The Atlantic Daily: Biden's in for 2020. But in 2016, Obama Talked Him Out of It.

Is America too fractured for jokes? Plus: earthquakes—or marsquakes, rather—on the Red Planet, a warning about aquariums, the long history of the anti-vax movement, and more


What We’re Following

Joe Biden

(Henry Nicholls / Reuters)

Joe Biden is (officially) running. The former vice president announced his 2020 campaign after months of pondering … but what stopped him from running in 2016? Biden is running now as an heir to Obama, but four years ago, Obama talked him out of a presidential run, instead favoring Hillary Clinton for the office. In the summer of 2015, Obama sent a top adviser, David Plouffe, to meet with Biden and lay out how hard winning the nomination would be. “Do you really want it to end in a hotel room in Des Moines, coming in third to Bernie Sanders?,” Plouffe asked. This time around, Biden and Sanders might go head to head.

Food stamps, or a chance at getting permanent immigration status? That’s the choice that some immigrants have felt they’ve had to make since the Trump administration released a proposed rule change in October that could prevent immigrants who use benefits such as food stamps or Medicaid from receiving visas or green cards. In response, some immigrants have been scared to access health services that they and their kids are legally eligible for, and a number of states have noticed sizable decreases in enrollment in food stamps and Medicaid. Without the safety net of these programs, immigrant families are turning to less healthy food options such as fast food—and, in certain cases, going hungry.

Earth isn’t the only planet with ground tremors. Scientists recently confirmed what they’ve suspected for decades: There are “marsquakes.” Unlike Earth, Mars doesn’t have tectonic plates, but heat escaping from its core can send seismic waves trembling in all directions. The recently detected quake only registered as a 2.5 on the Richter scale—which humans wouldn’t feel if it happened on Earth—but it could still prove crucial in helping scientists study the interior of the planet. Earth and Mars aren’t the only two celestial bodies that rumble from time to time—since the 1970s, astronauts have also detected hundreds of moonquakes.

Our Towns

A journey into the heart of America with Deborah and James Fallows

Evening Reads

Comedian Michelle Wolf at last year's White House Correspondents' Dinnner

The comedian Michelle Wolf at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner (Aaron Bernstein / Reuters)

Andy Ferguson interrogates why stand-up jokes about our present moment—on politics, technology, and society—feel so notably unfunny.

Late night is where punch lines go to die, to drown in the bathtub of literal-mindedness …

It’s tempting—isn’t it always?—to blame everything, including this descent into humorlessness, on Trump. It’s not quite right to say, as is often said, that Trump has no sense of humor. You could say he has a sense of what a sense of humor is, even if his own preference is for a pigtail-yanking, pull-my-finger kind of humor, full of ridicule, mugging, sarcasm, and broad-brush caricature. His campaign rallies are like overlong stand-up routines without any jokes, just as late-night comedians’ stand-up routines are coming to resemble campaign rallies, also without the jokes.

Trump’s audiences, no less than [Stephen] Colbert’s, are primed to laugh whenever the signal is given.

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New aquariums struggle to succeed

(Yuriko Nakao / Reuters)

Aquariums inspire awe, promote conservation of marine life, participate in educational initiatives, and are pitched as a means of revitalizing the cities that host them. But the history of aquariums tells a different story, writes Samantha Muka:

The Dubai Aquarium, one of the largest tanks in the world, experienced several shark casualties before opening in 2008. The aquarists eventually worked out the optimum number of species for the tank, but other aquariums struggled longer with these issues. The Jerusalem aquarium, a 30-tank, $28.5 million building originally set to open in May 2017, delayed its opening after the loss of many exotic fish and two sharks. Some aquariums continue to try to keep great whites in captivity, with limited success and an almost 100 percent mortality rate …

Other early aquariums had to develop similar cost-sharing measures between private organizations and taxpayers. In this century, the Denver aquarium, which opened to much fanfare in 1999, declared bankruptcy in 2002 because of defaults on building loans.

→ Read the rest

Urban Developments

Gentrification Is Hurting Kuala Lumpur's Iconic Coffee Shops

(Hannah Jambunathan)

Our partner site CityLab explores the cities of the future and investigates the biggest ideas and issues facing urban dwellers around the world. Gracie McKenzie shares today’s top stories:

Malaysia’s beloved kopitiams, historic coffeehouses, are gathering spots that create social cohesion in a multicultural society. But as cities such as Kuala Lumpur gentrify, they’re disappearing.

Women account for less than 10 percent of all U.S. construction workers and 12 percent of repair and maintenance workers. But a Portland, Oregon, camp aims to show girls these careers are for them, too.

To medical historians and ethicists, the controversy playing out over New York City’s mandatory vaccination order as the city battles a widespread measles outbreak is not an unfamiliar story—the anti-vax movement has been active in America since the 19th century.

Keep up with the most pressing, interesting, and important city stories of the day. Subscribe to the CityLab Daily newsletter.

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