Gail Pennington (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) observes:
NBC still expresses confidence that the musical dramedy, which launched to rave reviews but stumbled badly mid-run, will be just fine in Season 2. Officially, the network doesn't even acknowledge that a comeback is necessary.
"We're very excited," NBC Entertainment boss Bob Greenblatt told TV critics last month in Los Angeles. "The show, for us, was an unqualified success in its first season, and all I want to do is continue that into the second season."
The "Smash" that returns looks superficially much like the one that debuted last February, following the creation of "Bombshell," a musical about Marilyn Monroe. Barely had the idea come up when Tom (Christian Borle) wrote some music and lyrics and his best friend and partner, Julia (Debra Messing), dashed off a story. The project caught the fancy of many, including producer Eileen (Anjelica Huston) and starlets Karen (Katharine McPhee) and Ivy (Megan Hilty), and soon it was rocketing toward Broadway.
But "Smash," in the hands of playwright Teresa Rebeck, didn't quite rocket through 13 episodes.
"Smash" wasn't content to be a backstage (and sometimes front stage) saga. It also wanted to be the soapiest of soaps, with back-biting and in-fighting and sleeping around. It veered off on tangents involving Julia and her family, from a planned adoption and pot-smoking teen son to arguments over household chores. It went home to the Midwest with budding star Karen and asked viewers to care about her fights with her boyfriend and his budding political career. It threw Ivy into an affair with director Derek (Jack Davenport), who had previously tried to seduce Karen. Pill popping, poisoned smoothies, surprise pregnancy -- "Smash" had it all.
Pennington thinks the show improves with the return. But she also thinks the problem was Ellis. Nope, Ellis was a character I hated at the start but then grew to appreciate him knowing how much Ellis kept the storyline moving.
Ivy's the problem with the show.
I've seen the first episode already (I'll write about it later, after it airs) but the idea that Ivy is a victim was always a stretch. In the two-hour season opener, we get Ivy realizing she can't piss Karen off without risking being fired from the show. So she apologies.
I don't know. I never find Ivy believable.
She also apparently thinks she and Derek were on a break.
She's just ridiculous.
She also looks too old to be paired with the kids in the chorus.
Smash will rise or fall based on if they get that Ivy is not a main character.
"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Starting in England where two sides continue pleading their case before two judges -- one side insisting allegations of abuse of Iraqis can be handled internally, the other side insisting a public hearing is necessary. Laurence Lee (Al Jazeera -- link is video) reports:
Laurence Lee: The tenth anniversary of the Iraq War is fast approaching. It seems this may be the place and time when the most serious allegations against the British army may come out. It had already been officially recognized by the establishment here that sections of the army operating around Basra in southern Iraq were engaged in abuse in practices banned under international law. That all came to a head in the inquiry a couple of years ago into the death of Baha Mousa -- an innocent young hotel worker wrongly suspected by British troops of collusion with insurgents. They beat him to death. The Ministry of Defense, accused of a corporate failure to ensure standards of conduct. They're about to be accused of a lot more because lawyers now have testimonies from 180 Iraqis who say they were abused as well. The Ministry of Defense here has always insisted that abuse that did take place by British soldiers was disgraceful but that it was isolated, it wasn't systemic. Lawyers for the Iraqis have always said that they didn't believe that. Now they say, they've got the evidence to prove it. The Baha Mousa Inquiry found that soldiers were using the so-called five techniques: hooding, sleep deprivation, use of noise, wall standing and food deprivation. They'd all been banned by the British government in 1972 but somehow the soldiers knew all about them. Now lawyers acting for the Iraqi civilians want an open, public inquiry into a much wider allegations of abuse issues and the extent to which soldiers were trained in torture. A particular focus will be the treatment of long-term prisoners Claims for example of forced nudity and sexual and religious humiliation, of inmates being routinely assaulted.
Kevin Laue (human rights activist): After all this country is often critical of abuses committed abroad, rightly so. But it's hypocritical if the UK doesn't itself uphold these standards.
Laurence Lee: The establishment here portrays the armed forces as a self-less group of people prepared to commit the ultimate sacrifice in the name of protecting the weak. The Ministry of the Defense continues to insist it would rather investigate itself than have these embarrassing allegations exposed to public scrutiny. Laurence Lee, Al Jazeera, London.
Omar Karmi (The National Newspaper) adds, "According to Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, the firm representing the Iraqis, another 871 Iraqis are waiting to come forward and there are 'tens of thousands of allegations.' They range from accusations of unlawful killing, sexual abuse, food, water and sleep deprivation to mock executions, religious abuse and abuse by dogs." Press Trust of India quotes Shiner discussing how a grandmother "is led away alive . . . Seen by her husband and her son alive, then found a few hours later in a British body bag very much dead, with signs of torture. I could go on and on." RT notes, "MOD lawyers have assured the High Court that comprehensive steps are being taken to ensure that lessons are learned from the mistakes made in Iraq. However, the MOD seems intent on glossing over its past failings: in December, the ministry paid over $22 million (£14 million) in compensation to hundreds of Iraqi citizens who claimed to have been illegally detained and abused by British forces posted in the country. "
Meanwhile in Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki is stripping political rivals of their protection according to charges made to Alsumaria. Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, a leader in the Sahwa forces, told the network that he had lost his bodyguards and when he asked why he was told it was on the orders of Nouri al-Maliki. What seems to be happening is this: government forces providing protection to various politicians throughout Iraq are being ordered by Nouri to return to Baghdad out of some fear -- real or imagined -- on the part of Nouri that he's about to be overthrown.
If you're thinking, "This seems familiar," it's because it has happened before. Like a bad meal, Nouri always repeats. In March of last year, Toby Dodge explained at Open Democracy:
In order to secure his position, al-Maliki focused his energies on gaining complete control of the security services. He set about subverting the formal chain of command, tying senior army commanders, paramilitary units and the intelligence services to him personally. In doing so he ‘coup proofed’ the security forces but also politicised and personalised its chain of command. He created the Office of the Commander in Chief in 2007 and used this platform to appoint and promote senior officers who were personally loyal. As responsibility for security in each province was handed from the United States military to Iraqi control, the Prime Minister set up a number of operational commands to bring both the army and the police force together under one regional organisation. These operational commands were run by a single commanding officer who managed all the security services operating in his province. These officers are appointed and managed from a central office in Baghdad under the control of al-Maliki. The appointment of these powerful generals reflected the Prime Minister’s personal preferences. Through the use of these joint operational commands al-Maliki bypassed his security Ministers and their senior commanders and parliamentary oversight, locating control of Iraq’s armed forces in his private office.
Furthermore, in April 2007, as control of Iraq’s Special Forces was handed from the US to the Iraqi government, a Counter-Terrorism Bureau was set up to manage them at ministerial level. This effectively removed control of Iraqi Special Forces, with 6,000 men in its ranks, from the Ministries of Defence and Interior and placed them under the direct control of the Prime Minister, well away from legislative control or parliamentary oversight. This force is considered to be the best trained in the Middle East. It operates its own detention centres, intelligence gathering and has surveillance cells in every governorate across central and southern Iraq. It now forms al-Maliki’s Praetorian Guard. Since the force was removed from the formal chain of command and from legal oversight, it has become known as the Fedayeen al-Maliki, a reference to their reputation as the Prime Minster’s tool for covert action against his rivals as well as an ironic reference to Saddam’s own highly unpopular militia.
Finally, al-Maliki moved to bring Iraq’s intelligence services under his direct control. This became apparent when Mohammed al-Shahwani, the head of the National Intelligence Service, came into an increasingly public conflict with Sherwan al-Waeli, appointed by al-Mailki in 2006 to be the Minister of State for National Security Affairs. The National Intelligence Service was established by America’s Central Intelligence Agency and al-Shahwani enjoyed a long and close working relationship with Washington over many years. Al-Waeli, conversely, was considered to be al-Maliki’s man. Things came to a head in August 2009 after a series of major bombs in the centre of Baghdad. Al-Shahwani argued in the Iraqi press that there was clear evidence linking the attacks to Iran. In the subsequent fallout surrounding the incident al-Shahwani was forced to resign and delivered Iraq’s security services into al-Maliki’s grasp.
The use of Iraq’s security services to personally protect Nuri al-Maliki reached its peak at the end of March 2008. Al-Maliki believed at that time he faced a coordinated plot to unseat him. An upsurge in militia violence in the southern port city of Basra would be used as a pretext to push a vote of no confidence through the parliament in Baghdad and unseat al-Maliki as Prime Minister. To outflank this plot al-Maliki sent four divisions of the Iraqi army into Basra to seize control of the city back from the militias that were threatening his rule. The resulting military campaign almost ended in disaster and defeat. This was only avoided by the extended intervention of US troops and air support. However, al-Maliki used this eventual victory to stamp his authority on the Iraqi government and the armed forces and to reshape his political image country-wide as an Iraqi nationalist and the saviour of the country.
Toby Doge's new book is Iraq: From War To A New Authoritarianism which was released two weeks ago. From the security forces Nouri controls to the prisons and detention centers, Ayad al-Tamimi (Al Mada) reports that an MP sitting on Parliament's Security and Defense Committee is charging that Nouri is operating secret prisons including one in the Green Zone. The Green Zone prison is said to be part of the intelligence Kitabt notes that MP Hamid Mutlaalak states that the secret prisons are under Nouri's command, that they are unconstitutional and that Iraqis are being intimidated and tortured in these secret prisons and detention centers.
Today CNN's Arwa Damon
Note to all media colleagues working in
#iraq...you need permission to shoot garbage dumps...
Dropping back to yesterday's snapshot:
As we noted this morning, Nadir Dendoune, who holds dual Algerian and Australian citizenship was covering Iraq for the fabled French newspaper Le Monde's monthly magazine. His assignment was to document Iraq 10 years after the start of the Iraq War. Alsumaria explains the journalist was grabbed by authorities in Baghdad last week for the 'crime' of taking pictures. (Nouri has imposed a required permit, issued by his government, to 'report' in Iraq.) All Iraq News adds the journalist has been imprisoned for over a week now without charges.
This afternoon, the Committee to Protect Journalists finally issued a statement on the matter:
"The arbitrary jailing of a journalist is a vestige of the Saddam Hussein regime that is completely out of place in Iraq's democracy today," said CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "Nadir Dendoune should be released immediately."
The Iraqi Syndicate for Journalists condemned Dendoune's detention, calling it a violation of Iraqi law and the constitution and saying that it distorted the country's image in front of the international community.
- For more data and analysis on Iraq, visit CPJ's Iraq page here.
Protests continue in Iraq. And a new one emerges as college students make their voices heard at Diyala University. Alsumaria explains students are threatening an ongoing sit-in over what they are calling the abuse of religious symbols by a professor. Iraqiya is calling on the Ministry of Education to step in and mediate the dispute. Iraqiya is a political slate made up of various sects. Ayad Allawi heads the slate and they came in first in the March 2010 parliamentary elections. Those were the most recent elections and provincial elections are supposed to take place in April. Alsumaria notes the president of the university has identified the professor in question as a law professor and states the teacher has been stopped from teaching classes while the university investigates the situation. If you click here, you can see a photo of the protesters.
Saturday the Parliament voted to limit the three presidencies (President, Speaker of Parliament and Prime Minister) to two terms. Wael Grace (Al Mada) reported that 170 of the 242 MPs present voted in favor of the law. Ahmed Rasheed, Patrick Markey and Andrew Roche (Reuters) add, "Lawmakers from Sunni, Kurdish and Shi'ite parties voted for the law, but the legislation still needs the president's approval and will face challenges in federal court after Maliki's supporters rejected it as illegal." Yesterday Al Mada reports that the Federal Supreme Court is set to rule and is expected to rule that the law is Constitutional but that it cannot be retroactive. Meaning the law will stand but it will be said to start a policy beginning when it was passed, therefore Nouri will be able to run for a third term if he wants to.
Today the Iraq Times offers a legal article that argues an interesting point which would require a legal ruling. The argument they put forward revolves around Article 68 which is understood to state that the President of Iraq is limited to two terms. That's the interpretation of it, I've made that interpretation myself. But that's the literal, word-for-word interpretation. The Iraq Times argues that Article 68 is applied to all three of the presidencies. The three presidencies are the prime minister, the president and the Speaker of Parliament. They are interpreting Article 68 to mean the three presidencies. That's an interesting interpretation. To be applied, it would require a legal ruling.
If you look at the Constitution itself, you actually can build on -- and back up -- the argument the Iraq Times is putting forward. For example, look at Article 77's First Clause, "The conditions for assuming the post of the Prime Minister shall be the same as those for the President of the Republic, provided that he has a college degree or its equivalent and is over thirty-five years of age." If Article 77 isn't applying the conditions -- specifically Article 72's two term limitations -- then where is the prime minister's term specified? It's not. If Article 72 isn't being applied to the prime minister as well, not only is the prime minister not limited to two terms but where is the term for the prime minister defined?
I thought it was an interesting argument as I read over (and over) the Iraqi Times article but if you take the time to actually go through the Constitution applying this argument, it does get stronger and stronger. A friend who's a professor at Georgetown called about the above which was up this morning and he wanted to know why applying this "would require a legal ruling"? I said it would require a legal ruling because Nouri's State of Law would say "That's wrong!" and Iraqiya would argue differently so you'd need a legal ruling to solve the issue.
"Why?" my friend persisted. He's correct, it took me a moment to get what he was pointing out: If Nouri doesn't agree with the ruling, Nouri doesn't follow it. A court ruling wouldn't necessarily solve anything and it's equally true that the Parliament taking a stand on this could also force Nouri's hand. You can interpret the Constitution as the Iraq Times argues. How you get around that -- if both sides are deadlocked -- I don't know. Nouri's State of Law is already attacking the United Nations because UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, has been meeting with protesters in an attempt to start a national dialogue.
Staying with the power struggle but turning to the topic of oil and Iraq, last week Domain-b.com reported, "In a sign of a possible end to its dispute with America's largest oil company, Iraq's prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki met with the head of Exxon Mobil yesterday to discuss the oil giant's plans in the country." AP added, "The statement says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Exxon Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson discussed the company's activities and working conditions in Iraq." Then the Kurdistan Regional Government noted a meeting in Davos, Switzerland yesterday where KRG President Massoud Barzani and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Pilarson addressed oil exploration in the KRG. (Before Barzani arrived in Switzerland, he stopped in Germany where he visited the hospital where Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is being treated and he states Jalal's status has greatly improved.) Barzani was in Switzerland for the World Economic Conference.
What's going on?
For background and context, we'll drop back to the November 11, 2011 snapshot:
In Iraq, things are heating up over an oil deal. Hassan Hafidh and James Herron (Wall St. Journal) report, "ExxonMobil Corp. could lose its current contract to develop the West Qurna oil field in Iraq if it proceeds with an agreement to explore for oil in the Kurdistan region of the country, an Iraqi official said. The spat highlights the political challenges for foreign companies operating in Iraq" as Nouri's Baghdad-based 'national' government attempts to rewrite the oil law over the objection of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Tom Bergin and Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) offer, "Exxon declined to comment, and experts speculated the move could indicate Baghdad and the Kurdish leaders are nearing agreement on new rules for oil companies seeking to tap into Iraq's vast oil reserves." UPI declares, "The breakaway move into Kurdistan, the first by any of the oil majors operating in Iraq under 20-year production contract signed in 2009, could cost Exxon Mobil its stake in the giant West Qurna Phase One mega-oil field in southern Iraq." Salam Faraj (AFP) speaks with Abdelmahdi al-Amidi (in Iraq's Ministry of Oil) declares that the Exxon contract means that Exxon would lose a contract it had previously signed with Baghdad for the West Qurna-1 field. Faraj sketches out the deal with the KRG beginning last month with Exxon being notified that they had "48 hours to make a decision on investing in an oil field in the region." Exxon was interested but sought an okay from the Baghdad government only to be denied.
For background, context and to establish that nothing ever changes in Nouri's Iraq.
If it's me that's driving you to this madness
Then there's one thing that I'd like to say
Take a look at your life and your lovers
Nothing ever changes
-- "Nothing Ever Changes," written by Stevie Nicks and Sandy Stewart, first appears on Stevie's Wild Heart album
So last week saw Nouri bellicose and belligerent making many threats. Al Rafidayn reports that European oil companies continue to buy large amounts of oil from the KRG and all the cries of "it's illegal" from Nouri haven't stopped that from happening. Jen Alic (Christian Scientist Monitor) observes, "Reuters seems to interpret this as possible move by Exxon to drop its Kurdish holdings in return for a better deal in southern Iraq. We haven’t heard from Exxon yet, though, and Baghdad has had plenty of chances to adopt a more favorable contractual model, like the Kurds, and has not done so. It would be a major coup for Baghdad it managed to convince Exxon to quit Northern Iraq." Reuters seems to think that will happen and that it will be big for Nouri. But what makes anyone think that ExxonMobil would do something to make Nouri happy? The Iraq leases are dingo dogs with fleas. There's nothing to be gained there for ExxonMobil in dropping the valuable KRG contract to abide by the poor terms of Baghdad's contract. So if it's not in the financial interests of ExxonMobil and if all Nouri's doing is the same thing he's always done, why would this change the way ExxonMobil looks at the two deals to determine which one is more attractive? Can ExxonMobil afford to walk away from the KRG? Today, Reuters notes, "The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is negotiating with two or three major international companies to operate oilfields and expects to announce the outcome in about a month, said officials, in a move likely to further heighten tensions with Baghdad." So with the KRG continuing to be an attractive resource on the international stage, how would it benefit ExxonMobil to walk away from that? Reuters has been unable to explain that.
The tensions between Baghdad and Erbil continue. Alsumaria reports that meetings continue between the Iraq Ministry of Defense and the KRG's Peshmerga over the military stand off in the disputed areas. Kurdish MP Chuan Mohamed Taha notes the two have failed to agree on who stations troops where.
This has to do with disputed areas -- which probably means it has to do with oil -- and it has to do with the Constitution. In 2005, many -- including Nouri -- participated in drawing up Iraq's Constitution. Article 140 details how Iraq will resolve disputed regions: hold a census and a referendum. Nouri became prime minister the next year. And Article 140 was supposed to be implemented on oil-rich Kirkuk by the end of 2007.
Yet Nouri never got around to it for some reason. What's a broken oath to a Constitution, after all?
It's now 2013. And oil-rich Kirkuk still hasn't been resolved. But last year, a little past the half-way mark, Nouri created a new military force: Operation Command Tigris. He selected the commander all by himself -- despite needing Parliament to sign off on any nominee.
And he then dispatched Operation Command Tigris into Iraq. But not just any part of Iraq, mind you. No, he sent them into the disputed areas.
A new military force under Nouri's command and they're being sent into the disputed areas? To the Kurds, this looked like Nouri was attempting to 'resolve' the disputes by force. As the tensions piled on, the disputed areas were left with a military stand-off between Operation Command Tigris and the Peshmerga (the elite Kurdish force). And the continued tensions here make the KRG even more determined to hold on to Exxon Mobil.
Moving further north to the conflict between the PKK and Turkey, AFP reports today, "Turkey's Kurdish rebels will declare a ceasefire and withdraw to their bases in northern Iraq in the spring as part of a deal brokered between their jailed leader and the country's intelligence againcy, media reported on Tuesday." Aaron Hess (International Socialist Review) described the PKK in 2008, "The PKK emerged in 1984 as a major force in response to Turkey's oppression of its Kurdish population. Since the late 1970s, Turkey has waged a relentless war of attrition that has killed tens of thousands of Kurds and driven millions from their homes. The Kurds are the world's largest stateless population -- whose main population concentration straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria -- and have been the victims of imperialist wars and manipulation since the colonial period. While Turkey has granted limited rights to the Kurds in recent years in order to accommodate the European Union, which it seeks to join, even these are now at risk." Deng Shasha (Xinhua) reports that Turkey's Parliament has calculated the ongoing war with the PKK has resulted in the deaths of 35,566 people in the last three decades.
In other violence, Alsumaria reports that last night three religious scholars were shot dead in Kirkuk last night. All Iraq News notes 1 Iraqi soldier was shot dead today in Mosul. Alsumaria also notes a grenade attack on a police checkpoint outside of Tikrit which left 2 police officers injured and 1 corpse was discovered in Mosul.
Turning to the United States. Monday it was announced that Iraq War veteran Brendan Marrocco, a quadruple amputee, had received a double-arm transplant. Yesterday, he held a press conference at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Last night on The NewsHour (PBS -- link is text, audio and video), Gwen Ifill reported on the press conference.
GWEN IFILL: Sergeant Marrocco said he is already seeing signs of progress.
BRENDAN MARROCCO: I don't really have feeling or movement in the hands yet, but we will get there. I can move my elbow. This was my elbow, the one I had before. I can rotate a little bit. This arm is pretty much not much movement at all.
GWEN IFILL: His doctors cautioned it will be slow going, maybe a year or longer, before Marrocco can fully use and feel his new arms.
In the meantime, the patient played down any talk of going for a double leg transplant.
BRENDAN MARROCCO: Arms is certainly enough for me. I hated not having arms. I was all right with not having legs. Not having arms takes so much away from you out of even your personality. You know, you talk with your hands. You do everything with your hands, basically. And when you don't have that, you're kind of lost for a while.
GWEN IFILL: Marrocco said, ultimately, he hopes to swim and compete in a marathon using a hand cycle.
Gwen also spoke with a member of Brendan Marrocco's surgical team, Dr. Jamie Shores. Excerpt:
GWEN IFILL: I'm sorry to interrupt. You're talking nerves and bone and tendons and muscles and skin and another donor arm, limb. This sounds extremely complicated.
JAIMIE SHORES: Well, it's -- it is a bit complicated. But that's why we do so much in-depth planning and so much rehearsing. We want to take all the guesswork out of it to make it as safe as possible.
GWEN IFILL: Now, he said that -- today that he couldn't feel anything yet. It's been about a month since the surgery. But how long does it take for things to begin to regenerate, for feeling to be restored, for mobility to be restored?
JAIMIE SHORES: Yes, so, the mobility will probably start earlier for him because the muscles that move his elbows are his own muscles on both arms. The right arm, we're not allowing him to move very much right now because we want the -- where we put the muscles that flex the elbow and extend the elbow into the tendons that anchor into the bones of the arm that we have reattached there to heal.
But his left arm, the elbow flexors and straighteners are all his own. And so they work well.