How to Organize and Store Photographs???

I have stacks of photo albums, boxes of loose photos, pictures framed on the walls and standing around as knickknacks, gigabytes of digital photos, photos stuck in books, pics left in drawers and stuck to the refrigerator, and who knows where else.  And like most people, if my house burned down I think I would morn the photos the most.  I have family photos going back 90 years.

Not only that, I have many sets of digital photos because I keep backing them up to multiple devices.  This might sound good, but I no longer know which set is the master set, and I’m not sure if any one set of digital photos is a complete set.  I put Picasa on my computer and it found zillions of photos on two internal drives and one external, but so far I haven’t found out how to use it to organize my photo collection.  I also have three more external hard drives that I used with my last four computers that also have caches of photographs.

And if my house burned down or got blown away by a tornado, all my digital copies wouldn’t help me because they are all at the house.  Sensible people scan all their photos and then back them up to online backup sites.  I was doing that until Mozy wanted to quadruple my yearly fee and I had to cancel my account.  So I’m thinking of new ways to get a handle on my photo collection that keeps multiplying like Tribbles.

However, it’s an enormous task and I’m big fat lazy person.  When I wrote the title of this post it wasn’t because I was offering authoritative answers, but because I’m looking for advice.  I want to spend some time here and think about the best way to solve this problem and hopeful get some useful suggestions.

I’ve been researching fireproof boxes and safes but I don’t know if that’s the answer.  Common fireproof boxes and safes aren’t suitable for photographs and negatives.  Most professional photographers recommend media safes, which are expensive.  Some people recommend bank safety deposit boxes, but other people don’t recommend them because even they aren’t completely trustworthy.  In other words there is no real guarantee of protecting your photographs, just various levels of precaution.

We’re living in a digital age so I’m going to go with digital protection.  I love my old photos that look old, but they look old because they are deteriorating from fading and discoloring.  I figure the oldest of the photos I might put in a fireproof box or get a safety deposit box, but the first thing I want to do is get them all scanned and copies given to my relatives.

The biggest problem I see facing digitizing my photo collection is how to organize the files.  What good is thousands of pictures with cryptic names filed away in a confusion of folder names?  I have lots of folders that say things like Washington trip (but there were two) and Snow Days (of which there were many).

When my mother died we had a slideshow at her funeral that I prepared.  Putting it together made me realize that I think organizing pictures by people might be a good organizing principle.  It was fun trying to find all the photos I could of my mother and then ordering them chronologically.  That’s very hard to do when people don’t write dates and locations on the back of  the pictures, but with detective work and the memory of many it can be done.

But this solution isn’t perfect because most photos have more than one person in them.  My solution to this was to repeat photos in each folder.  For instance I have a folder for my mother Virginia Little Harris and my dad George Delaney Harris.  Now I could have made another folder for Mom and Dad together, but it seemed redundant because if you look at each of their folders you see all their together photographs.

My first solution was to make folders for all of our photos which would be a massive collection:

  • 2 folders – couple
  • 4 folders – parents
  • 8 folders – grandparents
  • 32 folders – great grandparents
  • Many folders for aunts and uncles, and great variations
  • Many many folders for cousins of various generations
  • Many folders for friends
  • Many folders for pets
  • Many folders for houses
  • Vacations

I then decided we should divide the work and keep our families separate and each person would have a genealogy of photos:

  • Top Level Person
  • Spouses
  • Parents
  • Aunts and Uncles
  • Cousins
  • Grandparents
  • Great Grandparents
  • Friends
  • Pets
  • Objects (houses, cars, schools, etc.)
  • Vacations

So for my household we’d have two main collections:

/photos/jim/subfolders

/photos/susan/subfolders

That’s pretty manageable, and it divides up the work, and we can easily separate out folders to give away to our individual relatives.

The next step is ordering the photos within a folder.  Personal I like order them by year.  I’m very time oriented.  I like seeing pictures of people from when they were born till they die.  But to do this you have to name the photos by year, like “1928-04 Dad and great grandfather” or “1940s – xxx” or “1957g – xxxx.”   I use g for guess.  I’d love to know exactly when a photo was taken so I could prefix it with YEAR-MO-DA, but that seldom happens.

Of course this scheme fails miserably if you’re an art photographer and take pictures of everything under the sun.  Hell, how does a photographer of nude women organize their files?  Where’s that photo of the brunette with a emerald stud in her navel?  But hell, I can’t worry about such mind bending problems since my task is to organize family photos.

My mother put most of her photos in albums that have begun eating the photos, so my first step was to convert all these albums to archival quality albums.  That took days, but the process was personally transformative.  Looking at family photos for days on end conjured up endless forgotten memories.  This was a rather philosophical experience.  Each photo triggered a memory, or emotion, or a thought about a dead person or people I haven’t seen in years – and I looked at hundreds of them and that had impact.  The whole experience also instilled a desire to know my family better, but also made me wonder about that old saying, “blood is thicker than water.”  Blood ties me to so many people I never knew or know little, so just how important is my genetic connections?

When I was in my twenties I decided I didn’t want to be the kind of person that looked backwards, so I threw all my photos and mementos away.  And even though I had been into photography enough  to have a darkroom, I stopped taking pictures.  And for many years I didn’t own a camera.  And I’ve known other people that don’t like taking photos.  They want to just experience the moment without always trying to record it.  Now that I’m older I realize that isn’t a good plan.  Memory is a piss poor way to recall the past.  Living in the now means only having the now.  I’m older, and naturally looking backwards, and I have very few clues to help me see how things unfolded.  Luckily, other people took photographs, and my wife remembers much better than I do.

Organizing photographs has also become organizing memories, which leads to philosophical observations.  Life is very short and fleeting when all you can find of your past is a 25-30 images of yourself taken over 59 years of life.  One thing that’s amusing is I spend a lot of time on this blog remember when I first started reading science fiction, so I tried to find a photo from 1964 when I discovered the books of Robert A. Heinlein that have remained so memorable to me.  Here’s one that might be from that time, and a recent photo.  It’s hard to believe that so much of my mental kid world from 1964 is still surviving in the old bald head of the 2011 me.  By the way, my big fat head is blocking the view of the 12 Heinlein YA novels I ordered directly from Charles Scribners in 1967, that I first read in 1964 and bought with my first paycheck when I got a job at 16.

jim-001Jim-58

JWH – 3/16/11

The Burden and Responsibilities of Family Photos

When people die their children usually go through the deceased possessions and divvy up the family mementos which usually include photographs the dying person has collected in their lifetime.  My wife and I have the photographs from her family and my family.  And when people in your family know you have the family photos they tend to send you the odd photo in their collection that would mean something to you from their family.  Awhile back my cousin Alana sent me some pictures she had inherited from my grandmother when she died.  I had not heard from my father’s side of the family in decades, so we had a lot of catching up to do.

One of the photographs is four grown sons and their father and mother.  One of the sons is my father’s father, or my paternal grandfather that I never knew.  I never knew my maternal grandfather either.  All I ever knew about family history was was from my two grandmothers.  So this photograph introduced me to my grandfather, and great grandfather and grandmother, as well as three great uncles I never remembered even mentioned by anyone.  I wonder about their families.  Is there anyone like me with a copy of this photo wondering about the other three brothers?

1920s - Dad's father on right - with parents and brothers - cropped

My grandfather was named George Wallis Harris.  I’m James Wallace Harris, so somehow the spelling got changed, or the spelling from the genealogy was wrong about my grandfather.  He married Helen Imogene Delaney, and my dad was called George Delaney Harris.  I almost was James Delaney Harris.  My father’s father was the man on the right.  His brothers were from the left, Jan, Charlie and Carl.  My grandfather was born in 1897 and my grandmother in 1898.

The older couple in front of the sons are my great grandparents George General Harris, born 1872, and Minnie Maude Maynard, born 1871.  All I know about these people is they lived in Nebraska.  My father was born in Nebraska in 1920, but moved to Miami as a small child.  I can remember him telling me stories about visiting Nebraska, and how the farmers would get together to kill jack rabbits by walking side by side down the fields to flush them out.

I think my great grandparents worked a farm, but I don’t know. Only two of them bothered to dress up for the photo. I can’t tell if my great grandmother’s dress was dirty or is the smudges part of the photo or the copy of the photo.

I found one other photo among my mother’s photos that I think is of my great grandfather and my father and his younger brother Jack.  I don’t have any photos of their younger brother Bob at all.

1929q Jack Grandfather Dad - I guess

When I say owning the families photos are a burden or responsibility it’s because I have pieces of history, and maybe the only known copies that are evidence to people’s lives in the past.  I uploaded this photo to the web so my cousins could have it, and maybe convince my nephews to take interest.  Since Susan and I have no children I’m not sure where our photo collection will go when we die.  I assume we’ll give everything to our nephews and nieces.  We should give them copies now before something happens.

If our photos were to be burned up in a fire or destroyed in a flood, all these unique views of the past would be gone.  So I’m thinking I should put in the extra effort to preserve them.  It’s a shame there isn’t some kind of national historical photo registry.  There might be people alive today that could tell me more stories about these people.

All I know is my grandfather and grandmother, who is from Indiana, moved from Nebraska to Miami in the 1920s, but I don’t know how early.  I do know they were there by 1928 because I have this photo labeled “George Jr. and Jack Harris 1928, Coronado Apts. N.E. 17th Terrace.”  I had heard stories of them talking about the great Miami hurricane of 1926, but I don’t know if they there then or not.  My sister says my grandfather was referred to as a barefoot mailman, but that was something that started in the 1890s and I don’t think they were there that early.  Uncle Jack was born in Nebraska in 1924, so I assume they came to Miami between 1924 and 1928.

1928 Jack and Dad Coronado Apts

My father died when I was 19.  He always worked two and three jobs and was never home except to sleep, so I don’t remember talking to him much.  He was in the Air Force and we moved around a lot.  But we mostly lived around Miami, and when we were there I’d see my grandmother Helen Delaney Harris, whom I called Ma.  She mostly talked about growing up in Indiana.  I only have a few photos of her, the earliest of which is a newspaper clipping.  She’s third from the left on the top row wearing some god awful bow or flower on her head.

Helen Delaney Harris - school girl

I only remember a few stories about Ma even though I used to stay with her.  She managed apartments when I was growing up and sometimes my parents would leave me with her.  The apartments were always ones where old people lived and I’d hear a lot of stories about the old days, including meeting an old lady who had been on the Titanic.  I wished cheap video cameras had existed back in the 1950s and 1960s so I could have recorded these memories.  That’s the thing, all we have now are the photographs.  The stories pretty much went in one ear and out the other.  I wished I could have saved them.  Here’s the best photo I have of Ma.

1957-04 Dad's Mom Helen Delaney Harris

I do remember stories about her teaching in a one room school house, and that during the war she drove trucks and chauffeured officers as a staff driver.  She had lots of old friends and loved to collect figurines of dogs.  That’s not a lot to remember is it?  That’s why these photos are so important.  They are my only real evidence of the past.  I’m like that guy in that movie Memento trying to figure out life with only short term memories.  I have another photo of Ma.  When my mother got tuberculosis and went to stay in a sanatorium up north at Valley Forge, and my father was stationed in Canada, Ma took care of my sister Becky and I for several months.  This photo is from that time.

1959 - Jim Helen Becky

She looks so old there, but was just 61.  I’m turning 60 this year.  This photo was taking in Hollywood, Florida around 1958-59.  The house there is one of my favorites of childhood but I have no photographs of what it looked like on the inside.  I’d give anything if my parents had taken more photos.  I’m not sure who took the photo here, but I think it was taken to send to my mother in the hospital.  Those were our Easter outfits that year, and my snappy white hat blew out of the car window coming back from church.  Would I remember that without this photo?

I really don’t remember much about my father.  I don’t have many photos of him either.  Here’s one I like taken when he graduated high school.

1939-05 - Dad at Homestead FL

He’s a little younger in this photo than I was when he died in 1970.  I was 19.  I know very little about his teenage years, but I do know he hated my teenage years.  I had long hair, did drugs and was against the Vietnam war.  His dream for me was to go to the Air Force Academy.  I don’t know what his dreams for himself were.  Years ago I found a clipping from the Miami Herald that mentioned he and some of his classmates working on a project for the paper.  He told me he delivered telegrams for Western Union to make money in high school.  In 1942 he joined the Army and ended up a drill sergeant out in Arizona.  Somehow he started in the Army but ended in the Air Force.  I don’t know if he was ever in the Army Air Corps.  Maybe these uniforms can reveal that.  For all I know he could have been in the Army during the war and got out and then joined the Air Force.

1945-01 Dad in Arizona

1944-04 SSgt George D

1945 Dad

1949g -Mom and Dad

1952 - Mom Me Dad 2

The last photo with me and my mom from 1952.  The one before that was with my mom, before I was born, when they lived in Puerto Rico, probably round 1949.  I think that was the happiest time of their marriage.  For the first six years of their marriage they were told they couldn’t have children.  I do know Becky and I were a handful.

I can only find one later photo of my dad, an accidental photo, taken in 1969.  He’s profiled by the light, shining on his bald head.

1969 - Last photo of Dad

I have a few more photos from when he in high school and in the service, but these few here are pretty much all the evidence I have of my dad’s existence. When my sister and I die, and these photos are given to my nephews, this is all they will know about their maternal grandfather.  Maybe I can convince them to read this blog.  (Nick and Mack, if you want want copies of all the photographs just let me know.)

That’s the thing, what kind of past would we have without photos to remind us?  I have a responsibility to preserve the evidence that I have, but I don’t know how long people will care.   We believe people continue to exist as long as other people remember them.  That’s an interesting obligation.

If you keep the family photos you become the family historian, and a detective.  I really wasn’t prepared for this job.  Instead of inheriting all the pictures when the last member of the previous generation dies, children should each be given a copy of the family photos when they are little and encouraged to talk to the people in the photos when they are still living.  Probably good families do this, but we were wild active kids who couldn’t sit still.  We were hyperactive before they invented the word.

Like I said, Susan and I never had kids, so who will remember us?  And I probably don’t have many more photos of myself than I do of my dad.  I wished we were a family that liked to take pictures.  I wished we had taken one good photo of every family member each year.  I wished we had taken photos of all our pets.  I wished we had taken photos of all my friends and classmates.  I wished we had taken photos of all my houses, schools and neighborhoods.  I even wished we had photos of all our cars.

Hell, I didn’t know I’d get old some day and be tested on this stuff.  And I certainly didn’t know it would be my own desires that would be doing the testing.  I wish I had been forewarned that I would someday be the family historian and keeper of memories.

For my next project I’m going to research how to properly find, repair, store, and maintain old photographs.

JWH – 3/6/11

Outlook Tasks v. Remember the Milk v. ToodleDo

I’ve always have a million things I want to do, but not the discipline for getting things done.  I tend to get distracted by reading, surfing the web, watching television or listening to music.  All my life I’ve made to-do lists on note cards, backs of envelopes, post-it notes, Moleskine notebooks and even emails.  I’ll make up a good list of things to accomplish and then do a couple items and then loose the list and not think about it.

Taking the time to concentrate on what I want to do is good, but following through is hard.

Keeping a to-do list is like trying to make New Year’s resolutions every day, and that ain’t natural.  On the other hand, I do have a lot of tasks I want to get done.  On most days I struggle to remember my to-do list in my head.  I go to sleep at night thinking about things do to and I tell myself to try and remember just two things.  Some days I do and some days I don’t.  Like last night, I thought to myself I should take an old bottle of pills for my back to work so I’d have some there.  I actually remembered to do that.  I was also going to post a comment on Amazon about some t-shirts I bought that promised generous length but warn others that the extra length disappeared after one washing.  I forgot that one.

At work I started putting my work to-dos in Outlook Tasks.  I’ve tried that before but would forget they were there.  But this time I set a reminder date and they pop up like calendar reminders.  That was a key lesson – using reminders.  One cool thing I discovered about Outlook was the ability to organize tasks into folders, so I can separate various work and home to-dos into separate groups.

The first thing I do in the morning, well after taking a pee and giving the cats some crunchies, is to read my email.  I’ve tried emailing to-do lists, but they get pushed down by all the other email.  Since I’m always in Outlook I figured I should try to make use of its built in to-do list Tasks feature.  Outlook is always running in the background at home or work, but I never developed the addiction to Tasks.

Tasks don’t show up as part my my Exchange client on my iPad touch.  That means I don’t see my To Do lists away from the computer.  I do carry my iPod touch with me everywhere because I’m addicted to listening to audio books and playing Words With Friends.  I needed a To Do App that would be my vital third reason to carry the iPod touch. 

So I started looking for something more.  What I wanted was something that would work on every computer and on my iPod touch, or any future smart phone I might buy.  It turns out there’s lots of companies selling To Do List software that meets my requirements.  Along the way I encountered the Getting Things Done philosophy.  Here’s a pretty extensive list of To Do programs that use the GTD concepts.  Here’s another site I found, 50+ Online To Do List Managers.

43 Folders even has a section on “Getting started with ‘Getting Things Done’” that convinced me to order the David Allen book, which is more complicated than just keeping lists.  But I still needed a program for lists.  I looked at many.  I had heard of Remember the Milk which I signed up for the free account.  It looked slick and promised to work with all kinds of other programs and mobile devices, but I just didn’t find the online interface intuitive. 

I also signed up for the free account at Toodledo.  The program is far less slick but I could immediately work it, and it’s interface reminded me of LibraryThing, another online program I love.  I played with the free version Toodledo for awhile, bought the $2.99 App for my iPod touch, and then paid for the Pro version ($14.95/year).  It’s nice to study my To Do list when I’m away from my desks at home and work, plus the more I used Toodledo the more I liked it.  I’m already getting more things done.  Now I need to study the Getting Things Done philosophy and integrate it into my life.

I’m learning things like putting deadlines on my To Do items.  I never did that before, but once I started the impulse to get items off my list increased.  Toodledo allows me to send emails to the program and it will automatically add items to my list of things to do.  This is convenient because I have email open all day long.  The key to using To Do lists is to look at them frequently and to add items as soon as you think of them. 

I’m combining this endeavor with a concurrent task of getting rid of as much stuff as I can.  We’re getting rid of furniture, old clothes, sentimental junk, books, DVDs, etc.  I’m converting a four drawer file cabinet to three small plastic folder boxes which I’ll keep in a closet I’ve cleaned out.

I don’t know yet if Toodledo is perfect for me.  Outlook Tasks has some great integrated features with its calendar and email functions, and even Remember the Milk has many features to integrate with other apps.  What I’m learning is one program can’t stand alone.  If a new version of the Exchange client for iOS shows up offering Tasks I could go back to Outlook – but I actually like the simple interface of Doodledo over Outlook Tasks interface.

I wished I would get up very early, bathe, do yoga and then light some incense like a monk, and meditate on my To Do lists for twenty minutes.  I need to develop my priorities and learn to understand the differences between tasks, goals and ambitions.

JWH – 3/2/11

Balancing The Budget–The Purpose of Governments

People hate taxes, but what really riles them is seeing their tax money wasted, misspent or used for purposes that are against their way of thinking.  As our current civil war is heating up over the budget I think we need to draw a bigger picture of why we pay taxes.  Understanding the purpose of governments should help.  I think we can see governments going through four stages:

  • Civilization – creating Law and Order
  • Human Rights – creating freedom for individuals
  • Prosperity – creating sustainable wealth for all
  • Environmentalism – the stewardship of the Earth

If you look at the history of mankind, or just to places around the world where civilization is collapsing you’ll understand the value of a stable government.  Generally civilization starts with the might of individuals, so often early governments are ruled by tyrants, kings, and men with guns.  Sometimes the powerful are enlighten leaders, but often they are just men who want to amass wealth and women.  We saw what happens to civilization when we take out the strong man as when the U.S. took over Iraq.

Most people have an innate desire for law and order and will submit to all kinds of governments, but sooner or later they want to be treated better.  Sometimes this coincides with theocracy, other times it arises out of secular ideals, such as democracy.  For most of history the right to rule was assumed as descending from God.  It’s much easier to accept government from a leader if you assume his rulings are not personal whims but the fulfillment of a divine plan.

The Old Testament is really a history of building a nation.  The spiritual leaders tried to convince the Israelites to create law and order based on God’s rules.  The trouble is people have a hard time agreeing whether the rules are right or not.  Often powerful leaders must pander to the whims of the people, so over the centuries the idea of rights for people evolved.

At first taxes were just to maintain the wealth and might of the leadership, but eventually the masses started expecting their leaders to give them something in return.  Generally this was law and order and a semblance of justice.

By the time the United States was formed people wanted to rule themselves and create a just and ordered society.  They created The Bill of Rights.  Of course, at the time women, African Americans and Native Americans weren’t considered for these rights, but it’s a step in the evolution of Human Rights for all.  Government became something run by the people for the people.  Taxes were meant to maintain civilization and provide a fair treatment of all people, given them the opportunity to prosper and seek happiness.  Taxes went to maintaining civilization and guaranteeing a legal system that protected human rights.

Population was sparse and people were expected to make their own way or die.  There were few social support systems, mostly the charity of individuals and churches.  Many conservatives want this kind of government, but there’s two major problems to this.  First is the explosion of population.  Second the explosion of wealth brought on by the industrial revolution.  For many years governments tried not to interfere with human growth or the creation of wealth, but it’s now too late for that kind of thinking.

The third stage of government is the management of over population and the regulation of wealth.  Government cannot ignore these problems without hurting human rights and even civilization.  The mismanagement of wealth can lead to economic collapse and social disorder.  Back in pioneering days wealth came from the land.  If people failed they died or moved on.  Now the population lives off the economy, which to most is an abstraction.  That’s why it’s so hard to understand why the government needs so much tax money.

If the Republicans got their way and reduced the size of the government and drastically lowered taxes America would end up looking like India or Pakistan.  Overpopulation would hinder the creation of wealth.  Sure, some wealthy people would get much richer, but most of the population would get much poorer.  The purpose of our taxes is to maximize the well being of the population to allow the maximum creation of wealth for all.  In other words, a chicken in every pot.  The trouble is some people don’t like paying for other people’s chickens.

This third stage of government is really about stimulating the economy.  The first stage was about creating social stability, law and order.  The second stage was about making everything fair for all.  Now some people think the third stage is about providing handouts for the poor, but that’s not really true.  What’s really happening is government is trying to create prosperity.  Henry Ford paid his workers a decent wage because he wanted them to be well off enough to buy the cars he made.  The modern role of government is to make sure the greatest percentage of its citizens contribute to the economic growth of the nation and all benefit fairly.

Now I didn’t say the role of the government is to get everyone a job.  Our population has grown way to large for that to be possible.  But if we ignored the people without jobs, the number of them would pull down the nation economically.  Look back at the Great Depression.  People on social security, welfare or unemployment still contribute to economic growth through the spending of government money.

Like it or not, the role of government has become the regulation of wealth and stimulus of economic growth.  Now this might not be done fairly, efficiently or wisely, but it’s the job the government has to do.  Reducing the government will only make our problems worse.  The belief in pure capitalism is a fantasy.

There is emerging a fourth role for government, environmentalism.  Our populations are now so large, and the creation of wealth so vast, that they are consuming the planet.  If governments don’t become ecology cops we’re all going to die from self destruction.

Conservatives want to roll back governments to stage 1 and 2 functions.  Actually them seem to want stage 1.5, law and order with some theocracy, something akin to Old Testament times.  Even though most conservatives call themselves Christians they don’t seem to want to pursue Christ’s job of feeding and healing the poor.  They seem to want law based on their religion, and to only pay taxes for things that benefit them directly, like roads and armies.  That kind of government would probably work if the population density was like it was 2,000 years ago.

Like it or not, government has to be big.  It has to be in the business of managing wealth and population dynamics.  If we took away all those entitlement programs the country would go down the drain.  Our economy is based on economic activity.  Even if we had a smaller population that wouldn’t help the economy, look at Japan, with it’s declining population.  And we also much face up to the problem that a heated economy is killing the planet.

If governments are going to succeed at stage three and four they will need to invent new ways to manage wealth and population, and reducing taxes or making the government smaller just isn’t a solution for solving those problems.

Also, notice the interactions between the stages.  Without stage 1, stage 2 can’t exist.  Without stage 2, stage 3 can’t exist.  You’d think stage 4 would be above stage 1 because if the ecology collapses, so will civilization.  But without civilization you can’t think of ecology.  So it becomes a circular process.

JWH – 2/27/11

Balancing the Budget–Part 1

Everyone is talking about how to solve the federal budget crisis.  Of course, people have been talking about this subject my whole life.  It’s a heated topic with no easy answers.  And it’s a more of a crisis in bad economic times than in boom times, so there is a certain amount of the sky is falling psychology behind the topic.  However, the debt of the United States is growing so large that maybe the sky really is about to fall.  Who really knows?  It does seem prudent to slow the debt we’re incurring.  It would be impossible to balance the budget in one year without massive spending cuts even if we set aside the current national debt as a separate issue.  It could take a whole generation to really get close to balancing the budget.

There is an excellent graph at the New York Times showing Obama’s 2011 Budget Proposal.  It illustrates the sizes of the various expenditures in relationship to each other.  However, you can read the details at the Office of Management and Budget.  For the average citizen looking at the budget is just mind boggling, and for most people they just think, “Hell, let the experts worry about it.”  The trouble is our government is in political gridlock with two opposing ideologies claiming they know what’s right.  To solve the problem will require thinking and acting out of the box.

There are a number of think tanks that focus on the federal budget which have web sites you can study.  I recommend studying these sites rather than listening to politicians or watching the news on television.  They all have a political bias so I recommend reading more than one.

Personally, I have four recommendations that I think would help working on the problem.

  1. First, don’t consider the budget as a whole, but break it down into parts and lets research and discuss the parts.  Don’t think of it as one giant problem, but many smaller problems.
  2. Remove Social Security from the annual Federal Budget.  Consider it a separate insurance system paid for by FICA.  Don’t allow the Federal budget to use FICA income and make it pay back what it’s borrowed.  Consider Social Security a separate issue.
  3. Let’s really examine the whole issue of defense spending.  It’s been an untouchable sacred cow for too long.  And it hasn’t been the defense budget since the cold war ended – it’s become a world police force and nation building organization.  The whole system needs a rethink.
  4. Let’s have a moratorium on tax cuts.  Until the national debt gets under control lets work on spending cuts and don’t allow any more tax cuts until the budget is under control and we can afford them.  If our country is about to go down the drain because of national debt then we really should be talking about tax hikes.  It’s insane to talk about paying off debt and reducing income at the same time.

That still leaves a million issues to argue over, but I don’t want to write about them for now, that’s why I called this post part 1.  My friend Bill in his blog “That’s interesting …” has been running a lot of posts about the battle of the budget.  It’s such an emotional hot issue with way too many Chicken Littles running around.  Are the press and politicians creating a panic that need not exist?  Would a thriving economy just automatically solve these budget problems?  Are politicians assuming it’s the end of the world as we know and have started a fight over a shrinking pie?  I don’t know.  Politics has become so contentious and ungentlemanly that I want to quit watching all news programs.

JWH – 2/19/11