Clinton administration officials considered awarding famed astronomer Carl Sagan the Presidential Medal of Freedom after his death in 1996, new documents reveal.
Sagan, who is famous for attempting to popularize science through movies, books, and television, had just been honored by NASA when the agency dubbed the Mars Rover landing spot as the Carl Sagan Memorial Station. White House staffers then talked about taking it a step further.
“I wonder if that boosts Carl Sagan postumously [sic] for a Medal of Freedom,” Shelly Fidler, the chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, wrote in a 1997 email released Friday. “You know he was one of the very first to sound the warning on climate as well.”
She then tossed around a few other names for possible medal winners: Frank Sherwood Rowland, who discovered the hole in the ozone layer, and environmentalist Ansel Adams. But the White House was coming across a common problem.
“We’re having trouble thinking up great living people,” Fidler wrote to Todd Stern, an assistant to the president and staff secretary for the Clinton administration. “I guess that’s everyone’s affliction these days.”
Earlier in the email, Fidler called Adams “another good dead person” for the award.
Sagan didn’t end up winning the medal, but the idea does show that the Clinton administration was attempting to boost the profile of climate change and the environmental movement.
One of Sagan’s better-known contributions to space exploration happened in 1990, when he asked NASA to take what is now one of the most famous photos of Earth. The Voyager 1 spacecraft was leaving the solar system when NASA commanded it to turn around and take a photo. From 3.7 billion miles away, you can see a “pale blue dot,” Earth.
“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world,” Sagan wrote in his book Pale Blue Dot. “To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
What We're Following See More »
Twenty-one states, the District of Columbia and several public interest groups filed the first major lawsuits Tuesday to block the repeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules. The FCC's rules had prohibited Internet providers from slowing down or blocking websites. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is leading the states' suit, said that the FCC’s repeal was “arbitrary” and “capricious” and violates federal law. The suit comes just a day after Democrats in the Senate said they were inching closer to acquiring the votes needed to pass legislation overturning the FCC's rule change. It has garnered the support of all 49 Democratic senators as well as one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).
"A former C.I.A. officer suspected of helping China identify the agency’s informants in that country has been arrested, the Justice Department said on Tuesday. Many of the informants were killed in a systematic dismantling of the C.I.A.’s spy network in China starting in 2010 that was one of the American government’s worst intelligence failures in recent years, several former intelligence officials have said. The arrest of the former agent, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, capped an intense F.B.I. investigation that began around 2012 after the C.I.A. began losing its informants in China."
"Three-quarters of the members of a federally chartered board advising the National Park Service abruptly quit Monday night out of frustration that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting last year. The resignation of nine out of 12 National Park System Advisory Board members leaves the federal government without a functioning body to designate national historic or natural landmarks. It also underscores the extent to which federal advisory bodies have become marginalized under the Trump administration."
"House GOP leaders on Tuesday night pitched a new strategy to avert a looming government shutdown that includes children's health funding and the delay of ObamaCare taxes. Lawmakers need to pass a short-term stopgap bill by midnight Friday, when money for the federal government runs out. The latest GOP plan would keep the government’s lights on through Feb. 16, and be coupled with a six-year extension of funding for the popular Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The continuing resolution or CR would also delay ObamaCare's medical device and Cadillac taxes for two years, and the health insurance tax for one year starting in 2019."
"A key Senate negotiator and White House official on Tuesday expressed little hope for an immigration deal this week but nonetheless predicted that Congress can avoid a government shutdown." Marc Short, the White House Capitol Hill liaison, said he's optimistic about a deal on DACA overall, but not this week. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn also said he doubts an agreement can be made before week's end.