Our Putin


Illustration by Sam’s Myth; Photographs by Drew Angerer/Getty Images, East News/Liaison, via Getty Images, Terry Ashe/The LIFE Images Collection, via Getty Images and Dmitry Serebryakov\TASS via Getty Images

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WASHINGTON — On June 18, 2001, I attended Vladimir V. Putin’s first meeting with the American news media. We were seated at a large round table in the wood-paneled Kremlin Library. It was still early in Mr. Putin’s presidency, and we weren’t sure what to expect of this ex-K.G.B. spy fresh off the famous summit meeting where President George W. Bush had gotten “a sense of his soul” and pronounced him “trustworthy.” After we were kept waiting for what felt like hours, Mr. Putin finally arrived a little after 8 p.m., sat down and took questions until nearly midnight.

When it was my turn, I asked about the brutal war against separatists in the southern province of Chechnya. His long answer makes for striking reading all these years later: It combined media-bashing (we were failing to sufficiently cover atrocities committed by the separatists, he said); anti-Islamic sentiment (“What do you suggest we should do? Talk with them about biblical values?”); and the insistence that he had to attack in Chechnya to keep the rest of Russia safe. As the night went on, he proposed American-Russian operations against the real threat in the world, Islamic terrorists, and proclaimed his patriotic plan to restore the country after the economic reverses of the previous decade.

Sound familiar? Mr. Putin’s slogan back in 2001 might as well have been Make Russia Great Again.

We are four weeks into Donald J. Trump’s presidency, and Mr. Putin, in power 17 years and not going anywhere anytime soon, is everywhere in American politics. A shirtless Mr. Putin is a regular figure of parody on “Saturday Night Live,” portrayed as a character witness (or is that handler?) for the president of the United States. His hackers’ meddling haunted the American general election. A leaked dossier purporting to contain possible Russian blackmail material on Mr. Trump dominated headlines for weeks.

And last week, Russian entanglements resulted in the quick dumping of the national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn (although Mr. Flynn was ultimately cut loose not for his apparent discussion with the Russian ambassador about lifting American sanctions, but for lying about it to the vice president). A day later, news emerged that associates of Mr. Trump had been in contact with Russian intelligence in the year before the election.

Mr. Trump has made clear for months that he doesn’t just admire the Russian president’s macho persona but considers him, as he said during the campaign, more of a “leader” than President Barack Obama. As recently as this month, in a pre-Super Bowl interview on Fox, Mr. Trump refused to condemn Mr. Putin’s repressive government. No surprise then that Mr. Trump’s unseemly embrace of the Russian tough guy has given rise to a million conspiracy theories.

But we no longer have to speculate about conspiracies or engage in armchair psychoanalysis. Since the inauguration, we have accumulated some hard facts, too: Both Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and actions as president bear more than a passing resemblance to those of Mr. Putin during his first years consolidating power. Having spent those years in Moscow as a foreign correspondent — and the rest of my career as a journalist in Washington in four previous presidencies — I can tell you the similarities are striking enough that they should not be easily dismissed.

Of course, in personality these two are very different: Mr. Trump is impulsive where Mr. Putin is controlled, with temper tantrums and public rants contrasting with the Russian’s cold calculation and memorized briefing books. But their oddly similar political views and approach to running their (very different) countries may turn out to be just as important as the Russia-related scandals now erupting around Mr. Trump. You don’t have to think he is some kind of agent of Russia to worry about the course he’s taking us down.


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The cost of silence: Why more CEOs are speaking out in the Trump era


After receiving an honorary doctorate at the University of Glasgow recently, Apple chief executive Tim Cook took questions from the capacity crowd. The first student had two for the leader of the world’s most profitable company. He wondered, to laughter, whether he could have a job. And then he asked about Apple’s “next big thing” — not just as far as products, but “in terms of activism.”

Cook said he doesn’t view himself or Apple as an “activist,” casting the company’s battles over privacy rights or its opposition to President Trump’s immigration order in moral terms about right and wrong. Just before that he had invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quotation about the problem with “the appalling silence of the good people.”

Yet more and more, consumers and employees are like that student in Scotland, expecting the companies they buy from or work for to take a stand on social issues. And increasingly, CEOs are responding.

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Farming Behind Barbed Wire: Japanese-Americans Remember WWII Incarceration


Many of the Japanese Americans incarcerated at Tule Lake had been farmers before the war. At camp, they were employed as field workers, often for $12 a month. Here, incarcerees work in a carrot field.
Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project via The National Archives

At 98, Riichi Fuwa doesn’t remember his Social Security number, but he remembers this: “19949. That was my number the government gave me,” he said. “19949. You were more number than name.”

That was the number that Fuwa was assigned when he was 24 years old, soon after he was forced off his family’s farm in Bellingham, Wash., and incarcerated at the Tule Lake camp, just south of the Oregon border in California’s Modoc County.

Seventy-five years ago today, on Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066, which led all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast to be forced from their homes and businesses during World War II.

Fuwa was one of almost 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, most American citizens and farmers, who were incarcerated in what were euphemistically called “relocation” or “internment” camps. I met Fuwa last summer, when I joined a four-day pilgrimage to Tule Lake undertaken by survivors of the camps and their children and grandchildren.

“I wanted to see the place for the last time,” Fuwa told me.

Before the war, nearly two-thirds of West Coast Japanese-Americans worked in agriculture. People like 93-year-old Jim Tanimoto, from the Sacramento Valley town of Gridley. His father grew rice, then cultivated peaches.

Tanimoto and Fuwa’s immigrant parents faced laws barring them from owning or holding long-term leases on land. Despite that, by 1940 they and their American-born children grew almost 40 percent of the vegetables in California.

Then, on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor. Resentment and hysteria grew about anyone of Japanese origin, even those born in the United States. Tanimoto remembered, “Then Executive Order 9066 was signed. Things changed.”

On Feb. 19, 1942, when President Roosevelt signed the executive order authorizing the removal of anyone from military areas, Japanese-Americans could read between the lines. They knew the order mainly targeted them. Soon, the commanding general for the West Coast determined that all people of Japanese origin – whether immigrant or U.S.-born citizen – in coastal areas had to move inland onto so-called “relocation camps.” Many had to abandon their orchards and fields, with crops ready to harvest.

“When I stepped out of the train, the terrain was not a big shock,” Tanimoto said. “I knew what the terrain looked like.”

That’s because, when he was younger, Tanimoto had hunted for deer up in the Tule Lake Basin, when all he could see was dusty land and scrub brush. When, in 1942, Tanimoto and the 15,000 other forcibly evacuated Japanese-Americans arrived at Tule Lake, they saw a landscape dominated by barracks covered in black tar paper.

“Rows and rows and rows of these buildings,” said Tanimoto. “We were inside the barbed-wire fence, the armed guard towers. We couldn’t walk out of the enclosure. I might get shot.” He remembered thinking, “Hey, I’m an American citizen! Now I’m the one being hunted.”

Jim Tanimoto and many other once-successful farm owners were about to become field workers for the U.S. government.

The guard towers and rows of barracks have long since been torn down or moved. Our guide on the pilgrimage points out the few remaining buildings, and the huge swaths of farmland once worked by Tule Lake prisoners. Over 1,000 Japanese-Americans worked in the fields, most earning just $12 a month, a quarter of what farmworkers made at the time.

Each of the 10 incarceration camps nationwide had working farms. Many of the Japanese-Americans held there, like the women above, worked as field hands.
Densho: The Japanese American Legacy via The National Archives
Agriculture wasn’t incidental at any of the incarceration camps. Many of the new War Relocation Authority administrators came right from the Department of Agriculture. Camp locations, though usually in deserts and other inhospitable places, were often chosen for their existing government irrigation projects or agricultural potential. The government’s intention was to improve the land for after the war.

Each of the 10 incarceration camps nationwide had working farms, but Tule Lake was different. The land was on a former lake bed, so despite a dusty, snowy and windy climate and a short growing season, it produced enough food for its own mess halls and those at other camps. That production was so essential that when the Tule Lake camp opened, eligible men who refused to work were threatened with $20 a month fines.

Farmworkers at Tule Lake harvested almost 30 crops, including potatoes, rutabagas and daikon radishes. They also grew grain and hay for animal feed, and kept hogs and chickens.

Before the war, Lucille Hitomi’s father ran a commercial flower business in Mountain View, Calif. At Tule Lake, he worked the fields, under white supervisors.

“I remember my dad saying, ‘I don’t know if they were good farmers,’ ” she said, but those bosses relied on the expertise of the Japanese-American laborers to develop a productive farm. To keep some semblance of normalcy, families like Hitomi’s tried to create special meals. It helped that her brother worked at the camp slaughterhouse.


A young field worker loads potatoes grown on the farm of the Tule Lake incarceration camp
National Archives

“I don’t know if this was legal,” Hitomi remembered, “but sometimes he would bring bits of meat home. My mother brought to camp a hot plate and a frying pan, and she’d cook the meat in the barrack,” instead of joining hundreds of others in the mess hall. “I guess it was more like home,” Hitomi said.

The stated purpose of these farms was to feed the incarcerated, but camp administrators took produce, grain and hay grown by these imprisoned Japanese American workers, and sold it on the open market – over 2 million tons of it from Tule Lake alone.

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The documents would expose everything: the racism inherent in the president’s executive order, the cynical politics behind it, the lies told in court to defend it.

Peter Irons was sure of this. The lawyer had stumbled across the papers in a government storeroom: secret admissions from U.S. officials that a supposed matter of national security was not what it appeared.

The executive order led to abrupt expulsions, mass detentions and the persecution of thousands on the basis of their ethnicity, but it was false to the core.

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A bus leaving Manzanar for relocation. (Ansel Adams)


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How a Time magazine cover artist captured the chaos of the Trump presidency


THE ASSIGNMENT came in as a brief: Think “Trump in a hurricane.” And in a creative whirlwind, artist Tim O’Brien had just days to turn around an illustration.

The result — a striking portrait of the president — is this week’s Time magazine cover, which features the caption “Nothing to See Here.”

The Downfall of Kellyanne Conway



As Kellyanne Conway sleepwalks her way through a series of increasingly embarrassing interviews, it’s been hard not to feel sorry for her. It was difficult not to feel bad for her when “Saturday Night Live” depicted her as a craven hack driven to “Fatal Attraction”-style debasement by a desire to appear on the news. When the cast of “Morning Joe” pointed out that Ms. Conway’s recent appearances on news shows proved her a useless source of information, when they sneered at Ms. Conway’s apparent White House ostracization, it was difficult to not feel stirrings of sympathy.

But I can’t feel sorry for Kellyanne Conway. Not anymore.

Not long ago, Ms. Conway felt like a vital part of a system that needed smart people on both sides to make it work. As a pollster who studied the electoral behavior of women, she served as a bridge between the right wing and a demographic that often seemed to perplex them.

The first time I saw Ms. Conway speak was at a New Yorker Festival panel in 2012. I was new to New York City. I was new to writing about politics. I was new to writing, period. On a panel about women voters, Ms. Conway spoke with a pragmatism that stood in opposition to contemporary TV personalities like Elisabeth Hasselbeck, whose brand of delicate pouting defined the conservative zeitgeist. Ms. Conway didn’t appeal to her audience’s sympathy. She had facts.

I liked watching her speak then. I watched her the way a person might stand at the kitchen window and watch a raccoon abscond with the first tomato of spring. I didn’t agree with what she was doing, but I admired her chutzpah.

Once she took the reins of Donald Trump’s campaign, though, she went from smooth to slippery. She’d hammer Hillary Clinton for talking too much about gender and duck behind her femininity in the face of legitimate criticism. If she succeeded, it was because she was Kellyanne. If she failed, it was because she was a woman.

In the months leading up to the election, Ms. Conway generously lent her womanhood as a smokescreen to the Trump campaign. She tried to insert a watered-down version of feminism into the candidate’s platform, despite the fact that no mainstream feminist-leaning organizations supported him. When her boss was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women, Kellyanne Conway “as a woman”-ed her way out of it. Confronted about Mr. Trump’s chauvinism, she snapped back that women who were in poverty were not served during the Obama years, as though that somehow undid her boss’s history. I gasped so frequently when she spoke that after each interview was over, I’d feel faint, like I’d spent the last several hours blowing up balloons.

When Ms. Conway breached federal ethics laws by hawking Ivanka Trump’s “stuff” in the press briefing room, she got off with no immediate penalty besides being “counseled on the subject.” She told Fox News that the president supported her, that she was lucky to have a nice boss like Donald Trump and that every woman in America should hope to have a boss like him. She made it sound as though declining to punish a woman for ethics violations was somehow feminist, and as though all that matters to women is how their bosses treat them personally, not how their bosses impact the lives of other women.

If I wasn’t too exhausted to feel insulted, I’d have felt insulted.

As Kellyanne’s once-forceful cable news denials have disintegrated into whimpers, I can’t say I feel anything for her at all. I don’t mind when people point out how tired she looks. I simply cannot dredge up any sympathy for a person who has acknowledged the structural problems most women face only when she is personally facing them, or used them as derailing tactics when she’s losing an argument. I can’t mourn the downfall of a fair-weather feminist, a woman who has used her power to hurt other women.

Ms. Conway made her bed. And now it’s time for her to get some sleep.

Backcountry skiers speak on the evolution of the sport


Neal Beidleman, Art Burrows, Dick Jackson, Chris Davenport and Jordan White — all distinguished mountaineers in the Aspen community — discussed how advances in information sharing and technology have changed the sport of backcountry skiing over the past few decades, at a presentation that brought them together Wednesday night.

“Five Decades of Backcountry Skiing” was hosted by the Aspen Historical Society at Highlands Alehouse.


“Backcountry skiing today is so connected to the internet that a lot of the risk and some of the trepidation has really been taken out of the whole sport,” said Beidleman, 57, who was introduced to backcountry skiing in the late ‘60s as a child on Snowmass by his father. Before his well-documented climbing trips to the Himalaya, he would tour what is now the Big Burn and High Alpine areas with his father, a ski area planner, as he would flag trails and survey for lifts.

“You got all your information from someone who had been there before, looking at a map as a primary guide, or you did a manual inspection by just going there and seeing,” Burrows, 64, a noted telemark pioneer, agreed.

By the time Davenport, 46, began backcountry skiing in Colorado, “the CAIC [Colorado Avalanche Information Center] was around but the internet wasn’t,” he said. In order to gather information, he relied on calling a network of skiers as well as the CAIC hotline to listen to the recorded forecast.

“The more information you have the better your capabilities to make a good decision out there,” Davenport said.