viernes, octubre 02, 2015

VACACIONES OCTUBRE 2015

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VACACIONES OCTUBRE 2015

 
Jueves 1 de Octubre del 2015

Queridos amigos,

Les escribo estas líneas con motivo de mi próximo viaje que me tendrá ausente de la oficina y de nuestras lecturas cotidianas, desde el lunes 5 de Octubre hasta la segunda semana de Noviembre próximo.


Durante estos días no tendré acceso regular al Internet ni a mis correos.
  
En los últimos meses la situación económica y financiera internacional se ha seguido deteriorando según lo previsto en mi carta de mayo pasado, replicada en algunos párrafos líneas más abajo para mayor abundancia, impactando duramente a los países emergentes, las monedas, el petróleo y los precios de los "commodities", el fortalecimiento notable del dólar norteamericano, típico de las épocas de crisis, y una retracción cada vez más marcada del crecimiento del producto mundial, ahora ya reconocido por todos los bancos centrales, lo que nos coloca claramente bajo la sombra del temor de una potencial deflación y de la recesión global, cada vez más inevitable.   
El artículo de principios de este mes de Doug Nolan, "The Unwind", al que pueden acceder mediante el "link" anterior, describe claramente la situación precaria de la economía global, los mercados financieros, las deudas y el crecimiento económico mundial, por lo que me abstendré de mayores comentarios.  También pueden acceder al ultimo articulo de Doug Nolan, "New World Disorder".
 
La reciente creciente y notable volatilidad de los mercados financieros, las dudas hamletianas de la Reserva Federal sobre las tasas de interés y la reciente caída de las bolsas, son solo una pequeña muestra de la descomposición de las economías y los mercados globales.

En realidad no podía ser de otra manera, si tenemos en cuenta que no se ha hecho nada en los últimos años para reparar los profundos desequilibrios estructurales en los fundamentos de la economía global, sino que más bien, por el contrario, se ha seguido "maquillando" por parte de los bancos centrales la insostenible situación económica y financiera global, profundizando los desequilibrios y la inestabilidad vía el constante crecimiento de las deudas, aumentando las ineficiencias y dilatando el necesario ajuste. El crecimiento estructural de la economía global es cada vez más frágil, dudoso e insostenible.

Hasta la crisis del 2000 y luego de la del 2008, ahora así llamada la Gran Recesión, la demanda global había sido “subvencionada” por un sistema financiero manipulado e intervenido, creando una demanda y una economía global ficticia, una recuperación así llamada "subprime", liderada por la FED mediante un crecimiento desproporcionado de las deudas, imposible de auto-sustentarse en un crecimiento de la economía real en el largo plazo. 

Deuda, deuda y más deuda, parece ser el mantra de la FED.

Desde entonces, la FED y el resto los bancos centrales de todos los países más importantes del mundo se han negado y se siguen negando a reconocer esta realidad, aceptando el inicio de un ajuste inevitable y estructural, regresando a un nivel real de la economía global de alguna manera manejable. Aún siguen abocados al esfuerzo de una gran represión financiera, manipulando e inflando irresponsablemente los mercados financieros vía una política monetaria de emisiones inorgánicas de papel moneda sin respaldo y muy bajas tasas de interés.

Las deudas de consumidores, empresas y gobiernos, eran y son insostenibles.

Por ello creemos que los bancos centrales no aumentarán de "motu propio" las tasas de interés de manera importante a corto plazo, salvo que este aumento provenga final y sorpresivamente de una crisis generada por la desaparición de la confianza de los inversionistas globales en los mercados financieros.

Inmediatamente sus deudas se volverían obviamente impagables y la crisis que tanto han tratado de evitar reconocer, sobrevendría inevitable.

Solo para mencionar al país con la economía más importante, la deuda de los Estados Unidos de Norteamérica ha crecido por encima de los 18 trillones de dólares, a más del 100% de su PBI. Y si incluimos las deudas contingentes internas, como el Seguro Social y los Fondos de Pensiones, algunos analistas calculan que la deuda norteamericana podría llegar a sumar entre los 80 a 120 trillones de dólares, es decir, entre 5 a 7 veces el producto bruto anual.

Para un análisis detallado del desarrollo de esta problemática y la verdadera situación actual, ver los artículos del blog, aquí, aquí y aquí.

Esta situación se ha seguido agravando en los últimos años y es insostenible en el mediano y largo plazo.  (ver articulo)

Para evitarlo, es que los bancos centrales han tenido que esforzarse en mantener ficticiamente una apariencia de normalidad en el "statu quo", inyectando cantidades innombrables de papel moneda sin respaldo a los mercados financieros y reducido las tasas de interés a niveles nunca vistos por largo tiempo, desde que la historia económica recuerda. (QE1, QE2, QE3, Q4, Abenomics, China, etc….)

Todo ello nos hace presumir que todo ello se lleva a cabo por el fundamentado temor a perder el control del esquema Ponzi mundial, que es lo que son ahora la economía global y los mercados financieros, y por ende se derrumbe el castillo de naipes enfrentando de golpe un ajuste económico enorme y hasta la posibilidad de una revolución social incontenible, guerras, etc.

El hecho es que el esfuerzo de política monetaria intervencionista llevada a cabo por la mayoría de los bancos centrales del mundo, en los últimos 15 años, más intensa y desproporcionadamente desde los últimos siete años, además, ha producido la transferencia más importante de riqueza que se recuerda en la historia, de manos de los pensionistas y los ahorristas, hacia las clases privilegiadas y los bancos. 

Mas importante todavía, se ha distorsionado y manipulado fundamentalmente las reglas de la economía del libre mercado con consecuencias funestas y aun impredecibles en el mediano y largo plazo para los consumidores e inversionistas del mundo, incrementando la locación  ineficiente de los recursos de inversión, además de multiplicar el costo de la inevitable implosión de los mercados financieros, tanto de las acciones, como de los bonos y otros instrumentos de inversión financiera.

Todo esto para no mencionar a los derivados financieros, estimados por algunos analistas en más de 1 cuatrillón de dólares (1000 trillones de dólares),  que se ciernen como una espada de Damocles, sobre todo el sistema financiero y económico internacional.

El mismo FMI ha advertido hace ya unos meses de la posibilidad que la economía global está entrando a un periodo de "stagnación" y a una probable nueva recesión, con las consecuencias que ello implicaría. (ver articulo)

Obviamente estos organismos no pueden decirnos toda la verdad. Ello sería propiciar ellos mismos el adelanto inevitable del descalabro global, el caos y el ajuste sin anestesia, con resultados imprevisibles. 

La pregunta de fondo es ¿hasta cuándo se podrá o podrán mantener esta realidad bizarra?
Y eso nadie lo puede responder con seguridad. La confianza de los inversionistas en los mercados financieros es la verdadera incógnita.

Por ello ahora tenemos que seguir preguntándonos seriamente, ¿Cuál de todos los potenciales "cisnes negros", conocidos o no, que hoy se ciernen sobre la economía global ,y que son muchos, económicos, sociales y geopolíticos, podrían ser el detonante de la nueva catástrofe?

Solo la historia nos responderá a esta crucial pregunta.

Mientras tanto, en medio de este mundo bizarro, tenemos que insistir nuevamente y más que nunca, que la experiencia y la prudencia, el análisis y la inteligencia, la vigilancia y la paciencia, son los socios más importantes en las decisiones de políticas y estrategias de inversión a corto y mediano plazo.

En un cambio importante de ciclos como en el que pensamos que estamos envueltos hoy día, y en el que más allá de lo circunstancial, el pasado y el futuro se bifurcan y se oponen, los riesgos para los inversionistas son profundos. (ver articulo)

Con estas  anotaciones y advertencias que espero les sean de utilidad, me despido de Uds. con un cordial abrazo hasta el regreso a mis actividades, Dios mediante, a inicios de la segunda semana de Noviembre próximo, cuando estaré nuevamente a su gentil disposición.

Gonzalo

PD. Para leer los artículos pueden subscribirse directamente al blog:  www.gonzaloraffoinfonews.com
 

 



To Progress and Back

The Rise and Fall of Erdogan's Turkey

By Hasnain Kazim, Maximilian Popp and Samiha Shafy

Photo Gallery: From Progress to Polarization                      

No other state has catapulted itself into the future quite as rapidly, nor relapsed back into its dark past as suddenly, as Turkey. First there was modernization, and now the beginnings of a civil war. The country is divided by mistrust and hate.

This is Recep Tayyip Erdogan's country: a gorgeous mountain scenery on the Black Sea. On lush, green hillsides, people pick tea leaves and only interrupt their work to pray.

Erdogan calls them "his people," and for them, he erected an Ottoman-style mosque atop one of the highest peaks. It stands so high above the villages that it is barely discernable from below. A death-defying path winds up the mountain and takes about 45 minutes to traverse in a car, but many people here make the climb by foot anyway in order to feel closer to God -- and to Erdogan, their beloved president.

"I wish I could kiss his hand!" cries Aysel Aksay, 40. She is out of breath but her smile radiates all the same. Aksay is from Güneysu, the village at the foot of the mountain from which Erdogan's family also hails. In a headscarf and a black coat, Aksay gazes at the white marble structure as it glows in the sun. She is excited and happy to pray here, even though she may only do so inside the windowless room reserved for women. "On the opening day, I watched as the president's helicopter flew over our country," Aksay says. "We are so proud of him."

Many people here share Aksay's sentiments. They worship Erdogan, whom they see as one of their own -- a pious, simple man who made it to the top by working hard.

If the rest of the country were like Güneysu, Erdogan -- who has ruled almost single-handedly for 13 years -- would have had no trouble securing another triumphant victory in the June 7 election. But the people of this region aren't the only Turks, and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) only got 40.9 percent of the vote and lost its absolute majority. The defeat destroyed Erdogan's dream of turning the country into a presidential republic with himself at the all-powerful helm until 2019.

Adding insult to injury, the People's Democracy Party (HDP) also made it into parliament, the first time that a pro-Kurdish party cleared the 10-percent hurdle.

Yet Erdogan still clings to power and to his dream. He let coalition talks break down and scheduled new elections for Nov. 1. For Erdogan, the only acceptable result is an absolute majority for the AKP. Erdogan is risking everything to secure it.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- a devout Muslim, gifted populist, modernizer and father of the country's economic miracle -- is in danger of becoming an autocrat, one who is dragging his own nation into civil war and stoking external conflicts. First, he wanted to overthrow the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, then he ignored the Islamic State (IS) for far too long. And now he's fighting the Kurds, the West's only partner in its battle against the Islamic extremists.

Erdogan is reinstating old battle fronts and stirring mistrust and nationalism. He is imprisoning journalists and his critics. And his soldiers are cordoning off and firing on entire Kurdish cities.

Erdogan used to have ambitious goals. He wanted to solve the Kurdish conflict and boost the economy. He wanted to modernize his country and align it more toward Europe. And he wasn't entirely unsuccessful.

Until very recently, Turkey, a NATO member, was regarded as democracy's only hope in the Islamic world. The country served as a mediator between East and West, and was on track to become a candidate for EU accession. But today's Turkey is quite the opposite: It is a country at risk of falling into a collective insanity, driven there by fanaticism, excessive nationalism and bizarre conspiracy theories.

Traveling through Turkey reveals a country divided. On the one side, there is Erdogan's Turkey. It includes his hometown on the Black Sea, cities of Anatolia's economic miracle, such as Kayseri, and of course Ankara, the seat of power. The other side is the land of his enemies. It stretches from Kurdish Diyarbakir, where people fear for their lives, to the Qandil Mountains, where Kurdish fighters have holed up, and finally to Istanbul, the nucleus of Turkish democracy.

Diyarbakir: The New Civil War

Gültan Kisanak closes her eyes as the window panes in her office begin to shake. Every few minutes, fighter planes thunder over the town hall of Diyarbakir heading toward the Qandil Mountains. There, in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, the Turkish air force has been bombing positions of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) since July 24.

Kisanak, 54, is a sturdy woman whose gray hair falls down to the shoulders of her pink blazer.

Since early 2014, she has been the co-mayor of Diyarbakir -- the first woman to hold the job. The pro-Kurdish HDP party, which received more than 80 percent of the vote here in June, mandates that all important offices are shared between one man and one woman.

During the election campaign, the HDP billed itself not only as a party for the Kurds, but also as an advocate of gender equality and gay rights. Above all, its candidates promised to challenge Erdogan's plan of establishing a presidential republic. As it became clear that the HDP had received a solid 13 percent of the vote on June 7, people in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the southeast, were jubilant.

They danced in the streets to an endless chorus of car horns and fireworks. All that was only three months ago. Today, the mood is grim. By nightfall, it's quiet. Stores close early and people prefer to stay home out of fear for their lives.

Nearly every day, skirmishes break out between Turkish security forces and PKK supporters. In Cizre, near the border between Syria and Iraq, a curfew was imposed in early September. The city's 113,000 citizens were trapped and at least 30 of them have been shot and killed, according to locals.

Things are back to the way they were during the last civil war, which began in 1984 and cost 40,000 people their lives. And this at a time when things seemed to finally be settling down.

Kisanak also fought for the Kurdish cause, but never violently, as she puts it, and despite the fact she hardly speaks any Kurdish. In 1983, after a military coup, the Kurdish language was banned. Shortly thereafter, the PKK began to agitate for its own state and against Ankara.

Kisanak, who still feels uncomfortable when she speaks Kurdish, is a product of that policy of repression, which has attempted to wipe out anything Kurdish -- the language, the traditions and the identity.

Tactical Turnaround

The fact that things have been easier for the younger generation is an achievement of Erdogan's. He was Turkey's first head of government to speak of a "Kurdish problem" in August 2005. He apologized for the errors of the state in dealing with the country's largest minority and heralded a new beginning. The peace process was Erdogan's boldest initiative. He invested billions of euros in infrastructure in the southeast, loosened the ban on the Kurdish language and permitted Kurdish radio and TV stations.

In 2012, peace talks began with imprisoned PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan, who in February 2015 urged his followers to renounce violence. At the time, Öcalan spoke of a "historic decision." But half a year later, his words have lost their meaning. Erdogan has suspended the peace process.

Why the sudden relapse to violence? Kisanak says the AKP is now steering the country back into civil war because the HDP has entered parliament. Erdogan needs the escalation in order to secure his absolute majority and throw the HDP out of parliament. Many Kurds share the mayor's view, and they're not alone. A lot of people now believe the escalation in violence serves Erdogan by enabling him to sell himself as a guarantor of stability ahead of snap elections -- or to simply postpone the poll in the name of national security.

For its part, the government accuses the Kurdish rebels of having started the violence. "The PKK misused the peace process in order to secretly replenish their arsenals and lay mines," says Muhsin Kizilkaya, an AKP member of the national parliament of Kurdish descent.

The reasons may be debatable, but one thing is for sure: The violence flared up again on July 20, the day when a suicide bomber, allegedly affiliated with IS, killed more than 30 people in Suruc, near the Syrian border.

Two days later, PKK fighters gunned down two policemen in their apartment in Ceylanpinar, around 200 kilometers (124.3 miles) from the site of the bombing. The PKK spread the word online that the executions were in revenge for the attack in Suruc. The police officers, the PKK said, had been IS supporters. Then, on June 24, the Turkish government began bombing PKK positions.

Since the military campaign began, the government has said it has killed 2,000 Kurdish fighters. But that number excludes the countless Kurdish civilians who have fallen victim to the air force's bombs. It also doesn't count the Turkish soldiers who have been killed by the PKK.

Caykara: Martyrs and freedom of expression

A few days after Erdogan inaugurated the mosque on the mountaintop above Güneysu, he attended a funeral for a police officer named Ahmet Camur in the nearby town of Caykara.

Burials of those killed in the southeast have become a nearly daily occurrence across the country. Thousands of people showed up for the ceremony in Caykara.

Erdogan appeared before them, flanked by a Turkish flag. Holding a microphone in one hand, he leaned with one hand on Camur's coffin. "We say goodbye to our martyr, who, as we believe, has achieved martyrdom," Erdogan said. "How happy his family must be! How happy his next of kin must be!" After all, the president reminded everyone, in paradise, the martyrs sit next to the Prophets.

Is that a consolation? Mehmet Camur, the deceased policeman's twin brother, shakes his head.

He's standing underneath a Turkish flag and a banner that bears a picture of his brother. For days, Camur has been receiving visitors. But he doesn't want to talk, he says, especially not to a foreign journalist.

He only utters a single, bitter sentence: "My brother devoted his life to southeast Turkey."

Martyrs' relatives have to watch what they say. At a funeral in August, a relative of a slain soldier was charged with "insulting a statesman." During the memorial ceremony, the man had allegedly complained that Erdogan "had sent this young man to his grave."

Fighting on Many Fronts

In Caykara, the martyr's picture hangs on the doors of businesses. But anyone who inquires about him is viewed with suspicion. The proprietor of a teahouse, an old man with a peaked cap, is one of the few people who talks. He says Ahmet Camur was a good man who, like most people here, supported the AKP. "We're religious, that's why we love Erdogan. But these funerals won't win him any votes in the election."

Suddenly the old man goes silent and his eyes widen. Two policemen have appeared, one in uniform, the other in civilian clothing. They want to know what the questions are all about. Then they want to see IDs. One takes them and disappears. When he comes back, he makes a note of something and then hands back the passports. "You can leave now," he says menacingly.

For the government, the battle to remain in control of the political narrative is just as important as the actual battle raging in the country's southeast. That's why foreign correspondents and independent Turkish journalists are prevented from taking part in "martyr burials." Only authorized members of the pro-government press are allowed.

Freedom of speech and expression are on the decline in Erdogan's Turkey. For years, newsrooms have been raided and journalists arrested. But things have never been as bad as they are now. In late August, two British reporters in Diyarbakir were arrested and accused of "involvement in terrorist activities." They were first taken to a high-security prison and then deported. Soon thereafter, a Dutch journalist had a similar experience.

Turkey is waging a war against the foreign media, "such as Reuters, BBC, CNN and SPIEGEL," says Turkish Culture Minister Yalcin Topcu, which is comparable to the battle of Gallipolli.

This underscores just how nervous the government is of again failing to achieve an absolute majority in parliament after the new elections. For years, the AKP's monopoly on power seemed guaranteed.

Now, there is no evidence to suggest that Erdogan's strategy will work. Polls have revealed that neither the AKP nor any of the other parties have managed to win significantly more voters since June 7.

Istanbul: Where It All Began

Anyone looking for the place where Erdogan's grip on power began to weaken should start in a park in central Istanbul. With little more than a few trees and a patch of grass surrounded by asphalt, the park is neither large nor pretty. But depending on who you talk to in Turkey, it either represents the origin of all that is evil or a nucleus of hope. The only thing that both sides agree on is that in early 2013, what happened here changed the country.

Today, the name Gezi stands for a turning point in the Erdogan era. Before the protests in Gezi Park, he seemed like an omnipotent, almost supernatural mover and shaker, the only person capable of keeping Turkey from falling apart while steering it into a successful future. But Gezi exposed Erdogan as the man he truly is: a power-hungry, paranoid autocrat who explained away the Gezi protests as a conspiracy of hostile powers seeking to weaken Turkey.

It began with a few environmentalists who were demonstrating for the preservation of the park, which was facing demolition to make way for a shopping mall -- one of Erdogan's countless infrastructure projects. In Istanbul alone, he planned to build a third airport, the largest in the world, a third Bosporus bridge, an enormous mosque with six minarets and an "artificial Bosporus," a second connection between the Black and Marmara seas.

The activists camped out in the park -- before Erdogan set the police loose on them. The security forces then burned down the tents and sprayed the activists with water cannons and tear gas. Pictures of the brutal crackdown spread like wildfire and hundreds of thousands of Turks joined the protesters in solidarity. Within days, the protest had grown into a full-fledged insurgency. For the first time, a broad group of people had suddenly articulated a feeling that had been on people's minds for some time: namely, their dissatisfaction with Erdogan's authoritarian style of government, his arrogance and his intolerance.

"Gezi changed everything," says Gökhan Bicici, a 36-year-old activist. He was at the protest from the start. At the time, he was working for a TV station that was critical of the government. Many Turks realized then that most of the media was nothing more than "an extended arm of the AKP," Bicici says. After Gezi, the number of Turks on Twitter rocketed from 1.8 million to more than 9 million.

Bicici decided to become self-employed and built a network of more than 200 citizen journalists in 45 cities. "We wanted to create a new kind of news agency by the end of the year," he says, touting the idea of a citizen-to-citizen information network that works even when journalists are prevented from doing their job.

Thus, Gezi not only heralded Erdogan's demise, it also created an alternative public sphere that no longer believes everything the government tells it.

Kayseri: Erdogan's Pious Merchants

Of course, the president still has loyal followers, many of whom live in Kayseri. Mahmut Hicyilmaz, 58, is one of them. He is the president of the local chamber of commerce. His organization represents the interests of 17,000 businesses in Kayseri. The city is the largest of the "Anatolian tigers," as the up-and-coming metropolises that witnessed the growth of a new middle class under Erdogan's reign are called.

For Hicyilmaz, the situation is clear and confusing at the same time. "Until May 2013, business was fine," he says. "But Gezi threw things in Turkey out of balance." The protests were no ordinary demonstrations, he says. What connects them to the current crisis is the fact that "foreign actors" were trying to weaken Turkey. After all, "what Turk who loves his country can be against building a third bridge or a third airport in Istanbul?" No one, of course.

There was another martyr's funeral in Kayseri the week before last, followed by two days of national rallies. Thousands gathered in the city center, transforming it into a red sea of Turkish flags.

Before the AKP came to power, Turkey's political and economic realms were controlled by a secular elite of generals, judges and bureaucrats. They saw themselves as the guardians of the legacy of Turkey's founder, Kemal Atatürk, a man who cared little for the pious, conservative majority of the population. There was little investment in impoverished Anatolia. Well-paid posts were always awarded to the elite. And devout women were forbidden from attending university with a headscarf.

But Erdogan made the believers a promise: You can be religious and rich. He opened the markets for entrepreneurs from Anatolia. He privatized large, state-owned enterprises such as Türk Telekom, most utility companies, ports and airports. He liberalized the labor market and successfully fought inflation. And he permitted headscarves to be worn at universities.

During the first years of the Erdogan administration, the economy grew at an annual rate of up to 9 percent. In cities like Kayseri, many people became millionaires as new industries emerged, including export sectors that sold furniture and cutting-edge technology. The boom secured Erdogan the support of religious businessmen like those in Kayseri. But he also had another base of support: the poor. For the first time, lower-class citizens were able to move into social housing subsidized by the state.

In Hicyilmaz's office, a golden frame with the word Allah written in Arabic calligraphy adorns one wall. There is also a large photo of Hicyilmaz next to Erdogan. The AKP helped Turkey move forward, says the chamber of commerce chief. In addition, the party also convinced Turks that Kurds should have the same rights as everyone else. "We gave the Kurds their rights. We invested in their cities," he says. "What more do they want? What right do they have to kill our policemen?"

Qandil Mountains: Where the Enemy Hides

The PKK's headquarters is at the end of a mountain road that winds through a rugged, rocky landscape. Fighters with Kalashnikovs inspect the vehicles that pass through. Visitors may only enter the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq with explicit permission from the PKK. A portrait of incarcerated leader Abdullah Öcalan adorns a hillside. Craters left behind by bomb strikes line the road. Ali Haydar Kaytan, 65, waits in a stone house and has only one wish: He would like to return to Turkey, the country where he was born and whose government he has been fighting since his student days.

In 1974, along with Abdullah Öcalan and other activists, Kaytan founded an underground organization from which the PKK later emerged. Of the founders, he is the only one still fighting. Öcalan has been in prison since 1999. The others have since turned their backs on the organization. The PKK leader wears camouflage and sports a full beard and a scarf. He is protected by bodyguards and rarely spends more than one day in the same place. He knows that any prospect of returning to Turkey has evaporated in the past few weeks.

In recent weeks, the PKK has been fighting on two fronts. On the one, it has been battling the Turkish military. On the other, it has been fighting IS in northern Iraq and Syria. For several weeks, it has found itself in a strange situation. Both of its enemies -- the Turkish government and IS -- have mutually declared war against one another. Ankara long allowed the Islamic terrorist group to grow unfettered. Jihadis were treated in Turkish hospitals and IS was allowed to recruit new fighters in Istanbul and Ankara. Even supplies of weapons and food passed through Turkey.

But when the government announced it would be carrying out airstrikes against the terrorists, it didn't bomb IS. At least, not really. Instead, it primarily bombarded PKK positions. Turkey's fight against IS provided an alibi for the war against the Kurds, who pushed Assad's troops out of Syria and established their own administration. In northern Iraq, there is already a Kurdish autonomous region.

The Turks fear that one day a Kurdish state could emerge in their immediate vicinity.

This scenario, however, is contradicted by Ali Haydar Kaytan. The PKK has changed over the years, he says. It is no longer fighting for its own state, just autonomy. The blame for the most recent escalation of violence lies squarely with Erdogan, Kaytan says. The violence by the PKK, the ambushes, the murders, all that is merely a reaction to attacks by Turkish security forces. "Erdogan has declared war on us. And we are defending ourselves," he says.

Kaytan thinks it's possible that the two sides could return to peace negotiations, but only on three conditions: One, Turkey must halt its airstrikes against PKK positions; two, Öcalan must be released from prison; and three, a neutral intermediary would have to be called in to facilitate negotiations, such as the United States.

Erdogan, for his part, demands that the PKK lay down their weapons unconditionally.

Otherwise, he has threatened to not rest until the PKK has been completely destroyed.

So, why should Erdogan bow to Kaytan's demands? "He doesn't have a choice," Kaytan says and cracks a weary smile. Today's young fighters are far more radical than his generation. "We elders are the last ones who can reach a compromise. Otherwise we're going to see 30 years of war."

Ankara: The Minister and the EU

The center of Turkish power is literally one giant construction site. Erdogan's government headquarters in Ankara looks like a city within a city. It is a collection of defiant buildings that is constantly growing. Inside, there is a large mosque surrounded by kilometers of heavily guarded fences and walls. It is three-dimensional megalomania, a bit like the pyramids of Giza.

What will happen to this monstrosity if Erdogan is forced to leave it one day? It's possible that he won't win an absolute majority in the upcoming election and will have to withdraw from daily politics. Maybe he'll defy all expectations and enter into a coalition. The most likely outcome, however, is that he loses and the country descends into intractable chaos.

Either way, all Europe can do is sit by and watch. At one point, the Europeans were probably in a position to steer the course of history in a different direction.

No other EU candidate country was kept in a holding pattern as long as Turkey, nor did any other prospective member face such resistance. Ten years ago, more than 70 percent of Turks wanted to belong to Europe. Today, less than 40 percent do.

In Ankara, it's hard to find anyone interested in talking about Europe, especially among AKP politicians. But there is at least one man who is. Ali Haydar Konca is his name. The 65-year-old cuts a small figure, and until he resigned earlier this week out of protest of the government's military offensive against Kurdish rebels, he was Turkey's EU minister. His presence in Ankara was a mere formality -- he didn't have any real authority -- but it was historic all the same. He was one of the first two representatives of a pro-Kurdish party in a Turkish cabinet.

Konca's tenure as Turkey's pointman on all EU-related issues was short-lived, but his opinions are no less strong. He wishes the Europeans wouldn't let their prejudices get the better of them when dealing with Turkey. "The biggest obstacle in the accession negotiations has always been the EU's worries about what it could mean to integrate a Muslim country," Konca says.

"But imagine if the EU had been willing to accept Turkey," he adds. The Middle East might be a very different place than it is today.


Translated from the German by Chris Cottrell


The Economy Surges Higher, But Is It For Real?
 
Gary D. Halbert
 
Overview

Today we look at last Friday’s better than expected final report on 2Q GDP, which was revised from 3.7% to 3.9%. Best of all, this increase was largely due to increased consumer spending which accounts for almost 70% of GDP. Following the paltry 0.6% increase in GDP in the 1Q, this means the economy grew by 2.25% in the first half of this year.

While a 3.9% jump in economic growth in the 2Q was welcome news, there is a growing consensus that such reports from the government may not be remotely accurate. The problem is, many agree, that the government’s “seasonal adjustments” to the monthly and quarterly data have gotten out of control, and the numbers reported are no longer reliable. We’ll talk about this below.

Next, we’ll look into what many are calling a “flip-flop” on the part of Fed Chair Janet Yellen in the last two weeks on the subject of when short-term interest rates are likely to be raised. At the Fed’s latest policy meeting on September 17, they decided to postpone the first rate hike in nearly a decade, seemingly indefinitely. But then last Thursday, Yellen said lift-off will happen before the end of this year, and this sparked the latest selloff in the equity markets. So, what gives?


2Q GDP Report Was Better Than Expected at 3.9%

The US economy expanded more than previously estimated in the second quarter on stronger consumer spending and construction, the second upward revision in a row. The Commerce Department said on Friday that Gross Domestic Product rose at a 3.9% annual pace in the April-June quarter, up from the 3.7% pace reported last month. This was the third and final estimate of 2Q GDP.

The rise to 3.9% beat the pre-report consensus of 3.7% and was driven by growth in consumer spending, mainly on services like health care and transportation. Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of US economic activity, was revised up to a 3.6% growth pace in the 2Q from the 3.1% rate reported in August, helped by cheap gasoline prices and relatively higher house prices which are boosting household wealth.

US GDP Growth

Revised construction spending data helped to push up the headline figure, with non-residential fixed investment expanding 4.1% in the quarter. The revisions to 2Q growth also reflected a smaller accumulation of business inventories than earlier estimated.

Private-sector inventories grew by $127.5 billion in the second quarter, close to the growth in the first quarter. Most forecasters expect slower inventory accumulation to shave off one percentage point from the 3Q growth rate, leaving it slightly above 2%. It now looks like the economy will do well to record 2.5% growth for the whole year.

After-tax corporate profits were also stronger in the 2Q than previously thought. Profits after-tax with inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments were revised to show a 2.6% rebound from a slump in late 2014 and early 2015, instead of the 1.3% increase reported last month.

The better than expected performance in the 2Q followed the paltry 0.6% pace in the 1Q. In the first three months of the year, a harsh winter and a port slowdown on the West Coast forced many companies to keep their products on the shelf rather than selling them.  As a result, the economy grew at only a 2.25% pace in the first half of the year, a slightly higher pace than in the first half of last year.

The Problem With How the Government Measures GDP

More and more analysts are questioning how the Commerce Department measures GDP (as well as other important government economic reports). Economists are questioning how it is that we’ve had paltry 1Q GDP followed by a surge in the 2Q for several years now. As a result, more analysts are questioning the Commerce Department’s statistical methods that are used to estimate the output of America’s 320 million people.

One explanation is that the numbers we are shown are not in fact the numbers which the statistical offices actually collect. The numbers we are shown often include large “seasonal adjustments” and variations. Seasonal adjustments are intended to smooth-out the data to reflect that there are, for example, more lifeguards working in the summer months than in the winter, and more ski-lift operators in the winter than in the summer.

Likewise, there are hundreds of thousands of temporary workers hired around the Christmas holidays to work in stores and do holiday deliveries, who then get laid off around January 1.  The government tries to account for these distortions and many others and seasonally adjust for them throughout the year.

The problem, many now believe, is that the government’s seasonal adjusting is out of control, so much so that the data we see may be far from close to the actual measurement. For example, a recent Brookings Institute research report found that with the correct amount of seasonal adjustment based on weather, the lousy 0.6% growth in the 1Q would have improved to 1.4%. That, in turn, would have made the 2Q come in at 2.8% instead of 3.9%.

In addition to the GDP reports, seasonal adjustments apply to many government economic reports we receive including jobs, housing, etc. As a result, it is very hard to make serious decisions when we know the numbers can change significantly from one report to the next.

Finally, before we leave the subject of GDP, let’s take a look at the Atlanta Fed’s latest GDPNow estimate of where the economy stands as of last week. We can see that most analysts have lowered their 3Q GDP forecasts since late July but their median expectation is still around 2.5%. Yet the Fed’s estimate now stands at only 1.4%.


Evolution of GDPNow

The latest decline occurred last week when the model’s forecast for 3Q real residential investment growth fell in response to the existing home sales report from the National Association of Realtors. We don’t get the first Commerce Department GDP report for the 3Q until late October.

Janet Yellen’s Supposed “Flip-Flop” on Monetary Policy

The Fed surprised a lot of people around the world on September 17 when its policy committee decided to keep interest rates near zero for a while longer. In the press conference following that meeting, Yellen said, “In light of the heightened uncertainties abroad and a slightly softer expected path for inflation, the Committee judged it appropriate to wait for more evidence.

That decision led a lot of Fed-watchers to conclude that the first Fed Funds rate increase was on hold, perhaps indefinitely, maybe not until next year. I didn’t see it that way, and I certainly didn’t take a rate hike at the Fed meeting on December 15-16 off the table.

So I was not surprised when Yellen said in a speech last Thursday: “Most of my colleagues and I anticipate that it will likely be appropriate to raise the target range for the Federal Funds rate sometime later this year.” Yet apparently a lot of Fed-watchers took that as a ‘flip-flop.’

One theory to explain this goes as follows. For several years now, the US stock markets have rallied strongly whenever the Fed announced a delay in raising short-term interest rates. Yet this time stocks went down instead. Some theorized that the Fed may know of some really bad news on the horizon that it’s not telling anyone.

As this theory goes, Yellen then felt compelled to warn last week about a likely rate hike by the end of this year to dispel such rumors. Are you confused yet? I certainly am!

While Ben Bernanke and Yellen and their peers have come a long way since the days when setting policy was a deliberate exercise in secrecy, they’re guilty of flip-flopping so often that their efforts to direct expectations (ie – forward guidance) have become discredited.

To be fair, the current economic backdrop to monetary policymaking is even more uncertain than usual, what with China in a funk, emerging markets looking vulnerable and the outlook for higher inflation non-existent. Nevertheless, the ‘forward guidance’ policy adopted in recent years by many central banks is in tatters, and is probably doing more harm than good.

In any event, in light of Yellen’s latest suggestion of a rate hike before the end of this year, economists polled by Bloomberg are now predicting a continuous path of interest rate increases, with a one quarter-point move per quarter between now and the end of next year.

Path of Interest Rate IncreasesYet with the combination of erratic, unpredictable central bank communications of late and an economic outlook that looks like it could turn on a dime and slide into recession, I question why any forecasters would venture a prediction on the path of upcoming Fed Funds rate changes – much less with the specificity suggested in the chart shown at left.

So don't be surprised if, in the coming quarters, this chart bears no resemblance to the reality of what happens to the US Fed Funds rate. No one knows what the Yellen Fed will do going forward. With that said, I predict lift-off in December.
Fed’s Latest Uncertainty Leads to More Turmoil in Stocks

Stock markets around the world have been suffering from growing uncertainties and worries about the global economy this year. Yet the US equity markets have held up surprisingly well, that is until recently. In late August, when China unexpectedly devalued the yuan, US stocks took a serious hit – with the first 10% correction in several years.

The rebound from the late August lows has not been impressive, and the latest uncertainty from the Fed has only made matters worse. The rebound ended in mid-September and it now looks like a retest of the August lows is coming soon.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index finished last week with a loss of 1.4%. It lost another almost 2% yesterday. The Index has tumbled over 8% so far in the 3Q, headed for its worst slide in four years. A rally last Friday, sparked by Yellen’s reassurance that turbulence in emerging markets won’t harm growth in the US, was snuffed out by the late-day selloff in biotechnology shares.

S&P 500 Index

The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index tumbled into a bear market after falling 13% last week, its worst reading since 2011. The rout was sparked in part by a tweet from Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton suggesting there may be “price gouging” in the market for prescription drugs.

Healthcare shares in the S&P 500 tumbled 5.8%, the most of 10 sectors last week.

The latest selloff refocused attention on the volatility in markets that have been roiled in the six weeks since China’s shock devaluation of its currency. The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX) climbed over 6% to 27.63 yesterday, including a one-day jump last Tuesday of 11% that was the biggest since last month’s rout. The gauge has closed above 20 for 26 straight days, the longest stretch since January 2012.

With the S&P 500 ending down for a second straight week, one pattern of back-and-forth was eliminated: a string of 10 weeks of alternating gains and losses. Disparity in trading volume highlights the risk of more losses. Volume on days when the S&P 500 falls has been 27% heavier than volume on the up days in September. That’s about eight times the average gap in the past decade.

Now over 10% below its May high of 2,130.82, the Index has gone 90 days without setting a new high, the longest stretch since August 2012. The bad news just keeps piling up.

And above it all loomed the Fed, whose officials fueled the debate over whether the American economy is robust enough to withstand higher interest rates this year amid the recent turmoil – and then a week later indicated that liftoff would still take place before the end of this year.

The equity markets don’t like this uncertainty, and how could we blame them? Janet Yellen needs to figure this out!
  

Meet the American Vigilantes Who Are Fighting ISIS

A ragtag group of fighters from America and Europe have joined the fight against extremists in Syria. But with little training and no clear leadership, do they know what they’re doing?

By JENNIFER PERCY



May was the flowering month for the Syrian thistle. The pink heads grew from the rubble in a small village south of the city of Tel Tamer, in northern Syria. A local Kurdish militia had liberated the village from the Islamic State, or ISIS, in the night. Coalition airstrikes had set fire to the grass and blackened the earth. Concrete buildings and small mud-brick homes were charred and gutted, riddled with bullet holes. The belongings of residents confettied the ground. At a curve in the road lay the corpse of an ISIS fighter.
 
I found a 26-year-old American civilian named Clay Lawton standing alone, just outside the village.
 
Square-jawed, with large eyes and bright teeth, he was a volunteer freedom fighter with the local militia. ‘‘I’m from Rhode Island,’’ he said. ‘‘You know it? Most people confuse it with Staten Island or Long Island.’’
 

While we were talking, the unit he had arrived with drove off. Now he was alone, wondering how he would find a commander and return to the action. ‘‘I guess you could say I’m free-floating,’’ he said.
Lawton first heard about ISIS on ‘‘The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.’’ At the time, he was lounging around Key West, driving tour boats from island to island, going to parties, talking to girls. Three months later, he ran out of things to do and bought a ticket home. He lived with his parents and took a job painting houses, thinking he would start a career as a carpenter. After high school, he spent a couple of years in the Army but never deployed. He always wished he had. When a friend from boot camp sent Lawton an email full of links to videos made by the Islamic State — the execution of James Foley, clips from the day ISIS executed 250 Syrian soldiers in the desert — Lawton looked up ‘‘how to fight ISIS’’ on his lunch break.
 
A Facebook page called the Lions of Rojava was recruiting foreign volunteers. It was affiliated with the People’s Protection Units, known by the Kurdish abbreviation Y.P.G., the military arm of a faction that since 2012 has controlled a sweep of land between the Islamic State’s territory in northern Syria and Turkey. Rojava, as the Kurds call it, is a place that didn’t exist until a few years ago, when civil war in Syria opened up a front for Kurdish nationalism.
 
Lawton sent the page a message, and within a day a Y.P.G. representative invited him to join the fight. He had about $800 in savings. In February, he flew to Norway and then to Dubai, and from Dubai to Sulaimaniya, in Iraq. ‘‘From there I was really nervous,’’ he said. As he spoke, Lawton sipped water from his CamelBak. ‘‘I thought everyone was ISIS. I thought I was going to get kidnapped.’’ A fighter picked him up in a fake taxi and took him to a safe house where another American who was scared and lost was still hanging out, because he was so desperate to get to the front. Lawton told him to come with him, and so they went together.
 
Lawton arrived in Syria, was given an M-16 and in just over two weeks was participating in the offensive at Tel Hamis. ‘‘Fighting ISIS wasn’t high-profile yet,’’ he said. ‘‘Wasn’t a big deal. Easy ride to the front.’’
His nom de guerre was Heval Sharvan, but the freedom fighters called him Captain America. ‘‘I think, after this, I might want to relax and go back to work,’’ he said. ‘‘Maybe New York or maybe Miami. Well, Miami might be too chill.’’
 
Lawton told me about the day he killed an ISIS militant. A Kurd gave him a sniper rifle to attack an ISIS-controlled village. Lawton took a position on the roof of a building and saw an ISIS fighter with a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher running below. Lawton shot him.
 
‘‘The guy just exploded,’’ Lawton said. ‘‘He was just gone.’’ Lawton still had the rifle at his side, close to his body like a purse.
 
‘‘That was my first kill,’’ he said. ‘‘Kinda weird, but I had a nightmare that night.’’
 
‘‘About the militant?’’ I asked.
 
‘‘It’s hard to explain,’’ he said. ‘‘You know these guys are animals, but even with that knowledge …
 
’’ He trailed off. ‘‘You know you have to let the brain figure it out on its own,’’ he said. ‘‘He pointed the R.P.G. at me. He would have taken me and my friend. It was hard for me. Killing people, you know you are here to do it. But then, when it happens, and you see it. It’s different.
 
He just exploded.’’
   

Kurdish Y.P.G. fighters arriving in a village outside Tel Tamer, Syria, after a retreat by the Islamic State. Credit Moises Saman/Magnum, for The New York Times

We walked together up the road toward the village. Barley fields spread for miles all around us.
 
‘‘A couple days later, I was good,’’ he said. ‘‘Ever since then, it’s been no problem. I just have to remember the videos.’’
 
He meant the videos of Foley, of the Syrian soldiers. He looked down and softened the earth with his boot. ‘‘See,’’ he said. ‘‘I have a big heart, and I never pictured myself actually doing it.
 
I like to see the good in everybody.’’
 
The foreigners were sleeping in the villages, standing guard, burning trash, with no schedule and no plans. They were easy to spot. The Irishman with bright red hair and skin pale as the sky. Assorted Europeans who traveled in a pack. The Americans with too much sunscreen and gear. Some were fresh to the fight, and others had been on the ground for months.
 
At the village where I met Lawton, another American walked alone up a dirt road. The man was almost six feet tall, fair-skinned and balding with a goatee. He was a 48-year-old Ohioan named Avery Harrington, though the Kurds called him Cekdar. He was sweating but in good spirits. He drank noisily from a water bottle. A purple-velvet Crown Royal bag that held empty magazines dangled from his belt.
 
‘‘I’m 54 days over my visa stay,’’ he confessed.
 
Harrington was in the Marines during the first gulf war but never made it to the desert. Before arriving, he worked in the Ohio Department of Transportation as a highway technician, plowing snow in the winter. After connecting with the Lions of Rojava, he flew to Iraq in March 2015 with $10,000, body armor with steel plates, two canned hams, turkey bacon, 25 pairs of clean socks and 10 packets of baby wipes. He was able to cite the customs regulation — Section 126.17, Subsection F — that allowed every citizen to take one full set of body armor, including a helmet and gas mask, overseas.
 
He paid more than $500 in baggage fees. The hams never left Iraq.
In April, when Harrington finally arrived in Syria, he was part of such a huge influx of foreign recruits that the Y.P.G. started making special units for Westerners, groups of roughly 12 soldiers. They went through a kind of boot camp called the academy. Harrington was one of seven in his class, including two other Americans, a New Zealander, an Iranian and two Brits, one of whom was an actor named Michael Enright. They trained together for just more than a week, learning to clean and dismantle Kalashnikovs. Those with more experience, like Harrington, were given PKC machine guns. Drills started at 6:15 a.m., and the men sometimes practiced blindfolded to prepare for nighttime attacks.
 
Why were the foreigners there? Some were escaping life back home. Others were old soldiers, trying to fill a void. A few just had delusions of grandeur. They came for the feeling of solidarity, or adventurism, or they came to fulfill a childhood fantasy, to act out some violent adolescent emotion.
 
The youngest fighter was 19, and the oldest, I was told, was 66, a former English teacher from Canada named Peter Douglas. The veterans hoped to kill ISIS fighters and train the locals as they had been trained in the Marines or the Army. The civilians, among them a surf instructor and a philosophy student from the University of Manchester, wanted to learn what they could.
 
They hoped their stamina was enough.
 
It started the same way for each of them: watching the war on television, then acting on their feelings of impotence and anger. They bought plane tickets from Philadelphia or Miami or Washington and flew solo across the Atlantic, following the orders of a Kurdish militant on Facebook who barely spoke English. It was exciting; it turned them on. They were there to help.
 
They crossed borders to join a de facto state run by a socialist militia with small arms, entering a battlefield where soldiers died of preventable wounds and untrained medics made tourniquets from broomsticks and torn blankets. The veterans had more experience with weapons than the Y.P.G., who fought with light infantry and without Kevlar. As one foreigner said, of a Kurdish unit, ‘‘I wouldn’t play paintball in that outfit.’’ These Westerners were genuinely brave, and yet the will to do good was not enough. The mind-set of the Y.P.G., some realized, had little to do with their own beliefs.
 
“This is the Twilight Zone,” one said. “Lovely fairy tale,” said another. Many realized, far too late, that this wasn’t a normal deployment. Ad hoc organization, no advanced weaponry, no Black Hawk to airlift them to safety, few translators. They had abandoned everything — jobs, children, wives.
 

Some fought in combat, but many did not. What followed were purposeless days, sleepless nights, and I sensed a bit of humiliation among them. Like Marlow on his way up the Congo, these men seemed to experience a disturbance in their Western consciousness. They had vastly overestimated their use. Their service was respected but insignificant. These were men who arrived with a stark idea of good versus evil, who thought of themselves as heroes, and found themselves turning in circles.
‘‘We perpetually give,’’ Harrington said. ‘‘And we are perpetually getting screwed.’’
 
In the months after the first volunteers arrived in the fall of 2014, the foreign fighters battled ISIS alongside the Y.P.G., but then they started dying. By the summer, at least six foreigners had been killed, including one American. The Kurds started using the foreigners for safer tasks — to secure remote outposts or cover guard shifts in rear areas.
 
Jordan Matson, a 29-year-old Wisconsin man who ran the Facebook page at first, was among the few who continued to join the most dangerous missions. He said he was the second foreign fighter to arrive. He had been in Syria’s Kurdish territory for almost a year and was the darling of the Western militia movement. He was so popular that one woman, writing on Facebook, threatened to kill herself if he didn’t marry her. Another, he said, tried to travel to Syria with her child to ask for his hand in marriage.
 
I met Matson while he was taking a break from sniper duty. We were in the basement of an apartment building in Tel Tamer, a ghost town with closed storefronts and dogs with cut-off ears. Matson was over six feet and had a big jaw, a goatee and a childish grin. He wore full fatigues and carried a Kalashnikov. I asked if he had time to talk. Yes, he said — he had nothing to do. ‘‘If I have no one to play chess with, then I’m going to stare at that wall,’’ he said. ‘‘And then I’m going to stare at that wall. And when I’m done staring at that wall, I’m going to stare at that wall.’’ Matson asked if I wanted any doughnuts or soda. He was going to get something from a man down the street who worked at the only operating store in town. ‘‘I have lots of money,’’ he said. He wouldn’t say where the money came from except a ‘‘generous benefactor.’’ Harrington told me the foreigners were given a monthly allowance of about $100 for their services from the Y.P.G., which they used for extra food and toilet paper.
 
Before the war, Matson had never been outside the United States. He was working the third shift at a meatpacking plant in Wisconsin. He joined the Army and served for a year and a half before being discharged. ‘‘Hey, we think you have PTSD,’’ he said his superiors told him. He added, ‘‘But I don’t.’’ He was going through a divorce at the time; he later decided he had an emptiness in his life because he hadn’t deployed.
 
In June 2014, after the fall of Mosul, he learned on Facebook about an American named Brian Wilson. Wilson was in Rojava, fighting ISIS. They connected online, and Wilson gave him his contacts and suggested a flight route. That same month, Matson flew to Poland, then Turkey, and then drove to a town on the Turkish border. There, a Y.P.G. fighter picked him up in a fake taxi and drove Matson into Iraq. They stayed in Erbil and moved around safe houses; Matson pretended to be a doctor. They traveled deep into the mountains until they were able to cross the Tigris River at night into Syria.
 
Things happened quickly for him. There was no training and no induction. Matson joined a sniper unit. The soldiers’ job was to attack a group of ISIS militants who were firing mortars at a Christian police station. It was a six-hour firefight. A Y.P.G. fighter died in a suicide bombing. Matson was hit by a grenade and injured his foot. An ambulance ferried him to the regional hospital in Serekaniye.
 
It was there, bored during his recovery, that he worked on a page to recruit foreigners to the Y.P.G.: the Lions of Rojava. The banner was an image, altered with Photoshop, of foreign fighters. They were holding guns on a hilltop next to a giant lion; behind them was the smoke of ruined towns. It was news to most everyone that there was a Western-friendly faction in Syria. So many queries came in from veterans and nonveterans that he couldn’t deal with them.
 
Matson passed on the responsibility for the page a while ago. Kurdish Y.P.G. supporters run it and provide directions to prospective fighters on how to apply: Simply submit a résumé and statement of purpose. So far, Matson says, he has met about a hundred foreign recruits, but no one keeps track of the numbers.
    

Avery Harrington, a 48-year-old former Marine from Ohio, arrived in Iraq in March 2015. Credit Moises Saman/Magnum, for The New York Times

Because of the language barrier, the foreigners couldn’t communicate well with the Kurds who were supposed to manage them. Conflicts between difficult personalities were allowed to fester.
 
There were stories about drifters and lunatics. A British man who petted the dead ISIS bodies.
 
Another who used his psychic abilities to hear ISIS fighters speak. One man requested to go home because of a bad case of attention-deficit disorder. Another said he understood what ISIS wanted and sympathized with their cause. Another was known for looking around and saying, ‘‘Did the C.I.A. send you?’’
 
When Michael Enright, the British actor who trained with Harrington, joined the foreign fighters, he became a source of controversy. Enright is best known for his role as a deckhand in ‘‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.’’ He also played Nick Libergal in Season 1 of ‘‘Law & Order: L.A.’’ (In the show, the police find Libergal dead in a bathtub, his body dissolving in quicklime.) Enright had wanted to fight in the war on terror after Sept. 11, but his friends discouraged him. The rise of ISIS offered him a second chance.
 
Matson wanted Enright off the battlefield. He described Enright as ‘‘mentally unstable’’ in a Facebook post. ‘‘Enright is a liability,’’ Harrington told me. ‘‘He’s not just a danger to himself, he is a danger to everybody out here.’’ The actor was considered reckless with weapons, disassembling his Kalashnikov without checking that the magazine was empty. At a meeting, Harrington asked who wanted Enright kicked out of the class. Everyone raised his hand. After training, Harrington said, their commander decided to keep Enright at the front but without a fighting role. He wasn’t welcome in any unit. (When I later asked him about the comments, Enright said he did fight but didn’t want to get into any of ‘‘the gossip’’: ‘‘I think it helps ISIS. I hate ISIS.’’)
 
When Enright was ostracized during training, ‘‘the last thing he told me was this,’’ Harrington said. ‘‘ ‘Hope you don’t get a bullet in your head, bro.’ I thought, Dude, if we see you on the front lines, we’ll put a bullet in your head.’’
 
The dead man in the village was lying on his back with his arms crucified, his lower half twisted. It looked as if someone had stuck a plum in his eye socket and left it to rot. The bomb tore a hole through his pants but preserved his bright blue boxer briefs. His head was tilted slightly back, and his upper lip had slid toward his nose, leaving him with a permanent snarl.
 
‘‘I’ve seen more dead bodies working for the Department of Transportation in Ohio,’’ Harrington said.
 
‘‘This is my first,’’ I said. Harrington admitted it was his first in Syria.
 
‘‘Someone stole his sandals!’’ he said. ‘‘He had trekking sandals on yesterday.’’
 
We hung out by the body for a while. Then Harrington decided to walk back to the village center for water. A truck rolled up carrying crates packed with flatbread and tomatoes on the vine. The soldiers gathered around the truck and ate the tomatoes like apples.
 
‘‘I hate this,’’ Harrington said. He was looking at the tomato he got for lunch. ‘‘I love rib-eye.
 
As soon as I leave here, it’s big old steak time.’’ He had lost a lot of weight since he arrived, and he showed me the Leatherman he used to poke new holes in his belt, which tracked the progress of his diminishing waist.
   

Kurdish Y.P.G. fighters near the body of an Islamic State fighter killed during overnight airstrikes near Tel Tamer. Credit Moises Saman/Magnum, for The New York Times

‘‘You know what I want,’’ he said. ‘‘I want this to be a seasonal job. Go plow snow in the winter and fight ISIS in the summer.’’
 

We finished our tomatoes, and Harrington started talking about how the Kurds always threw rocks at the stray dogs. He said another fighter almost shot someone over it the night before.
 
‘‘Who’s that?’’ I asked
 
‘‘He’s the guy with the Mohawk. He’s from San Antonio.’’ He pointed to a man with a sunburned scalp, who was crouching and barely visible in the shade of a collapsed building.
 
‘‘That Texan has been here a bit too long. Decent guy, but doesn’t know how to take a grain of salt. This is their country, play by their rules. Don’t let [expletive] upset you. You can yell, scream and get mad, and all you are doing is raising your blood pressure.’’
 
The Texan asked that I refer to him by his warrior name, Azad. He wore Oakleys and a calculator watch. He had sold his gun collection to pay for the trip to fight ISIS. He seemed disappointed in the whole journey. ‘‘I was driving a truck for the oil fields when I decided to come out here. I got a job as a brick mason to try to get in shape. But it’s frustrating,’’ he said.
 
‘‘The arrogance of the Kurds.
 
They don’t know little things that could be done to save their lives.’’ He spoke in a sorrowful monotone.
 
He had expected to be able to train the Y.P.G. But the Y.P.G. didn’t care. They didn’t need a Texan coming to their country to explain how to fight. Instead, they kept him on guard duty. Once they even told him to drive an ambulance.
 
‘‘Came all the way over here for nothing,’’ he said. ‘‘Seems like such a waste of my life. I’ll never get the security clearance to go work the oil fields again. They will do a background check, and Homeland Security won’t like that I’m in a foreign militia. Work your whole life, finally get to the point where you’re making good money and blow that aside to do the right thing, and then when you get here, your hands are tied. It’s a no-win situation. If you go home, you will hate yourself the rest of your life, because maybe you could have made a difference.’’
 
To escape the heat, we walked through some weeds to the shade of a ruined home. ‘‘I wouldn’t go in there very far,’’ he said. The home was about to collapse. It was full of the detritus of someone else’s life. Scattered about the dirt were sticks and rotting clothes, the occasional gleam of a wedding photograph.
 
‘‘The people who lived here left with only their clothes on their backs,’’ he said. ‘‘A lot didn’t make it out alive. I get choked up. Then you find out the Kurds are looting and stealing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve taken things from houses. Food, rope, cellphones. Only reason I’m here now is to kill daesh’’ — a derogatory word for ISIS fighters. ‘‘You know what they do.’’
 
Azad and I stepped away from the house and onto the road. It was around 4 in the afternoon.
 
Up the road to our right, a group of Kurds next to a supply truck was yelling and grabbing at Harrington and another foreigner.
   

“I thought everyone was ISIS. I thought I was going to get kidnapped.” Credit Moises Saman/Magnum, for The New York Times

‘‘Oh,’’ Azad said. ‘‘That guy.’’
 
It was Michael Enright. He had been on the truck and had come to talk to Harrington about bad-mouthing him in a Facebook post. Harrington, a large man, put his arm around Enright, who was much smaller.
 
They screamed at each other, but I couldn’t hear the words. Enright rammed his head into Harrington’s face. Harrington swung his arm for a punch but missed. The Kurds started the engine. Enright ran and jumped into the truck bed. They drove off, and Enright stared out at us like a dog.
 
Harrington ran down the hill. He was screaming and cursing. ‘‘It’s the [expletive] British guy. He [expletive] head-butted me,’’ he said. A tooth had cut cleanly through his lip. A rope of red saliva dangled from his mouth. ‘‘He shouldn’t have tried to be a fighter,’’ he said. ‘‘Piece of [expletive], danger to everybody!’’
 
The fight seemed to disturb Azad. The threat of the Islamic State loomed over us, but the dramas of private life continued to take center stage. ‘‘Give up everything to come out here, and you’ve got these guys,’’ Azad said. ‘‘They come here for personal reasons. Just trying to make themselves look good back home. They are out here playing games and risking lives.’’
 
Azad wandered off and sat down on a rock across from the dead body. He pointed at it and waved his hands. ‘‘Yeah we got daesh here for an interview. Hey, yeah, why you go rape and murder women and children? You just executed a 3-year-old?’’ The Kurds near him were laughing. He kept saying it. ‘‘Hey want to interview a daesh? Daesh here!’’
He wouldn’t stop, so I asked the corpse if he had anything to say. Azad smiled and spoke for the dead man. ‘‘It’s not that bad,’’ he said. ‘‘Not that bad being dead.’’
 
I walked with Harrington to a neighboring village, where I would meet a driver who would take me out of Syria. Clay Lawton was there, along with an Estonian, a Dutchman and a Spaniard. I said my goodbyes and left. During the drive, a flat tire stranded us on the bank of a river, and Lawton poked his head over the truck bed. ‘‘Just catching a ride,’’ he said. ‘‘Mind if I go with you guys?’’
 
We rode in the bucket of a bulldozer across the river and then crawled up a wet bank and entered a field of yellow barley. A thin road cut through the field, and we hiked it.
 
‘‘See that village over there?’’ Lawton said. He pointed to a pile of concrete. ‘‘That’s where I shot the guy. Yeah, ISIS is right there,’’ he said. ‘‘We should probably not be standing here since we’re within sniper range. They’re probably looking at us right now. There still might be some ISIS guys left.’’
 
A white cloud rose from the dead fields. ‘‘Oh, yep, that’s an airstrike. That means there are still some guys right there.’’
 
He dragged his arm up and pointed. Neither of us had slept much, and so we didn’t make the effort to move.
 
Another driver waited for us at the end of the road. Lawton jumped in the van. ‘‘Where exactly do you want to go?’’ I asked.
 
‘‘Doesn’t matter,’’ he said. ‘‘Just take me to America, or a combat zone.’’
 
His plan was to change into civilian clothing and cross the border into Iraq. But when we looked in his duffel, he had only fatigues. We made one more stop, at the same location where he was first abandoned by his unit. After discussing the plans, we decided that the political situation was too tense to bring him across the border.
 
Lawton started dropping his belongings on the ground: camouflage shirts, a bundle of tank tops in a plastic bag. He would find a way out on his own, he said, and wanted to lighten his load. I headed back to the truck and looked back to see Lawton, alone again on the hill. His clothes made a small trail behind him in the dirt.