BC-US--Business Features Digest, US

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Adds: BIZARRE TECH GIFTS; HEALTH INSURERS-BALANCING GAME

Eds: Will be updated.

BIZARRE TECH GIFTS

NEW YORK a¿¿It's tough to shop for cutting-edge techies. They seem to own everything with a plug or rechargeable battery. But fear not, a slew of offbeat technology gifts have hit the market just in time for Christmas. While gadgets like the popcorn-scented iPhone "Pop Dongle" and Hammacher Schlemmer's "Personal Submarine" may seem a bit wacky, it's doubtful that the techies in your life own anything similar. Here's a round-up of the season's most bizarre technology fare. By Bree Fowler.

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AP photos.

HEALTH INSURERS-BALANCING GAME

INDIANAPOLIS a¿¿ For many Americans, the initial problems with the government's main health care website carry a far greater risk than frequent crashes and slow response times: If technical troubles scare off the young, healthy customers the system depends on, higher premiums could soon follow for older, sicker people. By Tom Murphy.

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AP photos.

FAKE GIFTS

NEW YORK a¿¿ Not long ago, finding a knockoff of an item you really wanted under the tree was a big disappointment. But this year, "faux fur" and "vegan leather" are all the rage. But this is not your mother's "pleather," the plastic-y leather popular in the 80s. Designers from Tom Ford to Rag & Bone are sending faux leather pieces down the runway in fall collections and celebrities from Anne Hathaway to Kate Hudson are strutting on the red carpet in faux leather and fur. By Mae Anderson.

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AP photos.

DIGITAL LIFE-TECH TEST-E-READER GIFT GUIDE

Why get a stand-alone e-reader when you get can a tablet computer that does a lot more? E-readers are compact and let you get reading done without the distractions of email and Facebook. Here's a look at e-readers from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. By Anick Jesdanun.

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AP photos.

OIL TRAINS-FIRST RESPONDERS

WOLF POINT, Mont. a¿¿ As common as they have become across the U.S. and Canada, officials in dozens of towns and cities where oil trains travel say they are concerned with the possibility of a major derailment, spill or explosion, while their level of preparation varies widely. By Matthew Brown and Josh Funk.

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AP photos, video.

AP ECONOMY SURVEY

WASHINGTON a¿¿ The growing gap between the richest Americans and everyone else isn't bad just for individuals. It's hurting the U.S. economy. So says a majority of more than three dozen economists surveyed last week by The Associated Press. Their concerns tap into a debate that's intensified as middle-class pay has stagnated while wealthier households have thrived. By Christopher S. Rugaber.

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VANISHING INGREDIENTS

NEW YORK a¿¿ Take another look at that food label. An ingredient or two may have vanished. As people pay closer attention to what they eat, companies are learning that funny-sounding chemicals and other ingredients can be a bulls-eye for criticism. While most companies stand by the safety of such ingredients, some are removing them to stave off bad publicity. By Candice Choi.

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AP photos.

AIRBUS-WASHINGTON

SEATTLE a¿¿ Even as they try desperately to hang on to Boeing Co., Washington state officials are quietly courting the company's main competitor. In recent months, officials in Washington state have traveled to Airbus' U.S. headquarters in Virginia, hosted an event designed to connect Airbus with Washington suppliers and taken the step of signing a confidentiality agreement with Airbus in order to further explore business opportunities, according to records obtained by The Associated Press under public disclosure laws. By Mike Baker.

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SHOPLIFTING FINES

NEW YORK a¿¿ Outside the view of paying customers, people accused of shoplifting at Macy's huge flagship store are escorted by security guards to cells in "Room 140." They can be held there for hours, asked to sign an admission of guilt and pay hundreds in fines, sometimes without any conclusive proof they stole anything. As shoppers jam stores ahead of the December holidays, claims of racial profiling at department stores in New York have helped expose the wide latitude that laws in at least 27 states give retailers to hold and fine shoplifting suspects. By Colleen Long.

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FED-BUBBLES

WASHINGTON a¿¿ The Federal Reserve's super-low interest-rate policies have inflated a slew of dangerous asset bubbles. Or so the Fed's critics say. Stocks are at unsustainable prices. Student debt is doomed to default. California homes are fetching frothy sums. Same with farmland, Bitcoins and rare Scotch. Under Ben Bernanke, the Fed has bought bonds to try to cut loan rates and accelerate spending, investing and hiring. Yet critics say the Fed-engineered rates have produced an economic sugar high that threatens to trigger a crash akin to the tech-stock swoon and the housing bust. By Josh Boak.

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AGING AMERICA-TREES AND MEDICAL FEES

RAINIER, Ore. a¿¿ For most of Oregon's history, the forests like the ones near Paul Nys' house were places where a landowner could get wealthy. Cultivated from seed, rows of trees were grown to a healthy middle age and then chopped down, buzzed into lumber at sawmills. Now Nys and his wife have an unusual offer: Instead of getting money so someone could chop his trees down, he might get paid to leave them up. It's part of a program to preserve the forest land so that the trees can help absorb greenhouse gases. By Nigel Duara.

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HAITI-OLDE GOOD THINGS

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti a¿¿ At the Olde Good Things antique store on Manhattan's Upper West Side, a French crystal chandelier can go for tens of thousands of dollars. The store's Christian missionary owners tell their well-heeled customers that part of the proceeds pay for the group's orphanage in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. What they don't say is that even though they claim in IRS filings to be spending around $2.5 million annually, the home for boys and girls was so dirty and overcrowded that the government said it shouldn't remain open. By Ben Fox.

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AP photos.

SMALLBIZ-SMALL TALK-2013 REVIEW

NEW YORK a¿¿ Between the new health care rules, the government shutdown and massive federal spending cuts, 2013 presented its fair share of hurdles and worries for small business owners. But in the end, owners fought inertia and began hiring again as small business lending began to ease. By Joyce M. Rosenberg.

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AP Photos.

DIGITAL LIFE-TECH TEST-MAKER GIFT GUIDE

ATLANTA a¿¿ It's easy to pick a holiday present, stick a bow on it and simply say "enjoy." It's tougher to give a gift that keeps on giving and challenges the mind. Luckily, there are plenty of gift projects for "makers." From robot kits to programmable microcontrollers to musical instruments, the time is right to give the gift of making. Ron Harris.

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AP photos.

ON THE MONEY-MINIMIZING MOVING COSTS

Whether it's relocating for a new job across the country or trading up into a nicer home in the suburbs, moving can be a challenge for even the most organized households. And the costs that go into preparing and safely transporting all of one's belongings can add up fast. Here are some tips on how to save money on your next big move. By Alex Veiga.

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DIGITAL LIFE-TECH TEST-FITNESS TRACKERS GIFT GUIDE

NEW YORK a¿¿ The newest crop of fitness gadgets will record much more than how many steps you take on any given day. From sleep patterns to calorie intake, mood and progress toward exercise goals, few aspects of life are left untracked for those in search for a more quantified self. As such, these gifts are not for everyone. But here are four for aspiring health nuts or to inspire couch potatoes. By Barbara Ortutay.

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AP photos.

DIGITAL LIFE-TECH TEST_USING PHONES ABROAD

If you have a trip outside the United States coming up, one thing you'll likely want to bring is your cellphone. You might have heard warnings about how those phones can accrue international charges quickly through your U.S. wireless carrier. It doesn't have to be that way. By Anick Jesdanun.

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Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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