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The urgency to become cyber-secure in 2024

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Tom Purcell HeadBy Tom Purcell

According to the password managing company NordPass, the most commonly used passwords of 2023 are embarrassingly simpleminded.

The most popular password was “123456.” Scammers — and my dog, Thurber — can crack that one in less than 1 second.

“Admin” is the second most popular password. It and No. 7, “password,” also can be cracked in less than 1 second.

If you want to see how easy your passwords are to crack, type them into a password detector, such as this one from bitwarden.

The regrettable fact is, in the digital world in which we all now live, cyber scammers are working overtime to come up with ever-more-clever schemes to defraud us.

For example, ransomware attacks grew exponentially last year.

Ransomware is malicious software that scammers use to encrypt a company’s or individual’s data and block access to it until a hefty sum of money is paid.

Google the words “ransomware attack” and you’ll see a sizable list of individuals, big companies and entire cities that have been completely shut down by increasingly sophisticated scammers.

Another big trend: Activists who support various political causes are launching attacks on individuals and businesses who support their enemies.

Utilities and infrastructure that are using outdated systems are especially vulnerable to attacks.

Cyber attacks will be significantly worse in 2024 for anyone who uses a digital device.

Yet few are aware of, or prepared for, the threats they face — or how their poor cybersecurity skills are putting them and their families at incredible risk.

Case in point:

Last year, the top 10 weakest passwords were pretty much the same as they were in prior years, which offers a tremendous opportunity for cyber scammers to rob us blind.

You see, scammers are really good at guessing passwords — the weaker the password, the faster they can crack our code.

Here’s how scammers work:

First, they send us multiple fake emails or texts that look to be legitimate — spoofed emails from people we know or companies we do business with — hoping we click on the fraudulent links they embed.

Maybe it’s a “receipt” from Amazon that thanks us for our recent $300 order and asks us to click the link provided if we have questions about the order.

Or maybe it’s a special credit-card offer from your bank — except that it’s from an Internet address that has nothing to do with your bank.

If you “click here to apply” you will unwittingly allow scammers to install a malicious code into your computer that allows them to root around, hoping to find login and password details to gain access to your banking or credit card accounts.

Even if they don’t discover the passwords they need, it won’t take them but a few seconds to crack the weakest ones.

But our elderly face the greatest risk of cyber fraud because they are much more likely to trust people who email them or call them than younger generations are.

As we head into 2024, all of us must realize we are facing a new level of risk from cyber scammers.

We must learn what these risks are and learn to detect and thwart them so we can protect ourselves, our families and especially our elders from harm.

Improving our password skills is an obvious place to start. Here’s what a secure password might look like:

StopScammers1178#@!!in2024 &;&!!

According to bitwarden, it would take scammers centuries to crack that one!

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Bits and bobs rampaging through the news

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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While you were busy looking up the phrase “thirst trap” and wondering what that has to do with Martha Stewart, there were other shenanigans going on that ultimately serve to distract us from the mess the world, and in particular the country, has gotten itself into.

Such as a T-shirt is singularly responsible for putting Donald Trump in his place. Apparently, Nikki Haley has a shirt regaling the world in her glee of being barred permanently from the MAGA camp. That’ll show him, amirite?

Yet, on the same page, in tiny type, an Ohio court says that tossing in stun grenades during a raid, without determining the status of the occupants, is okey dokey in their book. Seems during a raid, a 1-year-old with heart and breathing issues ended up in intensive care after police swarmed the apartment with grenades and battering rams. (There’s a strong possibility that it was the wrong apartment, too.)

•People protesting for (or against?) the environment pelted the Mona Lisa with soup, but not to worry, since it was protected by a glass case.

There also is a surge of Texans fleeing the state because of the recent law banning gender-affirming care, because the stigma of being transgender makes them “feel” unwelcome.

However, a story on the $34 trillion national debt and the government’s plans to deal with that before the economy becomes just like the Confederate economy during the Civil War is nowhere to be found.

•Taylor Swift is being painted as the “Mona Swifta” or something wearing a Ravens jersey, and, of course, there’s more about her relationship Travis Kelce.

More scarily, Swift has been made into something of a porn star through the use of artificial intelligence, which the White House is alarmed by. Yet, nothing came from them about a comedy special using the likeness of George Carlin, without the estate’s permission, also done by AI.

I’m betting that there was boatloads more traffic on the web looking for Swift’s fake photos that there was about the U.S. soldiers killed in a drone attack in Jordan, apparently launched by a militia group backed by Iran.

When you hear the word fascism, as has been bandied about frequently in the last couple of years, you wouldn’t think it would apply to our country. Yet, given the content and direction of the national news media, it seems that fascism in some form has gripped the nation’s leaders.

(Looking online, fascists are normally associated with conservatives, but in this day and age, the descriptive “uniparty” is appropriate, since there’s very little distinction between Democrats and Republicans.)

One of the tenets of fascism is a media that is essentially a cheerleader for the perceived proper view, or more simply, the population is spoon-fed information that fits with the current narrative of leadership, along with pablum that serves to distract.

Which ultimately is my point. While we lap up stories about entertainers, or focus on faux controversies like climate change and how many made-up genders there are as of 4 p.m. Thursday, our freedoms and rights are being stripped away in favor of a government that is for itself only. We won’t notice it, and we’ll be happy.

Or, in the words of Charles Baudelaire, “the greatest trick the devil every pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.”

Tony Farkas is publisher of the San Jacinto News-Times and the Trinity County News-Standard. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication.

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School chaplain law hijacks in partisan ploy

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By Michael G. Maness

In August of last year, I joined over a hundred other Texas professional chaplains in signing a letter opposing a law that would use school safety funds to employ chaplains.

We saw multiple oddities in the claims, and I say this as a Conservative Evangelical Baptist.

Led by the Baptist Joint Committee with the Interfaith Alliance and Texas Impact, we concurred: “Because of our training and experience, we know that chaplains are not a replacement for school counselors or safety measures in our public schools, and we urge you to reject this flawed policy option: It is harmful to our public schools and the students and families they serve.”

I ask, what is the NEED?  I question the leader who believes chaplains solve all the schools’ problems, seemingly implying there are no honest healthy good-hearted teachers or administrators who truly care about their students.

The letter broached parental consent, which to me cancels the NEED for such a law, and I add that children have no need for school religious instruction that ought to be homegrown.  Schools should have no say, no favor, no disfavor, and truly be neutral to a student’s religion that is fostered best from home.

Prison, military, and hospital chaplains facilitate the religion of those with limited free-world access.  The school is not either of those, because the child goes home every day.

I have defended “respect of faith” to great lengths in several books, because state-gov favor of one faith actually assaults the authenticity of the very faith favored.

NEED?—the hidden reason for the law, I believe, is to employ chaplains to dominate children with Evangelical faith while lying about neutrality.  While few admit that some are bold, often in reprisal to some radical Left that wants to prohibit free exercise of faith.

Religion has been used for political purposes for millennia and will continue as long as someone can get a vote or make money. That civil reality will not be changed with the exposure of shysters.  That is also the civil reality for faithful Christians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims—name your jewel—who supremely value “their religion” to high heaven.

The Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 763 last September requiring all schools to vote on the hiring of chaplains.  The House version requiring military qualifications failed in conference. Sen. Mayes Middleton (R) authored for the Senate with four co-sponsors, and Rep. Cole Hefner (R) for the House, with six co-sponsors.  All were white Republicans, with one woman, and all likely evangelicals.

The Act modified the Texas Education Code, adding Chapter 23 (three tiny paragraphs), saying a school “may employ … a chaplain to provide support … for students…. is not required to be certified” and no registered “sex offender.”  The prohibition implied some school might consider such. Yet with that, why did they leave out military specs and a prohibition on proselyting?

   Other elements of the Act add “including chaplains” next to “mental health personnel” and “behavioral health services.” Prima facia—really?—they encoded use of safety funds to hire a non-certified anybody next mental health professionals?  That’s odd.

   Oddity two:  in August of 2023, I emailed the Act’s legislators about history.  Who lobbied most?  One co-sponsor answered, referring me to the author.

   Oddity three;  National School Chaplains Association President Rocky Malloy was the qualification-neutered bill’s champion, yet his research is Top Secret. In a video, Malloy mentioned a “study” where no one in the school could name most of the children, then claimed his chaplains could. They could not share the study or school’s name for the kid’s sake. Integrity floundered.

Oddity four:  I asked for the NSCA’s Form 990s and got the 990s for Mission Generation, so the finances for his subsidiary non-profit are also Top Secret.

Oddity five:  NSCA website claims it is “the state of Texas’ preferred provider for training and certification of school chaplains.”  Looking closer, they are “proud to partner with Oral Roberts University” in Oklahoma for the 8-week course. Oh my, tell me that “8-week” course was not the reason our legislators excluded military specs!  Whether Malloy hid that in Austin or not, he does think 8-weeks sufficient. For $2,799, the whole tiny shebang includes the required courses of “Active Shooter, Threat Assessment, and Stop the Bleed”—tada—NSCA certification.

Oddity six might—Malloy’s own words—might be the scariest. His web site advertises “chaplains” solving all school ills, implying all schools are gravely ill and need his chaplain-saviors to fix teachers and prevent student suicide.

In May of 2023, Robert Downen and Brian Lopez reported for the Texas Tribune that Malloy argued “chaplains in schools could prevent youth violence, teen suicide and teacher burnout.” Rejecting proselyting concerns, “Chaplains ‘are not working to convert people to religion,’ Malloy … told the Senate Committee on Education. ‘Chaplains have no other agenda other than to be present in relationships, care for individuals and to make sure everybody on campus is seen and heard.’” Downen and Lopez noted how Malloy led Mission Generation chaplains to evangelize for decades and recently changed his website to redirect to NSCA.

Professional chaplains sigh at Malloy’s naïve blather, despising his hijacking “chaplain” for a ghostly “counselor” specter without religion or hiding religion or religious ghosting.  I see lying about neutrality to sneak evangelical preaching, with the above a sick model for children.

Dr. Michael G. Maness is the author of “When Texas Prison Scams Religion” (2023) and “How We Saved Texas Prison Chaplaincy 2011” (2013).

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Generation X is almost 60

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By Elwood Watson

Latchkey kids. Slackers. Caffeine lovers. Grunge. That’s how a lot of people have referred to Generation X, the 46 million Americans, like myself, who were born between 1965 and 1980.

We were a generation that has been perennially pegged as cynical, self-indulgent, aimless, contrarian, and often peripheral when it comes to life and other everyday matters. But if we’re being honest, there are a lot of good reasons why many of us are cynical and disillusioned with life. Turmoil and instability have been major factors in some of our lives.

Gen Xers have been directly affected by downturns in the economy, perennial wars, deadly sexually transmitted diseases, and parents’ divorces. Moreover, we have frequently been eclipsed by some of our parents – the baby boomers (1946–1964), millennials (1980–1998), and occasionally even by others of us whose parents and grandparents are members of the silent generation (1925–1945), the group legendary journalists Tom Brokaw refers to as the greatest generation.

Did Gen X ever live in a period marked by stability? Most of us lived in times of chronically high levels of instability and a chilling degree of ambivalence. Despite that, we endure, we adapt, and we drive the culture, even if our own cultural moment as the “flavor of the month” in the early 1990s was brief.

From a sexual standpoint, fatal sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes and the AIDS virus, confronted segments of our generation with a demonstrably high degree of ruthlessness and despair. A number of us saw friends, colleagues and in some cases, a loved one fall victim to such maladies.

This sort of marginalization has always been a part of our unorthodox history. When the oldest Baby Boomers turned 60 in 2006, numerous magazines ran cover stories that both celebrated and analyzed the supposed impact of what such a distinctive milestone actually meant. Conversely, outside of some obscure, diminutive op-ed pieces, no major mainstream publications ran similar stories when Gen X hit their half-century milestone in 2015. The perception of the often overlooked, frequently neglected middle child syndrome validated itself.

While Boomers continue to influence culture and society by embracing new age philosophies, religions, and predominantly left-leaning politics, Gen X has adopted a much more iconoclastic political spirit. This is evident in our diverse political views. Polls conducted over the better part of the past decade have indicated that many of the older Gen Xers lean towards conservatism, while younger members of our cohort identify with a more liberal ideology.

We are a group of men and women who readily embraced a pluralistic culture, from our pre-teen years well into early adulthood and beyond, as evidenced by a diverse selection of movies ranging from “The Breakfast Club” to “Reality Bites” to the iconic “Boyz in the Hood,” directed by the late John Singleton.

We were the children of rap, new wave, alternative, and MTV. We were raised in a post-Kennedy, post-Watergate, post-Vietnam world. Unlike our Boomer predecessors, most of us never had idealistic dreams of changing the world, nor did we grow up in a world with an obsessive dependency on helicopter parents, unlike our Millennial successors. In short, we grew up looking at the world head-on, neither up at it idealistically, nor down on it as a larger force that should take care of us.

It will be interesting to witness what type of reception the oldest Gen Xers will receive from the larger pop culture when they turn 60 in 2025. Will the pattern of being disregarded continue or will we be pleasantly acknowledged? Time will tell in short order.

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Where has all our freedom gone? Long time passing …

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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Sometimes my need to rummage through the cut-rate news bins leaves me with a deep sadness, mostly because it reaffirms my belief that the ship of liberty done sailed.

I constantly find that there is nothing in our lives — birth to death — that doesn’t have the unmistakable touch of control by people who should be representing us.

For instance, I recently read about a government agency I didn’t even know existed is being sued by Atlantic herring fisheries because the regulations it put out smacked of Soviet-era Russia, or at least life aboard the Red October.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, which apparently exists to tell fishermen what and how much they can catch in coastal waters, also requires that fishing vessels pay for NMFS apparatchiks to be onboard to enforce regulations, sort of like a Soviet political officer onboard Russian vessels (hence the Red October reference).

At play here is the ability of non-elected officials to create regulations and then enforce them, all without any laws passed by government as a basis, which when you think about it, exists everywhere and pretty much at every level of government.

The rights enshrined in the Constitution — life, liberty, pursuit of happiness — have all been co-opted by people representing their own beliefs and half-baked theories instead of their constituents. Federal and state agencies change the rules to suit their needs, and cities and counties dictate what property owners can do on their property (while exacting a price simply for owning said property).

In case you missed it, the feds hate your ceiling fans (mandatory in East Texas, I’m sure) and will require very strict energy conservation measures, which will cost millions and will probably mean the death to small manufacturing firms.

Soon your dishwasher will be replaced, your water heater and stove will be replaced, your air conditioning will be deemed evil and replaced, your refrigerator will be replaced, and everything anyone uses ever will come with warning and limitations because our fearless leaders want to keep us safe whether we like it or need it or not.

I’ve heard those arguments, that the regulations are necessary because the government must protect the fish in the sea from overfishing; Mother Nature needs to be protected from the ravages of evil people, evil cows and evil coal- and oil-burning devices; and consumers must be warned of the dangers of buying things they want, cause bad things could happen.

There are certain dangers, I agree, that need solid oversight, like keeping people from swan diving into active volcanoes or creating their own nuclear power plant in their backyard, but all of this tends to fall into what I call the Pinky Toe Theory: once the nanny state dips its pinky toe into the regulation pool, it’s a short stampede from there into a cannonball of rules.

(As an aside, those self-same regulators find way to circumvent those very rules, since only the serfs and peasants require watching.)

There is a lot of back-and-forth about this year’s election is crucial because our democracy is at stake and that if the Republicans have their way, we’ll all be back in indentured servitude.

My point is that’s already happened, and all that’s left is two parties fighting over the scraps of freedom that are left. Keep that in mind in the ballot box.

Tony Farkas is publisher of the San Jacinto News-Times and the Trinity County News-Standard. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication.

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