The books that make great gifts

It’s become a holiday tradition on Smart Talk and one of the favorite shows of the year – books as gifts.

Books have always been a thoughtful and treasured gift.  Almost everyone enjoys and can appreciate a good book as a present — whether it is fiction, a novel, non-fiction, poetry, or a how-to book.  Maybe one of the classics.  We’ll also have a few book suggestions for children or teenagers.

On Tuesday’s Smart Talk, we discuss the books that would make great gifts.  They may or may not be new or on the bestseller lists, but our panel will recommend and describe several titles to think about.

Joining us will be Catherine Lawrence, co-owner of the Mid Town Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg and a writer herself, and Travis Kurowski, an assistant professor of creative writing at York College of Pennsylvania.

We’d like to hear your suggestions as well.  What books do you think your friends or loved-ones would enjoy or what books are on your wish list this year?

Violence in the Classroom / Remember the Giants

During a November meeting of the Harrisburg School District Board, teachers from the district asked the board for help dealing with increasing violence in the classroom.  Between July and October of this year, forty-five teachers have retired from the Harrisburg School District; Harrisburg Education Association president Jody Barksdale says more have resigned since October.

“I have been kicked, punched, hit, scratched. I’ve had a student physically restraining me in front of my other students,” pleaded first grade teacher Amanda Schaeffer.  “Many of the personal things that I have bought for my classroom have been broken or destroyed.”

The level of violence has become an ever-present distraction for teachers.  “Many minutes are spent each day dealing with violence that is happening in the classroom,” said Schaeffer.  “How am I meeting my students’ needs with this behavior happening? How am I supposed to have a safe, nurturing learning environment when this behavior happens?”

The education association has asked for the formation of a taskforce that would include administrators, teachers and parents to address the causes and solutions to the violence.  Harrisburg District Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney acknowledged the problem and asked for time to address the issue, saying “Unfortunately, some of these things take time.  They take time for training; they take time for investigation, and making sure that we are doing the right thing for our students.”

On the Monday edition of WITF’s Smart Talk, we talk with Barksdale about the concerns of teachers in Harrisburg classrooms and discuss solutions with Knight-Burney, Jaime Foster, HSD’s Chief Academic Officer and Chanda Telleen, Nationally Certified School Psychologist and Educational Consultant through the CAIU Supporting PA’s Behavior Initiative, Fulling the Role of District Director of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support.

Also, the Giants represented Harrisburg in the Eastern Colored League, a baseball league for black players who were barred from participating in Major League Baseball until 1947.  These “Negro Leagues” were notable for both the extraordinary talent of their players as well as the disgraceful reminder of the deep institutionalization of segregation and racism in America during the era.

The team got its start in 1922; by the 50’s, league desegregation caused the Negro leagues to disband.  In 1954, the Harrisburg Giants became the first Eastern Negro League team to integrate white players on their team.  Messiah College alum Scott Orris, Kyle Kull and Jonathan Barry Wolf capture the story of the team in their documentary, “There Were Giants” and director Orris joins Monday’s Smart Talk to share the tale of Harrisburg’s Giants.

A Central PA woman’s journey after drug use and release from prison

There are about 50,000 people incarcerated in Pennsylvania prisons and jails.  Every month, about 1,800 are released from state prisons.  Within three years, more than half of them will be arrested again or back behind bars.

Being able to cope on the outside is a major challenge for the inmates who are released.  Finding a job, staying away from people or habits that landed them in jail in the first place, and re-storing trust and relationships with family and friends are hurdles facing those who are freed from prison.  Avoiding drugs and alcohol is also a factor to staying on the right side of the law.

More than 2,800 inmates are women.  Collectively, those women have about 2,000 children.

WHYY-FM is one of 15 news organizations that participated in the The Reentry Project, a solutions-oriented focus on the issues facing formerly incarcerated Philadelphians.  WHYY’s Assistant News Director Katie Colaneri followed one woman who had just been released from prison.  That woman — Redina Rodriguez — is from Harrisburg.

On Friday’s Smart Talk, we hear a documentary Colaneri produced about Rodriguez as she tried to reclaim her life, regain custody of her daughter and stay off drugs.

We’ll also speak with Katie Colaneri about what went on behind the scenes of Redina Rodriguez’s life.

ACA Deadline / Senator Casey

December 15th marks the last day to enroll for healthcare coverage for 2018 under the Affordable Care Act.  Thursday’s Smart Talk discusses in-state trends in enrollment and changes to the program and answer your questions with Pennsylvania’s Acting Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman and Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association insurance navigator Lynn Keltz.

Also, the Republican Congress has been selling their tax overhaul bill as a boon for the middle class and tax cuts for corporations that will translate to higher wages and salaries for workers.  Democrats are skeptical of this claim.

Amgen Inc. chief executive Robert Bradway said in an October earnings call the pharmaceutical company had been “actively returning capital in the form of growing dividend and buyback and I’d expect us to continue that.”  Cisco CFO Kelly Kramer told Bloomberg News last month “we’ll be able to get much more aggressive on the share buyback” after the passage of the tax bill.

On the day before the bill’s senate passage, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) made a radical proposal:  corporations would only get the proposed tax break if they can demonstrate they are sharing the revenues afforded by the tax cut with employees.  Republican senators voted down the amendment.

On Thursday’s Smart Talk, we’ll discuss the tax overhaul bill with Senator Casey and what its passage into law could mean for working Pennsylvanians.


Congressman Lloyd Smucker / Barney Ewell / Net Neutrality

A House-Senate conference committee is now working to finalize and iron out the differences between the tax reform packages approved by both Republican-controlled bodies.

Republican Congressman Lloyd Smucker, representative of portions of Berks, Chester and Lancaster Counties, appears on Wednesday’s Smart Talk to discuss the bills.

We hold ourselves to high standards of accuracy and fairness. With that in mind, due to a communications error on our part, I was under the impression that Congressman Smucker had only agreed to appear on Smart Talk for 10 minutes Wednesday when in fact the 10 minutes was at our suggestion, because of a tight schedule.  We regret the miscommunication and hope to have Congressman Smucker on the program in the future for a longer period of time, so that we can go more in depth on issues and take phone calls and email comments as well.

Between 1939 and 1948, Henry Norwood “Barney” Ewell was considered the fastest man in the world.  Ewell was born into poverty in Harrisburg, attended McCaskey High in Lancaster where he became the state’s leading track star and went on to win 12 gold medals in college meets while at Penn State.

Because of delays due to WWII, Ewell had to wait until 1948 to compete in the Olympics where he won gold on the 4 X 100 relay team.  He continued to compete throughout Europe and Australia, eventually retiring to Lancaster.  He passed in 1996 at the age of 78.

Today, a group in Lancaster is working to preserve the memory of Barney Ewell through memorabilia collected throughout his life, including Olympic medals and souvenirs from his travels.  On the Wednesday edition of WITF’s Smart Talk, we talk about preserving Barney Ewell’s legacy with Jeremiah Miller, coordinator of the McCaskey High School Alumni Association and former Lancaster County Commissioner and nephew of Ewell, Ron Ford.

Also, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is committed to overturning Obama-era net neutrality rules that ensured equal access and delivery speeds for all web sites.  The Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines to rollback the regulations in May which would allow companies like Verizon and AT&T to charge sites for high speed delivery and block competitors of big-ticket sites like Amazon or Facebook.

Robert Frieden, a Penn State professor of Telecommunications and Law argues that pay-per service would allow telecom companies to upgrade their infrastructure globally, stating ” . . . when you subsidize access in these lesser developed countries, you provide an opportunity to see what the internet is all about.”

Smart Talk will discuss net neutrality with Frieden and Andrew Hacker, Harrisburg University’s Cybersecurity Expert in Residence.

Media is criticized; not trusted by half of Americans

The mass media or mainstream media, as many call the most popular radio and TV networks, newspapers and websites, is under fire, perhaps more than at any time in recent history. Probably every American president has criticized the media at one time or another and there were times throughout the nation’s history when journalists weren’t responsible in reporting the news or were partisan politically, but no president has attacked the media publicly like Donald Trump.

President Trump coined the name “fake news” when he hears a story he doesn’t like or sees as inaccurate, has called reporters dishonest, bad people and has gone as far as saying the press is the enemy of the people.

Even before Trump became a candidate or president there were Americans that saw the media as biased or unfair, but in today’s atmosphere, the criticism has gone beyond not believing everything that is reported.  At least 34 journalists have been physically assaulted in 2017.  Just last week, Walmart agreed to remove a tee-shirt the stores were selling that read “Rope. Tree. Journalist.  SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.”

The 2017 Poynter Media Trust Survey released last week found that about half the country trust the media.

Many journalists are battling back with transparency and with a renewed committment to making sure the news they report is accurate.

Tuesday’s Smart Talk addresses trust in media with Dan Shelley, Executive Director of the Radio Television Digital News Association and WITF’s Multimedia News Director Tim Lambert.

Pennsylvania Nonprofits / Holocaust Education

More than 63,000 nonprofit organizations operate in Pennsylvania, generating revenues of more than $220 billion.  Nearly a quarter of a million Pennsylvanians work in the nonprofit sector; almost 15% of the state’s workforce.  These entities register as 501(c)(3) organizations, exempting them from federal tax.

Late last week, the Senate passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – the tax reform bill – and it is currently being reconciled with the House before going to the president.  One of the provisions of the bill as it left the House was a reduction in the number of individuals eligible to deduct charitable donations from their federal filings, reducing the pool of eligibility from 31% of individual filers to 5%.

In addition, the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate would result in a projected 13 million Americans losing healthcare coverage; nonprofit service organizations anticipate that would result in a dramatic increase in need for services.

Anne Gingrich, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, recently penned an opinion piece for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette expressing the concerns of the state’s non-profit community regarding the tax reform proposal, Gingrich will join Monday’s Smart Talk to discuss the impact this tax bill could have on Pennsylvania’s nonprofit sector and the vulnerable citizens who rely on their aid.

Also, the state’s Board of Education released a report last month indicating 93% of Pennsylvania schools are including Holocaust education in their curriculum.  The state’s General Assembly passed Act 70 in 2014, encouraging the teaching of Nazi genocide of Jews, homosexuals, disabled and ethnic minorities during WWII.

The classroom instruction is age appropriate at all levels and also includes content on the Rwandan genocide and other acts against humanity.  Smart Talk will discuss the importance of teaching the Holocaust to all students with Randi Boyette, the Anti-Defamation League of Philadelphia’s  Associate Regional Director of Education and Elaine Culbert, a member of the Act 70 advisory committee and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.

Capitol Reporter’s Roundtable

Pennsylvania House Bill 153 has been sitting before the State’s Legislature for more than a year; the bill, sponsored by Schuylkill County Representative Jerry Knowles, passed the house with great fanfare in 2016.  It has languished in committee since then.  The bill would then require a constitutional amendment on an election ballot to meet full passage.

HB 153 would reduce the size of Pennsylvania’s Legislature from 203 seats to 151 – a reduction of 26% that would ideally save taxpayers $15 million a year.  The legislative budget increased by 5.2% in 2017 to $362 million.  The Commonwealth boasts the largest fulltime Legislature in the country.

On the Friday edition of Smart Talk, WITF Capitol Bureau Chief Katie Meyer speaks with Mark Levy, The Associated Press’ Harrisburg Correspondent and Steve Esack of the Allentown Morning Call about efforts to limit the size and budget of the state’s legislature as well as the race for Pennsylvania’s second-in-command.

Last week, Lieutenant Governor Michael Stack announced his intention to run for re-election in 2018.  Stack made the announcement from Philadelphia’s City Hall, saying “It’s not a secret this year has been difficult for my family and me, but we’re emerging stronger and healthier.”

The difficulties he was referring to involve alleged abuse doled out by Stack and his wife to his state police security detail.  Allegations became severe enough for Governor Wolf to launch an investigation into the Stacks’ behavior and eventually strip them of the detail.  The governor and Stack have had a historically rocky relationship with one capitol source telling “Some in the front office have hated him [Stack] from Day One.”

Stack’s announcement follows those of several other Pennsylvanians vying for the lieutenant governor’s seat, including Braddock mayor John Fetterman, Montgomery County businessman Jeff Bartos and Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone.

Inappropriate Sexual Behavior / Nursing Home Abuse

Americans awoke Wednesday to learn that Matt Lauer, host of NBC’s Today, was fired for inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.  He joins a growing list of high profile men who are being called out for their conduct – people who are at the highest reaches of news media, entertainment and politics.

The narrative has changed since last month, when film mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused of using his clout to pressure young actresses for sex.  Since, we’ve heard the stories of a highly regarded actor who groped young male co-workers; a respected comedian and U.S. senator who took inappropriate pictures with a female comedian while she slept; and a senatorial candidate accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl.

Thursday’s Smart Talk discusses whether this is a turning point in what’s appropriate and what isn’t, respect, acceptable behavior and how men and women treat each other.  Kristen Houser, Chief Public Affairs Officer for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape appears on the program.

Also, according to an investigative report in the Reading Eagle, between 2009 and 2015, the state’s Department of Health acknowledged more than 1,800 incidents of abuse of residents of nursing homes in Pennsylvania.  Only three of those cases were referred to the attorney general’s office.  None were prosecuted.

The Eagle says due to a lack of transparency in the reporting and documentation process, there is little understanding of the scale of these abuses.  A 2010 amendment to The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 requires facilities to notify police within 24 hours of a reported abuse but a review of 100 incidents by The Reading Eagle found that there is little compliance with the law.  The Eagle had to file three Right-to-Know requests and two open records appeals to obtain this information.

On the Thursday edition of Smart Talk, we’ll will parse out the scope of nursing home abuses and the reporting thereof with Reading Eagle investigative reporter, Nicole Brambila.