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November 14, 2001 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 2001-11-14

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4 -The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, November 14, 2001


7bte Alirigun auiIv

daily. letters@umich.edu

SINCE 1890

Editor in Chief
Editorial Page Editors

... A merica has
historically always
had a very specific
ethno-cultural core -
white, slowly evolved
from British and
Protestant ..."
-Peter Brimelow, author of "Alien Nation,"
responding Sunday in a written statement on
vdare.com to Dr. Stephen Steinlight of the
American Jewish Committee, who criticized
Brimelow's assertion that non-European
immigration damages American culture.


Unless otherwise noted, unsigned editorials reflect the opinion of the majority of the Daily's
editorial board. All other articles, letters and cartoons do not
necessarily reflect the opinion of The Michigan Daily.

What a shmoo can teach us about class conflict

oday, Americans
are involved in two
wars. While the
public concentrates on the
government's murderous
invasion of Afghanistan,
class war is being waged in
Washington, D.C.
..That's not just sectar-
ian communist tripe; the
progressive - but hardly
radical - journalist Bill Moyers declared it
last week in The Nation, as he lamented the
rash of irresponsible post-Sept. I1 corporate
giveaways in Washington.
One of the most egregious giveaways has
been the House's retroactive repeal of the
Alternative Minimum Tax. The AMT, enact-
ed during the Reagan era, was a reaction to
corporate tax loopholes and intended to
force corporations to pay at least some taxes.
In the version passed by the House, corpora-
tions are entitled to $25 billion in tax
refunds; Fourteen corporations (including
IBM, General Electric and General Motors)
will receive $6.3 billion. "Our business and
political class owes us better than this. After
all, it was they who declared class war twen-
ty years ago, and they who won," Moyers
Moyers' observation is an astute one.
Americans need to think about what it means
to say "united we stand." More specifically,
Americans need to think about who/what
exactly is this "we," and contemplate the
uncomfortable possibility that there may in
fact be certain classes of people whose inter-
ests are fundamentally opposed.
The current liberal political consensus
presupposes that what is in the interest of the
wealthiest individuals is ultimately also in

the interest of the poorest, but the current
liberal political consensus might be wrong.
In his book "Class Counts" (Cambridge,
1997), Erik Olin Wright offers the following
illustration about how two classes might
have totally incompatible interests:
In the 1940s comic Li'l Abner, there are
only two classes: Workers and capitalists.
The capitalists are looking for a community
where labor is cheap and settle on the town
of Dogpatch, which, it just so happens, has
become overrun by a benevolent creature
called a "shmoo." Shmoos have the ability to
change themselves into anything necessary
for human existence but not into luxury
items. So a shmoo could turn itself into a
sturdy flannel shirt but not a Ralph Lauren
blouse. Even better, since the shmoos can
multiply themselves an infinite number of
times and desire only to serve humans, "in
effect, the shmoo restores humanity to the
Garden of Eden."
Now, let us make the standard assump-
tion also made in neoclassical economics
that both classes in Dogpatch are composed
of "rational agents," that is, everyone is self-
interested - neither altruistic nor malevo-
lent. What emerges from this assumption is a
scenario that is ideal for the workers and
awful for the capitalists. Whereas the work-
ers have all their needs met and they only
have to work for discretionary income, the
capitalists would have to make significant
investments to make the jobs in their facto-
ries enticing enough to the workers, who no
longer have to look after their own basic
Now suppose that, in addition to allow-
ing everyone access to shmoos, it was also
possible to limit access to the shmoos, so
that only workers or capitalists could get

shmoos or no one could get shmoos. How
would workers-or capitalists, acting as ratio-
nal agents, choose to distribute shmoos?
If the workers were rational, their prefer-
ences would be ranked like this: 1) Everyone
gets shmoos. 2) Only workers get shmoos. 3)
Only capitalists get shmoos. 4) Nobody gets
shmoos. If the capitalists were acting ratio-
nally, their preferences would be almost dia-
metrically opposed to the workers: 1) Only
capitalists get shmoos. 2) Nobody gets
shmoos. 3) Everybody gets shmoos. 4) Only
workers get shmoos.
"What the story of the shmoo illustrates
is that the deprivations of the propertyless in
a capitalist system are not simply an unfortu-
nate byproduct of the capitalist pursuit of
profit; they are a necessary condition for that
pursuit," Wright concludes.
One real world example of the story of
the shmoo would be the case of subsistence
farmers in South Africa. Of course, the farm-
ers had no use for money (they produced
everything they needed), yet they were sub-
jected to monetary taxes in order to force
them into the labor market.
Maybe society and the economy have
changed to such a degree that the parable of
the shmoo no longer applies, but is this
something we should just assume? I think
not, especially in light of the astronomical
tax breaks our representatives in Washington
are handing mega-corporations while the
unemployed enjoy no assistance at all.
Instead, Americans ought to start thinking
critically about the nature of class and its
role in their lives. The shmoo might still
have a lot to say.

Nick Woomer can be reached
via e-mail at nwoomer@umich.edu.

Could the ad ministration be watching 'U'?

Administrative policy
loopholes leave room for
civil liberties abuse

Most students take their constitutional right to priva-
cy for granted, assuming that their email and telephone
conversations, student records, residences and even M-
card photos are private. Others are made acutely aware
of the importance of privacy: Victims of stalking and
sexual violence, political activists and victims of racial
profiling all rely on our constitutional guarantee to pri-
vacy in their daily lives. The University, hopefully
through negligence, has failed to enact effective policies
to protect students' privacy. As an example, currently,
the University has no clear policy preventing adminis-
trators from reading students' e-mail, and no way for
students to file complaints if they believe their constitu-
tional right to privacy has been violated.
The Student Rights Commission of the Michigan
Student Assembly has undertaken a review of privacy
issues at the University, and we have concluded that in
many areas, the University has neglected to address pri-
vacy concerns. We believe the administration must
address the privacy of student records, students' e-mail
and computer files and M-card photos - because all are
loosely protected at best.
This is not a new issue. Faculty and students have
been concerned about the weak and non-existent poli-
cies for years. The University's faculty senate created a
Civil Liberties Board in 1966 to protect the civil liber-
ties of students, faculty and staff. In 1999, that body
created a sub-committee on privacy, to investigate how
the University might better protect the privacy of Uni-
versity faculty - and students.
In 2000, after more than a year of meetings, the
Civil Liberties Board published the "Civil Liberties
Board Report of Privacy and Confidentiality" - a doc-
ument that criticized the University's Standard Practice
Guide policies, identifying five areas of concern dealing
with electronic and other privacy issues. They asked the
University to consider creating special Privacy Over-
sight and Complaint Resolution Committees. This
report has been ignored. On Sept. 25 2001, the Daily
reported that University President Lee Bollinger and the
administration had completely ignored the report, and
that the faculty senate had drafted a letter to "draw
Bollinger's attention to their concerns." ("Bollinger
asked to respond to faculty concerns, requests," 9/25/01)
The administration ignored the letter.
Privacy seems to be something the administration

versity called milerun@umich.edu. The University spent
thousands of dollars to plaster the campus with posters
discouraging students from running. Yet a Freedom of
Information Act request for e-mail sent to the e-mail
group they used to coordinate the effort came up with a
press releases and innocuous congratulatory e-mail:
Apparently the rest were exempt from scrutiny, and
they claimed they fell under the clause protecting pass-
words, keys, locks and security procedures under
FOIA. After the Naked Mile debacle last year, students
used e-mail to try to organize a second, "secret" Naked
Mile. Ann Arbor Police and Department of Public
Safety officers flooded the area where the
run was to begin, raising the specter of e- Privacy se
mail privacy for many students. While someth
they may have heard about the plans admini
legitimately, it raised the issue: Does the applies1
University read students' e-mail? If they
do not, are their policies to ensure that Resident a
they will not in the future? not info,
Currently, there is no policy that their resi
unambiguously protects the privacy of all legally ret
students' e-mail and computer files stored them intof
or transmitted on the University's net- ... wh
work. The Standard Practice Guide - the admini
set of regulations applying to faculty and
staff at the university - contains a brief operates
entry on the privacy of e-mail and data, almost bl
saying that "personal electronic mail ... is secs
considered private to the fullest extent per- -
mitted by law." However, it is unclear if this policy
includes student e-mail, since the guide only applies to
staff. Also, the only federal law governing e-mail has
proven an ambiguous protection of privacy at best: The
Electronic Communications Privacy Act was written in
1986, and although protects e-mail in transit, it allows
businesses and Internet service providers to read their
employees' and client's e-mail freely. In this case, it
seems unclear whether the University should be consid-
ered a government entity, or a provider of Internet ser-
vices. If the first, the University is strictly prohibited
from reading student e-mail without legal warrants; if the
latter, students have few, if any, constitutional protec-
tions to privacy of e-mail.
Our second concern is the privacy of student
records. While the Family Education Rights Protection
Act (FERPA) and the University's own policies
regarding student records provide fairly strong stan-

ten requests, and allows these requests to be postponed
for up to 45 days. This length of time is clearly unaccept-
able, and must be shortened - students must have timely
access to their records for financial, legal and personal
reasons, and over a month's delay is unnecessary.
In addition to written records, the University main-
tains a database of all M-card photos. These photos are
available to faculty and staff for "identification purpos-
es" and students may request their own photos by mail.
The policies protecting the privacy of these photos
must be strengthened - the photos can be a tool for
law enforcement, but students should be informed of


eems to be
hing the
to itself:
advisers are
med that
dents can
fuse to let
their rooms
lie the
under an
blanket of

their right. In order to protect the safety
of students, protect Constitutional rights,
and prevent fraud, students should be
told about their right to have this photo
expunged from the database after they
are issued a card, and the photos should
not be available through the mail to
either administrators or student seeking a
copy of their own photo. Face-identifica-
tion technology was used at the last
Superbowl to scan the crowd for wanted
criminals, and this technology could be
used to easily compare the University's
vast database of photos with photos
taken at political protests, Hash Bash,
even the Naked Mile, allowing the Uni-
versity to make a positive identification
using a photograph alone.

Finally, regarding either privacy of electronic data or
records, there is no provision for faculty, staff, or stu-
dents to file complaints if they believe their privacy has
been violated. The faculty senate's Civil Liberties Board
recommended the creation of privacy Oversight and
Complaint Resolution committees in 2000, an idea we
strongly support. No policy, no matter how strong, can
be effective without efficient and consistent means for
The Student Rights Commission believes the Uni-
versity can make several changes to dramatically
improve the protection of students' rights to privacy on
campus. First, create a forceful and comprehensive pol-
icy strictly protecting the privacy of student e-mail,
files, and web browsing on University computers and
networks. Second, create a privacy Oversight and
Complaint Resolution committees, as suggested by
SACUA in 2000, so that students, faculty and staff will
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