Farhad Manjoo | BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street Control a Piece of Nearly Everything – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“. . . .  But the goal of staying out of politics in 2022 is about as realistic as staying dry in a hurricane. Last year, for example, BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street supported a successful effort to shake up the board of Exxon Mobil by installing new members who promised to take climate change more seriously. Was that because of excessive wokeness, as Ramaswamy says, or because Exxon Mobil had been underperforming its peers for several years, and it was woefully ill prepared for the transition to renewable energy that has been transforming energy markets? The move seems well within what the investment firms say is their main goal, looking out for the long-term interest of shareholders. And what if the firms hadn’t backed the climate initiative — wouldn’t that have been construed as a political decision by the activists who have called on shareholders to push corporations to address the climate? (In any case, BlackRock announced this week that it would most likely vote for fewer climate-related shareholder proposals in 2022 than it did in 2021.)

In late 2018, a few months before his death, John C. Bogle, the visionary founder of Vanguard who developed the first index fund for individual investorspublished an extraordinary article in The Wall Street Journal assessing the impact of his life’s work. The index fund had revolutionized Wall Street — but what happens, he wondered, “if it becomes too successful for its own good?”

Bogle pointed out that asset management is a business of scale — the more money that BlackRock or Vanguard or State Street manages, the more it can lower its fees for investors. This makes it difficult for new companies to enter the business, meaning that the Big Three’s hold on the market seems likely to persist. “I do not believe that such concentration would serve the national interest,” Bogle wrote.

Bogle outlined several ideas for limiting their power, but he pointed out problems with a number of them. For example, regulators could prohibit index funds from holding large positions in more than one company in a given industry. But how then would they offer an index fund that invested in all companies in the S&P 500, one of the most popular kinds of funds?

Coates, of Harvard, argues that policymakers will have to move carefully to manage the dangers of concentration without limiting the benefits to investors of these firms’ low-cost funds. “No doubt getting the balance right will require judgment and experimentation,” he wrote.”

GM’s Mary Barra Has a Plan to Win the Electric Vehicle Race – The New York Times

“WARREN, Mich. — General Motors made a splash last year when it announced a bold plan to ramp up sales of electric vehicles and said it would stop making gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.

But more than a year later, some other automakers appear better positioned to lead the industry’s transition to E.V.s. Tesla had global sales of more than 310,000 electric cars in the first quarter of this year, while G.M. is far behind unless it counts E.V.s made by its Chinese joint ventures. It sold fewer than 500 E.V.s in the United States in the quarter. Ford Motor has just started production of an electric F-150 pickup truck and has taken customer reservations for more than 200,000 of them.

Yet, G.M.’s chief executive, Mary T. Barra, is unconcerned. In her view, the G.M. strategy should enable the company to make more affordable E.V.s than most competitors, and eventually to win over many of the tens of millions of mainstream car buyers who are not yet shopping for electric vehicles.

Last year E.V.s accounted for about 3 percent of the 15 million cars and trucks sold in the United States. As that percentage grows, G.M. expects this cost advantage to allow it to overtake most of its rivals within a few years and to challenge Tesla for the lead in E.V. sales before the end of the decade.”

Pros and Cons of Metal Roof vs Asphalt Shingles – Roof Crafters

“Pros of Metal Roofing

A metal roof has many benefits over traditional shingles and tiles. Because it is made from an actual metal instead of a material such as wood, tile, or metal that has been painted, it’s durable and won’t warp or crack over time.  

Metal roofing is available in a variety of styles and colors to complement any home. While there are products available to imitate non-metal materials, such as tile, panels — even wood and asphalt — genuine metal roofing provides a unique appearance that can’t be duplicated. 

Metal roofing has become the most preferred option for homeowners seeking a long-lasting, low-maintenance roof. Built from metal, metal roofing is lightweight and easy to work with, especially since it’s available in a variety of materials. A metal roof will last anywhere from 40 to 70 years and require very little maintenance. Investing in this type of roofing also helps the environment because metal roofing is made from recycled materials and has a lower carbon footprint than some other materials used for roofs.

Cons of Metal Roofing

Metal roofing tends to come at a much higher price point than asphalt shingles. They are often perceived as being stronger and more efficient than shingle roofs, but they do come with some extra costs. First, metal roofs require an underlying support frame so that they won’t buckle in high winds. Second, if installed by a non-professional, they won’t last as long and might not be as effective in keeping water out.

Some metal roofing is heavier to work with and can result in cuts to the skin when handled improperly or without the right set of gloves.”

Source: Pros and Cons of Metal Roof vs Asphalt Shingles – Roof Crafters

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Opinion | What You Don’t Know About Amazon – The New York Times

“Third-party sellers are a key part of Amazon’s business. A recent report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a think tank critical of Amazon, showed that the fees they pay are Amazon’s fastest-growing major source of revenue: The company pocketed $121 billion in fees from sellers in 2021, up from $60 billion in 2019. Given its market dominance, those fees are a revenue stream that Amazon could most likely turn up. The report also noted that the average seller now gives Amazon a 34 percent cut of every transaction, up from 19 percent in 2014.”

David Lindsay: Amazon needs to broken up, and seriously regulated.

Farhad Manjoo | Riding a Bike in America Should Not Be This Dangerous – The New York Times

     Opinion Columnist

“MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — At about 8:15 a.m. on a Thursday morning in March, Andre Retana, a 13-year-old riding his bike to middle school, pulled up to a red light at the intersection of El Camino Real and Grant Road in this Silicon Valley suburb.

Near two major state highways, the El Camino and Grant crossing is one of the area’s busiest and most dangerous sections of roadway. The intersection lacks dedicated bike lanes and other features to protect bicyclists and pedestrians from fast-moving motor vehicle traffic. Instead the intersection is an asphalt-and-concrete love letter to cars. Gas stations occupy two corners; an America’s Tire store sits on a third, a BMW dealership on the fourth. Its traffic design, too, prioritizes the efficient movement of cars and trucks over other uses of the road. To keep traffic humming along, motorists on all of its corners are allowed to turn right on red lights.

As Andre approached the intersection’s southeast corner, he rode alongside a construction truck waiting at the light to turn right. A police investigation would later determine that the truck had come to a complete stop at the red light. Police say the truck driver, high up in the cab, had never seen Andre, who was in the truck’s blind spot.”

How the Supply Chain Crunch is Hurting California Farmers. – The New York Times

Peter S. Goodman has covered the supply chain chaos for the past two years. He reported this story from Manteca and Fresno, in California’s Central Valley, as well as Washington, D.C., and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“During a normal spring, the sight of orchards bursting with clusters of almonds is a boon throughout California’s Central Valley. Here is money growing on trees.

Not this year.

As Scott Phippen looks out on his orchard on a recent afternoon, he feels a sense of foreboding tinged with rage. His warehouse is stuffed with the leftovers of last year’s harvest — 30 million pounds of almonds stored in wooden and plastic bins stacked to the rafters, and overflowing into his yard. Orders assembled for customers sit in giant white plastic bags and cardboard cartons arrayed across pallets, awaiting ships that can carry them across the water to Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

The almonds are here, the customers are over there, and the global shipping industry is failing to span the divide.”

Where to See Winter Wildlife in the U.S. – The New York Times

“Wolves, I learned from watching them in Yellowstone National Park, are clever team players. The pack of 10 that I spied several years ago in the Lamar Valley in the north of the park did diligent reconnaissance of a reddish baby bison, making repeated forays to come between the calf and its mother, at one point drawing a stampeding two-ton bull, which scattered them briefly. But they could only keep it up for so long before collapsing and resting, seemingly distracted, as if their lives did not depend on this kill. The drama went on and off like this until we could no longer see them in the dark. In the morning, a carcass, picked over and attracting ravens, indicated they had been successful.

Seeing an apex predator on its game in the nation’s oldest national park is a bit like watching a “Nature” documentary live — thrilling and sometimes gory — but without the edits between plot points. Patience is a virtue when it comes to wildlife-watching generally, and that is especially true of wolves.”

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Steven Tian | Some of the Biggest Brands Are Leaving Russia. Others Just Can’t Quit Putin. Here’s a List. – The New York Times

By Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Steven Tian

Dr. Sonnenfeld is the Lester Crown professor of management practice at the Yale School of Management. He has studied corporate social responsibility for 45 years. Mr. Tian is the research director at the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute.

“In the latter half of the 1980s, roughly 200 American companies withdrew from South Africa, partly in protest against its apartheid system. As businesses fled the country, South Africa’s segregationist president, P.W. Botha, came under increasing economic pressure. The corporate exodus contributed to the end of apartheid, and was a remarkable display of the power that companies have. When they’re courageous enough to use that power for the good, it can help topple repressive governments.”

Amazon Union Success May Point to a New Labor Playbook – The New York Times

“After the stunning victory at Amazon by a little-known independent union that didn’t exist 18 months ago, organized labor has begun to ask itself an increasingly pressing question: Does the labor movement need to get more disorganized?

Unlike traditional unions, the Amazon Labor Union relied almost entirely on current and former workers rather than professional organizers in its campaign at a Staten Island warehouse. For financing, it turned to GoFundMe appeals rather than union coffers built from the dues of existing members. It spread the word in a break room and at low-key barbecues outside the warehouse.

In the end, the approach succeeded where far bigger, wealthier and more established unions have repeatedly fallen short.

“It’s sending a wake-up call to the rest of the labor movement,” said Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union. “We have to be homegrown — we have to be driven by workers — to give ourselves the best chance.” “

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Excellent article, thank you. I’m left with more questions than answers. How evil or wonderful are the big labor union bosses. They get a lot of bad press. I would like explanations of how they work, what percent of a workers pay do they charge, how much do the bosses take for themselves, and is their model useful or anachronistic for the future of organized labor? Is there a existing book that lays this all out? Should all public service unions be made illegal, for conflict of interest issues, or just the police unions, which have gone over the top into corruption and anti-public safety positions? David also writes at InconvenientNews.net