In the Nation

Seattle police and Army officials probe how missile launcher ended up on the street.
Seattle police and Army officials probe how missile launcher ended up on the street. (KEN LAMBERT / Seattle Times)
Posted: January 29, 2013

Social Security chief is quitting

WASHINGTON - Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue says he will step down in February after completing his six-year term. Astrue's departure gives President Obama the opportunity to name a new head to the federal government's largest program.

Astrue's term was marked by increasingly dire warnings about the long-term financial health of the massive retirement and disability program. He worked to reduce backlogs of people applying for disability claims, despite a big surge in applications since the recession.

Astrue has urged Congress to shore up the program's finances, but has not publicly endorsed any solutions. Astrue, 56, said he plans to return to his home state of Massachusetts. He did not elaborate on future plans. - AP

Missile launcher at gun buyback

SEATTLE - Seattle police worked with Army officials Monday to track down the history of a nonfunctional missile launcher that showed up at a weapons buyback program and determine whether it was legal or possibly stolen from the military.

A man standing outside the event Saturday bought the military weapon for $100 from another person there, according to Detective Mark Jamieson.

The single-use device is a launch-tube assembly for a Stinger portable surface-to-air missile and already had been used. As a controlled military item, it is not available to civilians through any surplus or disposal program offered by the government, according to Jamieson. - AP

Death penalty in 2003 wildfire

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. - A methamphetamine addict with a violent history was sentenced to death Monday for setting the 2003 Old Fire in San Bernardino County that destroyed 1,000 homes and led to five deaths.

A jury in August convicted Rickie Lee Fowler of murder and arson for the blaze, which prosecutors said he deliberately set by tossing a lighted road flare into brush at the base of the mountains on an October day when Southern California already was overwhelmed by wind-fed wildfires.

The jury recommended in September that Fowler be sent to California's death row. All five deaths were the results of heart attacks triggered by the stress of the fire, according to prosecution testimony. - AP


Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, 88, was readmitted to the hospital Monday, two days after he was released, he spokesman said. Koch is getting more treatment for the fluid in his lungs, which is causing shortness of breath. - AP

An aging dolphin that was stranded in a polluted New York canal and died was ill - with stomach ulcers, kidney stones, and parasites - and might not have survived anywhere, says a marine biologist who conducted a post-mortem exam. - AP

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