National News

Secrets of the Christmas tree lot

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 07:44

Americans bought 33 million Christmas trees last year by one count, making it a billion-dollar industry in this country alone. Perhaps nowhere are Christmas tree sales more visible than on the streets of New York City. 

Supriya and Vijay Laknidhi walk through a narrow evergreen forest on a sidewalk in Brooklyn Heights. They stop in front of a 7-foot Fraser fir.

“It’s pretty full, you know so even if you don’t have that many ornaments on there it still looks like a really healthy tree,” Supriya says.  Vijay adds, “we just had our first kid, so it’s a tree with an occasion now.

The Laknidhis are purchasing their family’s tree from another family tree. Ellie Bishop’s family started selling trees in 1988 when she was little more than a year old.  Now, she has her baby at the stand, alongside her mother and brother. These three generations of tree sellers manage a stable in Vermont the rest of the year. But that’s not necessarily where the trees come from.

“Well it kinda works like this: A bunch of tree sellers all throughout the city get together. We buy from big tree farms in different parts of the country,” Bishop says. “These ones come from North Carolina, sometimes [they come] all the way from Oregon. It just depends where they’re ordered from, where we get the best deal.”

Bishop’s supplier buys evergreens from wherever the trees grow the fastest. The vendors come from wherever work during the winter is slow.

“Selling trees really helps people get through January, February till they can get back to work in March,” Bishop says. 

Last year Ellie’s family sold about 300 trees, mostly priced between $55 and $140. It’s not easy work staying out on the street, in freezing temperatures, all day for most of December.  Still, it’s enough to lure seasonal workers like Melany Westerloppe, who's from Quebec.  She runs a stand in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.  High end trees here go for $400 – last year she sold to Robert De Niro. It’s the adventure as well as the money that lures hundreds of French-Canadians like her to the city. 

Westerloppe estimates,  “our company it’s about 300 stands in all the city because we are two or three people by stand.”  

The company, Forever Evergreen, is incorporated in Florida. It supplies to every stand I came across and owns hundreds of its own. The company is secretive, running a cash business that’s largely unregulated – and staffed by a migrant work force.

Simon Durind also sells trees in Manhattan. I asked him why a Florida-based company, buying trees from North Carolina, wants French Canadians to sell Christmas trees in New York City?

“They like Quebecois with an accent on the streets selling trees, looking like a North Viking. That’s what they like and it works,” exclaims Durind, a carpenter in Quebec who says he doesn’t mind living out of a van for a month. He estimates he makes $17 an hour for the season.  But there are other perks for these French-speaking, pine-scented gentlemen.

"The women of New  York are very beautiful," Durind says. "You know you don’t often see people like us, cutting trees with a saw and sometimes it looks like it impresses some people.” 

Mistletoe sold separately.

Christmas tree sales lure migrant workers to New York

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 07:44

Americans bought 33 million Christmas trees last year by one count, making it a billion-dollar industry in this country alone.  Perhaps nowhere are Christmas tree sales more visible than on the streets of New York City. 

Supriya and Vijay Laknidhi walk through a narrow evergreen forest on a sidewalk in Brooklyn Heights. They stop in front of a 7-foot Fraser Fir.

“It’s pretty full, you know so even if you don’t have that many ornaments on there it still looks like a really healthy tree,” Supriya says.  Vijay adds, “we just had our first kid so it’s a tree with an occasion now.

The Laknidhis are purchasing their family’s tree from another family tree.  Ellie Bishop’s family started selling trees in 1988 when she was little more than a year old.  Now, she has her baby at the stand, alongside her mother and brother.  These three generations of tree sellers manage a stable in Vermont the rest of the year. But that’s not necessarily where the trees come from.

“Well it kinda works like this: A bunch of tree sellers all throughout the city get together. We buy from big tree farms in different parts of the country,” Bishop says. “These ones come from North Carolina, sometimes [they come] all the way from Oregon. It just depends where they’re ordered from, where we get the best deal.”

Ellie’s supplier buys evergreens from wherever the trees grow the fastest.  The vendors come from wherever work during the winter is slow.

“Selling trees really helps people get through January, February till they can get back to work in March,” says Bishop. 

Last year Ellie’s family sold about 300 trees, mostly priced between $55 and $140.   It’s not easy work staying out on the street, in freezing temperatures, all day for most of December.  Still, it’s enough to lure seasonal workers like Melany Westerloppe, who's from Quebec.  She runs a stand in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.  High end trees here go for $400-- last year she sold to Robert De Niro. It’s the adventure as well as the money that lures hundreds of French-Canadians like her to the city. 

Westerloppe estimates,  “our company it’s about 300 stands in all the city because we are 2 or 3 people by stand.”  

The company, called Forever Evergreen, is incorporated in Florida.  It supplies to all of the stands I came across and owns hundreds of its own.  The company is pretty secretive. It runs a cash business that’s largely unregulated, and staffed by a migrant work force.

Simon Durind also sells trees in Manhattan.  I asked him why a Florida-based Company, buying trees from North Carolina, wants French Canadians to sell Christmas trees in New York City?

“They like Quebecois with an accent on the streets selling trees, looking like a North Viking. That’s what they like and it works,” exclaims Durin.

Durind, who’s a carpenter in Quebec, doesn’t mind living out of a van for a month. He estimates he makes $17 an hour for the season.  But there are other perks for these French-speaking, pine-scented gentlemen.

"The women of New  York are very beautiful," Durind says. "You know you don’t often see people like us, cutting trees with a saw and sometimes it looks like it impresses some people.” 

Mistletoe sold separately.

Way Beyond Brownies: Vice Launches A Marijuana Cooking Show

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 07:31

"Nonna Marijuana's Italian Feast" is the first episode of a Web series exploring pot cuisine. It features a charming 91-year-old grandmother who cooks cannabis Italian food infused with love.

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A Tweet On Women's Veils, Followed By Raging Debate In Saudi Arabia

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 07:11

A prominent ultra-conservative figure says that face veils for women are not mandatory. Now everyone is weighing in on the hottest topic in the kingdom.

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Cuba, U.S. Agree To Prisoner Release Including American Alan Gross

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 06:50

Signaling what could be a major shift in U.S. relations with Cuba, Gross, who has been jailed in Cuba for five years, will be released, while the U.S. will release three Cubans.

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Polls Show Cuban-American View On U.S.-Cuba Relations Is Nuanced

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 06:50

For years, Cuban-Americans in Miami supported punitive policies against Cuba. But, after Obama's election, that view has moderated.

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Church Of England Names Its First Female Bishop

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 05:56

Rev. Libby Lane has been a parish priest for 20 years. She will be consecrated on Jan. 26, becoming the first female bishop since the church was founded five centuries ago.

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Cuba Frees American Contractor Alan Gross

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 05:04

Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, spent five years in Cuban detention. He had been serving a 15-year sentence for crimes against the Cuban state.

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Quiz: Who hits the books hardest?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 04:58

American students on average spend six hours per week doing homework, according to an OECD study of homework by country and economic status among 15 year olds.

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In Pictures: After Horrific Attack, Pakistan Picks Up The Pieces

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 04:01

The families of the victims, began to bury their dead and people across the country held prayer services to remember the 145 killed in a Taliban attack on a school.

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As Pakistan Mourns, Prime Minister Removes Moratorium On Death Penalty

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 03:17

The country was starting to take stock of a Taliban attack on a school that killed 145 people. Most of them were children.

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PODCAST: Hacker threats reach beyond Sony

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 03:00

Russia's economy remains in crisis, with wild swings in the price of the ruble and high interest rates. Russian central bank intervention seems to have pumped some juice back into their currency this morning, with ruble up 5.7 percent to the dollar. More on that. Plus, there's word that a movie theater in New York City has decided to cancel screenings of the Seth Rogan-James Franco comedy about an assassination plot against North Korea's leader. A group calling itself Guardians of Peace said in a message posted online that it will target theaters showing the movie. The group mentioned the attacks of September 11th, and SONY said it would leave it up to theater owners whether to show the movie or pull it. Also on today's show, recreational marijuana stores now allow anyone over the age of 21 to go in and legally buy a drug that is still illegal under federal law. States like Colorado and Washington have more than a hundred stores already. Oregon and Alaska are next, and a dozen other states could legalize soon.

Hollywood pins its hopes on "The Hobbit"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 02:00

The latest offering in the Lord of the Rings franchise, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” opens Wednesday.

Hollywood hopes it will be a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster December that has seen receipts decline 40 percent from the same month last year.

But are dipping ticket sales a sign of a flailing industry, or is it just hard to measure up to record numbers in 2013?

Click the media player above for more.

How the falling ruble will affect emerging markets

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 02:00

As goes the Russian Ruble, so go economies around the globe? 

Russia’s currency crisis has got investors spooked, and that may not be good for emerging markets in Turkey, Brazil or India. 

Click the media player above to hear more.

A buzzworthy shopping trip . . . for legal weed

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 02:00

Retailers are always trying to offer new shopping experiences to the American consumer.

One novel retail experience (that skirts the edge of legality under federal law) is about to become available to millions of consumers around the country, in addition to those in Colorado and Washington State. It is the recreational-marijuana store.

The sale of cannabis to adults 21-and-over with valid ID is now legal in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska by voter initiative. Colorado and Washington rolled out state-licensed stores in 2014 (after voting to legalize in 2012). Oregon and Alaska will develop their new commercial marijuana markets in the coming year after legalizing recreational pot in November 2014. 

Marijuana-legalization advocates, meanwhile, predict that as many as 11 more states could pass similar initiatives by 2017: California, Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Hawaii. Medical marijuana is already legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, and is available to people  as young as 18 years old, with a medical prescription. Marijuana is still classified as a controlled substance and its production, distribution, sale and possession remains illegal under federal law.

Marketplace reporter Mitchell Hartman recently visited Live Green Cannabis, a recreational marijuana store in suburban Denver. Manager Brian Zordan showed off the security—extensive video cameras and old-fashioned safes for storing cash and inventory. He also displayed  the three main types of consumable marijuana for sale: leaves and buds, edibles, and concentrates.

Marijuana leaf-and-bud is sold in resealable packages, at $40 to $50 for 1/8 ounce. That price is more than double what one black-market Colorado dealer offered; approximately 30 percent of the sale price at legal marijuana stores goes to state and local taxes. A few dozen varieties are available at the store; all must be produced in Colorado by law. Varieties available include Lamb’s Breath, Hippy Chick, White Fire/Cinderella 99, and Daywalker/Tang Tang. The THC content is displayed on the package. The store also sells a wide range of edibles, including hard-candies, drinks, cookies and chocolates—all made with varying potencies of marijuana.

Anyone with a valid (21-and-over) ID from any state may purchase and possess up to one ounce of recreational marijuana in Colorado. Store employees carefully check ID before admitting a patron to the store, but they do not make or keep any record of the individual’s name or other personal information. Nor do they keep a record of the type or amount of marijuana purchased.

Movie theaters can choose not to show 'The Interview'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 01:30
$30 million

Based on audience interest, projections for "The Interview," the comedy in which an assassination attempt is made on North Korea's Kim Jong-un, has the potential to make $30 million in profits in its first four days. However, following the most recent threats from The Guardians of Peace, who say they plan to attack showings of the movie, theaters are being allow to opt out of carrying the film. 

25 percent

 

Apple has shut down online sales of its products in Russia, citing the fluctuating value of the ruble. As Bloomberg reports, Apple had increased the price of the iPhone 6 by 25 percent last month to try to accommodate the plummeting value of the currency. 

 

11 states

 

The sale of cannabis to adults 21 and over with valid ID is now legal in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska by voter initiative. Marijuana-legalization advocates, meanwhile, predict that as many as 11 more states could pass similar initiatives by 2017: California, Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Hawaii. 

 

$188 million

 

Pennsylvania-based Walmart employees have won a class-action lawsuit against the company. Worker accused Walmart of cutting breaks for meals and rest. The company has been ordered to pay $188 million.

 

6 months

 

(Former) American Apparel CEO Dov Charney was officially fired yesterday, six months after being suspended from the position. Paula Schneider, who has leadership experience at BCBG Max Azria and Laundry by Shelli Segal, will take the helm of the company as of Jan. 5, the New York Times reported. When Marketplace spoke with Dov Charney in January, host Kai Ryssdal asked about his greatest weakness. His reply: "My biggest weakness is me. I mean, lock me up already! It's obvious! Put me in a cage, I'll be fine. I'm my own worst enemy."

Movie theaters react to threats over "The Interview"

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-17 01:30
25 percent

Apple has shut down online sales of its products in Russia, citing the fluctuating value of the ruble. As Bloomberg reports, Apple had increased the price of the iPhone 6 by 25 percent last month to try and accommodate the plummeting value of the currency. 

$30 million

Based on audience interest, projections for "The Interview," the comedy in which an assassination attempt is made on North Korea's Kim Jong-un, showed a possible $30 million in profits in its first four days. However, with the most recent threats from "The Guardians of Peace" to attack showings of the movie, theaters have been given the option to opt out of carrying the film. 

11 states

The sale of cannabis to adults 21-and-over with valid ID is now legal in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska by voter initiative. Marijuana-legalization advocates, meanwhile, predict that as many as 11 more states could pass similar initiatives by 2017: California, Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Hawaii. 

$188 million

Pennsylvania-based Walmart employees have won a class-action lawsuit against the company. The workers claims involved having breaks for meals and rest cut short. Walmart has been ordered to pay $188 million.

6 months

(Former) American Apparel CEO Dov Charney was officially fired yesterday, 6 months after being suspended from the position. Paula Schneider, who has leadership experience at BCBG Max Azria and Laundry by Shelli Segal, takes the helm of the company starting January 5th, as reported by the New York Times. When Marketplace spoke with Dov Charney in January of this year, host Kai Ryssdal asked about his greatest weakness. His reply: "My biggest weakness is me. I mean, lock me up already! It's obvious! Put me in a cage, I'll be fine. I'm my own worst enemy."

Too Little, Too Late For Many New Yorkers Seeking Hospice

NPR News - Wed, 2014-12-17 01:04

Evidence shows hospice care can extend life and save money, but only if patients and doctors dare ask for the help. One New Yorker said hospice gave her back a normal life — at peace, pain subdued.

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For Crop Duster Pilots, Wind Towers Present Danger

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-16 23:45

Short, unlit towers are used to prospect for new wind farms. But the structures pose a threat to crop duster pilots. Transportation officials are urging better markings and other safety improvements.

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An Alternative To Suspension And Expulsion: 'Circle Up!'

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-16 23:42

Oakland's restorative justice program is at the forefront of efforts to rethink school discipline.

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