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LIVE from Detroit: Day Four

David Mazower | 18:00 UK time, Thursday, 9 November 2006

Hi, it's James here. We're on air now, coming to you from the studios of our partner station WDET in Detroit. You can click here to listen.

Today, as 18 victims of Israeli tank fire are buried in Gaza, we're asking if the new Democrat controlled congress will make any difference to US policy in the region. And after Michigan voted to dump affirmative action in Tuesday's midterm elections, we're asking our Detroit audience if positive discrimination has had its day. Join the conversation and let us know what you think: call us, text us, or post your thoughts to the blog.

Ros kicked off the show by welcoming the audience to the studios of WDET in Detroit, on what he said is a "beautiful, crisp day."

A few emails to kick things off:

Elias in Athens says " preferential treatment is another expression of racism"

Tim, Mexico " Affirmative action is state sponsored racism - why can't the best person get the job, regardless of race"

More on that later in the show, but first up, we're talking about the situation in the Middle East.

The BBC's Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston joined us to give us the latest. He said today's funeral for 18 Palestinians killed by Israeli tank fire was unlike any of the many funerals he's seen before in Gaza. He described emotional scenes as the victims, some very young, were carried through the streets, and lots of anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric. America is seen as supporting Israel to the hilt, and is part of the problem.

Matthew Wagner from the Jerusalem Post joined us to give us the Israeli perspective. He says the public see no easy problems to the current situation. What happened in Beit Hannoun reflects the moral dilemmas of fighting an enemy who often use non-combattants as human shields. Israeli PM Ehus Olmert is also calling for the Palestinians to return tot he negotiating table.

Detroit has one of the biggest Arab populations outside of the Middle East.

Hani Bawardi is a Palestinian-American and University of Michigan Professor, and he's with us in the WDET studios. He says the new leader of the House of REpresentative, Nancy Pelosi, is a staunch supporter of Israel, and that there is unwillingness on both sides of US politics to change policy in the Middle East.

Sayeed Khan said that there is hope that the Democrat controlled Congress will push for more multilateralism, pushing for the regional neighbours to engage with the peace process.

It's time for a few comments from the audience:

"the Bush administration stopped negotiating with the Palestinians, and this is what spurred the violence"

"will the Democrats do anything different?"

Matthew from the Jerusalem Post said that "one healthy step would be for Hamas to recognise Israel's existence." And he echoed Ehud Olmert's call for more negotiations.

And some emails in, this one from Jude in Canada:
"Sadly I anticipate a continuation of fawning deference to Israel by the US, irrespective of which parties control congress. American politics are so negative, nobody will risk making themselves vulnerable to charges of treason by suggesting a different course. Someday people will have to learn that true friendship sometimes means respectfully disagreeing with a particular course of action."

Chris from Montreal:
"Israel doesn't want to solve the conflict. Palestinians don't want to solve the conflict. If America now wants to solve it, maybe there is a chance."

And Adamu in Nigeria has texted to say:
"Nothing will change in Palestine by American policy only an Arab force wil bring change. Can it happen now? I doubt it."

And some more comments from our audience:

"I could not believe how many Americans sent money to fund guns in Nothern Ireland. The Irish decided to negotiate when the money was cut off - we should do the same with the money that funds violence in the Middle East."

Next we were joined by David Makovsky from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He said that after Israel made concessions and withdrew from Gaza, those concessions made Israel more vulnerable, not more secure. David Makovsky said his hope was for the Palestinians to put in place a government of technocracts, there should be a chance to relaunch the peace process.

From the audience:

"America cannot solve the problem in the Middle East. What is needed is an honest broker."

"I think we should question the American government motives. Is money the decider - there are so many lobbyists here in Washington."

David Makovsky answered these comments by saying there was an element ofconspiracy theory about these criticisms - that in fact historically the US had done a lot for peace, such as the Camp David accords.

Whew, time for the news, and a brief break for these blogging fingers. US policy in the Middle East has certainly got our audience fired up, and there are lots of emails and texts coming in too:

Ken, Cleveland:
"My heart goes out to the Palestinian family that was mindlessly slaughtered by a "coordinate error". I hope Americans are really paying attention and can begin to empathize with the needless violence that is occurring all over the middle east."

"Year after year, USA and Israel get blamed. Why doesn't the palastinian population not let themselves be used by militants??!?!"

Andy, San Diego:
"The Jewish lobby group in the US is huge, and as long as it has power, the American position will not change. Hillary Clinton probably owes many a NY Jewish campaign donor favors."

Joe, Los Angeles:
"To say that in America a Palestinian life has less value than a Jewish life is completely false. That being said, what are the terrorists telling the world when they use innocent women and children as human shields. You tell me, who values human life less."

Hisham, France:
"How many people of your audience know that over $3billion of their taxpayer's money goes each fiscal year to israel unchallenged by Democrats or Republicans. Anyone who dares criticising israel runs risk of being labeled antisemitic? What kind of democracy is this?"

Soa, Nigeria:
"When we feel for our Muslim brothers we're bein acused, but how on earth can the Americans avoid the truth. Tell the Israelis to leave the occupied land."

Adeolu, Nigeria:
"I think Isreal should just ignore the criticism and continue to do whatever they have to do to protect Isrealis. The Palestinians should learn that they must curb the terrorist among them and stop rocketing israeli civilians."

Burhan, Toronto, Canada:
"The solution to the middle east is not as simple as stopping the violence. Give the palestinians their land, not pockets of villages and refugee camps. Allow them to have dignity so the people have dreams and aspirations."

And now it's on to affirmative action - Detroit is in the state of Michigan, whose citizens have just voted to dump positive discrimination. So what does our audience think? They're pretty fired up:

"until poor people, mostly black people, are able to receive the same education as middle-class white people, they will never have the same opportunities - it's about equality of opportunity."

"the playing field is not level - affirmative action is not the issue, it's education."

Harold disagreed strongly with an email that said two generations of affirmative action was enough to right the wrongs of the past.

Andy, San Diego:
"The term minorities is too broad. The first and second generation Indian and Chinese "minorities" in my neighborhood live in million dollar homes and work for multination corporations like Qualcomm, Pfizer, and other tech and biotech companies. Not every minority is struggling in teh US."

Caller Chris from California says that affirmative action is no longer needed, that it has outlived its usefulness.

From the audience:
"This would never have gotten on the ballot - but the petition asked to sign something that was supporting civil rights - but this doesn't support civil rights. This is terrible, it gives the people of Michigan a black eye."

And an email just in:
"I think Affirmative Action for the disenfranchised is fine, the problem has to do with defining the 'disenfranchised' on the basis of race/ color or national origin. What about economic class / gender / or disability?"

Jeff, Cleveland :
"Don't you find it funny that affirmative action only addresses physical characteristics of which discrimination occurs? It does not ensure equal opportunity to the other discriminated groups such as religious minorities and sexual and gender lifestyle priorities. Affirmative action function represents the outdated way in which our society discriminates. We discriminate on a much larger criteria now."

Ros asked if affirmative action was working, given that Detroit is 80% black, but univeristy admissions are only 8% black. And audience member quickly pointed out that without affirmative action, there wouldn't even be that 8%.

Khaled joined us on the line from Munich in Germany. He says that in Germany the law is based on the dignity of humans and doesn't discriminate against anyone. The Turkish minority in Germany feels they are discriminated against, but Khaled, who is Paksitani, says he has never felt discrimnated against.

Gary, from Neuheim in Germany emailed:
"If I remember correctly, George Bush got into Yale on a legacy admission. Affirmative action? Are farm subsidies affirmative action for a small minority of Americans..farmers? It seems like the only problem Americans have with affirmative action is when it involves people of color."

Steve, Utah, USA:

"I find it funny at how many affluent caucasians here in the States loathe Affirmative Action, but they have no problem with legacy arrangements that help elite university alumni's children to attend such institutions, if such provisions help them. They cannot have it both ways."

Robert, San Diego, USA:
"The problem with Affirmative Action in the U.S. is that the people who run or support this program have not done a good job of explaining what is it for and what it is. If you ask 20 people what Affirmative Action is you'll get 40 answers! Also, there was never stated what goals needed to be met for the program to end. Or, what measures do we use to determine the program had succeeded."

Michael from Detroit called to say that it should be based on location, not race, that people who grow up in under-privileged areas should be eligible for support, regardless of skin colour.

Lee in the audience echoes a comment that's been emailed by Elijah: they say that black people were the only people who had specific laws passed against them (Jim Crow laws etc.). This history and legacy is the reason why affirmative action is necessary.

"There's an underlying fear in banning affirmative action - that people of colour will become more affluent than them."

"Poverty is the basis of where affirmative action came from. We need a war on poverty in this country."

And lots more comments coming via email and text:

Steve, Utah, USA (Steve is a regular contributor who often joins our morning meetings)
I find it funny at how many affluent caucasians here in the States loathe Affirmative Action, but they have no problem with legacy arrangements that help elite university alumni's children to attend such institutions, if such provisions help them. They cannot have it both ways.

Robert, San Diego:
"The problem with Affirmative Action in the U.S. is that the people who run or support this program have not done a good job of explaining what is it for and what it is. If you ask 20 people what Affirmative Action is you'll get 40 answers! Also, there was never stated what goals needed to be met for the program to end. Or, what measures do we use to determine the program had succeeded. "

Pamela, an American living in Prague, Czech Republic:
"We need to end affirmative action for rich white men and maybe then we wouldn't be in this mess in Iraq because Mr. Bush would never have been able to go to Yale or Harvard based on merit. Maybe we need a standardized test on the U.S. Constitution before someone can even run for President."

Anon, Detroit:
"I voted against Prop 2, but for the woman who said that the title 'civil rights initiative' misled people and those who applauded that -- that's ridiculous. It's called being intelligent and educating oneself, and digging past the spin and rhetoric and an initiative's title. Come on. If citizens are that easily swayed by spin, we're in big trouble."

Juliana from Cleveland:
"I believe affirmative action was necessary for the time it was brought into the legislation, but we need to now realize that we are now adding to the problem and emphasizing it by giving so much attention to "race". The only way to equality is to not recognize race."

Steve, Virginia:
"Someone in the audience assumed that all whites are well-off. There are more poor whites in the US than poor blacks, and with affirmative action, regardless of a white's socio-economic level, he/she would lose out to a black in an affirmative action situation assuming all other things were equal, which is the way it was supposed to work."

Uziel, Chicago:
"I am sick of affirmative action, stop complaining! I am a minority who believes in hard work and education, that is all it take."

"A minority does not only refer to number, it also refers to amount of people with the money and the power in positions of control. If there are not people of color in higher positions there will still be discrimination and even white people know that."

"Will it end when white people are the minority? With all the immigration and population growth. My father was passed over all the time with high scores in Detroit police dept and Detroit never got better when he was discriminated against two wrongs don't make it rite. I am not rich and I don't get any extra help."

And finally, James in London says:
"The African American community needs to wean itself from constantly crying victimisation, it is self-defeating."

And with that, it's time for us to say goodnight. Thanks for joining us, and come back again tomorrow at 1800GMT, for another show live from Detroit.


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