Midday Scan: Allen as the next Elon Musk; WaMu gets off easy; OR gives up on the job hunt

Paul Allen dips his toe into the spaceflight pond; the FDIC is the lapdog of financial regulation; Oregon's jobless rate - not as good as it looks.

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Paul Allen dips his toe into the spaceflight pond; the FDIC is the lapdog of financial regulation; Oregon's jobless rate - not as good as it looks.

Soon, every billionaire is going to want one: his own space rocket. But the way that The Seattle Times' Dominic Gates presents Paul Allen's vision for a new commercial venture in space, it would be hard to avoid rooting for the hometown guy rather than snorting about rich boys and their toys.

It turns out that Allen, before he got into the pioneering stages of computer development and then combined philanthropy with business, had dreamed of being an astronaut. Gates deftly weaves in Allen's personal background, his views on cutbacks in space funding, an overview of the budding commercial space industry, and enough detail about the latest venture to provide a clear picture of the undertaking. Allen will build a huge, six-engined jet (all composite materials), using repurposed Boeing 747 systems capable of launching a rocket into orbit. First test flight for the carrier jet will be in 2015; first rocket launch: 2016. First goal: commercial service, followed by paying passengers.

Boyhood dreams aside, Allen sounds content to be a trailblazer on the business side rather than in orbit. Gates notes that he isn't in any hurry to line up behind other billionaires dishing out mere tens of millions to fly a Russian craft or even to hop on his own rocket ship: " 'I'm actually a fairly conservative guy," he said. 'Personally, I think I'm going to want to wait for a large number of those flights to happen.' "

Moving from the likeable parts of the 1 percent to the less-loved category (sub-category: enablers of the mortgage madness), Joel Connelly of SeattlePI.com takes a look at the FDIC's settlement of a suit it had brought against three former Washington Mutual execs. As Connelly sums it up, the threesome, led by ex-CEO Kerry Killinger, will together pay about $75 million, and most of that won't be their own money.

Before getting into the details, Connelly lets you know what he thinks right off: "The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is a lapdog where a rottweiler is needed, evidenced by the puny penalty imposed Tuesday on three former top executives of Washington Mutual.  The 'Friend of the Family' ranks as America's biggest bank failure."

As for the rest of us, in what could become the nation's formerly middle class, The Oregonian's Richard Read goes behind the apparently encouraging numbers on a drop in the Oregon jobless rate (to 9.1 percent) to show that, at best, the economy remains fragile. At least some of the drop comes from people giving up on their job searches.

Read writes, "November's so-called U6 jobless rate, a broader measure including discouraged job seekers and people working part time because they can't find full-time work, was 17.1 percent in Oregon and 15.6 percent nationally."

A bright spot, however, is coming for many in the Northwest if, as Danny Westneat of The Seattle Times writes, Congress can just keep itself from messing up health care reform. Westneat rather brilliantly uses the genuinely scary statistic of 1 million Washingtonians without health insurance to outline how help is on the way — though, of course, that depends on political intelligence in the nation's capital.

Before we leave the 1 percent alone for a minute, there's this thought from Westneat, as he explains the law's current provisions for expanding health coverage: "And here's the kicker: the rich will pay for much of it! Just as the street protesters have been demanding."

Want to get away from it all? Seattle attorney, urban thinker, and writer Chuck Wolfe has a fun posting on The Atlantic's Cities section about Italian hill towns, zip lines, and urbanism. There's a captivating video that might make someone decide to take a zip line cable ride. Rumor has it that the activity is possible without going to Italy, but to avoid palms so sweaty that the keyboard gets damp, we will leave it there.

Link Summary

Seattle Times, "Paul Allen space venture begins with 'largest aircraft ever constructed'"  

Seattlepi.com, "A puny penalty: Feds throw the booklet at WaMu brass" 

Oregonian, "Oregon's jobless rate decline heads lead lining: More people give up looking"

Seattle Times, "Uninsured? Help is on the way"

The Atlantic, "Reiventing cities with zip lines"


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