gun control to drive sales during Democratic administrations is finding it is hard to turn out buyers when those concerns dissipate.”

Orchard supply: Our long national apple nightmare is about to end, says the New York Times. “After more than a half-century as America’s most-grown apple, the Red Delicious is on track to be ousted this year by a sweet, juicy, young upstart: the Gala.”

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Spellbound: The New Yorker goes full nerd with an in-depth look at Magic: The Gathering on the fantasy card game’s 25th anniversary. “In a video on a channel called ‘openboosters,’ a man opens a very old pack of cards and his gloved hands begin to tremble when he finds a ‘Black Lotus,’ the most coveted card in the game. That video has six million views.”

SPARE CHANGE

How does America use its land? Bloomberg offers a nifty presentation showing that “more than one-third of U.S. land is used for pasture — by far the largest land-use type in the contiguous 48 states. And nearly 25 percent of that land is administered by the federal government, with most occurring in the West.” Fun facts: 2 million acres are devoted to golf courses and 3 million acres to airports.

For the latest money news, go to www.latimes.com/business. Mad props to Laurence Darmiento for helping put this thing together.

Until next time, I'll see you in the Business section.

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