Grassley gets a talking-to



The photo was striking and remains vivid: Citizens First National Bank Chairman George Schaller with that dead-serious look on his face, palms spread up splayed on the conference table, leaning forward. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley sat opposite him, reclining back and away from the advancing Schaller with his chin resting on folded hands.

George Schaller was talking and Chuck Grassley was listening. Intently. The subject: fixing our broken immigration system. “The short of it,” Schaller said, “is that Storm Lake needs a solution to immigration. And we’ve needed one for decades.”

If there is a change imminent, mark that moment in your memory. We would like to think it is the day things started to change.

Within two weeks, talks resumed for a solution to the problem of Dreamers — the innocent children of undocumented immigrants — among Republicans who know they need a fix before the midterm elections. The polls are clear about it. And so is George Schaller, who is a serious and formidable man taken seriously by Chuck Grassley. Or so we would think and hope.

It was cordial and polite. When Grassley started to obfuscate about the Census, banker Dave Drey picked apart the talking points. These are people who came armed with facts and numbers attempting to persuade Grassley to do something about immigration that will help Storm Lake.

We write to thank them all. It would be enough to count the daily deposits and review loan applications and shake Grassley’s hand as he walked through with an urging to loosen up on Dodd-Frank banking regulations. But that is not what happened. Schaller sat Grassley down for a serious discussion of deep issues that affect Storm Lake and Buena Vista County. Many federal regulations and enforcements are absurd and we all know it. And much of the pain and frustration is unnecessary. Let’s get down to business, Schaller suggested, and talk about what is holding rural places back and how we can fix it.

That goes well above and beyond the bank charter. It speaks to support for Storm Lake from a family that has been here almost as long as any, who emigrated from Europe and wound up in Sac County way back when until they founded a bank in Storm Lake. Although George’s grandfather George played a direct role in bringing meatpacking to Storm Lake (fortunately for us) young George was never an apologist for IBP by any means. And, he is no harp on Chuck Grassley. That’s why Grassley should listen especially carefully and take what he heard to heart. It is why we are grateful that the voice of common sense, out here beyond the Beltway, still can be heard forcefully.

Topsy turvy on trade

G7 Summits are not normally fodder for these columns because we never did know what purpose they serve other than to keep all modern free democracies friendly. We would not care what President Trump said at the summit, held in Canada, except that he lobs his bombast into waters already roiled from talk of tariffs and trade wars. He slapped tariffs on Canada and Europe, insulted our best friends in the world — especially the Canadians by labeling aluminum tariffs as a national security concern, when the Canadians have fought beside us in every war since Minnesota became a state.

Likewise, Trump has infuriated Mexico, our most important pork customer, and China, our most important soy customer, with threats of trade wars. Then things seem to settle down for awhile and China agrees to buy more of what they intended to buy anyway, and then Trump throws in another fusillade. Our own diplomats have been seen screaming and swearing at each other in front of other foreign diplomats in China.

We aren’t sure how farmers and bankers and food processors are supposed to plan when they don’t know how the President might blow up this weekend, or tomorrow. Will there be tariffs on pork and soybeans that depress sales? Will there be a North American Free Trade Agreement or will there not be? If not, what happens to pork arrangements across the border between sow facilities in Canada and production facilities in North Dakota or Minnesota? And what happens to that Tyson pork that is shipped to Mexico for further processing, and eventual shipment to Japan? Even the chairman of Cargill has admitted that he doesn’t know the score from this administration.

We were not the biggest fans of NAFTA. It was painfully and needlessly disruptive. That disruption has been massaged over the past 20 years and is now the routine of doing business. It needs adjustment for recent times. But when Trump calls the leader of Canada — one of the great free nations of the world — weak and so much as a lackey, people involved in agricultural trade should worry. Canada sees chaos south of its border. Mexico sees federal troops moving to the border to seal it off. That is something more than a trade war. Our President is a dangerous man who delights in confusion and sowing disorder.