How Florida's New District Maps Could Give Democrats An Edge

Florida state Sens. (left-right) Eleanor Sobel, Greg Evers, R-Baker, Rene Garcia discuss a congressional redistricting map on the floor of the Senate in 2014.

Florida state Sens. (left-right) Eleanor Sobel, Greg Evers, R-Baker, Rene Garcia discuss a congressional redistricting map on the floor of the Senate in 2014. Phil Sears/AP hide caption

toggle caption Phil Sears/AP

There was an unusual scene at Florida’s Capitol building in Tallahassee this week. To comply with a court order, legislative staffers used a computer program to randomly assign new numbers to Florida’s 40 state Senate districts.

It’s the latest in a series of moves that have reshaped politics in the Sunshine State. The political ground shifted recently when the courts approved new maps for congressional districts and the state Senate. The maps are the result of laws that aim to eliminate gerrymandering: drawing districts to benefit one political party or another.

It is a time-honored political practice, named after 19th century Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry. In recent years, Florida is one of the states where it has been most rampant.

But now, six years after voters approved Constitutional amendments aimed at curbing gerrymandering, the courts say maps for Florida’s congressional and state Senate seats at last comply with the law.

“Florida was among the most effective gerrymanders for Republicans in the entire United States,” said Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida. Although Florida is a swing state, one that Barack Obama won twice and with more registered Democrats than Republicans, Republicans control the reins of power. Twenty of the state’s 27 members of Congress are Republican. The GOP holds 26 of the 40 seats in the state Senate.

Under the new maps, McDonald said those numbers are now likely to change slightly in Democrats’ favor. “Expectations are that Democrats will probably win up to two, maybe three seats out of Congress above where they are currently at, and they may win maybe three or four more seats out of the [Florida] Senate.”

A lot of course depends on the candidates and the campaigns they run. After seeing the new map for his district, Republican Congressman David Jolly announced he won’t seek re-election. Instead he’s running for the U.S. Senate. Among the contenders in the now Democratic-leaning district is former Gov. Charlie Crist. Another Republican faced with a hard choice is Daniel Webster, the Orlando-area congressman who gained attention when he ran for House speaker. His district has also been redrawn Democratic.

The new maps were approved only after protracted legal battles and Republican opposition. Challenges are still pending. While the legal cases dragged on, two elections were held using maps that in court Republicans admitted had been drawn improperly.

That’s not how it should work, said League of Women Voters President Pamela Goodman. Her organization was one of the plaintiffs in the court cases. “What has been occurring in Florida has been elected officials choosing their voters, drawing districts, choosing their voters,” she said, “instead of voters choosing their elected officials, which is the way it’s supposed to work in our democracy.”

Every 10 years, after the census, all states are required to draw new congressional and legislative district maps. Under the law now in Florida, maps must be drawn without regard to politics. But the legislature controls the process.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican and political veteran says you can’t take politics out of redistricting. Of the new law and the court ruling, he said, “It just shifted the playing field from Republican politics to Democrat politics in my opinion. And I’ve been involved in Florida politics over 40 years, so I’ve seen a lot of this.”

Because it is a presidential election year, when voter turnout is highest, Democrats think the new maps will help them unseat some Republican incumbents both in Congress and in the state legislature. But Latvala said Democrats who think they may regain a majority in Florida’s Senate are wrong. “I think a one or at the most a two seat pickup, I think that’s a possibility.” Latvala said. “But that’s not going to change control of Florida’s Senate.”

Other states besides Florida are also taking a look at how they conduct the politically-charged once-every-decade redistricting process. North Dakota and possibly Illinois will have redistricting reform on the ballot in November. It’s also being discussed in Ohio, New Jersey, Georgia and other states.

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So Here's What You Shouldn't Do When Trying To Revive A Newborn

Baby “NeoNatalie” waits to be saved, as Dr. Mark Hathaway gives NPR’s Malaka Gharib a lesson on getting an infant to take its first breath. Akash Ghai/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Akash Ghai/NPR

“You have a minute to help that baby breathe,” says Dr. Mark Hathaway. He works as a senior adviser for family planning at USAID’s Maternal and Child Survival Program, and he’s showing me how to get a newborn to take its first breath.

And it has to happen now — during the “golden minute” after a baby is born. That’s what the medical world calls the tiny window of time an infant must bring oxygen into its lungs.

But I’m not a doctor or a nurse. I’m a reporter. So I am pretty clueless.

I lift up the “baby,” a mannequin called the NeoNatalie. Filled with water and covered with soft plastic, it’s heavier than I expected — about five or six pounds, just like a real newborn.

A wave of panic washes over me. I do what I remember seeing on TV shows. I lift the baby by its feet and slap its backside.

“Yeah, don’t do that,” says Hathaway.

I have a lot of company in the club of clueless birth attendants. In the developing world, there’s a dire shortage of health care workers and nearly half of all births take place without a skilled birth attendant.

A nonprofit called Seed Global Health is determined to change things. In 2012, Seed teamed up with the Peace Corps to create the Global Health Service Partnership, a volunteer program that sends U.S. doctors and nurses to Africa to train medical professionals in a variety of techniques, including how to resuscitate a newborn who’s not breathing.

Seed Global Health has so far introduced the program in Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and most recently, Swaziland.

In the past two years, 73 American volunteers have trained more than 7,200 African faculty, residents and students.

“NeoNatalie” is the star of a neonatal resuscitation training kit, which includes a yellow stethoscope, two green bulbs (one to simulate a baby’s breath, another that’s a suction tool), a bag mask (it looks like a lamp), an umbilical cord and clamps and cutter. The hat is part of the kit, too — it keeps the baby warm. Akash Ghai/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Akash Ghai/NPR

After my failed attempts to help my mannequin breathe, Hathaway shows me the proper procedures. He turns the doll to one side and begins vigorously drying its back and head with a towel to help the baby warm up.

“Sometimes that’s all that’s needed,” says Hathaway.

If that doesn’t do the trick, he has all the tools ready for plans B and C: a suction tool and a bag mask.

The suction tool, which looks like a turkey baster, clears out a baby’s nasal passages by removing mucus and gunk from its nose. Using it once is usually enough to help a baby breathe.

If 20 seconds go by and the baby still isn’t breathing, Hathaway would turn to the bag mask, which pumps oxygen from the air into the baby’s lung passages.

Dr. Mark Hathaway shows how a bag mask can be used to pump oxygen from the air into the baby's lungs.

Dr. Mark Hathaway shows how a bag mask can be used to pump oxygen from the air into the baby’s lungs. Akash Ghai/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Akash Ghai/NPR

Aliasgar Khaki, a 24-year-old fifth-year medical student from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, is one of the trainees. He was taught by Dr. Esther Johnson, a former Seed Global Health volunteer who is now the director of family medicine for the nonprofit.

In Khaki’s country, roughly a quarter of newborn deaths are caused by birth asphyxia — a lack of oxygen to the lungs. But the university he attends didn’t have the resources to teach its students the proper techniques.

“They had a program, but the problem was that the equipment wasn’t there,” says Johnson. “It’s hard to teach neonatal resuscitation without a mannequin. You can teach the principles, but if you don’t practice it, it doesn’t get into your muscle memory.”

Inspired, Khaki started organizing trainings for other students, nurses and interns in the area, demonstrating with donated NeoNatalie dolls from global health groups like Jhpiego. The NeoNatalie set costs about $70 for nonprofits.

Dr. Vanessa Kerry, co-founder of Seed Global Health, hopes the trainees will now show others what they’ve learned.

“If we focused on teaching new doctors and nurses how to be great educators with the idea that one doctor could go on and teach ten, who could go on to teach ten more, and so on, we could have this great force multiplying effect,” she says.

For Hathaway, the future of Seed Global Health’s training program will ultimately rely on the power of the individual.

“What moves things forward is a champion,” he says. “If you have someone in a health facility who really wants the infant mortality reduction to happen, that person will work hard to keep following through on things.”

Since Khaki’s training with Seed Global Health, he’s had a chance to practice his neonatal resuscitation skills in real life.

A week after his first training with Johnson, he visited a hospital with a relative. In the nursery ward, he saw a “code blue” situation: a baby struggling to breathe.

The nurse on duty didn’t know what to do. Khaki quickly stepped in and saved the baby’s life, using the step-by-step techniques he learned from his training (which is what Hathaway showed me in my mini-lesson).

How did it make him feel?

“Every cartoon character has their own superhero outfit,” he says. “Mine was my white lab coat.”

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Journalist Says Iran-Saudi Showdown Comes At A 'Really Dangerous' Time

An Iranian woman in Tehran holds up a poster showing Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition Saudi Shiite cleric who was executed in Saudi Arabia on Jan. 2.


An Iranian woman in Tehran holds up a poster showing Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition Saudi Shiite cleric who was executed in Saudi Arabia on Jan. 2. Vahid Salemi/AP hide caption

toggle caption Vahid Salemi/AP

On Jan. 2 Saudi Arabia executed Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an outspoken Shiite cleric who had called for more rights for Saudi Arabia’s marginalized Shiite minority. In response, an Iranian mob attacked the Saudi Embassy in Iran. Saudi Arabia then broke off relations with Iran, and other countries in the region have been choosing sides between these two powerful rivals. Most nations in the region are led by Sunni Muslims, and a number have sided with Saudi Arabia.

Journalist Robin Wright, who has written about the Middle East since 1973, tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that the conflict between the countries comes at an especially sensitive time. “The timing of this confrontation is really dangerous, because January was the month of important developments on four different peace initiatives that were really part of the international effort to prevent the Middle East from disintegrating completely,” Wright says.

In particular, Wright says that upcoming Syrian peace talks have now been compromised: “One of the great achievements by the United States was getting a 17-nation coalition together to talk about peace that included for the first time both foreign ministers from Iran and from Saudi Arabia, and now, of course, they’ve broken off relations.”

Wright is a contributing writer for The New Yorker and a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center. She wrote about this showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the current issue of The New Yorker.

Interview Highlights

On why the Saudis executed a Shiite cleric on Jan. 2

Sheikh Nimr was a prominent critic of the monarchy. He was a leading cleric of the Shiite sect in Saudi Arabia. The Shiites make up between 10 and 15 percent of Saudi Arabia’s population, but they also live in the most important part of Saudi Arabia, which are the eastern oil fields. They … have long felt that they don’t reap the benefits or rewards of the resources on their own territory, whether it’s the financial benefits, the social infrastructure, health benefits or whether it’s a role in the political structure. …

Sheikh Nimr was a critic, but he had not been involved physically in violence. He had sympathized with the people. He had used pretty tough language when it came to criticizing the monarchy; he called it authoritarian and reactionary. … He became controversial in 2012 in the aftermath of a new round of protests in the kingdom that were spawned in large part by the Arab Spring, as protests began to spread across the entire Arab world, and he was arrested at that time. He was charged with a number of offenses, including the absence of loyalty to the ruler, fomenting dissent and inciting public violence.

On the new king and new internal line of power in Saudi Arabia since King Abdullah died a year ago

There’s a whole new cast of political players inside Saudi Arabia, and the king did something quite startling in terms of the slow-moving Saudi politics: He fired the crown prince. He named a nephew as the crown prince and his own 30-year-old son as both deputy crown prince and minister of defense — a person who had very limited government experience, was a largely unknown commodity inside the kingdom — and invested a huge amount of power, particularly, in his son. And many of the traditional players in the kingdom were pushed aside.

What the king did, really, was carve out what amounts to a new royal family. … And there are questions about his frailty on a lot of different levels, and there are questions about how much he’s making a lot of the daily decisions.

On the significance of Iran’s elections next month

These elections are among the most important since the revolution, because they will determine the future of the revolution at a very interesting juncture. For [decades], hard-liners in Iran have controlled the basic levers of power. That began to change in 2013 with the election of a centrist president, Hassan Rouhani.

Iran’s election in February is for two things — first for Parliament, a second branch of government, as well as the Assembly of Experts. This is a group of people very much like the [Roman Catholic] College of Cardinals. There are 86 members; they are religious clerics and scholars, and they are the ones who will pick the next supreme leader.

The supreme leader in Iran is 76. He had prostate surgery 18 months ago. He’s comparatively sturdy, but the actuarial charts would indicate that this Assembly of Experts, which sits for eight years, may well pick the next supreme leader. … If the centrists, reformers, moderates in Iran win more seats in Parliament, playing off the gains of the nuclear deal, then you would see two of the three branches of government in the hands of centrists, moderates, reformers. That would be a huge power shift.

On the younger generation in Iran

The young today don’t talk about the ideal Islamic government. They’re much more involved in new startups. I’ve been in Iran three times in the last 18 months, and I went to see the young twins who started up the equivalent of Amazon in Iran, and today it’s worth $150 million, and they sell everything from Steinway pianos and perfume to refrigerators and dishwashers, computers. This is a huge operation.

I went to see the 26-year old woman who started the Iranian equivalent of Groupon. And the young really have a different agenda. And that’s why the revolutionaries, now in their 60s, 70s, even 80s, realize that something different is happening, and that the numbers are against them.

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Monkey cannot own copyright to 'selfie,' U.S. judge says

An activist from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wears fur and is caged during an anti-fur protest outside the International Fur & Fashion Fair in Hong Kong February 25, 2010.

Reuters/Bobby Yip

A rare crested macaque that took a now internationally famous “selfie” cannot own the copyright to the photograph because he is not human, a U.S. judge ruled in a suit brought by animal rights group PETA on behalf of the monkey.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals brought the case in September on behalf of the seven-year-old monkey Naruto against British photographer David Slater, who self-published the photo in a wildlife book.

Naruto, who resides on a reserve in Indonesia, took the image and several others in 2011 using a camera left unattended by Slater, the suit said. PETA argued he should be declared owner of the photos and receive damages for copyright infringement that would be used for habitat preservation.

While the U.S. Congress and the president have the power to extend legal protections to animals as well as humans, “there is no indication that they did so in the Copyright Act,” U.S. District Judge William Orrick said at a hearing on Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco, according to a court transcript.

But Orrick said he would give PETA an opportunity to amend the lawsuit before he dismisses it outright. PETA published the photo in the case online at

PETA General Counsel Jeff Kerr told Reuters on Thursday that the group is reviewing its legal options.

“Although we are disappointed, we are celebrating the fact that this is a historic case,” he said. “For the first time we are arguing that an animal can own property, rather than merely being a piece of property himself.”

Slater, who said that fewer than 100 copies of the book have been sold worldwide despite the publicity, asked Orrick in November to throw out the case because, he argued, animals do not have legal standing. “Monkey see, monkey sue is not good law,” he said in court papers.

Slater’s lawyer, Andrew Dhuey, said that even if PETA can now amend its lawsuit, Orrick will likely rule in his client’s favor.

“My tuxedo cats could have won this case,” he said. “It’s not a complicated situation. All that really matters is that the plaintiff is a monkey.”

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Cynthia Osterman)

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Animation Pairs With Soul-Crushing Isolation In 'Anomalisa'



The new film by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman uses stop-motion animation to tell a quasi-love story. Critic David Edelstein calls Anomalisa amazing — but also creepy and, ultimately, unsatisfying.

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