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Shipyard deal shows power of Chinese influence

Re: Chinese shipper leasing U.S. base with assist from Clinton, March 9.

As an ordinary citizen interested in the welfare of our country, and reading in the press of the hundreds of thousands of dollars given to the Clinton re-election campaign by the Chinese government and its many interests, the question in my mind was: Why?

I received a partial answer after reading a March 9 story about COSCO, the China Ocean Shipping Co., the official Chinese merchant marine, being awarded a contract to lease the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, a $300-million facility.

For many years before my retirement in Florida, I operated a marine construction company in Long Beach Harbor, and I'm well acquainted with the naval shipyard. I'm also aware of the normal method of awarding a contract, which is by competitive bidding; this was not done in this case. Officials of COSCO were entertained in the White House, and at least on two occasions President Clinton intervened with officials of Long Beach in favor of COSCO. A letter from the mayor of Long Beach, Beverly O'Neill, to President Clinton, thanking him for his "personal intervention," says it all.

COSCO has a shady international reputation. One of its ships was used in an attempt to smuggle 2,000 AK-47 assault rifles into Oakland, Calif., in 1996. Last December, it was a COSCO ship that rammed into a boardwalk in New Orleans, injuring 116 people. The company was also fined $400,000 in 1992 to settle allegations that it violated U.S. law by paying kickbacks to shippers. They have 600 ships worldwide and have been involved in numerous other violations.

Long Beach Heritage, a cultural preservation group, and several local organizations that sued to block the contract won a partial victory recently when a judge ordered the city to reconsider the contract. But with the White House appointing federal judges and Clinton personally pushing for the Chinese contracts, and in spite of objections by top U.S. security officials, the outcome is hardly in doubt.

Money talks, especially in politics _ even if it is Chinese money.

Lloyd Clark, South Pasadena

For a national sales tax

I agree with Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., that we should ditch the income tax and instead have a national sales tax.

It would be easy to administer and bring in as much as the income tax does now. People involved in the underground economy would pay when they spent their money. A sales tax would get rid of the 17,000-page IRS code and most of the Internal Revenue Service. Currently, it has a $9-billion budget and it is estimated to fail to collect $135-billion! With a national sales tax for individuals, the IRS would only be left to collect corporate tax.

And with a new IRS setup, hopefully we could get a review and reversal of the decision that Scientology is a religion instead of a profit-seeking business!

Frank S. Tyler, Clearwater

Take a hard line on sports deals

Re: No to the NFL, March 2.

Although South Boston's decision not to build a stadium for the New England Patriots may be subject to debate on the merits, more communities should follow South Boston's lead and take a hard look at the deals proposed by professional sports franchises.

Cities must reject deals that are not in the best interests of their tax-paying residents. If more cities refused to finance pricey new sports facilities, instead of jumping at the chance to be a "major league city" by way of a sports franchise, owners would eventually be forced to negotiate more even-handed agreements with the communities in which they locate.

Instead of passively accepting the conventional wisdom that a professional sports team brings money and prestige to a community, elected officials must look carefully at the merits of proposals. Communities should formulate their own projections of the number of jobs and revenue that franchises will generate, rather than accepting those provided by the team owners, and consider negative consequences as well. They should also examine the experiences of other cities that have recently acquired teams in assessing the likely impact of acquiring or retaining a sports franchise.

Notwithstanding the claims of franchise supporters, most empirical studies have shown that the increase in jobs and revenue brought in by professional sports teams reflects a redistribution of entertainment spending and no significant increase in long-term well-paying jobs.

It is unlikely that communities will get tough with the NFL if sports zealots and kowtowing politicians are allowed to dominate the decisionmaking process. Fans who are devoted to their teams (i.e., a group of players who in most cases have no real connection or allegiance to the home city) only make things worse by pressuring city officials to make unreasonable concessions to team owners who threaten to leave.

It is time for us as taxpayers to start demanding a return on our investment in professional sports.

Elizabeth Drayer, Dunedin

Working for a constituent

Re: Re: Political pressure misapplied, editorial, March 10.

Your editorial concerns me because it portrayed me as being overly concerned about and representing a select group of my constituency. The oath that I took as a county commissioner did not indicate that I am to represent a select group of people but all the citizens of Hillsborough County, especially my constituency. Therefore, when any citizen approaches me about a concern, it is my responsibility to listen, gather information and respond to the citizen's concern. And as "the commission's only black member," I hope that I will not be penalized for representing any particular segment of my constituency.

The bidding process that involved David Lewis was brought to my attention the day I took the oath of office, Nov. 19, 1996. A citizen approached me with a concern. The citizen raised questions and concerns about the validity and legality of Hillsborough County's purchasing department bidding process. As a newly elected official, I did make several phone calls. These phone calls were made to gather information to clarify my understanding of the bidding process. I do not think that good decisions are made in a vacuum, lacking accurate information. Unfortunately, some have interpreted my gathering information as intimidating and as an act of applying pressure on decisionmaking processes.

The information gathered indicated that the bidding process involving the David Lewis contract began before I took the oath of office. The bid was not processed through the WMBE Program. Also, there existed a potential legal issue. After the opening of the bids, it was revealed that inaccurate information was given to Lewis involving a time limit on a letter of credit. This technicality caused the county purchasing department to consider re-advertising the bid.

The re-advertising would have created a very inequitable situation for the bidders, especially David Lewis. He was the lowest bidder and his bid was public information. Based on the gathered information and the interpretation of it by the legal counsel of Hillsborough County, there was a sure way to preserve the integrity of the bidding process. The bid was awarded to David Lewis. In addition, it is within the purchasing department's purview to highly consider the lowest bid, in the bidding process, whether the bidder is minority, experienced or inexperienced.

In review of the media's presentation of the situation, I do hope that my representation of my constituency and the citizens of Hillsborough County will not be interpreted as polarizing "the fight against discrimination," when the citizen involved happens to be African-American. Above all, I trust that I will not be viewed as engaging in "backhanded" racist acts when I give my constituency a voice.

Thomas Scott, Hillsborough County commissioner,

District 3, Tampa

Protect our borders

Border protection is clearly the federal government's responsibility, yet lip service is given to this very important task. Our borders are being violated with illegal crossings of drug and people shipments. Much more needs to be done to secure our borders and reduce the flow of illegals and drugs.

We have military throughout the world helping to promote democracy and protect the people of foreign countries. Why can't we reassign a small number of our troops and resources for border protection? How about the assignment of troops to border detail as part of their training? What would it cost? We already have the people and equipment. How many lives would be saved and jobs protected if we sharply curtail drugs and illegals?

Border patrol needs to move up in President Clinton's priorities. This challenge is a reasonable requirement of the federal government, President Clinton, are you up the challenge? Propose a plan!

Wayne Anderson, Treasure Island

Share your opinions

Letters for publication should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. They can be sent by e-mail to letterssptimes.com or by fax to 893-8675.

They should be brief and must include the writer's name, address and phone number.

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