Our Voice: Thumbs up to Oregon lawmakers for taking action against skin cancer

Oregon lawmakers passed a bill banning minors from tanning salons last week, and Gov. John Kitzhaber says he will sign it.

Last year, California and Vermont became the first states to ban minors from using indoor sun booths. More than 30 states regulate indoor tanning for minors with provisions calling for minimum ages and parental consent.

An outright ban makes more sense, especially in Oregon, which has the highest rate of death from melanoma for women in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Tanning booths, like cigarettes, cause cancer and should be off-limits to teenagers," Dr. Brian Druker, director of the Oregon Health and Science University's Knight Cancer Institute, told The Associated Press.

The analogy is apt. Allowing kids to climb into these cancer machines makes as much sense as letting them smoke.

Unscrupulous scrutiny

Thumbs down to the Justice Department for secretly obtaining two months worth of reporters' telephone records in a ham-handed search for a confidential source.

Attorney General Eric Holder defends the unprecedented move, telling reporters, "This was a very serious leak and a very, very serious leak."

Maybe so, but the administration's response is a very serious threat and a very, very serious threat to the news media's ability to uncover government wrongdoing.

The government's snooping in this case is particularly egregious on at least two counts.

First, the government didn't serve The Associated Press with a subpoena, but instead secretly obtained the records. By taking a clandestine route, the AP never got a chance to ask a judge to stop the Justice Department's probe.

In other words, one of the primary safeguards against an overly intrusive government was circumvented.

Secondly, the seizure of AP's phone records was excessively broad. Justice Department officials obtained records listing incoming and outgoing calls and duration of calls for more than 20 telephone lines used by journalists for more than two months.

The Justice Department wants to find out who leaked information to reporters about a foiled al-Qaida plot where the terrorist group planned to detonate a bomb on a plane bound for the United States.

But investigators primarily -- perhaps exclusively -- obtained records that had nothing to do with the leak.

A spokesman for Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor released a written statement, describing the move as representative of a broader "pattern of intimidation."

"Whether it is secretly targeting patriotic Americans participating in the electoral process or reporters exercising their First Amendment rights, these new revelations suggest a pattern of intimidation by the Obama Administration," Doug Heye said.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a written statement criticizing the Justice Department.

"Obtaining a broad range of telephone records in order to ferret out a government leaker is an unacceptable abuse of power," wrote Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. "Freedom of the press is a pillar of our democracy, and that freedom often depends on confidential communications between reporters and their sources."

Gift that keeps on giving

Thumbs down to Clark County commissioners in Southwest Washington for hiring GOP state Sen. Don Benton as the county's director of environmental services.

The commission's lone Democrat called it political cronyism and a lot of Clark County residents agree. They packed a recent commission meeting to protest the move.

Benton has plenty of political credentials -- he is the former head of the state Republican Party -- but no environmental credentials.

Lehman Holder, a chairman of a local Sierra Club chapter, said Benton is "no friend of our environment," the Columbian newspaper in Vancouver reported.

But here's why the hire smacks of cronyism: The new job could triple Benton's state pension when he retires, The Columbian also reported.

If the 56-year-old remained only a senator until 65, he would receive nearly $23,000 a year, according to estimates by the newspaper with assistance from county and state officials.

But Benton's new county job, coupled with his legislative job, could increase his estimated retirement benefit to almost $70,000 a year.

It pays to have friends in high places.