ThinkFast: May 24, 2006

“Iran has followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent letter to President Bush with explicit requests for direct talks on its nuclear program,” marking a “profound change” away from Iran’s long-held “taboo against contact with Washington.” In the U.S., “government experts have exerted mounting pressure on the Bush administration to reply to the letter,” without success.

The Federal Communications Commission refuses to pursue complaints about the National Security Agency’s telephone data-mining program “because it cannot obtain classified material.”

Despite Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff’s assertion that the U.S. is “much more prepared as a nation than we have ever been to confront a major hurricane,” problems remain as hurricane season approaches. “Hundreds of thousands of displaced victims from last year’s hurricanes [are] still living in more than 100,000 trailers,” efforts to effectively track supplies are “uncoordinated,” and “FEMA’s hurricane operations plan is unfinished.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.), a longtime champion of free speech, may block free speech by its board. The group is weighing new standards that state “a director may publicly disagree with an A.C.L.U. policy position, but may not criticize the A.C.L.U. board or staff.” One former board member said of the proposal: “I can’t think of anything more contrary to the reason the A.C.L.U. exists.”

Nobody is being tortured at Guantanamo Bay,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters yesterday, part of a “counter-attack against Amnesty International.” The group’s latest annual report found that U.S. policies are undermining human rights around the globe.

“The headlong, American-backed effort to arm tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and officers,” the New York Times reports, “coupled with a failure to curb a nearly equal number of militia gunmen, has created a galaxy of armed groups, each with its own loyalty and agenda, which are accelerating the country’s slide into chaos.”

Meanwhile, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq issued a human rights update yesterday that found “execution-style killings“¦ have increased during a surge of sectarian violence.” “Baghdad’s main morgue – which handles only the remains of victims of violent or suspicious deaths, not including bombing victims – issued 1,155 death certificates in April.”

The African Union, which at times has resisted having U.N. peacekeeping troops sent to curb the genocidal violence in Darfur, suggested yesterday U.N. forces should be sent “within two months to bolster a peace accord and prevent the humanitarian crisis from worsening.” (For that to happen, Sudan’s government must first approve the decision.)

Trial begins today for David Safavian, formerly the Bush administration’s top procurement official. Safavian “is charged in a five-count indictment with making false statements to Senate and GSA investigators looking into his relationship with Abramoff.

And finally: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has been performing heart surgery on the National Zoo’s gorillas. The Washington Post sets the post-surgery mood: “At 9:30 a.m., Frist opened the Senate, gripping the corners of the lectern, as he had the operating table. Across the city, rolling in a bed of hay, Kuja opened his eyes and grunted. The gorilla kept touching his tongue to his tooth. Something had changed inside of the beast while he slept. Frist smiled and spoke unremarkably from the lectern, reeking of silverback testosterone.”

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments section.