Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Gulf waits: Oil is plugged, but for how long?

Could This Be the End of the Oil? Play Video ABC News  – Could This Be the End of the Oil?
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A Coast Guard Cutter skims oil near the site of the Deepwater 
Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico Saturday, July 17, 2010. BP 
spokesman Daren Beau AP – A Coast Guard Cutter skims oil near the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico …

NEW ORLEANS – The Gulf Coast found itself in an odd moment of limbo Saturday: The oil has been stopped, but no one knows if it's corked for good.
The clock expired on BP's 48-hour observation period and the government added another day of critical monitoring. Scientists and engineers were optimistic that the well showed no obvious signs of leaks, but were still struggling to understand puzzling data emerging from the bottom of the sea.
It's possible the past three days will be only a brief reprieve from the flow of oil bleeding into the Gulf. Retire Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man on the crisis, decided Saturday that after the testing was complete the well would be hooked up again to ships on the surface to contain the oil.
That likely means releasing crude back into the water temporarily to relieve pressure. It would still not be gushing at the rate it had been before BP's latest fix.
It will take months, or possibly years for the Gulf to recover. But if the coast was on edge about the impending decision, it wasn't apparent.
In fact, there were signs that people were trying to get life — or at least a small part of it — back to normal.
In coastal Alabama, lounge chairs for rent outside of hotels were full and swimmers bobbed in emerald green water virtually oil-free, save for a few small tar balls.
Calls started flooding into the reservations switchboard at Kaiser Realty Inc. in Gulf Shores, Ala., almost as soon as BP confirmed Thursday that oil had stopped flowing into the Gulf, said marketing director Emily Gonzales.
"Are they what we want them to be? No, but it is far better than it was," she said.
People also were fishing again, off piers and in boats, after most of the recreational waters in Louisiana were reopened late this week. More than a third of federal waters are still closed and off-limits to commercial fishermen.
"I love to fish," said Brittany Lawson, hanging her line off a pier beside the Grand Isle Bridge. "I love to come out here."
Lawson and her boyfriend's family were catching redfish, mullet and flounder, but mostly hard-head catfish, a throwback fish. They planned to keep the catches they could take home.
"It is encouraging. We're getting bites. I mean, it's catfish. But it's bites. It's something," she said.
And even though it was only days since the oil was turned off, the naked eye could spot improvements on the water. The crude appeared to be dissipating quickly on the surface of the Gulf around the Deepwater Horizon site.
Members of a Coast Guard crew that flew over the wellhead Saturday said far less oil was visible than a day earlier. Only a colorful sheen and a few long streams of rust-colored, weathered oil were apparent in an area that was covered by huge patches of black crude weeks earlier. Somewhere between 94 million and 184 million gallons have spilled into the Gulf, according to government estimates.
Kendra Sanders was buying Creole tomatoes at a produce stand in Jesuite Bend. "At least we still got these. Until a hurricane comes along and blows the oil in here. Then it'll be no shrimp and no vegetables," she said.
The one certainty is this: No new oil has been added to the mess for two days now since BP's experimental cap was holding, at least for now.
BP began Saturday saying they were feeling "more comfortable," though Kent Wells, a BP PLC vice president, cautioned the evaluation was not over. BP and the government want to make sure the well can stay bottled in case of a hurricane, when ships would have to leave the area.
Wells said engineers glued to an array of pressure, temperature, sonar and other sensors were seeing no evidence of oil escaping into the water or the sea floor. Undersea robots were also patrolling the well site for signs of trouble.
The cameras showed some activity midday Saturday. The robots passed a wand-like object back and forth, and appeared to be digging dirt-like debris out of a pipe. Meanwhile, a glowing globe appeared on the sea floor as bubbles swirled around. BP didn't explain what they were doing, and to a viewer, it was like watching a foreign film without subtitles.
A new breach underground was a major concern going into the cap evaluation, because oil breaking out of pipes in the bedrock would be harder to control and could endanger plans for a permanent plug. That's seeming less likely, BP said.
BP shut valves in the cap Thursday, stopping the flow of oil into the Gulf for the first time since the April 20 explosion on the leased oil rig Deepwater Horizon killed 11 workers and unleashed the spill 5,000 feet below the sea.
Pressure readings Saturday morning were 6,745 pounds per square inch and rising slowly, Wells said. The figure was on the lower range, below the 7,500 psi that would have meant the well was not leaking, but still high enough that it could be all right. He said pressure continued to rise by around 2 psi per hour. A low pressure reading, or a falling one, could mean the oil is escaping.
The most likely scenario is that more oil has been bled out than estimated, experts say. Last week, when an old cap was removed allowing oil to flow unimpeded into the water, the spew wasn't as violent as it had been, which likely means it's already drained partially out.
"Depletion is actually pretty normal," said Don Van Nieuwenhuise, Director of Professional Geoscience Programs at the University of Houston. "At first it flowed very powerfully, and when you're producing too much too fast for too long, it takes longer to pull oil the oil."
Either way, the cap is a temporary measure until a relief well can be completed and mud and cement can be pumped into the broken well deep underground to seal it more securely than the cap. That means the best fix still won't be completed until later this summer.
BP is drilling two relief wells, one of them as a backup. Wells said work on the first one was far enough along that they expect to reach the broken well's casing, or pipes, deep underground by late this month. Then the job of jamming it with mud and cement could take "a number of days through a few weeks."
Until then, the limbo may continue.
Weber reported from Houston. Associated Press Writers Allen Breed in Grand Isle, La. Mary Foster in Boothville, La., and Jay Reeves in Gulf Shores, Ala., contributed to this report.

Don't Cave to Castro's Game

Friday, July 16, 2010
By Amb. James Cason in The Sun-Sentinel:

In 2003, Fidel Castro sentenced to long prison terms 75 dissidents Amnesty International said had not advocated any kind of violence. At the time, I was the chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba, and the regime charged that all of them were mercenaries of the United States.

Now, Raul Castro says they are political prisoners, and has begun to release the 52 still remaining behind bars.

Unfortunately, a measure some construed as the first step in the much-awaited thaw in the regime's relations with its own people turns out to be an effort to consolidate its power at home and abroad.

The regime wants to force them into exile, and the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who defends the regime, says the release will ensure that the European Union ends its common position predicated on substantial government reforms, and Europe's dialogue with the opposition.

Seven years ago, analysts said their sentencing to long prison terms would end Cuba's democratic opposition. Instead, the opposition continued to grow.
Tragically, hundreds of political prisoners remain in jail, and neither the Cuban nor the Spanish governments nor the Catholic Church have said anything about their possible release. Those freed owe their release to the sustained international pressure on Havana, and the steadfastness of the political opposition, which has endured all kinds of abuse.

Without the internal opposition, the engagement by the church or by foreign governments achieves nothing. Aggressive niceness has never moved dictators to make concessions; they only respond when pressured.

What is the price Cuba's freedom fighters have to pay for the release of some of their own? Will they be forced into exile? Will European diplomats snub Oswaldo Paya, Marta Beatriz Roque, Vladimiro Roca, Rene Gomez Manzano and others? Will foreign aid flow into Havana's coffers when Havana is bankrupt and Spanish companies cannot withdraw their money from Cuban banks? Will Cuba be allowed into the Cotonou tariff agreement, without having to fulfill the human rights conditions required from all others that apply for special access to European markets?

While Raul Castro talks with the Spanish and the Vatican, he refuses to engage in the most important conversation: with his own citizens and internal opponents. By leaving the opposition out, the general hopes to delegitimize them and deny them their rightful voice.Castro apologists say Cuba is reforming and there is no need for outside pressure. It's just the opposite; we should stay the course until all prisoners are released and Cuba begins serious reforms. That is the right approach, not acquiescing to the forced exile of the opposition, and certainly not rewarding the regime with millions of American tourist dollars for releasing innocent people who should not have been in prison to begin with.

Ambassador James Cason, a retired career foreign service officer, served as chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana from 2002 to 2005.

FBI Statement on Cuban Spy Sentencing

Former State Department Official Sentenced to Life in Prison for Nearly 30-Year Espionage Conspiracy

Wife of Official Sentenced to Nearly Seven Years in Prison for Her Role

WASHINGTON—Walter Kendall Myers, a former State Department official, and his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and 81 months in prison, respectively, for their roles in a nearly 30-year conspiracy to provide highly-classified U.S. national defense information to the Republic of Cuba.

The sentences, handed down today by Judge Reggie B. Walton in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, were announced by David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia; Shawn Henry, Assistant Director for the FBI's Washington Field Office; and Ambassador Eric J. Boswell, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security.

On Nov. 20, 2009, defendant Kendall Myers, 73, aka "Agent 202," pleaded guilty to a three-count criminal information charging him with conspiracy to commit espionage and two counts of wire fraud. His wife, Gwendolyn Myers, 72, aka "Agent 123," and "Agent E-634," pleaded guilty to a one-count criminal information charging her with conspiracy to gather and transmit national defense information. The defendants, both residents of Washington, D.C., were arrested on June 4, 2009, by FBI agents and have remained in custody ever since.

Both defendants have agreed to the entry of a monetary judgment against them in the amount of $1,735,054. The assets that will be forfeited to the government towards satisfaction of that judgment include the proceeds from the sale of the defendants' apartment and vehicle, and various bank and investment accounts.

"For nearly 30 years, this couple proudly committed espionage on behalf of a long-standing foreign adversary. Today, they are being held accountable for their actions. Their sentences should serve as a clear warning to others who would willingly compromise our nation's most sensitive classified information," said David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

"Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers were brought to justice not because they were careless, but because of an extremely well-planned and executed counterintelligence investigation that required the unprecedented cooperation of multiple agencies of the U.S. government tasked with protecting our national security," said Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. "Others like the Myers who are presently betraying the trust that this country has placed in them should know that they are not safe from prosecution regardless of how careful they think they are being. As with Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers, they will be caught and brought to justice."

Shawn Henry, Assistant Director of the FBI's Washington Field Office, said: "The Myers made a conscious decision to betray the United States and its citizens. The FBI, along with its partners in the U.S. Intelligence Community, will continue to aggressively pursue anyone who seeks to cause the same harm."

"Walter Kendall Myers betrayed his country. By committing acts of espionage Myers grievously violated the confidence placed in him by the U.S. Department of State and the American people. Today, he has been rightfully sentenced for crimes against our nation," said Assistant Secretary for State for Diplomatic Security Eric J. Boswell.

July 17, 2010

Welcome to Spain, suckers ...

An excellent English-language summary of some of the challenges facing former Cuban political prisoners in exile in Spain. Originally published at Babalú.

By Carlos Eire

When it comes to news from Castrolandia, which always stinks to high heaven, the deeper one digs beneath the surface, the worse the stench becomes. In the case of the recently released prisoners, the rottenness of the deal struck by Raul Castro and Miguel Angel de Moratinos and the stench generated by it, have reached toxic levels, enough to qualify as poison gas.
The Spanish newspaper ABC has revealed in a recent string of articles that the ex-prisoners are being harassed in a number of ways, almost as if the hand of the Castro regime were still pulling the strings. None of this information has surfaced yet in English-language reports.
The most significant points are these:
  1. The Spanish government has lodged the released prisoners on the outskirts of Madrid, in Vallecas, at the very remote and prison-like Welcome Hostel, which Spanish authorities use as a shelter for illegal aliens.Their isolation is easy to detect on Google Maps, which allows you to view the entire neighborhood at street level. It is a largely industrial area, and the hostel is completely surrounded by warehouses, other large industrial buildings, and vacant lots. Getting back and forth from this remote location is extremely difficult. In one of the articles, one of the wives complains about how isolated they are. Central Madrid is full of cheap hostels which cost less than the one they've been sent to. (Rooms rates at the Welcome Hostel) Come to think of it, this is double exile — not in Cuba, not really in Madrid either.
  2. The hostel at Vallecas has no private bathrooms. One of the prisoners is suffering from chronic diarrhea and has to use the bathroom constantly. He had this to say: “I don’t have the privacy that I need after being tortured for seven years in Castro’s prisons… It is very hard for me to share a collective bathroom with others, given my illness… We are not asking for a five-star hotel, only for something that meets our most basic needs.”
  3. Even though the ex-prisoners have begged to remain together,
    the Spanish government is hell-bent on splitting them up, claiming that they don't have enough resources in Madrid to take care of them. Some will be sent to Valencia, others to Malaga. And you can bet they will not lodge them in a central location. At Malaga, they will be housed at a shelter for illegal African immigrants. In Valencia, they will also be housed at a public shelter (centro de acogida).
    Julio César Galvez, one of the prisoners, had this to say: “All of us want to stay together, but I have no say about my own fate here in Spain. I am in a prison without bars.”
  4. The Spanish government has only committed to offering aid to the prisoners for 24 months. Spain has unemployment rates of over 20%. Buena suerte ...adiós.
  5. The ex-prisoners are painfully aware of the fact that they are in a “legal limbo” of sorts, since the Minister of Exterior Affairs, Miguel Angel Moratinos has classified them as “immigrants” rather than refugees. Yesterday, July 15, they asked at a news conference to be treated with more dignity. One of them, Ricardo González, said : “It is obvious that we are not criminals and that we didn’t come here because of poor economic conditions in our country; we are being persecuted for our ideas.”Another ex-prisoner, Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, said: “If the Zapatero administration has agreed to receive us in Spain, I think that they should at least have the decency of granting us the status and the living conditions that we deserve.”
So, things are really far from hunky-dory. All of these items indicate that the Spanish authorities are complicit in a very heavy-handed attempt to dilute their presence and their impact abroad, and to demoralize them and keep them out of the public eye.
Carlos Herrero at ABC apologizes to the ex-prisoners for the deal struck between Moratinos and Castrolandia, and for the way in which they have been forced into exile. Herrero points out that none of the leading lights of the Left in Spain have come forward to greet the ex-prisoners, even though they are always grandstanding about “prisoners of conscience” elsewhere. He sums up the whole deal by saying: “Welcome to Spain, anyway, and enjoy the sacred right of freedom. Our government is full of cretins, but here, at least, you can’t be thrown in jail for saying that.”
This information needs to be broadcast far and wide.
And... an international campaign needs to be mounted so the freed prisoners can all stay together.
Cuba spy gets life in prison, wife 6 years
Retired State Department analyst, 73, gave intelligence to Cuba
Saturday, July 17, 2010

WASHINGTON -- A retired State Department intelligence analyst on Friday was sentenced to life in prison, and his wife got more than six years, for spying for Cuba for nearly 30 years in a screenplay-ready tale of romance and espionage.
Walter Kendall Myers, 73, and Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 72, agreed to forfeit $1.7 million in cash and property, including all of Walter Myers' federal salary over the years. He did not have to give up a 38-foot sailboat he once said they might use in retirement to sail to the communist country.
"If someone despises the American government to the extent that appears to be the case, you can pack your bags and leave," U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said, "and it doesn't seem to me you continue to bear the benefits this country manages to provide and seek to undermine it."
It was a grim ending to the Myerses' idealistic embrace of the Cuban revolution, with one slight comfort. Handing down punishment for Walter Myers' guilty plea in November to conspiracy to commit espionage and two counts of wire fraud, Judge Walton endorsed the couple's request to be incarcerated near each other with easier access to their siblings, children and grandchildren.
The judge's sentence for Gwen Myers fell halfway between the 72 months to 90 months she had agreed to in her deal with prosecutors, for gathering and transmitting national defense information. Her lawyers cited her age, failing health -- including a heart attack since her June 2009 arrest -- and secondary role in the scheme. The couple, wearing blue jumpsuits over long-sleeved white shirts, held hands while the sentence was read.
"We did not act out of anger toward the United States or from any thought of anti-Americanism," Mr. Myers said in at 10-minute statement in seeking leniency for his wife. "We did not intend to hurt any individual American. Our only objective was to help the Cuban people defend their revolution. We only hoped to forestall conflict" between the countries.
The sentencing continues Washington's summer of serial spy intrigues. Barely a week after the United States and Russia completed the exchange of 14 agents allegedly planted in each other's country in a diplomatic maneuver reminiscent of the Cold War, the Washington couple's sentencing cast a reminder of unresolved tensions across the 90-mile-wide Straits of Florida.
Mr. Myers, an Ivy League-educated Europe specialist who made his home in Washington's diplomat-friendly precincts, began working for the State Department as a contract instructor in 1977 before joining full time in 1985 and becoming a senior analyst with a top-secret clearance in the department's sensitive bureau of intelligence and research.
But starting in 1978, the recently divorced Mr. Myers visited Cuba for two weeks and was soon recruited by a Cuban intelligence agent. When Mr. Myers spent a two-year sabbatical in South Dakota, where he was living with then-Gwendolyn Trebilcock, an aide to former Sen. James Abourezk, the agent met Mr. Myers again, and he agreed to become a spy.
Over the next three decades, the couple would communicate with Cuban handlers via shortwave radio, exchanging shopping carts in a grocery store and sending encrypted e-mails from Internet cafes. They met clandestine Cuban operatives in Brazil, Ecuador, Jamaica, Italy and Cuba via Mexico.
Mr. Myers, code-named "202," and his wife -- "123" -- never accepted money but would pass along secret information that he later said earned him several medals and a trip to meet Fidel Castro himself in 1995.
"Everything I hear about Fidel suggests that he is a brilliant and charismatic leader," Mr. Myers wrote in a journal for his 1978 Cuba visit, where he also rued the "systematic and regular murdering of revolutionary leaders" by the United States.
His enthusiasm seemed undimmed 31 years later, when he told an FBI agent posing as a Cuban contact, "Fidel is wonderful, just wonderful."
Tipped off to the presence of a Cuban spy in 2006, U.S. investigators by April 2009 tracked down Mr. Myers outside Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, where he was a part-time faculty member. It was Mr. Myers' 72nd birthday, and an undercover FBI agent posing as a Cuban intelligence emissary gave him a cigar. The gift led to a string of recorded meetings, revelations and the couple's ultimate confession and sentencing Friday, which happened to fall on Gwen Myers' 72nd birthday.
The State Department and intelligence community officials have not publicly assessed the damage done to the U.S. government by Mr. Myers.
Washington correspondent Daniel Malloy writes the "Pittsburgh On The Potomac" blog exclusively at PG+, a members-only web site of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Our introduction to PG+ gives you all the details.
First published on July 17, 2010 at 12:02 am