Business Finds an Upside to Katrina

Hurricane Katrina is a godsend for the business community, which long has sought to unravel government regulations. The federal government has used the hurricane-relief effort to relax trucking regulations, to suspend costly requirements under the Davis-Bacon Act that sets higher wages on government contracts, and to lift provisions under the Jones Act allowing only U.S.-flagged ships to carry goods from port-to-port in the United States.

Labor unions are screaming. But the Heritage Foundation, which has the ear of White House deregulators, is lobbying for more, contending that President Bush hasn’t been aggressive enough in cutting red tape and providing broader regulatory relief that would speed rebuilding New Orleans.

Watch as a battle royal erupts over who is going to be the new House Republican leader.

The GOP leadership insists there’s no vacancy because the previous leader — Tom DeLay of Texas — has stepped aside only temporarily to battle the conspiracy charges against him back home. House Speaker Dennis Hastert sought to staunch the divisive jockeying by appointing Roy Blunt of Missouri as temporary DeLay replacement.

That’s not going to work. There’s no love in GOP ranks for DeLay, known as “the Hammer,” and many in the Republican rank and file aspire to the prestige and two floors of choice Capitol office space that come with the Republican leader post. Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee is already running for the post, but insiders say John Boehner of Ohio has the inside track. Also floated as contenders: Mike Pence of Indiana and Mike Rogers of Michigan.

The Bush administration is focusing prosecutions on immigration since 9/11.

Syracuse University, which tracked federal prosecutions from 2000 to 2004, reports there’s been a surge in immigration-related prosecutions, which now surpass drugs as the largest category of crimes prosecuted in federal courts. Many are cases previously handled administratively.

The number of gun cases brought to federal courts also doubled over that period, while drug cases remained about the same, and white-collar crime cases declined 10 percent.

Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., wants to give everyone hit by Hurricane Katrina the right to buy federal flood insurance retroactively. But J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance programs at the Consumer Federation of America, said Taylor’s proposal is a bailout for mortgage providers who should have required flood insurance when they financed new homes in the Gulf. It also would set a precedent that would undermine the federal insurance program by telling people they don’t have to buy flood insurance until hurricanes hit, Hunter said.

Environmentalists are alarmed that a new federal ban on the import of Caspian Sea caviar will deplete domestic varieties of sturgeon from which the smoky and expensive gourmet delicacy can be made.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the ban on beluga caviar imports, which goes into effect Oct. 21, is needed to save over-fished sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, which are now at the point of extinction. Beluga caviar amounts to 5 percent of the caviar consumed in the United States. The U.S. government is holding out the prospect of allowing the trade to resume if the governments involved in Caspian Sea fishing come up with an effective plan to manage the remaining sturgeon population, and its prized eggs.

Both shoplifting and thefts by employees at stores are increasing. Jack L. Hayes International, a Fruitland Park, Fla., business security concern, says more than 750,000 shoplifters and dishonest employees were caught last year, almost a 5 percent increase over the previous year.

More worrisome, says Hayes president Mark Doyle, is that the dollar loss from theft is also increasing, amounting to about $4.7 billion in 2004. “The losses are staggering and continue to amaze us,” Doyle said.

(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)