Government + Business + Backrooms = A Dangerous Situation

Below is a letter to the editor I submitted to the Washington Post:

On Sunday, Chris Cillizza joined in criticizing Rep. Joe Blanton’s description of the Obama administration-BP deal as a “shakedown.” Although Blanton’s language and timing may have been poorly chosen, it is worth putting this backroom deal into context. A “deal” means that promises were exchanged. We should wonder what those promises were. Both the Obama administration and BP are interested in solving this PR crisis. How and when are backs going to be mutually scratched?

The last significant time the government got involved in a backroom liability deal was the famed tobacco litigation settlements. These settlements were little more than a shakedown. The deal put money in state treasuries – money that is not earmarked to help the presumed victims – and entrenched big, big tobacco’s (e.g. Phillip Morris) position in the market.

The crucial legal and moral question is how much BP is actually at fault for the spill. This question should be answered in a court of law, not in a backroom deal—and not by looking to who has the deepest pockets.


Trevor Burrus

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