Ateneo Blue Eagles open title defense against ‘tough’ NU Bulldogs

Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin.–MARLO CUETO/

Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin has never been one to downplay the chances of any of his opponents. He believes that every school in Season 86 of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament has a chance to win.

But he has special words for National University.

“That team plays tough and is very well-coached,” Baldwin had told the Inquirer in Japan during the World University Basketball Series where the Blue Eagles finished a fighting fourth. “They play hard every game and it will always be tough playing them.”

That was more than a month ago when Baldwin had no inkling that it would be the Bulldogs who will be his defending champion Eagles’ first assignment as the country’s premier collegiate tournament gets off the ground at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay with Ateneo starting its quest for a sixth title in seven years.

National finished third last season, and coach Jeff Napa has made it no secret that they will be shooting to improve on that starting Saturday with their 4 p.m. clash with Ateneo.

“Definitely, it will be a great competition this season,” Napa said Wednesday during the tournament’s official launch. “Every school deserves to be called champion. It’s about how we perform and how we prepare our players. Rest assured we will be ready to compete.”

Santo Tomas and the returning Pido Jarencio take on the University of the East in the 2 p.m. opener, with the Growling Tigers assured of improving on a 1-13 mark last season after a massive recruitment frenzy featuring several one-and-done players.

Fearsome roster

Jarencio calls the shots again after being away for a decade, and a Final Four appearance seems feasible after getting several big names during the off-season.

Baldwin, meanwhile, will have a roster that has been put to several tests in the past three months, that Japan stint counting as the toughest one.

There, Joe Obasa, who will play one season, had a taste of top level action being a late-bloomer. Ateneo will also be without Forthsky Padrigao, the prodigious guard who left the team two months ago to deal with some personal matters.

But the Eagles have a truly fearsome roster on paper, with a couple of talented rookie guards like Shawn Tuano and Kyle Gamber having had all the time to blend well with veterans Chris Koon, Geo Chiu and Kai Ballungay.

“I would love to have Forths with us,” Baldwin had said in Japan. “But it is what it is and we will make do with what we have.”

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Jared Brown is ready to be that prime guard for the Eagles, with Mason Amos also looming to be a force that would make Ateneo a solid pick to at least return to the finals.

Trump’s Sprawling Legal Defense Effort Comes Under Strain

The call came out of the blue.

A lawyer representing former President Donald J. Trump in the investigation into his handling of classified documents reached out, unsolicited, to a former employee of Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate who was about to face questioning.

“It’s my understanding that you got a grand jury subpoena,” the lawyer, John Rowley, said in a voice mail message left for the former employee, a recording of which was provided to The New York Times on the condition that the employee not be named. “Would you please give me a call at your first opportunity?”

That outreach, meant to help the employee find a lawyer, was just one example of the ways Mr. Trump’s legal team and advisers have intersected with the legal representation for witnesses in the criminal prosecutions he is facing.

In some cases, people caught up in the cases reached out for help finding lawyers and paying their legal bills. In others, Mr. Trump’s lawyers contacted them, offering to put them in touch with lawyers already working on the cases.

Mr. Trump’s political action committee, seeded with money he had raised with debunked claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, became the piggy bank for paying the bills, helping to knit together the interests of key figures in the investigations.

In an interview, Mr. Rowley said he was simply trying to help witnesses who did not have lawyers or did not know how to find one, and that he never sought to influence anyone’s testimony. And legal experts said the voice mail, while somewhat unusual, did not appear to cross any ethical lines.

But as Mr. Trump’s legal problems have expanded, the ad hoc system has come under intense strain with the PAC doling out financial lifelines to some aides and allies while shutting the door on others. It is now running short of money, possibly forcing Mr. Trump to decide how long to go on helping others as his own legal fees mount.

Prosecutors have also brought conflict-of-interest questions about some of the arrangements before the courts, and witnesses and co-defendants may begin to face decisions about how closely they want to lash their legal strategies to Mr. Trump’s.

After prosecutors questioned potential conflicts among the lawyers, one key witness in the classified documents case, Yuscil Taveras, replaced his lawyer, who was being paid by Mr. Trump’s PAC and also represented one of the former president’s co-defendants in the case, Walt Nauta. Mr. Taveras is now represented by a federal public defender and is cooperating with prosecutors.

The federal judge in the documents case, Aileen M. Cannon, has scheduled hearings for next month to consider questions about potential conflicts involving lawyers for Mr. Nauta and for Mr. Trump’s other co-defendant, Carlos De Oliveira, the property manager at Mar-a-Lago.

A look at the how the arrangement came about, and how it has come under growing pressure, says a lot about Mr. Trump’s approach to legal and financial issues and his calculations about loyalty.

A spokesman for Mr. Trump did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The question of providing lawyers first came up as Trump aides and allies were summoned as witnesses nearly two years ago by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol. Mr. Trump initially suggested a tight cordon of coordination, telling his aides that he wanted all of the witnesses to share one lawyer. That idea was rejected by his advisers, according to a person with knowledge of what took place.

But the effort to encourage legal coordination expanded considerably as Mr. Trump came under criminal investigation in four cases, two federal and one each in Georgia and Manhattan, drawing in a growing roster of people with ties to him.

The decision to have the PAC pay legal bills, using money from Mr. Trump’s donors, reflected the former president’s aversion to spending his own money, aides have privately conceded.

Yet Mr. Trump’s advisers did not appear to view every aide or ally who was subpoenaed, or every investigation, the same way. Some aides who were favorites of Mr. Trump personally were covered, while others were excluded.

Rudolph W. Giuliani has had only a small portion of his bills paid despite his pleas for help. Jenna Ellis, a lawyer who worked on efforts to keep Mr. Trump in power and who is among his co-defendants in the election case in Georgia, has complained publicly that her legal bills have not been covered.

Mr. Trump’s views about covering legal fees, according to people close to him, were shaped by his company’s decision in 2018 to stop covering some fees for Michael D. Cohen, his former personal lawyer and a company official. Mr. Cohen was under investigation and went on to cooperate with prosecutors and become an outspoken critic of the former president.

Mr. Trump’s employees later chose to handle another investigated aide, Allen Weisselberg, very differently, making sure his legal bills were paid. Mr. Weisselberg never provided meaningful information against Mr. Trump, even after pleading guilty and testifying against the Trump family business at a criminal tax fraud trial last year.

Susie Wiles, now one of the top advisers for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, oversaw the payment system for much of the past two years, according to three people familiar with the matter. In the classified documents indictment, prosecutors noted that she was involved in a conversation about Mr. De Oliveira’s loyalty to Mr. Trump shortly before the former president decided to help him with a lawyer.

By this summer, the PAC, Save America, had covered some legal bills for at least two dozen people called to provide evidence last year to the House committee as well as to criminal prosecutions of Mr. Trump.

Through that period, the PAC spent more than $20 million on legal fees, a majority of which covered Mr. Trump’s own bills.

But with his own legal bills piling up, Mr. Trump has begun shifting the burden for the legal fees for some of his allies away from Save America, reflecting the financial squeeze on the PAC and apparently a desire to keep its money available to defend Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump’s aides recently started a legal-defense fund intended to help a number of people whose fees previously had been covered by Save America, though it is unclear how much it has raised.

Mr. Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, has also taken over for the PAC in paying legal bills for one of its employees, Mr. De Oliveira, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

By the time Save America began to pull back in recent months, it had made payments to more than 30 law firms as well as to people for “legal consulting” related to the investigations. It is difficult to determine how much has been paid for specific clients, since several of the lawyers are representing multiple witnesses or defendants.

As The New York Times has reported, Save America — which in early 2022 had more than $100 million on hand — transferred $60 million as a donation to MAGA Inc., the super PAC supporting Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Save America made a refund request for that money, and the super PAC continues to send back money, according to a person briefed on the matter. If that money is all routed back to Save America, it would likely allow the PAC to continue to pay Mr. Trump’s bills — and possibly other people’s as well — for several months to come.

Precisely how Mr. Trump’s advisers have decided who will have their legal fees covered has remained a mystery, and it has long been an area of interest for investigators.

The arrangements among the lawyers first drew interest after one witness to the House committee, the former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, told the panel that Mr. Trump’s allies had provided her a lawyer who had coached her to limit her testimony.

The lawyer in question, a former deputy White House counsel under Mr. Trump named Stefan Passantino, has denied that claim. Mr. Trump’s advisers have insisted that they have never sought to influence testimony through legal payments.

In early 2022, as the criminal investigations began expanding, Boris Epshteyn, a 2020 campaign political consultant who is also a lawyer, was hired by Save America for communications work. But he began working to recommend other lawyers for some of the witnesses, according to a person briefed on what took place.

Eventually, Mr. Rowley and James Trusty, who represented Mr. Trump in the federal inquiries into his handling of classified documents and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, began to recommend lawyers for people caught up in the investigations.

Mr. Rowley said many of those who received subpoenas either had no lawyers of their own or were not sure how to find one. He and Mr. Trusty, he added, were veteran attorneys with deep connections in Washington’s white-collar bar.

They referred some witnesses to John Irving, who also represents one of Mr. Trump’s co-defendants in the classified documents case, Mr. De Oliveira.

Mr. Trump’s legal team also referred Trump employees and aides to Stanley Woodward Jr. and his partner, Stanley Brand. Mr. Woodward ended up representing several people, including Mr. Taveras, the head of I.T. at Mar-a-Lago, who could be an important witness at the classified documents trial and who has now dropped Mr. Woodward, the lawyer for Mr. Nauta.

It is common in a sprawling investigation for lawyers to represent numerous witnesses until potential conflicts arise.

And although Mr. Rowley and Mr. Trusty talked to several witnesses, they simply made recommendations about who the witnesses might hire, allowing them to make the final decisions on their own, Mr. Rowley said.

“We didn’t care one way or the other what they ultimately did,” Mr. Rowley said. “We just wanted people who needed representation to be represented.”

He said that was particularly true because of “the level of aggressiveness” he and Mr. Trusty “were seeing from the D.O.J.”

Mr. Trusty, in a separate interview, noted that prosecutors for Jack Smith, the special counsel, “cast a very wide net, including everyone from groundskeepers and maids to Secret Service agents,” and said that there were “a lot of intimidating tactics.” The witnesses he said, “were pretty unsophisticated about criminal justice in general” and “needed good lawyers who knew the Department of Justice and the particular nooks and crannies of federal investigations.”

Not all the witnesses were seeking their help. The Mar-a-Lago employee who received the voice mail from Mr. Rowley hired a lawyer on his own and paid the legal fees out of his own pocket.

Bruce Green, who teaches legal ethics at Fordham Law School in New York, said there was not much meaningful difference between grand jury witnesses asking Mr. Trump’s lawyers for help in finding legal representation and the lawyers reaching out to the witnesses to see if they wanted or needed representation.

The larger question, Mr. Green said, was the motive behind offering such help and whether the lawyers, once hired, acted in the interests of their clients or on behalf of whoever helped to put them in place.

“What we have here is a lot of smoke,” said Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics professor at New York University. “But we haven’t seen the fire yet.”

AJ Edu aims to bring versatility on defense for Toyama in Japan B.League

AJ Edu during the FIBA ​​World Cup with Gilas Philippines. –MARLO CUETO/

MANILA, Philippines—If there’s anything AJ Edu is confident he can bring to the table for the Toyama Grouses in the Japanese B.League, it’s his versatility on defense.

Fresh off his impressive Fiba World Cup 2023 stint with Gilas Pilipinas, Edu said he’s ready to help Toyama, which finished with a 15-45 record last year, in the upcoming B.League season.

“I think I bring a lot of versatility on defense. I think in the World Cup, that was how I was bringing the biggest impact, defensively. Definitely, I believe in my abilities offensively but for sure, the impact that I have defensively is to guard different NBA players in the World Cup,” said Edu in a press conference on Wednesday.

“That was an amazing experience to learn from so hopefully, I can take that in the B. League scene.”

During his five-game stretch under coach Chot Reyes, the Cypriot-born player averaged 8.2 points and 8.6 rebounds a night.

Edu also said he talked to his Gilas teammates Thirdy Ravena, Dwight Ramos, Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, who are also all playing in the B.League.

“I talked and tried to get as much information from these guys and they have the experience of playing overseas and playing in the B. League. I just try to get and soak in as much information as I can.”

Last June before the international tournament, Edu signed with Toyama, which was formerly the team of Ramos who is now playing for Levanga Hokkaido.

From playing in the US, to the World Cup and now in the B.League, Edu made it clear that his motive hasn’t changed and he still aims to play his usual form in the Japanese league.

“(I’ll) just keep on doing what I’m doing. Simple as that. Don’t change how I’m playing. Just continuing to keep growing and learning.”

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Biden to amplify democracy defense, and honor McCain, in Arizona speech

“We have to stand up for America’s values embodied in our Declaration of Independence because we know MAGA extremists have already proven they won’t,” Biden plans to say, according to excerpts released by the White House. “We have to stand up for our Constitution and the institutions of democracy because MAGA extremists have made clear they won’t.”

Biden will also stress “we must not walk away from the sacrifices generations of Americans have made to defend our democracy,” said a White House official previewing the speech.

Biden’s comments come a day after the second Republican primary debate, during which candidates took a handful of swipes at Trump — who skipped the event altogether — but seemed to fail to make a meaningful dent in his clear path to the nomination. As the general election comes into clearer focus, Biden aides are betting that homing in on democracy will buoy the president’s campaign, especially after a spasm of political violence and threats to election integrity have shocked the American system in recent years.

Those close to Biden believe that the issue, along with abortion rights, helped propel Democrats to a far stronger than expected showing during the 2022 midterm elections. Biden has both publicly and privately noted that pundits were wrong in suggesting his closing argument last November should have been about the economy rather than the dangers of political extremism, according to three people close to the president granted anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss those conversations.

The Biden team had thought the danger posed by Trump would fade over time, or that attacks from Republican primary candidates would drag him down. Instead, Trump has continued to dominate the Republican field even as criminal indictments against him have mounted.

That was one factor that pushed Biden to deliver another speech on the need to protect the nation’s democracy. The topic has also featured prominently in his remarks at recent closed-door fundraisers, including several in the past week in California and New York. In those more relaxed, off-camera settings, Biden has warned that “democracy is on the ballot” and has taken a series of his most direct swipes at Trump yet.

“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans are determined to destroy American democracy because they want to break down institutional structures,” Biden said Tuesday at a San Francisco fundraiser. “Political violence in America is never, never, never, never acceptable.”

In the coming months, Biden intends to adhere to his plan not to directly address Trump’s legal issues for fear of being seen as influencing the process. Instead, he and his staff believe a series of warnings by the president about the ongoing threats to the nation’s foundation will help drive home the point.

Aides originally thought about delivering this speech at another American historical landmark — George Washington’s former military base at Valley Forge, Pa., was considered — but ultimately decided to use the moment to also honor McCain. His widow, Cindy McCain, who heads the U.N. World Food Program, was expected to attend the event Thursday along with other family members.

Biden was also expected to announce funding from the American Rescue Plan to construct the McCain Library. Earlier this month while visiting Hanoi, Biden was joined by old friends in paying tribute to McCain and he later told associates it was one of the most moving moments of his presidency, according to one of the people close to the president.

Russia’s Wagner troops are back on the battlefield, Ukraine says

KYIV — Mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group are back fighting on the front line in Ukraine, a senior Ukrainian military official told POLITICO on Wednesday.

Several hundred fighters from the group once ruled by now-dead warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin were spotted fighting in the ranks of different Russian military units on the eastern front, said Colonel Serhiy Cherevatyi.

Wagner mercenaries had fought in Ukraine until May when they finally occupied the remains of Bakhmut, a Donetsk region town which was razed during nine months of brutal fighting. Wagner was notorious in Ukraine for mercilessly decapitating Ukrainian soldiers and killing civilians.

After Wagner was thrown into disarray following an aborted insurrection against the Kremlin in June led by Prigozhin — who subsequently died in a fiery plane crash in August — many of its troops were either welcomed to Belarus by its ruler Alexander Lukashenko or deployed to African countries where Russia has interests.

“Wagnerites were not hiding. Maybe they thought it would scare our soldiers. In fact, that showed Russia needs new meat for the grinder,” said Cherevatyi, deputy commander of Ukraine’s eastern group of troops for strategic communications. “Wagner as an organization was finished in Bakhmut. Now their more fortunate soldiers are sent to Africa, where there’s more money. The less fortunate ones are back to Ukraine.”

He added that Ukrainian wiretapping and reconnaissance had been used to confirm that former Wagner forces were back on the Donbas battlefield, but warned, “We know everything about them.”

Ukraine’s National Resistance Center previously reported that fewer than 1,000 Wagner mercenaries remained in Belarus as of September.

“Currently, 200 of them remain instructors in the special units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defense of Belarus. The rest are those who do not want to be recruited either to the new PMCs or to the Russian defense ministry,” the resistance center said, citing its sources on the ground.

Earlier, CNN reported that Wagner fighters are back in Ukraine, citing Ukrainian soldiers fighting around Bakhmut. Wagner’s Telegram channels have been quiet on Ukraine, currently posting news from Belarus, Niger, and Mali.

“I see nothing special in their return. Wagner is no longer a powerful force. Those who returned are far from being in a good fighting mood, as they know what to expect here,” Cherevatyi said. “Furthermore, they are now under the control of the Defense Ministry.

“They used to call themselves soldiers of fortune but now they are more like misfortune soldiers.”

Margielyn Didal crashes in Asian Games skateboard title defense

Margielyn Didal did not finish her turns during the finals of the Street Style Skateboarding competition of the 19th Asian Games being held in Hangzhou, China.PSC/POC Media Pool

HANGZHOU, China—Hobbled by a surgically-repaired left ankle, skateboarder Margielyn Didal relinquished her title in women’s street after falling off her board several times in the 19th Asian Games here.

Didal, bothered by her foot which required surgery 11 months ago that sidelined the Cebuana for a long time, tallied 23.39 points in her first run and 12.84 in the next, winding up last among eight competitors.

The 24-year-old 2018 Asiad champion slipped again thrice in all of her tries in the trick sequence, putting the famed Filipino skater out of the running for good at the Qiantang Roller Sports Centre here.

“My injury has already healed, but I can still feel the tightness around my foot. It’s probably due to the metal plates that were installed,’’ said Didal

After rolling the aggravated ankle on the third trick attempt, the Tokyo Olympian stayed on the ground for a while, massaged her foot and stood up limping to the sidelines.

China’s Chi Chenxi ruled the event the combined a pair of runs and five tricks with 242.62 points while compatriot Zeng Wenhui got the silver with 236.61. Japan’s Miyu Ito settled for the bronze with 213.00.

Didal dislocated and fractured her ankle during the Red Bull Stake Levels last year in Brazil.

Since then, it took a while before she rode the board again and jumpstarted her return bid in the continental meet, the site of her sudden rise to prominence five years ago.

Didal’s gold contributed to that “women power’’ in the 2018 Asian Games where Team Philippines collected four golds, including the individual victories of weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz and golfer Yuka Saso, who also led the women’s team to triumph along with Bianca Pagdanganan and Lois Kaye Go.

After Didal’s instant fame came in the Asiad, she became a byword in Philippine skateboarding and pocketed two more golds during the Philippine hosting of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games held in Tagaytay City.

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Trump expands criminal defense team

The additions are the most significant new legal hires in months for Trump as he prepares for multiple criminal trials scheduled for next year. Bove and Wharton are expected to help fill out a team that was, in some ways, hobbled by the abrupt departures of veteran lawyers John Rowley, Tim Parlatore and James Trusty around the time Trump was indicted by a Florida grand jury in June.

Since then, Blanche, also an alumnus of the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, has emerged as the architect of Trump’s multi-front legal battle, and the new hires further solidify his imprint on some of the most significant criminal cases in American history.

“Emil is an expert in white collar and CIPA-related litigation and his trial skills are among the best in the business,” Blanche said in a statement, referencing the Classified Information Procedures Act, the federal law governing the use of classified documents in criminal cases. “We are thrilled and lucky to have him on our team defending President Trump and all of our other clients.”

“Kendra is a brilliant lawyer and clients have trusted her for years,” Blanche continued, “and is providing the same excellent service to our team that has been her signature for many years.”

Blanche’s hires coincide with Smith’s own addition to his team. He recently added Alex Whiting, a longtime war crimes prosecutor who worked as Smith’s deputy at the Hague.

While working as a federal prosecutor, Bove handled matters including the investigation of Guo Wengui, an ally of Steve Bannon who was indicted earlier this year on charges that he and his financier orchestrated a more than $1 billion fraud scheme.

Bove also worked on the prosecution of Cesar Sayoc Jr., who pleaded guilty to mailing pipe bombs to Trump critics. Bove is currently listed as a partner at Blanche’s firm, which notes his “extensive trial and appellate experience.”

Wharton spent a decade working at Blanche’s former firm, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, before launching her own in recent weeks. Before that, she spent four years working for Sen. Mitch McConnell as a legislative aide.

During her tenure at Cadwalader, Wharton defended companies and corporate executives in investigations led by the Justice Department, SEC and other federal agencies. She has also managed internal corporate investigations and their responses to congressional inquiries.

Ukraine says it killed top Russian admiral in Crimea missile attack

The commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Viktor Sokolov, died in Ukraine’s barrage on occupied Crimea last week, Kyiv said Monday.

“After the defeat of the headquarters of the Russian armed forces, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian armed forces. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored,” Ukraine’s special operations forces said Monday.

In an initial statement after the attack, the Russian defense ministry said it had shot down five incoming missiles and only one serviceman was killed, though the fleet’s headquarters were damaged.

But rumors about Sokolov’s death circulated online and Ukraine jumped Monday at the chance to confirm the speculation. POLITICO has not independently verified the claims.

The attack was the latest in Ukraine’s quest to liberate occupied Crimea, which Russian President Vladimir Putin seized in 2014. Two weeks ago, Ukraine wrecked a Russian submarine in the port of Sevastopol and also regained control of strategically important oil and gas drilling platforms located in the Black Sea.

Ateneo begins title defense vs NU, UST faces UE in UAAP Season 86 opener

Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin.–MARLO CUETO/

MANILA, Philippines – Defending champion Ateneo kicks off its title defense against National University in the UAAP Season 86 men’s basketball tournament opener on September 30 at Mall of Asia Arena.

The Blue Eagles, who regained the championship crown from the University of the Philippines in Season 85 last December, headline the opening day of Season 86, which is hosted by the University of the East this year and has a theme of “Fueling the Future.”

Ateneo takes on last season’s semifinalist and bronze medalist NU, at 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, coach Pido Jarencio makes his UAAP comeback after 10 years when University of Santo Tomas battles host UE at 2 p.m. to raise the curtains of the new season.

Ateneo coach Tab Baldwin begins life without graduates Ange Kouame, Dave Ildefonso and BJ Andrade as well as Forthsky Padrigao, who already left the school.

Without the key cogs of their championship run, the four-time UAAP champion coach will bank on prized recruit Mason Amos joining holdovers Gab Gomez, Kai Balunggay, and Sean Quitevis.

The Blue Eagles will face an intact Bulldogs’ squad, bannered by Jake Figueroa, Omar John, Mike Malonzo, Steve Nash Enriquez, Kean Baclaan and coach Jeff Napa’s new additions, Rein Jumamoy and Mark Parks, brother of former NU star and Gilas member, Ray.

UP guard JD Cagulangan.–MARLO CUETO/

Meanwhile, the reloaded University of the Philippines makes its season debut against Adamson on October 1 at 4 p.m.

After a runner-up finish last season and losing Carl Tamayo, Zavier Lucero, James Spencer and Henry Galinato, coach Goldwin Monteverde will usher in a new era with Francis Lopez, Seven Gagate, Luis Pablo and Sean Alter as well as transferees Janjan Felicity and Rayland Torres.

The Fighting Maroons are also composed of reigning MVP Malick Diouf and fellow holdovers JD Cagulangan, Harold Alarcon, and the returning CJ Cansino as they battle the Falcons, whose star Jerom Lastimosa suffered a preseason injury ahead of coach Nash Racela’s third season coming off a Final Four appearance last year.

Topex Robinson will also make his UAAP head coaching debut on October 1 when La Salle faces Far Eastern University at 2 p.m. FEU is also under a new tactician in Denok Miranda.

The women’s basketball tournament also tips off on October 1 with runner-up La Salle and FEU clashing at 9 a.m. at MOA Arena, followed by the Adamson-UP game at 11 a.m.

The NU Lady Bulldogs open their title campaign at UST Quadricentennial Pavilion against Ateneo at 3 p.m., while the Tigresses battle UE at 1 p.m. on their home turf.

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The league has yet to release the full schedule of Season 86.

China’s Yuan Defense Runs the Risk of Hurting Global Bond Demand

(Bloomberg) — A tool deployed by the People’s Bank of China to defend the yuan may result in some collateral damage: a weakening in demand from bond investors who like to hedge their currency exposure.

With the PBOC ramping up overseas yuan funding costs to deter short sellers, the premium that dollar-based investors enjoyed for swapping their US currency has evaporated. That has turned hedged purchases of Chinese bonds into a lower-return proposition than Treasuries. As a result, global funds which employ such a strategy may well set their sights on other bond markets instead.

The dilemma underscores how Beijing is finding it increasingly hard to shore up its beleaguered currency without paying a price. Any further drop in bond demand would spell more trouble for the Chinese debt market, which is already under pressure from the widening yield gap with the US, and mark a step back in China’s efforts to internationalize its currency.

A prolonged liquidity squeeze would “limit offshore investors’ interest in onshore bonds and slow down the process of yuan internationalization,” said Ju Wang, head of Greater China FX & rates strategy at BNP Paribas SA in Hong Kong. “Tightening offshore yuan funding could be just a temporary solution.”

For dollar-based investors, the math argues in favor of buying US government bonds instead of yuan notes. China’s currency-hedged 10-year government bonds yield little more than 4% while similar-maturity Treasuries offer close to 4.5%. US-based investors used to sell the yuan in the forward market to earn an extra yield pick-up, but this has diminished as offshore liquidity in the yuan dwindled.

Yuan funding costs have climbed after the PBOC moved to drain liquidity through increased bill issuance and state-owned banks reduced supply of the currency overseas. The cost to borrow the yuan in Hong Kong has jumped since mid-August, with the rate on three-month contracts touching a five-year high this week.

Hedged investor demand used to counter some bond outflows but “even that trade is not attractive enough now,” said Stephen Chiu, chief Asia FX and rates strategist at Bloomberg Intelligence. “There are really no good reasons to hold China bonds for global investors, when there are so many choices across the world.”

All this comes at an inopportune time for Chinese notes. Outflows from the country’s bond market gathered pace in August as overseas institutional investors cut positions. Foreign holdings of Chinese sovereign bonds dropped below 8% for the first time in four years last month, according to Bloomberg’s calculations.

Things are unlikely to improve in the near term given that higher US interest rates will continue to damp the Chinese currency’s appeal, forcing the PBOC to keep yuan funding costs elevated.

The onshore yuan has recovered some ground in recent weeks after authorities stepped up their defense of the currency, but it remains within striking distance of the 16-year low reached earlier this month. China will firmly crack down on behaviors that disrupt the market order and prevent risks of excessive adjustments in the yuan, a PBOC official said at a press briefing earlier this week.

On Friday, the central bank set the yuan’s fixing at the strongest bias on record yet again, in a sign of extended support for the currency. The offshore yuan’s interbank rates in Hong Kong climbed across the curve as funding conditions tightened.

“The hawkish FOMC outcome certainly adds a challenge to PBOC’s foreign-exchange policy,” BNP’s Wang said, “It will have to choose between stability and flexibility – in other words, if it wants to keep the yuan stable, the offshore yuan’s funding may have to stay tight for longer.”

–With assistance from Kartik Goyal.

(Updates with PBOC’s yuan fixing and CNH Hibor on Friday in the eleventh paragraph)

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.

The post China’s Yuan Defense Runs the Risk of Hurting Global Bond Demand appeared first on Bloomberg.

Giants defense had no answer to dominant 49ers on third down

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — It was like a slow bleed for the Giants’ defense.

Eventually the series of paper cuts became a bloody mess.

One by one, on every key 49ers drive in the Giants’ 30-12 loss on Thursday night at Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco was killing them on third down.

It began on the 49ers’ opening drive and continued all night.

The 49ers offense went 7-for-10 on third downs in the first half to keep scoring drives alive as they took a 17-3 lead.

They finished the game a more modest 9-for-16 for 56.3 percent, but the damage was done much earlier.

Similar damage happened when the Giants were on offense.

They converted just three of 12 third downs, which heavily contributed to the 49ers controlling the ball for 39:10 to just 20:50 for the Giants.

Daniel Jones reacts after throwing an incomplete pass during the fourth quarter.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“On both sides, third down was a huge [factor] in this game,’’ Giants head coach Brian Daboll said afterward. “It was a contributing factor to [San Francisco having nearly double the] time of possession. When you’re not converting third downs and you’re giving up some third downs, there’s time of possession [problems]. The defense gets tired and we’re not on the field offensively enough. So, it was a collective thing.

Daboll said that when San Francisco went 7-for-10 in the first half, “a few of them were screens where they just caught and ran. We’ve got to rally to the ball and make tackles.’’

The Giants tackling, as it was in their 31-28 win at Arizona on Sunday, was atrocious.

They could not stop 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey, who had 85 rushing yards on 18 carries, or receiver Deebo Samuel, who caught six passes for 129 yards, many of which came after first contact.

“Obviously, we need to put more emphasis on tackling,’’ Giants linebacker Bobby Okereke said. “We have a lot of missed tackles across the board at different positions. Execution-wise, guys just have to do their job, starting with me.’’

On the 49ers’ first offensive possession, Brock Purdy passed to Samuel for 14 yards on third-and-6.

Then it was Purdy to Jauan Jennings for 24 yards on third-and-8.

Deebo Samuel runs the ball during the fourth quarter.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The 49ers got a field goal out of that series.

On the 49ers third possession, which produced their first TD and a 10-3 lead, they kept a drive alive with a 30-yard catch-and-run by Samuel and then a 17-yard pass play to McCaffrey on third-and-13.

They made it 10-3 on a scoring pass to Ronnie Bell on third-and-goal from the 9-yard line.

When the 49ers took a 17-3 lead, the key play was a 12-yard pass play from Purdy to George Kittle and penalty yardage tacked when Leonard Williams was called for roughing the passer.

“I don’t know what the conversion rate was, but obviously it was bad,’’ cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said.

“We’ve got to tighten up third down,’’ safety Jason Pinnock said. “We’ve got to tackle better. It’s got to be an emphasis.’’

“They beat us on a lot of third downs,’’ defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence said. “We got them in some third-and-long and they were converting. We’ve got to be better in those situations. They were just making plays. We know we’ve just got to be better. We’ve all got to run to the ball.’’

Ransomware gang targeting defense firms, FBI warns

A five-year-old ransomware gang is upping its game against U.S. defense firms and other companies, the FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said Thursday.

A joint advisory says the Snatch group has been learning from others to improve its own ransomware, which locks up a victim’s computers until a ransom is paid, and also allows the group to steal sensitive data and threaten to post it online, a ploy called double extortion.

The five-year old group is known for innovative and stealthly work, according to James McQuiggan, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4.

“Like many other ransomware groups, they like to dwell within the networks, soaking up as much data and intel about the organization,” McQuiggan told Nextgov/FCW, a Defense One sister publication. “These actions reiterate the need for rapid threat detection and response before ransomware executes.”

The group’s members typically exploit weaknesses found in Remote Desktop Protocol and use compromised credentials to gain initial access to victims’ networks, the advisor said. They can be patient as well; the group has been seen to wait three months after the initial break-in to start stealing data.

The advisory recommends that organizations limit users’ access privileges, perform regular patching and segmentation, maintain consistent backups, regularly audit remote access tools on their networks, and review logs for execution of remote access software.

CISA and the FBI said they “strongly discourage paying ransom” and encouraged victims to report ransomware incidents to the bureau’s local field offices and the cyber defense agency’s reporting channel.

CISA and the FBI have previously released similar advisories warning about ransomware groups targeting software and networks used by federal agencies, including the ransomware gang known as CL0P, which exploited a vulnerability in the popular file transfer service MOVEit earlier this year.

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