A: No, it is available to everyone all the time.
A: Yes, there are lots of tests before each update is manually run
My Thoughts: Here is a link to show you the Google Algorithm Change History, so you can see all new and previous updates.
A: John says it is not a penalty, it is a devaluation based on quality
My Thoughts: You need to fix all the problems then you may have to wait for the next update to reconsider all the changes you have made. Submitting a reconsideration request will be ignored for all algorithmic penalties.
A: John says Yes, It may take a long time but you can recover.
My Thoughts: There is no mention of what happens if you are a repeat offender.
My Thoughts: I have submitted many Spam reports before and these sites were doing really bad things and I never saw any results ever.
A: John says No, at the moment that is not the case. So it could be soon...
My Thoughts: It is possible in the future if a site is made aware of a link that should be removed and they do not take action they could have issues. Like sites that charge for link removal.
A: John says Yes, if your site becomes more popular and your good links far outweigh the bad ones then the algorithm will adjust.
A: No, sites that very few people see are not a priority for Google and do not effect enough rankings to be problematic.
My Thoughts: This can be a problem for very niche sites, if done with multiple domains this can cause lots of traffic loss for some sites.
A: Both are of equal value, without good quality you will likely not get links.
A: New businesses have to adverise sometimes, you can get in-touch with people to let them know about your business, you can talk to Journalists or authoritative sites.
A: Using sitemaps, RSS feeds or Atom Feeds are a very quick way.
A: John says Yes, but it is not something that happens very often.
My Thoughts: I have seen very successful negative SEO campaigns happen, so John is not seeing everything that is going on. Sites with large budgets have the means to cause lots of damage.