NEWS DAY | 27,000 abandoned wells in Gulf / Spy stories and assassinations / more

Shots were fired at the home where family members gathered to grieve for 16-year-old Andrew Titus, who was killed Sunday night. He was with a group of people, walking to a party about 8:30 p.m., when he was shot in the head. The Star Tribune reported:

On Tuesday, mourners had gathered inside the home of Princess Titus in the 2500 block of Thomas Avenue N. when multiple shots were fired at the home. Witnesses told police the shots came from a maroon Ford Expedition. Witnesses reported seeing men get out of the vehicle to fire; however no cartridge casings were found at the scene.

Abandoned oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico – some 27,000 in all – pose potential dangers, reports AP.

As a forceful reminder of the potential harm, the well beneath BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig was being sealed with cement for temporary abandonment when it blew April 20. BP alone has abandoned about 600 wells in the Gulf, according to government data.

There’s ample reason for worry about all permanently and temporarily abandoned wells – history shows that at least on land, they often leak. Wells are sealed underwater much as they are on land. And wells on land and in water face similar risk of failure. Plus, records show that some offshore wells have failed.

Oil company officials, predictably, insist that sealed wells should be good forever. State and federal officials report leaks and bad seals, but the bigger problem is that seals are not inspected – not when the wells are sealed and not afterward.

Companies permanently abandon wells when they are no longer useful. Afterward, no one looks methodically for leaks, which can’t easily be detected from the surface anyway. And no one in government or industry goes underwater to inspect, either.

In an unrelated story – if any oil stories can be called unrelated – the Obama administration renewed its request to be allowed to temporarily ban all new deepwater drilling. The six-month moratorium did not affect current wells, only new wells and exploratory permits. Nonetheless, the oil industry challenged the moratorium and a federal judge in Louisiana ordered that the moratorium be lifted, saying the Obama administration had not made a strong enough showing of need. The New York Times reports:

In replying on Tuesday to Judge Feldman’s order, the Interior Department, joined by the Justice Department, stated that the continued suspension of drilling was required because continued operations without new safety measures threatened irreparable harm to the marine and coastal environment across the gulf. The government also said that the BP oil spill had taxed the resources available to respond to and clean up the mess and that government and industry could not cope with a second blowout.

Russian spies, living deep undercover in the United States for decades – what was that all about?  According to BBC, the spies were told:

Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc – all these serve one goal: fulfil your main mission, ie to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and send intels

In pursuit of this goal, they constructed all-American lives:

Most of the 11 people accused by the US of spying for Russia appear to have led middle-class, all-American lives, pursuing businesses, setting up home in leafy suburbs, raising families.

The evidence so far doesn’t make the spies sound very successful – they’ve been charged with being unregistered agents of a foreign country, not actually with espionage. BBC also notes that, “Running agents as illegals under deep cover requires a huge commitment of resources and time.”

You have to wonder whether someone in the Russian spy hierarchy got tired of paying for them and tipped off the U.S. – thereby setting in motion the current dance, which looks likely to end with some exchange of prisoners.

The most interesting discussion of the spy story that I’ve heard is on this morning’s MPR Midmorning show, with Kerri Miller talking to authors of spy thrillers.

Barry Eisler (Inside Out: A Novel), an award-winning author who spent three years in a covert position with the CIA, has an interesting take on the Russian spy story. He says the intense media attention serves as a distraction from what’s really important and what people should be paying attention to.

What’s that? First, he says, the Obama administration’s assertion that assassination is a legitimate tool against even U.S. citizens, and then the current “three-tier” system of U.S. justice. He describes the system as Article III constitutional courts, and then, if the government can’t get a conviction, the use of military tribunals, and finally, if the government still can’t get a conviction, a no-charge, no-trial, no-rights permanent detention.

NATO pilots killed at least five Afghan soldiers by mistake on July 7, in the Andar district of Ghazni Province, about 100 miles southwest of Kabul, according to the New York Times. NATO officials blamed miscommunication, and an Afghan general condemned the incident, noting that this was not the first case of friendly fire deaths.

Meanwhile, Afghan companies are complaining that U.S. firms have failed to pay them for work they have done. According to the New York Times report:

The failure of American companies to pay for contracted work has left hundreds of Afghan workers unpaid in southern Afghanistan, and dozens of factories and small businesses so deep in debt that Afghan and foreign officials fear the fallout will undermine the United States-led counterinsurgency effort to win the support of the Afghan people.

An ISAF military official warned that misconduct by foreign companies was undermining the war effort and “contributing to fueling the insurgency.”

A suicide bomber attacked a crowd of Shiite pilgrims at a police checkpoint in Baghdad, killing at least 28 people on July 7. Despite deployment of 200,000 security officers in Baghdad to keep streets peaceful during the pilgrimage, more than 50 people were killed and dozens wounded in attacks in and around Baghdad on July 7.

Other attacks in Baghdad targeted homes of security officers and a police officer, killing four people.

As U.S. troops prepare to draw down to no more than 50,000 by August 31, projects are being scaled back or ended. One example, reports the New York Times, is a citywide sewage treatment project in Fallujah:

Now, after more than six years of work, $104 million spent, and without having connected a single house, American reconstruction officials have decided to leave the troubled system only partly finished, infuriating many city residents.

And, in the “It’s about time” category – President Obama appointed Dr. Donald Berwick, a Harvard professor and patient care specialist, to run Medicare and Medicaid. It’s a recess appointment, so no Senate confirmation is needed. The Berwick appointment is one of dozens of Obama appointments stalled by the threat of opposition by Senate Republicans.

“It’s unfortunate that at a time when our nation is facing enormous challenges, many in Congress have decided to delay critical nominations for political purposes,” Obama said in a statement Wednesday. “These recess appointments will allow three extremely qualified candidates to get to work on behalf of the American people right away.”

Recess appointments must be confirmed by the end of the Congressional session, or the seat becomes vacant again.

Now – what about all those vacant judicial positions?

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