National / International News

Some of Santa's elves are also lumberjacks

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 02:00

Most of the year, Brandon Johnson makes a living as a lumberjack. He runs a business in Minneapolis, Minn. trimming and clearing trees. But cold and snow make it hard to scale trees in the winter. 

So, Johnson came up with a side job for the holidays: delivering Christmas trees ... dressed as an elf.

“Essentially, I take all my guys from my tree business for the rest of the year and we just transition from lumberjacks to elves,” he says.

Johnson recently delivered a Christmas tree to a home in St. Paul. He was dressed in full elf attire: tight yellow pants and a green tunic.

“These were uniforms issued straight from the North Pole,” he says. “That's just what Santa requires for us elves.”

Johnson often blasts Christmas carols from the truck when he pulls up at a home. A big sign on the truck reads, "Santa's Tree Delivery."

Included in the standard $130 delivery package for a 7 foot Fraser fir is the chance for any children in the house to rub elbows with Santa's helper.

“How old is Santa Claus?” asked Ollie Koelb, the homeowner’s eight year-old granddaughter.

“I don’t know if anyone actually knows,” said Brandon the Elf. “He's getting up there. He's old.”

Johnson and two of his elf pals have delivered roughly 100 trees around the Minneapolis-St. Paul area this season. Johnson says the big trees are the most profitable. He can charge as much as $450 for a sixteen-footer.

Johnson hopes to ramp up the business next year with a big marketing campaign and more man — or elf — power to speed the deliveries, maybe even out of state.

Visit MPR News to check out more photos from the elves' deliveries.  

Ruble woes spark London house-buying spree

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 02:00

The sharp fall in the Russian ruble is having an impact on the British capital—It’s sparked a wave of near panic-buying at the top end of the London real estate market.

President Putin once dismissed Britain as a small island nobody pays any attention to anymore, least of all the Russians, but that hasn’t been Gary Hersham’s impression.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve noticed an upturn in the number of enquiries we’ve had from Russian purchasers,” says Hersham, the founder of the upscale Beauchamp Estates. He has half a dozen Russian clients clamoring to spend as much as $30 million each on a London home. “These are all cases of people wishing to live in London more or less permanently,” he adds.

And he’s not the only London realtor enjoying a boom as Russians scramble to protect their wealth. Becky Fatemi of the Rokstone agency claims to have registered six new Russian clients over the last week—practically a stampede in the discreet world of the super rich.

They’re coming to London, says Fatemi, because it’s a home away from home for them; a quarter of a million mostly wealthy Russians already live in the British capital. “London works for them due to its proximity to the south of France, Cannes, Monaco, Ibiza and other summer hotspots,” says Fatemi. “New York is a seven-hour flight, Russia is a four-hour flight. And here they can feel safe and secure.”

Rich Russians are made very welcome in Britain. If they have more than $3 million to invest, they can get a visa in as little as 24 hours; if they have more than $15 million they can apply for citizenship after only 2 years. The number of British “investor visas” issued to Russians soared by 69 percent in 2014 as they fled the economic crisis at home.

But one well-known British realtor says the Russian bonanza could be short-lived.

“I think there will be a slashing of demand from Russian buyers in London and indeed in other major cities," suggests Russell Quirk, boss of the eMoov online real estate firm. He says the current flurry of interest is from Russians who anticipated the ruble collapse and got their money out beforehand. Now he thinks there could be a Russian sell-off at the top end of the London market.

“You might be persuaded to liquidate your UK assets in order to have money because your Russian assets have plummeted in value,” says Quirk.

Holiday hiring could be at its highest since 2000

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 02:00

Even in the depths of the recession, retailers hired several hundred thousand extra workers to stock shelves and run registers during the holiday shopping season. This year, it will be double that. Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas predicts retailers including Amazon, UPS, Fedex, Macy’s, Target, GameStop, and others will have added as many as 800,000 seasonal workers from October through December—more than any year since 2000.

CEO John Challenger points out that with Black Friday losing its prominence and consumers spreading their shopping out right up until Christmas, retailers are continuing to hire as store traffic warrants well into December.

And he notes that 2014 has been a good year for non-seasonal hiring as well. “Three million more people are working now than in November 2013,” says Challenger. "And that adds to the spending power of American consumers during the holiday season.”

Many seasonal retail jobs are low-wage and part-time. But Kristy Stromberg at job-search site says limited hours aren’t necessarily a bad thing: “Some people are looking for that. One of our highest job-search keywords is ‘part-time.’”

The work is also mostly temporary. “For the most part,” says Challenger, “the jobs added to the economy go away in February and March.” He estimates one in ten seasonal retail workers ends up being hired on permanently after the holiday shopping surge is over.

Christmas Day sees 2.9% at work

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 01:57
About 863,000 people were working on Christmas Day 2012 - 2.9% of the UK's total workforce - according to the most up-to-date figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

VIDEO: 'Incredible' Masterchef winning dish

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 01:50
Jamie Scott, the winner of this year's Masterchef: The Professionals, and judge Marcus Wareing describe the nervous dynamics of the TV final to BBC Breakfast.

VIDEO: 'I am now renting since the flood'

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 01:42
Somerset has been badly hit severe flooding in recent years. The BBC's John Maguire met up with one family to see how they had been coping since being forced from their home.

VIDEO: Can reporter work mistletoe magic?

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 01:40
The BBC's Steph McGovern surprises shoppers while reporting on Christmas sales.

Man arrested after armed robbery

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 01:32
A man is arrested following an armed robbery at a shop in Newtownabbey, County Antrim.

Ukraine talks due after Nato vote

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 01:30
The warring parties in eastern Ukraine are set to resume talks on ending the conflict, a day after MPs in Kiev vote to work towards Nato membership.

When Christmas means delivering trees and Chinese food

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-12-24 01:30
2,000 workers

That's how many workers are currently employed by Alibiba to weed out counterfeit products on the site, with an additional 200 workers being hired next year. They also have 5,400 volunteers tasked with the same goal. Between the beginning of 2013 and November of this year, Alibaba says it spent $160 million fighting fake goods on the site, as reported by the BBC


That's how much Brandon Johnson charges for a 7 foot tall Christmas tree. But you're not just paying for a tree. Your payment also buys you tree delivery ... from elves. Weather during the winter months mean a slow period for Johnson's lumberjack business. So, he found a way to make money around the holidays. "Essentially, I take all my guys from my tree business for the rest of the year and we just transition from lumberjacks to elves," he says.

800,000 seasonal workers

As many as 800,000 seasonal workers will have been added by businesses in the U.S. from October through December of this year—more than any year since 2000. But some estimate that only 1 in 10 seasonal workers will be hired full-time after the holiday season.

$3 million

Rich Russians can get a good deal in the UK. If they have more than $3 million to invest, they can get a visa in as little as 24 hours; if they have more than $15 million they can apply for citizenship after only 2 years. And with the ruble plummeting in value, some are seeking to invest their money elsewhere, like in high-end real estate in London.

152 percent

If you're eating out for Christmas, chances are good that you're ordering Chinese food. Over at Slate, they found that the percentage of orders on GrubHub for Chinese food rose 152 percent on Christmas day of 2013.

Councillors in oil summit wrangle

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 01:24
Plans for an Aberdeen summit to look at the North Sea oil industry are ill thought through, a senior member of the council administration says.

Elderly pair 'critical' after attack

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 01:20
An elderly couple are in a critical condition after a "vicious attack" in their home by a suspected burglar, police say.

Tech giants battle to track Santa

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 01:13
The yearly task of finding where Father Christmas is heats up

VIDEO: Ebola epidemic 'could have bumpy tail'

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 00:49
Leading Ebola scientist, Professor Peter Piot, tells the BBC the epidemic is 'in decline' but is likely to last until the end of 2015 as he warns against complacency.

Mapp and Lucia: Genteel enemies

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 00:48
Mapp and Lucia revive their genteel war

Heskey signs short-term Bolton deal

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 00:46
Former England striker Emile Heskey joins Championship side Bolton Wanderers on a short-term contract.

St Louis police kill black teenager

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 00:40
US police shoot dead a black teenager who they say was armed, sparking angry scenes in St Louis, near the scene of Michael Brown's killing.

Matic backs Chelsea for quadruple

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 00:17
Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic is confident his side can win an unprecedented quadruple this season.

Arrest sought for 'nut rage' exec

BBC - Wed, 2014-12-24 00:06
Prosecutors in South Korea seek an arrest warrant for a Korean Air executive at the centre of a storm over how nuts were served to her on a plane.

Warplane 'crashes in northern Syria'

BBC - Tue, 2014-12-23 23:46
A warplane has crashed near the Islamic State-held northern Syrian city of Raqqa, reports say.