The teenagers are in charge of our government

Posted Saturday, Jun. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Anybody who has spent time around teenagers develops a sixth sense for when they are hearing those teens lie.

The elaborate explanation. The breezy dismissal. The dramatic outrage.

When teens tell you it isn’t a big deal, it usually is. When they tell you it’s OK with the adults in charge, it usually isn’t. When they tell you everything is fine, it is time to start worrying.

That special sense that I’m being lied to is in full bloom again, but this time it isn’t my teenagers trying to get away with something. It’s my government.

The head of the National Security Agency, seeking to explain and defend the wholesale surveillance of U.S. citizens, told the House Intelligence Committee that more than 50 potential terrorist events had been prevented by this surveillance.

That’s what teenagers do — impress you with big numbers. (All the kids are doing it! Everyone will be there!)

At the same hearing, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce described a couple of cases, including a scheme in San Diego to send money to an extremist group in Somalia, that had been thwarted by surveillance.

Pure teenager. They’ll try to overwhelm you with a flourish of dramatic detail so that you lose your place in the argument.

Along similar lines, I rolled my eyes when the FBI released internal investigations that found no fault with agents in all 150 shootings it investigated. About 70 subjects were fatally shot and 80 others wounded by agents, and every one of those incidents was deemed justified, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

Much the same goes on in the U.S. military, where commanders can simply toss out sexual assault convictions at will.

This self-justification, again, is typical teenager. They never understand why you have a problem with what they’re doing when they don’t have a problem with it.

So, when all those military brass hats were grilled by the Senate Armed Services Committee on the shocking explosion of unaddressed sexual assaults and promised they’d take care of it, I was hearing adolescents.

They objected to a proposal to give military prosecutors, instead of commanders, the power to decide which sexual assault cases to try, saying that making commanders less responsible and less accountable is not the answer.

I was hearing a teenager, who had abused his Internet or cellphone privileges, arguing that taking his toys away is not the answer.

And when NATO forces officially handed over police and security matters to Afghans, with all sorts of changing of the guard pageantry, I was reminded of teenagers who tell you it’s OK for them to drive to the beach with six friends, even if they have only had their license for six months. Meanwhile, all you can see are the tragic headlines.

Teenagers will lie to their parents for all sorts of reasons. But I think they also lie to their parents even when it isn’t necessary, for their own amusement.

I feel much the same way about what’s going on in my government right now. I’m being lied to to avoid a confrontation, to deflect criticism, and so these officials don’t have to face the truth about what they are doing.

I have a job and a house to run, and my government has plenty of time to find ways to do what it wants and to get away with it.

My devious teens grew up to be decent and honorable young adults. I don’t have the same hope for my government.

Susan Reimer is a columnist for The Baltimore Sun.

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