David and Dixie Gonzales, residents of New Orleans, claimed they heard and saw the explosions that damaged the levees
by Mary Maxwell, currently a candidate for the US Senate
As mentioned in my July 9, 2017 article at GumshoeNews.com, a radio host has tried to goad me into saying I believe the levees were blown at New Orleans. Well, yes, I certainly do believe that! “It’s as plain as the nose on your face.”
Since I now live in a Gulf Coast state (Alabama), I hear people say that Hurricane Katrina was arranged for “the gentrification of New Orleans.” True enough, the poor people of Ward 9 had to leave and few were able to come back.
More than a decade ago I wrote about the New Orleans thing. I’ll re-run it now with minor changes. Fasten seat belts for a bumpy ride as this article is as much about Judaic law, rabbinic courts, and community health as it is about the New Orleans genocide, oops I mean gentrification. Oops, no, I really do mean genocide.
The New Orleans Disaster: Who Profits?
You may recall the coastal destruction caused by Katrina in 2005, which caused the sudden homelessness of tens of thousands of people. These refugees were bussed to the Superdome in Texas. Mrs Barbara Bush – once a First Lady and at this time the mother of President GW Bush — was criticized for commenting, during a visit to the Superdome, that the disaster may have worked out well for some people.
Undoubtedly, some of the locals made out well from the disaster.
The Wall Street Journal implied that real estate investor Judah Hertz ended up a winner. “Call him the Larry Silverstein of New Orleans,” they said. Just as Silverstein leased the two World Trade Center towers in New York six weeks before they fell, Hertz bought a lot of property in the Big Easy, when prices were low, shortly before Katrina.
The Times-Picayune in New Orleans published a lengthy article about Judah Hertz. Here are three excerpts:
- “I’ve never seen anyone come into a market and try to dominate it as Hertz has,” said Greg Riera . . .”I think a lot of people are scratching their heads,” said Steven Rieseg of SRST Commercial Real Estate in Metairie. “It’s very uncharacteristic for any institution or private capital to acquire that much in any one market anywhere.”
- [Hertz had a] damning association with an Israeli immigrant . . . during the late 1980s. The Israeli man was later indicted on a large Ecstasy smuggling import ring . . .
- Could Hertz’s extensive holdings in the local market reach a point when he would control rental rates market-wide? . . . [M]any expect Hertz to raise rates gradually anyway.
If you think that Hertz would like to sue for libel over that, you are wrong. In fact, Hertz chose to display the entire text of the above remarks on his company website as if it’s just dandy. The Times Picayune article, by the way, is dated August 7, 2005. Katrina began on August 29, 2005.
Was Katrina Man-made?
In October 2004, the year prior to Katrina, National Geographic published an article predicting what would happen to New Orleans if a hurricane struck. Most details proved correct, including the breakup of the levees.
(At the very least, this foreknowledge tells us that the Louisiana government should have scooped up all its endangered citizens as soon as Katrina was known to be heading their way.)
Some find the National Geographic article spooky — as though its author, Joel K. Bourne, Jr., or his sources, had more information than they let on. Our military has been actively engaging in weather control since the Vietnam War.
Can scientists make a hurricane happen? Personally, I suspect Hurricane Betsy, in 1965, was not of divine origin, and maybe others, too, such as Hurricane Andrew in 1992. So, what if Katrina was man-made and Judah Hertz knew it was going to happen? What if he actually planned to make a killing?
Reportedly, in regard to the World Trade Center, Larry Silverstein knew that the towers would be leveled and thus he made the greatest insider trade of all time, in July 2001. He arranged a peculiar insurance deal that netted him billions of dollars.
Has Larry shown any sign of a pricked conscience? I think so. In an article in Haaretz written shortly after 9/11, it was reported that an employee of his who had escaped by walking down 88 flights of stairs, went to his office and found him “shaking in every bone of his body.”
The same article said Silverstein had been “bothered” in 1993 when word had reached Israel of a court case against him (since dismissed) that portrayed him as a serial murderer and a drug smuggler in connection with the Vietnam War. Note: I believe Richard Armitage was Silverstein’s co-accused.
For years I have now been writing (or “writhing”) at GumshoeNews about the seeming paralysis of the people in the face of extreme criminal behaviour by our overlords. Let me talk now about a type of law that is unlikely to result in such paralysis.
One day, in 1993, I was walking past a bookshop in Jerusalem and saw, in the window, a book on Halakhah — Jewish law. Since I had been living in Arabia for a few years and was accustomed to bargaining for every purchase, I walked into the store and made an offer on the book. The bookseller looked offended to the point of being personally hurt. I therefore paid the full price — 196 shekels. ($40).
That book, The Challenge of Wealth, by Meir Tamari, soon became my favorite book and subsequently it has never been elbowed out of first place.
For a Catholic like me it contained a surprise: that the development of Jewish law continued long after the New Testament was written. From ancient times to the present, rabbinic courts have been hearing cases from individuals and thus have established a jurisprudence parallel to the Common Law of secular English society.
In Europe, the rulings of rabbinic courts were enforceable within the Jewish community. The halakhah remained independent of civil law until the emancipation of Jews by Napoleon in 1807.
The Law of Economic Behavior
Another surprise was that Judaic law covers economic behavior in detail. For instance, it tells a merchant how much profit he is allowed to make: he can add approximately 20 percent to the actual cost. In other words, one-sixth of the selling price is profit. If he adds more, he might be guilty of price fraud — oonah, in Hebrew.
That explains why my bookseller was offended: his advertised price was within the law, and my suggesting that he come down several notches implied an accusation by me that he was using unfair pricing practice.
Another manifestation of the completeness of Jewish economic ethics concerns labor relations and matters of business competition. What if a man runs a barbershop in a town so small that it can support only one barber — and then another barber comes into town? They can go to the rabbi and discuss the Talmudic teachings about putting a man out of business
We can see that there are two values here. Making a living is a value, in fact it’s a matter of life or death, is it not? In the American system, both barbers would be said to have equal right to ply their scissors. But the Jewish system, being a comprehensive one, is concerned with the disruptive effect of the second barber on the first barber’s livelihood. That rabbi may well counsel the second barber against opening a competing shop.
Social Sins, Such As Greed
Let’s talk about sin. In Catholicism, there are said to be seven cardinal (i.e., important) sins, one of which is greed. During the Middle Ages, the Roman Church (known later as the Vatican) designed abstract schemes to explain how the human individual spoils his relationship with God by sinning.
Judaic theology shows greater insight into human nature and psychology. It interprets greed as an extension of our normal tendency to hoard things for a rainy day. Hoarding gives pleasure in and of itself, and some people get carried away by it. Today, there are numerous individuals who own multiple billions of dollars. You just know they’re not going to need that much on a rainy day.
Judah Hertz is both Jewish and American. He appears greedy and willing to cast others to their fate if it betters his position. What guidance has he got from law on this? I don’t know if his mother sent him to Sabbath school, but even if she did, the rabbi could only instruct him to be self-restrained in an unrestrained environment, i.e., the United States.
Pathetic Emphasis on Growth and Profit
The beauty of Jewish law is that when a community is made up of people all following the same law, they get to reward and punish each other in a way that encourages good communal behavior. Jewish economic ethics can’t work where the dominant culture, American, preaches devil-take-the-hindmost competition.
American social theory is pathetic. In the local article about Hertz, even the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, was quoted saying that he welcomed the tycoon’s arrival into town because “Judah’s experience [has] resulted in substantial stimulation in the downtown market.”
Day in, day out we are asked to worship the value of business. It’s to be taken for granted that economic growth is good and that this end will justify any means! Is that pathetic, or what?
If Katrina Was Manmade, Who Sinned?
Here’s my halakhic interpretation of the Judah Hertz situation if it be found that he had a hand in Katrina. Recall my claim that Jewish law stays aware of the society as a whole. It thus considers sinful the acts of one person that cause or invite another person to commit sin.
Maimonides, the great codifier of law, says that just as you should not put a log in the path of a blind person, you should not tempt a spiritually blind person to harm himself by wrongdoing.
Thus, halakhically, it is a no-no for a passerby to buy wool from a shepherd. Why? Because the wool is probably not the shepherd’s to sell; he works for the owner of the sheep. You should not tempt him to sin.
Such a passerby, if he tempted the shepherd, would be committing lifnei iver. The phrase literally translates as stumbling block (referring back to “You should not put a stumbling block in the path of the blind man”). Similarly, a person who offers a bribe to a judge commits lifnei iver.
I hope that those of my compatriots who have been widowed or orphaned by Katrina will not hate me for the conclusion I draw, which is as follows: we have all committed lifnei iver against Judah Hertz! I am serious. Think about it.
We Americans, as a group and as a culture, have failed to construct a reasonable, workable set of laws that constrain individual impulses while preserving the social whole. I now regret having been raised in a society that veritably boasts of its ignorance of how people can be made to be humans and not monsters.
I wish we all had sensible Jewish morality.
Get a Grip
What has it all come to? It has come to this: Fake terrorist attacks. Fake hurricanes. Fancy footwork by attorneys and judges. Nearly the whole population living in denial, and death and fear abounding.
–Mary Maxwell first published this article in OnlineJournal on December 7, 2005. Washington Post then reprinted part of it! Please see Mary’s campaign website www.maxwellforsenate.com. She would love to hear from you.