By Miriam Raftery
Photos by Ron Logan and Miriam Raftery
October 18, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) – Congressman Duncan D. Hunter squared off Friday night in a heated debate with Democrat Ray Lutz, a local businessman and community activist, and Libertarian Michael Benoit, also a businessman. View Two area publications described the challengers' assault on Hunter, a combat veteran. (See ECM's coverage of the challengers' assault on Hunter, a combat veteran. (View video of the full debate: http://www.copswiki.org/Common/M1071.) The lively exchange, sponsored by the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce, was held at Cuyamaca College.
East County Magazine ran a fact check on key points rasied in the debate. Scroll down to see which claims stood up to our fact-checking team’s research, which facts were fuzzy, and who told the biggest whopper.
CLAIM: Congressman Hunter said, “I am the only candidate here who has sworn off earmarks for everything, even nonprofits...” He also claimed the entire Republican party has sworn off earmarks and did not approve "a single earmark last year", then quoted Karl Rove accusing Democrats of making outlandish claims.
FACT: According to the nonpartisan website OpenSecrets.org, which analyzes data from the Federal Elections Commission, “Duncan D. Hunter sponsored or co-sponsored 10 earmarks totaling $7,870,000 in fiscal year 2010.” Hunter’s earmarks include $5.7 million for defense projects such as the Predator drone aircraft (military projects include Maryland and Pennsylvania companies as well as Poway, California), improvements to two East County freeways, the Helix Water groundwater recharge project, the Boys & Girls Club of East County (a nonprofit), and law enforcement efforts to combat gangs and drugs. See full details at: http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/earmarks.php?cid=N00029258. Whether those projects are worthy of funding we'll leave to readers to decide.
Update: After publication we received this clarification from Joe Kasper in Congressman Hunter's office. "Congressman Hunter made funding requests for FY (fiscal year) 2010 in 2009. Meaning in 2009, Congerss considers bills to fund FY 2010, starting in October. Congerssman Hunter made NO funding requests in 2010 (this year) for Fiscal Year 2011 (which already started--we are no longer in FY 2010)." Kasper added that Congress did not yet approve a budget for FY 2011 which each party has blamed on the other).
CLAIM: Lutz said that Germany built 4500 MW of solar last year alone. He wants the U.S. to dramatically boost incentives for solar production and installation nationwide to create jobs, reduce emissions and cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
FACT: The 4,500 MW is actually projected for installation this year. In 2009, Germany installed a record 3,800 MW of solar, somewhat less than Lutz stated. The previous record, 2,500 MW, was set by Spain in 2008. By contrast, the U.S. lags far behind, installing just 500 MW nationwide in 2009, of which half was in California. http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2010/06/germany-to-... To put that in perspective, the controversial Sunrise Powerlink high-voltage line is projected to carry about 1,000 MW of power. www.sunrisepowerlink.com.
CLAIM: Benoit called for legalization of hemp, noting that the Constitution was written on hemp paper. Hemp can be used for fiber, clothing, and even fueling vehicles. Hunter replied, “I don’t think we should legalize marijuana or hemp,” leading Benoit to suggest that Hunter didn’t know the difference.
FACT: Hemp produces less than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. “As with Dobermans and dachshunds, marijuana and hemp are two different breeds of the same species (Cannabis sativa),“ a Science Daily article dated September 15, 2009, stated. The article noted that marijuana contains much higher levels of up to 25%. Scientists at the University of Minnesota have now identified the genes that produce THC, the first step toward engineering a drug-free cannabis plant for hemp fiber and oil. The hemp industry’s association contends that marijuana could not be hidden among fields of cannabis, since cross-pollination would occur, reducing potency of marijuana and ultimately producing sterile plants. Hemp was once a major industrial crop in the U.S., until newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, who made a fortune off his timberlands and paper mills, spearheaded efforts to ban hemp growing in the U.S., as Benoit accurately noted. Commercial hemp production has been recently legalized in Canada, where a car that runs on hemp oil recently rolled off the production line. Thus Benoit was accurate on uses of hemp. However, he apparently was inaccurate on one point: tests have shown that the U.S. Constitution was written on parchment, though it's likely that earlier drafts were penned on hemp paper. http://www.usconstitution.net/constfaq_a8.html
CLAIM: Hunter said job losses in California has gone up 2 percentage points since the federal stimulus was passed by Congress last year. Lutz said Hunter failed to offset job losses by jobs gained, distorting the true picture.
FACT: According to the Department of Numbers, over the past year, California’s unemployment rate rose from 12.1% for the year 2009 and peaked in March 2010 at 12.6% , an increase of half a percent. It has dipped since then to 12.2% as of August 2010, the most recent month for which stats are available. The number of people unemployed in California peaked in March 2010 at 2,307,396. There are now 45,945 fewer people unemployed in the state. Thus recovery appears to be underway, albeit at a slow pace, nor do those figures include people who have given up looking for work. http://www.deptofnumbers.com/unemployment/california/ .
That trend is consistent with the national trend; nationwide the unemployment rate peaked at 10.1% last October and fell to 9.6% by August 2010. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics released in August 2010 for the prior year, “California and New York experienced the largest net employment gains. Gross job gains in the state of California increased to 843,902, while gross job losses decreased to 820,701.” Fastest growth has occurred in the green jobs sector in recent years, though that still accounts for less than 1% of total jobs in our state.
CLAIM: Benoit voiced concern over the federal deficit at $1.3 trillion and the national debt of $13.5 trillion, which he faults for “enslaving our children.” Hunter agreed on this point and blamed the problem on Democrats “in the past 23 months” since President Barack Obama took office.
FACT: The national deficit is currently $1.3 trillion. The nonpartisan site FactCheck.org has called claims that Obama is solely responsible for the current high rate “a Texas-sized whopper.” According to FactCheck, “The simple fact is that Obama inherited a federal deficit of $1.2 trillion on the day he was sworn in…” Two weeks earlier, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued its regular "Budget and Economic Outlook" document, which predicted that based on bills signed by President George W. Bush and approved by the Republican-controlled Congress (including funding two wars and the first bank bail-out bill, “The federal fiscal situation in 2009 will be dramatically worse than it was in 2008.” Not accounting for any new legislation under the next administration, “CBO estimates that the deficit this year will total $1.2 trillion, more than two and a half times the size of last year’s.”
The deficit did further increase by $100 billion under Obama, due primarily to the federal stimulus bill, which was designed to put Americans back to work similar to the New Deal under President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. Continued funding for the wars, banking reforms, healthcare reform and border security are among other expenditures included. However policies enacted by the Obama administration are predicted to begin reducing that deficit, albeit not as quickly as it rose under the Bush policies. On August 19, Reuters news service reported that “The U.S. budget deficit will hit $1.342 trillion this year, the Congressional Budget Office forecast on Thursday, down slightly from its March projection of $1.368 trillion.” As for next year Reuters added, “CBO, Congress' nonpartisan budget analyst, also forecast a $1.066 trillion deficit for fiscal year 2011, which begins on Oct. 1, up slightly from the March estimate of $996 billion.”
The national deficit should not be confused with the national debt (which includes two items: debt held by the public, defined as U.S. Treasury securities held by institutions outside the United States Government, and the "gross debt," which includes intra-government obligations (e.g., the Social Security Trust fund). The national debt stands at $13.6 trillion as of October 10, 2010 or 94% of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Some economists have contended that debt over 90% marks a dangerous threshold. On the other hand economist Paul Krugman has disputed that, stating low growth causes high debt rather than the other way around. He points out that in Europe, Japan, and the US this has been the case. In the US the only other period of debt over 90% of GDP was after World War II when "when real GDP was falling, not because of debt problems, but because wartime mobilization was winding down and Rosie the Riveter was becoming a suburban housewife," Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stated in April 2010.
The global recession and trade policies have increased debts of other nations; in fact the U.S. has the third lowest Debt to GDP ratio of the G8 Nations (when using "Debt held by the Public" as the measure). U.S. debt has a percentage of GDP has risen sharply due in large part to an exodus of manufacturing jobs overseas since enactment of free trade policies.
The current national debt of $13.5 trillion is the highest ever. When President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, the federal debt was $995 billion. Following 12 years of Republican rule under Reagan and later, George H.W. Bush (the current president’s father,) the debt had skyrocketed to a record $4 trillion. In the next 8 years, under Bill Clinton’s presidency, the situation was reversed; Clinton left office with a budget surplus in his last year (excluding interest on the debt). In fact, not since Richard Nixon has the national debt decreased under a Republican presidency. View charts of national debt figures under each presidency since Franklin Delano Roosevelt: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_debt_by_U.S._presidential_terms.
CLAIM: Lutz said the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars were started over oil. Hunter said that’s not true. He noted that Al Qaeda attacked the U.S. and believes both wars were justified in our national defense. Both Lutz and Benoit want to bring the troops home and end the two wars.
FACTS: Bin Laden was believed to be in Afghanistan after the 911 attacks on New York and Washington D.C. , protected by the Taliban. The vast majority of Congress and the U.S. public supported that war initially, though Bin Laden was never found. The Iraq War, however, is a different story. The administration’s stated reason for attacking Iraq was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, however no weapons of mass destruction were found and evidence of document falsification to justify the Iraq War were later turned up. A leaked memo revealed that “intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy” to falsify justification for the war: http://downingstreetmemo.com/memos.html and http://downingstreetmemo.com/index.html. Assertions that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda proved similarly unsubstantiated.
While it is clear the Bush administration knew that Iraq posed on weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion, the real motivation for the war remains unclear. Both President Bush and Vice President Cheney had worked in the oil industry, and disrupting Mideast oil supplies could result in greater profits for U.S. based oil companies. However there is no substantiated evidence that this was their motivation. Other potential reasons range from war profiteering by companies such as Halliburton (V.P. Cheney’s company) to securing a stronghold in the volatile Middle East for U.S. military bases.
CLAIM: Hunter said , “Thank God we have the fence in San Diego.” He attributed the border fence to cutting down drugs 90% and crime 50% in San Diego.
FACT: Overall crime has been dropping in San Diego County for the past 25 years, with the sharpest drops pre-dating the wall. This data includes only crimes indexed by the FBI and excludes drug crimes. While property crimes have dropped sharply, the county’s violent crime rate has remained relatively steady. View a chart: http://www.sdsheriff.net/documents/25yearsofcrime.pdf . The first triple section of the border fence at Smuggler’s Gulch was approved in 1996. From 1997 to 2009, property crimes Countywide dropped from 25 per 1,000 residents to about 16 per 1,000 residents, while violent crimes held steady, according to SANDAG and Sheriff’s Crime Analysis. The City of San Diego similarly saw its crime rate drop from 49.5 o 28.2 crimes per 1,000 residents from 1997 to 2009. http://www.sandiego.gov/police/pdf/UCRrates1950to2009.pdf Thus Hunter’s claim that overall crime fell sharply is true. Whether that’s due to the border fence or other factors, however, is questionable.
In writing about 2009 drops in crime, the San Diego Union Tribune reported that “The city’s continuing drop in crime is part of a nationwide trend that has prevailed despite widespread economic woes. San Diego police have credited it to such factors as better use of data to detect emerging crime trends, closer relationships with communities and renewed efforts to get gang leaders off the streets.” The border fence was not listed as a factor.
As for drug trafficking, historical data was unavailable over the weekend online for the early period predating the wall. The most recent data posted at the U.S. Justice Department http://www.justice.gov/ndic/pubs32/32765/drugover.htm indicates that there were both spikes and drops in seizures of various drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines from 2004-2007.
Apprehension of illegal immigrations in San Diego did drop from 480,000 in fiscal year 1996 to 100,000 to fiscal year 2002, a period in which enforcement personnel along the border was also increased. However illegal immigrant apprehensions roughly tripled in Arizona, suggesting border-crossers had shifted east into harsher terrain, also resulting in deaths of thousands of people who crossed the border in desert and mountain regions.
Update: Congressman Hunter's spokesman, Joe Kasper, contacted ECM after publication and said that the statistics he has used on crime rates were obtained from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). We have requested that Hunter's office provide links to the data, but have not received them.
CLAIM: Lutz stated that 25% of homeowners are underwater on their mortgages nationwide and cited this as one of the two top problems facing our nation, along with the need for jobs. Lutz called for a moratorium on foreclosures, while Hunter said there is a “false bottom for the housing market” and said that “We have to let it fall out; the market will come back again.”
FACT: According to a MoneyNews.com headline on August 9, 2010, “Nearly 25 percent of U.S. homeowners are underwater.” http://www.moneynews.com/StreetTalk/US-Homeowners-Underwater-mortgage/20... That’s 11.2 million mortgage loans as of March 31, according to the real estate research firm CorelLogic. Moreover, AOL Finance reported, 2.3 million more homeowners are on the brink of falling underwater with equity of less than 5 percent, bringing that total to 13.5 million or 28 percent of all mortgages.
Claim: Hunter said “all” top U.S. military officials have urged that don’t ask, don’t tell (DADT) not be repealed during wartime. This led to one of the testiest exchange of the evening, with Lutz asserting that “you don’t need to be straight to shoot straight.” Lutz supports repeal of DADT and suggested Hunter probably served with gays while in the military and should “get over it” regarding his opposition. Hunter fired back that his opponent was disrespectful of his service. Benoit said he wants to bring all the troops home first, then ask them their views on repeal of DADT.
Fact: Last week a judge ordered the Pentagon to stop enforcing DADT and ruled it is unconstitutional. While some prominent officials have asked that the policy be retained, many others have advocated that it be repealed—and some have shifted views.
In a letter to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this week, Defense Department lawyers warned this that a judge's order for the Pentagon to stop enforcing the ban on openly gay soldiers could “irreparably harm our military and the national security of the United States.” Rank and file military still largely oppose overturning DADT; a March 2010 poll by the Military Times asking over 3000 service members "do you favor or oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military?" resulted in 51% oppose votes, with 24% in favor and the remaining neutral or declining to answer.
But former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili (Ret) and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen spoke against the DADT policy in 2007 and advocated for gays and lesbians to serve openly. Shalikashvili noted that "Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."
In December 2007, 28 retired generals and admirals urged Congress to repeal the policy, citing evidence that 65,000 gay men and women are currently serving in the armed forces and that there are over 1,000,000 gay veterans. On November 17, 2008, 104 retired generals and admirals signed a similar statement. In an interview on CNN's State of the Union aired July 5, 2009 Admiral Mike Mullen said the policy would continue to be implemented until the law was repealed, and that his advice was to "move in a measured way... At a time when we're fighting two conflicts there is a great deal of pressure on our forces and their families." However he apparently changed his mind; testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 2, 2010, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen denounced the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
Four service chiefs did state opposition to overturining DADT, referencing in letters to the House and Senate, the need for the Pentagon working group to continue and complete its review. However Hunter's claim that all top military officials oppose repealing DADT is an exaggeration.