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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Liberia's auditor general says U. S. "fiscal cliff" negatively affects other nations

Do not use without permission.
(UPDATE 9/10/13:  Mr. Kilby lost his job as auditor general on July 8, 2013. It is unclear whether the Liberian government will continue its contract with Kilby's company, ISCI.)

When the United States has financial problems, it negatively affects countries which trade with and receive grants from the U.S. According to Liberia's chief auditing watchdog, Robert Kilby, that is why both Liberians and Americans, economic partners who share a history from former slave leadership, should be concerned about the "fiscal cliff," financial accounting standards, and corruption in both nations.

As auditor general of Liberia's General Auditing Commission (GAC), Kilby's job is to audit hundreds of departments in the Republic which is governed by President Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf, respectfully known as the "Iron Lady." Kilby's duties include making sure government agencies and institutions work efficiently and that financial reporting is accurate. Kilby has to help kill the perception that corruption exists in Liberia.

Kilby has a daunting task of increasing revenue collection while fostering a positive relationship with Liberia's citizens and balancing the auditing process with sound fiscal management. Many in government will be resistant to Kilby's standards of resolving accounts with forensic auditing, but that is what he is commissioned to perform.

According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's CIA Factbook website, in Liberia "the security situation is still fragile and the process of rebuilding the social and economic structure of this war-torn country continues." Kilby agrees that the security of Liberia is tantamount to its future, and he declares that companies providing security services will do well there. Kilby acknowledges that international corporations are making major investments in the country, especially Exxon Mobil and Chevron, and monitoring such accounts could be his Waterloo in upcoming years.

The CIA considers Liberia "a low income country heavily reliant on foreign assistance for revenue. Civil war and government mismanagement destroyed much of Liberia's economy." Despite dire economic circumstances, Liberia has the highest ratio of direct foreign investment to GDP in the world and is richly endowed with water, mineral resources including diamonds, forests filled with raw timber, rubber, and a climate suitable for agricultural development. 

"Rebuilding infrastructure and raising incomes will depend on generous financial and technical assistance from donor countries and foreign investment in key sectors, such as infrastructure and power generation."

Robert Kilby, the man

Kilby envisions progress and makes it happen as evidenced by him becoming auditor general after a contentious credentials controversy and appointment process. This type of fortitude will be needed as he approaches the job of overseeing the finances of a country known under former President Charles Taylor as corrupt, poor, civil war-ridden, and in need of major infrastructure improvements.

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Kilby in Marietta, Ga. in 1996
In my mind's eye, people show their true colors at home and at social events. I have had the pleasure of interfacing with Kilby and his family at both our homes. He is a gentleman with a deep voice and genuine laugh who speaks with authority. 

I've known Robert Kilby over 16 years. Kilby is an expert when it comes to financial accounting technologies. In my opinion, he is perhaps one of the most intelligent men I have met. Talking to him about new business ventures, you can almost see the cogs rotating in his brain. He has a keen eye for details and perhaps the fortitude to imagine great things in Liberia's future.

Do not use without permission.
Robert & Marilyn Kilby - 2002
Kilby surprised me this Christmas when he called and said he had been successful in becoming auditor general in August. I had lost contact with him because his email was hacked. When I heard the news, I immediately asked for an interview but thought that now, since he had power and prestige, he would not grant me one, but he did, perhaps since he realized that it would be another opportunity for positive public relations for his country. I performed the following phone interview while he was waiting at the airport in Washington, D.C. on December 27, 2012.

Robert Kilby interview 15.1 MB 
Click link to download audio file (mp3 format) 
Be patient - takes minutes to load... 

Business to business:
Bruce Redd is a native-born African-American businessman and political campaign manager living in metro Atlanta. Redd attended President Sirleaf's first inauguration in Monrovia in 2006 and is interested in doing business in the country.  He believes that corruption can only be fought in Liberia when the remnants of former President Charles Taylor's regime are out of power. I talked to him about the possibility of African-Americans doing business in Liberia. Redd maintains that Sirleaf's government will continue to battle against corruption in high places. In the following interview, Redd states that African-Americans should be given the same opportunities to do business in Liberia as the Chinese, Japanese, or Lebanese, and that African-Americans that run small businesses should endeavor to pursue, land, and execute contracts with the Liberian government.

Bruce Redd interview  7.93 MB 
Click link to download audio file (mp3 format )
Be patient - takes minutes to load...

Read article about Pres. Sirleaf's visit to U.S. in 2007 at:
Photos taken by Kurk D. Johnson for WingcomLtd. in 2002 during former Mayor of Atlanta Shirley Franklin's Inaugural Ball. 1996 photo by Tomi Johnson.
©2012 Tomi Johnson. All rights reserved.    

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Census Bureau closes six offices

The U.S Census Bureau’s 18-month agenda to realign its field offices across the nation for the first time in 50 years will be completed by January 2013. The restructuring, announced June 29, 2011, closes regional offices in Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City and Seattle.

The field realignment is part of the digital transformation of the Census Bureau, moving from a bricks-and-mortar model of regional offices to a virtual management structure, and leverages modern survey practices, such as telework, and better tools for field interviews. The new alignment creates an increase of timely information and a more efficient data collection process, while reducing the cost of surveys by an estimated $15 million to $18 million annually.

The new structure redistributes responsibilities to the remaining offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia. This new six-region design allows about 630 supervisory staff to work out of their homes, providing more efficient data collection in more locations. The supervisory field staff has the benefit of working directly with local teams of field representatives managing all data collection for specific areas of geography.

“We undertook this alignment to take advantage of the technology available to us while preserving the quality of our data collection activity in the field,” said Thomas Mesenbourg, the Census Bureau’s acting director. “In the current era of modern technology we are able to do more with less.”

Staff at the Census Bureau's regional offices collect data for surveys, update geographic features important to the Bureau, disseminate statistics created from the data collection and serve as contacts for local media and local organizations to improve participation in censuses and surveys. Approximately 270 permanent positions were cut as a result of the closing of six regional offices. About 88 of the permanent affected employees have been placed into positions at Census Bureau headquarters or in one of the six remaining regional offices, while others have taken advantage of a buyout and early retirement options approved by the Office of Personnel Management. 

"The Census Bureau has been committed to finding the best possible outcome for each affected employee in a closing office," Mesenbourg said. "We have been offering job counseling, resume writing courses and other types of assistance since the announcement to close six regional offices was made in 2011."

The realignment increases efficiency, enhances data quality and reduces costs beginning in fiscal year 2014. To learn more about the new regional office realignment and to view the states serviced by each office, visit <

What the fiscal cliff could do to U.S....'s explanation:
"If the current laws slated for 2013 went into effect permanently, the impact on the economy would be dramatic. While the combination of higher taxes and spending cuts would reduce the deficit by an estimated $560 billion, the CBO also estimates that the policy would reduce gross domestic product (GDP) by four percentage points in 2013, sending the economy into a recession (i.e., negative growth). At the same time, it predicts unemployment would rise by almost a full percentage point, with a loss of about two million jobs."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Schools share blame for kid's mental problems

"School is a house of learning where teachers are mothers, fathers, and caregivers during the day and the community is responsible for the mental growth and safety of children." Tomi Johnson

Was Adam Lanza given the help he needed in school?  If he was dealing with autism and Asperger's syndrome and exhibited "weird" behaviors, was this the result of being beaten, ignored, or exploited by his teachers or caretakers?

I hate to admit it, but I saw some questionable things happen in both "regular" ed and special education classrooms while I was a substitute teacher. I saw kids being harassed, antagonized, wrestled, beaten, ridiculed, put in restraints and placed behind screens for no apparent reasons. When I questioned how they were treated, I was stared at and ignored.

When one child exhibited "weird" behavior in my classroom, I called in the principal who seemed unaware of his profile. After finding condoms and razor blades in his backpack, he was transferred to another middle school.

Since I was only a substitute, I did not have access to student files and didn't know the details of what or who I was dealing with. The only preparation I had to deal with children with autism and Asperger's syndrome was general substitute teacher training (four hours), one college psychology course, a Telecommunications degree, motherly instincts learned from raising three children of my own, and empathy for the disabled.

At the beginning of the year, I had a one week assignment in a classroom where I learned some of the  children AND teachers were autistic.  The lead teacher asked me to stay on longer because I was able to communicate successfully with the kids, but after seeing what was going on in there, I felt it was unsafe for me to continue.

What I noticed first was that the lead teacher didn't have a lesson plan or activities planned for the kids to do on the first day of school. Since I am creative, I grabbed into my bag of tricks - of stories, puzzles, word games, and brought some of my children's books, K'Nex toys, and board games to class. I was assigned to a girl who was focused on the animated character/heroine Kim Possible, but every time she brought out her Kim Possible key chain, the teacher scolded her. She was not allowed to read her Kim Possible book which was her security blanket.

The children in the classroom were very protective of each other.  When a teacher told one student to put a game away, another child came over to help. He was scolded by the teacher and then wrestled and beaten into a corner. Another child who was doing a game on the computer was reprimanded by another teacher who entered the classroom. When he became disturbed over the scolding, he laid on the floor and wet his pants. Not wanting to shame himself when getting up, he was covered and left on the floor in his own urine.

These kids need help, good professional help, and my opinion is that their regular teachers were not trained or did not have the patience to do a job which requires both experience, love, and endurance under difficult circumstances.  It takes a SPECIAL person to deal with the mentally ill. We're not doing enough to help these students or their teachers. All teachers need ongoing staff development and constant encouragement just like students.

I sat in the cafeteria one day and watched a teacher taking a red marker and slashing with unusual vigor through an English assignment which probably took the student hours to create on the computer. "He didn't follow directions," she said.  I wondered how that kid was going to feel when he got that paper back and how he would feel about his teacher.

We are all responsible for how we treat the least of these. 

We will all share the blame when another Adam Lanza shows up at school tomorrow.

Photo from Ms. Walton's 1st grade class website, Walls Elementary School.
©2012 Tomi Johnson. All rights reserved 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sandy Hook Elementary parent comments on school tragedy

This message is from Steffan R. Burns, a parent of a Sandy Hook Elementary School student.

Stephanie had the conversation with William about the death of his first grade teacher-hero while I was at church.  Apparently William asked about those who had died as soon as he woke.  Must have been on his mind.  Though sad,  he spent the next 5 minutes comforting his mom.  The usual 2 two weeks before Christmas service at the Newtown Methodist Church,  in the heart of the old town of Sandy Hook, was nowhere to be found.  As the wake commenced, I found the music and words a bit overwhelming.  The gravity of the situation hit me pretty hard. Guess I hadn't really had time to think about what has been happening that deeply.  Organ music has a way of making you retreat into the recesses of your own mind.

I took Anna and William back to the local retail garden center to see the Santa they met last week.  He has seen us every year since 2004 and I thought he would appreciate seeing that they had made it through.  He was very appreciative. . . . on second thought,  Santa should have known that they were OK without us having to show up.  

We got news of the first two funerals to be held this week.  Never thought they would be scattered throughout the area. . . turns out there is only one funeral home in Newtown.

Tonight we attended the vigil at Newtown's High School with a host of clergy, town officials, various politicians, Blumenthal, Lieberman, Governor Malloy, and President Obama.  . . and we got more than we bargained for. . 4 rows behind the President and directly along side the families who lost children.  William sat between Stephanie and me.  Erin was next to me as well, quiet,  learning, coping. . taking it all in. . an emerging adult.  Anna was particularly brave as she sat next to Mr and Mrs. Wheeler, who lost  their son Benjamin.  

While we were waiting for the event to begin, it hit us this event that there were 30 + Secret Service  and dozens of extra police to protect the President, 1 person.  How do you ever put together enough security to protect 450 students ? . . you just can't.  

The President did a nice job addressing the tragedy without getting too political (just an opinion).  He mentioned that taking care of our children is our first and most important job and how we do that is how, as a society,  we will be judged. . . . . . .   I am sure there were those thinking that the Newtown - Sandy Hook community, truly capable,  had failed.

When Stephanie and I moved to Newtown, I remember how impressed we were with the strong school system and the quality and variety of the programs and activities for kids.  Over the last 9 and 1/2 years this has proved to be a true community where the family comes first.  It's a small slice of New England, but not too small.  However, you do have to always keep in mind that is you get a traffic ticket here, it will be in the Newtown Bee the next week (along with your age).

At bedtime, William had  a lot of questions.  When will we be going back to school?  When will we be able to get back into the Sandy Hook Elementary?  Will they fix the glass doors and metal frames . . . and finally. . Do you think my snack from Friday will still be in my classroom?    

Thank God he still has the capacity to be 7 years old.

Yesterday morning I was first in line to meet with grief counselors to ask them how to tell a 7 year old the magnitude of the events that happened on Friday.  The answer, as if to everything was, it depends.  Since William is an intelligent, matter-of fact kind of little guy, the consensus was to keep it short but not to hide anything.  About 9:30 am, we sat outside with William giving him the basic facts and magnitude of the events.  He drank up all the information he was given and preceded to tell us a bit more about what he saw as he exited the building. In the afternoon he would tell one of the neighbor boys that he had prayed  to God that he would not die while he was huddled in the classroom during the lock down.  

This morning we will sit down with William and tell him that his first grade teacher, Ms Soto, died, apparently trying to shield the kids in her room.

We tried to make the day as normal a day as we could for the kids.  We all went out to cut down a Christmas tree (at William's suggestion).  Then we went to lunch in town.  After that, grocery shopping, though I would admit, I do remember thinking all 5 of us grocery shopping might not have been normal.  At least there are 5 of us.

The list came out last night.  I didn't realize how much we were waiting on it until it arrived. Stephanie knows at least a half dozen of the children's families and 4 of the 6 adults.  Three of the victims live in the neighborhood.  3 or 4 others, within a mile.

I drove out to get a couple of newspapers this morning.  The roads in the neighborhood are still blocked by police near the Lanza home 2 turns from our own driveway.

In the center of Sandy Hook, there were news trucks with attached satellite dishes on top, from many more cities than yesterday.   I saw one from Detroit. As I passed the Newtown High School, I saw a long line of large dump trucks lined up in front of the main entrance.  I suppose they will build a security barrier or use the trucks to be a barrier for the vigil and president's visit tonight.

I heard on the radio that there is a possibility that the Sandy Hook Elementary School (whose colors are green and white),  may have died on Friday with the victims.  I hope not, but it would be understandable in light of the declining influx of young families since the beginning of the recession and the housing slow down.

This going to get worse for a while as we get the names of the kids. The shooter lived in my neighborhood, 2 streets over. They are broadcasting live as I write this.  Ironically, at least 2 of the victims live in our neighborhood and a short walk from the home of the shooter.

Stephanie is heavily involved in the school with the newsletter and other volunteer situations. We are dealing with her close relationship with the principal and others in the office as well as the fact that on any given day she might have been there working on these activities.

William is OK but he saw way too much for a 7 year old. He got sick over it yesterday afternoon. He only knows what he saw and not the magnitude of the situation.  This morning I will sit down with him and tell him what happened.  We also fear that William's first grade teacher, Ms. Soto, may have been impacted as well as many of her students.  Ms. Soto's classroom was just across from the main office where the events began.

I expect to go to a dozen funerals next week.

My entire family is shocked and saddened about the events that unfolded this morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, CT.  Many of you know that my son William is currently a second grader at this school.  My older girls, Erin 12 and Anna 10,  have moved on to other schools and were not on the scene.

William is safe and home and putting on a strong face.  Unfortunately, he saw quite a bit. He is a tough resilient kid and we will deal with it.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families involved.  We don't have names you can be sure we know these families. It's a small neighborhood.

Photo by Tomi Johnson

Ilea Johnson graduates from SPSU

Ilea Johnson graduated magna cum laude in Accounting from Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU), School of Engineering Technology and Management in Marietta, Ga. on Saturday, December 15. About 40 of Ilea's friends and family from metro Atlanta, Kentucky, Florida and Ohio attended the campus event and reception at her parent's home.

"As a mother, I am so proud of my daughter's accomplishments and happy that her graduation from college marks the completion of university degrees by all my three children," said Tomi Johnson. Johnson said that her talented and beautiful daughter has not landed a full time assignment yet, and asks interested employers to contact her via LinkedIn.

The 105th SPSU Commencement was held in the campus gymnasium. The address was given by Kessel Stelling, Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Synovus Financial Corp. who is also regent of the University System of Georgia, District Six.

"Great leaders never stop learning," Stelling told the crowd. He encouraged students to face uncertainty AND opportunity by standing out. Stelling said that when his own banking industry was in free-fall and he and his associates were considered "the walking dead" by some, he survived by surrounding himself with smart people who asked hard questions. 

Wearing graduation medallion, Johnson poses with Ron Francis and DJPhantasy.

"Keep swinging," he told the graduates who now face a competitive job market. Like Babe Ruth, Stellings said, "It's hard to break a person who doesn't give up...sail away from the safe harbor. Dream. Discover."

University President Dr. Lisa Rossbacher said this year's 385 graduates represented the largest fall graduating class in the school's history and comprised students ranging from age 21 - 66 years old.

Twenty-two percent of the graduates were women, and 40% were from other countries.
While a full time student, Ilea held internships with the City of Atlanta - Watershed Management Department, and with Amendia, Inc., a spinal implant manufacturing firm.

Ilea's first job was a child model for Macy's Department Store represented by EMM. (Photo by Tomi Johnson)
Ilea is a former Elite Model Management (EMM) model, plays the violin, and speaks Spanish and Korean. She is a member of Alpha Chi Honor Society.

Ilea poses with extended family.
©2012 Photos by Kurk Johnson and Jose Alequin. Article by Tomi Johnson. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Atlanta WingChun hosts Klaus Brand at weekend seminar

The International Academy of WingChun®  held seminars in Atlanta and Acworth, Georgia on December 7 - 9 for U.S. instructors and students of all grade levels. All events were sponsored by Atlanta WingChun (

Grandmaster Klaus Brand of Germany flew in to train members from the metro Atlanta area as well as instructors from Oakland, Santa Cruz and Berkeley, Calif. and Sylvania, Ohio.

Friday night's Escrima class featured defense techniques against sticks and sharp weapons.  "One great idea is to start with protecting your face from a stick, knife, or long blade attack, and we progress from there," Brand said. He is a former German military sergeant and weapons expert.

"When threatened  with a quick attack, we can defend ourselves," Brand explained. "Waiting a second is too long when your life is at stake. We want total control in dangerous situations, and we know how to deviate from a planned attack by using knowledge of body mechanics and optimum martial arts skills developed over years of intense training."

Many members of the organization have been studying various martial arts since childhood but are now WingChun and Escrima practitioners. WingChun is a holistic fighting system which focuses on subduing real threats and harnessing innate abilities for physical struggle. Escrima is a traditional Filipino martial art based on sticks, knives, blades, and various improvised weapons.

IAW U. S. Chief Instructor Paul Wang poses with new 1st Technician Ayron Johnson, GM Klaus Brand, and AWC Head Instructor Kurk Johnson. (Photo by Ilea Johnson)
To learn more about Atlanta WingChun or to schedule a trial lesson, call (678) 453-8119.
©2012 Tomi Johnson. All rights reserved.    

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Quote of the day...

If you've been wondering why I haven't posted anything lately, I've been busy with family matters. The holidays and preparing for my daughter's college graduation are monster time consumers...

Remember: "Love is a better master than duty." Nicholas Negroponte, One Laptop per Child