, , , ,

Missouri Attorny General Chris Koster was the keynote speaker on Saturday evening for the opening session of Boys State on the campus of the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.

Attorney General Chris Koster on the stage in Hendricks Hall at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.

Attorney General Chris Koster (D): [applause] Good evening, it’s an honor to be with all of you, here in this exciting week. I was looking over the list of statewide elected officials who are going to come and speak with you over the next several days – and the list is certainly impressive. Secretary of State Carnahan will be here, Treasurer Clint Zweifel, Governor Jay Nixon and others have all taken time from their schedule to come and spend a few hours with you. Why do we do it? Not just why do we do it, but why do we consider it an honor to do it? Because all of us, the Governor, myself, all the statewide office holders firmly believe that somewhere in this room is a state representative, a state senator, a U.S. Congressman, a United States Senator, a governor. Sitting somewhere in this room. Not a Boys State Governor, a real governor, the kind that lives in Jefferson City. And if we Missourians are lucky, the kind of man who learns early in his life to keep his ego in check, to devote his time to quiet and patient study, who learns how to make prudent and careful decisions, to put others before himself, and to lead with a proper mix of head and heart, and to guide his fellow citizens forward. Somewhere in this room that man is sitting. And while we statewide officials come here for many reasons, one of the reasons we come here is to talk to him…

…It’s become cliché to say that we live in a time of rapid changes, but it is nonetheless true. At the risk of embarrassing myself I’m going to admit to you that I actually teared up the other day watching a new television commercial for the upcoming Apple IPhone that was, is released next week. Thank goodness I was by myself at the time. [laughter] As you’re probably aware, the new IPhone has a camera mounted on the front that allows for two way video conferencing. The Apple commercial shows all sorts of people video chatting back and forth on the device. Parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren.  And then, the commercial ends with two deaf individuals sign languaging one another over the telephone., telling each other that they love one another over a handheld telephone. And I was struck, as I so often am these days, at what a world of miracles and challenges we live amidst.

On the one hand your generation will live in an IPhone world, a generation that is literally unbridled by geography, unbridled by technology, unbridled by borders.  A generation whose reach is restricted only by your own guts and imagination. On the other hand, your generation will face unprecedented challenges, both nationally and at statewide levels. Let me mention three of them that are important right here at home. This State of Missouri, the one that you and I care about, used to provide low cost college educations to most every citizen of this state who desired one. But in the last ten years public support for public colleges has been cut by nearly fifty percent. In inflation adjusted terms. This State of Missouri , the one that you and I care about, now supports approximately eight hundred thousand Missourians, one out of every six citizens, on its public health rolls, and spends thirty percent of our governmental resources doing it. It is a number that is growing faster than any other portion of our state’s budget. This State of Missouri, the one that you and I care about, is home to an airport in St. Louis that used to fly everyday to places like Paris and London, right there out of St. Louis. It was home to Trans World Airlines, a company that used to launch four hundred flights a day across the globe out of St. Louis. But today TWA’s successor, American Airlines, flies just thirty-six flights a day from St. Louis, not one of them international. And whole terminals of that airport now stand empty. And major businesses no longer consider St. Louis a practical alternative to locate.

If you want to be the one that guides this state forward then these are some of the things that you need to start thinking about. And so how do you prepare to understand these challenges? How do you prepare to develop solutions? You go to college, obviously. You study something serious in college, like science, or engineering, and accounting. And not something frivolous like political science, because that would be a waste of your valuable time. If you want to be a politician then study something other than political science. And you do one other thing, every day. Staring as soon as you get home from camp, every day and for the rest of your lives, you read a newspaper. That’s actually the title of this speech – read a newspaper.

Here’s why. As Attorney General I’ve had the extraordinary opportunity to meet and interact with more interesting and successful people from around this country, even from around the world, than I ever in my life thought I would. I pretty much pinch myself for gratitude every day I get to do this job. And I’ve come to believe this about the most successful people I’ve met. They are not the people who understand complex things, rather, they are the people who understand how seemingly unrelated complex things fit together. For some of them the ability to connect complex things is a gift from God. For the rest of us it comes with practice. And nothing has yet been invented, not television, not the Internet, not the finest schools, that daily unlocks the complexity of this world like a great newspaper.

Indulge me if you would, in a brief story. My grandfather, his name was Sylvester, and he was a banker who lived with his family in south St. Louis city. During the nineteen fifties and sixties Sylvester was president of an organization called Lafayette Federal Savings and Loan, a modest sized lending institution with about twelve branch offices, each located in St. Louis. Sylvester was not the president of all twelve branches of Lafayette Federal, but rather, was the president of just one of those branches on St. Louis’ south side. My grandfather’s role at the bank was to take in deposits and make home loans to neighbors and friends across a thirty square block area just west of the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Sylvester’s job was to know everything and everybody in that thirty square block radius. His business depended on it and by all accounts he did his job well through his retirement in nineteen sixty-five. Sylvester had two sons who grew up and made professional lives in St. Louis. His oldest son, my Uncle Bob, was a real estate attorney, and his youngest son, my father, was a sports writer. For Sylvester’s sons to succeed in this world each of them developed an expertise that extended far beyond Sylvester’s thirty square block world in south St. Louis. My uncle’s law practice required a knowledge of real estate and governmental issues across all of St. Louis’ metropolitan area. Likewise my father, his success depended on understanding just one thing, professional sports across my hometown.

Between them, my Uncle Bob and my dad, raised six sons, a daughter – four of them were investment bankers, one was a molecular biologist, one’s a homemaker, and one’s the Attorney General. For the sake of efficiency I want to focus this story just on the investment bankers because that is the profession that my brothers and my cousins share with my grandfather. Two of the four investment bankers, my middle two brothers, live in St. Louis and raise capital in the hundreds of millio
ns of dollars for the purchase of business all across the United States. One of the four, my baby brother, lives in Atlanta and raises capital to fund some of this nation’s largest commercial transactions. And the last of the four, my cousin, lives in Chicago and works in the international mining and minerals arena. I want to describe for you, just a second, what my cousin in Chicago does for a living. My cousin works for Citigroup, one of the world’s largest banks. And he’s the chairman of Citigroup’s Global Industrial Group. This is what that means, when money needs to be put together to buy a gold mine in South Africa or a copper installation in Chile or to obtain nickel rights in Greece, my cousin’s team crisscrosses the planet and puts money together to make these transactions a reality. Many of these deals number in the billions of dollars. And when the workforce in South Africa, which is the world’s largest producer of gold and platinum, is eroded because that government’s inability to deal with the soaring HIV problem, my cousin’s clients and investors want to know. And when Columbia’s coal mining executives refuse any longer to live amongst the narcotics cartel that threatens their families’ safety and that nation’s security, my cousin’s investors in Paris want to know. And when Greece contemplates deflating its currency in order to pay its national debts, affecting the repatriation of corporate earnings to its, to its headquarters in Canada, my cousin’s New York debt holders want to know.

Over a period of forty years, from my grandfather’s retirement in nineteen sixty-five to the midpoint of his grandchildren’s careers, the world that they are expected to have mastered has grown from a thirty block square just west of the brewery in south St. Louis, to an area that encompasses literally every corner of this planet no matter how remote. I make the point not to tout anyone’s personal success, but to emphasize that the world that you are stepping into offers each one of you incredible, incredible wingspan. You will have the ability to touch, see, effect, and react to successes, failures, experiences, culture, languages, economies, diseases, cures, calamities, joys, friends, and even girlfriends from every corner of this planet.  Your lives can be national. Indeed, your lives can be global if you want them to be. But having a global life under, means understanding a global life. Understanding how complex things like gold mines and HIV exposure and Greek debt and narco-terrorism all fit together. And that, my friends, requires a newspaper.

The education that you are currently receiving is, no doubt, outstanding. Just being here indicates that you are beyond your years in your mastery of English and history and mathematics. Your collegiate endeavors will take you farther into topics such as engineering, cost accounting, and medicine. But then, the world is full of people who understand complex things. The world that you are stepping into requires both an understanding of these building blocks, these complex things, as well as a comprehension of the magnetic forces that draw them together. Forces like American politics, international affairs, business news, medicine, and science, culture, and the arts. And each of these forces is covered in detail in its own separate section of an old fashioned device called a newspaper.  Nearly every successful person I know is a voracious newspaper reader.

As for myself, my days begin at six a.m. sharp as they did this morning with a brief prayer to center my day and then a detailed twenty minute organization of my day’s goals. Then six twenty to eight twenty, every morning, I read the New York Times cover to cover, followed by a scan of Wall Street Journal , and finally a review of political and other news clippings from around the State of Missouri. Near my bed, where I read, is an absolutely invaluable tool, the National Geographic Atlas which helps me separate Guyana from Ghana, the geography of Africa and the Middle East, and even some of my geographic blind spots right here in Missouri. Two hours a day is a lot of time, but in truth it is barely enough to do my job as Attorney General. Without that two hours in the morning I would be like a blind man groping my way through my day. Every see, every successful person I know reads a serious newspaper and every successful person I know takes his reading seriously.

What is a serious newspaper? Well with all due respect to the Warrensburg Star-Journal, and even the Post-Dispatch and Kansas City Star, the world that you are stepping into demands that you go further. Further into foreign affairs, further into business, further into politics, and science, technology, and even theater. Frankly, in the United States it probably requires either the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal of the cornerstone of one’s reading day.  Personally I choose the New York Times, not because of any political bias, conservative or liberal, but simply because the Times provides a broader based education than the Journal. It’s simply more important to my life to understand education policy in New York State of the budget crisis in California than it is to have Alcoa’s quarterly earnings at my fingertips. But everybody, everyone is different. And your personal interests will ultimately select that newspaper for you.

Nonetheless, if there’s one hope that I have for you today, is that after you enjoy this fantastic experience at Boys’ State, you pick up the phone or go online and spend the money to buy a subscription to a serious newspaper. Don’t wait until you’re thirty. Start when you’re eighteen. Start when it matters. Then every single day, take at least thirty minutes in the morning and read it. Develop your own style and read the sections in the same order every day.  By doing this you’ll begin to recognize the names and the storylines. You recognize the Prime Minister of Israel. And understand how the back door of his coun, his country spills out into Jordan, and Iraq and Iran. And you’ll think about the reasons that three thousand of your older brothers in spirit have left this world now in an attempt to calm that world.  You’ll understand how the actions of one health care company in California gave us national health care. And how national health care will affect the tuition costs for you at the University of Missouri. And the newspaper will stop being a set of isolated stories and become a continuing narrative, like a book, revealing a new chapter of its story every morning.

Why is this important? Because somewhere in this room tonight, maybe it’s the guy next to you, maybe it’s you, somewhere in this room tonight is a Governor of the State of Missouri. The challenges he will face will be immense. His compass has to be finely tuned. His knowledge of our state, our nation, and our world must be vast. And for the good of all of us, his education must begin today. Welcome to Boys State. [applause]