Skip to main content
Foreclosure Defense Florida

I Remember Exactly Where I Was The Night The Lights Went Out…In Cities All Across America

I remember where I was the night the lights went out.

The night the lights went out in Tampa and Orlando”¦.and in cities all across America.   The whole world remembers. While previous generations remembered where they were when Kennedy was shot or when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, but the defining event that eclipses both of those”¦and every other”¦in our nation’s collective history is the night cities went dark across America. Way out here in the country we all refer to the night as ” The Switch” because the lights just turned off like someone flipped a big ole switch that controlled every single light and drop of power that lit up the cities and kept them alive.

When The Switch flipped, I was out deep in the Myakka swamp, a prehistoric wilderness that time forgot situated just off the center of the state of Florida and nearly inaccessible to all but the most determined human beings.   The water that runs through Myakka is inky black and the woods and water are inhabited with a population of creatures so diverse no Hollywood creator could ever dream up. Feral hogs and cougars; bullfrogs and insects; raccoons and rattlesnakes–The swamp is their pyramid and they sit firmly atop it.

I   was deep in this swamp the night The Switch flipped. At that precise moment I was gliding silently across the dark water, slowly scanning the shore with my light, waiting patiently to catch two red dots reflecting back me.   The red dots are the telltale eyes of one of Mother Nature’s more terrifyingly un-evolved beasts, Florida freshwater alligator staring back at me. When the red dots reflected back straight and symmetrical, I’d know just where to target my round.   And then, BAM, WHACK! Fifty eight grams of led moving at 300 feet per second colliding somewhere in the general vicinity of an alligator’s walnut-sized brain. After a solid hit, it took only a few strokes of the paddle to make it to the kill zone to wrestle the beast into the flats boat.   Ample protein for me and my family and maybe even a little left over to trade.

The swamp was always quiet and totally removed from the city, but even in the deepest parts the lights of Tampa to the West and Orlando further up to the north were always visible. And so even though I was deep in the swamp and far away from the cities, I saw The Switch fairly early on.   I noticed the lights going off in north Tampa first.   Big sections of the city turning dark. Pitch black.   One section of the city turning off at a time.   Slowly, but persistently. Switch. Switch. Switch.   The switch kept flipping until the entire western horizon, which just a few minutes earlier was lit by the lights, was covered by an entirely pitch black horizon.   And not just Tampa proper, but the entire region, as far as the eye could see.   The absolute darkness that permeated the entire western horizon made the lights of the planes up in the sky and the small pattern of lights around Macdill Air Force base shine like dramatic navigation beacons across an otherwise empty sea.   It was immediately breathtaking and frankly quite unsettling.

I was still just taking all this in when I noticed The Switch to the north. Switch, Lakeland. Switch, Plant City. Switch, Orlando.   I sat there motionless in the middle of the swamp while absolute, uninterrupted darkness came suffocating in from every single direction.   Right away it was clear this was no ordinary power outage.   Not one of the more common brown outs or rolling power interruptions that had become more common over the last couple months.   Those were always smaller in scope and duration.   It was clear given the fact that the power was out across the entire region that this event was vastly different than anything anyone had ever experienced before.   I was also fairly certain early on that this was not going to be a temporary problem.   The Switch was not a minor glitch and there would be no flip in hours or days even.   Standing out there in the middle of the swamp and taking it all in, I was certain The Switch represented the collapse of the power grid of great magnitude and that The Switch would have a dramatic impact on all those people still stuck in the cities.

Living Off The Grid

For me the impact wasn’t all that significant.   I had gone off the grid months before.   I didn’t exactly go off the grid voluntarily.   Not at first anyway. I was kicked off. Pushed out, chased off the grid.   But prior to my forced exile I was firmly enmeshed in the grid, just like the rest of the world. I spent every waking moment of tethered to The Grid.   The internet, 4G phone, laptop, it was everywhere. On The Grid, the world was inescapable.   And because the world was inescapable it became increasingly impossible to escape The Conflict.

I had been part of The Conflict for years before the Occupied Movement began sweeping across the country.   Years before citizens all across America finally woke up and began protesting the assault on the formerly free United States of America. Years before Americans woke up and realized that the economy that had supported countless generations of American families had been hijacked.   The Conflict was a war that pitted normal, everyday Americans against a banking and business class that gutted hard working Americans right up the middle and left entire families bleeding and rotting on the streets.   I had been defending homeowners in foreclosure long before the first drop of newspaper ink reported how the numbers of foreclosures was spiking and years before bloggers and the internet came along and documented the systemic abuses of citizens and our legal system.

With so much reporting and so much evidence, I was certain that if I could just fight for my clients long enough, I could keep them safe in their homes.   Surely someone in power would step in and put a stop the crimes and the abuses of the banking elite”¦.wouldn’t they?   And that’s where it all went horribly wrong for me. I started speaking up, speaking out.   Early on I operated under the naïve assumption that the American government and our court system existed to serve citizens and that our leaders would step in to protect us all from a White Collar Criminal Oligarchy that had been left to run wild and lawless all across the globe.   As a child I was a Boy Scout, raised from birth to be a God-fearing and law abiding citizen.   You paid your taxes and didn’t speed when you drove, not for fear of getting caught but because we all followed rules”¦following rules was the glue the held the country together.   As a young lawyer I was immersed in the fantasy of America’s legal system and intoxicated by the fiction that our nation’s lawmakers served a higher purpose.   But it became all too clear that the sickening reality on modern day America was far worse than history’s most famous dark political novels. Forget 1984 and shrug off Atlas. The idealized fiction called America was dead. And it died long ago. It died when elected ” leaders” stopped serving any higher purpose and instead eliminated laws and rules for the banking class while our courts systematically refused to enforce what laws and rules were left.

And in this lawless environment, the banking class and the captive ” leaders” built a world of corporate tyranny. A world where every man woman and child was a slave to debt and held captive by corporations that understood they were constrained by no rules, yet they were positioned and empowered to enforce rules, control law enforcement and all branches of government and ultimately mete out oppression against citizens all across the country. They kicked down doors and entered people’s homes with no fear of resistance from law enforcement. They engaged in patterns of systemic and blatant fraud in courtrooms all across the country, yet feared no penalty or resistance. They devoured and absorbed more and more of the work product and resources of the nation, segregating, isolating and concentrating ever more of the wealth in the hands of just a few and sending that wealth far from where it was developed and nurtured. It was indeed a great sucking sound, sucking the lifeblood, the wealth, the resources and the treasure of a nation that once held all of that in trust for all her people.

The United States, A Terrifying, Totalitarian State

I spoke out every chance I got. As an attorney I spoke out formally every day in pleadings and motions filed in courtrooms on behalf of clients.   I spoke out in trials and in hearings and in mediations. I made damn sure every single attorney that I fought in the courtroom knew that each case was a life or death case for me.   Because if my clients lost, life as they knew it was over. In many ways I feared them losing their homes than I feared death.

And for daring to speak out, I took heat. Real heat.   I suffered through formal investigations, Bar complaints and assorted persecutions.   The constant attacks took their toll, physically, mentally and financially.   Every investigation and attack took time and cost money”¦.lots of money”¦.and even more time.   It was a cruel irony that I spent time and resources fighting for my professional life while the targets of my complaints (who were also the targets of formal investigations by Attorneys General, law enforcement and investigators) marched along with no impediment.   Even to this day, the most Orwellian and Kakfa-esque persecution I endured involved a two page indictment wherein I was reminded that my rights to free speech were not absolutely protected by the First Amendment”¦I still shake my head at that one.

But I wasn’t alone”¦not by a long shot. Those who dared to stand up and speak out all suffered persecutions of one description or another. I suffered so much every time one of the good attorneys who had the courage to stand up and fight for people suffered similar attacks.   The reality is the good attorneys who stood up to this tyranny and who fought for consumers and for basic rights were fulfilling their most sacred oath and obligation””we were all working to defend not just our clients, we were also fully engaged in an epic battle to protect and defend the integrity of a legal and judicial system that our nation’s forefathers fought and died for.   But the ” leadership” of the Bar organizations and various agencies of government did not see it that way at all.   We were all heretics, troublemakers, the enemy.   And so we were routed out. Our ranks thinned and divided.   The attacks became the unwelcome badges of war that the true attorney warriors wore, a modern day manifestation of, ” First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”

But things were worse for the whistleblowers.   The whistleblowers who first testified before Florida’s Attorney General about improper conduct by one of the state’s most notorious foreclosure mills suffered death threats and harassment after their deposition testimony became public”¦.but what happened to the whistleblower that was exposing the same conduct to Nevada’s Attorney General sent a chill down the spine of every attorney and activist who ever even thought of standing up.   After this witness exposed allegedly improper practices, she was found dead in her home.   The press reported was that this 43 year old woman committed suicide. But what was most interesting was the fact that the Nevada police reported”¦within hours of her death”¦that it was not homicide and that foul play was not suspected.   Really?   How much investigation occurred in the few short hours after death that the police could so confidently make such a pronouncement?   A suspicious death may remain just a suspicion forever, with no one ever able to explain why this woman would take her own life, but the probing and the investigations and the intrusions of the computers of those that spoke out could not be denied or ignored”¦.

My protests were not limited to the courtroom. Like millions of others, I began sharing my story and my contempt and outrage far and wide. Social media, Facebook, email and blogs.   They all combined to form a grid, not unlike the power grid, that covered and connected every square inch of the country. And in this country with a rich history of support for political and societal protest, Americans of every description used the social media grid first to voice and then to organize their protests.   The social media grid became an international town square and every American with an email or Facebook account became a town crier.   The social media grid permitted, for the first time, vast numbers of Americans to share their contempt and protest. And share they did.

As more and more people engaged on this grid, the overreaching of the elite and the corruption and incompetence of an impotent government became all too clear. The comments and the activities of those who protested on The Grid were carefully monitored by private corporations and by agents and agencies of the state and federal government.   The capabilities and the resources of the ” secret” policing agencies of the state and federal governments vastly expanded after 9/11.   And with no real international threats to speak of, those resources were increasingly focused on domestic targets.   It was a real epiphany in my life when a computer-hacking expert ran painstakingly detailed reports on my computers that showed just who had been carefully examining both my very public blog and allegedly social media accounts.   Given what I had learned about our country and the nation we had become after 9/11 I was not entirely surprised, but it was nonetheless quite disturbing to see just how deep they were able to burrow into my computer systems at home and at work.   Embedded deep within the soul of my computers was some of the most sophisticated and intrusive software that existed in the entire world.   Every file that I had and every single keystroke that I typed was recorded then sent to a static ip address somewhere deep into the anonymous internet.   I was left wondering who was so interested in my writing and internet activities”¦and why.   The invasion was unsettling, but even more disturbing was seeing the vast amount of time that computers tied to investigative arms of state and federal government spent logged onto my website and blog.   These facts are not paranoid delusions”¦the ip addresses and the computers they point back to were very real then, and remain real today.

And while I was obviously most interested with just how much time was spent focusing on my tiny little corner in the internet world, the reality is that I was just one small voice, screaming out in a wilderness filled with millions of voices screaming in protest.

As the protests moved beyond The Grid and spilled out live and raw onto streets all across America and beyond”¦.one thing became explicitly clear to the powers that ran the United States of America and who owned the government and all the outlets of mainstream media”¦..these protests had to be stopped at all costs.

A Little Pre-Occupied.

At first Occupy was a curiosity, then it became an irritation to the powers and the banks and the corporations that owned and ran our nation. But soon it became clear that Occupy represented a clear and present danger to the white collar criminal oligarchy that was firmly entrenched in power across America”¦and so the violent crackdowns began. First the world saw image after image of white shirted New York City paramilitary forces beating and pepper spraying peaceful protestors.   Then in Oakland, a Marine veteran suffered critical injuries after he was shot in the head at point blank range. Next an 84 year old Nazi holocaust survivor suffered the crushing blast of pepper spray from the paramilitary forces.   These were all bad, but no image captured the intensity of the suppression more than the image of a paramilitary thug pepper spraying a group of peaceful students on the UC Davis, California campus.   The image of peaceful, harmless children being exterminated by a coldly detached paramilitary force showed the world that the rules had changed”¦.the only rules were that dissent would be crusut hed, protests dispersed”¦.at all costs.

Between September 2011 and 2012, more than 50,000 Americans were arrested while engaging in various forms of civil disobedience and protests across the country. The increasing number of arrests spoke to both the depth and the breadth of the discontent that gripped the country. The arrests also reflected how the United States government, long accustomed to a malleable and compliant population, was losing control over an increasingly frustrated and angry mob”¦.something had to be done to regain control of the streets”¦of the people. So in the name of national security, local, state and federal government started became increasingly aggressive and creative in the tactics they employed to suppress dissent and control the people who were slipping dangerously out of control.

It was clear to The Powers that social media, driven by certain provocateurs, was a central element in organizing protests and stoking the fires of discontent.   Every paramilitary crackdown produced graphic images that The Provocateurs instantaneously broadcast across The Grid. Their broadcasts in turn only stoked more discontent. The Powers painstakingly documented this cycle then used their analysis as part of the pretext for targeting The Provocateurs.   First, the social media accounts of the most active and prolific bloggers and alternative media writers were identified then suspended and closed.   Armies of lawyers, using strained interpretation of trademark, copyright and libel/slander laws targeted those that dared to write and share thoughts or ideas that challenged The Powers or the government in any way.   At protests and in incidents all across the country, the paramilitary forces on the ground seized cameras and prevented citizens from recording their increasingly brutal attacks.   Images that were posted online were ordered to be removed and those that posted them were threatened or thrown off The Grid.   But for every provocateur they kicked off The Grid, three more would pop up.   It became clear that picking off provocateurs one by one was not going to be effective”¦.clearly other means would have to be deployed”¦..

As a fairly prolific provocateur I was kicked off The Grid fairly early on. First they took my career away from me, but that was just the beginning.   I had spent years and had been quite successful defending consumers in courtrooms, but when the Florida Legislature passed a bill with the utterly misleading title, ” The Florida Fair Foreclosure Act”, they purposely created an environment where no attorney could defend consumers foreclosures in Florida courts.   The legislation itself was anything but fair. It in fact contained provisions which held attorneys who fought for consumers personally liable for the unspeakable offense of standing up to question the banks”¦despite the fact that years of evidence in thousands of cases showed the banks and their foreclosure mills were fabricating documents and engaging in the most gross, glaring and systematic abuses our nation’s courts had ever been subjected to.

The fact that our state’s legislature would target consumer attorneys for attack was no surprise to any observer of Florida’s politics.   In the years preceding the economic crisis that gripped the entire nation, it became increasingly obvious the Florida’s legislative process was for sale to the highest bidder. This fact manifested itself in the introduction of legislation that was increasingly business-friendly and anti-consumer so passage of legislation that gutted consumer rights and locked the doors to the courthouse for millions of Floridians was not all that noteworthy.   What was striking about this particular piece of legislation however was the fact that it was nothing more than a legislatively-created hit squad that blatantly targeted the scrappy band of foreclosure defense attorneys that had managed to level the playing field between the world’s richest and most powerful banks and institutions and the homeowners we had the great honor of representing.   I will always consider it the greatest triumph of our nation’s legal system that small-time attorneys, working from shabby offices all across the state were able to take on entire armies of bank-sponsored lawyers and shut them down. But not everyone appreciated this triumph of our legal system.   Judges, weary after years of adjudicating foreclosure cases and burdened by ever swelling dockets struck out at the few attorneys who dared defend consumers, levied fines against me and others for ” delay damages” and for unnecessarily burdening the judicial system with all our pesky arguments about due process and fraud.

Next, the corporations and industries targeted me personally with lawsuits alleging that I interfered and damaged their business by constantly and repeatedly publishing my opinions regarding their practices and procedures.   One case after another. One fine after another. Stacked one on top of another like the bricks and mortar of a sarcophagus.   Courts at both the state and federal level had become increasingly defensive of the corporations and the institutions and they became increasingly punitive toward consumers and attorneys who dared to challenge the corporate state.

In the end, I became just another casualty of an increasingly totalitarian corporate state.   The cumulative effect of the various attacks left me destitute and unable to provide for my basic needs.   I still lived in the world, but I was off The Grid.   I fought my exile for a while, and that fight stripped me bare of every dollar I ever made and every asset I had ever acquired. Although I was broke, I was not broken.   I could certainly have continued the fight, but I began to recognize the futility of fighting to stay within a system that had become so obviously corrupted. In a moment of clarity after a particularly grueling battle I turned and walked away from it all. I left the city and headed deep into the swamp, the true heart of Florida.   And that’s how it was that I ended up deep in the swamp on the night the power grid failed and the cities started burning.

It surely didn’t feel like a blessing at all when I left”¦.with nothing at all but a pack on my back and boots on my feet. But the cities”¦not just my city”¦but cities all across America had increasingly become bleak and dangerous places.   As the world and national economies got progressively worse, the intensity of the protests increased, both in volume and in numbers.   When the European Union finally, formally crashed it sent hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets all across the continent. The chaos sent shock waves all across the globe.   Stock markets around the world plummeted.   Currency devaluations decimated long-established trading relationships.   As the European banking system collapsed, it took the American banking system down with it.   In a matter of days trillions of dollars in both real and paper wealth evaporated.   As people increasingly realized that the money they thought they had in banks, in stock market and in retirement accounts was gone they took to the streets.   First to protest, then when it became clear that marching and screaming was not going to bring any of their money back, the protests turned violent and destructive.

The Nights The Lights Went Out (Again and Again)

At various times during this period of protest and real unrest, large cities would experience periodic failures of The Grid. All power was lost, cellular phone networks would either become overloaded or would go down entirely and the internet would be inaccessible to millions of people.   I was never sure what caused these failures”¦I was so off The Grid that such details eluded me.   What news I did get came from snippets on HAM radio transmissions.   But from what I understood, no one was really sure what was causing the intermittent failures of The Grid.   The possible explanations ranged from the benign””one failure or another of key network components. To the far more disturbing””allegations that malicious computer code had been imbedded into key network systems and this code was attacking vital infrastructure.   From the little bit of information I paid attention to out deep in the swamp, no one could ever come up with any legitimate explaination”¦.

As I considered the intermittent grid failures from my perspective deep in the swamp, I thought most about the condo dwellers, accustomed to staring down at the world from their perches high above the cities. Even before my exile, I’d always marveled at the engineering that made high rise living possible.   How, I thought, is a drop of water pushed to the top of the building and how, when they flush their fancy toilets does all that brown water travel down and out of the building? Although my scientific and engineering skills always were, and remain, quite limited I came to understand that any interruption in the complex and interconnected circle of life”¦and especially the power grid”¦would produce most unfortunate living conditions for those situated high atop the arc of the circle of life.

I had lots of time to consider such things in my new life off The Grid.   In my prior life, food put on the table came to be there after it was traded for cognitive heavy lifting.   In my new life, food came directly from heavy lifting alone.   And in the first seasons off The Grid, I learned that the heavy lifting of farming is a learned skill”¦learned, regional skills in fact”¦.skills that are passed down from generation to generation. And I was not included in that hand down.

When I said I made the decision (or was kicked off) The Grid in a moment of clarity, that was not exactly true. The truth is I had been planning my exit for many, many months before. Knowing that the economy was crashing and that real estate values were going to fall off a cliff   I bought a beat up and ramshackle old Florida cracker homestead that was situated on 20 acres of abandoned citrus grove just on the edge of the Okeefenokee Swamp in central Florida.   At the time I could still come across a few people that thought the idea of an apocalyptic economic collapse was a bit far-fetched and a few thought my idea of moving out to the country was a bit extreme. But not a single person was entirely dismissive”¦most thinking folks were entirely aware of the bleak prospects facing this country and nearly everyone (at least in private) engaged in their own private fantasies (nightmares) about what going off The Grid would mean for them.

The property itself included two living structures. One was a massive 3,000 square foot grand dame of a main house set on the very highest part of the land. Hard brick with four massive columns out front, she was at one time the statehouse of one of Florida’s many citrus barons. And although the home had certainly seen better days she still spoke with a powerful and silent voice to all those that cared to hear her story.   In her bosom she birthed and nurtured generations of tough Florida crackers. On the widow’s walk that sat nearly 50 feet above the ground, the family’s patriarch could stand and survey a kingdom that stretched for as far as the eye could see.   In the height of her glory days, when she was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of active and healthy citrus trees, the fragrance would have been absolutely intoxicating.

But today the scent, like everything other thing about this place, was just a wisp of what it once was.   Although her bones were solid and impenetrable”¦key pine rafters, dense and tough as steel set atop coquina block columns cut thick and solid at three feet square, her exterior sagged and drooped, the roof sliding off. Restoring the stately old matriarch was totally out of the question.

Instead we chose the servant’s quarters to make our homestead.   A tough and scrabbled structure set just in the shadow of the main home, it was closer to a barn or a cabin than a real house”¦an authentic clapboard cracker shack constructed entirely of planks cut from the colossal cypress trees that kept their feet wet down in the brown water at the lower edge of the property.   To say the home, such as it was, was rustic was to be complimentary and optimistic given its utterly dilapidated condition but, in a true testament to homegrown craftsmanship, that tough old roof didn’t let a drop slip through and the doors and windows all fit true and tight”¦even after all these years.   And there was magic in the architecture and design.   Although not appreciated to the uniformed observer, the high roofline and surrounding patio channeled the natural breeze and vented the oppressive Florida heat.   It wasn’t exactly air conditioning, but especially at night even in the dead of summer, the home was quite livable even with no air conditioning at all.

The homestead and servant quarters sat upon the highest point of a property that was once surrounded by hundreds of acres of the world’s most productive citrus groves.   The matured groves in and around central Florida proliferated for countless decades, surviving periodic freezes that killed both the blossoms and at times the trees right down to the trunk.   In the summertime, all manner of pests and disease would attack and wipe out hundreds of acres of trees. But the groves”¦and the industry always survived”¦.and bounced back.   That all changed forever in the 1990s when lower labor costs shifted citrus production down into Mexico and Brazil”¦hundreds of thousands of trees were planted south of the border in just a few short years. And Florida’s citrus industry which had been a cornerstone of Florida’s economy from the time the Spanish first settled the land in the 1500’s never fully recovered.

The particular plot of land that I came to call home had been in continual use as grove land since the early 1800’s, but the trees themselves had been abandoned for at least the last decade.   And the sweet citrus we’ve all come to know doesn’t come to us with God’s blessing alone. Without constant maintenance and care, the fruit itself becomes hard and devoid of the sugar content and bright color found in grocery store produce sections around the world.   And so the remaining stands of trees and the fruit they produced on this little scrap of land were utterly worthless for all intents and purposes.

And given the apparently worthlessness of the trees I was quite happy when, shortly after I purchased the property, a neighbor offered to help me raze the worthless trees in exchange for allowing him to replace the trees with furrows of the sugar cane he’d been raising on his property for the last several years.

Raising Cane

My neighbor Tom didn’t start off raising cane. Long before I left the city and headed out to the country, this Florida Cracker was working hard to resurrect a long-lost Florida crop.   He didn’t mean to.   He stumbled onto it after a particularly devastating drought wiped out the ornamental fern fields his family had been producing for decades. They had suffered dry years and setbacks in the past and probably could have bounced back from the drought as well, but the death blow for his generations-old fern business was the same as every other industry in this country”¦cheap labor and competition from foreign suppliers.   What Mother Nature and weather’s fury couldn’t kill over generations was destroyed with trade agreements and government regulations that had been inked and enacted in just a few short years. It was in the depths of his despair, as he watched the only world he had ever known dry up and die that Tom stumbled onto grass. And he and his family were saved by it.

Sugarcane, a grass first imported to Florida from India in the 1700’s was a grass that grew thick and impenetrable, up to 12 feet high, in Florida’s hot weather and torrential summer rains. Farmers had long planted it at the perimeter of fields of more delicate crop fields to shield them from the gusting winds in the summer and to block the occasionally freezing winds in the winter.   As Tom explained, he had no use for the thick stalks that were thinned out with machetes by hand every winter.

So when the migrant workers would haul loads of the cut stalks off every night in their beaten down trucks”¦.for what purpose he had no clue”¦he didn’t even give it a passing thought.   Then one night, quite by accident he stumbled upon a secret that was worth far more than gold”¦”¦

You Can’t Eat Gold”¦.Or Bullets

When the world economy teetered on collapse, many fled to physical gold as a hedge against inflation or as a safe haven from a dollar that would surely be reduced to nothing but confetti.   In the hysterical times leading up to the crash physical gold peaked at values over $3,000 per ounce as more and more people sought refuge from an increasingly devalued dollar.   The romance of gold soured for many people however when they realized that gold was not easily traded or converted into anything of value.   But Tom learned that he could easily convert grass into a commodity that was far more valuable than gold”¦.fuel.

Tom stuck gold in the most unlikely of places”¦in the migrant camp, hidden entirely from public view, where the workers hid away every night after their 16 hour days of backbreaking work in the fields was through.   Everyone knew the camps existed, and they knew exactly where they were, but no one ever went inside them until one night when Tom traveled the short distance from his home and onto the far back corner of his property where the camp was situated.   It had been a cracker home site long before the turn of the century but was abandoned long before he was even born.   As a boy he remembered the hulking old cast iron cauldrons and machinery that had been left there just outside the rickety old barn”¦but he had no idea what they were used for.

As he approached the camp, he found that the workers had resurrected all the old cast iron machinery”¦.the long-forgotten machinery, and the whole camp were alive with action. Three men were walking in a circle, pushing a yoke that drove the cane press while another fed stalk after stalk into the teeth of the machine that ground the cane and squeezed out every last drop of the sweet juice.   Nearby, a smoldering fire breathed slowly and steadily just underneath the black cauldron that measured at least six feet across and was nearly four feet tall.   The juice fed directly into the pot and as it slowly cooked a sweet fragrance, picked up by the light wind, wafted across the camp.   The cane press pressed, the sweet pot bubbled and the six men moved with all the precision and purpose of a fine German watch, every movement synchronized with an efficiency that only laborers, with a lifetime of hard work under their calloused hands, could learn.   He stood there for many minutes taking it all in before the synchronized watch of a fully integrated man and machine finally noticed him.   And it was still moments after that before the most important part of the machine caught Tom’s eye.

Off in the background and obscured by the smoke and the shadows and the men pumping away, the oldest worker of the group was crouched over the most sophisticated piece of the entire machine.   A discarded hundred gallon steel drum, clearly obtained somehow from one of the dairy farms that operated nearby connected to a smaller drum by a maze of copper tubing, carefully and perfectly coiled running from the first pot and into the second, before the tube finally emerged from the last pot, a double thumping Rube Goldberg masterpiece, with the gold dripping out the other end, drip, drip, drip.

Gold, Pure Liquid Gold

The secret Tom stumbled upon wasn’t much of a secret at all”¦to those who were willing to look.   In fact, for all who understood that Brazil was becoming nearly entirely energy self-sufficent and burning clean gas.   And one of the key components of their national energy strategy has been sugarcane”¦.for more than two decades.   Forget ethanol and corn, sugarcane, through the centuries old and extraordinarily simple process of distillation converts to fuel at a rate nearly 30% more efficiently than corn.

And stacked several feet off from the still that was thump, thump, thumping away, Tom realized why these workers went through all the effort to haul away the ” waste” sugarcane that grew on the perimeter of his crops”¦they were distilling the stalks and converting it to fuel”¦.well, they were converting most of the sugarcane juice into fuel anyway.

Converting the juice to fuel required a two-step distillation process and (whoopsie) a recognizable portion of the output never made it to the second step.   One pass through the still produced a potent and fiery liquid that had nearly twice the alcohol content of the commercially produced alcohol sold in the city.   Blending the first run output with the sugarcane juice molasses that was boiling over in the first pot yielded a most valuable and potent elixir”¦.rum.   Running the very same output through the still a second time”¦and without the molasses yielded a liquid with a far higher alcohol content”¦and a much lower burning point.

After a few seasons of growing, burning and blending, this treasured crop yielded all the riches a farmer”¦especially one in such desperate times”¦could ever hope to bring forth from the ground.   About a third of the crop was squeezed down and boiled up for molasses or sugar. The next third made two trips through the distiller and was used for fuel, used to run the few necessary farm machines that were necessary to keep the whole machine turning.   The final third was the Fire of Life, pure liquid gold.   Blended and stored and aged and traded far and wide.

And what about those old abandoned citrus trees?   Well, it turns out they weren’t so useless after all.   The acid and small sugar content still found in the fruit produced a magnificent, natural fermentation.   The truth is the liquid gold that came directly from the came had a bit too much of a bite to it for most people’s taste.   But blending that liquid gold with the fermented liquid gold from the abandoned citrus trees produced nectar with a kick that was nothing short of extraordinary.   Such a commodity would have proven invaluable in the best of times, but in times of such extraordinary suffering and even greater uncertainty, this all natural, hand worked liquid proved a value per ounce many, many more times greater than physical gold.

As predicted by anyone with a basic understanding of economics, the long-feared total collapse of the United States dollar occurred in the blink of an eye”¦.as the European Union continued to falter, crack, then collapse, taking the Euro itself down with it, the trillion dollar bets made by Ben Bernake and the Federal Reserve all evaporated into nothing.   The currency instability alone led to inflation for all goods and services.   And while the inflation as an abstract concept was bad enough, the real inflation for commodities-based goods was exponentially worse.   And in a world where the production of nearly all goods was predicated on the shadowy world and wizardry of commodities trading every single thing of any real value either exploded in price or become entirely unable to be produced.   Currency could not be counted on to purchase the corn seeds or any other farm commodity that was necessary to produce food. Even if it did, the inflationary spike and disruptions in delivery of the fuel and other commodities that were necessary to grow, harvest and produce the corn made it absolutely impossible to raise any crops with any consistency or predictability and so domestic and global food production ground to a screeching halt.   The collapse of currencies on two continents also led to the inevitable collapse of the world’s trading relationships. The container ships that criss-crossed the planet literally stopped mid transit, no longer willing to risk arriving in foreign ports with hulls filled with goods, but no reliable means to convert those goods into currency that had a know or predictable value.   This was the world that existed outside my isolated universe deep, deep in the country.

My food, my fuel and the fuel and food of those of us out in the country was all around us”¦it was planted in the ground and it stretched out as far as the eye could see.   And it was all closely guarded by the tight-knit rural communities that worked together, day and night to make sure neither Mother Nature nor infiltrating man interfered with life’s most precious commodity.   The same could not be said of the millions of people stuck in the cities.   Sitting out deep in the country, I could only imagine what life was life in the cities where rations of food, distributed by a distrusted and despised government, were anything by stable or predictable.

So when I looked back at the darkened cities the night all the lights went out”¦.I thanked God and my lucky stars”¦.the millions of stars that shown in the light more brightly that night than I’d ever seen them in my entire lifetime.   I patted the 14 foot reptile beast that was still squirming around in the boat on the head then paddled back toward home”¦.ready for a nice tall glass of liquid gold and a few hunks of my boat mate”¦.grilled and seasoned to good old fashioned Florida cracker perfection!