Hacker News

The Making of the American Gulag(bostonreview.net)

68 pointsanarbadalov posted 3 months ago45 Comments
sailfast said 3 months ago:

Let me get this straight - this author is trying to tie post-war US Spending to counter Soviet policies, fear of communist expansion, and the cold war, to the current state of police budgets and behavior in the United States? (so they can use the name Gulag in the title of the piece? - just speculating...)

First: It's completely within the power of communities to NOT fund their police, but most of them want to fund the police. I highly doubt it's because they believe their police are building gulags / exhibiting secret police behavior, or because, you know, "no matter what protect the thin blue line because we're conditioned as a police state!"

Second: Militarization of the police is much more a result of the recent terrorist attacks and surplus equipment and military training from the Iraq / Afghanistan wars than anything having to do with the cold war. (Focus on response to mass shootings with automatic weapons, requiring / wanting to wear body armor, etc vs. community policing approaches have different perceived risk profiles)

Third: I'll give you the prison industrial complex is a thing, but there is simply no data in the article presented about overall private prison usage vs. publicly funded prisons. I think private prisons should be outlawed, but a quick look yields 8.5% of people incarcerated are in private prisons. https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/private-priso...

The hyperbole in this article is offputting, doesn't help the purpose of the author, and honestly misses so many facts about postwar military spending and WHY that it boggles the mind of any reader with any sort of background in this. Hard pass next time.

linksnapzz said 3 months ago:

The is the Boston (or rather, "everything north of the Charles and west of the Mystic, out to 128") Review.

They have blurbs saying how great they are from Naomi Klein, JK Galbraith, Martha Nussbaum, Henry Gates and John Rawls. Do not expect anything written there to give an evenhanded look at the security and public-safety concerns of post WWII Americans.

It is still upsetting to see the equivocations in the article in question. These, by a faculty club Cambridge trot currently whining in absentia at Hopkins, would rise to the level of Big Lie material if there were not people still alive with firsthand experience of the Soviet system. As it is, it just makes him look silly and any student that buys it look like a rube.

kilo_bravo_3 said 3 months ago:

>Second: Militarization of the police is much more a result of the recent terrorist attacks and surplus equipment and military training from the Iraq / Afghanistan wars than anything having to do with the cold war.

The thing I don't get about the "militarization" of police is that:

1. Police responses to mass civil disturbances is probably less militarized today than it has ever been in the history of the United States. See: Philly police dropping actual bombs on citizens, all of the 40s, 50s, and 60s, George Washington himself sending several regiments of the newly-formed US Army to pacify tax protestors, and everything in between.

2. Everywhere that keeps records going back several decades has seen police shootings decrease. In New York City in particular both shootings and deaths have decreased at a rate that exceeds the drop in crime and are the lowest they've ever been-- and NYPD is one of the most "militarized" police forces in the US (so I've been told).

In 1972, NYPD fired 2,510 shots during 994 incidents, injuring 145 subjects and killing 66.

In 2017, NYPD fired 52 shots during 242 incidents, injuring 9 subjects and killing 10.

3. Surplus military equipment has always been given to police forces. Some police forces used to have belt-fed machine guns and hand grenades in their armories.

A libertarian publication, Reason, used to maintain a meticulously-curated list of SWAT raids, with handy-dandy links to purchase their publications on the downward spiral of American society and the trampling of the rights of every citizen at the hands of the militarized police, which they terminated around 2012 when their own graphs showed incidents of police brutality falling off a cliff.

Today, the most police forces have to report every time they strike, tase, or shoot, a subject.

Back in "the good old days" when police "weren't militarized" they just sprayed bullets at people, dumped the corpses at the morgue, and went out for a drink.

One hundred years ago, during the May Day Riots and Red Summer of 1919 the police used the actual, literal, military (including WWI tanks) to kill protestors (mainly socialists and African Americans).

When were the police (and the overall response to civil unrest by authorities) LESS militarized than they are today?

monetus said 3 months ago:

I get the sense you two are talking about seperate things. That is, he is referring to the presence of military equipment and training while you are talking about the breadth of the discretion police have to use violence. It makes me wonder at differences in their impact.

sailfast said 3 months ago:

You’re right - that said thinking about both of these aspects and their contributions is interesting. I appreciate you bringing up the distinction.

sailfast said 3 months ago:

I agree with you in terms of overall violence. It’s improved mightily and generally I’d say corruption levels are not expected to be high.

I might disagree in terms of usage of heavy equipment, body armor, and prevalence of swat team raids (as a percentage) over older incidents. Beat cops often look like they’re ready for battle. I understand why but it’s not necessarily neighborhood policing, shaking hands, etc.

cafard said 3 months ago:

Tax protestors? The Whiskey Rebellion wasn't picketing with signs.

xnakq said 3 months ago:

Until recently it was common among educated people to use generally understood exaggerations to make a point.

No one around 2000-2010 would read the article as a) diminishing the sufferings in the actual Gulags or b) an insinuation that the U.S. has reached the state of actual Gulags.

How would one read classical European literature if this convention is not understood.

IanDrake said 3 months ago:

It's important to convince people that vice is virtue and virtue is vice.

For instance, prisons house people who broke the law and were convicted by their peers...but let's pretend prisoners are all somehow virtuous and blame the prisons. If only good law abiding people weren't so damn bad, they'd realize that prisons aren't a great place to be for prisoners.

Since we are in the process of flipping vice and virtue, let's also make freedom of speech unpopular. Once we do that, let's start by fining people $250K for using legal terms, like illegal immigrant to describe people that have entered the country illegally...because feelings.


Clubber said 3 months ago:

We need to let the USA PATRIOT act expire. They renew it every year. It should be a top political theme in 2020. This would at least be a good start. The fact that Kamala Harris is tanking after Tulsi described her as a prosecutor is heartening. Historically, prosecutors benefited from perverting the justice system because they were "tough on crime."

GenX (my generation) is too small to do much politically, but the Millennials will be the next big power in US politics, handed over from the Boomers. Millennials, make sure you not only fight to preserve every freedom, but fight to regain ones we've lost since the Cold War. It's getting pretty dark in the US.

ASalazarMX said 3 months ago:

> GenX (my generation) is too small to do much politically

Wait, didn't the boomers become famous for having lots of kids? GenX should be the biggest.

Edit: It's not the biggest: https://www.statista.com/statistics/797321/us-population-by-...

makerofspoons said 3 months ago:

The Greatest Generation was famous for having lots of kids, resulting in the (baby) boomers. GenX is smaller than the millenials and GenZ in the US: https://www.statista.com/statistics/797321/us-population-by-...

ThetaOneOne said 3 months ago:

Boomers did have a lot of kids, the millennials. GenX is the in between generation.

goto11 said 3 months ago:

The boomers are the result of the post-war baby boom. They are known for being numerous, not for getting particularly many children themselves.

If anything, millennials would be their grandchildren.

ameister14 said 3 months ago:

If you were born in 1955, you are a baby boomer. If you were born in 1985, you are a millennial. 1985-1955=30. 30 isn't the normal age for a grandparent.

Clubber said 3 months ago:

Early Boomer: 1946 Early GenX: 1966 Early Millenial: 1986

40 years, it fits just fine when you don't take the latest possible boomer and the youngest possible millennial.

ameister14 said 3 months ago:

Latest possible boomer is early 60's. I took pretty much smack dab in the middle of the boomers. Millennial starts in what, '81-82? so about 16-20 years between, which is generation X. The earliest possible boomer is early 50's when the latest millennial is born. The latest possible boomer is 19 when the earliest millennial is born.

goto11 said 3 months ago:

FWIW Wikipedia agrees with you. I thought millennial were later.

wyclif said 3 months ago:

Yes. Another way of looking at it is that GenX are the children of people too young to be members of the Greatest Generation or participate in events surrounding WWII, but too old to be baby boomers.

isoskeles said 3 months ago:

> Generation X (or Gen X) is the demographic cohort following the baby boomers and preceding the Millennials. Demographers and researchers typically use birth years ranging from the early-to-mid 1960s to the early 1980s, with 1965 to 1980 a widely accepted definition.

Clubber said 3 months ago:

The Boomers were the kids that WWII vets were famous for having. They were born in a baby boom during / after WWII, thus the name.

goto11 said 3 months ago:

The boomer are named so because they are the result of the post-war baby boom. This is why there is so many boomers!

nradov said 3 months ago:

Size of a generation only matters if they actually vote.

Ididntdothis said 3 months ago:

Voting by itself is pretty useless if your only choices are two corrupt parties. You actually need to influence the parties.

PhasmaFelis said 3 months ago:

There was a thing a few years ago where a Russian political troll ring was exposed, and the big focus of their messaging to left-wingers was "there's no point in voting because both parties are equally bad."

What you said is what they want you to think. Lord knows both major parties in the US have serious problems, but if you think they're indistinguishable, you're not paying attention.

B1FF_PSUVM said 3 months ago:

The late Gore Vidal (not a Russian) wrote "There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party … and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat." (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7320654-there-is-only-one-p...)

He used to hang out with the 1960s Democratic Party mighty, even ran in an election. His essays are pretty sharp.

PhasmaFelis said 3 months ago:

Just for one example, one party has a recent history of seeking equal rights for LGBT people, and the other has a history of actively blocking same. Try telling a trans person that the party in power doesn't matter.

I never said that the Democrats are perfect. They're not even all that good. As often as not, they're the lesser evil. That doesn't mean it's rational to stay home and let the greater evil win.

deogeo said 3 months ago:

They're indistinguishable in quite a few matters - the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations all continued the PATRIOT act, warrantles wiretapping of US citizens, all the foreign wars the US got itself involved in, and none of them closed Guantanamo, reduced immigration, broke up any monopolies, or even slowed their mergers. And these are the topics on which they made wildly different promises. The only stand-out was Trump stopping the TPP.

I'll grant you there are other topics on which they differ, but depending on what you look at, your options quickly blur together.

PhasmaFelis said 3 months ago:

See my other comment. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21207421 If you care about queer rights at all, they're like night and day. There's also clear differences on abortion rights and freedom of (and from) religion.

I don't disagree with anything you said, either. It sucks, and I said so. People are reacting like I said the Democrats were nearly perfect, and I'm not sure how anyone got that from what I actually said.

nooyurrsdey said 3 months ago:

I think the point was that older generations tend to vote, so millenials will vote and assume power in 20 years.

at-fates-hands said 3 months ago:

Most don't vote now, which is one of the primary reasons why Trump was elected.

Sure, they swamp social media with their anger, demonstrate, disrupt conservative speaking engagements, burn and vandalize private property and call for violence in the streets and revolution but have never really voted in huge numbers:

In a number of other key battleground states, such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, it looks like millennials didn't show up at the polls in the same levels they did for President Obama, and that was a problem for Democrats.

The millennial coalition Obama created just didn't translate to Clinton, despite the Beyonce and Katy Perry concerts.

In many of these states, Clinton still won the young vote, but her margin of victory was substantially smaller. In Florida, it was 16 percentage points less than President Obama's; Wisconsin, 20 percentage points smaller; and Pennsylvania, 19 percentage points less.

And I believe most younger voters once they have to pay taxes, raise a family, and start building their retirement and saving for their kids college, become more Conservative and less "progressive" or Liberal.

klank said 3 months ago:

> And I believe most younger voters once they have to pay taxes, raise a family, and start building their retirement and saving for their kids college, become more Conservative and less "progressive" or Liberal.

Is that accurate? It's conventional wisdom but I've never seen it convincingly demonstrated.

rayiner said 3 months ago:

It’s extremely well demonstrated through cohort studies. Millennials are no more progressive (and may be more conservative) than boomers were at the same age: https://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-millenn...

Of course, some of the issues change. Gay marriage is rapidly becoming a bipartisan consensus (45% of republicans support it, more than Democrats did 20 years ago). Other issues, like abortion, have not changed. Still others have changed in the opposite direction, like the gun rights: https://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/o....

klank said 3 months ago:

Skimmed, so I apologize if I missed something, but that isn't what we were discussing though. That's comparing two generations and their self-identification.

What I was asking about is the assertion that as a person ages they become more conservative. Comparing generational differences won't directly answer that question.

rayiner said 3 months ago:

We don’t have data on what millennials will believe 20 years from now. What we do know is that baby boomers are much more conservative than millennials are now, but were no more conservative and possibly where more liberal back when they were the age millennials are today. So we can infer that millennials, as a group, got more conservative as they aged.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that any given person got more conservative as they aged. But most people must have done so, because the group as a whole did.

Of course this is, as you say, based on self identification. But conservative and liberal are best described in terms of self identification, because they’re relative terms. As recently as the 1990s, a “conservative” view of the family would have meant two parents of the same race. Today, that wouldn’t be a conservative viewpoint, but a far right or reactionary viewpoint. Given how quickly the acceptance of gay marriage has accelerated (much faster, after Obergefell, than the acceptance of mixed race marriage after Loving), a “conservative” view of family could soon be two people, regardless of sexual orientation. (And that doesn’t only move in one direction, either. In the 1960s, a “liberal” might have actually believed in government ownership of the means of production. Today, most “liberals” identify “socialism” as a strong welfare state within a free market framework.)

Clubber said 3 months ago:

I think the confusing part is he is viewing a person as either liberal or conservative as a whole. I, and I assume many people take liberal or conservative positions based on the policy, not as a denomination. Also, "liberal" and "conservative" mean different things to different people.

If someone were to ask me if I was liberal or conservative, I'd have to ask them, "for which policy?"

klank said 3 months ago:

Good point, it definitely perpetuates a false dichotomy.

said 3 months ago:
antidaily said 3 months ago:

Right. It's not the size. It's how you use it.

lonelappde said 3 months ago:

Did you just condemn Harris for being a prosecutor without any regard for how she did the job?

Is get because you believe that the current criminal justice system is fundamentally wrong and would be better completely abolished?

Clubber said 3 months ago:

>Did you just condemn Harris for being a prosecutor without any regard for how she did the job?

No, Tulsi Gabbard did during the first Democratic primary debate.

>Is get because you believe that the current criminal justice system is fundamentally wrong and would be better completely abolished?

No, I don't think it's fundamentally flawed. I feel prosecutors need a better check and balance against shady tactics like over charging to scare (innocent?) people into a plea. I also think the public defender's office should get the same budget as the prosecutor, because .. justice.

87er43 said 3 months ago:

> We need to let the USA PATRIOT act expire.

Why would they ever let this happen? It's an excuse to own you.

But let's say they did "let it expire", to put on some political pony show for the concerned voter, would they then stop spying on you, because of the new rules?

It's a stretch, but let's imagine that the agencies now decide to "follow the rules". They really miss that Patriot Act though! All they'd really need to get their favorite Act back is another major terrorist attack.

rpmisms said 3 months ago:

It's going to take a catastrophic event to disrupt the MIC and current "Everything is fine" attitudes. The 2016 election helped, as many people realized that maybe lots of government power isn't a good idea, especially if you don't like who's in office.

I wonder what the next disruption will be.

Merrill said 3 months ago:

I think there is a fundamental difference. Gulags destroy the body through forced labor. Prisons destroy the mind through forced idleness.

rcktmrtn said 3 months ago:

> The idea that fundamental differences in approaches to incarceration drove the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union strikes an odd chord from our current vantage point. Today 2.3 million people are locked up in the United States, and an additional 4.5 million are on parole or probation, for a total of around 2 percent of the population under state control.

If you're looking for the "fundamental differences in incarceration" that separate Gulag from prison, maybe it would be wise to also consider how executions and severity of forced labor come into play. This statistic generated by adding number of people on parole to people locked up strikes me as meaningless BS.

I'm not happy that the US seems to be developing police state tendencies and a lot of the rest of this article rang true, but based on how disingenuous the intro seems I can't help but assume the whole thing is trash.