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Joanne Henry: Can BP buy our trust for $20 billion?

Apparently trust is for sale and the U.S. has sold it to BP for $20 billion.

The oil spill in the Gulf has gone far, far beyond damage control for British Petroleum – and for us.  President Obama ‘faces’ the executives of BP today after what has been called the worst environmental disaster in US history.  (President Obama has assured Great Britain we don’t blame the country – it’s a global firm. We share that global ocean, after all.)

As BP passed the resolution to simultaneously drop their dividend (duh!) and set up a $20 billion escrow fund to provide for victims and clean-up, I’m left wondering about the price of trust.

It’s a big number. Some already say it won’t be enough.  And, if we really trusted BP to do the right thing with that money, I guess we wouldn’t be talking about a third party administrator for doling out dollars for the damages. But we are.

By agreement, Attorney Kenneth Feinberg, listed as “special master for executive pay” for the infamous TARP fund, will be the third party administering that escrow account. It wasn’t immediately clear to me the  scope of his role or, whether it is an interim step.  Will he personally be the one to decide who gets money – for what – and when? And if not, just who – or what — can we trust for that large job? It bears watching. Closely.

And as politicians walk the beaches of Florida in photo-ops today, picking through tar balls in the sand, the dead ‘canary in the mine’ telling us more is to come, I’m  wondering how long our collective attention will stay on this disaster. I can’t help but ask: when is the last time Haiti was in the top five stories in the media you prefer?

It reminds me of a definition I once heard: Integrity is what you earn for your moral actions when no one is watching. You could say the same for trust.  As always, I would prefer  to be optimistic.  But in this case,  I think we’d better keep our eyes wide open – if we can.

This post was written by Joanne Henry and originally published on Joanne Henry’s Weblog.