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Ruling against BP could mean $18 billion in fines

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — BP could be looking at close to $18 billion in additional fines over the nation's worst offshore oil spill after a federal judge ruled Thursday that the company acted with "gross negligence" in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier concluded that the London-based oil giant showed a "conscious disregard of known risks" during the drilling operation and bears most of the responsibility for the blowout that killed 11 rig workers and spewed millions of gallons of oil over three months.

In the next stage of the case, set to begin in January, the judge will decide precisely how much BP must pay.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, a polluter can be forced to pay a maximum of $1,100 in civil fines per barrel of spilled oil, or up to $4,300 per barrel if the company is found grossly negligent. Barbier's finding exposes BP to the much higher amount.

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ECB surprises with rate cuts, new stimulus plan

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The European economy needs help. Most people didn't expect it would arrive quite this quickly.

The European Central Bank cut interest rates Thursday and announced a program to pump money into the economy and stimulate lending by buying bundles of bank loans.

The majority of analysts didn't think the ECB would move this soon. The reason for the stepped-up action: the eurozone's top monetary authority is worried. The 18 countries that use the euro showed no economic growth in the second quarter after four quarters of meagre expansion. Inflation is only 0.3 per cent annually, well below the ECB's goal of just under 2 per cent and another sign of economic weakness. And inflation expectations are slipping.

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Legal or not, the pot business is still wacky

NEW YORK (AP) — Legal or not, the business of selling weed in the U.S. is as wacky as ever.

The tangle of rules and regulations that govern whether and how it can be grown, bought and sold create complexity and ambiguity that cause major headaches for marijuana businesses — and enticing opportunities for those who want to exploit it.

The big issue: the nation hasn't decided whether marijuana is a dangerous illegal drug or not much worse than tobacco or alcohol. According to federal law, it is an illegal narcotic like heroin, with "no currently accepted medical use." But recent legalization pushes have made it legal — for medical use — in 23 states and Washington D.C. In Colorado and Washington State, it can be bought just for fun.

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Season's new phones are all about selfie image

BERLIN (AP) — Visit any tourist destination, and you're bound to see individuals and groups taking photos of themselves for sharing on social media. It's a declaration to the world that they were there.

Pop stars such as Rihanna and Justin Bieber have helped popularize the trend, too, by posting stylized selfies to their leagues of followers. Even politicians are taking selfies with ordinary folks these days as a way of showing how close they are to voters.

So it was only a matter of time before tech companies responded with phones and apps specifically designed to help people take more and better selfies.

Several phones unveiled at the IFA tech show in Berlin this week sport higher-resolution front cameras, so selfies will come out sharper. Some even have apps that let you use the rear cameras, too. That means even clearer photos — and the use of the flash, if you need it.

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Stolen photos of stars find 'safe harbour' online

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Imagine what the Internet would be like if most major websites had imposed controls preventing the naked photos stolen from Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities from being posted online.

The Internet would be less sleazy, but pre-screening more content might also mute its role as a megaphone for exposing abuses in government, big companies and other powerful institutions.

To preserve the Internet as a free-wheeling forum, the U.S. Congress included a key provision in a 1998 law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that governs the online distribution of photos, video and text.

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Fast-food protesters cuffed at higher-pay rallies

NEW YORK (AP) — Police handcuffed dozens of protesters who blocked traffic in dozens of cities across the country on Thursday in their latest attempt to escalate efforts to get McDonald's, Burger King and other fast-food companies to pay employees at least $15 an hour.

The protests, which were planned by labour organizers for about 150 cities nationwide throughout Thursday, are part of a campaign called "Fight for $15."

Since the efforts began in late 2012, organizers have switched up their tactics every few months to bring attention to the protests, which have attracted spotty crowds. Organizers previously said they planned to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience on Thursday, which they predicted might lead to arrests.

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Fed: Median incomes drop for all but wealthiest

WASHINGTON (AP) — The richest 10 per cent of Americans were the only group whose median incomes rose in the past three years, the Federal Reserve said Thursday in a report on consumer finances.

The Fed said that incomes declined for every other group from 2010 to 2013, widening the gap between the richest Americans and everyone else.

The report found that median incomes, adjusted for inflation, for the top 10 per cent rose 2 per cent, to $223,200 from $217,900. Median income fell 4 per cent for the bottom 20 per cent, to $15,200 from $15,800.

For the middle 20 per cent, incomes dropped 6 per cent, to $48,700 from $51,800.

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US companies add jobs at solid pace in August

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. businesses added jobs at a healthy pace in August, according to a private survey, the fifth straight month of solid gains.

Payroll processer ADP said Thursday that private employers added 204,000 jobs last month, down from 212,000 in July, which was revised slightly lower. Job gains above 200,000 are usually enough to lower the unemployment rate.

The figures suggest that the government's jobs report, to be released Friday, will also show a solid increase. But the ADP numbers cover only private businesses and sometimes diverge from the government's more comprehensive report.

Economists surveyed by FactSet forecast that the government's report will show that 220,000 jobs were added in August, while the unemployment rate slipped to 6.1 per cent.

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Applications for US jobless aid at still-low 302K

WASHINGTON (AP) — Slightly more Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, but the total number receiving aid remained at its lowest level in more than seven years.

Applications for unemployment aid rose 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 302,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased 3,000 to a still-low 302,750. A steady decline in applications over the summer means that 2.46 million people collected benefits last week, the fewest since June 2007, a few months before the Great Recession began.

Applications for benefits tend to reflect the pace of layoffs. When employers keep their workers, it suggests that they are more confident about economic growth and possibly ready to increase hiring.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial average fell 8.70 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 17,069.58. The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 3.07 points, or 0.2 per cent, to end at 1,997.65. The Nasdaq composite dropped 10.28 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 4,562.29.

Benchmark U.S. oil dropped $1.09 to $94.45 a barrel. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils imported by many U.S. refiners, fell 94 cents to $101.83. Wholesale gasoline slipped 2 cents to $2.60 a gallon. Heating oil fell 3 cents to $2.836 a gallon. Natural gas fell 2.8 cents to $3.819 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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