2019 Smart Talk Top Stories — Three Mile Island 40th

The 2019 top stories on Smart Talk series concludes Tuesday with conversations on the program this year focused on the 40th anniversary of the accident at Three Mile Island — the worst accident at a commercial nuclear plant in the nation’s history.

On March 28, 1979, a combination of plant design, an equipment malfunction and human error led to a loss of cooling water that resulted in the partial meltdown of TMI’s Unit 2 reactor. But it wasn’t until years later the full scope of damage at the plant was known. At the time in March 1979, there were many guesses, estimates and unknowns.

There also was a lot of fear. Thousands of Central Pennsylvanians living near Three Mile Island left the area. No official evacuation was ordered but then Gov. Dick Thornburgh suggested that pregnant women and families with young children leave.

Tuesday’s Smart Talk takes a look back at what happened at TMI and behind the scenes with William Dornsife, a nuclear engineer with the state at the time of the accident. Also on the program are David Solleneberger, a radio reporter at the time, and Eric Epstein of TMI Alert who talked about the accident’s legacy.

2019 Smart Talk Top Stories — suicide

Suicide was one of the top stories on Smart Talk in 2019 and is the focus of Monday’s program.

The nation’s suicide rate has climbed dramatically in the last 20 years – especially among young people and the state formed a suicide prevention task force in response.

A York County family is dealing with this reality, after the death of their 25-year-old daughter in May.

Chip and Jackie Bieber’s daughter Shawn Shatto died by suicide with the help of an on-line chat room. They want to raise the alarm that these internet sites exist and are legal in Pennsylvania and most of the country. The Biebers joined us on Smart Talk to share their story.

Appearing on Smart Talk to talk about their vision and prevention strategy are Govan Martin, Chair/Board of Directors of Prevent Suicide PA and a member of the Suicide Prevention Task Force, Dr. Perri Rosen, PA office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and Caitlin Palmer, Special Adviser to the Secretary of the Department of Human Services and lead agent for the Suicide Prevention Task Force.

2019 Smart Talk Top Stories — research on guns and mass shooters

The 2019 top stories on Smart Talk series continues Friday with conversations that came in the aftermath of the deadly mass shooting in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio last August.

On Friday’s program, we hear that mass shooters from the past 50 years all have four traits in common. That’s according to The Violence Project — a think tank that has assembled comprehensive research on mass shootings in America.

Appearing on Friday’s Smart Talk to talk about what the data shows about mass shooters is Dr. Jillian Peterson, PhD, co-founder of The Violence Project and a psychologist and professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University in Minnesota.

Also on the program, there was a renewed call for more gun laws after the shooting in El Paso and Dayton. Advocates both for and against more gun restrictions use statistics to make their case. We talked with Dr. Cassandra Crifasi with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research about their gun violence findings.-

2019 Smart Talk Top Stories — legalizing marijuana

The 2019 top stories on Smart Talk series begins with a look back at the push to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.

Governor Wolf came out in favor of legalizing cannabis for recreational use. Wolf arrived at this position following Lt. Governor John Fetterman’s 67-county listening tour.

The tour results are consistent with a March Franklin & Marshall College Poll that shows 59 percent, or nearly six in 10 voters, support the idea of legalizing marijuana.

Already there are 33 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized marijuana use in some form. Most other states, like Pennsylvania, allow for limited medical use.

But not everyone is on board the legalization train.

Many organizations have voiced their opposition including the American Lung Association, Centers for Disease Control, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse that cite statistics showing the impact of marijuana on physical and mental health.

Appearing on this 2019 top stories on Smart Talk episode are Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman, Democratic State Senator Daylin Leach and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

How safe is Pa. drinking water?

PFAS contamination is linked to toxic chemicals used in industrial and consumer products and those found around military airstrips where firefighting foam was used. PFAS have been connected to liver damage, high cholesterol, cancer and other health problems.

Recent Pennsylvania water quality sample results revealed the presence of PFAS contamination in about a third of the samples tested.

State officials said that while this may be a concern for some communities, the results do not indicate widespread contamination.

Sydney Evans
Sydney Evans appears on Smart Talk on December 17, 2019.

The results highlight a growing debate over how much PFAS, if any, should be allowed in drinking water. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency has set a 70 parts per trillion “health advisory level.” However, in June, the Centers for Disease Control said PFAS levels much lower than 70 parts per trillion may pose health risks.

So, how much is too much? It depends on which state you call home.

Brett Sholtis
WITF reporter Brett Sholtis appears on Smart Talk on December 17, 2019.

Appearing on Tuesday’s Smart Talk to discuss PFAS contamination in Pennsylvania and how the state’s response compares with neighbors are WITF Transforming Health reporter Brett Sholtis, along with Sydney Evans, science analyst with the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Also, the holiday season is a busy time for everyone. It is easy to lose track of dates on the calendar and suddenly, it is 2020.

Tax specialists caution against allowing the holidays to distract from tax planning. There are a number of things you can do before the end of the year to impact how much you’ll pay in taxes next year.

Joining Smart Talk to offer end-of-year tax strategies is Chris Humes, senior manager with Baker Tilly and member of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Chris Humes
Chris Humes appears on Smart Talk on December 17, 2019.

Healing the spiritual wounds of war

War wounds are not always physical.

Psychological wounds caused by the traumas of war can be equally debilitating. And because the injury is not visible to friends and loved ones, those suffering often deal with it in silence or behave out of character.

A mental health condition caused by trauma is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, frightening or dangerous event or experiences. PTSD can affect anyone, not only veterans. First responders, and even abused children, can suffer from PTSD.

In past wars, PTSD was called shell shock or combat stress. Symptoms of the disorder can be characterized as heightened anxiety, feeling constantly on edge or experiencing extreme or unreasonable anger during routine situations. PTSD can manifest itself in different ways, for different people.  It might affect a person for a few months, or their entire life. It doesn’t always go away entirely; like the tide, it may ebb and flow.

There are local Vietnam veterans who found that the only way for them to move forward, was to go back. Back to Vietnam.

Joining Smart Talk to discuss their experiences and path to healing are Vietnam War veterans Bob Smoker, Edgar Hardesty, Ph.D., and Charles Lee. Also joining the conversation is Afghanistan War veteran Aaron Lax, who participates in a program geared toward healing combat veterans and their families, called Reboot Combat Recovery.

Wounds of war
Bob Smoker, Ed Hardesty, Aaron Lax and Charles Lee appear on Smart Talk on December 16, 2019.


The Smart Talk guests offered these details of their military service:

Former Army Capt. Aaron Lax served in the U.S. Army for nine years. During that time, he served with the 1st of the 26th Infantry regiment “Blue Spaders,part of the 1st Infantry Division, from 2010-2012 and deployed with them to eastern Afghanistan. Lax next served with 1st battalion of the 320th Field Artillery Regiment “Top Guns,” part of the 101st Airborne Division, from 2012-2017. He deployed with the 101st to Afghanistan from September 2013 through February 2014.  

Bob Smoker was drafted into the U.S. Army in May 1969.  After basic and then infantry training, he arrived in Vietnam in early October 1969 and turned 20-years- old later that month. Smoker was assigned to Charlie Company 2nd Battalion of the 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.  Smoker participated in the nearly five month-long battle for Fire Support Base Ripcord.  The battle heated up on July 2, 1970 when two platoons and the company command post were attacked atop Hill 902. Smoker was part of the command post, which suffered heavy casualties. You can learn more about the battle at the Ripcord Association website.

Former Air Force Staff Sergeant Ed Hardesty was the non-commissioned officer in charge of weapons and munitions for the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, an air rescue helicopter squadron out of Danang Air Force Base, Vietnam, from 1968 through 1969. Their mission was to rescue downed pilots, extraction of deeply inserted teams and medevac. 

Former U.S. Army soldier Charles Lee deployed to Vietnam in 1970 at the age of 19, right after marrying his first wife. In Vietnam, Lee was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery, on a track vehicle known as a Duster. The Viet Cong called them “Fire Dragons,” because their high volume of fire and tracer ammunition gave the appearance of a dragon’s breath. Their U.S. Army crews called them “Dusters,” due to the large clouds of dust they created as they sped across the dirt roads of Vietnam. The Duster mission was as an anti-aircraft gun, but Lee said they often used it as an anti-personnel weapon.




Evangelicals in the age of Pres. Trump

About 81% of white Evangelicals voted for President Trump in 2016 and polls of those who identify as Evangelical indicate the president continues to get their support going into the election year of 2020. Trump maintains that loyalty even though he has been accused of what many Christians would find objectionable behavior.

Abortion, same-sex marriage and appointment of conservative judges are three issues that conservative Evangelicals have cited as why they like Trump.

Bucknell University religious studies professor Brantley Gasaway has written about white Evangelicals, but also progressive Evangelicals and non-white Evangelicals, who don’t support Trump or his policies. He appears on Smart Talk to discuss the politics of these voters.

Brantley Gasaway
Professor Brantley Gasaway, Ph.D., appears in the Smart Talk studio on Monday, December 9, 2019.

Also, Violet Oakley was, by any measure, one of the greatest American muralists and illustrators of her time.

Her Pennsylvania muralist story starts in 1911. When the chief muralist of the Harrisburg State House died, Oakley took the work and was commissioned for the murals in the Senate Chamber and the Supreme Court. It took 16 years to complete the project and she was paid well for her work ($2.5 million in 2017 dollars).

Dr. Patricia Likos Ricci and Dr. Curtis Minor appear in the Smart Talk studio on December 9, 2019.
Dr. Patricia Likos Ricci and Dr. Curtis Minor appear in the Smart Talk studio on December 9, 2019.


Oakley is also considered a barrier-breaker. As a woman, she found great artistic success during a time in history when women had not yet achieved the right to vote. The State Museum of Pennsylvania is honoring Oakley’s work in an exhibit called Picturing a More Perfect Union: Violet Oakley’s Mural Studies for the Pennsylvania Senate Chamber, 1911-1919. The exhibition coincides with 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote.

The exhibit features more than 50 of Violet Oakley’s original sketches for the Pennsylvania State Capitol Senate Chamber murals from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania and will be on display through April 26, 2020.

Appearing on Smart Talk to discuss the murals of Violet Oakley are Dr. Patricia Likos Ricci, Ph.D., Art Historian and Professor at Elizabethtown College and Dr. Curtis Minor, Ph.D., State museum senior curator of History.

The State Museum of Pennsylvania will host six escorted lunch-time tours for visitors to learn more about the exhibit and the artist Violet Oakley. Tour dates are: December 13, January 17, January 26, February 16 and February 21. Visit www.statemuseumpa.org for tour times and details.

Smart Talk Road Trip visits the Governor’s Residence

The last Smart Talk Road Trip of the year takes us to the Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg. Inside the Front Street home, we’ll discuss Governor Tom Wolf’s plans and priorities for the next two years. Will Wolf push for raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage? More money for education? What about a tax on natural gas drilling that has failed to make it through the legislature each year? Other issues that may come up are what the state will do, if anything, with regards to reducing emissions that contribute to climate change and how Congressional district boundaries will be drawn in the future.

First Lady Frances Wolf also joins the conversation to talk about the initiatives and platforms where she is focusing her attention. Those include the arts and education.

The holiday season is a great time to visit the Governor’s Residence, which is decked out with holiday decorations. We’ll have photographs on this site after the show.

Governor Tom Wolf arrives to the Governor's Residence.
Governor Tom Wolf arrives to the Governor’s Residence on December 11, 2019.


Smart Talk Road Trip to the Governor's residence
Governor Tom Wolf and Smart Talk host Scott LaMar at the Governor’s Residence on December 11, 2019.

2019 books-as-gifts guide

Tis the season with the holidays right around the corner. What better way to show friends and family that you care by giving them an amazing book to read.

Smart Talk is hosting our annual book-as-gifts guide. Books come in all shapes and sizes, and in a vast array of genres, including non-fiction, fiction, mystery and much more. Quite frankly, there is a book genre for everyone!

On Thursday’s Smart Talk, we discuss how books make great holiday gifts with our literary experts and hear their recommendations for books to read or give.

Joining the conversation is Catherine Lawrence, co-owner of the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, Dr. Travis Kurowski, Ph.D, assistant professor of creative writing at York College of Pennsylvania, and Carolyn Blatchley, Executive Director of Cumberland County Library System.

We are interested in hearing about your book suggestions! Make sure to tune in on Thursday and send us an email or call the show to voice your suggestions.

Click here to view Catherine Lawrence’s recommendations

Click here to view Dr. Travis Kurowski’s recommendations

Click here to view Carolyn Blatchley’s recommendations

Click here for WITF’s Pick of the Month

NPR’s Favorite Books of 2019


Feds and PA tackle gun violence

Each day, newspapers and broadcast news outlets lead with stories of gun violence, both here at home and around the country. It happens so frequently that we are often numb to the human cost: lives lost, the trauma of survivors and the damage to communities.

There are no easy answers when it comes to predicting and preventing gun violence, but law enforcement and government agencies are tasked with finding solutions to this very complex problem.

The federal government recently launched a nationwide plan aimed at reducing gun violence, called Project Guardian. Its focus is on the tougher enforcement of existing firearm laws, along with strengthening partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies.

Joining Smart Talk Wednesday to lay out the principles of Project Guardian is US Attorney David Freed, Middle District of Pennsylvania.

David Freed
David Freed, US Attorney, Middle District of Pennsylvania, appears on Smart Talk, December 4, 2019.

Also, the rate of deaths by firearm in Pennsylvania is slightly higher than the national average.

Governor Wolf signed an executive order in August to address gun violence in communities throughout the state. Part of that initiative included appointing a Special Council on Gun Violence to develop an action plan.

Mike Pennington, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and Dr. Jack Rozel, MD, medical director of Resolve Crisis Services and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC, appears on Smart Talk, December 4, 2019.

Appearing on Smart Talk to discuss their progress and recommendations are council members Mike Pennington, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and Dr. Jack Rozel, MD, medical director of Resolve Crisis Services and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC.