Commentary Magazine


Topic: Siemens

Siemens CEO’s Craven Photo-Op with Putin

The giant German engineering firm Siemens AG has, in common with other large German companies that have been around a long time, a deplorable history of having cooperated with the Nazi regime. The Anti-Defamation League notes:

Siemens ran factories at Ravensbrück and in the Auschwitz subcamp of Bobrek, among others, and the company supplied electrical parts to other concentration and death camps. In the camp factories, abysmal living and working conditions were ubiquitous: malnutrition and death were not uncommon. Recent scholarship has established how, despite German industry’s repeated denials, these camp factories were created, run, and supplied by the SS in conjunction with company officials — sometimes high-level employees.

So one would think that the current management of Siemens would have some sensitivity about embracing a modern-day dictator whose aggression has been compared to that of 1930s Germany. Apparently not. Even as the leaders of the West are struggling to isolate and punish Vladimir Putin for his illegal declaration of Anschluss with Crimea, the CEO of Siemens AG, Joe Kaeser, was meeting with Putin at his official residence outside Moscow.

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The giant German engineering firm Siemens AG has, in common with other large German companies that have been around a long time, a deplorable history of having cooperated with the Nazi regime. The Anti-Defamation League notes:

Siemens ran factories at Ravensbrück and in the Auschwitz subcamp of Bobrek, among others, and the company supplied electrical parts to other concentration and death camps. In the camp factories, abysmal living and working conditions were ubiquitous: malnutrition and death were not uncommon. Recent scholarship has established how, despite German industry’s repeated denials, these camp factories were created, run, and supplied by the SS in conjunction with company officials — sometimes high-level employees.

So one would think that the current management of Siemens would have some sensitivity about embracing a modern-day dictator whose aggression has been compared to that of 1930s Germany. Apparently not. Even as the leaders of the West are struggling to isolate and punish Vladimir Putin for his illegal declaration of Anschluss with Crimea, the CEO of Siemens AG, Joe Kaeser, was meeting with Putin at his official residence outside Moscow.

In a visit that was billed by newspapers as a “vote of confidence” in Putin, Kaeser posed alongside Putin and declared: “Siemens has been present in Russia since 1853—a presence that has survived many highs and low. We want to maintain the conversation even in today’s politically difficult times. For us, dialogue is a crucial part of a long-term relationship.”

It’s obvious what Kaeser is up to: He is trying to protect $2.99 billion in sales that his company had in Russia last year. Yet it is hard to make the case that Russia is a make-or-break market for this industrial giant since it accounts for only 2.9 percent of Siemens’ revenues. In short, Kaeser’s reprehensible embrace of an international outlaw who has violated Ukrainian sovereignty and routinely violates the civil liberties of his own people is not even compelled by the bottom line. It is completely craven toadying of the kind that Siemens may well regret some day–just as so many companies, including his own, came to regret the public-relations damage of having done business with Hitler or, in more recent times, with despots like Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein.

Alas, the fact that Kaeser feels so free to almost literally embrace Putin shows how little will Europe has to confront the predator on its doorstep. Instead of reprimanding Kaeser, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who as a former citizen of East Germany should be more sensitive to dealing with ex-KGB thugs, simply said: “Business contacts are still taking place and I am not interested in seeing the situation escalate, but rather among towards a de-escalation.”

With such cravenness being displayed by the most powerful state in Europe, Putin must be getting the message loud and clear that his aggression is essentially cost-free.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

How to kill a senate candidacy: Alex Giannoulias has his bank seized by the Feds. “Whether the issue remains a central one in the race is yet to be seen, but today is surely not a happy day in the Giannoulias camp. GOPers will have a reason to celebrate this weekend.” I think that seat is gone for the Democrats, unless they can pull a Torrecelli.

How to kill cap-and-trade: “The bipartisan climate bill to be unveiled Monday isn’t dead on arrival but it’s not likely to be taken up this year — and not before an immigration bill comes to the Senate floor, according to Democratic aides.”

How to kill the recovery: “Vast tax increases will be inevitable under President Barack Obama’s budget blueprint, the nation’s largest business groups complained on Friday.The groups blasted tax increases on businesses and wealthy individuals and families in the budget in a letter to members of the House and Senate, while warning that escalating public debt threatened the underlying economy.”

Kill the slams on the tea partiers! “House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Thursday he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a mistake when they called anti-health care protests ‘un-American’ last year.” Maybe he figured out these people are voters.

Naturally the Iranian Lobby — NIAC and Peace Now — want to kill sanctions against the mullahs.

Obama is doing more to kill off civility in public debate than any president since Richard Nixon. Charles Krauthammer on his Wall Street speech: “The way — and he‘s done this before — he tries to denigrate, cast out, and to delegitimize any argument against his. And here he’s talking about that it’s not legitimate even to suggest that the bill he’s supporting might encourage a bailout. It’s certainly possible [to] argue [that] because of the provisions in the ball, and one in particular, where the Treasury has the right to designate any entity — private entity – as a systemic risk, and then to immediately, even without Congress approving and appropriating money, to guarantee all the bad loans. That is an invitation to a bailout. Now, the president could argue otherwise, but to say that to raise this issue is illegitimate is simply appalling.”

Obama continues to kill off the freedom agenda and democracy promotion: “Just this week word came that the administration cut funds to promote democracy in Egypt by half. Programs in countries like Jordan and Iran have also faced cuts. Then there are the symbolic gestures: letting the Dalai Lama out the back door, paltry statements of support for Iranian demonstrators, smiling and shaking hands with Mr. Chávez, and so on. Daniel Baer, a representative from the State Department who participated in the [George W. Bush] conference [on dissidents’ use of new media tools], dismissed the notion that the White House has distanced itself from human-rights promotion as a baseless ‘meme’ when I raised the issue. But in fact all of this is of a piece of Mr. Obama’s overarching strategy to make it abundantly clear that he is not his predecessor.”

Making some progress in killing off business with Iran: “Two giant American accounting firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst and Young, disclosed this week that they no longer had any affiliation with Iranian firms, becoming the latest in a string of companies to publicly shun the Islamic republic. Following a similar decision by KPMG earlier this month, that leaves none of the Big Four audit firms with any ties to Iran. In recent months, other companies have announced that they would stop sales, cut back business or end affiliations with Iranian firms, including General Electric, Huntsman, Siemens, Caterpillar and Ingersoll Rand. Daimler said it would sell a minority share in an Iranian engine maker. An Italian firm said it would pull out after its current gas contracts ended. And the Malaysian state oil company cut off gasoline shipments to Iran, following similar moves by Royal Dutch Shell and trading giants like Vitol, Glencore and Trafigura.”

How to kill a senate candidacy: Alex Giannoulias has his bank seized by the Feds. “Whether the issue remains a central one in the race is yet to be seen, but today is surely not a happy day in the Giannoulias camp. GOPers will have a reason to celebrate this weekend.” I think that seat is gone for the Democrats, unless they can pull a Torrecelli.

How to kill cap-and-trade: “The bipartisan climate bill to be unveiled Monday isn’t dead on arrival but it’s not likely to be taken up this year — and not before an immigration bill comes to the Senate floor, according to Democratic aides.”

How to kill the recovery: “Vast tax increases will be inevitable under President Barack Obama’s budget blueprint, the nation’s largest business groups complained on Friday.The groups blasted tax increases on businesses and wealthy individuals and families in the budget in a letter to members of the House and Senate, while warning that escalating public debt threatened the underlying economy.”

Kill the slams on the tea partiers! “House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Thursday he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a mistake when they called anti-health care protests ‘un-American’ last year.” Maybe he figured out these people are voters.

Naturally the Iranian Lobby — NIAC and Peace Now — want to kill sanctions against the mullahs.

Obama is doing more to kill off civility in public debate than any president since Richard Nixon. Charles Krauthammer on his Wall Street speech: “The way — and he‘s done this before — he tries to denigrate, cast out, and to delegitimize any argument against his. And here he’s talking about that it’s not legitimate even to suggest that the bill he’s supporting might encourage a bailout. It’s certainly possible [to] argue [that] because of the provisions in the ball, and one in particular, where the Treasury has the right to designate any entity — private entity – as a systemic risk, and then to immediately, even without Congress approving and appropriating money, to guarantee all the bad loans. That is an invitation to a bailout. Now, the president could argue otherwise, but to say that to raise this issue is illegitimate is simply appalling.”

Obama continues to kill off the freedom agenda and democracy promotion: “Just this week word came that the administration cut funds to promote democracy in Egypt by half. Programs in countries like Jordan and Iran have also faced cuts. Then there are the symbolic gestures: letting the Dalai Lama out the back door, paltry statements of support for Iranian demonstrators, smiling and shaking hands with Mr. Chávez, and so on. Daniel Baer, a representative from the State Department who participated in the [George W. Bush] conference [on dissidents’ use of new media tools], dismissed the notion that the White House has distanced itself from human-rights promotion as a baseless ‘meme’ when I raised the issue. But in fact all of this is of a piece of Mr. Obama’s overarching strategy to make it abundantly clear that he is not his predecessor.”

Making some progress in killing off business with Iran: “Two giant American accounting firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst and Young, disclosed this week that they no longer had any affiliation with Iranian firms, becoming the latest in a string of companies to publicly shun the Islamic republic. Following a similar decision by KPMG earlier this month, that leaves none of the Big Four audit firms with any ties to Iran. In recent months, other companies have announced that they would stop sales, cut back business or end affiliations with Iranian firms, including General Electric, Huntsman, Siemens, Caterpillar and Ingersoll Rand. Daimler said it would sell a minority share in an Iranian engine maker. An Italian firm said it would pull out after its current gas contracts ended. And the Malaysian state oil company cut off gasoline shipments to Iran, following similar moves by Royal Dutch Shell and trading giants like Vitol, Glencore and Trafigura.”

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Annals of Disengagement

On Tuesday, Siemens, the German conglomerate, announced in its annual shareholders meeting that it has reduced its commercial ties with Iran. The next day, a company spokesman made that statement a bit more explicit: the company, he said, has “decided not to conclude new contracts with commercial partners in Iran.”

That leaves a lot of wiggle room – Siemens is free to conclude new contracts with government entities in Iran, free to carry on with its existing contracts, and free to conclude new ones until its self-imposed deadline of mid-2010 rolls around. And it does nothing to meet criticism from German human-rights advocates that Siemens sells to states like China, knowing that China will then resell to Iran. But it is, at least, a tiny sign that Siemens is feeling the heat. About time too, given Europe’s commercial complicity with the Iranian regime.

Completely coincidentally, two days later, the Senate, as Jen mentioned, passed tough sanctions on Iran. Among other steps, as the AP notes, the Senate bill “would prohibit the U.S. government from purchasing goods from firms that do business in Iran’s energy sector, or provide sensitive communications technology to Iran — a measure that could affect telecommunications giants Siemens and Nokia.” As I say, it’s certainly just a coincidence that, two days before the vote, Siemens intimated it was heading for the Iranian exit, anyhow.

But it does make you think. Engagement has been a complete failure, as even Richard Haass now admits. It hasn’t stopped the Iranian nuclear program, reduced the brutality of the regime, or done anything to diminish Europe’s vast trade ties with Iran, which have shrunk in 2009 mostly because of the recession. And yet, as soon as the U.S. Senate looks like it might pass a bill – which still needs to be reconciled with the House version, and for which the President has shown no enthusiasm at all – a major German firm suddenly, mysteriously develops a case of the shakes about cozying up to Tehran. I wonder what they’d do if we really started trying.

On Tuesday, Siemens, the German conglomerate, announced in its annual shareholders meeting that it has reduced its commercial ties with Iran. The next day, a company spokesman made that statement a bit more explicit: the company, he said, has “decided not to conclude new contracts with commercial partners in Iran.”

That leaves a lot of wiggle room – Siemens is free to conclude new contracts with government entities in Iran, free to carry on with its existing contracts, and free to conclude new ones until its self-imposed deadline of mid-2010 rolls around. And it does nothing to meet criticism from German human-rights advocates that Siemens sells to states like China, knowing that China will then resell to Iran. But it is, at least, a tiny sign that Siemens is feeling the heat. About time too, given Europe’s commercial complicity with the Iranian regime.

Completely coincidentally, two days later, the Senate, as Jen mentioned, passed tough sanctions on Iran. Among other steps, as the AP notes, the Senate bill “would prohibit the U.S. government from purchasing goods from firms that do business in Iran’s energy sector, or provide sensitive communications technology to Iran — a measure that could affect telecommunications giants Siemens and Nokia.” As I say, it’s certainly just a coincidence that, two days before the vote, Siemens intimated it was heading for the Iranian exit, anyhow.

But it does make you think. Engagement has been a complete failure, as even Richard Haass now admits. It hasn’t stopped the Iranian nuclear program, reduced the brutality of the regime, or done anything to diminish Europe’s vast trade ties with Iran, which have shrunk in 2009 mostly because of the recession. And yet, as soon as the U.S. Senate looks like it might pass a bill – which still needs to be reconciled with the House version, and for which the President has shown no enthusiasm at all – a major German firm suddenly, mysteriously develops a case of the shakes about cozying up to Tehran. I wonder what they’d do if we really started trying.

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Iran Sanctions Pass the Senate

The president in his SOTU virtually ignored the greatest national security threat of our time: the growing danger that an Islamic revolutionary regime will acquire nuclear weapons. Fortunately, the Senate didn’t wait around for the Obami to act. This report explains:

The US Senate voted Thursday to slap tough new sanctions on Iran, targeting its thirst for gasoline imports in a bid to force Tehran to bow to global pressure to freeze its suspect nuclear program.

“The Iranian regime has engaged in serious human rights abuses against its own citizens, funded terrorist activity throughout the Middle East, and pursued illicit nuclear activities posing a serious threat to the security of the United States and our allies,” said Democratic Senator Chris Dodd.

“With passage of this bill, we make it clear that there will be appropriate consequences if these actions continue,” said Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and a key sponsor of the legislation.

The bill will need to be reconciled with the House version. The Senate’s bill contains robust measures, the sort candidate Obama seemed to favor on the campaign trail:

It also requires that the president report to congress when non-US companies become eligible for sanctions, under a 1996 law that punishes investments of more than 20 million dollars in Iran’s energy sector.

Iran gets most of its gasoline imports from the Swiss firm Vitol, the Swiss/Dutch firm Trafigura, France’s Total, the Swiss firm Glencore and British Petroleum, as well as the Indian firm Reliance.

The measure also expands the 1996 law to cover oil and gas pipelines and tankers, and requires the administration to freeze the assets of any Iranians, including members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, found to be active in weapons proliferation or terrorism.

It would also enable US investors, including states’ pension funds, to divest from energy firms that do business with Iran.

It would prohibit the US government from purchasing goods from firms that do business in Iran’s energy sector, or provide sensitive communications technology to Iran — a measure that could affect telecommunications giants Siemens and Nokia.

It seems that the Senate is growing impatient with China and Russia, which show no sign of joining in multilateral measures, and also with the Obami, who have made an art of foot-dragging. As Sen. Mitch McConnell pointed out, “The Iranian regime has shown no interest in limiting its nuclear ambitions. And an entire year was lost as Iran moved closer and closer to its goal.”

Let’s see what Obama does when the bill lands on his desk. He has been unable to hold the Congress at bay, no doubt to the disappointment of the pin-prick sanctions set at Foggy Bottom, which searches for those measures that pack the least punch. Obama may be yanked against his will from his engagement cocoon. But make no mistake: there is no consensus in the U.S. Congress for perpetuating the Obami’s current do-nothingism. There’s also only so much engagement fabulism that even liberal Democratic lawmakers can take. Good for them. Let’s see if it shakes them awake at the White House.

The president in his SOTU virtually ignored the greatest national security threat of our time: the growing danger that an Islamic revolutionary regime will acquire nuclear weapons. Fortunately, the Senate didn’t wait around for the Obami to act. This report explains:

The US Senate voted Thursday to slap tough new sanctions on Iran, targeting its thirst for gasoline imports in a bid to force Tehran to bow to global pressure to freeze its suspect nuclear program.

“The Iranian regime has engaged in serious human rights abuses against its own citizens, funded terrorist activity throughout the Middle East, and pursued illicit nuclear activities posing a serious threat to the security of the United States and our allies,” said Democratic Senator Chris Dodd.

“With passage of this bill, we make it clear that there will be appropriate consequences if these actions continue,” said Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and a key sponsor of the legislation.

The bill will need to be reconciled with the House version. The Senate’s bill contains robust measures, the sort candidate Obama seemed to favor on the campaign trail:

It also requires that the president report to congress when non-US companies become eligible for sanctions, under a 1996 law that punishes investments of more than 20 million dollars in Iran’s energy sector.

Iran gets most of its gasoline imports from the Swiss firm Vitol, the Swiss/Dutch firm Trafigura, France’s Total, the Swiss firm Glencore and British Petroleum, as well as the Indian firm Reliance.

The measure also expands the 1996 law to cover oil and gas pipelines and tankers, and requires the administration to freeze the assets of any Iranians, including members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, found to be active in weapons proliferation or terrorism.

It would also enable US investors, including states’ pension funds, to divest from energy firms that do business with Iran.

It would prohibit the US government from purchasing goods from firms that do business in Iran’s energy sector, or provide sensitive communications technology to Iran — a measure that could affect telecommunications giants Siemens and Nokia.

It seems that the Senate is growing impatient with China and Russia, which show no sign of joining in multilateral measures, and also with the Obami, who have made an art of foot-dragging. As Sen. Mitch McConnell pointed out, “The Iranian regime has shown no interest in limiting its nuclear ambitions. And an entire year was lost as Iran moved closer and closer to its goal.”

Let’s see what Obama does when the bill lands on his desk. He has been unable to hold the Congress at bay, no doubt to the disappointment of the pin-prick sanctions set at Foggy Bottom, which searches for those measures that pack the least punch. Obama may be yanked against his will from his engagement cocoon. But make no mistake: there is no consensus in the U.S. Congress for perpetuating the Obami’s current do-nothingism. There’s also only so much engagement fabulism that even liberal Democratic lawmakers can take. Good for them. Let’s see if it shakes them awake at the White House.

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