business is booming for interior decorators: “We work for the one-half of the one-half of the 1 percent.”

Lives Lived: After a failed documentary project, Sharon Matola found herself in Belize looking after a jaguar, two macaws and 18 other half-tamed animals. The zoo she established there became a popular attraction, and Matola an outspoken advocate for animals. She died at 66.

Tokyo Olympics are set to begin in July, with the Paralympics scheduled to start in August. Years of planning — and billions in television dollars — mean Olympic organizers are keen to hold the event without postponing again.

But polling in Japan has trended strongly against the Games, as Motoko Rich and Hikari Hida report in The Times. Thousands of athletes and other participants will be heading to Tokyo, and less than 1 percent of Japan’s population has been vaccinated, CNBC reports. The country’s experience of the pandemic has been comparatively mild, with the level of infections and deaths far below that of the United States or Europe. But that’s not guaranteed to continue.

Though organizers have said that vaccinations will not be mandatory, the International Olympic Committee will supply vaccines for any competitors who need them. Some countries, like India and Hungary, are prioritizing Olympic athletes for vaccinations at home. Organizers are also barring spectators from overseas, and cheering is forbidden at the Olympic torch relay, which kicked off in Fukushima Prefecture last month.

One thing that is staying the same: The Games will still be called Tokyo 2020, reflected in heaps of T-shirts, mugs, signage and other branded merchandise.

slice of Florida lime pie.

People in their 20s and 30s are turning to Botox. Why?

“Shiva Baby,” a tense comedy about a young woman at the shiva of a family friend, mixes “big laughs with gut-wrenching discomfort,” Jason Bailey writes in a review.

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Imagining the Timeless Childhood of Beverly Cleary’s Portland

Fifteen months ago I traveled to Portland, Ore., to visit the childhood haunts and homes of Beverly Cleary, the beloved and award-winning author of more than 40 books for children and young adults. I was accompanied by my husband and our daughter, all three of us aficionados of Ramona Quimby, us parents having read all the books as children, before rereading them aloud to our kid.

With an overseas move on the horizon, we had decided to visit the city that plays its own subtle but essential role in the author’s most popular novels: Portland, with its moody rain and splashy puddles, its streets named after regional Native American tribes, its welcoming libraries and worm-filled parks. The Oregon of Ms. Cleary’s childhood clearly inspired her imagination — among her books, close to half of them are set in Portland.

So in the last days of December 2019, we took a trip to the City of Roses, visiting the northeastern Grant Park and Hollywood neighborhoods of Ms. Cleary’s childhood. I didn’t know then that it would be our last family vacation before the coronavirus pandemic — and I couldn’t have imagined how often I would return to those memories during the months of our confinement.

Credit…Alamy

When Ms. Cleary died on March 25 at the age of 104, my sorrow at the loss of an adored author who was declared a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2000 was coupled with memories of our journey. Scrolling through the photos of our trip, the simple scenes of Craftsman homes, verdant parks, and crowded children’s libraries evoked a lost innocence.

As a child, I loved Ms. Cleary’s books because they didn’t condescend. Her characters are ordinary kids succumbing to ordinary temptations, such as squeezing an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink, or taking the first, juicy bite out of every apple in the crate.

As an adult, rereading the books aloud to my daughter, I was struck by their sense of timelessness — sisters struggling with sibling rivalry, parents grappling with financial worries and job loss. The author’s own father lost his Yamhill farm when she was 6, moving the family of three about 40 miles northeast to Portland — the “city of regular paychecks, concrete sidewalks instead of boardwalks, parks with lawns and flower beds, streetcars instead of a hack from the livery stable, a library with a children’s room that seemed as big as a Masonic hall,” she wrote in her 1988 memoir, “A Girl From Yamhill.”

I thought of that when I saw one of Ms. Cleary’s cherished childhood homes, a modest, bungalow near Grant Park, on a block lined with closely set houses. She romped with a gang of “children the right age to play with,” and their escapades made her yearn for stories about the neighborhood kids. “I longed for books about the children of Hancock Street,” she wrote in “A Girl from Yamhill.” In her stories, she changed Hancock Street to Klickitat Street “because I had always liked the sound of the name when I had lived nearby.”

We found the Klickitat Street of the books nearby, along with Tillamook Street, both named after Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest. As my 6-year-old daughter raced along, searching for vintage hitching rings, I pictured Ramona — or even a young Beverly — on these same sidewalks, stumping on stilts made from two-pound coffee cans and twine, or perching on the curb to watch the Rose Festival parade.

Over the next few days, we found the author’s former elementary school, a brick building now named the Beverly Cleary School, Fernwood Campus. We stopped by the Multnomah County Central Library, a stately brick structure downtown where she did summer “practice work” as a student librarian (and where the children’s section also bears her name). We ate doughnuts and pizza. We visited Grant Park, where the local artist Lee Hunt created a trio of bronze sculptures depicting three of Ms. Cleary’s cherished characters: Henry Huggins, his dog, Ribsy, and Ramona, posed, as if in motion.

Credit…Ann Mah

Though it was a typical Portland winter day — wet — nothing could dampen my daughter’s joy when she saw her favorite characters rendered slightly larger than life. She ran to hold Ramona’s hand, beaming, and the picture I snapped will be forever burned on my heart.

For my daughter, the best part of the trip was our visit to the Willamette Valley town of Yamhill, where we glimpsed the turreted Victorian house in which Ms. Cleary spent the first six years of her life. We spent the night in a vintage trailer park nearby, sleeping in a 1963 Airstream Overlander, as I imagined the author might have done with her own young family. For dinner, we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows, a meal that my daughter still describes as one of the best of her life.

These are the memories I’ve turned to over the past year as the pandemic has stolen away life’s simple pleasures. A wet afternoon at the park. Warming up at the library story hour. A cup of hot chocolate sipped at a crowded cafe. The rain beating on the metal roof of our camper van, reminding me of the creative inspiration that Ms. Cleary described in “A Girl From Yamhill”: “Whenever it rains, I feel the urge to write. Most of my books are written in winter.”

Before our trip, I had wondered if my daughter was too young for a literary pilgrimage — and perhaps she was, for there were moments when searching for yet another filament of the author’s girlhood tried her patience. And yet, though it was only a few days, our trip has captured her memory. She speaks of it now with crystalline precision, reminiscing of the last days before the strangest year of our lives began.

Our last morning in Portland found us a weary group of travelers as we waited to board our pre-dawn flight. We queued at the airport coffee counter for muffins and hot drinks — but when I tried to pay, the cashier told me that an anonymous stranger had bought us breakfast.

“Mama! It’s just like in the book!” exclaimed my daughter. It took me a few minutes to realize she was talking about a scene from “Ramona Quimby, Age 8,” when the Quimby family — worn down by financial worries, family squabbles and dreary weather — try to cheer themselves up with a hamburger dinner they can barely afford, only to have a kindly gentleman anonymously pick up their check.

That moment seems like a dream now, disconnected as we are from one another, all of us existing in our bubbles. But one day soon we will meet again and touch each other’s lives, not just as friends and family, but also as strangers. In the meantime, we have Beverly Cleary’s books to remind us.


Ann Mah, the author of the novel, The Lost Vintage, lives in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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Global Brands Find It Hard to Untangle Themselves From Xinjiang Cotton

Faced with accusations that it was profiting from the forced labor of Uyghur people in the Chinese territory of Xinjiang, the H&M Group — the world’s second-largest clothing retailer — promised last year to stop buying cotton from the region.

But last month, H&M confronted a new outcry, this time from Chinese consumers who seized on the company’s renouncement of the cotton as an attack on China. Social media filled with angry demands for a boycott, urged on by the government. Global brands like H&M risked alienating a country of 1.4 billion people.

The furor underscored how international clothing brands relying on Chinese materials and factories now face the mother of all conundrums — a conflict vastly more complex than their now-familiar reputational crises over exploitative working conditions in poor countries.

ban on imports. Labor activists will charge them with complicity in the grotesque repression of the Uyghurs.

Myanmar and Bangladesh, where cheap costs of production reflect alarming safety conditions.

genocide. As many as a million Uyghurs have been herded into detention camps, and deployed as forced labor.

Uzbekistan.

As China has transformed itself from an impoverished country into the world’s second-largest economy, it has leaned on the textile and apparel industries. China has courted foreign companies with the promise of low-wage workers operating free from the intrusions of unions.

regional government said last year.

statement reported by Reuters.

That assertion flew in the face of a growing body of literature, including a recent statement from the United Nations Human Rights Council expressing “serious concerns” about reports of forced labor.

The Better Cotton Initiative declined a request for an interview to discuss how it had come to its conclusion.

“We are a not-for-profit organization with a small team,” the initiative’s communications manager, Joe Woodruff, said in an email.

The body’s membership includes some of the world’s largest, most profitable clothing manufacturers and retailers — among them Inditex, the Spanish conglomerate that owns Zara, and Nike, whose sales last year exceeded $37 billion.

Trump administration furthered the trend by pressuring American multinational companies to abandon China.

“All of the economic forces that pushed this production to China are really no longer at work,” said Pietra Rivoli, a trade expert at Georgetown University in Washington.

Still, China retains attributes not easily replicated — the world’s largest ports, plus a cluster of related industries, from chemicals to plastics.

Cambodia in response to its government’s harsh crackdown on dissent.

Some global brands are seeking Beijing’s permission to import more cotton into China from the United States and Australia. They could employ that cotton to make products destined for Europe and North America, while using the Xinjiang crop for the Chinese market.

Yet that approach may leave the apparel companies exposed to the same risks they face now.

“If the brand is labeled as ‘They are still using forced labor, but they are just using it for the Chinese market,’ is this going to suffice?” said Ms. Collinson, the industry lobbyist.

Last week, H&M issued a new communication, beseeching Chinese consumers to return. “We are working together with our colleagues in China to do everything we can to manage the current challenges,” said the statement, which did not mention Xinjiang. “China is a very important market to us.”

Those words appear to have satisfied no one — not the human rights organizations skeptical of claims that apparel companies have severed links to Xinjiang; not Chinese consumers angry over a perceived national indignity.

On Chinese social media, criticism of H&M remained fierce.

“For you, China is still an important market,” one post declared. “But for China, you are just an unnecessary brand.”

Joy Dong, Liu Yi and Chris Buckley contributed.

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Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Covid-19 Vaccine

A new vaccine for Covid-19 that is entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic. The vaccine, called NVD-HXP-S, is the first in clinical trials to use a new molecular design that is widely expected to create more potent antibodies than the current generation of vaccines. And the new vaccine could be far easier to make.

Existing vaccines from companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson must be produced in specialized factories using hard-to-acquire ingredients. In contrast, the new vaccine can be mass-produced in chicken eggs — the same eggs that produce billions of influenza vaccines every year in factories around the world.

If NVD-HXP-S proves safe and effective, flu vaccine manufacturers could potentially produce well over a billion doses of it a year. Low- and middle-income countries currently struggling to obtain vaccines from wealthier countries may be able to make NVD-HXP-S for themselves or acquire it at low cost from neighbors.

“That’s staggering — it would be a game-changer,” said Andrea Taylor, assistant director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

Vaccines work by acquainting the immune system with a virus well enough to prompt a defense against it. Some vaccines contain entire viruses that have been killed; others contain just a single protein from the virus. Still others contain genetic instructions that our cells can use to make the viral protein.

Once exposed to a virus, or part of it, the immune system can learn to make antibodies that attack it. Immune cells can also learn to recognize infected cells and destroy them.

spike, latches onto cells and then allows the virus to fuse to them.

But simply injecting coronavirus spike proteins into people is not the best way to vaccinate them. That’s because spike proteins sometimes assume the wrong shape, and prompt the immune system to make the wrong antibodies.

The researchers injected the 2P spikes into mice and found that the animals could easily fight off infections of the MERS coronavirus.

The team filed a patent for its modified spike, but the world took little notice of the invention. MERS, although deadly, is not very contagious and proved to be a relatively minor threat; fewer than 1,000 people have died of MERS since it first emerged in humans.

But in late 2019 a new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, emerged and began ravaging the world. Dr. McLellan and his colleagues swung into action, designing a 2P spike unique to SARS-CoV-2. In a matter of days, Moderna used that information to design a vaccine for Covid-19; it contained a genetic molecule called RNA with the instructions for making the 2P spike.

Other companies soon followed suit, adopting 2P spikes for their own vaccine designs and starting clinical trials. All three of the vaccines that have been authorized so far in the United States — from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech — use the 2P spike.

Other vaccine makers are using it as well. Novavax has had strong results with the 2P spike in clinical trials and is expected to apply to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization in the next few weeks. Sanofi is also testing a 2P spike vaccine and expects to finish clinical trials later this year.

Dr. McLellan’s ability to find lifesaving clues in the structure of proteins has earned him deep admiration in the vaccine world. “This guy is a genius,” said Harry Kleanthous, a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “He should be proud of this huge thing he’s done for humanity.”

But once Dr. McLellan and his colleagues handed off the 2P spike to vaccine makers, he turned back to the protein for a closer look. If swapping just two prolines improved a vaccine, surely additional tweaks could improve it even more.

HexaPro, in honor of its total of six prolines.

The structure of HexaPro was even more stable than 2P, the team found. It was also resilient, better able to withstand heat and damaging chemicals. Dr. McLellan hoped that its rugged design would make it potent in a vaccine.

Dr. McLellan also hoped that HexaPro-based vaccines would reach more of the world — especially low- and middle-income countries, which so far have received only a fraction of the total distribution of first-wave vaccines.

“The share of the vaccines they’ve received so far is terrible,” Dr. McLellan said.

To that end, the University of Texas set up a licensing arrangement for HexaPro that allows companies and labs in 80 low- and middle-income countries to use the protein in their vaccines without paying royalties.

Meanwhile, Dr. Innes and his colleagues at PATH were looking for a way to increase the production of Covid-19 vaccines. They wanted a vaccine that less wealthy nations could make on their own.

experimenting with Newcastle disease virus to create vaccines for a range of diseases. To develop an Ebola vaccine, for example, researchers added an Ebola gene to the Newcastle disease virus’s own set of genes.

The scientists then inserted the engineered virus into chicken eggs. Because it is a bird virus, it multiplied quickly in the eggs. The researchers ended up with Newcastle disease viruses coated with Ebola proteins.

At Mount Sinai, the researchers set out to do the same thing, using coronavirus spike proteins instead of Ebola proteins. When they learned about Dr. McLellan’s new HexaPro version, they added that to the Newcastle disease viruses. The viruses bristled with spike proteins, many of which had the desired prefusion shape. In a nod to both the Newcastle disease virus and the HexaPro spike, they called it NDV-HXP-S.

announced the start of a clinical trial of NDV-HXP-S. A week later, Thailand’s Government Pharmaceutical Organization followed suit. On March 26, Brazil’s Butantan Institute said it would ask for authorization to begin its own clinical trials of NDV-HXP-S.

Meanwhile, the Mount Sinai team has also licensed the vaccine to the Mexican vaccine maker Avi-Mex as an intranasal spray. The company will start clinical trials to see if the vaccine is even more potent in that form.

To the nations involved, the prospect of making the vaccines entirely on their own was appealing. “This vaccine production is produced by Thai people for Thai people,” Thailand’s health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, said at the announcement in Bangkok.

In Brazil, the Butantan Institute trumpeted its version of NDV-HXP-S as “the Brazilian vaccine,” one that would be “produced entirely in Brazil, without depending on imports.”

Ms. Taylor, of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, was sympathetic. “I could understand why that would really be such an attractive prospect,” she said. “They’ve been at the mercy of global supply chains.”

Madhavi Sunder, an expert on intellectual property at Georgetown Law School, cautioned that NDV-HXP-S would not immediately help countries like Brazil as they grappled with the current wave of Covid-19 infections. “We’re not talking 16 billion doses in 2020,” she said.

Instead, the strategy will be important for long-term vaccine production — not just for Covid-19 but for other pandemics that may come in the future. “It sounds super promising,” she said.

In the meantime, Dr. McLellan has returned to the molecular drawing board to try to make a third version of their spike that is even better than HexaPro.

“There’s really no end to this process,” he said. “The number of permutations is almost infinite. At some point, you’d have to say, ‘This is the next generation.’”

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Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine

A new vaccine for Covid-19 that is entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic. The vaccine, called NVD-HXP-S, is the first in clinical trials to use a new molecular design that is widely expected to create more potent antibodies than the current generation of vaccines. And the new vaccine could be far easier to make.

Existing vaccines from companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson must be produced in specialized factories using hard-to-acquire ingredients. In contrast, the new vaccine can be mass-produced in chicken eggs — the same eggs that produce billions of influenza vaccines every year in factories around the world.

If NVD-HXP-S proves safe and effective, flu vaccine manufacturers could potentially produce well over a billion doses of it a year. Low- and middle-income countries currently struggling to obtain vaccines from wealthier countries may be able to make NVD-HXP-S for themselves or acquire it at low cost from neighbors.

“That’s staggering — it would be a game-changer,” said Andrea Taylor, assistant director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

Vaccines work by acquainting the immune system with a virus well enough to prompt a defense against it. Some vaccines contain entire viruses that have been killed; others contain just a single protein from the virus. Still others contain genetic instructions that our cells can use to make the viral protein.

Once exposed to a virus, or part of it, the immune system can learn to make antibodies that attack it. Immune cells can also learn to recognize infected cells and destroy them.

spike, latches onto cells and then allows the virus to fuse to them.

But simply injecting coronavirus spike proteins into people is not the best way to vaccinate them. That’s because spike proteins sometimes assume the wrong shape, and prompt the immune system to make the wrong antibodies.

The researchers injected the 2P spikes into mice and found that the animals could easily fight off infections of the MERS coronavirus.

The team filed a patent for its modified spike, but the world took little notice of the invention. MERS, although deadly, is not very contagious and proved to be a relatively minor threat; fewer than 1,000 people have died of MERS since it first emerged in humans.

But in late 2019 a new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, emerged and began ravaging the world. Dr. McLellan and his colleagues swung into action, designing a 2P spike unique to SARS-CoV-2. In a matter of days, Moderna used that information to design a vaccine for Covid-19; it contained a genetic molecule called RNA with the instructions for making the 2P spike.

Other companies soon followed suit, adopting 2P spikes for their own vaccine designs and starting clinical trials. All three of the vaccines that have been authorized so far in the United States — from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech — use the 2P spike.

Other vaccine makers are using it as well. Novavax has had strong results with the 2P spike in clinical trials and is expected to apply to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization in the next few weeks. Sanofi is also testing a 2P spike vaccine and expects to finish clinical trials later this year.

Dr. McLellan’s ability to find lifesaving clues in the structure of proteins has earned him deep admiration in the vaccine world. “This guy is a genius,” said Harry Kleanthous, a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “He should be proud of this huge thing he’s done for humanity.”

But once Dr. McLellan and his colleagues handed off the 2P spike to vaccine makers, he turned back to the protein for a closer look. If swapping just two prolines improved a vaccine, surely additional tweaks could improve it even more.

HexaPro, in honor of its total of six prolines.

The structure of HexaPro was even more stable than 2P, the team found. It was also resilient, better able to withstand heat and damaging chemicals. Dr. McLellan hoped that its rugged design would make it potent in a vaccine.

Dr. McLellan also hoped that HexaPro-based vaccines would reach more of the world — especially low- and middle-income countries, which so far have received only a fraction of the total distribution of first-wave vaccines.

“The share of the vaccines they’ve received so far is terrible,” Dr. McLellan said.

To that end, the University of Texas set up a licensing arrangement for HexaPro that allows companies and labs in 80 low- and middle-income countries to use the protein in their vaccines without paying royalties.

Meanwhile, Dr. Innes and his colleagues at PATH were looking for a way to increase the production of Covid-19 vaccines. They wanted a vaccine that less wealthy nations could make on their own.

experimenting with Newcastle disease virus to create vaccines for a range of diseases. To develop an Ebola vaccine, for example, researchers added an Ebola gene to the Newcastle disease virus’s own set of genes.

The scientists then inserted the engineered virus into chicken eggs. Because it is a bird virus, it multiplied quickly in the eggs. The researchers ended up with Newcastle disease viruses coated with Ebola proteins.

At Mount Sinai, the researchers set out to do the same thing, using coronavirus spike proteins instead of Ebola proteins. When they learned about Dr. McLellan’s new HexaPro version, they added that to the Newcastle disease viruses. The viruses bristled with spike proteins, many of which had the desired prefusion shape. In a nod to both the Newcastle disease virus and the HexaPro spike, they called it NDV-HXP-S.

announced the start of a clinical trial of NDV-HXP-S. A week later, Thailand’s Government Pharmaceutical Organization followed suit. On March 26, Brazil’s Butantan Institute said it would ask for authorization to begin its own clinical trials of NDV-HXP-S.

Meanwhile, the Mount Sinai team has also licensed the vaccine to the Mexican vaccine maker Avi-Mex as an intranasal spray. The company will start clinical trials to see if the vaccine is even more potent in that form.

To the nations involved, the prospect of making the vaccines entirely on their own was appealing. “This vaccine production is produced by Thai people for Thai people,” Thailand’s health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, said at the announcement in Bangkok.

In Brazil, the Butantan Institute trumpeted its version of NDV-HXP-S as “the Brazilian vaccine,” one that would be “produced entirely in Brazil, without depending on imports.”

Ms. Taylor, of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, was sympathetic. “I could understand why that would really be such an attractive prospect,” she said. “They’ve been at the mercy of global supply chains.”

Madhavi Sunder, an expert on intellectual property at Georgetown Law School, cautioned that NDV-HXP-S would not immediately help countries like Brazil as they grappled with the current wave of Covid-19 infections. “We’re not talking 16 billion doses in 2020,” she said.

Instead, the strategy will be important for long-term vaccine production — not just for Covid-19 but for other pandemics that may come in the future. “It sounds super promising,” she said.

In the meantime, Dr. McLellan has returned to the molecular drawing board to try to make a third version of their spike that is even better than HexaPro.

“There’s really no end to this process,” he said. “The number of permutations is almost infinite. At some point, you’d have to say, ‘This is the next generation.’”

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The Lawyer Behind the Throne at Fox

LOS ANGELES — In early 2019, as the Murdoch family completed the $71 billion sale of 21st Century Fox to Disney, executives at the movie studio learned that someone was reading all their emails.

And not just anyone: Viet Dinh, the Fox Corporation’s chief legal officer and close friend of Fox’s chief executive, Lachlan Murdoch, had brought on a team of lawyers to investigatethe potential improper use of Fox data” by top 21st Century Fox executives he suspected of leaking to Disney while the terms were still being hammered out, a Fox spokeswoman said. The studio’s president, Peter Rice, and the company’s general counsel, Gerson Zweifach, protested that they were merely conducting normal transition planning — and that Mr. Dinh was being so paranoid he might blow up the transaction.

The episode didn’t scuttle the deal. But the previously unreported conflict between the studio executives and Mr. Dinh, a sociable and relentless Republican lawyer who was the chief architect in 2001 of the antiterrorism legislation known as the Patriot Act, offers a rare glimpse into the opaque power structure of Rupert Murdoch’s world. The nonagenarian mogul exercises immense power, through News Corp and the Fox Corporation, in driving a global wave of right-wing populism. But basic elements of how his media companies run remain shrouded in mystery.

In the case of the Fox Corporation, the questions of who is in charge and what the future holds are particularly hazy. The company, minus its studio, is now a midsize TV company adrift in a landscape of giants like Disney and AT&T that control everything from cellular phone networks to streaming platforms, film and television. Fox’s profits are dominated by Fox News. Lachlan Murdoch’s more liberal brother, James, who no longer holds an operational role in the family businesses, has made clear he’d like to see a change.

complained to The Financial Times about “outlets that propagate lies to their audience.”

Last month, Lachlan Murdoch moved his family to Sydney, Australia, an unlikely base for a company whose main assets are American. The move has intensified the perception — heightened when he stood by as Fox News hosts misinformed their audience about Covid-19 last year — that Mr. Murdoch does not have a tight grip on the reins. The company takes pains to rebut that perception: The Fox spokeswoman told me that Mr. Murdoch is so committed that he has adopted a nocturnal lifestyle, working midnight to 10 a.m. Sydney time. (She also said it would be “false and malicious” to suggest that Mr. Dinh is exercising operational control over Fox’s business units.) It’s such a disorienting situation that one senior Fox employee went so far as to call me last week to ask if I knew anything about succession plans. I promised I’d tell him if I figured it out.

But Mr. Dinh, 53, was ready to step in, and indeed has been seen internally as the company’s power center since before Mr. Murdoch headed across the globe. Mr. Dinh’s ascent caps an unlikely turn in his career that began when he met Lachlan Murdoch at an Aspen Institute event in 2003. The Murdoch heir later asked him to both fill a seat on the company’s board and to be godfather to his son. (“He couldn’t find any other Catholics,” Mr. Dinh joked to The New York Observer in 2006.)

Two former Fox employees and one current and one former Fox News employee familiar with his role painted him as the omnipresent and decisive right hand of a chief executive who is not particularly hands-on. (They spoke only on the condition they not be named because Fox keeps a tight grip on its public relations.) While Mr. Dinh is not running day-to-day programming, he manages the political operation of a company that is the central pillar of Republican politics, and he’s a key voice on corporate strategy who has played a role in Fox’s drive to acquire and partner its way into the global online gambling industry.

In a recent interview with the legal writer David Lat — headlined “Is Viet Dinh the Most Powerful Lawyer in America?” — Mr. Dinh called suggestions in this column and in The Financial Times that he’s more than a humble in-house counsel “flat-out false.”

once told VietLife magazine that he worked jobs including “cleaning toilets, busing tables, pumping gas, picking berries, fixing cars” to help his family make ends meet. He attended Harvard and Harvard Law School. As a student, he wrote a powerful Times Op-Ed about Vietnamese refugees — including his sister and nephew — stranded in Hong Kong. The piece helped win them refugee status, and eventually allowed them to immigrate to the United States.

Mr. Dinh arrived with the conservative politics of many refugees from Communism, and followed a pipeline from a Supreme Court clerkship with Sandra Day O’Connor to a role in the congressional investigations of Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

He was assistant attorney general for legal policy on 9/11, and he was “the fifth likeliest person” to wind up quarterbacking what would become the Patriot Act, said his old friend and colleague Paul Clement, who currently represents Fox in defamation lawsuits brought by two election technology companies. Mr. Dinh “led the effort to pull it all together, package it, present it to the Hill and get it passed,” said a former Bush White House homeland security adviser, Ken Wainstein. The package of legislation transformed the American security state, vastly expanding domestic surveillance and law enforcement powers. It allowed the F.B.I. to conduct secret and intrusive investigations of people and groups swept in by an expanded definition of terrorism.

Mr. Dinh was often mentioned at the time as a brilliant young lawyer who could easily wind up the first Asian-American on the Supreme Court. He was also notably image-conscious, and “worked the media like crazy,” recalled Jill Abramson, a former Times Washington bureau chief and later executive editor. He’s also a master Washington networker whose relationships cross party lines. His best college friend is a Democratic former U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara. Through the pandemic, Mr. Dinh left chipper comments on other lawyers’ job announcements on LinkedIn.

hiring a top Republican opposition researcher, Raj Shah, to monitor online criticism of the company and develop strategies for countering it.

Now, Mr. Dinh finds himself in the strange position of many of Rupert Murdoch’s top lieutenants: He is paid like a chief executive, and fills much of the larger strategic role that comes with that job. He also has the sort of leverage you need in a family business, a personal relationship with Lachlan Murdoch that allowed him to take on Mr. Rice, who is himself the son of a close Rupert Murdoch ally. But Mr. Dinh is still working for a business dominated by the need to follow Mr. Trump and Fox’s audience wherever they lead, lest they be overtaken by networks further to the right, like Newsmax. And the family ultimately retains control.

And Mr. Dinh’s own agenda can be hard to divine. In the interview with Mr. Lat, he largely repeated Fox News talking points about the quality and fairness of the network’s coverage. He did also express pride at Fox’s fleeting willingness to cross the president last fall, even though the network subsequently fired the political analysts who most angered Mr. Trump.

“There is no better historical record of Fox News’s excellent journalism than to see how the former president tweeted against Fox,” Mr. Dinh said.

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With Swarms of Ships, Beijing Tightens Its Grip on the South China Sea

The Chinese ships settled in like unwanted guests who wouldn’t leave.

As the days passed, more appeared. They were simply fishing boats, China said, though they did not appear to be fishing. Dozens even lashed themselves together in neat rows, seeking shelter, it was claimed, from storms that never came.

Not long ago, China asserted its claims on the South China Sea by building and fortifying artificial islands in waters also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. Its strategy now is to reinforce those outposts by swarming the disputed waters with vessels, effectively defying the other countries to expel them.

The goal is to accomplish by overwhelming presence what it has been unable to do through diplomacy or international law. And to an extent, it appears to be working.

“Beijing pretty clearly thinks that if it uses enough coercion and pressure over a long enough period of time, it will squeeze the Southeast Asians out,” said Greg Poling, the director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, which tracks developments in the South China Sea. “It’s insidious.”

called their presence “a clear provocation.” Vietnam’s foreign ministry accused China of violating the country’s sovereignty and demanded that the ships leave.

By this week, some had left but many remained, according to satellite photographs taken by Maxar Technologies, a company based in Colorado. Others moved to another reef only a few miles away, while a new swarm of 45 Chinese ships was spotted 100 miles northeast at another island controlled by the Philippines, Thitu, according to the satellite photos and Philippine officials.

intensifying confrontation between China and the United States.

Although the United States has not taken a position on disputes in the South China Sea, it has criticized China’s aggressive tactics there, including the militarization of its bases. For years, the United States has sent Navy warships on routine patrols to challenge China’s asserted right to restrict any military activity there — three times just since President Biden took office in January.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken expressed support for the Philippines over the presence of the Chinese vessels. “We will always stand by our allies and stand up for the rules-based international order,” he wrote on Twitter.

The buildup has highlighted the further erosion of the Philippines’ control of the disputed waters, which could become a problem for the country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte.

The country’s defense department dispatched two aircraft and one ship to Whitsun Reef to document the buildup but did not otherwise intervene. It is not known whether Vietnamese forces responded.

ruled in 2016 that China’s expansive claim to almost all of the South China Sea had no legal basis, though it stopped short of dividing the territory among its various claimants. China has based its claims on a “nine-dash line” drawn on maps before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

A Philippine patrol first reported the large number of ships at Whitsun Reef on March 7. According to Mr. Poling, satellite photographs have shown a regular, though smaller, Chinese presence over the past year at the reef.

civilian force that has become an integral instrument of China’s new maritime strategy. Many of these boats, while unarmed, are operated by reservists or others who carry out the orders of the Coast Guard and People’s Liberation Army.

“They may be doing illicit activities at night and their lingering (swarming) presence may cause irreparable damage to the marine environment,” the task force’s statement said.

The presence of so many Chinese ships is meant to intimidate. “By having them there, and spreading them out across these expanses of water around the reefs the others occupy, or around oil and gas fields or fishing grounds, you are steadily pushing the Filipinos and the Vietnamese out,” Mr. Poling said.

“If you’re a Filipino fisherman, you’re always getting harassed by these guys,” he said. “They’re always maneuvering a little too close, blowing horns at you. At some point you just give up and stop fishing there.”

Patrols and statements aside, Mr. Duterte’s government does not seem eager to confront China. His spokesman, Harry Roque, echoed the Chinese claims that the ships were merely sheltering temporarily.

“We hope the weather clears up,” he said, “and in the spirit of friendship we are hoping that their vessels will leave the area.”

The Philippines has become increasingly dependent on Chinese trade and, as it fights the pandemic, largess.

On Monday, the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines arrived in Manila from China with great fanfare. As many as four million doses are scheduled to arrive by May, some of them donations. China’s ambassador, Huang Xilian, attended the vaccines’ arrival and later met with Mr. Duterte.

“China is encroaching on our maritime zone, but softening it by sending us vaccines,” said Antonio Carpio, an outspoken retired Supreme Court justice who is expert in the maritime dispute. “It’s part of their P.R. effort to soften the blow, but we should not fall for that.”

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The Vietnamese Recovery Is Made in America

Vietnam’s economy is growing again, on the back of a strong rise in exports. The Southeast Asian nation looks to be one of the most clear-cut international beneficiaries of the U.S. stimulus package.

First-quarter gross domestic product was up 4.5% relative to last year’s figure, according to an initial estimate released Monday. The recovery is being driven by a surge in goods and services sold abroad, which rose almost 20% year-over-year in March. Sales to the U.S. specifically are likely rising even faster, with no sign of a slowdown on the horizon.

Using Vietnamese export data and U.S. data for imports from Vietnam, it is clear that the American share of Vietnam’s overseas sales has risen considerably. In the 12 months through January, U.S. imports from Vietnam were equivalent to about 29% of the Asian country’s total exports, far higher than the roughly 20% average before 2019. Some caution is needed when data come from different organizations, but historically the two series tend to match up with figures published with a lag by the International Monetary Fund, which are considered the gold standard.

Vietnam emerged as a big winner from the China-U.S. trade spat. Some supply chains reoriented away from China, and the country also was a logical docking station for multistage “transshipments” to avoid American tariffs.

Some of those gains may not be repeatable, but given the fiscal splurge in Washington, it is likely that the U.S. share of Vietnam’s exports will remain high for some time. Domestic economic growth in the order of 6.5% this year—as forecast by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development—will keep U.S. import demand strong and business brisk for export-focused Vietnamese companies.

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North Korea Fired 2 Ballistic Missiles, U.S. and Japan Say

SEOUL — North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Thursday, in its first significant provocation against the United States under President Biden, United States and Japanese officials said.

South Korea confirmed North Korea had launched two unidentified projectiles, but Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan was the first regional leader to identify them as “ballistic missiles.” A senior United States official also confirmed that the projectiles were ballistic missiles.

“It threatens the peace and security of Japan and the region, and is a violation of United Nations resolutions,” the Japanese leader said on Twitter, referring to the United Nations Security Council’s ban on the North’s developing and testing ballistic missile technologies. “I strongly protest and strongly condemn it.”

The missiles dropped into waters between North Korea and Japan and outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Mr. Suga said. The Japanese military said that the missiles flew 280 miles, reaching a height of 62 miles.

past four U.S. presidents. Each approached the country with different incentives and sanctions, but all failed to persuade it to stop building nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them.

fired missiles over Japan and threatened to launch an “enveloping” strike near the U.S. territory of Guam.

After the country launched its first intercontinental ballistic missiles later that year, former President Donald J. Trump hoped direct talks with Mr. Kim would persuade the impoverished and isolated country to end its program.

Despite three face-to-face meetings, the leaders were unable to reach an agreement, depriving Mr. Trump of what he had hoped would be a crowning foreign policy achievement. Instead, the failed summits gave Mr. Kim more time to further develop his weapons, experts say.

Analysts are closely watching Washington to see if Mr. Biden’s approach to North Korea will follow that of former President Barack Obama, rather than the more direct engagement of Mr. Trump.

The Biden administration has been studying how to deal with North Korea, which Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has called “a hard problem.” When Mr. Blinken was in Seoul last week, he said the Biden administration planned to complete a North Korea policy review in the coming weeks in close coordination with South Korea and Japan. He said the review included both “pressure options and potential for future diplomacy.”

During the first months of his presidency, Mr. Obama was also greeted by a North Korean provocation when the country detonated a nuclear bomb. Rather than negotiate, Mr. Obama opted for a policy of “strategic patience,” which meant gradually escalating sanctions. In his Senate confirmation hearing, Mr. Blinken said the Biden administration would “review the entire approach and policy toward North Korea, because this is a hard problem.”

In the weekend test, missiles were launched from a site near Nampo, a port southwest of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, said Ha Tae-keung, a South Korean lawmaker who was briefed by intelligence officials on Wednesday.

it unveiled a new, untested intercontinental ballistic missile that looked bigger and more powerful than the intercontinental ballistic missile it tested in late 2017 before Mr. Kim started diplomacy with Mr. Trump.

In a party meeting in January, Mr. Kim vowed to further advance his country’s nuclear capabilities, declaring that it would build new solid-fuel I.C.B.M.s and make its nuclear warheads lighter and more precise.

Makiko Inoue contributed reporting from Tokyo, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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Covid coverage by the U.S. national media is an outlier, a study finds.

If we’re constantly telling a negative story, we are not giving our audience the most accurate portrait of reality. We are shading it. We are doing a good job telling you why Covid cases are rising in some places and how the vaccines are imperfect — but not such a good job explaining why cases are falling elsewhere or how the vaccines save lives. Perhaps most important, we are not being clear about which Covid developments are truly alarming.

As Ranjan Sehgal, another co-author, told me, “The media is painting a picture that is a little bit different from what the scientists are saying.”

The researchers say they are not sure what explains their findings, but they do have a leading contender: The U.S. media is giving the audience what it wants.

When the researchers examined which stories were the most read or the most shared on Facebook, they tended to be the most negative stories. To put it another way, the stories that people choose to read skew even more negative than the stories that media organizations choose to publish. “Human beings, particularly consumers of major media, like negativity in their stories,” Sacerdote said. “We think the major media are responding to consumer demand.”

That idea is consistent with the patterns in the data, Sacerdote added: It makes sense that national publications have better instincts about reaching a large audience than, say, science journals. And overseas, some of the most influential English-language media organizations — like the BBC — have long received government funding, potentially making them less focused on consumer demand.

All of that sounds plausible to me, but I don’t think it is the full explanation. I have worked in media for nearly three decades, and I think you might be surprised by how little time journalists spend talking about audience size. We care about it, obviously, but most journalists I know care much more about other factors, like doing work that has an impact.

In the modern era of journalism — dating roughly to the Vietnam War and Watergate — we tend to equate impact with asking tough questions and exposing problems. There are some good reasons for that. We are inundated by politicians, business executives, movie stars and others trying to portray themselves in the best light. Our job is to cut through the self-promotion and find the truth. If we don’t tell you the bad news, you may never hear it.

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