Nikita Khrushchev

The Book of the Week is “Nikita Khrushchev, and the Creation of a Superpower” by Sergei N. Khrushchev, published in 2000. This is the Soviet leader’s biography, written by his younger son, born in 1935. 

Born in April 1894 in Kurskaya, Nikita possessed excellent survival skills as a politician until the mid-1960’s. In the 1930’s, his growing family’s living standards were almost comparable to that of the West, considering they received government-provided housing and food.

During WWII, in March 1943, Nikita’s older son’s (vulnerable Soviet) warplane (of inferior quality) was shot down and he was killed (a not uncommon occurrence). The Soviet government arrested his widow and charged her with spying for Britain or Sweden (also a not uncommon occurrence). The author’s mother (Nikita’s wife) spread propaganda for the district party committee, and cared for the author’s young cousins whose older relatives were doing war work or who had been killed in the fighting. Those who Americans would call “draft dodgers” consisted of privileged family members of government officials, who did “theatre administration” stateside.

After WWII ended, the USSR’s government featured a “…morbidly suspicious Stalin surrounded by backstabbing and cutthroat courtiers jockeying for position.” In 1950, the Khrushchev family moved from the Ukraine to Moscow. Nikita had to choose his friends carefully, even when taking a walk with a comrade outside his vacation house (dacha), as they were closely tailed by gossipy bodyguards. As a Politburo member, he rode in an armored limousine.

Nikita made various policy changes after Stalin’s death in 1953. In connection with weaponry, in order to keep up with the United States, he ordered his country to make nuclear submarines, which required less exorbitant spending than cruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers. He also felt that ballistic missiles were the wave of the future.

In early 1956, a Central Committee secretary found documentation on Stalin’s purges and show trials. Like any good bureaucrat, the secretary felt obliged to draft a memo on the heinous crimes described therein. A few of the many disturbing lines included: “During 1937-1938 alone, 1,548,366 people were arrested, 681,692 of whom were shot. Top level leaders in republics, territories, and provinces were arrested; then their replacements were arrested, and so on. Of the 1,966 delegates to the Seventeenth Congress of the all-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), 1,108 were arrested, 848 were shot, and so on.”

Soviet dissidents– victims of Stalin’s arbitrary human rights abuses but faithful to Communism– who were still alive, were soon to be released from the gulag. They could potentially present a public relations disaster for Nikita. Thus, Nikita formed a “truth and reconciliation” commission of sorts, to air their grievances, and put all the blame on Stalin for past totalitarian policies. However, no compensation was forthcoming for the victims and no punishments were imposed on the offenders.

In October 1956, just prior to the bloody suppression of protestors in Hungary, Soviet spies were led to believe that the Poles were planning to break away from the Union, and get Westernized. So the Soviets conferred with the Poles and the other Soviet satellites Romania and Czechoslovakia to keep them in the Soviet fold. Tito, the Yugoslavian leader, was still on speaking terms with the Soviets, but he had declared his territory’s independence from the USSR some time before.

In the following weeks, Nikita certainly did not want the Poles, Romanians and Czechs to copy Hungary’s rebellious action; that might lead to their defecting to the hostile, imperialist capitalists. He gave the order to send tanks to Budapest because “… the imperialists threatened to oppress the people, the workers and the peasants.” Fortunately, no violence ensued elsewhere, as Nikita struck a deal with the Poles. They would no longer receive reduced-price coal from Silesia, but their substantial debt to the USSR was canceled.

By summer 1957, political enemies of Nikita were starting to plot against him in the USSR’s two governing bodies, the Central Committee and the Politburo (Presidium). However, Nikita was able to hang on to his power in a vote that resulted in demotions and exiles of the perpetrators.

By late August 1957, the Soviets had developed an intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially hit any place on earth. However, expensively, the army (which possessed no experience in weaponry) rather than the aviation industry, was the governmental entity producing it. Two years later, Nikita formed an entity that made only strategic missiles.

The author spent many, many pages recounting the details of the Cuban Missile Crisis. All through the summer of 1962, Nikita had actively pursued an aggressive military mission: secretly, actually shipping Soviet missiles from the Union to Cuba for the purpose of “defense.”

For, the United States had launched a (botched) clandestine military operation at the Bay of Pigs to try to destabilize Cuba. It had nuclear weapons at the ready in Turkey and Italy, that could reach the USSR; in previous months, it had been sending a few U-2 spy planes over Soviet territory– a violation of the Union’s airspace. Not that the Soviet government hadn’t launched sixteen surveillance missions over France by 1960. And installed listening devices in private homes throughout the USSR. Pox on everyone’s houses.

Anyway, the possibility of actual mutual assured destruction reared its ugly head when, in the third week of October 1962, American intelligence officials discovered that the Soviets had assembled twelve nuclear missiles and more were on the way. Shortly thereafter, the United States declared an embargo on Soviet ships heading toward Cuba because presumably, they were carrying weapons parts. The Soviets didn’t take kindly to that, but the embargo was never actually strictly enforced.

Nevertheless, Nikita had an ally in Fidel Castro, who allowed the weaponry to be assembled and potentially launched from his nation’s soil in Cuba.

There were indications from Nikita’s conversations with Castro that Castro was a sociopathic hawk, spoiling for a fight with the United States. Castro was almost looking forward to becoming a martyr by preemptively taking out major American cities via the weaponry. He had heard from his intelligence agents that America was going to send ground troops to his country within two days.

Five days into the crisis, when Nikita realized Castro meant what he said, Nikita told American President John F. Kennedy that he was willing to withdraw the missiles on certain conditions. The United Nations hammered out the details. Castro was furious at Nikita.

So according to this book, Castro’s saber-rattling was why Nikita reconsidered his own aggressive stance with the Americans, not because Kennedy stared him down.

The development of nuclear missiles in the USSR was not without trials and errors; many costly errors. In October 1960, there occurred a rocket-testing accident in which nearly 150 tons of fuel and oxidizer burst into flames of three thousand degrees Fahrenheit, vaporizing 74 people in the vicinity. There were a lot of very important spectators at the test, so safety procedures were neglected in the rush to launch the rocket.

Read the book to learn of the power and ideological struggles among members of the Soviet government during Nikita’s reign, the serious problems suffered by East Germany, Nikita’s ouster, and much more.

The Netanyahu Years – BONUS POST

This political biography, “The Netanyahu Years” by Ben Caspit, translated by Ora Cummings, published in 2017, described a speech-making, megalomaniacal Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who made a miraculous comeback, given his situation and mediocre, if not disgraceful record.

This book committed an egregious factual error in two different places: “During Bill Clinton’s first term in office in 1997…” and “His [Netanyahu’s] first meeting with Bill Clinton took place on July 9, 1996. Clinton had already been in office for six months, Netanyahu, barely one month.”

The reader is also left wondering about the following: “On November 21, 2005, Ariel Sharon announced he was leaving the Likud Party…” but in later text, “On December 18, 2004, Prime Minister Sharon suffered a minor stroke… Two weeks later… a second stroke… pushed Sharon into a coma from which he never awoke.”

Besides, this book was sloppily proofread, presented confusing timelines, was redundant and disorganized; perhaps the author believed he was building suspense. Nevertheless, the overall themes of the book’s subject’s career and personality came across as credible.

Born in 1949 in Israel, Netanyahu grew up in a political family. His father’s side believed in Jabotinsky’s brand of Zionism– at one time proposing that the Jewish homeland be located in Uganda. In the early 1940’s, his father got no action from Franklin Roosevelt on saving Europe’s Jews, so he and his Zionist political group allied with Republicans to get some.

In September 1947, the elder Netanyahu put forth a Revisionist proposal at the United Nations opposing the Jewish/Arab partition. He ruled his family by fear and force, with regular beatings. Starting when the younger Netanyahu was eight, the family moved to New York City and two or three years later, Philadelphia. But the youngster’s heart was still in Israel. He returned there every summer during his teen years.

In the late 1960’s, for five years, Netanyahu served in an elite, top secret group in the Israeli military. He was almost killed in a secret Suez Canal mission. Despite serving in the Israeli military, he was apparently able to keep his American citizenship. For, he returned to America to major in physics and chemistry first at Cornell and then graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Netanyahu became a businessman but Moshe Arens convinced him to become a politician (or diplomat/propagandist, to be more specific) on behalf of Israel beginning in the early 1980’s. He was already divorced with a daughter, whom he later very nearly disowned, not through any apparent fault of hers. He then went through a second wife. Not because he was a media whore, although he was also that.

By May 1988, Netanyahu was a high Likud (Conservative) Party official in Israel. Yet he did American-style campaigning. He paid a fortune for voter and polling data, and was a super fundraiser. Like Donald Trump, he had his claques, flacks and sycophants. He started dating another female. They broke up. However, she got pregnant during election season. For the sake of his image, he felt he needed to marry her.

During the next election, Netanyahu still felt he had to prove his sexual prowess by having an affair. His political enemies blackmailed him on this score, but he outwitted them. He went on television to honestly admit it but refused to withdraw from the race. In spring 1993, he reconciled with his wife, with the condition that she was free to behave like a “bridezilla”– not with regard to a wedding ceremony, but with regard to his political career. She owned him and his career ever after.

In 1994 and 1995, again, mimicking an American politico who practices hate-mongering, Netanyahu incited young Likud voters to whip up a frenzy of outrage to protest the peace talks among then-Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, the PLO, Jordan and Syria; such talks were moderated by American president Bill Clinton. Netanyahu tacitly supported the protestors when they gathered “… in Jerusalem’s Zion Square where huge simulated photographs of Rabin in an SS Nazi uniform were raised high. Crazed demonstrators set fire to Rabin’s picture.” Luckily for Netanyahu, the perpetrator of Rabin’s November 1995 assassination was unaffiliated with the Likud party.

In 1996, Netanyahu won his election for prime minister by a nose, partly due to election legislation he helped to enact. Like John F. Kennedy, he underwent an epic fail early in his administration, due to his youth and inexperience. Like with the Bay of Pigs incident, the prime minister authorized a sneak attack on an enemy of his– the terrorist group Hamas.

Netanyahu’s administration was a revolving door of personnel, thanks to his wife’s interference. Together, especially when campaigning, they were like other dictatorial couples– the Ceausescus, the Perons, the Marcoses… with their outsize egos, department of dirty tricks, and broken campaign promises, especially after their election victory in 2009. At his reelection, Netanyahu hogged the jobs of five ministers, plus that of prime minister.

Unsurprisingly, Netanyahu launched a hate campaign against American president Barack Obama when he realized he couldn’t get along with him. This book rambled on in a few chapters on the conversations between the Americans and the Israelis regarding the “Iran nuclear deal” but never did explain what it was. Netanyahu made Obama a scapegoat for all his troubles and derived a huge amount of political capital from doing so. The same way Trump has done.

Read the book to learn more Israeli history, and additional ways Netanyahu was bigger than Israel, given his rumored psychological problems.


John Glenn, A Memoir

The Book of the Week is “John Glenn, A Memoir” by John Glenn With Nick Taylor, published in 1999.

Glenn was born in 1921 in a small town in eastern Ohio. At fifteen years old, he earned a driver’s license after taking the written and practical tests, as required by state law for anyone under eighteen. At that time, no tests were required for those over eighteen.

In spring 1941, Glenn availed himself of aviation lessons free of charge at his college, Muskingum in Ohio, where he majored in chemistry. Related academic subjects were mandatory too, such as physics. Wild about flying, he got his pilot’s license in less than three months. However, WWII interrupted his education. He joined the Navy in autumn 1942, then switched to the Marines because he thought he’d be flying the cutting-edge planes of the day.

In April 1943, Glenn married his high school sweetheart in a Presbyterian church. He drove his new bride to his next military assignment in a used black 1934 Chevy coupe. “…it seemed as if we had a flat [tire] about every ten miles. Gas was rationed, and to conserve it, we joined the other speedsters on the road, clipping along at forty miles per hour.”

Glenn became a war hero, executing numerous bombing runs in the South Pacific. After the war, due to his military career, he relocated frequently– to California, China, Guam. He was assigned various administrative and aviation positions, but was happiest when his job was piloting aircraft. He did some spying and taught flying instructors how to teach flight training.

Prop planes in the war had traveled at 300 miles per hour but in the 1950’s, jets in Corpus Christi, Texas were going double that. Glenn got a “green card” unrelated to immigration. It made pilots eligible to fly in the most severe weather conditions. Glenn’s ego and expertise in aviation prompted him to apply for the job of astronaut. He was one of seven lucky pilots chosen. The others were from the Air Force and the Navy.

In the late 1950’s, space exploration was in its infancy. There were infinite unknowns about what could happen in a rocket ship. The guinea pigs who were to occupy the capsule were therefore subjected to simulations– like letting their bodies be manipulated by the three axes of pitch, roll and yaw at thirty revolutions per minute– to practice regaining control of the ship if it was attacked by aliens. Or simply malfunctioned. Such an ordeal necessitated about a half hour of recovery from vertigo.

In February 1962, Glenn finally got his chance to circle the earth three times and collect scads of data. Unexpectedly, the heat shield in the capsule melted away in an orange fireball, and at the point of the shock wave, four feet from his back lurked heat of 9,500 degrees Fahrenheit, a little less scorching than the surface of the sun.

Contrary to popular myth, he was unhurt immediately after his famous flight. It was when he ran for the office of U.S. Senator from Ohio in 1964, that he hit his head on the edge of the bathtub while trying to repair the medicine cabinet in his bathroom.

Read the book to discover the fun subjects and skills Glenn had to learn in the rigorous training for the feat that made him famous; his other feats, and much more.

The Good Fight – BONUS POST

“The Good Fight, Hard Lessons From Searchlight to Washington” by Harry Reid, published in 2008 is an autobiography that describes the life of a man who suffered many hardships in his early years and has overcome much adversity.

Born in December 1939, Reid grew up in a limited environment in a small mining town– Searchlight– in Nevada. The area’s economy was based on mining and prostitution, not unlike Washington, D.C.

Reid’s father gravitated toward a career (gold mining) suitable for his personality–introverted loner. The author became a lawyer and U.S. senator. One issue that stuck in Reid’s craw was America’s continued involvement in President George W. Bush’s Iraq war which Bush started in 2003. Years later, when Reid was Senate Minority Leader, he visited Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld to try to convince him that the United States should withdraw troops from Iraq. Rumsfeld blew Reid off and treated the war like a joke.

When Reid and other politicians visited Iraq personally, they realized that the emperor really did have no clothes. General David Petraeus put on a show for them, exhibiting soldiers who were training Iraqis to fight on their own, similar to the way the late President Richard Nixon tried to implement “Vietnamization.”

In early 2006, the author and his fellow Democrats defeated an attempt by Bush to privatize Social Security. “We knew we had won when the White House simply stopped talking about it.”

Read the book to learn of Reid’s adventures as chair of the Nevada Gaming Commission starting in 1977, a few of his interesting law cases, and much more.

Deadly Spin

The Book of the Week is “Deadly Spin” by Wendell Potter, published in 2010. This is a book that explains how health insurance companies engage in unethical behavior in the name of profit, that results in needless deaths in the United States.

It follows then, that serving as a top executive at a health insurance company requires sociopathic tendencies, favoring money over people. One reason the insurance companies are so obsessed with their bottom lines (aside from the greed of their top executives) is that they have to answer to Wall Street.

Potter worked for Humana and then CIGNA a combined approximately twenty years as head of their public relations departments. By the late 1980’s, Humana realized it had a conflict in running a for-profit hospital and a managed-care plan simultaneously. The hospital was more than happy to maximize the stays of its most lucrative patients, while the plan’s goal was to minimize costs through preventive health care– promoting wellness.

The author learned to play the game of maximizing his employer’s profits through fighting legislative changes to his industry; and protecting, defending and enhancing his employer’s reputation. For, there was a direct relationship between his employer’s profits and his raises and bonuses. He therefore emotionally detached himself from health insurance plan members, and focused specifically on actuarial tables and legalese to help him project an image of his employer as a reasonable,  if not caring participant in patient care.

Whenever a threat to his former employers’ profits arose, such as the movie “Sicko” or proposed legislation that financially favored patients, his former employers hired a big-name, monster-sized public relations firm, and secretly co-funded and co-founded a political front group, such as “Health Care America” that publicly pretended to favor health care consumers, but truly sought to maximize insurance industry profits. The group was a propaganda machine, and an object lesson in how to lie with statistics.

Other tricks of the trade include:  “…rescinding individual policies, denying claims, cheating doctors, pushing new mothers and breast cancer patients out of the hospital prematurely and shifting costs to consumers.”

Read the book to learn additional details of the hegemony of the health insurance companies. One interesting endnote: “Obama opposed any requirement that everyone buy insurance, one of the few points on which he disagreed with Hillary.”

Indecent Exposure

The Book of the Week is “Indecent Exposure, A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street” by David McClintick, published in 1982. This volume with the provocative but misleading title had nothing to do with sex. It actually consisted of a suspenseful, albeit long story seen mostly through the eyes of Alan J. Hirschfield, the CEO and officer at Columbia, the movie company. It was about how a lack of honesty, the power of propaganda, and clashing egos basically resulted in the redistribution of wealth among the wealthy. This sort of thing happens all the time.

In February 1977, then-famous actor Cliff Robertson received a document saying he owed taxes in connection with a check he never received. He later found out that the check had been forged and cashed in his name, by David Begelman, a high-level executive at the aforesaid Columbia.

It was common practice for Hollywood studios to send movie actors checks for thousands of dollars (usually unreported to the IRS) that defrayed a small portion of their promotion expenses for a new picture. The IRS had just then begun cracking down on that taxable income. Robertson’s reaction set in motion a series of consequences that affected thousands of people; mostly financially.

Columbia was a public company, and the bad publicity resulting from news of a serious crime committed by one of its executives was a serious public relations problem. Hirschfield, who was on the board of directors, was told by an attorney that he had a duty to inform the executive committee, corporate counsel and the SEC after an internal investigation had been conducted.

As has been the case since the discovery of journalism/tabloidism, (supposedly said by Mark Twain), “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Begelman’s friends in the Hollywood community (of which the check forger had many) rushed to his defense, having heard only vague rumors that described his transgressions in euphemisms. They really had no clue that he had actually committed several felonies, it turned out. They didn’t want to know.

The friends planted tabloidy messages in the media making the excuse “Everybody Does It” because they took unethical liberties with their own expense accounts, and made Hirschfield the villain, saying he was a power-hungry, vindictive executive, as he technically did compete for power with Begelman in the company hierarchy. Hollywood’s and the public’s gullibility in automatically believing in Begelman’s innocence and Hirschfield’s treachery is human nature.

At the board meeting that initiated the long, heated discussion that would determine whether Begelman was fired, Begelman acted like a prisoner on death row who had suddenly found religion. He implied he might kill himself if removed from his primary job. But actually, anyone who knows this kind of person knows that he would be too arrogant to kill himself.

A preliminary inquiry into Begelman’s history yielded more than one serious crime during his Columbia tenure, and previous lying and other worse misdeeds. Hirschfield argued for termination, saying Begelman was unlikely to change his spots, as dishonesty was a lifelong habit with him. Over the next few years, the Hollywood community and the public, however, still having heard only distorted soundbites that minimized Begelman’s sins, fooled itself into believing they weren’t that bad, and continued to defend him.

Interesting sidenote: In 1982, in a joking context, Hirschfield exclaimed to a female friend who was high on the corporate ladder, in front of some colleagues: “Female executives suck!” She laughed. Clearly, if that was uttered in 2018, hilarity would NOT ensue.

Read the book to learn of the consequences of the stupid actions taken by most of the main characters of this entertaining saga.

Let the People In – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Let the People In, The Life and Times of Ann Richards” by Jan Reid, published in 2012.

Born in September 1933 in Waco, Texas, Richards attended Baylor University on a debate-team scholarship. She gave up the team (and the scholarship) to get married in 1953, but still graduated.

Richards’ immediate family eventually consisted of a husband and four children. They lived in Austin, Texas. Her husband was a lawyer who represented labor unions and civil rights activists. Their social group consisted of hard-partying (drinking, pot-smoking) liberal Democrats, like Molly Ivins. Lots of hippies and anti-war protesters lived in their neighborhood, a college town.

In 1972, Richards kicked off her political career as campaign manager for Sarah Weddington, who was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. Four years later, Richards herself was elected Travis County Commissioner; her husband, Justice of the Peace.

In 1980, it was alcohol-rehab time for Richards, in Minneapolis. Her career comeback began in 1982. During the campaign, her opponent tried to smear her with drunkenness and mental instability. It backfired on him. She was still elected Texas State Treasurer. The following year saw the finalization of her divorce.

Candidates traded vicious slurs in the 1990 campaign for Texas governor. Richards claimed her opponent’s company “… had been cited for intentionally dumping 25,000 barrels of waste mud and oil into a tributary creek of a lake that provided drinking water for the small town of Brenham. Partners and competitors in the oil and gas industry sued his companies more than three hundred times.”

That is the kind of specific data that, if true, should be all over the evening news– constantly screamed from the pro-environmental side of the “global warming” debate. But go one step further: in order to effect real political change, environmentalists should provide solid, numerical information on how humans are ultimately harmed by pollution. Information should be spread far and wide on cancer clusters, financial damage to specific communities, and proposed legislation that strikes a compromise between minimizing economic sacrifices while maximizing environmental friendliness– in order to minimize harm to humans.

For, “global warming” is not rocket science… It’s not even earth science… It’s political science! Everyone knows that usage of the catchall phrase “global warming” is simply a political football used for getting votes and/or money. It an easy way to produce fear and outrage through vast generalizations and mudslinging. It is irrelevant whether “global warming” actually exists, and if so, it is irrelevant the extent to which it is caused by humans. Local pollution in America should be the focus of political action for Americans. Worldwide anti-pollution efforts are too acrimonious and complicated to bother with.

Anyway, once elected, Richards tried to execute environmentally-friendly initiatives. However, her efforts were thwarted because officials in the Texas governor’s office have staggered terms. Workers senior to her were loyal to her predecessor.

It stands to reason that long-term international agreements that regulate geographically wide-ranging desecration would be many times more difficult to come by– if Richards had trouble trying to push through legislation with a few tens of residents of her own state, in Texas alone. Her lieutenant governor was also a thorn in her side. Read the book to learn why, along with much more on the rest of her career and life.