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North Korea: News services over the weekend suggested that North Korea might have reconsidered detonating a nuclear device. The decision-making change reportedly occurred after the recent high level meetings with the Chinese.

Comment: The NightWatch thesis is that the meetings with the Chinese leadership were less about solidarity than about obedience. Today's news leaks tend to support the hypothesis that the inept leaders in Pyongyang were directed by the Chinese to take no further action to destabilize northeast Asia.

The Chinese are dealing with Koreans, so it is not at all certain that they will comply with China's direction.

Iran: For the record. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei provided the following guidance in response to a question about whether it was sinful to use social media.

"In general, the use of social networking websites (such as Facebook, FriendFeed, Orkut, etc) is impermissible if their use entails a corrupt action (such as promoting corruption, spreading lies and false subjects) or if it creates fear of committing a sin, or if it boosts the enemies of Islam and Muslims, or if it is against the Islamic Republic's laws."

Comment: Khamenei's comment is worth noting by a Western Readership for two reasons. First is that it shows how Shi'i Muslims are expected to ask their role models for emulation - the ayatollahs -- for guidance on everyday activities ranging from eating  to using social  media.

The second reason is that the Ayatollah's response conflates fear of committing sin with violations of the laws of the Islamic Republic or just boosting the enemies of Islam. In this moral architecture, illegality and evil are the same. That means that a traffic offense or other violation of national law is a sin, just like failure to keep the Ramadan fast, for example. 

That is not how Iranian law works in daily practice, to be sure, but it is the thinking of the religious leadership and the extremely devout.  The West generally abandoned such thinking  before the Renaissance. 

Egypt:   Over the weekend, the political situation unraveled a bit more in the direction of confusion.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) indicated that it will comply with demands to dismiss the present, appointed cabinet because it does not reflect the composition of the parliament. That means that Field Marshal Tantawi, who heads the SCAF, will replace Prime Minister al-Ganzouri, whom Field Marshal Tantawi appointed, with a man more acceptable to the parliament.

However, the Nour Party, who are Islamic fundamentalists, endorsed for president Aboul Fotouh, who is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but is far from being an Islamic fundamentalist.

Comment:  Almost every day some new political development exposes the shallowness of Egyptian political insight about democracy. The Egyptians know next to nothing about self-government through elections.

To relieve social and political pressure, the Field Marshal has bowed to Muslim Brotherhood pressure to remove the current prime minister and appoint an Islamist..  

Even more confusing is the Salafist backing of Aboul Fotouh who renounced Salafism! The most conservative and devout Muslims have announced their support for a man who is a member of the Islamist nouveau riche. This is an upscale group of elitist Egyptian families who profess to be fundamentalist Muslims, but who have made millions under the Mubarak government.

Aboul Fotouh said once that he would support a woman for president of Egypt, a position no Salafist would support under any conditions.

The political situation continues to evolve and remains fundamentally unstable. It almost invites another strong man government. That government would likely be led by an Islamist.

Romania: Prime Minister Ungureanu's center right government fell last Friday from a vote of no confidence because of his program of austerity measures to comply with the cutback requirements of the International Monetary Fund.

Ungureanu's government was only two months old. The socialists said they have had enough of pension and salary cuts.

The Social Liberal Union, a left wing party led by Victor Ponta, is expected to be invited to form a new government by President Traian Basescu by 7 May. Several MPs from an ethnic minorities group are expected to back the new government together with a junior grouping UNPR - a former ally of the coalition ousted from power on Friday.

Comment: Ponta is a leftist, bordering on being a communist, who will resist or reverse austerity measures, but gradually, he says.

The Ungureanu government is the fourth or fifth government of a European state to fall because of EU or IMF demands for austerity. Non-elected bankers toppling elected governments is a new political phenomenon that is generating a powerful backlash that is emerging across Europe.

The Brussels bankers seem clueless about the nature of the threat… not the risk. The political indicators suggest they could lose everything over time, from Paris to Bucharest.

Romania, like Greece and other southern European states, has a large safety net in its grey economy. This is the combination of black market, unreported, unrecorded and informal transactions plus tax evasion. In Romania the value of transactions in the grey economy equal more than 30% of the state's GDP. In Greece its value is nearly half of GDP.

The grey economy works as a social safety net in hard times because of its elasticity in absorbing labor. This elasticity explains why there are not more riots in Bucharest or Athens. It also reinforces the leftist political leaders in resisting the austerity requirements of the international bankers.

Socialist and utopian political movements are gathering momentum in opposing membership in the European Union.

Czech Republic: The fiscally conservative Czech government late Friday survived a vote of no confidence. The issues in Prague were similar to those in Romania - austerity measures imposed by outsiders.

Comment: Measures that support the solvency of banks also seem to encourage the rise of utopian political and social movements. The bankers won a round in Prague, but the struggle is far from over.

End of NightWatch for 29 April.

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