AP Source: Hagel resigning as Defense secretary  WASHINGTON (AP) - A senior administration official says Secretary of State Chuck Hagel is resigning from President Barack Obama's Cabinet.

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Campaign finance

Updated: Friday, April 4, 2014
Campaign finance  story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – On Thursday the Supreme Court, in a five to four decision, opened the door to nearly unlimited political campaign contributions.

The old federal law limited a single donor to $123,000 in any given two-year election cycle. Now the high court has ruled that those same donors, in the name of free speech, can pump in as much as $3.5 million.

It’s a case called McCutchen vs the Federal Election Commission.

In this installment of Tom’s Corner, Tom Van Howe says you can score another one for the rich guys.

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This is a frightening turn of event.  What the court basically said yesterday, in furthering its notion that money and free speech go hand in hand, is that if you are very, very rich, you have the right not only to spend, but to be heard.

And if you are not rich, you also have the right to spend, but ought to know from the get go that you will very likely not be heard, that it will be highly unlikely that you’ll have the ear of the voters.

You can yell as loud as you want, but whatever you say will be drowned out by the thunderous avalanche of big money.

By virtually doing away with what remained of our election finance laws, the court has simply tipped the scales in favor of the rich, and without any balance left, any sense of civic equality is gone.

Our democratic legitimacy is in danger.

I don’t know what air the five justices breathe in their high court of chancery, but it’s different stuff than what you and I are accustomed to.

In writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said he understands that politicians who are blessed with these newfound millions will be grateful to the donors and might be compelled to please them.

But that’s okay he said, that’s not corrosive, that’s not corruption, that’s our system proudly at work.

These rich people, Roberts said “supports candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who get elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns.”

Really? A narrow, almost Boy Scoutish, ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ stamp of approval on what most of the rest of us think is all wrong about what goes on in Washington.

In other words, on the ground level, if you or I write or call a legislator with a suggestion or a complaint, we’re apt to get a form letter in response, but if one of the exalted ones makes that same phone call it’s perfectly acceptable if the legislator responds by chartering a jet to make things right.

This isn’t about free speech, it’s about who comes up with the biggest wad of cash.

Upon hearing what the court did yesterday, Senator John McCain expressed his disappointment.

“I predict again,” McCain said, “there will be major scandals. There’s too much money washing around.”

Justice Stephen Breyer, dissenting from the bench, said the ruling “eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws,” and “fails to recognize the difference between influence resting upon public opinion and influence bought by money alone.”

“Where money calls the tune,” Breyer said, “those ideas, representing the voices of the people will not be heard.”

In the weeks, months and years ahead, we’ll be hearing a lot of music that we’ll find disparagingly familiar, unpleasant music made perfectly acceptable by five members of the United States Supreme Court.

The rich guys have won another one. Can anyone say ‘plutocracy?’

In this corner, I’m Tom Van Howe.

Business News

Last Update on November 24, 2014 08:29 GMT

GAS PRICES

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) -- A national survey reveals the average price of regular gasoline has plunged another 10 cents a gallon over the past two weeks, to $2.84.

Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg says the decline continues a trend that has seen prices in the U.S. fall by 88 cents since May.

Lundberg says lower crude oil prices are continuing to drive prices down, along with an abundant oil supply and the rising value of the U.S. dollar.

The highest priced gas in the Lower 48 states was found in San Francisco at $3.14 a gallon. The lowest was in Albuquerque at $2.47 a gallon.

The average price for midgrade gas in the U.S. is $3.08. For premium it's $3.24.

REGULATING CAR SERVICES

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina has become a prime market for the smartphone-based car services Uber and Lyft -- and is likely to join a push around the country to regulate the fast-growing businesses.

A big draw for the companies is the state's mix of mid-sized cities, which are full of college students but lack extensive mass transit networks to serve their spread-out geography.

The companies' expansion has legislators in North Carolina and elsewhere scrambling to study their business models ahead of sessions in 2015 when they could address insurance, car inspections or criminal background checks.

Transportation analyst Douglas Shinkle of the National Conference of State Legislatures thinks at least 20 legislatures are likely to take up legislation on Uber, Lyft and similar services in 2015 after several passed laws this year.

MERGER SURGE-HEALTH INDUSTRY

Health care M&A leads global deal surge

UNDATED (AP) -- It's been a big year for deal making and the health care industry is especially visible in that arena.

Large drugmakers are buying and selling businesses to control costs and deploy surplus cash. A rising stock market, tax strategies and low interest rates are also fueling the mergers and acquisitions.

It's all combining to make 2014 the most active year for health care deals in at least two decades. Data provider Dealogic says the industry has announced about $438 billion worth of mergers and acquisitions worldwide so far, about 14 percent of the $3.2 trillion total for all industries. Overall, M&A is on track for its best year since 2007, the year before the financial crisis intensified.

One analyst says deals are being driven by "cost pressure on the entire health care system," as insurers and government health plans increasingly hold down or even reduce reimbursements to drug, device and service providers.

Companies also are looking to expand market share, and boost their portfolios in hot areas such as drugs for cancer and hepatitis C.

JACOBS ENGINEERING-CEO RETIREMENT

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- The construction services firm Jacobs Engineering says CEO Craig Martin will retire in late December because of health reasons.

The company announced Sunday that former CEO and current board chairman Noel Watson will serve as executive chairman until a replacement for Martin is found.

The 65-year-old Martin joined Jacobs in 1994 and became CEO in 2006.

The Pasadena, California-based company helps design and build large, complex facilities for oil and gas companies, chemicals companies, governments and a variety of industrial customers.

Martin will step down Dec. 26, the last day of the company's first fiscal quarter.

SHIPPING SEASON

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Icy conditions have forced an early end to shipping on the Upper Mississippi River.

The season officially closed Thursday with the towboat Mary K. Cavarra and its load of four barges heading south through Lock & Dam No. 2 at Hastings, Minnesota.

The Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/1yIQ8un ) reports it's the earliest closing in 45 years. The season began last spring with the second-latest opening and came to a 26-day halt in midsummer so crews could clear flood-borne silt from the navigation channel.

Executive director Bob Zelenka of the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association says it's been a challenging year. Zelenka says the river is the cheapest way of moving crops. But the river's early closure means finding alternative ways to get those crops to New Orleans and foreign export markets.

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