Freedom House: Myanmar now more free than China

Freedom House released its 2013 Freedom in the World rankings today. Over on the main site, David Kramer and Arch Puddington make some recommendations for the Obama administration's second-term prioritiesbased on the report's findings.

Overall, it's not great news, with more countries showing declines in freedom than gains for the seventh year in a row. The most dramatic improvement was probably in Libya, formerly classed among the reports "worst of the worst" but is now classified as "partly free".  Mali saw the most dramatic fall, going from "free" to "not free" thanks to this year's military coup and the Islamist takeover of much of the country.

But for my money, though it's still classified as "not free," the most eye-catching change may be Myanmar (Burma). Following this year's dramatic events, the country's political rights score improved from 7 to 6 and the civil liberties rating improved from 6 to 5 due to, as Freedom House puts it, "the successful participation of opposition parties in legislative by-elections and the continued easing of long-standing restrictions on the media, private discussion, public assembly,  civil society, private enterprise, and other activities."

The improved scores mean tha  a country that was until recently an international pariah and still partly under U.S. sanctions, is -- according to this survey anyway -- more free than the world's second largest economy.

Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images


Queen Elizabeth may have more power than we thought

Back in December, after Queen Elizabeth attended a Cabinet meeting -- the first British monarch to do so since the American revolution -- I wrote a half-serious post wondering what's actually keeping her from taking back political power.  But according to a Guardian investigation, she may already have more than most people realized: 

Whitehall papers prepared by Cabinet Office lawyers show that overall at least 39 bills have been subject to the most senior royals' little-known power to consent to or block new laws. They also reveal the power has been used to torpedo proposed legislation relating to decisions about the country going to war.

The internal Whitehall pamphlet was only released following a court order and shows ministers and civil servants are obliged to consult the Queen and Prince Charles in greater detail and over more areas of legislation than was previously understood.

The new laws that were required to receive the seal of approval from the Queen or Prince Charles cover issues from higher education and paternity pay to identity cards and child maintenance. In one instance the Queen completely vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, a private member's bill that sought to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament. She was even asked to consent to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 because it contained a declaration about the validity of a civil partnership that would bind her.

Prince Charles has been asked for consent on 20 pieces of legislation. The law gives royal family power to review laws affecting their "hereditary revenues, personal property or personal interests of the Crown," though apparently those interests have been interpreted pretty widely, as the Guardian reports that the Queen's consent has been sought for bills dealing with subjects such as corporate manslaughter and child support payments.