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The Bigger, Badder Daily Banter Mail Bag: Greenwald's Latest, Civics in Schools, Our Best Stuff and Worst Comments

In this week's edition of The Daily Banter Mail Bag, Bob, Ben and Chez discuss Greenwald's latest on New Zealand, civics in schools, our finest posts and our most horrendous comments.
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Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald in

In this week's edition of The Daily Banter Mail Bag, Bob, Ben and Chez discuss Greenwald's latest on New Zealand, civics in schools, our finest posts and our most horrendous comments.

The questions:

1. What are your thoughts on Greenwald and Kim Dotcom joining forces five days before our general election to try to destabilize the New Zealand government? I know we are a small country but would love to hear your take on it.
-- Jason

Ben: I have absolutely no idea whether New Zealand has been engaging in mass surveillance of its citizens given it is impossible to know exactly how truthful Greenwald is being at any given moment. I've always thought that about 80% of what he says is right, but the minor details he glosses over in his reporting (on pretty much everything) makes a profound difference when it comes to accurately understanding what is happening. Of course New Zealanders have a right to know if their government is spying on them, and Greenwald may be doing a good thing in exposing it. Problem is, what the hell is he doing with a self promoting charlatan like Kim Dotcom? I mean, he's a grown man who changed his last name to 'Dotcom' for Christ's sake. It's this type of nonsense that turns normal people off activism. It's all about the activists rather than the cause.

Chez: I'd love to say that I'm surprised that Greenwald is associating with someone who's a pretty notorious accused copyright thief -- and a character who actually changed his name to Dotcom. But as we've learned over the past year, as long as you claim to be a fellow warrior in the fight against the big, bad surveillance state, Greenwald doesn't give a shit what else you've got on your record. I admit that when I first heard that New Zealand was Greenwald's and Snowden's new playground -- that he was now trying to scare that country's residents into believing they were being spied on 24/7 -- I kind of laughed. No offense to you, but I immediately thought of Murray from Flight of the Conchords reacting with childlike surprise to the news and immediately phoning Prime Minister Brian about it (who would of course wonder if it was anything like The Matrix, which he had just seen recently for the first time). I guess all I can say is that I'm sorry Greenwald, Snowden, Assange, and Dotcom -- four carpetbaggers, three of whom are wanted criminals -- have decided that your country is where they're going to make their stand. Really does suck for you.

Bob: Does anyone actually read Greenwald any more? Seriously, I shudder to think that any voters anywhere would actually read his misleading, hyperbolic, out-of-context nonsense and actually take it into the voting booth. If so, heaven help us all.

2. Should civics be taught more in schools? Is the reason for not teaching kids at whatever age about the Constitution and other parts of the government designed so that we have a purposely ignorant population? Millennials just blow when it comes to knowing anything about the basics of government. They don't seem to realize how much it affects their daily lives and college futures.
-- Mario

Chez: I don't think there's some kind of conspiracy to avoid teaching kids about civics in an effort to keep the public stupid, although there's no doubt that conservatives have generally been suspicious of education throughout the very recent era. The hard-right conservatives have this thing where they believe education, public education, is constantly trying to indoctrinate their kids to liberal thinking. That's not what's going on, of course, it's simply that when you remove religion from education what you're left with is the usual logic and reason and that flies in the face of conservative Christian orthodoxy. I do think, though, that civics is hugely important and I'm not sure how Millennials feel about it or what they're learning, but you can always learn more. If we don't understand how government works and doesn't work, we're fucked.

Bob: No. Americans know enough about civics, as illustrated in this poll showing only 36 percent of Americans could name all three branches of government. 36 percent of 310 million? That's a lot! I have no idea how many -- maybe like 10 million people or something.

I'm kidding of course. Were it up to me, civics would be as compulsory as math and science.

Ben: Oh hell yeah, civics is incredibly important. Political apathy in America (and Britain, where I'm from) is pretty serious and threatens to undermine much of what has been achieved over the past couple of hundred years. If Americans knew what their country was set up to do, then half the bullshit Republicans feed them about the evils of government would be ignored or laughed at. I'm also for schools teaching kids about relationships and dating. That stuff is confusing, and no one gives you any warning how rough it can be. If we invested in both, we'd have happily married liberals who would make the world a better place.

3. Do you have an article you're proud to have written (or is simply your favorite) and why?
-- Lynn

Bob: There's no single article that stands out for me. I'd like to think my best articles are yet to come -- in other words, I'm always striving to improve, so I rarely look back. But if I had to choose, I think my "13 Benghazis" post is up there. I also like my series of Greenwald/NSA posts chiefly because I enjoy covering ongoing beats like that. I did the same thing with healthcare back in 2009. Speaking of Greenwald, my favorite predates Snowden. I debunked a post he wrote in which he hyped the "proliferation" of domestic drones, but it turned out the drone he was so frightened by was actually no bigger than a model airplane. A toy, basically.

Chez: I'm really hard on myself most of the time so that's a tough one. There are a couple of pieces from my blog that stand out for me. One written in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting, another involving an assignment I went on for CNN to a Texas death row unit, and some of the personal stuff -- like, as painful as it was, the pieces I wrote to help me cope as my marriage was falling apart. At Banter I was really glad I was able to write the Robin Williams depression piece and, of course, the open letter than drew the Sandy Hook sign thief out. I'm glad that worked out. If there's one thing I'm truly proud of it's my book, "Dead Star Twilight." I'm a writer in every sense, which means there are times I've read through it and thought it's actually pretty good and other times that I've skimmed a couple of pages and thought, "This sucks." But overall the fact that I managed to crank out 346 pages on anything feels like a miracle. That people have really liked it and responded to it is just gravy.

Ben: Good question. I've gone after Israel pretty hard, so it would probably have to be one of those pieces I've done. I'm not going to say I'm particularly brave, but as someone of Jewish descent writing in a massively pro Israel country, coming out against their occupation of Palestine doesn't make my life particularly easy. Advertisers run a mile from anyone who even suggests there is another side to the story, and lots of my family and friends hate what I say and make it abundantly clear. That's not to mention the extraordinary hate mail I get, and sometimes threats of physical violence. I don't really care though as I feel some sense of duty to speak out about it given I have a platform and I disagree so vehemently with what is going on over there.

4. What's the worst comment you've ever gotten?
-- Martin

Bob: Someone wished cancer on my entire family. That was pretty bad.

Chez: You're a drummer -- aren't you supposed to have rhythm? Wait, you're talking about at Banter?

Ben: When we launched the Member Section earlier this week, a commenter wrote in saying something along the lines of "why would I sign up for this shit?". Having spent years of writing and editing to get us to the point of being able to have a member section, several weeks figuring out how to do it, then dealing with every technical and logistical problem under the sun, I admit it did get to me quite a bit. I've had meaner, more personal comments directed at me before, but the timing was pretty bad on that one.