No-where man v Hero of fitness

Walk around NYC and you'd be forgiven for thinking the US election is already a done deal with Obama

To judge from the level of interest their city is giving the two candidates, New Yorkers could be forgiven for thinking the election is already over.

Everywhere you go, you'll find evidence of the rise of Barack Obama. His face is on t-shirts in shop windows, his name on banners on the side of buildings. At newstands, he can be seen smiling down from copies of The Source, Vibe, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and (my favourite, this) Men's Health, where he's ranked as 'one of 20 'heroes of fitness'.

John McCain, meanwhile, is ... nowhere. No t-shirts, no magazines, no campaign posters. In two days the only oblique reference I noted was a sign on a building reading (and I quote) 'CON$ervative governMENt'.

Even among the city's conservatives, support for McCain is distinctly flaccid. John Martin is exactly the kind of guy who should be his natural constituency. He's a fiscal consevative, a Republican and a law student; he serves in the Navy reserve, and last year spent six months in Afghanistan.

Yet he's voting for the Democrat. What's more, he's campaigning for his fellow party members to do the same, under the label Republicans for Obama.

'The Republicans have created an environment in which people feel comfortable voting for a Democrat,' he says. 'Barack Obama doesn't demonise republicans - he has the same cross party appeal that Ronald Reagan had.'

Martin gives a couple of reasons for his support. Firstly, despite the Senator's liberal voting record, he's been impressed by his bi-partisan rhetoric, and his ability to work with conservatives like Tom Coburn; an Obama cabinet would contain plenty of Republicans, he thinks. Secondly, he likes his family values, citing his willingness to tell black fathers to take more responsibility for raising their kids, despite (or perhaps because) of the fact it brought steam shooting from Jesse Jackson's ears.

The biggest reason for his defection, though, is his anger at McCain for selling out to the Palin wing of the party. He's had hate mail since coming out for Obama; but even before that he had been called a 'Rino' (Republican in Name Only) and been made to feel distinctly unwelcome in the party. McCain had a chance to put a stop to that, reclaim the centre ground, by picking former Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Instead, he picked Palin.

Martin isn't the only one that's riled up about this. Several defecting conservatives - among them Christopher Buckley and Colin Powell - have cited Palin as the reason they've thrown their support behind Obama. (As Buckley said, "I didn't leave the party - it left me.") In a bar on Saturday night, a friend of mine told me that the Palin pick had pushed his conservative hedge fund-employed wife firmly into the Obama camp. "She shored up the base," he said. "But it's killed him with the independents and moderates you need to actually win an election."

The more people like this that leave the Republican party - membership has dropped by a quarter in four years - the more it'll be dominated by its evangelical wing. That may make it ideologically purer. But it'll also make it harder to win.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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Building peace in a dangerous world needs resources, not just goodwill

Conflict resolution is only the first step.

Thursday 21 September is the UN-designated International Day of Peace. At noon on this day, which has been celebrated for the last 25 years, the UN general secretary will ring the Peace Bell on the UN headquarters in New York and people of good will around the world will take part in events to mark the occasion. At the same time, spending on every conceivable type of weaponry will continue at record levels.

The first couple of decades after the end of the Cold War saw a steady reduction in conflict, but lately that trend seems to have been reversed. There are currently around 40 active armed conflicts around the world with violence and suffering at record levels. According to the 2017 Global Peace Index worldwide military spending last year amounted to a staggering $1.7 trillion and a further trillion dollars worth of economic growth was lost as a result. This compares with around 10 billion dollars spent on long term peace building.

To mark World Peace Day, International Alert, a London-based non-government agency which specialises in peace building, is this week publishing Redressing the Balance, a report contrasting the trivial amounts spent on reconciliation and the avoidance of war with the enormous and ever growing global military expenditure.  Using data from the Institute for Economics and Peace, the report’s author, Phil Vernon, argues that money spent on avoiding and mitigating the consequences of conflict is not only morally right, but cost-effective – "every dollar invested in peace building reduces the cost of conflict".

According to Vernon, "the international community has a tendency to focus on peacemaking and peacekeeping at the expense of long term peace building."  There are currently 100,000 soldiers, police and other observers serving 16 UN operations on four continents. He says what’s needed instead of just peace keeping is a much greater sustained investment, involving individuals and agencies at all levels, to address the causes of violence and to give all parties a stake in the future. Above all, although funding and expertise can come from outside, constructing a durable peace will only work if there is local ownership of the process.

The picture is not wholly depressing. Even in the direst conflicts there are examples where the international community has help to fund and train local agencies with the result that local disputes can often be settled without escalating into full blown conflicts. In countries as diverse as East Timor, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Nepal long term commitment by the international community working with local people has helped build durable institutions in the wake of vicious civil wars. Nearer to home, there has long been recognition that peace in Ireland can only be sustained by addressing long-standing grievances, building resilient institutions and ensuring that all communities have a stake in the outcome.

At a micro level, too, there is evidence that funding and training local agencies can contribute to longer term stability. In the eastern Congo, for example, various non-government organisations have worked with local leaders, men and women from different ethnic groups to settle disputes over land ownership which have helped fuel 40 years of mayhem. In the Central African Republic training and support to local Muslim and Christian leaders has helped reduce tensions. In north east Nigeria several agencies are helping to reintegrate the hundreds of traumatised girls and young women who have escaped the clutches of Boko Haram only to find themselves rejected by their communities.

Peace building, says Vernon, is the poor cousin of other approaches to conflict resolution. In future, he concludes, it must become a core component of future international interventions. "This means a major re-think by donor governments and multilateral organisations of how they measure success… with a greater focus placed on anticipation, prevention and the long term." Or, to quote the young Pakistani winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousufzai: "If you want to avoid war, then instead of sending guns, send books. Instead of tanks, send pens. Instead of soldiers, send teachers."

Redressing the Balance by Phil Vernon is published on September 21.   Chris Mullin is the chairman of International Alert.