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by German Lopez 01.06.2014
Posted In: News, City Council, Budget, Governor, State Legislature at 03:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

State Cuts Contribute to Local Budget Gap

Republican state officials slashed local government funding in previous budgets

Cincinnati might not be facing an operating budget gap in 2015 if it were not for Republican-approved cuts to state aid for local governments.

Following cuts approved by Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature, Cincinnati officials estimate the city is getting $26 million less in state funding in 2015 than the city did in 2010.

At the same time, the city is facing a $21 million operating budget gap in 2015.

The reduction in state aid helps explain why the local budget gap remains after several years of council-approved spending cuts and tax hikes.

“It sounds like the city is doing a good job,” said Democratic Councilman Chris Seelbach at Monday’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting. “Where we’re seeing these obstacles is these outside sources.”

Independent Councilman Christopher Smitherman countered that the cuts to the local government fund and the elimination of the estate tax, both of which drove the reduction in state aid, have been known since 2011 and 2012.

“Public policy makers have, in my opinion, continued to make decisions as if those public policy decisions from the governor’s chair or from the state … weren’t in play,” Smitherman said. “This is not new information.”

Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn agreed. He said it’s time to stop blaming the governor for the city’s problems and face the reality of reduced revenues.

Still, Winburn acknowledged he would be willing to meet with state officials to bring more revenue back to Cincinnati.

“Maybe Republicans will be willing to meet with a Republican like me and see if we can bring some money back to Cincinnati,” Winburn said.

Republicans at the state level passed cuts to the local government fund as a way to balance the 2012-2013 budget, which faced a projected gap of nearly $8 billion in 2011. They then approved the elimination of the estate tax — often labeled the “death tax” by opponents — in 2012.

But with Ohio’s economy slowly recovering from the Great Recession, the state budget looks to be in much better shape. The 2012-2013 budget ended with a $2 billion surplus because of higher-than-expected revenues.

Ohio Democrats point to the surplus as evidence the Republican-controlled state government could undo the $1 billion in cuts to local government funding. They argue the cuts have hurt local governments and forced cities to slash basic services, including public safety.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.06.2014
Posted In: News, 2014 election, Governor, LGBT, Parking at 09:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kasich_2

Morning News and Stuff

Tea party drops challenge to Kasich, gay marriage in 2014 election, city faces parking issues

Tea party leader Ted Stevenot won’t run against Gov. John Kasich in a Republican primary after all. The development came just four days after Stevenot announced his candidacy. Stevenot said his decision to pull out had nothing to do with his running mate’s tax problems, which The Columbus Dispatch uncovered shortly after Stevenot announced his intention to run. Stevenot’s withdrawal comes despite building tea party opposition against Kasich over his support for the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion and his unwillingness to support anti-union “right-to-work” legislation.

The debate over same-sex marriage reached the state attorney general’s race Friday when Democratic candidate David Pepper published an online petition calling on Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine to stop the state-sanctioned legal battle against a local gay couple. On Dec. 23, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black ruled that state officials must recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates, including the union of Cincinnatians Jim Obergefell and John Arthur. But the state is appealing the ruling. DeWine’s office said it’s up to the Ohio Department of Health, the plaintiff in the case, to appeal Black’s decision. Citing attorney-client privilege, DeWine’s office declined to comment whether he advised for or against appeal.

When Pepper and DeWine face off in the November election, same-sex marriage legalization could appear on the ballot as well — despite LGBT groups’ disagreement over the ballot initiative’s timing.

With the parking privatization plan presumably dead, Mayor John Cranley and City Council plan to address what to do with Cincinnati’s lackluster parking system in the next couple months. By all accounts, the system is broken and in need of upgrades. The question is how to fund the upgrades and leverage parking revenue so it can better finance basic services and development projects. When asked whether privatization is still on the table, Cranley says he’s only open to leasing parking garages, not parking meters, to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.

Another issue looming for city officials: Their desire to structurally balance the budget without raising taxes or draconian spending cuts. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.

Frigid weather led area schools to close today, including the region’s public universities. For developing weather information, follow #cincywx on Twitter.

Dayton gets a new mayor today.

Ohio was snubbed for a coveted drone testing program, much to the chagrin of state officials who are now touting partisan claims as reasons why.

Ohio gas prices dropped in time for the first full work week of 2014.

A study found no evidence of time travelers on the Internet.

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by German Lopez 01.02.2014
Posted In: News, LGBT, 2014 election, Governor at 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_gaymarriage_juliehill

Morning News and Stuff

LGBT groups debate ballot timing, Kasich gets tea party challenge, Portune's ethics disputed

Ohio’s leading LGBT groups still disagree whether same-sex marriage should appear on the ballot in 2014 or 2016, but FreedomOhio says it’s continuing with efforts to put the issue to a public vote within a year. The debate could decide when gay couples in Ohio will get the same rights already granted to couples in other states. In its defense, FreedomOhio cites polling that shows its amendment has support from 56 percent of Ohio voters. But that same poll also put Ohioans within the margin of error — 47 percent in favor and 48 percent in opposition — on the general question of same-sex marriage legalization, which other LGBT groups point to as a sign Ohio needs more time before it’s ready.

Clermont County tea party leader Ted Stevenot will mount a Republican primary challenge against Gov. John Kasich. Stevenot has long criticized Kasich for his support for the federally funded Medicaid expansion, which now allows anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to enroll for Medicaid. Stevenot has also called on Kasich to support anti-union legislation commonly known as “right-to-work.”

Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune’s challenge against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is off to a rough start: A former law partner said Portune isn’t “ethically … suited to be governor,” according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Portune on Monday announced his intent to challenge FitzGerald in a Democratic primary, despite opposition from various state Democrats.

Commentary: “What to Watch in 2014.”

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning, up from a winter weather advisory, for southwest Ohio today between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. The region should get 3-5 inches of snow, with most of it coming this morning and early afternoon.

Three new local homeless shelters expect to start construction in 2014.

Eighty local organizations across Ohio, including three in Hamilton County, are receiving more than $26.3 million in state funds for homeless prevention, emergency shelters and transitional and supportive housing projects.

The federal government awarded Ohio $10.8 million for getting low-income children health insurance.

Check out The Onion’s best videos of 2013.

Here are the best astronomy and space pictures of 2013, according to Phil Plait of Slate.

Popular Science published its science predictions for 2014.

CityBeat is hiring a full-time associate editor. Click here for more information.

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by German Lopez 01.23.2014
Posted In: News, Governor, Democrats at 12:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
toddportune

Portune Flounders on Campaign Announcement

Supposed gubernatorial candidate continues leading on Ohioans

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune on Thursday declined to announce whether he will challenge gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald in a Democratic primary after all, despite previously telling The Cincinnati Enquirer he already made a decision.

While CityBeat will certainly cover Portune’s announcement once it finally comes, it’s all with the acknowledgement that his chances of getting the Democratic nomination are slim to none. Portune has no credible organization, his name recognition is low outside southwest Ohio and he apparently can’t find a candidate for lieutenant governor, which all gubernatorial candidates must do prior to collecting and filing 1,000 signatures before a February deadline.

The weak indicators surrounding Portune’s campaign help explain why, when asked by reporters, FitzGerald said he’s not worried about Portune.

“I respect him. He’s an elected official. He’s been an elected official for a long time,” FitzGerald said. “I think he’s not being entirely realistic. It’s very difficult to run a legitimate statewide campaign.”

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern put it more forcefully in his comments to media outlets.

“Every two years, we get excited about the Cincinnati Bengals and Todd Portune talks about running for an office,” he told WVXU.

Still, Portune continues clinging on to his gubernatorial ambitions.

“To end it now would be inconsistent with the message I have given around the state, which is to not give in the diversity,” Portune told The Enquirer. “And while it may appear improbably today… I can’t say it’s impossible.”

In the meantime, FitzGerald will keep running a serious statewide campaign to defeat Republican Gov. John Kasich this November.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.03.2014
Posted In: News, Abortion, 2014 election, Governor, Courts at 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Abortion restrictions follow trend, more tax issues in state election, Luken to run for judge

Ohio and various other states passed more abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013 than they did in the previous decade, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The findings indicate that the latest Republican-backed abortion restrictions, which were passed through Ohio’s two-year state budget last June, were part of a broader trend that’s culminated across the nation since the tea party rose to national prominence in 2010. The trend could play a pivotal political role: Ohio Democrats have made their opposition to the abortion restrictions a central part of their campaigns to unseat Republican incumbents who hold top executive offices in the state.

One of the candidates expected to join the tea party ticket in a Republican primary challenge against Gov. John Kasich appears to have personal tax problems. Brenda Mack, tea party leader Ted Stevenot’s expected running mate, is linked to nearly $60,000 in unpaid state and federal taxes and penalties, according to government records in Mahoning and Cuyahoga counties analyzed by The Columbus Dispatch. Mack refuses to comment on the tax problems until a Tuesday press conference in which she and Stevenot are expected to officially announce their candidacies for the May 6 primary.

Former Mayor Charlie Luken says he will run for Hamilton County probate judge. The Democratic candidate will likely face off against Republican Ted Winkler, a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge. Luken recently garnered the public spotlight for his support for Mayor John Cranley’s campaign.

Cincinnati’s homicide rate for victims younger than 18 rose to 1 in 7 in 2013 and 2012, up from 1 in 10 from 2000 through 2011, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Four of the juvenile victims were 1-year-old or younger, including a fetus who died after the mother was strangled to death in April.

Four seats on the 19-member Ohio Board of Education remain unfilled, including two seats that have been vacant for months, long past the 30-day deadline Gov. Kasich has under state law to name a replacement. Administration officials said they’re aware of the deadline, but they intend to find the best fit for the position before moving forward with an appointment. “It’s far more important to us to find the right person than putting warm bodies on the board,” Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols told The Columbus Dispatch.

The amount of untested rape kits submitted to Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation exceeded 5,000.

Fewer than 1,000 died last year in traffic crashes across Ohio, the lowest number since the state began keeping track of the fatalities in 1936.

Bill Nye the Science Guy will debate evolution and biblical creationism at northern Kentucky’s Creation Museum on Feb. 4. Evolution is a scientific fact, but Creation Museum leader Ken Ham denies its existence.

Aaron Betsky announced yesterday he will step down as director of the Cincinnati Art Museum. The news follows Betsky’s controversial comments against the streetcar project in ArchitectMagazine.com, which Betsky expanded on in a separate blog post. CityBeat recently interviewed Betsky here.

The Cincinnati Bengals received an extension until 4 p.m. today to sell out tickets for Sunday’s game and avoid a television blackout in the Cincinnati area.

Strange lights sometimes precede earthquakes.

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by German Lopez 12.03.2013
Posted In: News, Privatization, Governor at 03:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
cover-kasich-2

Court Allows JobsOhio Documents to Remain Secret

ProgressOhio loses case against privatized development agency

The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously dismissed a request to compel JobsOhio to disclose various documents.

The court argued the Republican-controlled General Assembly largely exempted JobsOhio from public records law and therefore allowed the agency to keep most of its inner workings secret.

The decision was a major loss for advocacy group ProgressOhio, which claims the documents should be on the public record.

The Republican-controlled legislature, with the support of Republican Gov. John Kasich, in 2011 established JobsOhio, a privatized development agency, to replace the Ohio Department of Development. The JobsOhio Board of Directors is chaired by wealthy Ohio businessmen.

Republicans argue JobsOhio’s secretive, privatized nature is necessary to quickly foster economic development deals across the state. Democrats say the anti-transparency measures make it far too difficult to hold JobsOhio accountable as it recommends how to spend taxpayer dollars.

An Oct. 23 report criticized JobsOhio and other privatized development agencies around the country for consistently displaying conflicts of interest and other scandalous behavior. The report came from Good Jobs First, a research center founded in 1998 that scrutinizes deals between businesses and governments.

Kasich previously touted JobsOhio as one of the reasons Ohio’s economy quickly recovered following the Great Recession, but recent indicators show the state’s economy is now slowing down. Ohio is one of five states whose economy worsened in the past three months, according to an index from the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia that combines four economic indicators to gauge states’ economic health.

Others have more directly questioned the Kasich administration’s claims to success. An Oct. 29 investigation from The Toledo Blade found jobs numbers from the Ohio Development Services Agency are vastly inflated, indicating that the state government isn’t producing nearly as many jobs as it claims.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.20.2014
Posted In: News, 2014 election, Governor, Courts, Mayor at 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ed fitzgerald

Morning News and Stuff

FitzGerald picks running mate, Cranley opposes double dipping, Hunter pleads not guilty

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald on Friday announced his new running mate: Sharen Neuhardt, a Dayton-area business attorney and twice-failed candidate for Congress. The choice boosts the ticket’s credentials with women and abortion-rights advocates, but it also reinforces support for pro-choice policies that upset many Republicans and conservatives. FitzGerald originally picked State Sen. Eric Kearney as his running mate, but Kearney dropped out of the race after multiple media reports uncovered he owed more than $800,000 in tax debt. CityBeat covered the gubernatorial race and how the economy could play into it in further detail here.

Mayor John Cranley on Friday reiterated his opposition to double dipping, even though he supports hiring an assistant city manager who will take advantage of the practice. Because Bill Moller is a city retiree, he will be eligible to double dip — simultaneously take a salary ($147,000 a year) and pension — when the city hires him in February. Cranley called the practice “abusive” on the campaign trail, but he says it’s up to City Council to pass legislation that prevents it.

Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter on Friday pleaded not guilty to nine felony charges, including accusations of backdating court documents, theft in office and misusing her county credit card. The Ohio Supreme Court on Jan. 10 replaced Hunter until her case is decided. The felony charges are just the latest for the judge, who has been mired in controversy after controversy since before she won her election.

State Rep. Alicia Reece and other activists are pushing an initiative for the November ballot that would embed “voter rights” into the Ohio Constitution. The Democrat-backed constitutional amendment is in direct response to Republican-led attempts to shrink early voting periods and restrict access to the ballot.

A propane gas shortage in some parts of the state led Gov. John Kasich to suspend state and federal laws that keep propane suppliers off the roads on weekends.

State Treasurer Josh Mandel’s failed Senate campaign sold an SUV totaled in March — effectively averting an insurance review that might have clarified the vehicle’s use and insurance status — shortly after questions arose over the continued use of the vehicle months after Mandel’s Senate campaign ended.

Secondhand smoke increases the odds of hospital readmission for children with asthma, according to a study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Penn State Milton S. Hershey Children’s Hospital.

Google’s smart contact lens could help diabetics.

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by German Lopez 01.08.2014
Posted In: News, Budget, 2014 election, Courts, Economy, Governor at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kasich_2

Morning News and Stuff

Judge halts election law, unemployment benefits advance, city loses budget director

A federal judge halted a controversial election law that limited minor political parties’ access to the ballot and ruled that the state must allow minor parties to participate in the primary and general elections in 2014. But by merely agreeing that only the retroactive restrictions for 2014 are too burdensome for minor parties, the judge left room to keep the law intact for elections in 2015 and beyond. Still, the ruling comes as a major victory for the Libertarian Party of Ohio and other minor parties who took to calling the Republican-backed law the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act” because it conveniently limited minor parties that are upset with Republican Gov. John Kasich’s support for the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman broke with most of his fellow Republicans yesterday to help advance federal legislation that would extend emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed. Still, he hinted that he would not support the three-month extension if the $6.4 billion cost isn’t covered by federal spending cuts elsewhere. Without the extension, 128,600 Ohioans could lose unemployment benefits through 2014 even as the state economy shows signs of weakening.

Cincinnati Budget Director Lea Eriksen yesterday confirmed she is leaving her high-level city job to take the same job in Long Beach, Calif. Peggy Sandman will fill in for Eriksen while a search for a permanent replacement is held. Eriksen’s announcement comes as a blow to the city but little surprise to political watchers. Shortly before taking office, Mayor John Cranley called Eriksen and other administration officials “incompetent” because of how they handled the $132.8 million streetcar project, even though their estimates for cancellation costs turned out to be mostly on point.

Newsflash: Global warming didn’t stop just because we’re cold now.

The worst of the deep freeze should be over for Ohio.

Cincinnati’s 2013 homicide rate of 25 per 100,000 residents compares to Cleveland at 22, Indianapolis at 14.85, Columbus at 11.24 and Louisville at 8.43.

An Ohio appeals court ruled Cincinnati can change medical benefits for retirees after all.

Construction for the uptown interchange could begin in July and finish in late 2016.

The city announced yesterday that it’s extending its Winter Holiday Trash Amnesty through Jan. 17, which means residents have until then to set out extra trash next to their city-provided trash carts.

Gov. Kasich is asking parents to tell their children about the dangers of drug abuse, as the state works to combat problems with prescription painkillers and heroin.

A Fairfield, Ohio, teacher who was fired for allegedly telling a black student, “We don’t need another black president,” will fight for his job.

Dozens of inmates at the Lebanon Correctional Honor Camp endured frigid conditions Monday evening after one of three furnaces broke, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

A Cincinnati-area medical device firm is in a race with some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world to get a painless drug injector on the market.

People are stealing English ferrets used to hunt rabbits.

A survey of brown dwarfs found they’re racked by planet-sized storms of molten iron.

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by German Lopez 01.24.2014
Posted In: News, Voting, Economy, 2014 election, Governor, Mayor at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Officials push to keep early voting downtown, Portune flounders, Ohio joblessness rate falls

Mayor John Cranley yesterday offered free space to the Hamilton County Board of Elections at the city-owned Shillito’s building to keep the board’s offices and early voting downtown. The idea comes in the middle of a debate between Democrats and Republicans on the Board of Elections over whether they should move their offices — and early voting — to a Mount Airy facility, where only one bus line runs, to consolidate county services and avoid the cost of rent. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann said there won’t be enough occupancy at the Mount Airy location if the Board of Elections decides not to move there. For the county, a certain amount of occupancy must be filled at Mount Airy to financially justify the move and the renovations it would require. Without the move, the county will need to find another location or means to build a new county crime lab.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune yesterday refused to announce whether he will actually run against gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald in a Democratic primary, even though he told The Cincinnati Enquirer the day before that he already made a decision. At this point, Portune’s lack of organization and name recognition means his chances of beating FitzGerald are slim to none.

Ohio’s December unemployment rate dropped to 7.2 percent from 7.4 percent the month before. The amount of employed and unemployed both increased compared to the previous year. The state of the economy could decide this year’s statewide elections, even if state officials aren’t to credit or blame for economic conditions, as CityBeat covered here.

It is perfectly legal to forgive back taxes in Hamilton County. Supporters argue the practice removes a tax burden that likely wasn’t going to get paid anyway, but opponents worry it could be misused and take away revenue from schools and other public services that rely on property taxes.

A Hamilton County court ruled against the legality of automated traffic cameras in Elmwood Place. Officials plan to appeal the ruling.

More than 10,000 Ohioans lost food stamps this month after Gov. John Kasich declined to request a federal waiver for work requirements. Hamilton County officials estimate Kasich’s decision could affect 18,000 food stamp recipients across the county.

A new Ohio House bill delays the transition from the Ohio Graduation Test to new end-of-course exams. The delay aims to provide more time to vet the tests and allow schools to better prepare for the changes.

Local home sales improved by nearly 21 percent during 2013, according to the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors.

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport reported 3 percent more passengers and 9 percent more cargo traffic in 2013.

Ohioans spent 5.8 percent more on liquor in 2013 compared to the year before, reaching a new record in yearly purchases of liquor across the state.

The Cincinnati Entertainment Awards return this Sunday.

Telling people they slept better than they did improves their performance on math and word association tests.

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by German Lopez 12.18.2013
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Private backers support streetcar offer, city budget gap estimated, governor's race still close

More than a dozen business and philanthropic entities support the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) plan to develop a private-public partnership to pay for the streetcar’s operating costs, according to Eric Avner, vice president of the philanthropic Haile Foundation. If the people cited by Avner put money behind their support, they could get streetcar operating costs off the city’s books and pave the clearest path forward for the $132.8 million streetcar project since the new mayor and City Council took office earlier this month. Although Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully insufficient” earlier in the day, Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two swing votes on council, said the idea could turn into a viable option if the business and philanthropic community provided more assurances.

Other streetcar news:
• City Council will hold public hearings on the streetcar today at 1:30 p.m., with a vote to decide the project’s fate expected tomorrow.
• Speaking about the streetcar project, Vice Mayor David Mann told The Business Courier, “I’m awfully close to saying let’s go for it.”
• The Federal Transit Administration might prefer to deal with SORTA over Mayor Cranley if the streetcar is completed.

Cincinnati’s projected operating budget gap for fiscal year 2015 is $16 million, which means City Council will need to find new revenue or cuts to balance the budget by July. Although a majority of council members promise to structurally balance the budget in the next few years, a minority say it will be more difficult than most expect without hiking taxes or cutting police and firefighters.

The 2014 gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald is within the margin of error, according to a poll released Monday by Public Policy Polling (PPP). “Although there’s been a fair amount of movement toward Republicans nationally since (November), the state of this particular race has seen very little movement and Democrats continue to have an excellent chance at a pick up next year,” wrote Tom Jensen, director of PPP.

Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune could challenge FitzGerald for the Democratic nomination.

A task force could undertake a comprehensive review of the city charter to modernize the city’s guiding legal document.

Startup incubator SoMoLend is likely to liquidate before the scheduled Jan. 23 state hearing about alleged securities fraud. The liquidation would be an effective end to a once-promising company that partnered with the city of Cincinnati to foster startups and small businesses.

This year could be the least deadly on Ohio’s roadways, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

A bill in the Ohio House could require hospitals to report the number of newborns addicted to drugs. The grim number would provide a much-needed measure for tackling Ohio’s so-called opioid epidemic.

Ohio is doing a poor job fighting infectious diseases, according to a report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital obtained a grant to combat brain cancer.

Two won the $636 million Mega Millions jackpot.

Even the physics behind emperor penguin huddles are pretty complicated.

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