Unrest in the Caribbean and instability in South America

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When armed men broke into the private residence of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise, the leader had just enough time to make several, desperate phone calls for help. It wasn’t enough and moments later, Moise was dead and his wife lay critically injured.

Haitians were shocked at the audacity of the President’s assassination and the world watched as the country teetered on the edge of chaos.

Several days later in nearby Cuba, tens of thousands of protestors gathered in cities and towns around the island to demonstrate against widespread shortages and government dysfunction. The marches were an unprecedented outpouring of frustration with the Cuban government and have forced the Biden administration into reviewing Cuban policy.

Political instability is nothing new to either country, but the timing spotlights the widespread instability in Latin America. Problems are at a boiling point in many places, compounded by the economic effect of COVID shutdowns and fiscal failures.

Evan Ellis, Ph.D., is a research professor of Latin American Studies with the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute. He studies the region and joins Smart Talk Thursday to discuss the strategic trends happening in Latin America, as well as the increasing involvement of China in many countries.

In this Feb. 7, 2020 file photo, Haitian President Jovenel Moise arrives for an interview at his home in Petion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Moïse was assassinated in an attack on his private residence early Wednesday, July 7, 2021, and First Lady Martine Moïse was shot in the overnight attack and hospitalized, according to a statement from the country’s interim prime minister.

Could inflation slow economic recovery? – New book provides insights into political gerrymandering

Inflation was up 5.4% last month – the highest it’s been in 13 years. Most Americans already knew prices were going up. What we’re paying for gas, many food items, cars, and homes is significantly higher than just a few months ago.

Much of it has to do with supply and demand, but especially supply.

There are many job openings right now but employers are having trouble finding workers to fill those jobs.

The stock market took a wild swing down and up this week.

Washington Post economics correspondent Heather Long is on Wednesday’s Smart Talk with insight into how the pandemic has impacted the economy, what may change and what may be permanent.

New book provides insights into political gerrymandering

Gerrymandering or drawing up Congressional or legislative boundaries to provide a political advantage to one party or another is not new. But as the nation has become more polarized in recent years, it has gotten more attention.

Franklin and Marshall College Government Professor Stephen Medvic, Ph.D., has written a new book, Gerrymandering – The Politics of Redistricting in the United States, that explores the history, consequences of and solutions to map-making for political gain. He appears on Wednesday’s Smart Talk.

Leadership change at Dickinson College; former chief judge takes the helm

Listen to Smart Talk every weekday at 9am and 7pm on WITF 89.5 & 93.3. You can also stream WITF radio live on our website or ask your smart speaker to “Play WITF Radio.”

One central Pennsylvania man is making the unlikely transition from federal court chief judge to college president.

John Jones III made a name for himself on the federal bench for nearly 20 years. He was appointed to the U.S. Middle District Court of Pennsylvania by former President George W. Bush and confirmed by the United States Senate on July 30, 2002.

The Schuylkill County native presided over many important cases during his tenure with the court, including striking down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.

Jones was appointed the interim President of Dickinson College in Carlisle following the resignation of Margee Ensign in May. He is a 1977 graduate of Dickinson College and attended Penn State Dickinson Law. He appears on Smart Talk Tuesday to discuss his new role.

A lack of trees in poor communities underscores the power of shade

A hot summer day and a cool drink under the respite of a large shade tree is a welcoming summer image. Shade can lower the outside real-feel temperature as much as 20 degrees, but not everyone is fortunate to have access to shade trees.

As climate change causes temperatures to rise around the globe a lack of shade trees in communities is getting more attention. The lack is more significant in poor communities.

Alejandra Borunda, a  former climate scientist and author of the July cover story for National Geographic magazine titled A Shady Divide. She joins Smart Talk Tuesday to outline the public health benefit of shade and how urban planners are addressing the problem. For more information on the cover story visit natgeo.com/race.

National Geographic July 2021 cover story

Opioid deaths accelerated during the pandemic, lockdowns fueling an unintended outcome

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an average of 128 Americans died each day from opioid overdoses. That number marked a decrease in deaths after several years of intense efforts to slow the trend.

Opioid misuse has been a threat since the 1980s and researchers say trends can be measured in three different waves. The first wave was a shift in pain management practices that led to prescription abuse. It was followed by a wave of heroin use. Now, the third wave is marked by a rise in synthetic drugs like fentanyl, a powerful opiate with a high risk of addiction. Synthetic opioids are now the primary driver of overdose deaths.

Beginning in 2016, Pennsylvania initiated programs to combat opioid abuse. Researchers say progress was being made until the pandemic reversed the trend.

Penn State University geographers analyzed the data and discovered mitigation efforts for COVID-19 had the unintended consequence of igniting overdose deaths.

Joining Smart Talk Monday to offer insight into their findings are Brian King, Ph.D., professor and head of the department of Geography, Penn State University, Andrea Rishworth, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in Geography, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada, and Ruchi Patel, Ph.D., candidate in Geography and Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and the Environment at Penn State University.

Also on Monday’s program, in June, more than 99 percent of the people who died from COVID were not vaccinated. Vaccinations have slowed down considerably. A sizable portion of the population is hesitant or even downright hostile to getting vaccinated. Misinformation and disinformation have contributed to the hesitancy.

This while the Delta deviant of the virus is spreading quicker and is more transmissible.

So, what has to happen to get more people vaccinated and head off another surge of the virus?

Appearing on Monday’s Smart Talk is Pennsylvania’s Acting Physician General, Dr. Denise Johnson.

For more on public health issues plus a deeper look at the changing tide of healthcare, check out WITF’s Transforming Health, a partnership of WITF, WellSpan Health and Capital Blue Cross.

Lead paint still poisons thousands of children, advocacy group urges action plan – Emergency rental assistance falls short for communities with greatest need

Lead-based paint was banned in the US in 1978, but thousands of kids in Pennsylvania are still exposed to the dangerous product.

Most homes in towns and boroughs throughout the state were built long before the ban, which means that many still have lead paint on their walls. Exposure to the lead through dust and chipping paint can cause permanent developmental delays in children under the age of six.

A report published this year by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids links lead exposure to future crime risk and urges remediation to prevent exposure to the element. The report also cites a concern that during the pandemic testing for lead stalled and now nearly ten thousand kids risk high exposure.

Appearing on Smart Talk Thursday to discuss the link between lead exposure in kids causing problems into adulthood are Bruce Clash, State Director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, Dr. Karen Wang, MD, Director of Pediatrics, Berks Community Health Center, and Marilou Yingling, Lead Program Coordinator, Bureau of Health, City of York.

Emergency rental assistance falls short for communities with greatest need

With many Pennsylvanians out of work during the pandemic, a moratorium on evictions helped keep people in their homes. An emergency rental assistance fund also helped and included money from both the state and federal government.

The Keystone Research Center released data alleging that over $560 million earmarked for aid were misallocated by the state’s distribution formula and not enough of the share went to the more populous counties and cities.

Stephen Herzenberg is the Executive Director of Keystone Research Center who released the data and he joins Smart Talk Thursday to share details.


PBS NewsHour student reporting labs – Ned Smith Center for Nature & Art

Tackling tough topics is a journalists job, particularly in public media organizations where reporters have a responsibility to present both sides of every story.

PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs is a national youth journalism program involving 160 middle and high schools. Their goal is to train young people from across the country to produce stories highlighting their interests, achievements, and challenges.

NewsHour producers work with the students on story pitches, script-writing, narration, rough cuts and final videos. Students’ stories are published on the website, shared on social media, and aired on local PBS station and the PBS NewsHour nightly broadcasts.

Appearing on Smart Talk Wednesday to spotlight the program is Marie Cusick, a Producer with PBS NewsHour student reporting labs and Smart Talk guest host this week.

Cusick welcomes two high schoolers, Noah Konevitch, a student at Cedar Crest High School and Zion Williams, a student at L’Anse Creuse High School in Clinton Township, Michigan, who co-host a Student Reporting Labs teen mental health podcast called On Our Minds.

Zion Williams a student at L’Anse Creuse High School in Clinton Township, Michigan, and member of the PBS NewsHour reporting lab program
Noah Konevitch, a student at Cedar Crest High School and member of the PBS NewsHour reporting lab program

Ned Smith Center for Nature & Art celebrates the Green Amendment

Nestled in the woods along the Wiconisco Creek near Millersburg, Pa., is the Ned Smith Center for Nature & Art.

Ned Smith was an artist and naturalist who merged his love of nature with a talent for drawing. During his 46-year career he created thousands of drawings and paintings of wildlife for books, magazines and other publications. Many of his works can be seen at the Ned Smith Center, alongside a current exhibit featuring the 50th anniversary of the Green Amendment in Pennsylvania.

Emily Rosmus is the Director of Education at the Ned Smith Center and she will join Smart Talk Wednesday to offer details on the exhibit and provide information about its namesake.

Food insecurity and hunger plagues older population – Advocacy group calls for greater effort to preserve local farmland

It is often hard to imagine that hunger exists in a state with so many abundant resources. The truth is that disparities remain and many people face the absence of basic needs.

The pandemic has impacted seniors in particular, with many experiencing food insecurity.

The Wolf administration is organizing state agencies and area non-profits to offer food assistance to this vulnerable population.

Pennsylvania First Lady Frances Wolf joins Smart Talk Tuesday, along with Caryn Long-Earl, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Food Assistance and Jennifer Brillhart, President & CEO, York County Food Bank, to share details of the initiative.

Advocacy group urges greater effort to preserve local farmland

Suburban encroachment and a lack of local funding is causing one central Pennsylvania county’s farmland preservation efforts to stall.

The Lancaster Farmland Trust published a report in June calling for increased funding by local governments to preserve farmland. The LFT recommends a goal that would put more than half of all agricultural land in Lancaster County into preservation status by 2040.

A farm in Stevens, Lancaster County. Photo Marie Cusick, for StateImpact Pennsylvania

Appearing on Smart Talk Tuesday to discuss the recommendations in the report are Jeff Swinehart, Chief Operating Officer and Karen Martynick, Executive Director, both with the Lancaster Farmland Trust.


Supreme Court noteworthy rulings – Breaking down President Biden’s climate plan

All eyes are on the Supreme Court this term as the conservative majority body makes their mark with several historic and important decisions.

Progressive observers have been somewhat surprised at a few of the case results, leading them to interpret the court as more ideologically neutral that previously thought.

There have been exceptions, however, especially in light of the court’s decision on a high profile voting rights case.

Michael Moreland, JD., Ph.D., Professor of Law and Religion and Director of the Eleanor H. McCullen Center for Law, Religion and Public Policy at the Villanova University School of Law will join Smart Talk Monday to discuss this and other Supreme Court actions making an impact.

Review of President Biden’s climate plan

President Joe Biden came into office with many promises. One pledge was to bring the US back into the Paris climate agreement; a climate change mitigation plan the Trump administration backed out of in 2017.

The new administration set new greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, as well as goals to transition to more renewable energy technology.

Appearing on Smart Talk Monday to break down details of the Biden climate plan is Reid Frazier, StateImpact Pennsylvania Reporter.

Guest host Marie Cusick is sitting in for Smart Talk host Scott LaMar.


The legacies of Chief Justices Roger Taney and John Marshall and slavery – Strike Out Covid

The legacies of two former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justices with ties to Central Pennsylvania — Roger B. Taney and John Marshall — are under scrutiny today because of their connections to slavery. The US House of Representatives voted in June to replace a bust of Roger B. Taney with one honoring the first African American Justice Thurgood Marshall.

The Taney Court is remembered most for its 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, when they ruled that blacks were not citizens of the United States and Congress had no authority to prevent the spread of slavery into federal territories. Justice Taney was a graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle.

Justice John Marshall served early in the nation’s history and is considered to be a framer of Constitutional law. He was also known to have owned hundreds of slaves in his lifetime; purchasing and auctioning some to pay off family debts. In conflict to his personal interests, the Marshall Court heard many cases involving then current slaves’ claims of freedom, which could have influenced his opinions. The Marshall in Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster is named for Justice Marshall.

Paul Finkelman, Ph.D., President of Gratz College and author of Supreme Injustice; Slavery in the Nation’s Highest Court, appears on Smart Talk Thursday to reveal how slavery taints the legacy of both Justices.

Name image and likeness rights law for collegiate athletes – Project Rattle Cam

Should college athletes be paid was a question asked for decades as college sports — especially football and basketball — rivaled professional sports in popularity that included in-person attendance, TV audiences and merchandise sold.

Within just the last few weeks, the question was answered and athletes are in line to be compensated — not for playing, but for the use of their names, images and likenesses.

On Wednesday’s Smart Talk, we discuss game changing decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and the NCAA that allow athletes to be compensated.

Appearing on the program is Casey Floyd, Co-Founder and Chief Compliance Officer, NOCAP Sports.

Project RattleCam tracks rattlesnake behavior

The power of community is being tapped to better understand the secretive rattlesnake. Project RattleCam is seeking help from community scientists to sort through literally thousands of images taken inside a rattlesnake rookerie.

A black phase Timber Rattlesnake basking on a rock.

In summer, female rattlesnakes gather in rookeries to have babies and scientists have placed cameras in one area to capture all of the action.

This project partners Dickinson College in Carlisle, with California Polytechnic State University, and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Scott Boback, Ph.D., is an animal ecologist and Professor of Biology with Dickinson College and he joins Smart Talk Wednesday to share details about the project.