The Kindest Cuts: A Bush Family Hair Affair

President Bush's mom and dad -- former first lady Barbara Bush (aka "The Silver Fox") and George H.W. Bush (aka "41") -- yesterday helped Washington hairstylist Zahira Zahir raise almost $200,000 for schools in her native Afghanistan, where she taught English four decades ago at the Zarghona High School in Kabul.

"The Bushes are always ready to help people in need," Zahir told a $1,000-a-plate lunch crowd at the Watergate Hotel. The director of hair-care issues for the Bushes, former president Ronald Reagan, former secretaries of state James Baker and Al Haig and other notables, she's an Afghan prime minister's daughter who came here three decades ago amid political turmoil and became a U.S. citizen, learning the hair biz to support her family. "After 9-11, the Bushes were the first people to call me," she said. "They wanted to make sure I was not being threatened because I was born in Afghanistan."

The 78-year-old former president regaled the crowd with Zahira stories -- "As the stylist to the politically powerful, she knows too many secrets" -- and stoutly defended his son's foreign policy.

Inveighing against that "ruthless dictator" in Iraq as well as "the selfish voices of isolationism that want the United States to pull back from our global responsibilities," Bush confided: "I get a little annoyed when I hear people say we're not making progress in the war against terrorism. . . . We've made dramatic progress. If that weren't true, Zahira wouldn't be able to help these schools" through her nonprofit at www.zahiraschools.org.

Before lunch was served, Bush announced: "If the chef puts broccoli on the menu, I may not stay. I haven't changed my views on that dreadful floret."

The chef didn't. Bush stayed.

Bill and Hillary Clinton dined a deux at Restaurant Nora Tuesday night -- the ex-president had curry, New York's junior senator had grilled shrimp and a glass of white wine -- but when we phoned owners Nora Poullion and Steven Damato, they couldn't help talking about life in the age of Orange Alert.

"People are really scared," Damato told us yesterday when we tried to get the details of the Clinton dinner. "The whole country is suffering from depression. My employees are depressed. I was in a book club last night, and nobody wanted to talk about the book. Instead we talked about duct tape, and plastic sheeting and complained about the shortage of bottles of Evian."

Poullion, Damato's partner in life and business, said: "This has been going on too long. People come into the restaurant and the whole atmosphere is very subdued, now that everybody realizes that Washington could be target. It's a very tough time. First 9/11, then the airport was closed and now this."

We wondered how the Clintons feel, and the former president's office sent us an excerpt of his recent interview with Larry King: "If the alert is a possible terrorist attack, then at least, you know, people can look around. You'd be amazed how many things are foiled almost, not by accident, but just by alertness. . . . I think yes, it could happen, but we can't be paralyzed by it. We've got to go on."

THIS JUST IN...

* Regression analysis: Here's the latest in our ongoing investigation of why CNN star Aaron Brown played golf all weekend in Palm Desert, Calif., instead of rushing to the nearest studio to anchor his network's coverage of the Feb. 1 Columbia shuttle disaster: We hear that CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson and Washington Bureau Chief Kathryn Kross argued to the White House that Brown, who was in D.C. Jan. 29 to anchor CNN's State of the Union coverage, should be invited to President Bush's lunch for media heavies. "He is the face of CNN," both execs insisted, never mind later assertions that CNN has many faces. We're told that when the White House asked if Brown would sub for Washington anchor Judy Woodruff, who was already on the guest list, the execs replied that Brown was an add-on, not a substitution. "Aaron is our lead anchor, so we certainly put in the request," a CNN spokesperson told us yesterday. But Brown didn't get a seat at the table -- and the rest is gossip.

* CBS News veteran Bob Schieffer was feted Tuesday night by friends James and Ann Free for his memoir "This Just In," which has just hit No. 3 on the New York Times bestseller list. Among the partygoers at the Frees' Kalorama mansion were freshly minted Treasury Secretary John Snow, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and wife Linda, Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.), Sam Donaldson and Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Brand-new senator Graham quipped that folks have made some heartening discoveries about him since he ascended from the House: "My jokes are funnier and I'm better-looking."