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Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ Showcases Her Greatest Instrument

March 29, 2024, 1:04 p.m. ET

Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ Showcases Her Greatest Instrument

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Credit…Nina Westervelt/Getty Images

Like many Beyoncé fans, I remember where I was when she dropped her self-titled album in 2013 without warning. (In my college library, failing to finish a term paper.) And I’ll confess: I wasn’t initially sure if the album was what I wanted to hear.

As an amateur singer, I had been drawn to Beyoncé mainly because of her prodigious voice. It’s a gift you can truly appreciate only after you’ve sat through enough college a cappella group covers of “Love on Top,” four key changes and all, and each time heard the act of singing devolve into one of sonic seppuku.

The electronic, subdued style of “Beyoncé” marked a significant departure from the vocal bombast of the ballad-laden album “4” and the belt-heavy “B’Day.” That shift in aesthetic emphasis continued with “Lemonade” in 2016 and “Renaissance” in 2022, in which showcasing her impressive voice could feel secondary, beside a greater artistic point.

With her new album, “Cowboy Carter,” released on Friday, Beyoncé is definitely still trying to make a point, but she’s traded synthetic production for a far more acoustic sound.

“With artificial intelligence and digital filters and programming, I wanted to go back to real instruments, and I used very old ones,” Beyoncé said in a news release about the album. “I didn’t want some layers of instruments like strings, especially guitars, and organs perfectly in tune.”

It’s a delight to hear her voice, the album’s primary instrument, unmediated and deployed in novel ways. Some of those she’s previewed elsewhere: The operatic soprano passages of “Daughter” are evocative of those she added to the beginning of “I Care” in her Coachella performance in 2018; the gliding, gospel-inflected growls in “Ya Ya” of her live renditions of “Me, Myself and I.” Other vocalizations I don’t think we’ve ever heard from her before, such as the croaky screeches in the opening track, “American Requiem.”

“I think people are going to be surprised because I don’t think this music is what everyone expects,” Beyoncé said, “but it’s the best music I’ve ever made.”

I’ll leave it to the music critics to determine whether that’s true, but I’m glad that Beyoncé is using the security of her position — more Grammys than anyone else has received, more money than anyone needs — to once again experiment, expanding the boundaries of her body of work.

“Nothin’ really ends,” she sings on “American Requiem.” “For things to stay the same they have to change again.”

March 29, 2024, 11:30 a.m. ET

May Joe Lieberman’s Memory Be for a Blessing

For a man as genial, upright and mild-mannered as Joe Lieberman, he could inspire a staggering amount of loathing — most of all from fellow liberals. Some would never forgive his scalding speech about Bill Clinton’s extramarital affair, others his stalwart support for the invasion of Iraq, others for campaigning for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.

Lieberman never seemed to care. He did what he thought was right and was rewarded with four terms in the Senate — the last time as an independent — and, very nearly, the vice presidency in 2000. When he died this week at 82 from a fall in his New York apartment, he could lay claim to being the most consequential elected Jewish official in the history of American politics.

Today, Lieberman’s detractors may want to reconsider their loathing, and not just for politeness’ sake. Though his foreign policy views tilted right, he was also a champion of labor unions, gay rights and climate-change legislation; Obamacare never would have become law without his vote. Earlier in his life, he helped register Black voters in Mississippi — part of his belief, as he wrote at the time, that “this is one nation or it is nothing.”

That conviction probably helped explain his brand of politics, which never sat well with partisans but made him important and interesting as a legislator. Lieberman wasn’t a centrist, at least not in the sense of being a difference splitter. But he never felt bound to follow the ideological herd, and he had a moral code that overrode political expedience, in ways that could earn him enmity and respect at the same time. After he blasted Clinton, the then-president called him to say, “There’s nothing you said in that speech that I don’t agree with. And I want you to know that I’m working on it.”

Most Americans would probably agree that our political system is ailing, not least because partisanship has become so extreme and so few politicians are willing to work across political differences or challenge the most rabid partisans on their own side. Lieberman’s political career is a model of how politics was once done differently, in a way that — whatever one thought about discrete issues — made democracy better for everyone.

Jews traditionally say of the dead, “May their memory be for a blessing.” Joe Lieberman’s memory is a blessing America sorely needs now.

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March 29, 2024, 8:20 a.m. ET

Behind the Ray-Bans, Two Presidents Send a Message About Biden

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President Biden onstage with his predecessors Barack Obama and Bill Clinton on Thursday.Credit…Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

It was as starry as an Oscar ceremony. It had a Grammy-caliber musical lineup. And the financial haul — roughly $25 million raised for President Biden’s re-election effort — set a record for a single political event, according to the president’s aides.

But none of that mattered as much as a single tableau at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan on Thursday night: Biden and the two Democratic presidents before him, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, on the same stage and the same page, in a show of unity and continuity that underscored what a disruptive, divisive force Donald Trump is.

Biden, Obama and Clinton sat in identical white armchairs for a group interview by Stephen Colbert, but the questions and answers weren’t the main point. The camaraderie was. The warmth. The support that Biden was getting from past leaders of the Democratic Party and its contrast with the low regard for Trump held by many onetime Republican standard-bearers.

I’m wary of political predictions, but I’ll venture this much: Trump’s Republican predecessor George W. Bush won’t be stumping or speaking for him anytime soon. Nor will Mitt Romney or Mike Pence.

Trump, of course, casts his isolation as affirmation: He’s no prisoner of history or of hoary ideas. No creature of the ruling class. To emphasize that last bit of positioning, he counterprogrammed the fund-raiser with his own visit to the New York area on Thursday for the wake of a police officer killed during a traffic stop this week.

But despite that messaging and despite the presence of protesters at Radio City who denounced Biden’s support of Israel, the fund-raiser provided a crucial retort to all the second-guessing among Democrats — all the concern about Biden’s age, all the worry about his alienation of certain groups of voters.

Obama and Clinton were present as ambassadors of the sentiment that Biden was up to this task, that he deserved a second term and that he would indeed secure one, if everybody would just get on board and get to work.

They were there with counsel, too. In his comments onstage, Obama seemed to nudge Biden toward a campaign with more focus on his accomplishments. “It’s not just the negative case against the presumptive nominee on the other side,” Obama said. “It’s the positive case for somebody who’s done an outstanding job.”

Obama and Clinton radiated appreciation to portray Biden as unappreciated. Then each of the three men put on a pair of Biden’s signature aviator glasses. Eyewear can speak louder than words.

March 29, 2024, 5:04 a.m. ET

If Opening Day Can’t Be a National Holiday, Here’s a Better Idea

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Credit…Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox, via Getty Images

Baseball’s Opening Day has always had a special resonance. Maybe it’s the concurrence with springtime, or the mytho-poetic virtues of baseball that its acolytes always preach. There’s even been intermittent talk of making Opening Day a national holiday — a whimsical notion that actually picked up a corporate endorsement.

I’m in favor of the idea, though there are obvious hurdles: outcry from fans of other sports or the many ways in which Major League Baseball has undermined the sanctity of its own ritual. Thankfully, there’s a simple and even more appealing alternative.

Part of the problem with Opening Day is that its timing and national location are no longer reliable. Historically, the very first game of every season was played in Cincinnati, the home of the first professional baseball team. But in 2019, as part of an effort to market M.L.B. to international fans, the league started the season with a series between the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland A’s in Japan. In 2020, the season opening was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic; in 2022, it was delayed by a contract-related lockout; and in 2024 it began last week with a showcase abroad, between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres in South Korea. All of these scenarios suggest the difficulty of pinning a federal holiday to Opening Day.

It’s unlikely that M.L.B. will abandon its efforts at international expansion anytime soon. But there’s an elegant solution: Declare Jackie Robinson Day a federal holiday instead.

Since 2004, M.L.B. has used April 15 to commemorate Robinson, who broke the sport’s color line on April 15, 1947 (which, that year, was opening day). Since 2009, every player wears the number 42 on April 15 to honor him. Unlike Opening Day, Jackie Robinson Day happens every year on the same date and it spotlights a moment of American progress.

Yes, April 15 coincides with the federal tax-filing deadline, but who would complain if that got pushed back a week or two? Plus, the weather for an afternoon ballgame is reliably better in mid-April than in late March.

This year, play hooky and don number 42 to catch a ballgame on April 15. If we’re lucky, by next year, maybe the whole nation will follow suit.

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March 28, 2024, 4:10 p.m. ET

For John Eastman, the Sweet Smell of Accountability

John Eastman, the lawyer who played a central role in helping Donald Trump try to use the courts to overthrow the results of the 2020 election, will be disbarred in California after a state bar court judge found him liable for 10 of 11 charges, including lying to the court, failing to uphold the Constitution, and moral turpitude.

It’s about time that one of the many lawyers who worked to undermine the Constitution loses a law license for doing so.

Eastman “made multiple patently false and misleading statements in court filings, in public remarks heard by countless Americans,” Judge Yvette Roland wrote in her 128-page ruling. These statements were “improperly aimed at casting doubt on the legitimate election results and support for the baseless claim that the presidency was stolen from his clientall while relying on his credentials as an attorney and constitutional scholar to lend credibility to his unfounded claims.”

Given the seriousness of this misconduct and Eastman’s refusal to express any remorse, Roland was more than justified in ruling that “the most severe available professional sanction is warranted to protect the public and preserve the public confidence in the legal system.”

Darn straight. There hasn’t been much to smile about lately when it comes to holding the most powerful people to account for the Jan. 6 insurrection. Its ringleader, Trump, has managed to flummox the federal courts with his standard recipe of delay and misdirection, and the odds are increasing that he will face no legal repercussions before Election Day. That would be an astounding and unforgivable failure of justice that would be laid at the feet of the Justice Department and the Supreme Court, both of which have taken far too long to address one of the most urgent challenges facing American democracy.

But the news of Eastman’s comeuppance should satisfy anyone who cares about truth, justice and the rule of law. It’s not enough, surely: Eastman should be disbarred from every jurisdiction where he still holds a law license, and he has been criminally charged in the Georgia racketeering case, although that is not getting to trial anytime soon. For now, at least, it’s good to see even one of the bad guys pay a price.

March 28, 2024, 2:11 p.m. ET

Justice Thomas Is a Kind Man. But His New Hire Raises Disturbing Questions.

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Credit…Drew Angerer/Getty Images

My newsroom colleagues Steve Eder and Abbie VanSickle have written an excellent report on Crystal Clanton, who is Justice Clarence Thomas’s new law clerk. She left Turning Point USA, a MAGA-aligned group, after she was accused of writing racist messages, including a text that said “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE.”

Clanton told The New Yorker that she doesn’t remember sending the message, and she’s been silent on the matter since. Since her firing, however, her former boss, Charlie Kirk, has claimed that the messages were fake and were created to smear her.

After Turning Point USA fired her, Clarence and Virginia Thomas took her in. They let her live in their home, and she worked for Ginni Thomas at her firm, Liberty Consulting. The Thomases have helped guide Clanton’s career since, and now Justice Thomas has hired her.

I have three distinct thoughts. First, I don’t think anyone should criticize the Thomases for taking her in. Even if she made a dreadful mistake, she should still be treated with love and compassion. In fact, extending a helping hand to someone who is in the center of a public firestorm is an act of grace that more people should emulate.

Second, there is an immense difference, however, between opening your home and opening up a public office. Clanton is now in a position of public trust, and no one should simply trust Kirk’s explanation. Her own silence is deafening. She will be working on civil rights cases, and the public needs to know if she actually did write that she hates Black people.

Third, I’m disturbed by the fact that she worked first for Ginni Thomas and then for Justice Thomas. Ginni Thomas urged the Trump administration to overturn the 2020 election and trafficked in the most bizarre conspiracy theories. It would be entirely fair to call her rhetoric unhinged.

Clarence Thomas’s defenders have rightly argued that we can’t judge a justice by his spouse, but that defense becomes harder to make when he hires one of his wife’s former employees.

Justice Thomas has a number of loyal defenders on the right, and for good reason. He’s a brilliant man who is known to be kind and generous to the people around him. In 2022, Justice Sonia Sotomayor went out of her way to compliment Thomas, saying that he is a “man who cares deeply about the court as an institution — about the people who work here.”

But one shouldn’t simply trust even those public officials one admires. Clanton’s hiring demands answers, and it’s now up to Clanton and Kirk to speak plainly.

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March 28, 2024, 12:39 p.m. ET

What Happens to the Stories of Ukrainian Lives?

Five months after Russia invaded Ukraine, I was living in Berlin for the summer. At that point, the German capital had received thousands of Ukrainian refugees. A friend of mine told me that her friend who lived near the central railway station would watch floods of Ukrainians emerge from the trains daily.

I am half German and half Ukrainian. So when I discovered that my apartment in Schöneberg was on the same street as a Ukrainian refugee center called LaruHelpsUkraine, I took it as a sign of duty and reached out to volunteer. As an audio journalist, I felt an urgency to document the stories of refugee Ukrainian women.

In times of conflict, I sometimes wonder if news stories can hold all the nuance that life encompasses. “Why this story, and why now?” is a question that often confronts editors and writers. In a news cycle filled with so much devastation — shootings, climate disasters, wars, you name it — asking “why” can seem both important and futile. But in the practice of oral history, “why” doesn’t exist.

If you’re unfamiliar with the medium, oral history is the process of documenting and capturing people’s experiences. The goal is to ask open-ended questions that allow the interviewees, or narrators, as I’ve been trained to call them, the opportunity to share whatever comes to mind for them. Silence is encouraged in between questions to allow narrators the room to direct their own stories.

I spent a few days helping at Laru and mustered the boldness to ask if some women would be open to my interviewing them. Fortunately, eight were. What resulted is a documentation of the experiences of women whose fates are connected through nationality and a particular German city.

As the war rages on in Ukraine and the headlines appear and disappear on the conflict, I believe it’s even more important to know the life stories of people affected by war. Because they deserve to be documented and known.

My hope is you’ll give your ear to their stories and listen.

March 28, 2024, 10:03 a.m. ET

Trump on Obamacare: Still Ludicrous After All These Years

In some ways, I understand Donald Trump’s appeal. The very transgressiveness of his behavior — his open embrace of racism and authoritarianism, without the usual resort to dog whistles — connects with the large number of voters who have always held such views and are thrilled to see someone express them out loud.

One thing I still have trouble wrapping my mind around, however, is that more people don’t find Trump’s grandiosity — his constant unearned claims of greatness — ridiculous.

Sometimes the subjects of Trump’s self-congratulation are trivial though revealing: It’s pretty wild to see a man who was and might again be president boasting about winning two golf championships at a club he owns.

But sometimes his boasting has real and dire implications for policy that can affect people’s lives.

Here, for example, is his recent rant in response to Democrats claiming, correctly, that a second Trump term would probably cause many Americans to lose health coverage:

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Credit…Truth Social

I realize that MAGA types aren’t bothered by the mangled language and bar-stool belligerence. But even if you don’t follow policy closely, presumably you’re aware that Trump was president for four years. If he knows of a way to make the Affordable Care Act “much, much better for far less money,” why didn’t he do it?

The truth, as I wrote the other day, is that Obamacare was well designed, given the political constraints, and that when Trump tried to produce an alternative, it would have taken health insurance away from many of his own supporters. You don’t have to be a liberal to scoff at Trump’s continuing insistence that he can pull off a trick he repeatedly failed at for all those years.

So why don’t more people see Trump as a ridiculous braggart?

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March 28, 2024, 5:07 a.m. ET

There Are Some Pretty Weird Things Happening at the R.N.C.

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Credit…Pool photo by Travis Dove

The Republican National Committee exists, theoretically, to win elections. It communicates the G.O.P.’s political message, does fund-raising and undertakes an array of legal and data work to help candidates. For all this, the R.N.C. needs leaders and staff members who are grounded in reality — because useful data, solid legal arguments and persuasive fund-raising and political pitches generally need to be tethered to the real world.

But right now, there are some pretty weird things happening with the new Trump-era R.N.C.

The Trump-backed leadership fired a few dozen people immediately after taking over the committee this month, even though, at this point, it’s hard to imagine that many people working for the Republican Party were deeply skeptical of Trump. Will the people who replace them be about the same, or will this turnover produce a more fringe-infused party in terms of the claims out there on a given day?

The question is newly pertinent after a Washington Post article this week, in which Josh Dawsey reported that multiple people interviewing for a job at the R.N.C. were asked whether the 2020 election was stolen.

It isn’t clear how such a job interview question is shaping the committee staff, but we know the answer that Trump would want. And that answer is not grounded in reality. Any credible person familiar with the mechanics of elections would answer no.

The risk for the committee is that it will become a place where the staff is untethered to reality and, as a result, will fumble on those legal, data, fund-raising and messaging fronts. Rebuilding an R.N.C. around wild claims made by the Trump campaign about 2020 may please Trump, but it can hurt candidates and fund-raising, which has been a huge problem already for Trump and Republicans.

There is a world where the newly configured and staffed party apparatus around Trump amplifies more and more false stuff about the election while becoming worse at dealing with the technical realities of campaigns, like fund-raising, which could have unpredictable consequences. Bad polling work, weak fund-raising or weak legal challenges would be bad for any campaign trying to win.

An R.N.C. untethered to reality may seem like bad news just for Republicans, but it’s to everyone’s detriment if a big segment of America keeps hearing and believing that the 2020 election was stolen.

March 27, 2024, 5:49 p.m. ET

What New York City Did to Flaco the Owl

The death of Flaco, the Eurasian eagle-owl who flew into a building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan last month, shook our usually unflappable city. This week, Bronx Zoo pathologists published a coroner’s report that helps explain why he died. It revealed that even Flaco, who had fled the confines of the Central Park Zoo, could not escape the strictures of his environment, especially because that environment was New York City.

While the acute trauma from that crash was the most immediate cause of death, the necropsy also found that Flaco had pigeon herpesvirus and exposure to four different anticoagulant rodenticides. In other words, he had eaten too many infected pigeons and poisoned rats.

“These factors would have been debilitating and ultimately fatal, even without a traumatic injury,” the report states, “and may have predisposed him to flying into or falling from the building.” Flaco, it seems, was a dead bird flying.

Last summer, I edited a guest essay for Times Opinion by Jason Munshi-South, an urban ecologist at Fordham University, about New York City’s clumsy, counterproductive war on rats. Munshi-South warned me at the time that the city’s widespread deployment of rat poison posed a grave threat to Flaco.

Of all the ways to kill rats, anticoagulants are an especially slow and pernicious method. A rat repeatedly nibbles on bait laced with the stuff. Eventually, the rat becomes weak from internal bleeding. If the internal bleeding doesn’t kill it, the rat’s lethargic state makes it easy prey. Rat poison travels up the food chain all the way to owls.

Flaco is not the only creature who has died as a result of New York City’s pest management policies; rodenticide is a widespread cause of death for much of the city’s wildlife.

Humans don’t have to turn to punitive and ineffective crackdowns through poison and traps for rat management. One alternative, already being rolled out by the Department of Sanitation, is better trash collection.

Flaco lived a notable life as the sole member of his species in New York. It’s easy to anthropomorphize an uncomplicated individualism in him. He was above the mess of the city. He knew nothing of SantaCon or Eric Adams. But no matter how high he flew, Flaco could not escape the decisions that can make the city a death trap for those who are not human.

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March 27, 2024, 1:00 p.m. ET

Plagiarism Charges at Harvard Are Really About Rolling Back D.E.I.

Anyone who believed that the forced exodus of Claudine Gay as Harvard’s first Black female president was dousing the fire rather than fanning it doesn’t understand how racial propaganda wars feed on momentum.

As The Harvard Crimson reported last week, three other Black women at the university have had anonymous complaints of plagiarism lodged against them since Gay’s departure. Christopher Rufo, a right-wing provocateur and instigator, immediately cheered the complaints on social media, claiming they were part of a clear pattern for academics involved in the diversity, equity and inclusion field.

This is, after all, part of Rufo’s plan, having announced, “Game on,” after helping to push out Gay. The veracity of the complaints doesn’t matter; the reputational harm — to the accused and to the idea of inclusion — is the goal.

The narrative here is about innate and pervasive inferiority, ineptitude and fraudulence by women and minorities, specifically Black women in this case. And it must be understood that the subtext, the inverse, of minority inferiority is therefore white supremacy.

Black faculty members at Harvard are rightfully outraged by all of this and feel that their reputations are under review and under assault.

Prof. Lawrence D. Bobo, the dean of social science at Harvard, told me that it was “unambiguous racial bias, arguably racism.” He called Rufo “a zealous ideological guttersnipe.”

The rate at which D.E.I. programs are being banned is breathtaking. In January, Florida’s board of governors barred state money from being used to fund D.E.I. initiatives at the state’s 12 public universities. Last week, Alabama’s governor signed a bill that forbids public schools and universities from maintaining or funding D.E.I. programs. Kentucky is advancing a similar bill. House Republicans in Washington are trying to make similar moves.

The attacks on professors at Harvard and other schools only help to propel these efforts because they provide a confirmation of bias. They feed a feeling that minority achievement and advancement are a sham, that somehow deceit at the pinnacle means it exists everywhere.

Tommie Shelby, a professor of African and African American studies at Harvard, told me that these attacks exploit old stereotypes of Black people as “not smart,” and as “lazy and irresponsible.” And apparently, he said, those stereotypes still have currency.

What’s happening at Harvard is about far more than Harvard or elite professors at elite institutions. The bigger issue — the war, not just the battle — is arresting all efforts at racial inclusion and turning back the clock to a time before they existed.

March 27, 2024, 11:01 a.m. ET

James Carville on the Reasons Hillary Clinton Lost

When my column about the Democratic strategist James Carville was published last weekend, a lot of readers were transported back to the Clinton era. Carville was a key strategist for Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign in 1992 and an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful one in 2008.

Naturally, the prolix politico had more to say than I had room for. Here are some of his comments that didn’t make it into the column:

When you look back at why Hillary lost,” I asked Carville at one point, “do you think it was mostly sexism, or we underestimated Trump, or they didn’t listen to Bill, or what?”

Certainly some of it was sexism,” he replied. “I’d never deny that. Some of it. They made the wrong calculation. Their calculation was there’s more of us than there are of them, and if our people come out, that women, particularly white women, are going to find it totally unacceptable, and that will overcome any deficiencies that we have, and they didn’t go to Wisconsin.”

“I could go on and on,” he said. “To be honest with you, I think she knows. Everybody knows that it was believing in an algorithm as opposed to something else. Here, it was destroyed by an algorithm,” referring to ways that the Clinton campaign (and other political campaigns) used big data to try to anticipate and shape voter behavior — as the 2012 Obama campaign did as part of its winning strategy. “That’s just not how people think.”

“I don’t dislike Robbie Mook,” Carville said, referring to Clinton’s campaign manager in 2016. “He’s a nice man, but he had a flawed view of what American politics was…. It was just an unfortunate confluence of events.”

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March 27, 2024, 5:03 a.m. ET

Shakira Plays It Safe

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Credit…Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Shakira’s “Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran — her first album in seven years, released on Friday — has all the ingredients to be a downright explosive comeback. After splitting from the retired soccer star Gerard Piqué in 2022, she released a diss track directed at him and his new girlfriend. Fans reeled, and Shakira enjoyed her biggest commercial success in years.

But all those elements — an icon reveling in her legacy, a media-commanding breakup narrative and commercial clout — can’t compensate for uninspired music. This album lacks what has long made Shakira a daring artist: her devotion to sonic eclecticism that cuts against the pop landscape’s typical riskless pablum.

Shakira knows how to concoct genre-bending bangers. Her first English record borrowed from Nirvana’s guitar riffs. The Wyclef Jean collaboration “Hips Don’t Lie” has a reggaeton beat and a sampled salsa intro. And there may never be a World Cup song that tops the Soca-infused “Waka Waka.” Her transnational sound can sometimes feel more like mélange than cohesion, but more often, Shakira’s go-for-broke attitude captivates.

On this album, her maximalist approach to genre is channeled into collaborations with a new generation of Latin hitmakers who have taken over pop music in the past few years. When Shakira crossed over to Anglo audiences in the early 2000s, she carved a path for artists like Karol G and Rauw Alejandro. Now she’s bringing in her descendants to help turn her “pain into productivity.”

Unfortunately, even Shakira’s collaborators cannot lift her tracks to electrifying heights. From the disco-pop “Cohete,” which lusts for new passion, to the slow-drip reggaeton “TQG,” which boasts about postbreakup self-love, many tracks are devoid of Shakira’s typical interplay between sound and word. That’s why it’s particularly telling that her new album takes its name from the lyric “Las mujeres ya no lloran; las mujeres facturan” (“Women don’t cry anymore; they cash in”). The album promised to be an opus on catharsis and perseverance. Instead, it relies on the safety of bankability.

At her sharpest, Shakira can write poetic, oddball lyrics and play with the musical zeitgeist to create timelessness. An example is “Inevitable,” her 1998 grunge-y ballad about letting go of toxic love. It’s a live-show mainstay because her audience still loves the way the acoustic confessional verses burst into the raucous, raw chorus.

But this time, Shakira doesn’t seem to aim for emotional sharpness. Instead of transcending the zeitgeist, she’s allowed herself to fade into the most boring version of the pop scene. The she-wolf is nowhere to be found.

March 26, 2024, 5:11 p.m. ET

Florida Protects Children From Social Media but Not Measles

Parents know what’s best for their kids, except when the State of Florida does.

When Florida passed a law prohibiting children younger than 14 from having social media accounts, lawmakers crowed about the move, claiming they had to act because children don’t have the brain development to see the harm in addictive platforms.

In other words, under the new law, even if parents want their tweens to have a social media account, they’re out of luck. Florida knows better. (The state doesn’t allow parents to decide about the merits of gender-affirming care for their kids either.)

But Florida is happy to let parents make decisions about other matters of vital importance to children’s well-being. Consider: When measles broke out in an elementary school in Weston in February, Florida’s surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, let parents determine whether to keep their unvaccinated children at home.

Those measles cases “received disproportionate attention for political reasons,” according to a March 8 statement from the Florida Department of Health. Or maybe it was statistical ones: So far this year the United States has recorded 64 cases of measles (more than in all of 2023); 11 of those were in Florida. Meaning that a state with 6.5 percent of the nation’s population has hosted 17.2 percent of its measles cases.

Still: “Once again, Florida has shown that good public health policy includes personal responsibility and parents’ rights,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis in the March 8 statement. About 92 percent of students in Florida are fully vaccinated, according to health officials; the state is one of 45 that let parents skip their children’s shots for religious or moral reasons.

Because measles is so transmissible — nine of 10 unvaccinated people in a room will get the disease if one infected person sneezes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — scientists estimate that 95 percent of a population needs to be immunized in order to achieve herd immunity.

Protecting children from social media is a laudable goal. It won’t be easy to kick children off social media platforms; the tech companies acknowledge they don’t really know how old their users are, and they’ve yet to fully roll out long-promised age-verification systems.

That leaves parents to rely on their elected officials, who have empowered themselves to safeguard children from digital boogeymen. But not viral ones.

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March 26, 2024, 3:43 p.m. ET

An Anti-Abortion Case Too Far-Fetched for the Supreme Court

Even the hard-right Supreme Court has its outer limits, it seems.

On Tuesday morning, a majority of justices appeared very likely to vote to throw out the first big challenge to abortion rights to reach the court since it overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. (Wait, didn’t they promise us that the ruling would end abortion litigation at the court, sending the issue instead back to the states, where it rightfully belongs? But I digress.)

The current case was brought by a group of doctors who are morally opposed to abortion and are seeking to severely limit the distribution of the nation’s most used abortion drug — mifepristone, which women obtain to end about 650,000 pregnancies a year, or nearly two-thirds of all abortions in the country. They challenged the F.D.A.’s approval of the drug as well as recent regulatory changes that have made it easier for women to obtain and use.

These claims were dubious on their face, given that the F.D.A. has produced reams of evidence and explanation for its approval and treatment of mifepristone, one of the safer drugs on the market — far safer than, say, Viagra. But the justices were more troubled by the plaintiffs’ inability to show any concrete injury to themselves, a requirement, known as “standing,” that must be met before the court can consider any case.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Erin Hawley, was given several opportunities to demonstrate how this requirement was satisfied by her clients, none of whom had ever prescribed mifepristone or even had to treat a patient experiencing complications from using it. She offered nothing other than generalized concerns that they might one day have to do so.

That raised the related question of how these plaintiffs, given their extremely tenuous connection to the focus of their lawsuit, nevertheless managed to win a nationwide injunction against the drug’s use. (Short answer: They went judge-shopping.)

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson pointed out this extreme mismatch and the fact that there is already a federal law exempting health-care providers who oppose abortions from participating in them.

“‘Because we object to being forced to participate in this procedure, we’re seeking an order preventing anyone from having access to these drugs at all,’” Jackson said, summarizing the doctors’ argument. “How could they possibly be entitled to that?”

Good question. This time, at least, the Supreme Court seems poised to answer it the right way.

March 26, 2024, 2:27 p.m. ET

Accidents Like the Baltimore Bridge Collision Are Far Too Common

It’s standard practice in engineering — as well as common sense — to design a system so that it stands up even if something goes wrong. An engine failure on a cargo ship is a foreseeable problem. It should not have been enough to bring down an entire bridge span, as happened on Tuesday, when a ship leaving the Port of Baltimore lost power and plowed into a pier of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing it to collapse. Six workers who had been patching potholes on the bridge were missing.

Diagnosing precisely what went wrong in Baltimore will take months or years. I expect investigators will zero in on a few obvious questions. One is why the vulnerable piers of the bridge, which opened to traffic in 1977, were so exposed. The buffers around the piers failed. If the piers had been buffered by wider concrete bases or giant piles of rocks or both, the errant ship might not have done the damage it did. If the lack of a thick buffer was intended to save money, it was a costly mistake, though the bridge was designed before the modern era of gigantic ships.

It also appears that the ship wasn’t escorted by tugboats, which could have kept it on course after it lost power. That would also appear to be a cost-saving decision. I can’t judge whether it was a mistake or not, but it clearly needs to be looked into.

@nytopinion “Damaging collisions between ships and bridges are all too common. There were 35 major ones worldwide between 1960 and 2015, killing 342 people, of which 18 occurred in the United States, according to a 2018 tally by the engineering consultant firm Moffatt & Nichol. “As ships have gotten bigger, the damage has gotten worse. I found a 1983 report by the National Research Council that said that vessel collisions are far more frequent causes of damage to bridges than storms or earthquakes. “The date of the report tells you that this is a well-known problem. A bridge engineering handbook published in 2000 made clear the concerns. The stomach-churning video of the Baltimore collapse brings home just how fragile a bridge can be in comparison to a giant cargo ship. It’s an irresistible force meeting a very movable object,” says Opinion writer Peter Coy. #baltimorebridge #bridgecollapse #nytopinion ♬ original sound – New York Times Opinion

Damaging collisions between ships and bridges are all too common. There were 35 major ones worldwide between 1960 and 2015, killing 342 people, of which 18 occurred in the United States, according to a 2018 tally by the engineering consultant firm Moffatt & Nichol.

As ships have gotten bigger, the damage has gotten worse. I found a 1983 report by the National Research Council that said that vessel collisions are far more frequent causes of damage to bridges than storms or earthquakes.

The date of the report tells you that this is a well-known problem. A bridge engineering handbook published in 2000 made clear the concerns. The stomach-churning video of the Baltimore collapse brings home just how fragile a bridge can be in comparison to a giant cargo ship. It’s an irresistible force meeting a very movable object.

Steering a cargo ship beneath a bridge isn’t easy even when the engine is running. The captain can’t slow down too much because the ship needs a certain amount of speed to be steerable. So vessels keep colliding with bridges, bridges keep collapsing and people keep getting killed. Something needs to change.

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March 26, 2024, 11:23 a.m. ET

Congestion Pricing Is a Victory for Millions of Transit Riders

On Wednesday, New York may finally become the first city in the nation to adopt congestion pricing, a plan to get cars and trucks off city streets and raise funds for public transit by charging drivers a premium for entering Manhattan’s busiest areas.

The ambitious plan was stymied for nearly two decades, mostly because politicians were wary of challenging the city’s car culture, but if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority approves the final proposal on Wednesday, as expected, the program could start in June. It will be a resounding victory for New York’s economy and for roughly 5.5 million people who ride the region’s subways, buses and commuter rails every day.

The money raised from truck and car tolls in Lower and Midtown Manhattan is expected to add about $1 billion each year for the region’s public transit system, which needs significant investment, especially after taking a hit in ridership during the height of the pandemic.

Cities like London and Singapore, both with excellent transit systems, have had tolling programs like this for years. But lawsuits and Albany gridlock delayed the program, and it’s still disappointing to see groups like the city’s teachers’ union and a local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. fighting the program in court. The reality is that the city’s economy relies heavily on a fully functioning transit system, and a majority of residents living in poverty in New York City depend on that transit system.

“This isn’t just a fight about tolls,” Janno Lieber, the M.T.A. chief, who has championed the plan, told me. “Nobody speaks for the people who can’t get in the train station because there’s no elevator,” he said. “We’re going to have cleaner air, safer streets, better traffic, and we’re going to invest in transit.”

In the final accounting, supporters of the plan — a group that over the years has included New Yorkers from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to ordinary subway riders who voiced support to the M.T.A. — appear to be the stronger coalition. In recent months, Gov. Kathy Hochul has pushed hard for the plan, too. If it succeeds, it will be a refreshing example of the progress that good government and steady civic pressure can bring.

March 26, 2024, 5:02 a.m. ET

What Most Surprised Us About the Outbreak of Deepfake Porn

Patrick Healy, Deputy Opinion Editor

Nick, you’ve reported deeply for years about exploitation, abuse and trafficking of women and girls. Your latest column on deepfake nude videos showed us new ways that technology has become a vile weapon against them. What did you learn in reporting the piece that surprised you?

Nicholas Kristof, Opinion Columnist

What startled me the most was simply the failure of regulators, lawmakers and tech companies to show much concern for the humiliation of victims, even as sleazy companies post nonconsensual fake sex videos and make money on them. Women and girls are targeted, yet the response from the tech community has mostly been a collective shrug. Why should Google, whose original motto was “don’t be evil,” be a pillar of this ecosystem and direct traffic to websites whose business is nonconsensual porn?

Even when underage victims go to the police, there’s usually no good recourse. We’ve effectively armed predators and exploitative companies with artificial intelligence but denied victims any defense.

Patrick Healy

You write: “With just a single good image of a person’s face, it is now possible in just half an hour to make a 60-second sex video.” Is there any way people can protect themselves?

Nicholas Kristof

Some experts counsel girls or women to avoid posting images on public Instagram or Facebook pages. That strikes me as unrealistic. Some of the victims are prominent women whose images are everywhere — one deepfake site appropriated a congresswoman’s official portrait. Or sometimes an ordinary woman or girl is targeted by an ex-boyfriend or by a classmate, who will probably have photos already.

Because it’s so difficult for individuals to protect themselves, we need systemic solutions, like amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act so that there is less immunity for badly behaved tech companies. End impunity, and incentivize companies to police themselves.

Patrick Healy

Among the statistics that froze me was this one: “Graphika, an online analytics company, identified 34 nudify websites that received a combined 24 million unique visitors in September alone.” These numbers are enormous. What does this say to you about our society?

Nicholas Kristof

A generation ago, there was an argument that social networks were going to knit us together. In fact, I think we’ve become more atomized, with screen time substituting for people time. Some experts think that in an age of social isolation, porn is becoming an easy way to avoid the complexity and frustration of dealing with real people. Meanwhile, the casual cruelty we see on social media is paralleled by the cruelty we see in deepfake sites showing actresses, princesses, singers or politicians being raped.

It’s hard to view these exploitative, nonconsensual videos and not perceive misogyny — both in the videos and in a system that tolerates them and provides victims with no remedy.

Photograph by Larysa Shcherbyna/Getty Images

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March 25, 2024, 5:15 p.m. ET

Boeing Needs New Leadership With the Right Kind of Experience

Has Boeing finally gotten the message that its very future rests on restoring faith in the safety of its products? I hope so.

Trust in the aircraft manufacturer was shaken nearly five years ago, after the crashes of two 737 Max 8 planes killed nearly 350 people. Then in January, just when it seemed that the company had put its safety problems behind it, a panel blew off a Boeing 737 Max 9 plane midair during an Alaska Airlines flight. Fortunately, there were no major injuries.

If Boeing’s current management had tried to ride out this storm, it would have shown a sense of impunity and a lack of remorse. The people at the top aren’t the only problem at Boeing, to be sure, but leadership matters.

So it was a step in the right direction on Monday when Boeing announced that David Calhoun had chosen to step down as chief executive officer, Stan Deal would retire as president of the commercial airplanes division, and Larry Kellner would not stand for re-election as chairman of the board.

That’s not enough, though. To show that it means what it says, Boeing needs to find a new chief executive officer who has lived and breathed manufacturing and understands how to manage giant projects. That’s a rare commodity. Few projects are as big and complex as designing and building a commercial airliner.

Thomas Black, an opinion columnist for Bloomberg, mentions Larry Culp, who is the chief executive of General Electric as well as G.E. Aerospace, one of the three companies that will survive as G.E. breaks itself up. But Culp might not want the job.

Another step that would impress aircraft purchasers and passengers would be clawing back some of Calhoun’s bonus pay, or at least not paying out awards that haven’t vested yet. I asked Boeing about that and was told that details on that issue are coming in a few weeks.

When Calhoun took over as chief executive in 2020, he vowed to produce jets at a pace the factory can handle, instill discipline, hunt for bad news and act on it, according to a profile in The Times. “If I don’t accomplish all that,” he said, “then you can throw me out.”

They just did.

March 25, 2024, 3:54 p.m. ET

For All His Brilliance, Pollini Could Be a Supreme Romantic

Maurizio Pollini, the great Italian pianist who died on Saturday at 82, could never escape adjectives like cool and cerebral and remote. Perhaps some critics and listeners found him that way. Certainly there was no dispute over his technique, considered to be among the most brilliant of any pianist who flourished in the second half of the last century. He was also an intellectually searching man, interested in art and literature.

Pollini’s virtuosity was evident from the beginning. Artur Rubinstein, who led the jury that awarded him first prize at the Chopin competition in 1960, reportedly said, “That boy plays better than any of us jurors.” Pollini was 18.

Pollini’s brilliance was marked by precision and clarity. He excelled in complex modernist scores by Stockhausen, Nono and Boulez — especially Boulez’s Piano Sonata No. 2. For some, his Beethoven was exceptional. He was a master of Schumann. Brahms, Schubert and Debussy were in his repertoire. Mozart too, although the accolades here were a bit quieter.

I once asked Pollini, in an interview, about his reputation for aloofness in his playing. He did not answer directly. “One can only think what music should give to a listener,” he said. “Certainly a strong emotion.”

It is in Pollini’s Chopin performances that the whole discussion over his coolness becomes, for me, a little pointless. Few composers are as poetic as Chopin, and oddly, Pollini — so often described as overly intellectual — performs Chopin in a way that feels truly lyrical. I’m convinced it is Pollini’s brilliant control over technique that helps make it so (not to mention a formidable musical intelligence). His keyboard mastery allowed him to transmit, without mediation, Chopin’s romantic intentions. (In the interview, the pianist called Chopin “innately seductive.”)

On news of his death I went back to a recording of Chopin’s 24 Preludes, released by Deutsche Grammophon in 1984, to hear that technique in service of poetry. It was there in the vaguely ominous oscillating undercurrent passages, the crystalline rippling configurations and the devilishly fast passages that never seemed rushed. It was there in the purity of touch in plaintive melodies, the élan of dashed-off broken chords, the patrician, elegant tone and the perfectly paced crescendos. The common denominator? An uncommon clarity.

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March 25, 2024, 2:53 p.m. ET

A Trump Criminal Trial Really Could Start This Year

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Credit…Chandan Khanna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Don’t hold your breath, but as of Monday, the American people are just a few weeks away from maybe, possibly, witnessing the first ever criminal prosecution of a former American president. It might even end before Election Day.

That prospect — once a near certainty, given that Donald Trump faced 91 (now reduced to 88) felony charges in four separate trials — has been looking increasingly dodgy of late. One trial has been delayed by an inexperienced, Trump-friendly judge. Another has been delayed by an indiscreet, overstretched prosecutor. Yet another, the federal Jan. 6 trial, which was supposed to start three weeks ago, has been delayed by an absurd hail-Mary legal argument by Trump that the Supreme Court has decided to take seriously.

Through it all, the former president has reveled openly in his unmatched ability to turn the justice system’s great strengths — deliberation and due process — against it. “We want delays, obviously,” Trump told reporters in February before a hearing in the fourth case, involving hush-money payments made to Stormy Daniels, a porn star, in the hope of influencing the outcome of the 2016 election.

On Monday, however, Juan Merchan, the New York judge in that case, set the trial to start on April 15. This was itself a delay from the original start date of March 25, which had to be postponed after a last-minute document dump by federal prosecutors. Merchan was not impressed by Trump’s lawyers’ flailing attempts to exploit the new evidence and ask for yet more time to prepare. “For whatever reason, you waited until two months before trial” to seek out these documents, he lectured them.

(Trump did get a break on the $557 million bond he owes for a separate civil fraud judgment against him. Earlier on Monday, a New York appeals court cut that amount by almost $400 million and gave him 10 days to come up with the cash.)

It’s been argued that the New York case — technically about falsifying business records — is the weakest of the four against Trump. But it may also be the most fitting. Falsification, after all, is the essence of Trump. And it sets the stage for the broader arc of criminal charges — from before, during and after his presidency — that define the Trump era to date.

The man is a walking crime scene. The American people deserve to see the end of the show.

March 25, 2024, 1:37 p.m. ET

The U.S. Is Using the Security Council to Pressure Israel

How the United States deals with U.N. Security Council resolutions on Israel has long been a barometer of Washington’s feelings about its close ally. America’s record of at least 55 vetoes on Israel’s behalf over half a century, often standing alone with Israel, has made those times when the United States abstains or even votes against Israel noteworthy and newsworthy.

So when the Biden administration produced a tough resolution last week calling for a cease-fire and then allowed a similar measure to pass by abstaining on Monday, the signal was unmistakable. It was a way of broadcasting what President Biden has made abundantly clear in other ways in recent weeks: He is tired of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defiance of American and global calls to ease up on an offensive that threatens famine on a Gazan population whose homes and lives have already been cruelly devastated.

Security Council resolutions are binding in international law but have no enforcement mechanism. In Israel’s case they have been used as a diplomatic cudgel that the United States has usually blocked and Israel has usually ignored. This time, the administration’s demonstration of frustration with Netanyahu was all the sharper, since Washington vetoed three earlier resolutions calling for cease-fires. Netanyahu, whose survival in office depends on the support of two extremist parties, has resisted all entreaties to order a pause in the brutal Israeli offensive.

Last Friday, the administration offered its own draft calling for an immediate cease-fire, but it was vetoed by Russia and China, America’s primary adversaries on the global stage, which were not prepared to allow Washington to have its way. Nor were Republicans prepared to give Biden any slack over the Middle East, assailing him for turning on an ally in the middle of a war.

But historically, Republicans have been at least as critical of Israel as Democrats, at least by the barometer of the Security Council. Every president since 1967 except Donald Trump has allowed at least one Security Council resolution critical of Israel to pass, and by far, the most were under the administrations of Richard Nixon (15) and Ronald Reagan (21). Barack Obama had the fewest: one, when shortly before leaving office he abstained on a resolution critical of the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

A correction was made on 

March 25, 2024

An earlier version of this article misstated details of the history of U.N. Security Council resolutions about Israel in relation to presidential administrations. It is not the case that every president since 1967 has allowed a few Security Council resolutions critical of Israel to pass or that the Obama administration had the fewest critical resolutions. No such resolutions passed during the Trump administration.

How we handle corrections

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March 25, 2024, 12:13 p.m. ET

Who’s to Blame for Those Kate Middleton Conspiracies?

A British government source, reportedly, told the British newspaper The Telegraph that “hostile state actors” — China, Russia and Iran — are “fueling disinformation about the Princess of Wales to destabilize the nation.” British morning shows promptly picked up the story, comparing it to election interference.

It’s certainly possible that countries with a history of online conspiracy mongering played some role in amplifying the most salacious rumors about Catherine, the Princess of Wales. But it’s also undeniable that large numbers of people — and celebrities and newspapers and everything else — were intensely interested in the princess’s whereabouts.

The claim about foreign bots and the Princess of Wales is just the latest of similar claims of foreign interference or social media manipulation made without convincing public evidence. Young people are dissatisfied with President Biden’s policies over the Israel-Hamas war? Blame TikTok. Consumer sentiment soured amid high inflation and housing prices? Must be social media!

If our institutions turn foreign meddling on social media into the new “the dog ate my homework,” it will become an easy excuse to ignore public dissatisfaction with divisive policies. And how will such claims be believable when they actually involve consequential foreign meddling in elections?

There is nothing mysterious about the Kate Middleton rumors and conspiracies. She completely disappeared from view amid conflicting claims about her whereabouts. Then photo agencies conceded that the one photo the palace released of her and her children was doctored. Because the royals cultivate a headline-grabbing parasocial relationship with the public, the topic merged with the global water cooler chat online and rumors ran wild.

But there is a lesson. Kensington Palace is the latest institution to discover that lying to the public will make people suspicious. Mistrust will swirl on social media, as valid questions and bonkers conspiracies percolate.

It was true for the pandemic and for the war in Gaza. It’s true in the royals’ case, too. Western institutions should first worry about shoring up their own behavior. Then they can talk about meddling — with evidence, please.

March 25, 2024, 5:03 a.m. ET

Assessing Presidential Candidates by the Company They Keep

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President Biden and Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco in February.Credit…Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Every Monday morning on The Point, we kick off the week with a tipsheet on the latest in the presidential campaign. Here’s what we’re looking at this week:

  • You can learn a lot about presidential candidates by the company they keep. In the first campaign I covered as a reporter, in 2004, then-Senator John Kerry came alive on the trail when he invited Edward M. Kennedy to join him in Iowa; Teddy loosened Kerry up, and those Kennedy stemwinders gave Kerry energy. By contrast, Kerry was never excited by his slick No. 2, John Edwards. In 2008, Hillary Clinton seemed happiest and heartiest when Bill Clinton was around, making her laugh, rooting her on — but they did relatively few joint appearances, with the Big Dog casting a long shadow. In 2016, if Donald Trump had a friend, I never saw it. He was a man who liked being alone with his own press clippings, and seemed happiest talking to journalists about his poll numbers.

  • This week, consider the company the candidates keep. Today, the No. 1 reality of Trump’s life — unending legal problems — will be in sharp relief as his lawyers grapple with a Manhattan court date in the Stormy Daniels hush-money case, and as they fight the seizure of his assets in the New York civil fraud case. Yes, Republican leaders are falling in line behind Trump, but few want to be in his company in public. Trump stands before us not only friendless and family-less — the company he keeps is the company of lawyers.

  • On Tuesday, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will announce his running mate in his independent bid for the presidency. Kennedy’s choice — the company he keeps — will tell us plenty about his campaign’s strategic imperatives; does he go with someone who has governing experience, or does he choose someone with celebrity flash or with deep pockets who can help finance signature collections to qualify for the November ballots?

  • Then there’s President Biden, who is focusing on the Democratic base. He held a call on Saturday with former President Barack Obama, the former House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and supporters celebrating the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, and will join Obama and Bill Clinton at a big fund-raiser Thursday. Obama and Clinton are two of the party’s best communicators; though they have lost some popularity, I think they’ll be big assets for Biden and unfurl some good lines on his behalf. If Trump can prosper from misplaced nostalgia for his economic record, surely Biden can prosper from genuine nostalgia among a lot of Democrats and swing voters for the Clinton and Obama visions for hope and change. Plus, they’re fun company.

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March 23, 2024, 4:00 p.m. ET

For Putin, Even a Terrorist Attack Is a Chance to Spread Misinformation

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Medical personnel removing bodies from the scene of the terrorist attack near Moscow.Credit…Maxim Shipenkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

The horrific terrorist attack on people gathering for a concert at Moscow’s cavernous Crocus City Hall was a brutal reminder that Russia has long been a target of Islamist terrorists. From the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, through Moscow’s long and savage campaign to crush Chechen separatists, and Russia’s support of the Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, Moscow has been at least as despised a foe of Islamist extremists as the United States for all of Vladimir Putin’s years in power.

In the past the Kremlin acknowledged its opponent and dealt ruthlessly with Islamist extremists. This time, however, Putin made no mention of the organization that credibly claimed responsibility, an Afghan offshoot of the Islamic State known as ISIS-K, and instead cast indirect and utterly unsubstantiated suspicion on Ukraine.

He said the criminals acted like the Nazis invaders who once slaughtered helpless civilians to intimidate the population, a charge meant to echo Putin’s regular depiction of the Ukrainian leadership as neo-Nazis. And the four attackers who were apprehended, he said, were moving in the direction of Ukraine, where he said a “window was prepared” for their escape.

It was not a particularly believable story — the Russia-Ukraine border is arguably among the most militarized on earth. But the claim reflected Putin’s problem: coming on the heels of a staged election which was intended to glorify him as the only leader who can assure the Russians security against sworn enemies in Ukraine and the West, the attack was an obvious and devastating failure of intelligence and policing.

The failure was all the more acute since the United States had warned him that it had intelligence of an impending attack in Russia, a warning Putin dismissed.

Many expatriate Russian bloggers — a population that has swelled with Putin’s repression — warned from the outset that Putin would seek to implicate Ukraine and the West in the attack. After that, many surmised, he would use the attack to rally people behind the government and to launch another mobilization of men for the Ukraine war.

Domestically, many reactions on the internet seemed to embrace the Kremlin’s conspiracy theories. One preposterous version, quoted by Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, said it made sense that Washington would deflect blame from Ukraine, since the U.S. helped create ISIS.

The post may well have been part of a Kremlin propaganda offensive, but it would likely find many believers in Russia, where Putin turns even murderous attacks to his advantage.

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