David Kestenbaum

David Kestenbaum is a correspondent for NPR, covering science, energy issues and, most recently, the global economy for NPR's multimedia project Planet Money. David has been a science correspondent for NPR since 1999. He came to journalism the usual way — by getting a Ph.D. in physics first.

In his years at NPR, David has covered science's discoveries and its darker side, including the Northeast blackout, the anthrax attacks and the collapse of the New Orleans levees. He has also reported on energy issues, particularly nuclear and climate change.

David has won awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

David worked briefly on the show This American Life, and set up a radio journalism program in Cambodia on a Fulbright fellowship. He also teaches a journalism class at Johns Hopkins University.

David holds a bachelor's of science degree in physics from Yale University and a doctorate in physics from Harvard University.

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Planet Money
2:05 am
Thu February 21, 2013

Three Ways To Totally Transform U.S. Immigration Policy

Immigrants wait for their citizenship interviews at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Jan. 29.
John Moore Getty Images

Originally published on Thu February 21, 2013 9:42 am

With immigration policy in the news again, I asked three economists, "Dream big: If you could create any immigration policy for the U.S., what would it be?" Here's what they said.

1. The Best And The Brightest

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research would give out more visas to highly skilled workers: scientists, engineers, computer programmers and doctors.

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Planet Money
12:02 pm
Fri February 8, 2013

Follow-Up To Our Show, 'An FBI Hostage Negotiator Buys A Car'

Originally published on Thu February 7, 2013 2:51 pm

We recently received an email from a listener about our show, An FBI Hostage Negotiator Buys A Car.

In that show, Cathy Tinsley of Georgetown University told a story about negotiating to buy pumpkins in a market in Africa.

The listener wrote:

Subject: Credibility issue w/ French pumpkin story

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Planet Money
2:34 am
Thu February 7, 2013

'Give Me The Money Or I'll Shoot The Trees'

Pay up, or the bird gets it. (A hoatzin perches on a branch in Yasuni National Park.)
Pablo Cozzaglio AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu February 7, 2013 2:07 pm

Ecuador's Yasuni National Park is one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. But there's a complication: The park sits on top of the equivalent of millions of barrels of oil.

This creates a dilemma.

Ecuador prides itself on being pro-environment. Its constitution gives nature special rights. But Ecuador is a relatively poor country that could desperately use the money from the oil.

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Planet Money
5:29 am
Fri February 1, 2013

An International Battle Over One Of The Most Boring Things In Finance

Jeremy O'Donnell Getty Images

Originally published on Tue February 12, 2013 10:26 am

This week saw the end of a years-long, international, multi-billion-dollar battle over one of the most boring things in finance: savings accounts.

At the center of the battle was Iceland, a tiny country where the banks grew into international behemoths during the credit bubble.

The banks got so big partly by convincing foreigners to open up online savings accounts. In particular, lots of people in England and Netherlands opened up "ICESAVE accounts" with a bank called Landsbanki. During the financial crisis, the bank collapsed.

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Planet Money
1:08 am
Tue January 29, 2013

Bjork Endorses International Banking Decision

Reykjavik graffiti.
David Kestenbaum NPR

Originally published on Mon January 28, 2013 4:11 pm

During the boom, an Icelandic bank called Landsbanki grew into a giant, largely by paying high interest rates to people from the Netherlands and the UK who opened online savings accounts at the bank.

When the crisis hit, the bank failed. The Icelandic government bailed out the bank's Icelandic customers, but not customers from other countries.

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Planet Money
2:35 am
Thu January 24, 2013

Why Is The Government In The Flood Insurance Business?

Hurricane Betsy hit the Gulf Coast in 1965.
Horace Cort AP

Originally published on Thu January 24, 2013 12:19 pm

There's a quick, one-word explanation for why the federal government started selling flood insurance: Betsy.

Hurricane Betsy, which struck the Gulf Coast in 1965, became known as billion-dollar Betsy. Homes were ruined. Water up to the roofs. People paddling around streets in boats. Massive damage.

This would be the time when you'd expect people to be pulling out their flood insurance policies. But flood insurance was hard to come by. You could get fire insurance, theft insurance, car insurance, life insurance. Not flood.

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Planet Money
2:27 am
Thu January 10, 2013

The North Dakota Town Where A One-Bedroom Apartment Rents For $2,100 A Month

Yours, for $2,100 a month
Josh Marston

Originally published on Thu January 10, 2013 2:04 pm

A plain, one-bedroom apartment in Williston, N.D., rents for $2,100 a month. For this price, you could rent a one-bedroom apartment in New York City.

Williston is not New York City. There are 30,000 residents and one department store. The nearest city is two hours away.

Rents are so high in Williston because the town is in the middle of an oil boom. Unemployment is below 1 percent, and workers are flooding into town.

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Planet Money
11:28 am
Fri December 28, 2012

What A Former FBI Hostage Negotiator Can Teach Us About The Fiscal Cliff

Drew Angerer Getty Images

Originally published on Fri December 28, 2012 12:27 pm

The tortuous negotiations involved in the "fiscal cliff" talks are like a chess game.

To shed some light on the kinds of negotiation techniques that members of Congress might be using during the talks, we asked two negotiators to walk us through their tactics with examples from their everyday lives.

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Planet Money
2:24 am
Fri December 14, 2012

Why A Principal Created His Own Currency

David Kestenbaum NPR

Originally published on Fri December 14, 2012 1:43 pm

Shawn Rux took over as principal of MS 53, a New York City middle school, last year. At the time, 50 or 60 kids were absent every day. You could understand why they stayed away: The school was chaos.

Twenty-two teachers had quit, the entire office staff had quit, and hundreds of kids had been suspended. The school was given a grade of F from the city's department of education.

"It was in a bad place," Rux says.

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Planet Money
2:18 am
Wed November 21, 2012

How The Government Set Up A Fake Bank To Launder Drug Money

Skip Latson marks the fake opening of RHM Trust Bank.
Bill Bruton

Originally published on Tue November 27, 2012 12:18 pm

In the early 1990s, Colombian drug cartels had a problem: They had more money than they knew what to do with.

"They were having a very difficult time with just the logistics of laundering millions and millions and millions of dollars every week," says Skip Latson, who worked for the DEA at the time.

So Latson and Bill Bruton, who was a special agent with the IRS, hatched a plan: They'd create a fake, offshore bank catering to the needs of the drug cartel.

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