We dropped into Teatro Goldoni on K Street to meet Miss America 2004 Ericka Dunlap - in town to brief Capitol Hill lawmakers on her diversity-and-inclusion platform - and instead interviewed Ishaq Shahryar, who two years ago became Afghanistan's first officially appointed ambassador to the United States in 23 years.
As Miss America listened, Shahryar provided The Beltway Beat with a progress report on his homeland.
"There is light in the tunnel," he begins. "Afghanistan is a success story - we have a new constitution, we have presidential elections, we have women serving again [in government]. I'm very happy and positive about our success."
Still, Shahryar cites persistent problems, not the least being terrorism.
"Drugs remain a problem, and with them come drug lords," he says, explaining that drug lords cooperate closely with and help fund terrorists. Yet he's optimistic these problems will one day cease to exist at such levels in Afghanistan.
"After 22 years of problems, you can't turn a country around in two years," he says.
A similar scenario in Iraq?
"I don't mind saying I think President Bush was right. I connect, I support his vision toward Iraq," he says. "In the past, the United States supported dictators and puppets. Now, for the first time, you have a U.S. president who supports the people of a country."
As for critics who say the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq has diverted attention from Afghanistan, leaving its emerging democratic government vulnerable?
"It did not divert attention away from Afghanistan," he replies. "Again, I share Mr. Bush's vision. In five to 10 years, you will see this seed that Mr. Bush planted flourish into a democracy."
During his credentials presentation to Bush in June 2002, Shahryar handed the president a poem written on Sept. 15, 2001, by his 10-year-old daughter, Jahan, titled "A Land of Freedom."
A world-renowned solar scientist, inventor and businessman, he passed his diplomatic credentials in December to Afghanistan's new ambassador to the United States, Said Tayeb Jawad.
For a Southerner's take on the Democratic ticket of Sen. John Kerry and Sen. John Edwards, let's check in with Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, vice chairman of the House Republican Conference.
Sir, tell us how you really feel.
"I would rather have my president know NASCAR from a church softball game than know sauvignon blanc from brie and merlot," he begins.
Are you suggesting this pair of Johns trying to unseat George W. Bush and Dick Cheney doesn't connect with the average Joe?
"Never before has the Democrat Party chosen the first- and fourth-most-liberal members of the Senate to represent it in the presidential campaign. It is even more liberal than the disastrous Mondale-Ferraro ticket of 1984," he said, referring to Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro.
"If you think this through a minute, John Kerry scored a 97 percent liberal rating in 2003 [by the National Journal]. He beat out Barbara Boxer from California. He beat out Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton got an 89 percent liberal rating. And Ted Kennedy.
"Now, if I was to ask the good folks in Texas, well, who is the most liberal member of Congress, of the Senate, they are always going to say Ted Kennedy. Well, not so. John Kerry has the 97 percent rating, and Kennedy is sitting at a mere 88 percent, almost a moderate by John Kerry's standards," he says.
"And then Tom Daschle, a guy we like to curse quite often back home for his stances, he is at 80 percent. So here is John Kerry, 97 percent; Tom Daschle, 80 percent."
Anything else that bugs you about Kerry?
"How many guys do you know over 60 years old who know how to snowboard?" Kingston asks. "To me, if you have a guy that age and he knows how to snowboard, he has not only too much money, but he has too much time on his hands as well."
How much money is too much money?
"I do not know if my colleagues know this story, but one time Mrs. [Teresa Heinz] Kerry got some parking tickets for parking in front of a fire hydrant. Now, what would you do if you were a liberal Democrat?
"Under that circumstance, you would think, I would pay the fine. In fact, I would send a little more because I believe in government, and I want to help subsidize government," he says. "No, instead they simply moved the fire hydrant. Now . . . that is some serious money."
"Here's one apple that fell far from the tree," boasts Ann Lewis of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
"Ron Reagan, the son of former President Ronald Reagan - hailed 'father' of modern conservatism - is a candid critic of the Bush administration and will speak at the Democratic National Convention in Boston on July 27."
"Ouch, that one hurts," she says.
Speaking of hurting, the Democratic Party had better warn Virginia Democratic Rep. James P. Moran not to remind the young Reagan during the Democratic convention of his pledge to do everything in his power to remove his late father's name from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Speaking of former President Reagan and Virginia Rep. James P. Moran, it so happens that the Democratic incumbent's Republican opponent in this 2004 election year is Lisa Marie Cheney, whose husband, U.S. Navy Cmdr. David Peter Cheney - no relation to Vice President Dick Cheney - recently completed a tour aboard the new aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
In fact, Cheney stood alongside her husband on the carrier's hangar deck last summer when her husband welcomed former first lady Nancy Reagan on board for the ship's commissioning.
By her own right, Cheney is an authority on defense. She's the president of a national security firm specializing in missile defense, and if elected to Congress pledges to provide U.S. troops with the most advanced technology and equipment. She also proposes to work closely with President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on domestic security for the Washington area.
Beyond that, Cheney has made "restoring dignity" to Northern Virginia's left-leaning 8th District her campaign slogan, citing Moran's long list of personal troubles since first being elected to Congress in 1990.
It includes Moran's questionable financial dealings with people who had business before Congress, his "discriminative" statements aimed at certain segments of the community, his Sunday verbal fight with his Catholic pastor over abortion, and his rowdy if not violent behavior on Capitol Hill, including shoving a fellow member of Congress off the floor of the House.
Cheney labels the congressman "an embarrassment to all of the residents of our district."
Recent land surveys conducted by contractors to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are found to be so severely flawed by states and private landowners that Congress has been forced to intervene.
Two companion bills introduced in both houses seek to deal with disputed boundaries. A landowner would notify the agriculture secretary of a boundary in question, prompting a new land survey. If the secretary determines the boundary is in error, the land in dispute will be returned to the private property owner.
The Senate bill, which passed this week, specifically addresses a number of boundary conflicts in the vicinity of the Mark Twain National Forest, which encompasses several counties in Missouri.
"Don Ayers of Shell Knob in my district tells me that the Forest Service showed up on his property and moved his boundary by 30 feet," notes Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
"When they did that, they essentially repossessed his driveway, took part of his garage and an outbuilding on the land that he had every reason to believe he owned and clearly not only had paid taxes on, but had made improvements, including those improvements that the Forest Service said now would belong to them once that boundary line was moved."
Congress, by resolution, wished former President Gerald R. Ford a "Happy 91st Birthday" on Wednesday.
Born on July 14, 1913, Ford was a Navy lieutenant commander during World War II, almost losing his life aboard the USS Monterey in the Philippines. His ship earned 10 battle stars.
Ford later served in Congress for 25 years, including as minority leader of the House, before becoming the 38th president of the United States from 1974 to 1976, with his legacy being that of replacing Richard M. Nixon during some of the darkest hours in American history.