Last year was the 30th anniversary of the British comic book Tank Girl. There wasn’t much mention of it in the press, that I remember. It is a classic cult comic. So, why not? Admittedly, the 1995 movie stunk.
It only made $6 million against a $25 million budget. That is an apt metaphor for the post-Nirvanamania alternative craze of the 1990’s. Mega-corporations foolishly believed that they could reproduce “the next Nirvana” by slapping “grunge” or “alternative” on everything. They bought up hundreds of independent labels and signed artists left and right, regardless of any talent or experience they may possess. It doesn’t work like that. Mostly, they failed spectacularly.
But, nonetheless, I liked the idea of adapting this comic into a movie. Comic book movies are HUGE now, compared to the 1990’s. Can’t somebody else give it ago? Hey Hollywood, throw some money my way! I’ll do it!
One thing that I actually LIKED about the original movie was the animated sequences. So, firstly, animate the entire thing. Co-creator Jamie Hewlett went on to form the virtual band Gorillaz. It would be a natural fit for him to direct. And don’t wimp out with a PG version. Go for a solid R-rating. It could be badass as Heavy Metal (1981).
Second, it needs better casting. Lori Petty? Blecchh! Stay true to the source material and get an Australian cast. This takes place in a post-apocalyptic Australia. Maybe include a few Brits or Americans in certain roles. But, c’mon, Ice-T as a kangaroo? Are you shitting me? Eddie Izzard plays a great villain. Get him. I kinda liked that the fascist water company ruled everything in the original. Keep that. Put Eddie in charge. Make him a middle management Darth Vader for a multi-national monopoly.
The original soundtrack had a few good tunes. I could see staying with that sort of tone; punk rock, hip-hop, metal, indie pop, etc. Courtney Love chose songs for the original. Get Quentin Tarantino’s music supervisor to do the reboot.
If Hollywood insists on bombarding us with reboots, don’t ruin perfectly good movies PLEASE! Reboot movies that had a good premise, but were shit produced, and fix them. There is no shortage of them. Comic book movies are BIG now. So, it isn’t even much of a gamble anymore. I bet that any independent studio could do a decent job of it with a small budget. Jamie Hewlett’s success with the Gorillaz could almost guarantee a bigger budget with a few well-known actors. Someone make this happen!
Time still flies when you aren’t having any fun. I am absolutely certain that time speeds up as you age. That is why old people wear clothes that are out of style. It was still in fashion just a minute ago, for them.
I was planning to include a vlog today, since vlogging is meant to be half of these posts. But, honestly, I don’t have anything worth videotaping right now. I also don’t have any new paintings to show.
2019 is speeding by, just like the past few years have. WTF is wrong with me? Besides the usual shit? Things actually are going pretty okay right now. I had a few rough months between December and February. That mess is finally settled, notwithstanding my growing piles of debt.
I have a list of folks waiting for Theee Urban SpaceCat cassette-zine. I have been digging through stacks of demo tapes and gigabytes of incomplete data trying to finish it. I have enough material already done for a complete issue or two… or three. But, I have spread it out over several zines. I didn’t like the way it was when I compiled it all together. So, I am filling each issue, finishing each song, one-at-a-time. A friend suggested that I do this to get myself focused, instead of hopping all over the place like I usually do. Get one thing done. Then, move on to the next thing. This approach seems to be pushing the process along, I suppose. Creating the equivalent of two double albums every few months is kinda hard when doing it all alone and you keep shooting yourself in the foot. Everything is absurdly late getting it out.
I asked around about getting my mixes mastered. But, I cannot afford to do it, not entire albums anyway. I might have one or two singles mastered for radio… maybe. The rest will just have to be a raw mix.
I am waiting for the government to process some of my tax shit, so I can finish setting up the business side of things. They’re still catching up from the Trumptard shutdown a few weeks ago. It has delayed everything. I’m never happy dealing with that sort of stuff. But, I anxiously want to get it done and out of the way.
Here is a Daniel Johnston song from my record collection for you. I get the same feeling myself sometimes. I am always starting my life over again… and again… and again… and again….
No, I’m not talking about your cousin who drives a Mercedes, has his own insurance business, and always picks up the tab when you go out for beers. I’m talking about super-rich people: the Walton family, the Koch brothers and, yes, the Trumps. I’m talking about people who continue to make money off the backs of the poor while convincing those same people to remain loyal no matter what. But the truth is they are never going to share or trickle down their money to you — regardless of how white you are, how loyal you are, or how much you support their companies or their politicians.
When a family like the Waltons, worth over $50 billion — that’s billion with a “b” — are fine knowing their employees are collecting food stamps to survive and they do nothing about it, that speaks volumes. It says loud and clear: I don’t fucking care about you!
When Donald Trump was willing to close down and bankrupt multiple small businesses because he couldn’t be bothered to pay his bills, all while living in a gilded penthouse and flying around New York City in a helicopter, that screamed: I don’t fucking care about you!
Creating jobs isn’t a thing to be praised.
Creating well-paying jobs is. Billion-dollar corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s don’t create healthy economies. They create mass poverty. Anyone can create a job. I’ll pay you $1 an hour to clean my house, do lawn care and general maintenance Monday through Friday for eight hours a day. There, I created a job. Have I contributed anything to society? No. Have I boosted the economy? No. All I’ve done is put one person in poverty.
“Job-creation” is nothing more than a catchphrase that politicians use to get votes. It doesn’t mean anything. Let’s say there is a small town with 500 people and a factory opens and pays minimum wage. If the company hires everyone in the area, the result will not be a thriving community. It will be a community of 500 poor people. Yes, the factory technically created jobs, but it also spread poverty. Never forget they need us more than we need them. Without us working their low-paying jobs, they have nothing. Make them pay fairly for your labor. Make them create well-paying jobs.
Black and Brown people are not the reason you’re poor, rich white people are the reason you‘re poor.
Corporations siphon money from profits to share with stockholders, upper management, and CEOs, leaving everyone else, regardless of color, scrambling at the bottom for crappy pay. The owner of the factory is the reason you are poor, not the person of color working beside you for the same wage. Don’t be angry at the immigrant trying to make a better life. Be pissed off at the company who exploits both of you so they can pay lower wages and maximize profits.
There is NO such thing as a “Welfare Queen.”
There never was. Politicians made this up. It is propaganda designed to make you think people of color are lazy and want a free ride at your expense. If you resent them, you are more likely to vote to eliminate programs that benefit them but could also benefit your own family. Generations and generations of white people have been programmed to be racist even if it’s to their own detriment. By helping to keep people of color down, you keep yourself down — and that’s how politicians want it. Consider how the GIF below uses racist propaganda to persuade you to think negatively about people who need government assistance. (And no, one example of a person buying steaks with food stamps does not prove the entire welfare system is corrupt.)
The “War on Drugs” and “The War on Crime” are fake.
These programs target minority communities and keep the private prison system making billions. As collateral damage, poor whites sometimes get sucked into the system, but not enough that anyone cares. Poor people are funneled through the prison system with plea deals. Incarcerated people work for pennies a day in a modern-day slave trade, making products for billion-dollar corporations.
The rehabilitation system has almost no programs for actual rehabilitation because the system wants ex-convicts to fail. It’s how they keep the money pouring in. The propaganda of these fake wars tries to convince white people that black and brown people commit more crimes, that white people should fear them, and that prison is where they belong. If you allow yourself to be brainwashed by racism, the system will continue to prey on poor people of all colors. Rich people hire lawyers to get out of prison time. Poor people are scared and pressured into plea deals. And no one cares until it happens to them.
Stop listening to people who say you need to boot-strap your way up, especially if they have never had to boot-strap their way anywhere.
This is a myth wealthy people have been telling poor people for centuries. It’s a way to keep poor and working-class people grinding away at jobs that create more wealth for them, not you. It’s a way to pit working class people and poor people against each other. Instead of showing each other compassion and joining together, we look down on anyone we see as “not working hard enough” — even when that mentality keeps us down too. Working hard is admirable; being made to feel lazy or less than because you lack equal opportunity is manipulation.
Rich people don’t have some magical way of thinking that makes them rich. They aren’t better, smarter, or more creative than poor people. They have more money, and more money offers greater opportunities. That’s it.
I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t try to better their lives. Never give up. What I’m saying is stop beating yourself up because you face a longer, tougher road to succeed than someone who was born into wealth and privilege. And try to have compassion for those who are struggling to make ends meet. Beating people down who are already exhausted isn’t just unfair — it’s cruel.
Wealthy white people love to see poor people fighting among ourselves.
If we dislike each other over things like race, sexual orientation, and religion, then we aren’t paying attention to what the billionaires and politicians are doing. They want you to get riled up over wedding cakes, who uses what bathroom, and what to say at Christmas time. By pumping out media stories that make you think you are losing something, or that your lifestyle is in danger, they can keep you focused on stuff that really makes no difference in your life.
I’ll put it like this: if I offered you $5 more per hour at your job on the condition you do not insert yourself in matters that don’t concern you, like gay couples getting married, would you accept it? Here’s another way to look at it: would you rather have a $100 Christmas bonus, or a $1000 Holiday bonus? When we take a step back, get honest, and ask ourselves if we genuinely care how other people live, the answer is usually no. We get fired up over the onslaught of shocking headlines, and that’s exactly what people in power want.
Rich people have convinced working class people that unions are bad.
Workers are stuck in low-paying jobs without the power to walk out and negotiate for better wages and benefits. News outlets (owned by rich people) frame stories of union walkouts as if workers are lazy or greedy. They often show workers of color on picket lines to reinforce the notion that black and brown people want “something for nothing.” That is one way to minimize wages for workers and maximize payouts to stockholders and CEOs.
If a CEO makes $120 million a year, in one year he or she has enough so they never have to work again for the rest of their life. They never have to work another day, and neither do their grandkids or great-grandkids. The entire family is set. Do you think they care if the company goes belly up? Why would they when they’ve got theirs? If you lose your job are you set? Corporations spend a great deal of time peddling fear in workers that the most important thing is the “health” of the company above all else. That’s just a tricky way to convince workers to take less, so those at the top can take more. What’s the best way to achieve that? Split up unions and take away workers’ power. There is power in numbers, and they know it, and do everything they can to keep us from seeing it. Remember: without your labor, they have nothing!
When the show Friends became a runaway hit it came time for the actors to renegotiate their contracts. David Schwimmer, who played Ross, went to the rest of the cast and suggested that, instead of negotiating individually, which could lead to resentment if some were paid more than others, they should negotiate as a single group. The result was the entire cast was paid the same for the run of the show. It was equal and fair, and no one left the show because of hurt feelings or resentment. That’s a union.
There is a myth that raising the minimum wage would allow unskilled workers to make as much as skilled workers and that wouldn’t be fair.
Again, this is more spinning of tales so that wealthy CEOs can keep worker pay at an all-time low while they make billions. The truth is if minimum wage went up, skilled wages would go up too. How? Let’s say you are an EMT working for $15.00 an hour and the minimum wage goes up. Now everyone working in retail and fast food is making the same as you. Pretty insulting, right? Wrong. That’s what corporations want you to think so you will fight to keep other poor people down. If the minimum wage rose to $15, you could get a job anywhere for the same pay. That would give you leverage to negotiate a higher wage by saying, essentially, “There is now an abundance of jobs paying what I make. I can leave and take one of those jobs unless you pay me more for my added skills.” Your skills are now worth more. Instead of $15, you may get $20, but you’ll never get the $20 if you keep fighting to keep others down. Lifting others lifts you up too.
Continuing to support politicians who give tax breaks to the rich is never going to make your life better.
When a company gains billions in tax breaks, the people at the top get multi-million-dollar bonuses. Workers at the bottom may (if they are incredibly lucky) get $1000 after 20 years of service. That’s $50 a year! A one-time bonus of a $1000 will do nothing to change a working person’s life. At best, it will alleviate a bit of stress for one month. One month for 20 years! Meanwhile, CEOs and other top executives are wondering if they should buy a yacht or another vacation home. While poor people are cheering over being thrown slop, the rich are pigging out at the buffet table.
If poor and working-class people stop fighting each other and band together, we have the numbers to make real change. Rich people know this, and it terrifies them. If we suddenly start demanding better wages, they may have to give up a bit of profit. If we start demanding health care and quality education, they may have to pay a bit more in taxes. If we start treating each other with respect and equality, they can no longer use fear, homophobia, racism, and propaganda to distract us.
We have the power. Now we need to stop giving it away.
Making mistakes are inevitable. You learn what you can from them and try not to make the same ones twice. But, as I’ve been told, I “never know when to quit.” I guess there are upsides and downsides to that. I’m persistent.
I’ve always hated the business side of art & music. There are some aspects that I don’t mind doing myself. But, most of it I’ve always left for someone else to handle (booking shows, collecting the door, etc.). I’m just really bad at it. But, as a club owner once told comedian / performance artist Andy Kaufman, “This is show-business. Show… Business! Show…Business! Without the business, there’s no show.” It took a very long time to beat that into my head. But, I still relied too much on others to get things done.
I’ve always known how important it is to have backup gear; strings, cords, cables, picks, etc. But, I never considered having a backup for other contingencies. A friend would set up a show for me and I’d prepare to get by at that one show. If something went wrong, though, I’d be fucked. I’ve been stood up by bandmates at booked gigs. I’ve had important pieces of equipment fail. If something CAN go wrong, it usually does.
I was, recently, reading a blog explaining the pros and cons of touring alone vs touring with a band. It got me thinking about how I can better prepare myself. I should ALWAYS have a backup plan ready for when shit goes wrong, “Always have a plan A, B, C, and D.” If an offer comes along and I don’t have a backup plan for it, then I probably shouldn’t accept it. I’m not ready. The best way to avoid this from happening is to DIY all of the work, as much as possible. If I’m bad at it, then I’ll learn how to get better. I’ve always been bad with cars, but eventually I had to learn shit or it didn’t get done…period.
If I’m setting up a show by myself, I can control the variables and take precautions. If bandmates flake out or cannot show up, I can still do it alone. If a piece of equipment fails, I can do something else instead. Whatever happens, I got this.
Part of this mindset is influenced by my “prepping hobby” or whatever you want to call it. I liked the TV show “Doomsday Preppers”, while it lasted. Sure, there were lots of nutcases on there with too much money to waste and not enough common sense. But, the general principle is a sound one, “Be prepared…for anything.” It got our grandparents through the Great Depression. The pioneers survived travelling across the wilderness because they prepared for it. Shit’s gonna happen, inevitably. What are you gonna do? Cry about it? No. If something needs to be done, get it done. No one else will do it. Think ahead, then you won’t have to worry as much.
I have repairs & replacements that need to be taken care of. But, I would like to set up a few mini-tours down the Midwest or The East Coast. Whether that is with a group or alone (or both) I’d like to somehow make that happen. If I can secure a decent-priced rental van and insurance with Roadside Assistance it would make a world of difference. Would it be a deal-breaker if I can’t? I’m not sure.
Another thing that has taken me a very long time to learn is, “If you can’t do it the way that you want to do it, find another way to do it. Then, do it anyway.” Being stubbornly perfectionist can really hold you back. I’ve had to learn that the hard way. I’ve had some great ideas which would have been fantastic to see materialize, “only if…” It’s always some details that prevented it from happening, when I could have done it in some other fashion and at least gotten SOMETHING done – instead of nothing.
This kinda goes back to my point of being more self-reliant. I’ve often needed someone around to break me out of my depression, get me motivated, and to bounce ideas off of. If I had simply recorded & performed everything myself, all along, I could have accomplished so much more! I thought that I NEEDED other people to do things. But, I really only WANTED them. That is a big difference. It is a huge mistake to wait for anyone for anything, if you can avoid it. “Don’t wait around for help, because it isn’t coming.” Otherwise, you’ll be sitting there, forever, Waiting For Godot.
One of my favorite cartoons is “Rick & Morty.” I think that the best episode, so far, has been “Pickle Rick.” In this episode, the title character (transformed into a limbless pickle) is physically helpless, trapped down a sewer drain, but manages to save his own life through sheer ingenuity and persistence. Just like one of my other favorite TV characters, MacGyver. He could have simply despaired there at the bottom of the sewer, hopelessly crying to himself, until the rats and roaches ate his lifeless corpse. But, instead, he used his environment to escape and survive. I’m a little envious that I don’t have more positive moments like that myself. It is something to strive for, though.
How a libertarian experiment in city government fell apart over taxes, debt and some very angry people.
The abandoned cop cars sat in Trina Reyes’ yard for eight months. She wanted them gone, but there were no police to come get them. Last September, the police department in Von Ormy — a town of 1,300 people just southwest of San Antonio — lost its accreditation after it failed to meet basic standards. Reyes was mayor at the time, so the three patrol cars, as well as the squad’s police radios and its computers, ended up at her home. It was just another low point in a two-year saga that she now counts as one of the most difficult experiences of her life.
“This is one of the worst things I’ve ever done,” she said of being mayor. “I’ve never dealt with such angry people. I’m washing my hands of everything. … I’m going to travel. I’m going as far away from Von Ormy as I can.”
For the last few years, Von Ormy has been in near-constant turmoil over basic issues of governance: what form of municipal government to adopt, whether to tax its residents, and how to pay for services such as sewer, police, firefighters and animal control. Along the way, three City Council members were arrested for allegedly violating the Open Meetings Act, and the volunteer fire department collapsed for lack of funds. Nearly everyone in town has an opinion on who’s to blame. But it’s probably safe to say that the vision of the city’s founder, a libertarian lawyer whose family traces its roots in Von Ormy back six generations, has curdled into something that is part comedy, part tragedy.
In 2006, fearing annexation by rapidly encroaching San Antonio, some in Von Ormy proposed incorporating as a town. But in government-averse rural Texas, incorporation can be a hard sell. Unincorporated areas are governed mainly by counties, which have few rules about what you can do on private property and tend to only lightly tax. There’s no going back from what municipal government brings: taxes, ordinances, elections and tedious city council meetings. Still, the fear of being absorbed by San Antonio — with its big-city taxes and regulations — was too much for most Von Ormians.
Enter Art Martinez de Vara. At the time, Martinez de Vara was an ambitious third-year law student at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, a local boy with a penchant for Texas history and right-wing politics.
Martinez de Vara suggested a compromise of sorts. Von Ormy could become a “liberty city” — a stripped-down, low-tax, low-government version of municipal government that’s currently en vogue among the tea party in Texas.
Initially, the city would impose property and sales taxes, but the property tax would ratchet down to zero over time. The business-friendly environment would draw new economic activity to Von Ormy, and eventually the town would cruise along on sales taxes alone.
There would be no charge for building permits, which Martinez de Vara said would be hand-delivered by city staff. The nanny state would be kept at bay, too. Want to shoot off fireworks? Blast away. Want to smoke in a bar? Light up. Teens wandering around at night? No curfew, no problem.
Martinez de Vara and his mother, Sally Martinez, along with other prominent residents, started the Commission to Incorporate Von Ormy. He gave Von Ormy a motto: “The Freest Little City in Texas.”
Folks in Von Ormy liked what they heard and in May 2008 voted to incorporate. Martinez de Vara was elected mayor that November.
In a 2015 presentation he gave at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, Martinez de Vara said that a group of people with no political experience took it upon themselves to do everything a large city like San Antonio does but at a lower cost. He touted Von Ormy’s ability to provide animal control services, a 20-officer police department — a mix of paid officers and volunteers — and an online city hall.
“We were blessed with this unique opportunity to experiment with democracy,” he said.
Today, there is no city animal control program and stray dogs roam the streets. The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office patrols the town instead of city police, and City Hall resides in a mobile home with one full-time staffer — though that’s a step up from the dive bar where City Council met until the owner bounced them out. If you go to the city’s website, you’ll be informed that it’s still under construction.
If Von Ormy is a libertarian experiment with democracy, it’s one that hasn’t turned out as expected.
Former Von Ormy mayor Trina Reyes at her home in April. Several abandoned police cars were in her yard for eight months.
The crisis of government in Von Ormy doesn’t present itself at first glance. The town is located on I-35 just south of the Medina River, where San Antonio’s impressive sprawl gives way to the scrub brush of South Texas. There’s a post office, of course, plus some gas stations, a diner, a trailer home dealer and the MGM Cabaret strip club. A giant oak tree in town is believed by some local historians, including Martinez de Vara, to have been the encampment for Santa Anna before he laid siege to the Alamo.
Reyes lives near I-35 in a distinct two-story blue house. A retired buyer for a beauty supply company, she moved from San Antonio to Von Ormy in 1982. When Martinez de Vara stepped down as mayor in 2015, he tapped Reyes to run. She had been an early supporter of the liberty city idea. But when I visited her this spring, she was counting down the days till her term expired in May.
From the beginning, she said, the town had been divided.
“Some really liked it,” Reyes said. “They liked the possibility of getting street lights, sewage, better roads and all of the stuff that comes with incorporating. … There was quite a bit promised and people bought into it, including myself.”
Others thought that the process would lead to unnecessary fights and power grabs.
“A lot of people that did not want to incorporate were saying that once you become a political entity you start with the corruption, the infighting and all of the stuff that comes with having public figures,” she said. “They said it was going to divide the city, which it did. The majority of the people that spoke up against [incorporating] were right then about what’s happening now.”
As mayor, Martinez de Vara’s first priority was to lure chain stores with the town’s low-tax, low-regulation branding. But there was a problem: Von Ormy lacked a sewer system and it would be expensive to connect to San Antonio’s main wastewater system. The San Antonio Water System, which services most of Bexar County, told town officials that the connection would cost $4 million to $5 million.
According to Reyes, City Administrator James Massey recommended floating a bond, standard practice for most cities. But Martinez de Vara rejected the recommendation. Liberty cities aren’t supposed to take on debt, after all. (Martinez de Vara didn’t respond to numerous requests for comment.)
Reyes said most people in Von Ormy agreed with Martinez de Vara’s position but that it put the town in a bind. “You want to be a liberty city? No taxes,” she said. “We could only afford to put in $500,000, if that, but where would we get the rest from?”
The sewer system was never installed, and the town still relies on septic.
The lack of a centralized wastewater system made it more difficult to recruit businesses. But the oil boom in the Eagle Ford Shale — the vast shale play that stretches from Laredo into East Texas — helped juice the businesses along the I-35 strip in Von Ormy. Martinez de Vara and the City Council stuck to the plan of ratcheting the property tax rate down every year. In 2009, the rate stood at a modest 39 cents per $100 of value — less than neighboring San Antonio or Somerset, a small town to the south. By 2014, they’d cut it to 25.5 cents — enough to generate $79,000 in revenue. Meanwhile, the sales tax brought in about $215,000 that year.
Martinez de Vara promised that the property tax would be eliminated altogether by 2015, the bold step he’d envisioned at the town’s inception.
“Many of our residents are on fixed incomes and property taxation is the single greatest threat to continued home ownership and the ability to pass the fruits of a lifetime of work onto the next generation,” he told the San Antonio Express-News in 2014.
Von Ormy no longer has a city property tax and instead relies on sales taxes from businesses such as the Route 35 Diner.
But two things happened around this time: First, the bottom fell out of the oil economy. With oil prices in free-fall in 2014 and 2015, the drilling rigs in the Eagle Ford Shale started packing up, as did many of the workers, trucks and ancillary oil field services.
Second, some were beginning to sour on the liberty city model. On the five-member City Council, three council members — Jacqueline Goede, Verna Hernandez and Carmina Aguilar — had banded together in a bloc that was increasingly at odds with Martinez de Vara and the two other council members, one of whom was Sally Martinez. The most explosive issue was property taxes. The three women thought it was foolish to eliminate property taxes altogether. Sales taxes rise and fall with the economy, and few cities rely on them alone.
“As new as we are and as small as we are, to grow we need those taxes,” Goede told the Express-News. “We need them desperately.”
What ensued was a confusing series of boycotted meetings, obscure loopholes and eventually a possibly illegal hearing that landed the three women briefly in jail. In September 2014, Martinez de Vara had formally proposed zeroing out the property tax, but Goede, Hernandez and Aguilar voted it down 3-2 and, at least for five days, kept the property tax in place. However, to formally ratify the rate, per state law, at least four council members needed to hold another meeting to vote, but Sally Martinez and Debra Ivy refused to show up to any hearing with ratification on the agenda. The result: Martinez de Vara got his way and the property tax rate was eliminated.
Frustrated, Goede, Hernandez and Aguilar took a radical, and possibly illegal, step: They formed a kind of brief shadow government, holding their own City Council hearing at the Von Ormy fire station without Martinez de Vara and the two other council members. At the hearing, they elected Goede mayor pro tem, established a property tax and fired the head of the police department.
Martinez de Vara caught wind of the meeting and got a judge to nullify the actions taken in it. Soon, the Texas Rangers opened a criminal investigation into possible violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act, resulting in misdemeanor charges. In May 2015, the three council members turned themselves in to the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. Though the charges were eventually dropped and the women continued serving on City Council, the incident only inflamed tensions in the community.
“After that, there was a lack of authority, lack of direction and a lack of enthusiasm,” said Michael Suarez, the former animal control worker for the city and a Martinez de Vara supporter. “Everyone started acting like children and nothing got done.”
Even as Von Ormy descended into chaos, Martinez de Vara’s own profile had been rising. Folks from around the state had started calling him with questions about how to form a liberty city. Martinez de Vara found himself with a niche law practice. He says he has helped four or five Texas towns incorporate as liberty cities, about half the state total in the last decade.
The GOP had also taken notice. In 2011 and 2012, Martinez de Vara served as chief of staff to one-term Representative John Garza, a San Antonio Republican. Then, in 2014, Senator Konni Burton, a libertarian-leaning Republican from Fort Worth, brought him on as chief of staff. That session, Burton introduced Senate Bill 710, which would codify the liberty city model as an official form of municipal government, with restrictions on regulations, debt and the implementation of taxes. The bill died in committee.
Today, he’s the assistant general counsel for the Texas Republican Party and the city attorney for Kingsbury, a liberty city near Seguin in Guadalupe County.
In May 2015, Martinez de Vara stepped down as mayor — but not before asking Reyes, a member of the City Council first elected in 2013, to run as his replacement. She and Martinez de Vara agreed on the top priority: getting the three women off the council.
“It got to the point that the city was spending $20,000 to $30,000 a month in legal fees,” she said. “All three of them would pick up the phone and ask the same question and we’d get charged for all of them.”
Despite pressing city business, council meetings often devolved into chaos. For example, at a September 2015 meeting, Reyes angrily told Goede and Hernandez they were “speaking out of turn” and threatened to call the police if they kept talking. But when Hernandez persisted, Reyes ordered the police chief, who was present at the meeting, to escort Hernandez outside. Hernandez was arrested and booked into jail for disrupting a meeting, a misdemeanor. But that didn’t quiet Hernandez or her supporters.
One day, Reyes said, she got a call from Martinez de Vara.
“He told me that the only way that we were going to get rid of those women is to change to a commissioner-style government,” she said. “And at that point, I would have done anything to get rid of those three women. They were nothing but trouble.”
Martinez de Vara recommended that Von Ormy switch from what’s known as a Type A municipality to a Type C. Instead of the usual five council members and a mayor, Type C cities have two commissioners and a mayor. According to the Texas Municipal League, only 27 of the 1,200 municipalities in Texas are set up this way. In November 2015, voters narrowly approved the change, with 129 in favor and 115 against. The new commission started holding meetings the next month.
When I visited Reyes in Von Ormy in March, she was in despair about the arrangement. Halving the council from six to three elected officials hadn’t brought unity.
She had all but stopped speaking to the two commissioners — longtime City Council member Sally Martinez and Alex Quintanilla, another stalwart in the city government. Reyes simply stopped showing up for council meetings in early 2017, accusing Martinez and Quintanilla of ganging up on her.
In September, Martinez and Quintanilla voted to reclassify the mayor’s office as a conference room and mandated that Reyes pay for the desk’s relocation. “They said it was too big and that I had to take it home,” she said. “Now I work from home.”
She was also worried about violating the Open Meetings Act again, which is easy to do when there are only three people in charge of the city and two constitutes a quorum.
“If two of us talk on the phone, I think that would be a violation,” she said. “We’ve just stopped speaking to each other. And Alex lives across the alley from me. It’s really sad.”
She points to a February meeting between county officials and rural leaders in southern Bexar County as evidence of the precariousness of their situation.
I went to a forum with the county to talk about potential Community Development Block Grant funds in nearby Somerset, and I didn’t realize until I put my glasses on that Sally and Alex were there,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re in trouble again.’”
In September 2016, Von Ormy made headlines when its police department was forced to shut down. For nearly a year, Reyes and the two city commissioners had been locked in a power struggle over who should be the police chief. When Reyes took over as mayor, she moved to sack Police Chief Greg Reyes (no relation), who she and others accused of harassing council members and city staff and lying about his law enforcement background. (According to a report written by a private investigator tapped by Mayor Reyes, the police chief had lied on his résumé about obtaining a degree from San Antonio College and being assigned to the Frio County Sheriff’s Department Narcotics Task Force, which turned out not to exist.)
Mayor Reyes fired Chief Reyes and convinced the City Council to hire a man named Pedro Rosario. The new police chief claimed to find some serious problems left behind by his predecessor.
“The evidence room had very little to no control measures,” he told me in an April interview. “It was literally an 18-wheel trailer that was unsecured. There was no cataloging. I found unmarked boxes filled with everything from weapons to narcotics … and anybody could walk in, and they did. A lot of the City Council members would just walk in and want to see a file or just grab things.” (Greg Reyes did not respond to numerous requests for comment.)
Then in the summer of 2016, the two commissioners, Martinez and Quintanilla, voted to fire Rosario and rehire Greg Reyes. But Mayor Reyes claimed the hiring was illegal and refused to recognize Reyes as police chief.
Then in September, the dispute was finally brought to an end when Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau wrote a letter to Mayor Reyes. Pamerleau said her department would no longer provide dispatch services because there was simply “too much instability” in the department. Without dispatch services, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement quickly pulled the Von Ormy PD’s accreditation.
The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has been patrolling the town ever since. The three patrol cars Von Ormy had received as a donation from Bexar County ended up in Reyes’ yard. After her term ended in May, they were moved in front of City Hall.
Jake Galvan, a retired mechanic, says that the police department was an embarrassment to the town and the source of rumors about misconduct and other illegal behavior.
“They didn’t hire anybody that’s a veteran,” he said. “They just hired a bunch of rookies with no experience.”
In Galvan’s view, the liberty city experiment has gone all wrong.
“This ain’t going well at all,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of empty buildings, a lot of [federal] grant money spent, and for what? We have a fire station that nobody wants to operate and a police station with no police. Where did all that money go?”
In early May, Von Ormy elected a new mayor: Sally Martinez, the only person who has served on the council since the beginning.
“We are in the process of trying to bring back our police department,” she told me in a brief April interview. “We just want to move forward and improve the city however we can.”
David Farr, her challenger, is a mechanic who had started to attend meetings over the past year and wanted to change what he saw as stalled progress and nepotism.
“The only way to make Von Ormy sustainable is to get more businesses out here,” he said.
“If things don’t change, we’re going to be in trouble in, I’d say, two years. We’ll have to start borrowing to get the roads fixed.”
He pins the town’s woes on Martinez de Vara’s crusade to establish other liberty cities, a common complaint heard in Von Ormy.
“I’ll give him credit, he’s the one who got the city going,” he said. “But then, all of a sudden, he drops out. He’s up in Austin. He’s too busy.”
Reyes thinks the liberty city experiment has failed. With increasing expenses, a population resistant to any taxes, and economic development dead in the water, she thinks the town is only a few years away from a fiscal crisis, when the commission will have to decide whether to take on debt.
“We’re halfway there,” she said. “Without ad valorem taxes, we’ll be done in three to five years. If we can’t attract more businesses here and provide the infrastructure, then I think we’re done.”
But others are protective of Martinez de Vara’s vision and blame Reyes for the dysfunction.
Michael Suarez, the former animal control worker, was born and raised in Von Ormy. He says that Martinez de Vara was a capable leader who simply saw an opportunity to climb the political ladder.
“Trina just wanted the power, but she didn’t know anything,” Suarez said. “All she wanted to do was just scream about how she’s in charge and order people around. She would scream at people, and that’s not how you do things.”
Suarez was one of the biggest supporters of incorporation, spending his free time block-walking to convince his neighbors that it was the right thing to do.
His wife, Amy, was on the City Council from 2011 to 2013 and was an ally of Martinez de Vara’s.
“I think we’re just young,” she said. “We’ve reached our temper tantrum stage and we just need to get past it. But a lot of the people here don’t care. They want to be left alone, but if something’s not done soon then San Antonio’s going to annex us. Then we’ll have to pay the taxes that Von Ormy was established to get out of in the first place.”
Michael says that the election was an opportunity for things to settle down and live up to the trust given to them by county officials, but that there will be some hard work in getting the town they want back.
“We worked so hard to get this far,” he said. “But it’s kind of turned into George Orwell’s Animal Farm. We’re all equal, but some of us are more equal than others. There’s nobody competent enough to lead this city and we sure as hell can’t attract anybody to come and fix us. We have to do this ourselves.”
I haven’t posted much on my website blog in awhile. I have kept myself fairly occupied most of the time, despite outward appearances.
I’ve finally closed the door on The Island of Misfit Noise, as a recording group for good. It is still the title of a no-budget movie and comic book. But, for the purposes of collaborating with other musicians, it has outlived it’s usefulness. I will think of something else if I need it. I’m currently working on a new album with some friends and am keeping an eye out for available musicians to perform live with again.
My disability pay has not come yet. I’m annoyed. A mistake has been made by the Social Security Administration. I updated my account information with them over a month ago. But, they deposited this month’s payment into an account that is no longer active. I called their office and the bank. Hopefully, it will be straightened out soon. I need supplies to work on a few projects and it is holding me up. I have a lot of stuff to catch up on;
This week’s mail is ready to go out as soon as I get some postage.
My homemade drum kit (aka The ShitKit) is coming along really well. I need to get some parts from a hardware store to put it together.
I’m working on a short film to submit to a film festival next month. I need a few items for building props, sets, puppets, etc.
I have some incomplete paintings that require art supplies.
Someone is offering a free drafting table on Craigslist. I’m out of gas, though. Hopefully, it will still be there when I can refuel again.
I need funds to send my zines to the printers, if I am to have them ready in time for upcoming events.
I have VHS tapes that need to be transferred to my computer for editing. But, the VCR needs cleaning badly and I can’t find any tape head cleaners anywhere. I gotta get replacements.
Of course, there is also the matter of monthly bills and mundane household things; rent, phone, internet, debts, medications, food, dish soap, cat litter, paper towels, toilet paper, car insurance & license plate renewal, etc.
I recently sent out an email to those on my mailing list with a few details of upcoming events and a plea for financial support. I doubt that anybody will take me up on it. But, it never hurts to ask.
I’m writing a new horror story to be made into another low-budget movie, after “The Island of Misfit Noise” film is finished. It is a little more ambitious. It will actually require a REAL budget and not be made piecemeal like the IOMN.
Another project that I will undertake, a little bit later, is a compilation LP. It will be funded collectively by the contributing artists. Everyone submits a song or two and their share of the budget to produce it. After the vinyl is pressed, everyone gets their percentage of the finished product, to sell at gigs. It is an old method of doing things, that I have participated in before. Another share of the records will be sent out for promotion, through radio and press.
But, before I embark on these and other projects, I need to finish up a couple of things and sort out my financial situation. I have enrolled in a debt consolidation program. So far, my credit cards seem to be under control. But, I have yet to get my payday loan debts arranged. I don’t believe that I can do that this month, because I have to buy a car insurance policy to renew my license plates. We will see how that comes along. Anyway, that is what I’m doing lately.
One of the surest ways or enraging conservatives is through debunking right wing lies, particular the ones most commonly seen on Facebook, Twitter and beyond. Here is this weeks handy list of right wing lies we have taken the time to correct.
Be sure to sprinkle these around and let us know some other great lies you want us to debunk in our nextDebunking Right Wing Liessegment.
1. The United States is not a “Christian Nation” founded upon “Christian Principles”.
One need look no further than to Thomas Jefferson to understand the false nature of this claim.
“Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. “
And one cannot forget that Jefferson strongly advocated the separation of church and state:
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State. “
Another founder, John Adams, was a Congregationalist who later became a Unitarian. However, he deliberately avoided creed-based dogmatic religion.
The Treaty of Tripoli, introduced to the Senate by John Adams and ratified by unanimous decree, was signed by Adams in 1797 and includes the following passage for any doubters out there:
“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”
President Obama’s centrist healthcare bill was informed by federalism (delegating power to the states) and proven technocratic reforms (like a board to help doctors discern which treatments would be most cost-effective). Republicans, undeterred, decried it as Soviet-style communism based on “death panels” – never mind the fact that the old system, which rationed care based on income, is the one thatleft tens of thousands of uninsured people to die.
It’s worth noting thatevery time the CBO estimateshow much Obamacare will cost, the number gets lower. Odd how we’ve never heard Republicans say that.
3. Ronald Reagan Supported Gun Control
“I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.”
In 1986 as president, he signed into law theFirearm Owners Protection Act, which “banned ownership of any fully automatic rifles that were not already registered on the day the law was signed.”
After leaving the presidency, he supported the passage of the Brady bill that established by federal law a nationwide, uniform standard of a 7-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns to enable background checks on prospective buyers.