Friday, March 14, 2008

Here's A Story Where A Little Math Knowledge Comes In Handy

Look at this scare headline from USAToday:
Right now, feds might be looking into your finances

Ooga booga! Are you frightened? George Bush and his evil minions are spying on you! Let's read the first line of the story:

Each year, federal agents peek at the financial transactions of millions of Americans — without their knowledge.

Let's ignore the grammar error there (are the agents doing this unbeknownst to themselves, or unbeknownst to the millions of Americans?) and get to the author's point: be afraid, be very afraid, because Sam's violating your privacy.

Time out. Why are lefties, who seem deathly afraid that Sam might incidentally listen in to their 1-900-SMUT-4YU calls while wiretapping potential terrorists, the same people who want to put government in charge of everything, including health care? End time out. Game on!

Read a couple paragraphs down, though, and we're given some more information.

"I don't think Americans understand that their financial transactions are being reported and routinely examined," said Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Boo! The ACLU guys are jumping out of the bushes as you walk by, scaring you about the evil that your government is doing. Let me ask: is this George Bush's fault, since he's the President, or the Congress' fault, because they're not using their oversight to stop it? Has anyone been harmed, Barry, and why is nothing being done to stop this menace?

The Treasury Department's database now contains records of more than 100 million financial transactions going back to at least 1996, said network spokesman Steve Hudak.

Here's where a little math knowledge comes in handy. There are over 300,000,000 people in the US. I'm sure most of those 300,000,000 (that's 300 million) people have some kind of savings, checking, or credit account. Think of how many such transactions are conducted in one year. I myself conduct hundreds of transactions a year--credit card purchases, debit card purchases, ATM withdrawals, deposits, online bill pay, old-style written checks, etc. How many transactions a year do you perform? How many do you think are performed each year in America amongst those 300 million people?

The number must be staggering. Now, multiply that number by 12 to get a rough idea of how many banking transactions have been conducted in this country since 1996.

And the Treasury Department has records of only 100 million transactions, the tiniest fraction of 1%. That's 1 transaction for every 3 people in the US over the last 12 years. And the ACLU is up in arms.

You know what I'd like to ask Barry? Hey Barry, how do you expect the government to find drug dealers, white collar criminals, and even terrorists if they don't look for anomalous financial activities?

Well, this is probably one of George Bush's ideas, part of the Patriot Act that is turning the US into a police state. Oh, but wait:

The reporting system dates to the early 1970s when federal agents sought to pinpoint drug dealers by looking for people making large cash deposits.

Financial institutions have long been required to report cash transactions over $10,000. Those reports — simple notices of a deposit or withdrawal — account for more than 90% of the records the enforcement network gets each year.

So this has been going on for 30 years or more. And what party ran both houses of Congress during the entire decade of the 70's, and therefore wrote the law?

What's Barry's problem? What records and tools does Barry think the government should use to identify and track down criminals?


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