Column: California Inc.: This is the week Mickey Mouse speaks Mandarin

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.

First, a quick reminder to change your social media passwords. Millions of Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace and Tumblr accounts have been reported hacked in recent days. By obtaining a database of usernames, email addresses and passwords, criminals can probe banking websites to see if people use the same log-ins across the Web.



Coders conference: Apple kicks off its annual developer conference — one of the biggest events on the tech calendar — on Monday in San Francisco. Apple watchers expect the company to use the five-day conference to announce new software for iPhones, iPads, Macs and the Apple Watch, and a new-and-improved version of Siri, the company’s digital assistant. Monday’s keynote events at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium will be live-streamed on and Apple TV.

Gamers gather: E3, the annual showcase event for the video gaming industry, is expected to draw about 50,000 people to the Los Angeles Convention Center for its Tuesday-through-Thursday run. Among the highlights will be new virtual reality games and eSports ventures and the unveiling of gaming gadgets from Microsoft and Sony. Also on display will be video games produced by five student-team finalists in the Electronic Entertainment Expo’s College Game Competition.

Satellite launch: SpaceX, Elon Musk’s Hawthorne-based rocket company, is scheduled to launch a pair of commercial communications satellites Tuesday from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The launch affords SpaceX an opportunity to successfully land the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket at sea for a fourth consecutive mission. The satellites are designed to provide TV and mobile communications for Asia and Latin America. The 45-minute launch window begins at 7:32 a.m. Pacific time.

Interest rates: Federal Reserve policymakers will conclude a two-day meeting on Wednesday. They are expected to announce that they will hold a key interest rate steady because of uncertainties about the economy. After the announcement, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen will hold her quarterly news conference. Last week, Yellen called the surprisingly weak May jobs report “disappointing” and signaled that Fed policymakers would wait at least a month before another interest rate hike.


Ni hao, Mickey: Shanghai Disneyland, Walt Disney Co.'s newest theme park, opens to the public on Thursday. The $5.5-billion park will feature six themed areas, two hotels, a shopping district and 99 acres of gardens, lakes and parkland. The new resort, along with several other resorts under construction in China by U.S. firms, is designed to attract members of China’s booming middle class, who are faced with a shortage of domestic recreational opportunities.


Skyy John owes much of his early Internet fame to YouTube, where he’s amassed nearly 3 million subscribers to his cocktail tutorial channel, Tipsy Bartender. But more recently, John has switched up, posting recipes for his strawberry margarita jello shots and other drinks on Facebook. The result? Millions more views and more people stopping him in public. “That’s what turned me on to Facebook — when people would recognize me at the supermarket,” said the 36-year-old former Barney’s Beanery bartender, the type of closely followed video creator Facebook is trying to appeal to at this year’s confab of digital stars, fans and advertisers known as Vidcon. The three-day event in Anaheim starts June 23, with the social network planning its biggest presence yet ever as it doubles down on video.


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

Tesla trouble? Tesla Motors Inc. fired back at allegations of suspension problems on its mainstay electric Model S and disputed claims that it asked customers to sign agreements not to talk to federal regulators. In a statement, the Palo Alto-based electric car company said there are no safety defects with the car and that Tesla has cooperated fully with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since the agency inquired about the car’s suspensions on April 20. The agency said earlier that it is “examining a potential suspension issue on the Tesla Model S, and is seeking additional information from vehicle owners and the company.” Tesla said only one vehicle has had a problem and it was traced to abnormal rust.

Bank quotas: Bank workers are routinely pressured to open more and often unneeded accounts for customers as they try to meet strict sales goals, according to a report from the National Employment Law Project. The 15-page document by the labor advocacy group, based on interviews with 75 workers, rebukes banks that use sales quotas, saying they encourage unethical behavior and harm workers and consumers. Many of the claims mirror findings of a 2013 Times investigation that uncovered widespread complaints about fake accounts and high-pressure sales quotas at banking giant Wells Fargo, which has defended its sales practices.

Trade at risk: Donald Trump’s realpolitik could do serious damage to California’s economy, a new report says. Instigating a trade war with China — something Trump has said he would “love” to do — would cripple the surge in jobs in the state, according to the UCLA Anderson Forecast. “For California a trade war will reduce the demand for labor. There goes that full employment,” wrote Jerry Nickelsburg, an economist at UCLA who co-wrote the report. California is home to the largest port complex in the nation in Los Angeles and Long Beach, which brings in nearly 40% of all the cargo that arrives by sea to the United States.


Drug lawsuit: Genentech and another drugmaker will pay $67 million to settle claims that they misled doctors into prescribing a treatment to lung cancer patients for whom the companies knew it would not work. As a result, some patients may have died earlier than they would have if they had taken more effective drugs, a lawsuit brought by a former Genentech employee and joined by federal prosecutors alleges. “Cancer patients only get one shot at first-line treatments,” the lawsuit said, “and defendants took that opportunity away.”

Bunny buyer: The Playboy Mansion has found a would-be buyer: Daren Metropoulos, Hugh Hefner’s next-door neighbor, has struck a deal to purchase the place for $105 million, an L.A. record for a residential property. But who is Daren Metropoulos? He is the son of billionaire investor C. Dean Metropoulos and an executive at the private equity firm C. Metropoulos & Co., which co-owns Hostess Brands with Apollo Global Management. The firm helped with the comeback of Hostess’ Twinkies, which were discontinued in 2012 and at one point were offered for thousands of dollars on eBay before stores could begin stocking them again months later.


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

Easy money: The Associated Press says a California public water district that earned a rare federal penalty over what it described as “a little Enron accounting” lent one of its executives $1.4 million to buy a riverfront home. The loan remains unpaid nine years later although the official has left the agency.

Sacramento connection: The Sacramento Bee looks closely at the “Panama Papers” and finds a small company in the state capital, First Corporate Solutions. The company or its address “turn up 38 times in the Panama Papers.”

Hot ticket: Quartz serves up what it calls “the most interesting tech IPO of the year.” That would be a company called Twilio. What it does is “send text messages on behalf of other services.” Um, OK.

Happy meals: An insightful observation from the Guardian. “When many lower-income Americans feel isolated and empty, they yearn for physical social networks. All across the U.S., this happens organically at McDonald’s.”


21st century Chucks: You’d think there wouldn’t be much room for improving a classic sneaker. You’d be wrong. Fast Company reports that Converse has cooked up “a totally futuristic interpretation” of the iconic Chuck Taylor.


I love Chucks as much as the next guy. But it’s worth noting that the sneaker was used in what may have been the most shameless example of movie product placement ever. That would be Will Smith’s completely gratuitous infatuation with vintage Chucks in “I, Robot,” which was set in the year 2035. See for yourself.

For the latest money news, go to Until next time, I’ll see you in the Business section.

David Lazarus’ column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to