Forest fires rage across the western US, how vulnerable is Pennsylvania to fire risk?

Forest fires are ravaging the western US, burning more than 1.5 million acres in 12 states. Wildfire smoke is so extensive it has created hazy sky conditions as far east as New York State.

Firefighters are struggling to respond to the changing fire situation, including weather forecasts that do little to improve the poor conditions in the drought-stricken states.

How vulnerable is Pennsylvania to wildfire risk and what resources does the state have to combat the threat to forests and residents?

Mike Kern, Bureau of Forestry’s Division of Forest Fire Protection chief within the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources appears on Smart Talk Thursday to detail their plan to prevent and suppress wildfires.

Author Phillip Rucker on the final year in the Trump White House

It’s not an exaggeration to say the United States has never had a president like Donald Trump. It’s also not a stretch to say that Trump’s last year in office was unlike any other.

A once in a century pandemic, nation-wide protests and a racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd and a presidential election that Trump, and others, have screamed was stolen from him were the backdrop for a White House that bounced from one crisis to another.

That year is documented in the new book I ALONE CAN FIX IT: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year by Philip Rucker, co-author and senior Washington correspondent at The Washington Post. Phillip Rucker joins Smart Talk Thursday to share details of the book and insights from his years covering the Trump White House.

Sen. Casey proposes a revived Civilian Conservation Corps to combat climate change and create jobs

The Senate on Tuesday advanced a bipartisan infrastructure deal that had been hung up on finance details. The Biden administration has promoted the plan as important to creating and sustaining a green economy to create jobs and fix crumbling infrastructure around the country.

Recognizing the added challenge of climate change, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania recently introduced legislation that would renew the Civilian Conservation Corps. The first Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a work relief program established in the 1930s to employ millions of young men to work on environmental projects during the Depression. The CCC is credited with developing the national and state park systems throughout the country.
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Sen. Casey appears on Smart Talk Thursday to offer details on the legislation (REVIVE the CCC Act S.2414) that would give local communities the authority to design and manage future CCC projects.

The Delta variant is igniting a COVID-19 surge across the country as vaccination rates slow to a trickle

Airdate: Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The surging COVID infection rate is being called a “pandemic among the unvaccinated.”

Just as pandemic restrictions were reduced or eliminated this summer, the Delta variant of the virus became the dominant strain among those infected. Viruses constantly evolve through mutation, and sometimes the variants are more dangerous than the original. The Delta variant is not necessarily making people sicker, but it does spread far more easily from person to person, increasing infections and hospitalizations rates among the unvaccinated.

Breakthrough infections among vaccinated people have been documented too, but no deaths have occurred which demonstrates the effectiveness of the available vaccines.

So, why are some people still reluctant to get vaccinated? Joining Smart Talk Wednesday to discuss this and how to weed through the noise of COVID false information is Dr. John Goldman, MD., Infectious Disease specialist with UPMC Central Pa.

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


Survey results indicate many believe the “democracy is in crisis”

A survey by Public Agenda’s Hidden Common Ground initiative continues to take on the very common belief that Americans are ideologically divided, to the point of being incapable of working together.

The organization’s most recent survey was “fielded” in May 2021 and finds that most Americans believe the democracy is in trouble. The respondents differ on ways to fix the problem, but either point to a need to change the political system or simply by electing the right leaders.

David Schleifer, PhD., is a Vice President and Director of Research for Public Agenda and he joins Smart Talk Tuesday to share the most significant findings on the survey and what Americans believe will fix the democracy.

Feelings of despair found to be connected to four common personal burdens

Researchers who completed a study in 2015 coined a term around any medical diagnosis involving alcohol-related disorders, substance-related disorders and suicidal thoughts and behavior — calling them diseases of despair.

They proposed the concept after observing a decline in life expectancy of middle-aged white men and women between 1999 and 2015. They noted this was the first such decline since the flu pandemic of 1918 and they theorized that the decline was associated with the social and economic downturn in rural communities and small towns over the last several decades, leading to feelings of despair and loss of hope for the future.

Penn State College of Medicine and Highmark Health researchers took the concept a step further by identifying four key themes promoting the disease track. The themes include financial instability, lack of infrastructure, a deteriorating sense of community and family fragmentation.

Daniel George, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor with the Department of Humanities and Department of Public Health Sciences with Penn State College of Medicine and he participated in the latest study. He appears on Smart Talk Tuesday to offer research details and the implications to communities in Pennsylvania.

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

Unknown sickness affecting Northeastern songbirds

Wildlife managers in the northeast began receiving reports of sick birds as early as May. Dead and dying birds were exhibiting symptoms that included eye swelling, crusty discharge and some neurological signs, as well.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission reports that an exact cause for the bird deaths has not been identified and diagnostics are ongoing.

However, the commission has ruled out some potential causes, including salmonella and West Nile virus, for example.

While the investigation into the bird deaths continues, residents are asked to stop feeding birds from backyard feeders and to empty bird baths since birds can pass disease to one another from these gathering spots.

Margaret C. Brittingham, Ph.D., is a professor of wildlife resources at Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences and she appears on Smart Talk Monday to offer guidance for backyard birders.

To report report any sightings of birds that have died and/or birds that have been seen with swollen and crusty eyes, as well as neurological signs such as stumbling and head tremors, visit

Federal eviction moratorium stops at the end of July

Renters in Pennsylvania have been protected by an eviction freeze enacted through both state and federal orders since March 2020.

The final federal government moratorium on evictions will expire the last day of July 2021 and concerned housing advocates warn that a wave of evictions may soon follow.

Money to fund the Emergency Rental Assistance programs was financed through the two federal stimulus plans and is managed locally by county agencies.

While the moratorium suspending evictions ends at the end of July, the Emergency Rental Assistance program does not.

Appearing on Smart Talk Monday to discuss how to qualify for emergency rental assistance are Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Acting Secretary Meg Snead, along with Special Advisor for Housing Kathy Possinger. Robin Rohrbaugh, President and CEO of the Community Progress Council (CPC) in York, also joins the program to share how CPC is administering the ERAP for York County.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human services Emergency Rental Assistance Assistance program information can be found here.

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.