Any editor spends a large chunk of time filtering out calls and e-mails that, while interesting, have little to do with their readers.
Last week, for example, brought a call from a man in Calgary, Canada, urging us to put an investigative reporter on the fact that Hillary Clinton was actually a man and an ex-convict from Canada. I gently declined when he offered to provide proof. I'm prepared for the inevitable ridicule if some other paper ends up breaking this story.
Shortly thereafter, there was an e-mail press release about a book by Erik Rush titled "Annexing Mexico: Solving the Border Problem Through Annexation and Assimilation." I have to admit it caught my attention, primarily because I had no idea that was an option.
Well, it's not, of course, even though the author does his best to make a logical case for everybody involved. (Many Mexicans want to be Americans and escape from poverty; Americans spend billions each year on illegal aliens and border enforcement ... logical solution - extend the border). Our new southern border, the author argues, would be much narrower and easier to defend from terrorists. The best thing, he says, is we'd get their huge oil reserves and space to handle our growing population.
But why should we stop at Mexico ... there's a lot to be said for Canada.
These are examples of radical thinking gone slightly amok. But it occurs to me that this is a time when radical thinking of a more traditional sort is exactly what we need as a country. Something major must happen to rescue us from our problems, which are getting worse, not better, under the control of our political machinery.
We like to think we're an affluent country, but yet so many families without insurance are one injury away from ruin. Much of our country's great debt is financed by China, something everyone knows, yet no one is doing anything except talking.
If Social Security goes bankrupt as expected, we'll have a lot of destitute retirees in the next few generations. And then there's our overdependence on oil, which even many war supporters would admit has kept us deeply entrenched in the morass of the Middle East.
The radical solutions to those problems are out there, but it's possible we've built a government bureaucracy that is immune to them, that's too firmly held in the grip of partisan politics and corporate influence.
For example, what if someone made a logical argument for doing away with the federal income tax in favor of a sales tax. Would it even be possible to make such a change from a bureaucratic standpoint? Think of all the IRS and other government jobs that exist for no other reason than to collect our taxes, not to mention the private industry that exists solely to help us complete complex tax forms.
It's radical, that's for sure, but what if it made sense? I read about the proposal at FairTax.org: "It eliminates all federal taxes on earnings and investments and unlike previous tax proposals pitting one income group against another, it has advantages for every income level.
"Millions of illegal immigrants will support our national government as consumers but a monthly universal rebate is only paid to legal residents Every wage earner sees a dramatic increase in take-home pay as all federal payroll withholding taxes are eliminated. Investors can delight that capital gains taxes are eliminated as well as the much debated 'inheritance tax.'"
Even if the proposal is as perfect as they make it sound - and I have no proof that's the case - it would doubtlessly get gummed up in the machinery and special interests of government. We'd hear about jobs being lost and a tax preparation and collection industry being brought down. It would also take from Congress a useful mechanism for granting favors in terms of tax breaks.
As the FairTax.org Web site points out optimistically, this country managed to make such radical changes as giving women the right to vote, passing and then repealing Prohibition, and guaranteeing civil rights. But those things happened a long time ago.
Maybe I'm being too cynical about the ability of our country to right itself when needed. Maybe it's not too late to save Social Security or make health care and home ownership accessible to the masses.
Maybe all we need is a dynamic leader to step forward with the courage to present radical ideas, gain consensus, and make real changes, no matter how blistering the opposition.
Just be wary of Hillary ... that tip from Calgary is just crazy enough to be true.
• Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at 881-1221 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org