The naming of retired Navy Adm. John McConnell to the nation’s top spy post is not sitting well with those who already see too many uniforms at the helms of U.S. intelligence agencies.

President Bush picked McConnell on Friday to be the next director of national intelligence, a relatively new position that rides herd on the 16 large and small intelligence agencies in official American spookdom. He would succeed John Negroponte.

McConnell would join Gen. Michael Hayden, who took over the CIA last spring, and retired Vice Adm. John Redd, who heads the National Counterterrorism Center. The National Security Agency is led by Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, while the Defense Intelligence Agency is run by Lt. Gen. Michael Maples.

Critics — including Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., former chairman of the House intelligence committee — say the military men might tilt too much toward the operational bent of intelligence gathering, focusing more on information geared at military missions as opposed to the more general and global perspective a civilian director might favor.

Look for this issue to be raised at McConnell’s upcoming Senate confirmation hearing.

A little-noticed detail from the hanging of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein:

During his murderous reign, Saddam decreed that those he doomed to die be handed red cards bearing the official order for execution. These were a sardonic, if grisly, play on the use of red cards in soccer games to oust players or coaches from a match for penalties.

In a gesture both symbolic and decidedly ironic, Saddam himself was given such a red card as he stood on the gallows waiting to die.

March 17 looks likely to be particularly notable this year, and not just for St. Patrick’s Day.

The anti-war group ANSWER is gearing up for a major demonstration to mark the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, which began in late March 2003.

Act Now to Stop War and End Racism — which is closely affiliated with Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general and more recently one of Saddam Hussein’s attorneys — says the march on the Pentagon will also pay tribute to the 40th anniversary of that seminal anti-war march on the seat of military might, a 1967 event that actually occurred in October.

They’re older, organized and online. Congressional staffers might want to check their server capacity as AARP, the advocacy group for older Americans, serves notice that it will publicly track and score each lawmaker’s vote on roll calls it considers critical to its 38 million members.

It will publicize through its Web site and other outlets how legislators actually voted on health care, Social Security and other issues. AARP says exit polls show that about one in four voters in the last election was a member of the influential organization.

2006 set another all-time record for wildfires in the United States. According to the National Fire Information Center, more than 9.8 million acres burned in more than 96,000 separate fires last year. Unlike in 2005 and 2004, when most of the charred land was in Alaska, last year, Texas, with 1.7 million acres, and Nevada, with 1.4 million acres, had the most land burned.

Washington’s sports scene is shuddering at the new ethics rules imposed by incoming House Dem leaders that eliminates a loophole that had allowed lobbyists to treat lawmakers to great seats at sporting events. This could prove a crusher for franchises like the Washington Wizards basketball and Nationals baseball teams, which until now could count on selling pricey seats en masse to lobbyists for home games.

The old rules categorized such ticket gifts as being worth less than $50 — making them exempt from the ban on taking presents worth more than that. Now, such gifts are to be valued equivalent to the highest-priced seats in the arena or stadium, which can run into the hundreds of dollars. The restriction applies as well to theater and concert seats.

The new House Veterans Affairs committee chairman, Rep. Bob Filner, says he wants his panel to focus on the post-battle stress that returning Iraq war veterans may be suffering. And the California Democrat says he’s also trying to determine from the Department of Veterans Affairs how many returnees have committed suicide.

While veterans’ groups see merit in that, some are saying quietly that Filner, a 12-year vet of the committee, would do well to bone up a little bit on the current state of veterans’ programs. Opining about his new post, Filner said one area in major need of fixing is the GI Bill’s education benefit, which he said had not been updated in about a decade and now pays for only about 20 percent of college costs.

Not quite right, vets groups noted. Since 2000, Congress has raised the education benefits by 65 percent — with the last update less than three months ago. Furthermore, they said, the benefits cover about 75 percent of college costs.

Nuggets from the new Statistical Abstract of the United States, courtesy of the Census Bureau:

  • Number of lighters confiscated at U.S. airports in 2005: 9.4 million.
  • College freshmen in 2005 with an A average in high school: 47 percent. In 1970, it was just 20 percent.
  • Amount of mail handled by the Postal Service in 2005: 211.7 billion pieces. In 1980, it handled 106.3 billion.
  • Average price of a gallon of milk last year: $3.24. In 2000, it was $2.79.

FYI File: Here’s the latest betting line on who will be the parties’ nominees for president in 2008, courtesy of

For the Democratic nod, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s odds are 4-5; Barack Obama, 3-1; John Edwards and Al Gore, tied at 7-2.

For Republicans, it’s Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, tied at 6-5; Newt Gingrich, 4-1; Mitt Romney, 6-1.

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