- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Sun of Lowell (Mass.), Dec. 19, 2014

Maybe James Franco and Seth Rogen should have pitched Sony executives a script about the unintended consequences of making a supposedly satirical movie about assassinating the young, unstable ruler of North Korea.

Because that’s the scenario unfolding from “The Interview,” the movie the two actually made, which now is unlikely to be shown anywhere.

The fallout from Sony Pictures’ capitulation to the demands of the hackers - now generally acknowledged by several sources to be the cyber-terror arm of the North Korean government - will have a disturbing ripple effect.

It sets an ominous precedent. It’s a direct attack on every democratic society’s freedom of expression. Now we’re open to blackmail threats from every repressive regime or group of anarchists that might be offended by any form of criticism.

Can corporate interests be so easily cowed by this isolated country that can’t even feed its own people?

As one expert on North Korea told Fox News: “Sony was stupid to make a movie about killing Kim Jong Un, but it was even more stupid to cave into pressure.”

Obviously, these threats, on the heels of the deadly hostage siege at a Sydney, Australia, cafe, were seen as significant enough for Sony to pull the film.

Plus the images of the July 2012 mass murder of moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado, by a lone gunman that left 12 dead and 70 injured have not faded away.

And while Sony Pictures’ headquarters are in Culver City, California, its parent company’s base is in Japan - uncomfortably close to the Korean Peninsula.

Considerations, while valid, wildly overstated the actual threat.

While the hackers certainly showed their prowess in exposing sensitive emails of Sony executives, their ability to coordinate Sept. 11-style attacks was slim and none. “Zero” is how one security expert described it.

Even President Obama, in an interview with ABC News, encouraged Americans to go to the movies.

So it appears we can chalk this up to the realities of the post 9/11 world in which we live.

It’s another challenge leveled by those who despise everything about us.

We can either continue to carry on as citizens of a free society, or allow ourselves to be intimidated by forces hell bent on degrading our way of life in any way they can.

In this case, we took a step backward.

The Portland (Maine) Press Herald, Dec. 17, 2014

Loan debt is now as much a part of the college experience as frat parties and all-night study sessions, but it wasn’t always so. In fact, in the 1980s, tuition made up less than a quarter of funding for higher education. With state and federal money paying the bulk of the costs, students graduated with minimal debt, if any at all.

That has changed in the last 30-plus years, as public colleges and universities around the country began relying less and less on public funding, and more on tuition and fees from students. The trend only accelerated during the Great Recession, even as more people left the sour job market to seek degrees, forcing schools to either raise tuition or cut valuable programs.

As a system created to provide access to higher education for everyone, regardless of economic status, that is unacceptable, and unsustainable.

The shift in funding, taking place through less than four decades, is remarkable.

According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, tuition accounted for less than 24 percent of higher education funding nationwide in 1988. By the start of the Great Recession in 2008, that number had risen to more than 35 percent. Now, it is 47 percent.

In Maine, the same has happened, only worse. In 1988, the average student in the University of Maine System paid less than a quarter of the total sticker price of their education. By 2008, however, students were picking up half the tab, and by 2013, almost 58 percent of higher education funding came from students.

This increasing reliance on tuition has helped push the cost of state universities and colleges up 230 percent since 1980. Meanwhile, programs such as Pell grants meant to help low-income students afford college have failed to keep up; Pell grants once covered 70 percent of the costs of going to a public institution, but now only cover 30 percent.

And through this same time period, real income, especially at lower levels, has remained almost unwaveringly static.

So in the same time that a college degree has grown increasingly critical to one’s future employment and earnings, it also has become more out of reach for low- and middle-income families.

There was some hope in the last fiscal year, when state funding for higher education ticked up slightly after four years of decreases following the 2008 crash. In Maine, last year brought a slight increase in state funding coupled with a small decrease in tuition, when adjusted for inflation.

But it will take continued investment to reverse a now decades-long trend that has weakened public colleges and universities, left many graduates with stifling debt, and kept others from pursuing higher education altogether. If public higher education is going to remain a great instrument for building the middle class, that has to change.

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