What Will It Take?
Sale of Z Videos
Criminalization of Dissent
American Civil Liberties
Gaza Boats Seized
Wasting $13 Million
What Happened to Children First?
Bruce E. Levine
The Student Debt Bubble
Nicolas J.S. Davies
The Obama Doctrine
The Power Couple
Laurence h. Shoup
Bread and Roses
The Monopoly of Manipulation
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The Student Debt Bubble
An interview with Alan Nasser
Alan Nasser is professor emeritus of political economy at Evergreen State College in
Harris: How severe is the issue of student loan debt?
Nasser: It was announced last summer that the total student loan debt—at $830 billion—now exceeds the total
For-profit school enrollment is growing faster than enrollment at public schools and a growing percentage of students attending for-profit schools represent holders of debt that are likely to default.
What are the parallels between the student debt bubble and the broader subprime mortgage financial crisis? Do you see the same criminality and collusion between lenders, ratings agencies, and government agencies?
The extraordinary growth of student debt parallels the beginning of the dot.com bubble in the mid-1990s to the bursting of the housing bubble. From 1994 to 2008, average debt levels for graduating seniors more than doubled to $23,200, according to the Student Loan Project, a nonprofit research and policy organization. More than 10 percent of those completing their bachelor’s degree are now saddled with over $40,000 in debt.
In the build-up to the housing crisis, the major ratings agencies used by the biggest banks gave high ratings to mortgage-backed securities that were in fact toxic. A similar pattern is evident in student loans. A credit score is not required for federal loan eligibility. Neither is information regarding income, assets, or employment. Borrowing is still encouraged in the face of strong evidence that the likelihood of default is high.
Of course, the usual suspects are among the top private lenders: Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and JP Morgan-Chase. Loaning money to anyone without prime qualifications was “subprime lending” during the ballooning of the housing bubble, when banks were enticing otherwise ineligible candidates to buy houses they could not afford. Shouldn’t lending without adequate credit checks to college students with insecure credit also be considered “subprime lending?”
What are the social and economic demographics underlying the student debt issue? What are the racial and class dimensions involved? Who’s being targeted, what are some important recruitment bases? Who’s most likely to default and who’s most likely saddled with adjustable-rate private loans. Who’s attending for-profit colleges?
Even the disturbing findings of recent Congressional hearings on the recruitment techniques of proprietary colleges hasn’t jeopardized these schools’ access to federal funds. The hearings displayed footage from an undercover investigation showing admissions staff at proprietary schools using recruitment techniques explicitly forbidden by the National Association of College Admissions Counselors. Admissions and enrollment employees are also shown misrepresenting the costs of an education, the graduation and employment rates of students, and the accreditation status of institutions.
These deceptions increase the likelihood that graduates of for-profits will have special difficulties repaying their loans, since the majority enrolled at these schools are low-income students. Don’t think that predatory lenders market loans only to actual students. Potential students are targeted as well. A major mantra nowadays is that the best protection against unemployment is a college education, which has led some private lenders to recruit borrowers at the unemployment office.
I mentioned earlier that 96 percent of students at for-profit schools have taken student loans and that these students are the most likely to default. The Education Department reports that 43 percent of those who default on student loans attended for-profit schools, even though only 26 percent of borrowers attended such schools.
These schools target the military market with an aggressive and highly successful recruitment campaign. High numbers of active duty and recently discharged military personnel attend for-profits. Twenty-nine percent of military enrollments are in the for-profit sector and 40 percent of annual tuition assistance to veterans winds up going to proprietary schools. Data from the U.S. Army and Defense Department show that the
How is default measured and reported? Do lenders profit off students defaulting on their debts? Should we be expecting a future bailout for the lenders invested in the student debt bubble?
The health of student loans is officially assessed by the “cohort-default rate,” a supposedly reliable predictor of the likelihood that borrowers will default. But the cohort-default rate only measures the rate of defaults during the first two years of repayment. Defaults that occur after two years are not tracked by the Department of Education for institutional financial aid eligibility. Nor do government loans require credit checks or other types of regard for whether a student will be able to repay the loans.
As noted earlier, total outstanding federal and private student-loan debt is approaching $1 trillion. Only 40 percent of that debt is actively being repaid. The rest is in default or in deferment (when a student requests temporary postponement of payment because of economic hardship), which means payments and interest are halted or in forbearance. Interest on government loans is suspended during deferment, but continues to accrue on private loans. As tuitions increase, loan amounts increase; private loan interest rates have reached highs of 20 percent. Add that to a troubled economy and dismal job market, and we have the trappings of a major bubble. As it goes with contemporary bubbles, when the loans go into default, taxpayers will be forced to pick up the tab, since just about all loans made before July 2010 are backed by the federal government.
In September 2008, then-Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced in a news release that default rates on federal loans were “historically low”: only 5.2 percent of recent grads were in trouble. Spellings used the cohort-default rate to arrive at this figure. But the Department’s Inspector General Office employed a more realistic method in its 2003 audit, which calculated lifetime risk. It estimated that over their lifetime between 19 and 31 percent of college freshmen and sophomores would default on their loans (depending on the type of loan and when it was taken). For community college students, the prospects were grimmer still as between 30 and 42 percent were expected to default. And the future was most discouraging for students at for-profits: between 38 and 51 percent were anticipated to default. You can see that the default rate among student borrowers is expected to be higher than that for subprime home mortgages.
We’ve seen one way that government aids and abets the lenders, by fudging default rates. But government’s participation in this rip-off goes deeper than that. The Department of Education has its own loan program and, accordingly, a positive interest in defaults. It makes a financial killing on its recovery of Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) defaulted loans.
In a Wall Street Journal report, John Hechinger reveals that for every dollar the Education Department pays out in default claims, it is able to rake back the entire principal, plus almost 20 percent in interest, penalties, and fees. Keep in mind that the value of the default portfolio includes not merely principal plus interest at time of default, but also the interest that continues to accrue after default. A glance at the Supplement to President Obama’s 2010 budget shows that the most recent recovery rate—the amount recovered compared to the amount of the defaulted loan—for defaulted FFELP loans is 122 percent. This is the highest recovery rate for all types of federal loans and more than twice the rate for the next highest loan category. You get a sense of the relative enormity of Uncle Sam’s looting binge when you look at the recovery rate for credit card defaults—about 25 cents on the dollar.
Alan Collinge of StudentLoanJustice.org has shown that the Department of Education makes more on defaulted loans than it does on loans in good stead.
The fee system is at the heart of the private lenders’ affection for default. Collinge has analyzed IRS filings of guarantors of federal student loans. It turns out that guaranty agencies average about 60 percent of their income from fees alone. If the default rate declines, so do the fees and income of the guarantors. The biggest private lenders, like SLM Corporation (Sallie Mae) and Citigroup, have interests comparable to the guarantors. This is because the latter, as well as some of the biggest collection agencies, are often owned by the lenders. The lender, guarantor, and collector thus form a system of interwoven interests: a lender defaults a loan, which then becomes bloated with collection fees, which then generates a flow of revenues to the guarantor and the collector. If the latter two are owned by the lender, we have income continuously flowing to all three—provided that borrowers continue to default.
What recourse, legally speaking, do student borrowers have? Are ordinary consumer protections like bankruptcy or refinancing options available?
No, it’s not possible for student debtors to escape financial devastation by declaring bankruptcy. This most fundamental of consumer protections would have been available to student debtors were it not for legislation explicitly designed to withhold a whole range of basic protections from student borrowers. I’m not talking only about bankruptcy protection, but also truth in lending requirements, statutes of limitations, refinancing rights, even state usury laws. Congress has rendered all these protections inapplicable to federally-guaranteed student loans. The same legislation also gave collection agencies hitherto unimaginable powers, for example, to garnish wages, tax returns, Social Security benefits, and—believe it or not—disability income. Twisting the knife, legislators made the suspension of state-issued professional licenses, termination of public employment, and denial of security clearances legitimate measures to enable collection companies to wring financial blood from bankrupt student-loan borrowers. Student loan debt is the most punishable of all forms of debt—most of those draconian measures are unavailable to credit card companies. Maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, Sallie Mae recently announced that it will forgive a debt under either of two conditions: in case the borrower dies or becomes totally disabled.
How can we situate the student debt bubble within the larger context of the American economy?
When we think about the impact of swollen student debt on the debtors, we need to keep in mind the economic situation of this generation apart from the educational debt burden. Students are entering a world in which there will be fewer jobs and the majority of available jobs will be low-paying. What President Obama said of the auto industry, that “many of these jobs will not come back,” is true of the job market in general. Just as no one expects the Nasdaq to re-inflate, and no one expects, or should expect, the housing bubble to re-inflate, we cannot expect income levels or job opportunities to resemble what Americans of my generation took for granted during the so-called “Golden Age” of American capitalism. That was the longest period of sustained growth in
In order to maintain anything resembling a decent standard of living under these circumstances working people are going to have to become something grimly resembling debt peons. Current income will not suffice to meet the basic needs of the typical household, so future income will have to be mortgaged in the form of debt. This is not surprising in a country where the elite are no longer primarily wealthy industrial capitalists producing “real” goods and services, but are now financial capitalists producing financial “products.” Yes, that’s what debt is called in the financial world: it’s the principal product of financial capital.
The mythology of “the American Dream” has always been a crucial means of diffusing class tension in the
The objective conditions for the possibility of both a mass movement and a student movement whose fundamental issues are ballooning education costs and education debt are in place. This is a remarkable development. But the key words here are “objective” and “possibility.” The deliberate imposition of mass working-class austerity in order to protect and magnify the wealth of the elite is indeed objectively excellent grounds for organized resistance.
I happen to believe—and this is by no means a conviction shared by all on the Left—that what is required is a Party with a clear program and the ability to reach out effectively to working people with the twin aims of learning from them and sharing with them plausible Left understandings of the current crisis. This will require identifying and building on already-existing popular grievances. I think that a necessary part of this task is to have accessible and compelling alternatives to existing arrangements.
Two examples are: (1) Jefferson’s notion that the national bank, in our case the Fed, should be owned and operated as a public utility; (2) a bailout-for-the-people, which would address the mortgage crisis. Instead of giving trillions of our money to finance capital, government might begin by requiring that the true market value of homes be determined. This is much easier than determining the true value of the notoriously complex toxic bundled securities.
It’s not even clear that there is such a thing as “the true value of Collateralized Debt Obligations.” This is surely doable and has government functioning unambiguously on behalf of working-class interests.
When I say that this is doable, I do not imply that such a project would not be met with fierce resistance by the vested interests. That resistance would have to be met by just-as-fierce counter-resistance. That presupposes an organized Left political tendency already in place and entails a protracted struggle which, like the women’s suffrage and civil rights movements, we do not expect to win in the short run. Serial defeats are to be expected. What we hope to build is what Bush Sr. called “the big mo,” momentum.
Why do you think American students—and the general population—have been, until the Occupy movement, quiescent in comparison to their European counterparts?
The quiescence has been stunning. Surely a major consideration in Europeans’ militancy is the history of socialist and communist parties there. These parties were not demonized as they have been here. Another important factor is the degree of propaganda that Americans have been subject to since the early 20th century. Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, is considered the father of modern advertising and public relations. Thus, anti-capitalism is considered anti-American. Other developed countries don’t have this kind of economic patriotism. It has been an explicit agenda of the
The issue of student debt seems like a unifying issue around which American youth are starting to mobilize, not only for immediate reforms like robust public funding for education and debt forgiveness, but to open up opportunities for long-term organized resistance to American state and corporate power. So how can we begin to move in that direction?
I was recently interviewed by a group in New York who are working on a website where present and former students could enter a few pertinent facts about their debt and learn in a few seconds, through a graphic, just what percentage of their debt payments were going where—to the school, to which bank, etc. These are well-informed people and their project seems to be a good example of one of the ways students can be brought into a project that would be informative, educational, and movement-building at the same time.
What are some short-term tactics for students to gain a little breathing room, which can allow for a widening of the struggle and sustained effort into the future? If ordinary legal protections are denied to student borrowers, then do class-action lawsuits and demands for student-debt cancellation need to be part of the strategy?
Yes, class action lawsuits and demands for unqualified debt forgiveness should certainly be on any Left movement’s agenda. All the questions above arise regarding the difficulties and requirements for the formation of an organized Left resistance. But there is the fact about which we can be certain now: if all student debtors, or even most of them, simply refused to pay, the creditors would be powerless to recoup their losses. Shades of the General Strike.
Collin Harris is a freelance writer, media producer, and activist. He will be launching MOSS Magazine this winter.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
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PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
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LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
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MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
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LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
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VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.