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SMARTGATE CONCLUSION: SIX OF SEVEN SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEMBERS RESPOND, ALL BUT MUM BIANCHI … SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION IGNORES ‘WE THE PEOPLE’ … CHAIRMAN BARBALUNGA VOWS ACTION … ELIAS, OTHERS ADMIT SCHOOLS DO NOT ENFORCE ‘SMART’ POLICY … HALF OF PPS CLASSROOMS DUMBED DOWN BY ‘SMART’ STUDENTS

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY—MONDAY, MAY 24-27, 2013) — First, before THE PLANET get to the conclusion of our story on “Smartgate” in the Pittsfield Public School system, we give you this update on those who took out nomination papers. New names from last week are highlights in bold face, underline.

Mayor: none

City Clerk: Linda M. Tyer (86 Ventura Avenue)

Council At Large:

Edward J. Carmel (99 Second Street, Apt. 109)
Barry J. Clairmont (12 Lillybrook Road)
Churchill Cotton (15 Donovan Street)
Mark C. Miller (300 Williams Street)

Ward 1 Councilor

Chris Yon, incumbent

Tammy Ives (62 Sadler Avenue)
Lisa I. Tully (58 Oak Hill Road) 

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin J. Morandi (19 South Carolina Avenue)

Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio (106 Parkside Avenue)

Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell (105 Dawes Avenue)

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop (18 Willow Lane)

Ward 6 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols (39 Cascade Street)

Ward 7 Councilor Tony Simonelli, incumbent

School Committee

Kathy Yon, incumbent

Alfred E. Barbalunga (32 Brookside Drive) incumbent
Daniel C. Elias (201 Mohegan Street) incumbent

As you can see, the season is still slow, and no one, as yet, has taken out papers for mayor.

—————————————————————————-

BARBALUNGA PROMISES ACTION ON ‘SMARTGATE’; BIANCHI, SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION NO-SHOWS IN RESPONDING TO THE PUBLIC … WHAT ARE THEY AFRAID OF?

Since THE PLANET revealed — in an exclusive — the abuse in the classrooms of so-called “smart” portable, personal technology by students (iPad, iPod, Kindle, Nook, etc.), there has been growing concern on the part of the public, and maybe, just maybe, the school committee will act.

Most tellingly, six of the seven school committee members responded in some fashion to our inquiries into the situation. Of the school committee, only Dan Bianchi, who also is mayor, once again ignored THE PLANET entreaties. THE PLANET would remind BIanchi that ignoring us has not worked out well for his predecessors. Only  mayor Jimmy Ruberto kept the lines of communication open. Only Jimmy Ruberto had a tough enough skin to deal with THE PLANET, and we shall remind those of weak memory that we took Ruberto into the boards as roughly or rougher than anyone.

Ruberto, a smart politician, won four straight terms. Sara Hathaway, Gerry Doyle, and Ed Reilly all at some point in their terms not only cut us off (and cutting off their noses to spite their kissable mugs) but also, after they each lost re-election or resigned knowing they could not win another term, blamed poor, little PLANET for their respective demises. They under-estimated the strength of our following, and when they stopped talking to us, We The People took it as a personal insult.

We night add that THE PLANET has another inquiry into the mayor on a separate matter. It has to do with allegations leveled against Bianchi by a member of the press. We wanted to sit down with the mayor to get his side of the remarkable story before we went ahead with what he have learned. We even offered lunch. We have heard nothing but Simon and Garfunkle, that is, “The Sounds of Silence.” When the phone doesn’t ring, I’ll know it’s the mayor not calling.

The school committee, as a whole, comes off with honesty and openness by comparison. With six out of seven responses, they are batting .857. The school department administration, however, logs in at a pathetic 0-for-4 at .000. Not one of the top four brass — interim supt. Gordon Noseworthy or deputy superintendents N. Tracy Crowe, Kristen Behnke, or Frank Cote — answered our questions. Only Cote gets a pass, since he is recovering from illness. In snubbing Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, the school department administration only confirms their haughty, “how-dare-you-question-what-we-do” attitude. Come budget time, these mercenaries, in the name of The Children, will once again attempt (and likely succeed) in picking taxpayers’ pockets for more of the latter’s precious little money, but when it comes to responsiveness to the “customer,” Noseworthy and his gang would rather tell you to shove it.

Here are the responses we received, as we received them:

SCHOOL COMMITTEE

CHAIRMAN ALF BARBALUNGA

first, i would be happy to meet/speak with ‘varsity mom’ and discuss her concerns further.  i encourage you to give her my personal email address
 
i am not aware of her speaking with the school principal, members of the administration, or members of the school committee about her concerns, and requesting information or policy changes and/or enforcement changes
 
however, upon inquiring, it appears that the situation she describes is fairly accurate in many classrooms
 
as you may know any school committee member may place an item of interest on a future agenda; no member i am aware of, has done so to date regarding this dynamic.  i say this, because i do not believe we collectively were aware
 
however, i will personally place this item on the next policy subcommittee agenda; the policy in question is stu-38, starting on page 535 & is provided for you at the conclusion of my response
 
personally i believe the policy that has been promulgated is pretty clear, reasonable, and has the punitive teeth needed
 
but, after inquiring, it appears that the issues are enforcement by individual teachers, and consistency with principal directives about what is expected and tolerated by the teachers in the various classes, in the 12 schools
 
finally, while i acknowledge this is a frustrating issue, please keep in mind there are a lot of great daily student accomplishments, and we all need to remember the positives, as much as many people prefer to dwell on the system negatives
 
i hope we see a large turnout of your readership at the public budgetary commentary period at tonight’s 6pm meeting
 
keep up your good work & have a nice day

BARBALUNGA THEN ADDS CURRENT POLICY:
STU-38

                                                                                                                                     R-8/20/08

PITTSFIELD PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Pittsfield, Massachusetts

.c1.SECURE SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT POLICY

The first responsibility of a school system is to ensure students and their parents of an orderly safe environment in which effective teaching and learning can take place.  Toward this end, the following process is effective immediately.

 

1.         Portable Communications Devices

           

            The School Committee recognizes that cell phones and other kinds of portable communication devices (PCDs) may play an important part in the safety as well as the convenience of students.  Cell phones and PCDs are defined here as products of current and emerging technology that are wireless, and that send or receive electronic communications, including pictures, text, graphics, and sound, by means of analog, digital, or other format of data transmission.  The School Committee establishes the following rules for students’ use of cell phones and other kinds of PCDs.

 

A.     Students may carry or otherwise possess cell phones and other kinds of PCDs on school grounds and at school-sponsored or school-related events or activities; except that students shall keep any such devices turned off and shall not use or operate any such device during the instructional day, or at any other time during any school-sponsored activity or program, or in any location, when their use would reasonably be expected to disrupt or interfere with instructional activities or the academic climate of the school or its programs or services.

 

B.     The term “instructional day” as used in paragraph A, above, means the times established for regular academic instruction.  The term “instructional day” shall also refer to activities or programs that occur outside the time when regular academic instruction is provided and when students are obliged to be in attendance, such as for Saturday detention, in which case the restriction on the use or operation of cell phones or other kinds of PCDs shall apply to the students involved in such activities or program.

 

C.     No cell phone or other kind of PCD shall be used at any time during or in conjunction with any school-sponsored activity for the purpose of, or in a manner that facilitates cheating, plagiarism, sexual or other harassment or discrimination, bullying or demeaning acts, violation of any person’s privacy, interference with or disruption of any Pittsfield Public Schools activity, violation of a criminal or other statute, or otherwise in a manner that violates a Pittsfield Public Schools policy or rule of conduct for students.  

 

D.     A student who violates the restrictions set forth in this policy on the use of cell phones or other kinds of PCDs may face disciplinary action.  Absent a circumstance that exacerbates the offense, such as the use of a cell phone or other kind of PCD in violation of paragraph C, above, violation of the restrictions set forth in this policy shall be deemed insubordination under the student rules of conduct, and shall be treated as such in taking disciplinary action.  A second violation of said restrictions shall result in denial for 60 school days of the rights set forth in paragraph A, above.  A third violation of said restrictions, or a violation of a provision of paragraph C, above, shall result in denial for 180 school days of the rights set forth in paragraph A, above.  Any further violation of said restrictions shall result in permanent loss of the rights set forth in paragraph A, above.   

 

E.     School officials, including classroom teachers, may confiscate a cell phone or other kind of PCD that is used by a student in violation of the restrictions set forth in this policy.  The student’s parent or guardian shall be notified of the infraction and advised that he/she may claim the confiscated device at the school.

 

F.   Although the Pittsfield Public Schools shall make a reasonable effort to ensure the security of any cell phone or other kind of PCD confiscated pursuant to the preceding paragraph, it shall be the responsibility of the student’s parent or guardian to claim any such confiscated device in a timely way, thereby ensuring that the device is in the safekeeping of the parent or guardian as soon as possible.

 

G.  Electronic devices lost or stolen while at school are not the responsibility of the Pittsfield Public Schools.

 

H.   The principal or his/her designee may, at his/her sole discretion, grant exceptions to the prohibition on the use of cell phones and other kinds of PCDs.  The principal or his/her designee may require suitable documentation of a critical need for such an exemption before granting the exemption.

PLANET RESPONDS: Note that Barbalunga admitted that the school committee was not aware of the extent of this problem. THE PLANET applauds the chairman for this frank and honest, open admission. We also will support him 100% in his actions to get the matter of Smartgate on a future school committee agenda.

DAN ELIAS
Dan, There are some teachers who control the use and some who do not.  The percentage is at best 50%.   I would have in the past and am willing to in the future support a much stronger policy.  First offense, loss of phone for a day, second offense, loss of phone for remainder of the year, it is a privilege and should be treated as such.  Teachers need to know, we would have a strong policy and we will enforce their actions without favoritism.   I understand the concerns of parents.  It is a much different world we live in than in years past.  For example the basketball team I just finished 9/12 don’t have 2 parents in a household.  My current baseball team 8/ 12.  I believe a student should be able to bring a phone for a number of reasons, but then shut it off and keep it off, only possible exception is during lunch.  Of my big concerns are the following, a phone is used to bully, loss of learning time by all, especially for those who want to learn, and yes taxpayers don’t get their monies worth.  Dan
 
PLANET COMMENTS: Elias has dropped a bombshell here. He confirms that in at least half of the city’s classrooms, kids are allowed to use smart technology as they wish.  This, of course, means that in half the city’s classrooms, learning is not happening. Teachers must be held accountable and enforce a no-device policy.
 
KATHY AMUSO
Hi, Dan
 
Would you please have Soccer Mom contact me directly.  I would be happy to discuss this with her.
 
Thank you.
 
Kathy
PLANET COMMENTS: We wrote back to Amuso and told her we would let Varsity Mom (not “Soccer Mom”) know that she, Amuso, would talk to her. We also reiterated that we wanted her views as well, which she cleverly avoided giving. She wrote back:
Dan
 
The school committee approved a policy a while ago that we sought input from the administrators and teachers on the use of technology in the schools.  If It were followed, I believe it would alleviate quite a few of the concerns Soccer [sic] Mom has.  I know I had to go to Herberg several years ago to retrieve a device that was taken away from my son.  So, there are some teachers that do enforce the policy.
 
Kathy
PLANET: Amuso is correct. There is a policy. It is not being enforced. If it was being enforced, there would not be a problem. There would be no Smartgate, but that’s just hte [sic] point. Half or more of the teachers ignore the policy. Too much work? can’t be bothered? We don’t know. THE PLANET only knows that the school committee must haul Noseworthy and his crew in before the McDonald French Fry lights, and let them know they EXPECT action on the enforcement of policy.

JIM CONANT

Dan:

Hope all is well.  It is my understanding the PPS policy is that students are able to carry with them cell phones that are turned off in the class room. Students are allowed to use them between classes and at lunch time. It is my understanding the Internet has a security code in each building that only allows a connection if you have permission to log on. In my visits to the high schools, I have not seen class room instruction interrupted by student cell or I-pad use age.
Jim

THE PLANET wrote back to Conant:

JIM

Many thanks for your response.

My followup question would be: Is the administration enforcing its policy? From what I’m hearing from concerned parents and students, the answer seems to be no. Would you favor some kind of policy audit that would look into this question? Do you agree that, if its happening, its a serious impediment to learning?

Keep up the good work,

DAN

He answered:

Dan:
One never knows for sure, however I would think that the administration/principle would carry out the phone/I-pad policy as directed by SC.  If a audit is needed, then the school Superintendent should convey that to SC. I will investigate further, how ever based on what I hear this is an issue with a small group of students that have no respect for others or them self.
Jim

TERRY KINNAS

Dan, just a little reminder that when the ipads were brought in over my strong objections I gave research articles from MIT and Stanford University (Calif.) as well as the Newsweek articles that you mentioned on the blog in July of last year. I gave examples similar issues to those of “Varsity Mom” as well as what students can transmit from one class to another using cell phones. There was to be an evaluation in January of 13 of the ipad program, but the Chairman never put it on the agenda – secret (Administrative Memorandum) or regular. More on the AM later. The school department does have rules on the use of cell phones. Are they enforced? You could put a signal zapper in a building, some stores have done it to stop price comparison. Some schools have them also.

PLANET RESPONDS: Kinnas did indeed bring up the potential problems, and he was ignored. We would remind him, though, that  his chairman has pledged, finally, to put this on the agenda.

KATHY YON

I would be happy to speak to “Varsity Mom” about this.  My number is 499-1278.

PLANET COMMENTS: Not nearly good enough. These 13 words plus a phone number were all Yon could muster. Note that she did not respond to any of our questions. She also did not respond to our request, a second time. We will add that Varsity Mom did not want to speak with Yon because of fear that the information, as well as her identity, would be passed along to the school department, and that her child would face retaliation.

—– 00 —–

That concludes our series on a huge problem that has crippled learning in the PPS. It’s a problem easily fixed — not needing more money. It only needs a school department administration to begin to care about The Children, not in the fake, selfish sense that it has shown in the past at budget time but in terms of their education, learning, and well being. If the school department will not act on this, and there’s nothing that tell us they will, the school committee must do its job and hold the administration: Noseworthy, the incoming new superintendent, Crowe, Behnke, and Cote personally responsible. If the Gang of Four doesn’t fix this problem by September 2013, there should be repercussions, and serious ones.

It is, you see, for “The Children.”

——————————————————————————–

“Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after / And the poetry he invented was easy to understand; / He knew human folly like the back of his hand, / And was greatly interested in armies and fleets; / When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, / And when he cried the little children died in the streets.”W. H. Auden, “Epitaph on a Tyrant.”

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

27 Responses to “SMARTGATE CONCLUSION: SIX OF SEVEN SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEMBERS RESPOND, ALL BUT MUM BIANCHI … SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION IGNORES ‘WE THE PEOPLE’ … CHAIRMAN BARBALUNGA VOWS ACTION … ELIAS, OTHERS ADMIT SCHOOLS DO NOT ENFORCE ‘SMART’ POLICY … HALF OF PPS CLASSROOMS DUMBED DOWN BY ‘SMART’ STUDENTS”

  1. Ed McClelland
    May 24, 2013 at 7:43 am #

    Does anyone recall the last time a Pittsfield mayor was unopposed for re-election ?
    Is Mayor Bianchi going to face any serious opposition or is he an automatic ?

    • danvalenti
      May 26, 2013 at 8:54 am #

      Great question, ED

  2. Mr.G1188
    May 24, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    There is just something so unsettling about a school committee member not knowing the difference between principle & principal. And you could’ve employed your (sic) there too! All considered, I think the public servants did a reasonably good, honest job of replying. I would not expect them to be aware of any “enforcement of policy” problem in any school unless it’s brought to their attention. Once brought to their attention they need to be “on it” but frankly, MAKING policy is the committee’s job. Enforcing it, or ensuring its enforcement is the administration’s job.

  3. dusty
    May 24, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    I think the overall response was indicative of the school committee mentality. In the future please do not bother them with real issues that might move educating the children forward.

    And I think they feel insulted that Dan Valenti is even interfering in their business. Most of them know they are making a feeble attempt to do their jobs, and you can talk all you want to about it on your blog, but do not confront them personally and make them actually have to think about an issue.

    Yon’s response drips with “attitude”.

    Conant strikes me as probably not any more involved in school business than he absolutely has to be.

    If we had five more like Mr Kinnas I might feel a little bit better about paying exorbitant taxes for educating children I have never had or will have in the school system. But as long as the school committees main function is to control huge sums of money, and a majority of members are there simply as compliant votes to the Chairman, education is lucky if it even comes into radar view.
    Can’t Dan Valenti just encourage everyone to vote to give these poor hard working school committee members a paycheck and stop bugging them about why they have failed miserably for years and years at helping to educate the city’s children?

    • B
      May 25, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

      The problem is they are not educating our children they are just spending our tax payers money they should get the heck out of it, It’s time to get some new blood on the school committee.

      • danvalenti
        May 26, 2013 at 8:44 am #

        B
        Precisely, B. In theory, the devices are great. In practicality, they have proven a hindrance to good education.

      • debbie
        June 2, 2013 at 5:31 am #

        New blood! For sure. As far as tax money……our money is going towards Elf AKA Shreck! Who sits in the probation office eating his morning cereal doing ALL his school committee work on “The Tax Peoples MONEY”…….at the same time collecting his $125,000 a year salary from the state………I think its time someone gets some brass balls and investigates his lazy ass OUT…….

    • In the know
      May 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

      If We had 5 more Kinnas’s on the school committee the first meeting would be still going on since Jan 2012!

  4. Dave
    May 24, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    Dan, are the responses cut and paste, or did you transcribe them your self(lol). If they are cut and paste then it is cut and dry why the PPS is in the position it is in, but it is really our own fault because it is an ELECTED position. We have no one to blame but ourselves!

    • danvalenti
      May 26, 2013 at 8:53 am #

      They are cut and paste.

      • Dave
        May 27, 2013 at 6:38 am #

        “use age” “principle” “how ever” “a audit” “them self”

        Stay strong PPS!!! ..

  5. Twist
    May 24, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    Okay, I am confused. I-Pads are given to Advanced Placement students and they are encouraged to use them for note taking, organization, communication with the teacher and calendar scheduling… and non-AP students who own a smart phone that can record homework assignments, organize folders and schedule their calendar cannot use them…

    Policy be damned, we aren’t treating the kids as equals. The non-AP students need all the help they can get.

    Smart phones are tools. They can be used well or not-so-well. Generationally, older people cannot fathom the smart-phone as anything positive in the classroom. Before we promote preconceived notions and studies that verify those notions, watch how our top students are using their technology. The misuse of technology should not be the strongest point of the critic. Let’s give instruction on how to maximize technology and use it well.
    This discussion is akin to the old argument about calculators. If you remember, calculators were the “end of thinking mathematicians” –NOT

    Twist

    • FPR
      May 24, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

      Assuming that “smart” devices could be used for the good of the students in helping them learn, what of the “poorer” families who are struggling to survive in this economy and cannot afford to send their child to school with a $500.00 device with internet access cost upwards of $150.00 per month?

      Plus the use of calculators does turn your brain to mush. Pressing buttons to get the answer alleviates your brain from having to think. One should first do the calculation in his head and then if you want to use a calculator to verify, well that’s alright.

  6. Andrew
    May 24, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

    This was never a real letter to the editor and there is no -gate to this. How is the unverified, anonymous anecdote of somebody who could as easily be from California as be a parent of a Taconic student worthy of so much attention? Real letters have people’s names attached to them so that people are held responsible for their words.

    I find it heavily amusing that on a site that proclaims the decline of parental responsibility as a major cause in the decline of children’s education, this supposed Taconic mother isn’t held to blame. She stated that her daughter reports to her that she uses her phone in school all the time. Why is this mother allowing her child a smartphone at school in the first place? Having a child and not enforcing the rules at home inevitably leads to children not following the rules at school.

    Asking for enforcement/clarification of cell phone policies in our schools is a worthy goal. But it really should be hammered into everybody that parents don’t stop being parents when their children walk into schools. These kids shouldn’t be having smartphones in the first place and that’s the fault of the parents, including our Taconic mother.

    • danvalenti
      May 26, 2013 at 8:53 am #

      ANDREW
      Welcome back from Topix!
      The letter, by the way, is 100% genuine and authentic, my good friend.

      • Andrew
        May 28, 2013 at 11:22 am #

        That must be another Andrew. I’ve never been to or on Topix.

        • danvalenti
          May 28, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

          ANDREW
          Thank you for the clarification.

  7. Jow Blow
    May 24, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    Will someone please tell Terry his zappers are illegal until the FCC decides deferently. There is passive technology the could be built into the new H.S. though I doubt that will be explored. In other news….Bianchi just took out papers to run again,he promises to attend more ribbon cuttings at playgrounds across the city. He has done nothing different from the last mayor…tax and spend!

    • FPR
      May 25, 2013 at 4:27 am #

      Ah yes, I read the Beagle article that he will be running on his track record which does not seem very impressive at all.

      They failed to mention some of his accomplishments though:

      The Methadone clinic ushered in over Ruberto’s dead body. Only an extra $100,000.00 additional cost to taxpayers to keep the heroin addicts within walking distance. What a bargain.

      Raises to teachers funded by money stolen from the taxpayers by way of free cash. Overtaxing the people to the stone-age is good.

      New airport for your personal use. Filling in pristine wetlands and forever changing the topography of the once beautiful Berkshire landscape. At least taxpayer will be able to get some good use of that project.

      Rubber stamp on “the Whitney house”.

      Spending 1.3 million dollars to see if they need a new high school or renovate the old ones without one brick being laid — in the pipeline.

      Suing the former city solicitor and losing.

      Didn’t everyone enjoy the circus side show at the city council meeting in the “no confidence” vote against the current city solicitor? “See the jugglers and clowns when they all did…. tricks for you…. how does it feel”.

      Failure to get the carousel project off the ground.

      Quite a record to run on.

      Vote Dan Valenti for Mayor. What have you got to lose?

      • The Kraken
        May 26, 2013 at 8:43 am #

        FPR, it’s disheartening isn’t it? I had my hopes up when I voted for Bianchi and I am now left sorely dissapointed. I feel he did an about-face once elected and just turned into another typical tax and spend, bow to the teacher’s union, too far to the left, politician that is so prevelant around here.

      • danvalenti
        May 26, 2013 at 8:49 am #

        FPR
        The mayor’s list of “accomplishments” is daunting, indeed.
        Glad to see him re-up, though, for it will mean — if he is re-elected — more ribbon cuttings and more attendance at important events like 4th grade science fairs. As for The Valenti Campaign, we are at the moment keeping our powder dry.

  8. FPR
    May 26, 2013 at 5:51 am #

    Dan,

    This just in:

    28 grade 10 students at Cap-Jeunesse high school north of Montreal were told to place their phones on the teacher’s desk to prevent cheating during a math test. When one phone went missing, teachers ordered a strip search of the students.

    I know Canada does not have the 4th amendment but I can imagine that strip searching children in school is illegal.

    Here’s the full story:

    http://refreshingnews99.blogspot.in/2013/05/28-grade-10-students-in-quebec-stripped.html

  9. Jonathan Melle
    May 26, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    I like Mayor Dan Bianchi because he is not a Good Old Boy like Jimmy Ruberto. I believe Mayor Dan Bianchi cares about Pittsfield.

    • Joe Blow
      May 27, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

      How many times will you say the same thing? Bianchi is a GOB just like the rest of them.his actions and lack of actions prove this. Tax & spend…tax & spend!

  10. dusty
    May 27, 2013 at 1:26 am #

    Sundays Eagle has an article explaining that a large part of the college tuition costs are due to the exponential increase in administrators. This sounds a whole lot like the problem in Pittsfield and suggests that cronyism is rampant throughout the state. These guys in power may be creating do nothing jobs for friends and family while keeping the working guy poor through over taxation.