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Thursday, August 27th, 2015
3:31 pm - [LINK] "NDP in reach of majority, new poll suggests"
The Toronto Star's Allan Woods reported this morning about the exceptional strength of the NDP nationally. A NDP majority?

The Forum Research poll for the Toronto Star projects the NDP with enough support to win 174 seats in the Oct. 19 election. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals now sit in second place with 30 per cent support, while Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are losing support and have the backing of just 23 per cent of the 1,440 Canadians surveyed.

The poll, conducted on Sunday and Monday, may have captured both anger at the revelations emerging from testimony of Conservative officials at Sen. Mike Duffy’s fraud trial, as well as the recent stock market scare, which has heightened talk of a faltering Canadian economy, said Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff.

“Maybe you could say it’s a perfect storm for the Tories because they’re the ones who seem to have taken this on the chin,” he said. “We’ve said all along that if this economy goes south it’s over for the Tories. They’re in charge, they’re it and on top of that they’ve built a lot of their campaign around being great economic managers.”

Harper’s campaign headaches seem to have benefitted the NDP, which now has 54 per cent support in Quebec, 41 per cent in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and 39 per cent in British Columbia.

In Ontario, the province with the most seats in the House of Commons, Mulcair’s New Democrats lead with 36 per cent of respondents saying they would vote for the party. The Liberals are second with 33 per cent and the Tories have 26 per cent support.

[. . . In Québec], the once-dominant sovereigntist Bloc Québécois is in third place behind the Liberals and just ahead of the Conservatives, and is projected not to win any seats in the Oct. 19 vote.

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11:04 am - [PHOTO] BMV in the evening, Bloor Street West
BMV in the evening #toronto #bloorstreetwest #theannex #bmv #books #moon #evening

The silver moon shines over BMV Books on Bloor in the late evening.

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Wednesday, August 26th, 2015
9:58 pm - [MUSIC] Barry Allen of Pitchfork on the queer Grace Jones
In his "As Much as I Can, As Black As I Am: The Queer History of Grace Jones, Barry Walters describes the career and importance of Grace Jones at length, connecting her to himself and to gay history. It's superb.

ve the dancefloor of New York’s 12 West, the state-of-the-art, members-only gay disco, about to take the stage for one her first performances. The year is 1977, and no one is prepared for what’s about to hit them.

Tom Moulton, father of the dance mix and Jones’ early producer, describes the scene: “All of a sudden the spotlight hits her. She starts singing ‘I Need a Man’, and the place goes crazy. After she finishes, she goes, ‘I don't know about you, honey, but I need a fucking man!’ Talk about a room-worker. Whatever it takes. She was so determined.”

To understand the impact of this moment, one must understand a bit of history. Just a few years earlier, it had been illegal for two men to so much as dance together in New York City. With the exception of maybe hairdressers and artists, queer people risked unemployment if they merely hinted at their orientation outside the confines of gay bars and clubs, and it was in these discos that the seeds of liberation were sown. At 12 West, gay people could grasp the power of their collectivity and understand what it meant to be free.

That night, Grace Jones sang “I Need a Man” just like a man might—tough and lusty, she was a woman who was not just singing to them, but also for them, as them. She was as queer as a relatively straight person could get. Her image celebrated blackness and subverted gender norms; she presented something we had never seen before in pop performance—a woman who was lithe, sexy, and hyperfeminine while also exuding a ribald, butch swagger. In ’79, Ebony got her je ne sais quoi exactly right: “Grace Jones is a question mark followed by an exclamation point.”

Even now, her transgressive charisma remains bold. She still feels outré.

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6:26 pm - [BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • blogTO notes that someone built a lego replica of Toronto's Junction neighbourhood circa 1887.

  • Centauri Dreams notes the OSIRIS REx asteroid sample return mission's launch.

  • The Dragon's Gaze reports on the HD 219134 planetary system, just nearby.

  • The Dragon's Tales suggests nuclear fusion is getting measurably closer.

  • Joe. My. God. has more on the man who murdered a teenage girl at Jerusalem's pride parade.

  • Language Hat notes the attitude of Jabotinsky towards the Hebrew language.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the mid-19th century convergence of anti-Communist and pro-slavery attitudes.

  • Marginal Revolution looks forward to an Uighur restaurant in Virginia.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw reflects on wool.

  • Torontoist reviews all of the terrible food available at the Canadian National Exhibition.

  • Towleroad reports testimony about the terrible fates facing gay men under ISIS rule.

  • Why I Love Toronto reports on the blogger's exciting week.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the accidental release of Russia's casualty information in the Ukrainian war, with two thousand dead.

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3:42 pm - [LINK] "How Coolness Defined the World Wide Web of the 1990s"
Megan Sapnar Ankerson's article in The Atlantic from July 2014 is insightful. Back when I had a home page and plans to expand it, a curated collection of cool sites is something I wanted to have.

Summer is the ideal season to contemplate that perennial, overused, and ever-elusive concept of cool. This summer is particularly ripe, for August marks the 20th anniversary of an early web phenomenon known as “Cool Site of the Day”—or CSotD for those in the know.

If you weren’t online in the mid-1990s, you might have missed the tremendous effort devoted to curating, sharing, and circulating the coolness of the World Wide Web. The early web was simply teeming with declarations of cool: Cool Sites of the Day, the Night, the Week, the Year; Cool Surf Spots; Cool Picks; Way Cool Websites; Project Cool Sightings. Coolness awards once besieged the web’s virtual landscape like an overgrown trophy collection.

These recognitions were regarded as welcomed honors, visually stamped on the distinguished site with a graphical status icon that bestowed a mark of “quality.” Accumulate enough of these accolades and new awards.html pages would be erected to showcase the entire collection.

Maybe today’s users find the early web’s preoccupation with cool to seem little more than the juvenile boasting of Internet novices. But a closer look at sites like Cool Site of the Day, and the countless other cool directories like Netscape’s "What's Cool?" and Yahoo!'s Cool Sites listing, might actually tell us something about how and why networked technology and digital culture forged such an enduring link to the concept of cool.

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3:39 pm - [LINK] "Black to the future: afrofuturism and tech power"
Florence Okoye has a great article up at Open Democracy exploring the idea of Afrofuturism. Why can't Africa be imagined as having a shiny high-tech future?

I grew up learning that all the kids in Nigeria were geniuses. Whenever a laptop broke, our mother would shrug it off and say “Well, when we go home this summer, we’ll take it with us to Enugu. The boys there will know what to do with it.”

Fast forward to now. I'm not at all surprised to see hand-made vehicles and green blazered teenage girls showing off urine powered electricity generators, all over the Maker Faire Africa website. We’ve always been makers, even before it was cool.

Both in Africa and amongst the diaspora, the rise of affordable computers, electronics, mobile technology and access to free education, facilitated by an ever more accessible internet, are making black futurist dreams a reality.

As a young black girl who read too much science fiction, I discovered within it a striking lack of futuristic black cultures. It seemed obvious to me that this was part of an overarching association of blackness with stunted development, whether artistic, political, social or technological.

In 1990s Britain where I grew up, generally blackness was equivocated with violence and low achievement. We were too ‘street' to see the stars above. The kids of Onitsha and Enugu who could hack into networks and mend laptops by hand went ignored, the distance in geography and perception rendering them almost fictional.

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3:37 pm - [LINK] "Israel releases African refugees without a place to go"
Tomas Monzon's UPI article describes the astounding cynicism of the Israeli government. I only hope these displaced refugees can make it in Jerusalem.

Israel began releasing African refugees Tuesday from the Holot facility in its Negev desert, but the refugees are now stranded with no place to go .

A Supreme Court ruling ordered that any refugee that has been held at the facility for more than 12 months must be freed, but the interior ministry has prohibited the migrants from entering or working in the cities of Tel Aviv and Eilat. Both of these are hotspots for Africans in Israel, with many Holot detainees hailing from there.

[. . .]

One such refugee named Faisal told Haaretz that he used to live and work in Tel Aviv but since being barred from there, he has been phoning friends and strangers to try to find a place to stay but has been unsuccessful. He has no money and fears being placed back into Holot as the situations becomes messy. Another refugee from Sudan told Haaretz that he would head to Jerusalem despite not having a place to stay there. He also lived in Tel Aviv, where he worked at a hotel and a restaurant.

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3:36 pm - [LINK] "In China, a ghost town points to shifting fortunes"
The Washington Post's Simon Denyer looks at the Chinese rust belt. Northeastern China is in a bad state.

Giant skyscrapers tower unfinished and abandoned around a lake that forms the centerpiece of this new town. The wind blows through the empty hulk of what was supposed to be a multistory hotel and restaurant complex. A salesman insists that people have moved into one of the few housing complexes to be completed around the shore, but as dusk falls, only a handful of lights blink on. He offers to throw in a free car with every apartment purchased.

This is Shenfu New Town in the northeastern province of Liao­ning, built to handle the overflow from the once-booming industrial cities of Shenyang and Fushun.

“Build it and they will come,” the saying goes. But here, in China’s industrial heartland, people are leaving instead of coming.

For much of the past decade, this was China’s fastest-growing region, the home of the heavy industry that powered the nation’s rise and rode on the coattails of a construction boom unparalleled in history.

Today, China’s economy is undergoing a painful transition that has left heavy industry reeling and set investors’ nerves jangling. The stock market is crashing, and fears of an economic slowdown are spreading. In the real economy, nowhere is the brunt of that slowdown and the pain of that transition being felt as sharply as here in the northeast.

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3:33 pm - [LINK] On the migration-driven change in the supermarkets of California
In Frank Shyong's Los Angeles Times article "In Alhambra, demographic shift reaches the grocery store", the change wrought in neighbourhood supermarkets by immigration is examined at length.

As classic diners and soda fountains gave way to double-decker strip malls packed with Chinese restaurants, Margie Myers, a resident of Alhambra for 64 years, didn't say much.

She weathered friends and neighbors moving away and endured the steady retreat of English from storefront signs.

But the change she couldn't accept came in June, when the Ralphs on Alhambra's Main Street closed and was replaced by 99 Ranch, an Asian supermarket.

"I know the city's changing," Myers said. "That's just inevitable. But does it have to change our supermarket?"

Few hallmarks of demographic change generate as much controversy as the death of the neighborhood grocery store.

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3:31 pm - [LINK] "Russia Faces Reality With Prediction of Deeper Economic Slump"
Bloomberg's Anna Andrianova and Olga Tanas report on Russia's economic misery. It's worth noting, I suppose, that one reason given for Russia's interventions into Ukraine was to prevent the country suffering economic losses via Ukrainian integration with the European Union.

While insisting the worst of its recession was over, [the Russian government] cut its economic forecasts for this year and next amid the renewed plunge in energy prices and persistent sanctions over Ukraine. Economists said the revisions fell short of their estimates predicting an even deeper contraction.

Gross domestic product in the world’s largest energy exporter will fall 3.3 percent in 2015, down from an earlier projection of a 2.8 percent decline, Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said Tuesday in Kuala Lumpur, according to the Interfax news service. After hitting a “fragile bottom” in July, the economy will rebound by as much as 2 percent in 2016, from an earlier estimate of 2.3 percent growth, he said.

The earlier forecast “was from some other reality,” Olga Lapshina, head of research at Bank Saint-Petersburg PJSC, said by phone. “The Economy Ministry always tries to find something positive, even in the worst situation. They often have more a positive forecast than the market average.”

Mired in its first recession in six years, Russia is battling a new wave of oil-price weakness that’s sent the ruble to its lowest level against the dollar in seven months. Adding to the pain, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that U.S. and European sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine will stay in place for a “very long” time. Ulyukayev said penalties will remain through 2018.

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3:29 pm - [LINK] "How Silver Wrecked China"
Bloomberg View's Stephen Mihm gives his readers a useful history lesson, looking at how US silver policy in the 1930s may have plunged China into Communism.

The Great Depression was a global crisis -- almost. Every significant economy was devastated, with one notable exception: China. The reason was simple. In 1929, the U.S. and every other major nation pegged their currencies to gold. As the economic historian Barry Eichengreen has described, adherence to this standard punished countries by imposing “golden fetters” that led to crippling deflation. The fixed exchange rates of the gold standard helped transmit the monetary shocks around the world.

China, alone among the world’s major economies, operated under a silver standard in which the currency was pegged to a specific weight of that metal. This had the effect of allowing its currency to depreciate, and largely shielded it from the worst effects of the Great Depression. The economic historian Ramon Myers concluded that “China simply did not experience any national economic depression as the world depression deepened.”

As the Depression worsened in the early 1930s, the world’s biggest economies came off the gold standard, allowing them to expand their money supplies and stimulate demand. As plenty of scholars have observed, countries that did so recovered more quickly. The U.S. took the plunge in 1933, during the first year of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency.

That was the first blow to the Chinese economy, ruining the competitive advantage it possessed when all other countries remained on the gold standard. As its currency began to appreciate, making its goods more expensive in world markets, its balance of payments turned negative, and imports exceeded exports. The worst was yet to come.

In the U.S., Senator Key Pittman of Nevada was hatching a plan that would prove the undoing of China. Pittman, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, professed to be concerned that China was stuck with a silver currency that had limited purchasing power in global markets. If Pittman could drive up the price of silver, he proclaimed, China would see its purchasing power increase, enabling it to purchase more goods from the U.S.. Both countries would benefit.

China did not.

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10:55 am - [OBSCURA] Azealia Banks on Donald Trump on the cover of Time
Rapper Azealia Banks had the best response to Donald Trump's pride in his Time cover story.

Found on Tumblr, via lazy-native from doritolocostacosupreme.

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5:47 am - [PHOTO] Maneki neko on Ossington, Toronto
Maneki neko on Ossington #toronto #cats #manekineko #ossingtonavenue #ossington #statues #catsofinstagram

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Tuesday, August 25th, 2015
9:59 pm - [ISL] Jason Markusoff on watching Mike Duffy in Cavendish, PEI
In a MacLean's article, Markusoff reports on how locals are reacting to the whole Duffy affair.

As a local history book—and the local Simpsons, McNeills and Clarks—will assert, the community of Cavendish was founded by three families 225 years ago. Those are still common surnames among the roughly 250 year-round residents of this northern Prince Edward Island hamlet made famous by Lucy Maud Montgomery and her visits to a McNeill-owned farm named Green Gables.

Drawn by the Anne lore and the beaches, Cavendish swells each summer by thousands of cottagers and tourists, substantially diversifying the pool of surnames. Among them are the Duffys of 10 Friendly Lane, perhaps the most prominent residential address of this campaign after 24 Sussex.

Islanders were suspicious from the start of Sen. Mike Duffy’s insistence that he could represent P.E.I. When word got around that the P.E.I.-born, Ottawa-based broadcaster had claimed Cavendish as his primary residence, George Clark-Dunning found out which house it was from one of the McNeills. One spring day, Clark-Dunning, a retired hotelier, left his family stead to walk past Memory Lane, G. Willikers Gift Shop and Green Gables to get to the Duffy cottage. Shopping bags covered the home’s light fixtures, a telltale sign of tourists at the end of the season, he said.

As controversy gathered around their occasional neighbour, Cavendish year-rounders learned that the senator and his wife had post-facto obtained provincial driver’s licences and health cards for the island of their supposed primary residence. “To us, it was just the birthday candles on the icing on the cake,” Clark-Dunning said.

The notoriety and criminal charges haven’t made the Old Duff a summertime recluse. Weeks before his trial resumed in August and pulled him back to his once-subsidized “secondary residence,” Duffy not only attended but spoke out with concern at a public meeting about the particularly raucous and boozy aftermath of this July’s Cavendish Beach Music Festival.

Some in Cavendish remain supporters or friends, and Islanders are too genteel to make Duffy feel unwelcome during his summer stay, Clark-Dunning said. “And there are people who are standing by him in this, definitely, so if you think he’s about to be dropped into the deep fat like a good doughnut, you just smile politely and keep your mouth shut. True gentlemen just don’t get into it.”

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6:32 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Where can you live and still say you're from Toronto?"
blogTO starts an interesting debate on the borders of Canada's largest city, in the comments and on Twitter.

While abroad, nearly everyone who lives in Southern Ontario will say they're from Toronto. I've heard individuals exclaim they're from the Six when in reality they reside in London, St. Catharines and even Niagara Falls.

Since those outside of Canada probably haven't heard of the smaller towns, suburbs and municipalities within the Golden Horseshoe, it's usually acceptable to default to Toronto. Many 416-ers, however, would disagree.

This becomes even more frustrating considering the GTA boundaries aren't exactly concrete. The area's generally defined as being comprised of Toronto, York, Durham, Peel and Halton, but like the borders of east and west in Toronto and even the location of downtown, there just isn't much consensus.

Myself, I'd opt for the City of Toronto proper. The city has well-marked boundaries, after all.

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6:28 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Holding Montreal Island seats top priority for Liberals"
The Toronto Star's Chantal Hébert notes the exceptional potential weakness of the Liberals. If they fear losing seats in their Québec heartland of the island of Montréal, what prospects does the party have?

Today, according to the latest CROP poll, the party is running a dismal third across francophone Quebec, some 38 points behind the NDP.

If the federal election had been held this week the Liberals would again have been locked out of most of the province.

[. . .]

The NDP says it has also set its sights on Trudeau’s own Papineau riding. Former CBC/Radio-Canada journalist Anne Lagacé Dawson will carry the party flag in that battle.

By talking up their prospects in Papineau, the New Democrats may be getting ahead of themselves. Trudeau has established a personal connection to the riding and he did beat poor Liberal odds twice.

Still, in the last election the Bloc Québécois won 26 per cent of the votes in Papineau. If that support collapses in favour of the New Democrats — as it has been province-wide — the Liberal leader could be in trouble.

For the many federal Liberals in Quebec who saw Trudeau as a saviour at the time of his leadership victory two years ago, the first three weeks of the election campaign have been sobering ones. The party is nowhere near where it had expected to be in Quebec.

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6:25 pm - [MUSIC] "Annie Lennox says her songwriting days are over"
The Scotsman's Brian Ferguson reports.

Thank you, Annie, for the music you wrote.

Annie Lennox, one of Scotland’s most ground-breaking musicians, has revealed that her songwriting days are over.

The Aberdeen-born singer, who has sold more than 80 million albums since her breakthrough with Eurythmics more than 30 years ago, has called time just months after being honoured by her industry peers.

Lennox, whose last album of original material was released eight years ago, said she now regarded her songwriting as being “in the past tense”.

She has spoken of the pressures involved in retaining a passion for the music industry, saying: “I need to feel I have a purpose in life that’s more than just having a job.”

[. . .]

She said: “Songwriting has been a deep, deep passion for me. I needed it because I was tuned into it. I was deeply committed to that whole way of life.

“But there’s a lot of sacrifice in it, as a woman specifically. It’s a hardcore lifestyle and it’s not for everybody.

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6:20 pm - [ISL] Biman Prasad in the Fiji Times on Singapore versus Fiji
In the opinion piece "Singapore and us", one Biman Prasad notes the ways in which Fiji has fallen behind a Singapore that was once its peers. While Fiji is not as lucky as a Singapore placed in the middle of global trade routes, its ethnic conflicts definitely did hurt the island's potential.

Certain commentators in this country tend to selectively compare Fiji with Singapore. They highlight that Fiji, like Singapore, is a multi-ethnic country and they claim Fiji needs to adopt similar restrictive policies to maintain stability and achieve economic success.

On the surface, these comparisons and justifications might sound reasonable. Singapore, after all, is the third-richest country in the world, ranking behind only Qatar and Luxembourg, according to Forbes magazine 2014 top 10 richest countries in the world.

Singapore's rise to the top has been both rapid and spectacular. In the 1960s, Singapore and Fiji had a similar GDP per capita. Today Singapore is well ahead, with a GDP per capita of nearly $US55,000 ($F117,975) with Fiji's about $US4500 ($F9652). The country turned 50 just recently and it is justifiably proud of its achievements.

Some political opportunists and journalists tell us that to emulate Singapore's success, we need, among other things, a restrictive media law. This a pie in the sky theory. While there are many things that Fiji can learn from Singapore, there are some things our country does not need to emulate or adopt. This becomes clear when we look at Singapore in greater detail.

[. . .]

It was able to transform itself from a slum with a per capita income of $US500 ($F1066) in 1965 to $US55,000 ($F117,975) today. This means that if one were to divide the total value of its output with the total population, every individual in Singapore today is worth $US55,000 ($F117,975). Singapore progressed faster than many other countries at a similar level of development in 1965. It has been able to improve living standards of its people through better health, better housing, better education and employment opportunities for all its people.

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6:17 pm - [LINK] "Bitcoins gaining traction around the Black Sea"
I'm skeptical of this EconoTimes report, but it does not seem implausible that countries bordering the Black Sea--technologically advanced, but legally insecure--might resort to the use of bitcoins.

According to a latest report by Bravenewcoin, countries in the region, collectively known as the 'Black Sea Basin,' is experiencing rapid growth in both bitcoin adoption, and infrastructure. There are over 13,600 locations to buy bitcoin in person in the region.

It's not at all apparent when looking at an ATM placement map, such as Coin ATM Radar, how densely populated these areas are with shops and machines that will sell bitcoins for the local currency.

Such websites only list bitcoin-focused ATM machines, not multipurpose kiosks, nor shops where you can go to the counter and purchase bitcoins from the clerk. If you could include these kinds of shops and machines, which are every bit as good at selling bitcoins as a bitcoin ATM, then it's clear that countries in eastern Europe have an extraordinarily high degree of bitcoin access.

Some of the biggest payment Kiosk companies include the IBOX in the Ukraine, JSC Nova in Georgia and Zebra Pay in Romania, the report said. Striking agreements to add Bitcoin exchange applications to these kiosks, in one or both directions, has so far been an easy job for local Bitcoin entrepreneurs.

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6:14 pm - [LINK] "Putin’s Free-Trade Bloc Frays as Ex-Soviet Satellites Spar"
Bloomberg's Nariman Gizitdinov and Anthony Halpin note that ongoing currency wars in the Eurasian Economic Union, specifically between Russia and Kazakhstan, promise to undermine the already shaken basis for post-Soviet integration.

Kazakhstan sent its currency lower last week after businesses complained that Russian companies had flooded domestic markets with cheaper goods. In Belarus, the Eurasian Economic Union’s last founding member, the nation’s trade deficit with Russia widened by a quarter last year.

Putin’s vision for his ex-Soviet trading bloc, already curtailed by the war in Ukraine, is suffering widening divisions among members as oil prices and sanctions weaken the ruble and shrink Russia’s economy. Already wary of Russia’s dominant role, the reaction to some of its companies’ actions risks damaging the union’s goal of closer integration.

“Because of the creation of a united economic zone, Kazakhstan and Russia, especially metals producers, entered into a trade war,” Vladimir Kim, majority shareholder of London-listed KAZ Minerals, said as entrepreneurs met Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev after Thursday’s devaluation.

The ruble is the past year’s worst performer against the dollar, sinking 49 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Belarus’s ruble has tumbled more than a third, losing 4.9 percent on Monday alone, while the currencies of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, the Eurasian Economic Union’s two newest members, have lost 15 percent and 16 percent.

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