Icon of Liberty: The Magna Carta

Whether or not you remember it from school, the Magna Carta has been one of the most influential documents of the last 800 years.  After all, it is the foundational legal document that promoted democracy in the 13th century, and still holds relevance and international esteem up to this day.

To learn about the rich, varied and long history of the document, the American Bar Association’s Division for Public Education has created the site Magna Carta: Icon of Liberty. The site was created with a grant from the Magna Carta Trust, who also hosts an informative site on the Magna Carta.

On the ABA’s Icon site you can read about the history of the Magna Carta, see artwork inspired by it, reproductions of the oldest extant copies of it, how the document has been displayed in public buildings, flags, crests and other public symbols internationally and even connect with entities on various social media platforms celebrating the importance of this valuable document.

What(‘s Going On) in the World?

The United Nations publishes a website called the UN iLibrary which is “the first comprehensive global search, discovery, and viewing source for digital content created by the United Nations.”

It is available to anyone who wants to access information published by the UN, as well as programs sponsored and/or funded by the UN. They plan to add around 500 titles annually and state that around 70% are published in English.

Searching the site is straightforward. You are offered the option of searching by country, topic, country & topic and by simply searching through their catalogue. Most of their publications may be bought in a tangible form in the bookstore. Also you may subscribe to the site for unlimited access, including pdf and browser versions of publications, but the subscription is cost prohibitive at $12,500 per year. Of course that is only practical for large institutions or metropolitan areas in which the site may be used regularly enough to justify such a price tag.

How Does the Federal Government Spend?

Most all of us at one time or another have complained or at least wondered about how the feds spend our hard earned tax money. We’ve all heard irritating stories about the Pentagon spending absurd amounts on mundane objects (here is an old LA Times article from 1986 on the topic of overspending in the Pentagon in particular mentioning a $7,622 coffee maker), pondered how the president spends his vacation time or had concerns about some other use of the public coffers that may be wasteful. After all, we don’t want our money spent frivolously or for some unethical government contractor to take advantage of such a huge, difficult to manage entity as the budget of the United States.

That’s where www.usaspending.gov/  comes in. As billed by the site itself: “USAspending.gov is the publicly accessible, searchable website mandated by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 to give the American public access to information on how their tax dollars are spent.”

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Masthead

So you can check on this information in multiple ways. As one example, you may see how much money is spent in the state of Tennessee.

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State of Tennessee

It can be broken down in various ways as well. As can be seen here Davidson County receives well more than 1/3 of the just over $40 billion allocated to the state for Fiscal Year 2017, with a figure of $15,351,958,126. The next county, Shelby, receives $1,620,940,881, and is the only other county to receive $1 Billion or more.

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TN County Breakdown

 

 

There are many more ways to look up information beyond state by state breakdown. This site is just waiting for your curious fingers to enter new search terms or click on the numerous links on the site.

Become the Master of your (Garden) Domain

This time of year many people’s thoughts turn to the outdoors and tilling their little plot of land. Those who feel a desire to share their knowledge with others may be interested in becoming a Master Gardener, a title that may be earned through the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture via the local Shelby County extension office here in Memphis.

What, you may ask, is a Master Gardener? The program exists as “a volunteer service program that serves state citizens with home horticulture information”. Essentially, those who desire to do so may complete 40 hours of training in the first year, directly from the local extension office, followed up by 40 hours of volunteer work directly in their own communities, helping people understand gardening issues better.

One may find detailed information from the application page, which has quick links to Who are Tennessee Master Gardeners?, What does a Master Gardener do?, How do I become a Master Gardener? and Where’s the nearest Master Gardener Program?

Even more, the Shelby County master gardeners have a website, on which you can learn more about their offerings around town. Caution, it’s full of many puns, such as their suggestion for you to “Leaf a message for the webmaster if you have any questions.”

So, if someone is interested in not only learning a lot more about gardening in their local area but in helping others do the same in a volunteer capacity then perhaps becoming a Master Gardener is the way to go.

All you ever wanted to know about government spending but were too afraid to ask.

Ex Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has opened a new site called https://www.usafacts.org/, which describes itself as “a new data-driven portrait of the American population, our government’s finances, and government’s impact on society.” It claims to be a non-partisan site that provides a public service.

Mr. Ballmer sees this endeavor as philanthropy, and also takes it seriously as an academic venture. The site has a team made up of experts from Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), the Penn Wharton Budget Model, and Lynchburg College that, the claim goes “help keep our data accurate and unbiased”. The site not only uses only numbers and data directly from government sources, but has a policy of information only: no judgments, no opinions—just the facts. They also intend to “engage a prominent accounting firm” to audit their processes and controls used to present the information on the site.

So, let’s say you want to see a breakdown of what was spent in 2014. You start with this screen:

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Once you decide to be curious about something else you follow the budget, which the site breaks down into categories found in the Constitution: Establish Justice and Ensure Domestic Tranquility, Provide for the Common Defense, Promote the General Welfare and Secure the Blessings of Liberty to Ourselves and Our Posterity.

2Choose which category that interests you, and you’ll be taken to the next screen that gives more detailed information. So, under “Promote the General Welfare” I chose “Health”. It gives raw numbers on the spending in that area,

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Then I can click to find an even more detailed breakdown of health spending.

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This site looks to become a go-to for seekers of accurate, helpful information on how the U.S. government spends our tax money.

If you’re interested in further reading NPR did a article on this site that may be found here.