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July 18, 2007

Oregon ILWU may turn back LA-LB ships

Halting, strike-threatened talks between the ILWU clerks union and officials of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have created unsustainable uncertainty among shippers. Monday, news services reported that port-bound vessels have been diverted northward, including to Oregon. But Oregon is a union stronghold. Will the ships be welcome here without a labor contract signed in California? With union leaders scheduled to huddle today with Governor Ted Kulongoski's key staffers - former AFL-CIO officials Tim Nesbitt and Chip Terhune - vessels steamed closer to Oregon ports, and industry officials waited anxiously for more information.


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State's Rainy Day Fund to be tapped soon

The public treasuries of Oregon and other states might be flush now, but one prominent government analyst said Monday that states ought to be preparing for even tougher times than they faced a few years ago. David Osborne said elected officials, agency leaders and public workers are going to have to maximize government performance on budgets that are unlikely to get help from Washington, D.C., as federal fiscal problems grow.

"For the rest of your careers, you are going to be managing in an environment of fiscal scarcity that is going to be quite severe," Osborne told a gathering of managers and others at Willamette University.

But Osborne said the looming federal crisis offers opportunities for state and local governments.

"Politically, you can get away with things in a crisis that you cannot get away with in normal times," he said. "This is making it easier to use all of the innovations and tools that we've developed in the past 20 years to squeeze more value out of our tax dollars."

As a senior partner in the Public Strategies Group, Osborne has made a name for himself in injecting elements of entrepreneurship and risk-taking into the public sector, where they have not normally been found.

His presentation distilled parts of several books he co-authored, including 1992's "Reinventing Government," 1997's "Banishing Bureaucracy," and 2004's "The Price of Government."

Mike Marsh, the deputy director for central services at the Oregon Department of Transportation, said he uses Osborne's"Reinventor's Fieldbook" in courses he teaches at Willamette's Atkinson Graduate School of Management.

"It's very practical and helps connect us to customers," said Marsh, who attended the presentation.

"By using performance, you focus on what the customer wants and share expectations about whether you can accomplish it or not. In government, sometimes we haven't made that clear."

In one example based on work his group did in Washington, Osborne said 50 percent of health outcomes can be linked with personal behaviors such as obesity, physical inactivity, and use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. But only 4 percent of health spending went to prevent or moderate those behaviors.

Meanwhile, he said, 88 percent of health spending went to access to care, although those services had less influence on health than personal behavior, the environment and genetics.

When Washington was faced with cutting health spending a few years ago, Osborne said, lawmakers ended up shielding prevention programs and primary care as a result.

Since Gov. Ted Kulongoski took office in 2003, the Legislature has attached performance measurements developed by the Oregon Progress Board to virtually all state agency budgets.

There is a risk for managers in shifting the public and legislative debate about how programs are funded with an eye toward outcomes, Osborne said.

"There is no higher level of performance than the fact that if you cannot document that your program produces results at a good price, it might go away," he said.

Osborne said federal fiscal problems center largely on an aging population and the growing costs of Medicare and Social Security, which together with Medicaid and interest payments on existing debt will consume most federal spending in a decade. He said he had no good answers for those problems.

But Osborne also said the public should care about better state and local governments.

"If we do not win that support, poor children do not get the kind of education they will need to become part of the economic mainstream, the crime rate goes up, and our air and water will get worse," he said.


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The Oregonian ad sales in freefall

The downturn in the newspaper industry is getting worse. Last fall, newspaper executives and analysts were caught by surprise by the severity of a slump that took hold last summer. Since the beginning of this year, the rate of decline in advertising revenue has accelerated. Total print and online ad revenue was down 4.8% to $10.6 billion in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to the Newspaper Association of America, compared with its full-year decline in 2006 of 0.3%.

The rate of decline in newspaper advertising revenue has accelerated since the beginning of the year. Competition from the Internet and other media has transformed the market. In addition, real-estate classifieds have plunged along with the property market. The decline, which has sent newspaper stocks into a tailspin, has prompted restructuring and consolidation, and has affected Dow Jones's talks with News Corp. and the auction of Tribune Co.

Publishers have reported sharply lower ad revenue for April and May. The depth of the downturn is expected to become clearer as many companies report second-quarter earnings in coming days. Gannett Co. plans to report today, and Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal, and McClatchy Co. tomorrow.

In the first quarter, revenue for every major ad category -- classified, national and retail advertising -- was down. The sharpest declines were for classifieds, where spending dropped 13.2% -- not so much a result of competition from the Web as of economic woes affecting certain categories of advertisers. Real-estate classifieds, until recently a bright spot for the industry, have plunged along with the property market. Auto and employment classifieds are also sinking. Financial-news outlets such as the Journal are being hurt by a slump in technology advertising.

"Right now, you've got a perfect storm," says Edward Atorino, an analyst with financial broker Benchmark Co. He predicts total ad revenue will fall 4.3% this year. The decline will be one of the steepest in history.

The newspaper industry has been suffering from slow growth for years, of course, after decades of declining readership. In the past couple of years, though, competition from the Internet -- big portals as well as free-classified Web sites such as Craigslist -- and other media has transformed anemic growth into slipping revenue.

The decline, which has sent newspaper stocks into a tailspin, has prompted restructuring and consolidation.

Publishers are putting initiatives in place to generate a larger portion of ad dollars through the Web. Still, analysts say that growth in Web revenue is beginning to slow and isn't enough to offset the decline in print.

Newspapers' online ad revenue increased 31.5% in 2006 to $2.7 billion. In the first quarter of 2007, online ad revenue increased 22.3% to $750 million. Still, online represented just 5% of the $49.3 billion in total newspaper ad revenue in 2006.

The industry outlook has colored both Dow Jones's discussions with News Corp. and the auction of Tribune Co., which decided to go private in a buyout backed by real-estate magnate Sam Zell.

The Bancroft family, Dow Jones's controlling shareholder, remains sharply divided on the wisdom of a sale, although Dow Jones negotiators reached a tentative pact with News Corp. on Monday. A major factor likely to affect the family's thinking, as it ponders the deal in coming days, is how Dow Jones would fare given the industry's gradual slide. If the family votes against the deal, it could face hurdles finding a new buyer in a world where ad dollars continue to decline.

The worsening slump has already raised questions about Tribune's ability to complete its buyout. The publisher is taking on a heavy amount of debt to go private, and some on Wall Street question whether the company will still be able to afford the extra borrowings. Tribune is among the hardest hit; its ad revenue dropped 11.8% in May.

"Our going-private transaction is on track, and the financing for it is fully committed. We anticipate closing the transaction in the fourth quarter, following FCC [Federal Communications Commission] approval, and expect to be in full compliance with our credit agreements," says Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman.

Few have escaped unscathed. Gannett, which publishes 85 daily newspapers, including USA Today, said its newspaper ad revenue dropped 6.8% in May. Ad revenue at New York Times Co.'s News Media unit -- which includes advertising generated at its media properties, but not About.com -- dropped 9.9% in May. At McClatchy, which publishes 31 dailies, ad revenue in May dropped 11.5% to $153 million. Ad spending at The Wall Street Journal was down 3.4% in May.

The Journal is being hit by an ad cutback at technology companies. But for most publishers, one of the biggest factors behind the latest slump is the real-estate market. Until recently, the booming property market had kept real-estate classifieds growing, softening the impact of lower ad revenue elsewhere. But with the market stalled, advertising is plummeting.


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July 17, 2007

Jobs tax hike will replenish Wage Security Fund

The state Bureau of Labor and Industries is ready to step in and pay some 130 workers who unexpectedly lost their jobs July 5, when Maco Wood Products of Clackamas closed. Unpaid Maco workers are eligible to recover lost wages from the state's tax-funded Wage Security Fund, which compensates employees when their company closes without enough money to cover the final paychecks.

The fund receives a small slice of employment taxes paid by Oregon employers. Claims can be filed at any Labor and Industries office. For information, call 971-673-0761 or 503-378-3292, or check the labor bureau's Web site.

Maco President Jerry MacDuffee did not return a call today seeking comment on the company's situation. Earlier this month, MacDuffee said he was forced to close the company on short notice after his lender, Bank of the West, called its loans and refused to extend additional credit.

Aaron J. Bell, an attorney representing the bank, said Maco was in default on two loans and had exceeded its line of credit.

It is unclear if Maco will be able to remain in business. A court-appointed receiver is taking stock of equipment and other company assets that secure the bank's loans.


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Edwards leads Oregon bribery contest

Democrat John Edwards is winning the Labor Union and Trial Lawyer money race in Oregon. The former Senator from North Carolina has raised about $208,000 in the state. He's followed by Democrat Hillary Clinton, with about $125,000, and Democrat Barack Obama, with about $115,000. Clinton, a senator from New York, and Obama, her colleague from Illinois, are the overall money leaders so far. She has raised $63.1 million nationwide, to his $58.9 million.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is winning the GOP money race in Oregon. According to new totals from the Federal Election Commission, Romney has raised about $326,000 in the state. The Republican is doing well in states like Oregon, with large Mormon populations.


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State lawmakers failed to tackle solar warming

I strongly agree with the July 8 online editorial from the Des Moines Register (June 30), “Another View: Energy bill chugs along, losing steam” that Congress may be dropping the ball when it comes renewable energy. Our Legislature recognized the importance of clean energy last month when it passed Oregon’s state-wide renewable energy standard. That law requires our largest utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2025.

Surprisingly, the law was supported by utilities, unions and businesses — not just environmentalists. That’s because renewable energy development creates jobs and saves money for consumers while reducing global warming pollution. In fact, the latest analysis by our two largest utilities, Pacific Power and PGE, shows that wind power is among the cheapest alternatives available — edging out fossil-fueled generation in long-range cost comparisons.

But even though over 20 states have passed renewable energy laws since 2000, the result is a tangle of requirements that make it difficult for businesses to invest. And, many states have no standard at all. Thus the need for a national law.

Rep. Darlene Hooley can make a difference in this debate. She needs to co-sponsor the Federal Renewable Electricity Standard (H.R. 969) that requires utilities across the country to generate 20 percent of their electricity from clean, renewable resources by 2020. Oregon can’t solve global warming alone.

Steve Weiss, Salem


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AFL-CIO puts GOP out of office, out-of-state

Representative John Dallum (R-The Dalles) announced today that he would be resigning as a State Representative to move to Montana with his wife Dorothy. There is no word on what the effective date of his resignation will be or who may be interested in the position. John won a hard fought battle for re-election last cycle by just a few hundred votes and was poised to run again before his surprise announcement. John we wish you luck.


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July 16, 2007

Clackamas police assist suicidal citizens

A Milwaukie woman who died during a Saturday confrontation with police shot at and narrowly missed a Clackamas County sheriff's deputy before shooting herself twice, officials said Sunday. It's the second time in the past 30 days that Clackamas County deputies have shot a person believed to be suicidal. In June, a deputy shot 24-year-old Luke L. Seal after the man came at her in a parking lot wielding two knives. The state medical examiner ruled the shooting to be suicide by police officer.

Tonya Irene Yut, 39, died at her home in Milwaukie's Oak Grove neighborhood. At least one bullet fired by a deputy also struck her. The sheriff's office has not determined which deputies at the scene fired a weapon. Jeff McLennan, an official with the Clackamas County medical examiner's officer, declined to release until today the number of bullets that hit Yut.


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Out-of-state pollutants found in local wilderness

In a frigid shelter at the top of Mount Bachelor, Dan Jaffe brushed the snow from a rough plywood table, laid out a clean tissue, and unscrewed a stainless steel fitting from one of his scientific instruments. The University of Washington-Bothell professor of atmospheric and environmental chemistry removed a 1-inch disk with a hole in the center. There, on a shiny film of grease, five dull black dots made up of tiny soot particles appeared. He passed it around for the graduate students to see.

"Some of those particles," he said, "came from Asia." At 9,000 feet at the crest of the Cascade Range, the air is some of the cleanest to be found anywhere in the United States. But each breath - especially in the spring - can suck in tiny amounts of pollution from China and elsewhere in Asia. Soot, dust and chemicals come from coal-fired power plants, cars and trucks, forest fires, desert dust storms and even wood cooking fires.

China now emits more carbon dioxide - the atmospheric pollutant that is primarily responsible for global warming - than any other nation. But scientists working on mountaintops, with computer models and with aircraft stuffed with instruments are also worried about the effects of these lesser-known pollutants here.

"One might think of these sources as small in terms of their contribution. But it's a contribution on top of what we already have," said John Spengler, professor of environmental health and human habitation at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognizes that air pollution travels great distances, said Bill Wehrum, EPA's acting assistant administrator for air and radiation.

What is not known, he said, "is how much pollution is moving over those distances, how much real impact it is having on public health downwind in the environment.

"The Europeans are asking that question about emissions from the United States. Asians are asking that question about emissions from Europe. And the United States is asking that question about emissions from Asia."

Early studies

In 1994, Jaffe was in Oslo, Norway, on sabbatical when he came across a computer model that indicated that pollutants in the Arctic were coming from China.

Back in the States, he secured a grant from the National Science Foundation to measure them. His first observatory was on Cheeka Peak, a 1,598-foot mountain on the tip of Washington's rainy Olympic Peninsula about 120 miles west of his home in Seattle.

In 1999, Jaffe took instruments to higher altitudes in airplanes flying off Washington and California. They found more pollution, particularly between 6,000 feet and 20,000 feet.

That led him in 2004 to the 9,000-foot summit of Mount Bachelor, a ski resort in the Cascade Range of Central Oregon, and to its ski lift house.

Hooded air intakes handcrafted from sheet metal lead to tiny rooms packed with instruments that measure carbon monoxide, ozone, mercury, soot and radon. Jaffe can read the instruments on his office computer, but must visit the site every few months to keep things running.

Since 2000, satellites have been able to watch dust, soot, ozone and nitrous oxides as they are blown across the Pacific at high altitudes. The dust and soot are visible. The gases show up in refracted wavelengths of light bouncing back to the satellites.

"By looking at the ratios of different pollutants, particularly carbon monoxide and mercury, we can actually say the ratio of these pollutants we are seeing here at Mount Bachelor matches the ratio of pollutants coming right out of China," Jaffe said.

"This is, in effect, a fingerprint -- a chemical fingerprint. When we see all these indicators, meteorological data, the satellite data, the pollutants fingerprint, we can be very confident these are pollutants coming across from Asia."

Staci Simonich, an assistant professor at Oregon State, also has instruments on top of Mount Bachelor. She and her graduate students are looking for things such as pesticides and PCBs, an industrial chemical outlawed in this country that causes cancer. The toxins attach to their own favorite sizes of dust and soot.

While levels are very low, "it's only going to increase from everything we know about the use of energy in those countries," Simonich said.

The spring offers prime conditions for pollution to travel from China to the United States. That's when a low pressure area forms over the east China Sea or the Sea of Japan, combined with a cold front that kicks the pollutants up into the free troposphere, the clear air above the haze you see when you take off in an airplane. The prevailing winds send the pollutants straight across to the United States.

In 2003, Jaffe and Dave Parrish of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration published a paper that found an increase in ozone over the Pacific of 10 parts per billion in 18 years.

"That's a fairly significant rate in that background air is only about 40 parts per billion and the standard is 80 parts per billion," Jaffe said. "That is going to make it harder for us to meet our own air quality standards."

And those standards likely will get tougher. On June 21, the EPA proposed lower limits for ground-level ozone, the principal component of smog, saying the current standards don't protect the public health.

Daniel Jacob, professor of atmospheric chemistry and environmental engineering at Harvard University, says that Asian emissions are growing 5 percent to 10 percent per year, and the trend is likely to continue through the next decade. He manages the GEOS-Chem computer model, developed by scientists around the world to study the effects of global emissions on U.S. air quality.

"The cars and factories we have in the United States are among the cleanest in the world, and it's difficult to make them cleaner," Jacob said. "So the question is whether we should maybe invest some basic air pollution controls in China as a more cost-effective way of dealing with some of the pollution problems we have."

The United States and the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, are working with China to increase the efficiency of energy production and boost conservation. Premier Wen Jiabao has pledged to reduce energy use against gross domestic product by 20 percent by 2010. Last year energy use fell by only 1.2 percent, short of the first phase goal of 4 percent.

Barbara Finamore, who heads NRDC's China program, said the United States has an obligation to help: "The U.S. has outsourced much of its manufacturing to China and therefore outsourced the pollution inherent in that manufacturing, and that is what is coming back to haunt us."

But it is a tremendous challenge.

"Literally, there are millions of Chinese people who don't have cookstoves who actually cook on an open fire in the home they have," EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said.

China uses twice as much energy per unit of gross domestic product as the world average and 10 times more than Japan, the world leader in efficiency. And more than half of the 800,000 deaths each year as a result of urban air pollution occur in China, according to the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, China is expected to build 140 new coal-fired power plants during the next three years, and each one will last 30 to 70 years, Johnson said. "So what they do today will have a lasting legacy."

Effect on weather

While Jaffe is focused on pollution at mountaintop elevations, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, director of the Center for Clouds, Chemistry and Climate at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., is looking higher.

He and Jeff Stith of the National Center for Atmospheric Research lead an international research team that is looking at dust and particulates blowing across the Pacific at up to 30,000 feet.

A Gulfstream-V jet jammed with scientific instruments scoops up air samples and analyzes them. The jet flies between Japan, Hawaii and Alaska, climbing from near the ocean's surface to 50,000 feet, constructing a profile of the layers of dust.

"For the first time we are following the dust," said Ramanathan. "Literally we are baby-sitting it all the way from Japan across the Pacific Ocean into North America."

Ramanathan is primarily interested in the weather and global warming ramifications of soot and dust. A study published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, based on computer models, found that tiny particles from Asia are helping to produce stronger and more frequent storms over the Pacific.

It comes back to the idea that the individual droplets of water vapor that make up clouds need a nucleus to form. Nature has always provided dust and soot from forest fires and dust storms in Mongolia; now combustion from cars and trucks, coal-fired power plants and millions of cooking fires are providing more.

At the same time, "by sheer dumb luck" pollution actually has helped reduce global warming by helping to form low-elevation clouds made of water vapor that reflect sunlight and heat back into space, said Ramanathan.

But when those tiny particles of soot rise to 25,000 feet, they help form clouds made of ice. Instead of reflecting sunlight, they act like another blanket on a cold winter night, trapping the heat of the earth.

Based on earlier measurements, 25 million kilograms to 30 million kilograms of soot floats over the Pacific, and about 75 percent of that is from Asia, said Ramanathan.

"At one point in the middle of the Pacific it looked like a wall of dust," said Ramanathan. "That's when I started to imagine it was like Genghis Khan. If he were to invade he would come behind this wall of dust.

"But we are ready for him thanks to this aircraft. We can measure it."


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July 15, 2007

Monday: Roseburg nurses picket for closed shop

Unionized Mercy Medical Center nurses in Roseburg went through another round of negotiations with the hospital Friday, in what has been a year-and-a-half process of trying to agree on a new contract. The 41st negotiating session was Friday, and ended no closer to a contract. The nurses will be holding an informational picket to garner public awareness and support for their cause from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday in front of the Roseburg hospital on Stewart Parkway.

The process has come to a halt over the issue of closed shop. The nurses' union is demanding that all of the hospital's 344 nurses be required to join the union, or pay "fair share" dues which are 85 percent of the approximately $60 union dues, per month. "Until the issue of closed shop/union representation is resolved, it doesn't appear that the other issues will be addressed," said Kathleen Nickel, the communications director at Mercy Medical Center.

Paul Goldberg, the Oregon Nurses Association union boss, said there was also a proposal that the nurses could pay the equivalent of the "fair share" to a volunteer group associated with the hospital, instead of to the union or possibly to another health care area at the hospital. Nickel said she has not yet heard of this proposal.

Other issues still unresolved are wages, benefits and retirement plans, and management rights. The hospital said it brought a new economic proposal to the negotiations Friday, which the union did not respond to in the meeting, due to the impasse on the close shop issue. The union countered that there were a few changes to the hospital's proposal, but fundamental issues had not been addressed.

Both sides are basing wages on what other hospitals pay, but the disagreement is over which hospitals. ONA says that the smaller hospitals in Cottage Grove, Coquille, and Reedsport, which average between three and 50 patients at a time, are too small and do not compete with Mercy, which averages on the order of 130 patients. These smaller ones should be taken out of the camparison pool, ONA contends.

They did agree on the nurses' step-increases in pay, according to Laura Garren, a nurse who is on the bargaining committee.

The nurses at Mercy voted to join the ONA about a year and a half ago, with about a two-thirds majority, and negotiations began in May 2006.

Kathleen Ross, a registered nurse who has been working at Mercy for 22 years, does not personally support the union.

"The union says that it is about patient safety and patient care, but I hear now that it's about closed shop, whether everybody has to join," she said. "I don't appreciate that, being coerced into paying for someone else's choices or being threatened with losing my job. Everything the union claims is about fairness, but how fair is that."

She does supports the nurses that want the union though, as long as they respect her right to choose.

"I do believe that the ONA and the group of nurses that asked them to come believed they needed representation to get what they wanted," she said. "I sympathize with them and by all means if they need it, I support them, but don't expect them to ask me to pay for it."

She says that there were some issues about patient safety that the administration began working out before the union came and that they have continued to work on with the union.

Garren, who has also been a nurse for over 20 years, says that "fair share" or closed shop is important because having all the nurses part of the union, gives it more bargaining power. Goldberg echoed her, citing why all the nurses must pay the union, not only those who want it.

"Those nurses (who don't want to be part of the union), whether they want to be represented by us, are legally represented by us... whether they want to pay dues, are the beneficiaries of our efforts," he said.


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Poll: Congress rates worse than Bush, except in Oregon

In the eyes of the U.S. public, Congress is doing even worse than the president. Public satisfaction with the job lawmakers are doing has fallen 11 points since May, to 24 percent, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll. That is lower than for President George W. Bush, who has not fared well lately, either. Bush has been taking heat over the Iraq war, his decision to spare a former top vice presidential aide from going to prison and his desire for an overhaul of immigration laws that critics said would give a free pass to illegal immigrants. His job approval rating in the AP-Ipsos survey remained virtually unchanged at 33 percent.

The 24 percent approval rating for Congress matched its previous low, which came in June 2006, five months before Democrats won control of the House and Senate due to public discontent with the job Republicans were doing.

Just two months ago, 35 percent of the public approved of Congress' work. Poll respondents from both political parties say they are tired of the fighting between Congress and the White House, and want the two branches of government to work together on such issues as education, health care and the Iraq war. "They don't approve of anything he does," Theresa Holsten, 55, a Republican, said of Congress. "He can't do anything right, according to what some people say. It irritates the living daylights out of me."

Tammy Lambirth, 42, a data researcher, disapproves of "all the fighting that they do all the time."

The latest tussle involves Bush's refusal to hand over documents and let former White House aides answer questions from the Democratic-controlled Congress about the firing of U.S. attorneys. The dispute could end up in federal court.

"The Republicans are just stonewalling everything, and the Democrats are just not stepping up and making them do what they need to do, especially about Iraq," said Lambirth, a Democrat. "They need to make our troops get out of Iraq."

While the public's approval of Congress has dropped 11 points since May, the percentage of Democrats who are turning up their noses at Congress — like Lambirth — nearly doubled. Among Republicans, though, not so much.

Approval among Democrats fell 21 points, from 48 percent in May to 27 percent.

It remained low among Republicans, at 20 percent, and has not changed significantly in the past two months.

The telephone survey of 1,004 adults was conducted July 9-11 in English and Spanish by Ipsos, an international public opinion research company. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.


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