Donald Trump has bowed to overwhelming pressure and invoked a law that enables him to compel General Motors to mass produce breathing equipment for coronavirus sufferers.
For days the US president has resisted calls to use the Defense Production Act (DPA), claiming “we’re a country not based on nationalsing our business” and even drawing comparisons with the socialist government of Venezuela.
But Trump finally shifted position on Friday as he came under criticism from state governors, Democrats and doctors for playing down a nationwide shortage of ventilators, which enable a person with compromised lungs to keep breathing.
Covid-19 is a respiratory illness. Most who contract it recover but it can be fatal, particularly among older people and those with underlying health problems.
Trump announced he had signed a presidential memorandum directing his health secretary to use “any and all authority available under the Defense Production Act to require General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize Federal contracts for ventilators”.
He added: “Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course.
“GM was wasting time. Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives.”
The decision followed 24 hours of confusion in which Trump initially expressed scepticism about the dire warnings of ventilator shortages, particularly in New York, where medical officials say the situation is desperate.
“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” he told the Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday night.
“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go into major hospitals sometimes they’ll have two ventilators, and now all of a sudden they’re saying: ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”
The comments provoked a backlash and on Friday morning Trump appeared to shift gear, lambasting GM for allegedly over-promising and over-charging. In tweets littered with capital letters and exclamation marks, he also urged Ford to churn out ventilators.
“As usual with ‘this’ General Motors, things just never seem to work out,” he wrote. “They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed Ventilators, ‘very quickly’. Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar. Always a mess with Mary B.”
The “Mary B” reference was to GM’s chief executive. Mary Barra, as Trump renewed his grievance with her for closing and selling a factory in a state vital to his re-election campaign.
He added: “General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!! FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!!”
The comments came after a New York Times report that the White House had backed away from announcing a major ventilator deal with GM and Ventec Life Systems because the cost was too high.
Trump also tweeted he might “Invoke the ‘P’”, then clarified that he meant the DPA, which grants the president power to compel companies to expand industrial production of key materials or products for national security. Small-government conservatives had urged against such a move, suggesting the threat of the law would be leverage enough.
In a separate tweet, Trump said the federal government had bought a large quantity of ventilators from a number of companies, and that details would be announced later on Friday.
Critics say Trump ignored early warnings about the threat of the pandemic and had he acted sooner, mass production of ventilators would now be well under way.
Experts warn that the US is hundreds of thousands of machines short of what it need to treat a sharply rising number of coronavirus patients.
New York, Michigan, Louisiana and Washington state are current hot spots and the total of US cases has surpassed those confirmed in China and Italy. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, by Friday there were about 94,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the US and more than 1,400 deaths.
Hillary Clinton, a former New York senator and secretary of state, tweeted: “A month ago, Trump said: ‘It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.’ Yesterday, he said: ‘I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.’
“What will it take to get [him’] to listen to experts instead of his own hunches?”
France has suggested extending a two-week lockdown to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus as the interior minister blasted “idiots” who flout home confinement rules and put others at risk, AFP reports.
President Emmanuel Macron has ordered French residents to stay at home except for essential excursions such as going to the doctor, walking the dog, or going for a solitary run, and banned any gatherings.
For a two-week period that began Tuesday, people can go to work only if their employer cannot make tele-commuting possible.
But news reports have shown groups of friends and families strolling in parks despite the clampdown, prompting calls from some officials for even stricter limits.
Many have been observed ignoring the one-metre (three feet) safe inter-personal distance in queues at the essential businesses that were allowed to stay open.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said people ignoring the measures were “idiots”.
“There are people who underestimate the risk… There are people who think they are modern-day heroes by breaking the rules while they are in fact idiots,” he told Europe 1 radio.
Macron on Thursday urged companies and workers to continue their activities “in compliance with the health safety rules”.
Genevieve Chene, who heads France’s public health agency, said between two and four weeks are needed for the outbreak to be adequately contained.
“Within two to three weeks we should be able to observe a slightly different dynamic” to the outbreak’s momentum, she told Franceinfo radio, and “a significant braking” within two to four weeks.
“It is likely that it is indeed necessary to extend (the containment measures) in order for the braking to be sufficient,” Chene said.
Meanwhile, the French government has started requisitioning hotel rooms for homeless people to occupy during the confinement period, Housing Minister Julien Denormandie announced.
More than 170 rooms will be made available in Paris by the end of the week, and the government has identified 80 sites elsewhere across the country to accomodate the country’s estimated 250,000 homeless people.
DEMOCRATIC presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was met by jeering protestors as a recent campaign stop appeared to go horribly wrong.
Buttigieg was initially welcomed by $15 minimum wage activists – but things soon went south for the former South Bend, Indiana mayor, according to footage taken at an event on Monday.
In the video, posted by TIME, Buttigieg can be seen making a stop to join McDonald’s workers and activists taking part in a Fight For $15 march, in Charleston, South Carolina.
The 38-year-old was initially welcomed by the group, and after hugging one protestor, the former attempted to give a speech to the crowd.
Within a minute of Buttigieg taking the mic, however, the heckles had begun.
One person could be heard calling the former mayor a “flip-flopper,” while another said he was “co-opting the movement.”
“PETE CAN’T BE OUR PRESIDENT”
Soon, minimum wage marchers had begun chanting over Buttigieg’s speech itself, repeating their slogan, “We work, we sweat, put $15 on our check.”
Also present at the march were members of the Poor People’s Campaign and activists from Black Youth Project 100, an African American youth social justice organization.
Members of the latter then began to heckle Buttigieg over his political record.
As the former mayor then walked away from the minimum wage march, flanked by campaign staff, BYP100 activists began chanting: “Pete can’t be our President. Where was $15 in South Bend?”
The TIME footage shows Buttigieg leaving the scene and being followed by BYP100 activists.
As he then moved to enter his SUV, the presidential candidate could be heard referencing a plan for disabled workers to those who had followed him.
According to reports, Buttigieg was the only president candidate to appear at the March – though representative from other candidates’ campaign teams were present.
In the latest Winthrop Poll, Buttigieg only had 1% support from African Americans.
The minimum wage in Indiana currently stands at $7.25.
POLITICAL RECORD QUESTIONED
Last year, when Buttigieg was the city’s mayor, the South Bend Tribune called for the minimum wage to be increased to $12 per hour.
In 2016, Buttigieg had been able to get minimum wage for city employees raised to $10.10 an hour – but state law prevented local municipalities from instituting a higher mandated minimum wage for all businesses.
South Carolina primary is the forth nominating contest for the Democratic Party in 2020 and will take place on February 29.
Candidates have already stressed the importance of succeeding in the state, which awards 63 delegates, of which 54 are pledged delegates allocated on the basis of the results of the primary.
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Elon Musk did not defame British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth by calling him a “pedo guy” on Twitter, a Los Angeles jury found Friday.
The case has pitted a 64-year-old financial adviser earning a salary of about £25,000 ($33,000) against one of the richest and most famous men in the world. The dispute stems from the Tesla and SpaceX chief’s ancillary involvement in the Tham Luang cave rescue in June and July 2018, which saw 12 young football players and their coach successfully extracted from a flooded cave system by a team of British cave divers.
On 13 July 2018, after the successful completion of the rescue, Unsworth said in an interview with CNN that the rescue pod Musk had delivered to the cave site was a “PR stunt”, adding that he should “stick his submarine where it hurts”. A video clip of the interview went viral, drawing the ire of Musk.
The billionaire entrepreneur responded in a series of tweets on 15 July, suggesting that Unsworth’s presence in Thailand was “sus[picious]” and calling him “pedo guy”.
Musk eventually deleted the tweets and apologized to Unsworth.
The jury was tasked with determining whether a reasonable person would understand the tweets to mean that Musk was calling Unsworth a pedophile.
Musk’s attorneys argued that the tweet was not a statement of fact, but an insult, which is considered protected speech. They also attempted to show that Unsworth’s reputation had not been seriously damaged.
Unsworth’s attorneys introduced evidence of the broad dissemination of Musk’s tweets, which were reported in 490 English-language articles on 361 websites in 33 countries.
They also introduced evidence of Musk’s behavior after the 15 July tweets, including his hiring of a private investigator to seek proof of Unsworth’s “nefarious behaviour”.
Users of Bloomberg terminals are funnelled to the Bloomberg 2020 campaign website merely by writing: MIKE. …
A Bloomberg spokesperson said the ‘MIKE’ function had been in place since at least 1997, when it was used to promote Mr Bloomberg’s autobiography Bloomberg by Bloomberg. Two decades later it advertised his book Climate of Hope. The website it currently links to has for years promoted Mr Bloomberg’s personal and political projects before being converted to his campaign site.
The website that users are directed to presents a slickly-produced video narrating Mr Bloomberg’s journey from ‘a middle-class kid who had to work his way through college’ to a billionaire businessman and politician.
It asks readers to register their details to join the campaign team, and contains news of policy announcements — as well as an online shop including $22 ‘I like Mike Bloomberg’ T-shirts.
Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, met in Budapest on Tuesday with a former Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, who has become a key figure in the impeachment inquiry. He then traveled to Kyiv on Wednesday seeking to meet with other former Ukrainian prosecutors whose claims have been embraced by Republicans, including Viktor Shokin and Kostiantyn H. Kulyk, according to people familiar with the effort.
The former prosecutors, who have faced allegations of corruption, all played some role in promoting claims about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a former United States ambassador to Ukraine and Ukrainians who disseminated damaging information about Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in 2016.
Trump talked to reporters three times today — appearing alongside Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. All together, the US president spoke to the press for more than two hours today.
Meanwhile, Republicans on the House oversight committee are keeping up their messaging campaign against the impeachment inquiry by … photo-shopping chairman Adam Schiff’s face into a poster for the movie “Back to the Future.”
Speaking to reporters just now in London, Trump called Schiff a “maniac,” a “deranged human being” and a “very sick man” for his handling of the impeachment inquiry.
Trump announces G7 summit will be held at Camp David
Trump has now wrapped up his news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, during which the US president announced the June G7 summit would be held at Camp David.
The president’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, had previously announced the summit would be held at Trump’s resort in Doral, Florida, but that decision was quickly reversed amid intense criticism from Democrats and Republicans.
Ironically, when Mulvaney announced the initial choice of Doral, he claimed that the past G7 site of Camp David had been a “complete disaster.” “In fact, I understand the folks who participated in it hated it and thought it was a miserable place to have the G7,” Mulvaney said at the time.
Trump just claimed to reporters that he does not follow the stock market after the Dow hit a one-month low following the president’s comments that he does not have a “deadline” for reaching a trade deal with China.
In reality, Trump has repeatedly boasted about the state of the stock market and has demanded credit for its rallies while shaking off responsibility for its trade-related tumbles.
Sitting alongside Justin Trudeau, Trump said Canada must increase its financial contribution to Nato, suggesting the country should be put on a “payment plan” to up its defense spending for the alliance.
The Canadian prime minister pushed back by pointing out his country has increased its Nato spending by 70% in recent years and insisted Canada is a key partner in the alliance.
Trump told reporters that he thought the initial question about supporting the protesters in Iran pertained to financial support, hence his surpising answer that he did not back the demonstrators.
“We do support them totally and have supported them from the beginning,” Trump said at the start of his news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in London.
Trump’s clean-up of his earlier comments aligns the president with secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who has said the US backs the protesters and has tried to keep online communications open in Iran depsite the government’s efforts to shut down the internet.
Trump says he supports Iran protesters (after saying he didn’t)
Trump has just sent a tweet saying he supports the protesters in Iran, less than an hour after the US president said during a news conference with Emmanuel Macron that he did not back the demonstrators.
During his news conference with the French president, Trump was asked whether he supported the protesters, as his secretary of state has expressed. “I don’t want to comment on that, but the answer’s no. But I don’t want to comment on that,” Trump replied.
If the federal appeals court’s ruling stands, House Democrats could have unprecedented insight into Trump’s business dealings. However, the president’s legal team is likely not done trying to fight the order.
Trump’s press conference with Emmanuel Macron has just wrapped up, during which the French president repeatedly challenged the US leader on a number of foreign-policy issues. But Trump stuck by his controversial stances — arguing, for example, that there was a benefit to communicating with Russia because the idea is popular at his campaign rallies.
Sitting next to Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron repeatedly criticized the US leader for his stances on a number of foreign-policy issues, particularly his welcoming of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after the Turkish president launched a violent military oepration in Syria.
Trump shocked reporters in London when he responded to a question about whether he supports the protesters in Iran, who have been violently repressed by their country’s government.
The US president initially said he did not want to comment on the situation in Iran but then added offhandedly that he did not support the protesters.
Secretary of state Mike Pompeo said yesterday that the US was supporting the protesters by trying to keep online communications open, despite the Iranian government’s efforts to shut down the internet.
Trump and Macron clash over returning ISIS fighters
Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron are speaking to reporters in London as they meet during the Nato summit, and the two world leaders have repeatedly clashed on everything from Russia to the return of Islamic State fighters who have European citizenship.
Trump was insisting European countries need to take back control of those fighters and he joked to Macron, “Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I could give them to you.”
Macron responded by noting only a small percentage of ISIS fighters originally come from Europe. Trump replied, “This is why he’s a great politician because that was one of the greatest non-answers I’ve ever heard.”
Tom Steyer’s campaign said the billionaire activist has qualified for the December Democratic debate, making him the seventh presidential candidate to meet both the polling and donor requirements to participate.
“After terrific performances in the last two debates and a tremendous amount of earned media over the last month, Tom continues his surge in the early state polls which has led to an increased amount of donors over the last few weeks,” his campaign manager, Heather Hargreaves, said in a statement.
Steyer will join Joe Biden, Elizbaeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar on the debate stage. Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang only needs one more qualifying poll to make the cut, and he has nine days to get it.
However, it’s looking increasingly likely that about half of the Democratic presidential field will fail to qualify for the next debate — which could pressure more candidates to withdraw from the race, as Montana governor Steve Bullock and former Pennsylvania congressman Joe Sestak both did in recent days.
House intelligence committee’s impeachment report expected today
Good morning, live blog readers!
Donald Trump is at the Nato summit in London striking fear into stockbrokers’ hearts and insulting world leaders (as we’ve come to expect), but the impeachment inquiry is continuing unabated as the president is abroad.
The House intelligence committee is expected to publicy release its report on the impeachment inquiry today. The report will convey Democrats’ argument that Trump abused the power of the presidency by trying to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 election.
Republicans on the committee insist the inquiry is just an outgrowth of Democrats’ political animus toward Trump, who did nothing wrong in his communications with Ukraine. This viewpoint was articulated in a report released yesterday by the Republican minority of the intelligence committee. “The fundamental disagreement apparent in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is a difference of world views and a discomfort with President Trump’s policy decisions,” that report said.
The president’s allies are pushing back against the investigations of his administration in other ways as well. The Washington Post reported last night that attorney general William Barr has told associates he does not agree with the justice department inspector general’s finding that the FBI was justified to launch the Russia investigation.
However, as the House gets closer and closer to an impeachment vote, Trump’s allies may soon run out of options for protecting the president.
Here’s what else the blog is keeping its eye on:
Trump will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in London before a Nato leaders reception at Buckingham Palace.
David Hale, the undersecretary of state who testified during the public impeachment hearings, will appear before the Senate foreign relations committee at 10 a.m. ET.
Joe Biden will continue his bus tour in Iowa.
The blog will have much more coming up, so stay tuned.
A campaign account for Danielle Stella, a pro-Trump Republican candidate for Congress, was banned from Twitter after it published a violent comment about the Democrat she hopes to unseat next year, Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar.
Stella’s campaign Twitter account, @2020MNCongress, featured at least two posts involving the idea of Omar being hanged, according to the Washington Times, which broke the story of her suspension.
The tweets concerned an unsubstantiated allegation that Omar – one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress – shared sensitive information with Qatar, which then wound up with Iran.
A spokesperson for Omar previously told the Jerusalem Post of the claim: “Since the day she was elected, Saudi Arabian trolls and mouthpieces have targeted Omar with misinformation and conspiracy theories.”
An initial tweet from Stella’s campaign account reportedly said: “If it is proven [Omar] passed sensitive info to Iran, she should be tried for #treason and hanged.”
The Washington Times said the account “subsequently tweeted the link to an article that aggregated her remark, accompanied by a crude depiction of a stick figure hanging from gallows”.
The @2020MNCongress account cannot be viewed. Text on the page reads “account suspended” and “Twitter suspends accounts which violate the Twitter Rules”.
In a statement, Twitter told the Guardian: “The account was permanently suspended for repeated violations of the Twitter Rules.”
Stella said in a statement: “My suspension for advocating for the enforcement of federal code proves Twitter will always side with and fight to protect terrorists, traitors, pedophiles and rapists.”
The Guardian revealed that Stella has been arrested twice this year over accusations that she shoplifted some $2,300 in goods from Target and $40 in items from a grocery, Stella has maintained her innocence.
She has made claims about Omar before, claiming she broke the law by telling immigrants how to avoid authorities. Lawmakers who don’t “uphold the rule of law”, Stella said, should be kicked out of office.
A spokesperson for Omar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Since winning election to Congress last year, Omar has attracted rightwing attacks and fringe conspiracy theories as well as outright threats of violence. The congresswoman said this April she faced an increase in death threats after Trump accused her of downplaying September 11.
On 19 November, New York man Patrick Carlineo pleaded guilty in relation to calling Omar’s office and telling a staffer: “Why are you working for her, she’s a [expletive] terrorist. Somebody ought to put a bullet in her skull. Back in the day, our forefathers would have put a bullet in her [expletive].”
Omar, who came to the US as a Somali refugee, appealed for “compassion”.
“As someone who fled a war zone, I know how destabilizing acts of political violence can be,” she said in a letter to the judge. “That his threat of violence relied on hateful stereotypes about my faith only made it more dangerous … it was a threat against an entire religion, at a time of rising hate crime against religious minorities in our country.”
She added: “We must ask: who are we as a nation if we respond to acts of political retribution with retribution ourselves? The answer to hate is not more hate; it is compassion.”
Lawyers say Trump had already been briefed on complaint
Trump at Mar-a-Lago while Democrats campaign in Iowa
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Democratic representative Stephen Lynch — a member of the House oversight committe, which helped conduct closed-door depositions in the impeachment inquiry — argued in a CNN interview this morning that the testimony from the public hearings has established clearly impeachable behavior on the president’s part.
“If this is not impeachable conduct, then nothing is,” Rep. Stephen Lynch says to @jimsciutto about the impeachment inquiry. “…There’s a greater danger leaving this President in office than taking him out through the legal impeachment process.” https://t.co/QR1x8IYryf pic.twitter.com/ufUbsIktSA
Officials are still unclear about what caused the airspace violation that triggered yesterday’s brief lockdown at the White House and the Capitol, but one Capitol Police source said a “slow-moving blob” on the radar had sparked concern.
CNN has more:
Senior national security officials across the agencies convened to coordinate and monitor the situation after the mysterious ‘blob’ was seen on radar at the Capitol Police command center flying just south of the National Mall, according to a law enforcement source.
Mike Kush punches the gas on a golf cart, the wind tousling his grizzled ponytail. “You look hot,” he says, waving a disapproving hand at my trousers. “Feel free to take your clothes off.”
A husky man, Kush takes up most of the seat, leaving only a few hallowed centimeters between me and his naked body. We’re speeding through the residential streets of the Lake Como Family Nudist Resort in Pasco county, Florida. It’s a Saturday morning and families are sunbathing around the community pool and clubhouse. The air is thick with the languid warmth of summer camp.
Lake Como is one of 13 nudist resorts and neighborhoods that pepper a 15-mile stretch of US 41 running through the rural heart of Pasco county, just inland of Tampa Bay, Florida. (Clothing is required by law everywhere outside the confines of each resort or neighborhood.)
Some “resorts” are nothing more than a cluster of trailer parks, others are primly landscaped and lined with stucco mansions. “But Lake Como was the original,” Kush says.
In 1941, Ava Weaver Brubaker, a tax lawyer from Tampa, bought this plot of land, then a 350-acre orange grove, after his doctor had prescribed nude sunbathing to treat a rare skin disease. He and his wife, Dorothy, grew fond of the practice and started inviting their friends. Within a few years they were taking out classified ads in nudist journals and selling memberships.
Pasco county is now considered to be the nudist capital of the world – nowhere else has a larger year-round population of nudists (or “naturists”, the preferred term). They have played an integral role in the local economy for decades. The bed and sales tax revenue generated from the 10,000 permanent residents and nearly 1 million annual tourists helps fund everything from school districts to law enforcement.
There’s a neighborhood or resort for every flavor: couples, singles, swingers, multigenerational families, LGBTQ people, retirees. But as different varieties of nudists decamped to Pasco county over the years, an ideological gulf has formed. On one side there’s Lake Como, the oldest and surely the most staid, which upholds traditional nudist values (no PDA, no sexual overtones) and where children are welcome.
Then there’s the Caliente Club and Resort, a natural adversary just up the road, known for its wild swinger parties and bawdy social media campaigns. Both represent the profile of naturism in America today. Both struggle with being misunderstood by the outside world and share the common goal of normalizing naturism, but they spend a considerable amount of time grappling with each other.
“It’s sad how the outside world looks down on us,” Karyn McMullen, president of the Lake Como co-op, tells me inside a screened-in porch bar called the Butt Hutt. She has a helmet of lank, straw-colored hair, its tone enhanced by the contrast of her chestnutty brown skin.
The greatest misconception about their lifestyle, McMullen says, is that it’s sexual in nature. “It has absolutely nothing to do with sex,” she says. “It’s much deeper than that.”
Whether they were raised in nudist families or introduced to it as adults, Pasco county is filled with people who have eschewed conventional lives in favor of this enclave. They say stripping one’s clothes leads to an immediate dissolution of ego – once they are no longer obscured, bodies and any perceived differences, are rendered invisible. It’s the only way to achieve authentic social parity.
“We took off our fears and inhibitions when we got here,” McMullen, who’s lived at the resort since 2012, says. “We just trust one another.”
Contemporary naturism began in Germany in the early 20th century as a folk medicine panacea, and then transformed during the postwar years into a manner of dissent from the authoritarian rule of the German Democratic Republic. Conversely, the origins of American naturism are socialistic. Lee Baxandall, a prominent figure of the new left, dedicated the second act of his life to nudist advocacy in America. (A nude statue of Karl Marx stands in the lobby of the American Nudist Research Library in nearby Kissimmee.)
The fact that Lake Como is a co-op is further reification. All the money from daily passes for tourists or annual membership dues from residents is cycled back into property maintenance and improvements. Roughly half of the resorts in the area function as not-for-profits. If the principle stands that gender, race and sexuality are immaterial, then wealth and class are too.
These are reasons why nude recreation is gaining popularity in America and abroad, particularly with demographics other than white people of a certain vintage. According to the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) – the oldest naturist advocacy group in North America, which offers legal counseling and a lobbying arm – the Black Naturists Association (BNA) is the fastest growing nudist organization in the country. Membership skews younger, and has increased tenfold in the last year.
Conversations I overhear among residents at Lake Como recall those halcyon days of childhood, before we found significance in skin color, or sneakers or the type of car our parents drove. That return to innocence is the argument for Pasco county being a utopian experiment worth preserving, though they feel it’s undermined by Caliente. Residents of Lake Como and other traditional resorts where children are raised and recreate have spent decades trying to divorce the association of nudism with sexual deviancy, whereas Caliente wholly embraces it.
As I make my way to leave the Butt Hutt, a man with mussed white hair, an imposing frame and an all-over tan corners me. He introduces himself as Rich Pasco. “I was hoping I’d get a chance to talk to you about Caliente,” he says, peering down from double-bridge eyeglasses. “I live there.”
We arrange to meet later at Caliente, a few miles north on Highway 41. In parting, he reaches out for a handshake and I have an instant flash of all the moments throughout the afternoon I’d seen him use that hand to gather his inert scrotum and clear a space so he could cross his legs.
Royal palms and a high wall of mildewed sandstone conceal Caliente’s thousands of members from the highway. At the entrance to the palatial country club, I’m made to empty my pockets and walk through a metal detector. The resort felt it had to ratchet up security since the 2016 shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, being that it hosts large queer crowds.
I hear this is the most “upscale” nudist resort in the world, with it’s full-service spa, fitness center, thatched chickee huts, five pools, eight bars, restaurants and on-site sex shop. The grand lobby bar is furnished with ersatz-gold accents and plaster replicas of Renaissance statues. I follow a stream of foot traffic out the back door and find dozens if not hundreds, of nudists luxuriating below – a field of bare buttocks slathered with coconut tanning oil and spread across neat rows of lounge chairs, like country hams basting under heat lamps. Though Caliente has hundreds of permanent residents, it’s equally popular (as are all resorts in the area) for selling day passes, weekend memberships and vacation rentals.
A part-time employee and air force veteran named Kevin greets me. He asks that his last name be withheld, reminding me that outsiders often take a dim view of his lifestyle choice. He says that Caliente is “lifestyle friendly”, a euphemism for sexually open and experimental. “The line between nudity and sex is very thin,” he says. “We don’t allow anyone under 21 because we feel that nudity, booze and children don’t really mix.”
As we round a tiki bar, he launches into a soliloquy about Caliente’s openness to all comers, its popularity with LGTBQ and younger crowds. “Tell me who’s gay and who isn’t,” he says, pointing at the “conversation pool”, naked bodies poking out, aged 21 to 81, various shapes and shades, drowning in Malibu rum and growing tender as the afternoon wanes.
Eventually, I find Rich Pasco on the balcony of a sports bar. He orders a pitcher full of Diet Coke and tells me about how he sees himself as a global ambassador of nudism – with multiple advocacy groups and a political action committee dedicated to destigmatizing nude recreation. As a kind of stump speech, he offers the quixotic story of his first experience with public nudity. At a New Jersey YMCA, a lifeguard told a group of preteen boys that they had to get naked before jumping in the pool. “We all dropped our trunks right there and jumped in,” he says. “We swam all afternoon.”
I have an internal reaction: the thought of stripping naked at a public pool is a boyhood trauma that would be difficult for me to survive without permanent psychological damage, but Pasco says he’s been hooked ever since.
He explains that when he bought his house in Caliente – one of the first built in 2004 – the place still welcomed families, and held the same rules as Lake Como. “Adults and children were naked in the pool, and there’s nothing untoward going on.”
That changed when the resort started losing money. A steep overhead made it incapable of surviving on a lean diet of membership dues. New management started selling sex instead of naked family outings to attract outsiders.
Rich is surprisingly gentle in his criticism of the resort, considering he’s spent most of his life trying to convince the world that nudity is not inherently sexual, and now he has to walk by flyers for the “naughty schoolgirl party” in the Caliente clubhouse. But most classic naturists are less tolerant of Caliente. Five years ago, the resort was dismissed from the AANR for damaging the reputation of “social family nudism”.
With all the fuss surrounding Caliente, I ask why he doesn’t just move to another neighborhood.
“Look at this place.” He unfolds his arms to the lavish playground below, as if to say, How could Peter Pan yield his dominion? For now, he balances, or perhaps tempers, his enchantment in Caliente with the homely environs of Como, keeping a bare foot in both worlds.
Sunday morning back at Lake Como bears a steady breeze and mild humidity: naturist’s delight, by the looks of it. They are mooning about, in smocks or muumuus, but the majority wear only Birkenstocks. Seeing them walk around this thinly forested area, unhurried, a bit lost and listless – there’s something prehistoric, evolutionarily backwards in it.
Rich Pasco unfolds himself from his Prius, steps out of his ratty cargo shorts and walks bare-assed into the Garden of Eden church, a squat asylum-white building next to a cypress grove. Inside, Pastor Norm arranges Bibles on the plastic tables. He has spiky, salt-and-pepper hair. Instead of vestments he wears rubber-toe shoes and a T-shirt that reads “Free Hugs”, his wattle and business end poking out from under the hem. Jayson McMullen, Karyn’s husband, strums a few chords on his acoustic guitar as 15 or so parishioners file in.
Garden of Eden is nondenominational. A small but faithful bunch, most live at Como, or in the area, but some drive from hours away to make the Sunday service. There’s no communion, no theatrics, just fellowshipping that connects them to the biblically tinged, living-as-God-intended ethos which fed early strains of nudism.
We open with a hymn, Lord I Lift Your Name on High, and Pastor Norm drums softly on the table. His following sermon is a paean for positive body image, “To affirm the goodness of our bodies exactly how God created them,” he says, “that’s what naturism is all about.” The group nods serenely; the appeal was universal.
Jayson gently massages his wife’s shoulders. Karyn closes her eyes and lolls her head. I felt like I was watching a scene from the early days, before the community grew big enough that the clothed world stepped in to admonish, and before a title like “nudist capital” preceded them. Back when it was just a few guys and girls hanging out with their clothes off, with nothing to fight about.