At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Libertarians and OWS: Useful Idiots

posted by Jack Kerwick

The Occupy Wall Street movement appears to be growing.  And it is growing ever more disruptive.

From the losses suffered by many a small business to the desecration of property, from the destabilization of communities to violent clashes with law enforcement officers, the phenomenon simply known as “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) is becoming a force to be reckoned with in cities across America—and beyond.

As it turns out, there is no small measure of self-identified “libertarians” who populate the ranks of the Wall Street “occupiers.”    

For instance, the libertarian-friendly website, lewrockwell.com, features a couple of youtube videos of a “Captain Midnight,” a self-declared Ron Paul supporter currently “occupying” Wall Street.  The well known site lavishes praise upon this young man for the eloquence with which he articulates his case for abolishing the Federal Reserve as well as his familiarity with such libertarian figures as Henry Hazlitt, Murray Rothbard, and Lew Rockwell himself. 

There are still other sympathetic postings regarding OWS to be found at lewrockwell.com. 

In “What OWS is all about, Herman,” Michael S. Rozeff blasts Herman Cain for disparaging the “occupiers” of Wall Street while aligning himself with “the establishment” and opposing “change.”  In “Let Them Eat Keller,” Michael Scheer takes New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller to task for being critical of OWS.  Scheer charges Keller with being consumed by “the arrogance of disoriented royal privilege.”

Over at the Raleigh Libertarian Examiner, in “Defining the Occupy Wall Street Movement,” Brian Irving likens OWS to the Tea Party movement inasmuch as it is supposedly comprised mainly of folks who have, justifiably, lost faith in their government.  He notes differences—namely, the Tea Partiers attribute blame to “corrupt politicians and an overbearing government” while Wall Street “occupiers,” though disgusted with politicians, hold as well “corporations” responsible for our ills.  Still,Irving tries to reveal the ideological diversity of OWS by pointing out that among its constituents are unabashed Ron Paul supporters parading signs that read “End the Fed” and “Ron Paul for President.”          

And libertarian Jesse Ventura has recently made an appearance at OWS.

Speaking as a certain kind of libertarian, albeit, a conservative libertarian, I find all of this more than a bit disturbing.

Unlike their leftist comrades-in-arms, the dragon upon which the aforementioned libertarians set their sights is not “capitalism” per se, but “crony capitalism.”  It isn’t the lack of regulation and the allegedly laissez faire manner in which Wall Street bankers pursue their “obscene” profits that arouse their anger but, rather, the fact that these bankers are in cahoots with a corrupt government that continued propping them up with tax payers’ dollars long after they should have folded.

The libertarian’s anger is warranted, for sure.  Corporate welfare is as immoral an enterprise for the government of a civil association to embark upon as is taxpayer-subsidized welfare of any sort.  And it isn’t just immoral but unconstitutional for the federal government of the United States of America to do such a thing.  But this being so, it seems obvious that libertarians—and, for that matter, every member of the movement in question—have selected for themselves the wrong stage on which to enact their displays of outrage: if territory must be “occupied,” it is not the financial capital of the world that should be seized, but the capital of the nation.

In short, it is the government that makes corporate welfare and “crony capitalism” possible. 

So, the first error on the part of these libertarians is one that they share with the leftists of their movement.  If we had to give it a name, we may call it “symbolic confusion.” 

Regrettably, this is far from the only intellectual transgression of which the libertarians of OWS are culpable, and perhaps the least serious.

Leftists despise the system of private property that America’s Founding Fathers bequeathed to their posterity—what they crudely call “capitalism.”  Thus, it is eminently sensible that they should throw such intellectual virtues as honesty and consistency to the wind in ignoring the principle role played by government in bringing about the economic collapse of 2008 and the exorbitant bailouts that ensued in order to target Wall Street. 

But libertarians are champions of free markets.  Libertarians know that America has been able to emerge as the preeminent economic super power of the world for the same exact reason that it has been able to emerge as “the land of the free”: its severely limited government.  It is the liberty thatAmerica’s constitutional arrangements secure for her citizens that gives rise to its standing as an economic powerhouse, and it is Wall Street that has been about as glaring a signifier of this as anything else.

What this implies is that in participating in OWS, libertarians actually undercut their own deepest convictions.  It has been said that a picture is worth more than a thousand words.  In politics, even if in few precincts beyond that, this is actually an understatement, for there, a single picture is worth more than thousands and thousands and thousands of words.  By openly railing against America’s financial institutions, libertarians, then, reveal themselves to the world to be of one mind with socialists and communists—i.e. their mortal nemeses.  Like leftists, they appear to be saying that the pursuit of one’s material self-interests and the freedom from an intrusive government that renders this pursuit possible are the enemies of all that is True, Good, and Beautiful.

Again, a lover of liberty need not be a fan of the banking class in order for this point to resonate with him.  Nor must he regard Wall Street as the only, or even the most accurate, symbol of American economic liberty.  The point, simply, is that from the perspective of the rest of the planet, the streets ofAmericamay not literally be paved with gold, but they are worth an awful lot—a fact owing to their proximity to the Mother of all streets: Wall Street.  Furthermore, even in reality, the staggering affluence that Wall Street emblematizes is the product, not of the federal government, but of entrepreneurs and other laborious enterprisers.

In “occupying” Wall Street along with hordes of the despisers of liberty, the libertarian, ironically, sweeps his own legs out from under himself.  His actions invite—no, demand—greater concentrations of government to deal with “the greed” and “corruption” of bankers.  In so doing, he calls for an even greater diminution of individual liberty. 

The leftist may be intellectually and morally bankrupt, but at least he knows what he wants and doesn’t hesitate to pursue it—by whichever means necessary.  On the other hand, the libertarian of OWS has proven himself to be the most useful of idiots.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at American Thinker

 

Two Libertarianisms and Occupy Wall Street

posted by Jack Kerwick

I have noticed that there are some on the libertarian right who appear to consider themselves kindred spirits with those who have spent the last couple of weeks “occupying” Wall Street and other cities throughoutAmericaand beyond.  This is disheartening, for what it reveals is that those who should presumably know better than all others how best to nurture and strengthen liberty are, in actuality, as ignorant of its true character as its greatest enemies.

Note, I do not suggest that the libertarian’s professions of love for liberty are insincere.  Quite the contrary, for it is most likely his fanaticism for his beloved that imperils the latter.  It is the libertarian’s zeal for liberty that corrupts his intellect. Like the hyper-jealous husband whose obsession with his wife renders him either forgetful of or oblivious to the real nature of marital love, so the libertarian is similarly forgetful of or oblivious to the real nature of liberty.  

Bear in mind that the libertarianism that is the object of my critique is not the only school of thought so-called.  “Libertarianism” is a term invariably associated today with a particular cast of mind.  But there is another, older political philosophic orientation that, though of a fundamentally different kind, is no less deserving of the name.

What basically distinguishes these two varieties of “libertarianism” hasn’t anything at all to do with the positions that their exponents take on the issues with which they are confronted.  Rather, in order to grasp the key difference between them, we need to look beyond the substance of their policy prescriptions to the formal suppositions that inform those prescriptions.  To put it simply, the libertarianism that dominates today rests upon presuppositions that are rationalistic.  Those undergirding its counterpart, on the other hand, are resolutely anti-rationalistic. 

Today’s libertarianism is rationalistic inasmuch as it is rooted in “principles” or “propositions” that are allegedly “self-evident” to every rational being, regardless of time or place.  That is, these principles or ideals—Human Rights, Freedom, Equality, Democracy, the Social Contract, the Will of the People, etc.—are held to not only transcend civilization, but to subsist in advance of it.  That this is so is born out by the fact that government is typically treated by the libertarian rationalist merely as an artifact, a device that is just as easy to deconstruct as it was apparently easy to assemble in the first place.  That contemporary libertarianism is rationalistic to the core can also be seen in the fact that it not only ignores the indispensable role that the traditions, habits, and customs of a people play in sustaining liberty, but treats such cultural particularities as adversarial to it.

In glaring contrast, the other type of libertarianism is all too aware that the ideals affirmed by its rationalistic counterpart, far from existing independently of the contingencies of culture, are constituted by it.  Such ideals are abstractions from a tradition that is as culturally-specific as any language, and they are as dependent upon that tradition for their intelligibility as the grammatical rules of any language are dependent upon it.  The liberty that we take for granted, then, is, ultimately, a tradition—not a timeless principle accessible to all peoples in all places and at all times.

The first type of libertarianism is a fiction that can and has resulted in one destructive utopian fantasy after the other; the second type—what has traditionally been regarded as conservatism—deserves our respect and, dare I say it, our allegiance.  In contradistinction to both contemporary libertarianism as well as various modes of leftist and neoconservative thought, what we may call conservative libertarianism affirms two basic facts that a political philosophy neglects at its own peril. 

First, just as the principles and rules of a language derive their intelligibility from the language from which they have been abstracted, the principles, rules, and ideals of a morality similarly derive their meaning from the moral tradition—the manners and habits of a distinctive kind of conduct—from which they have been elicited.

Second, even if this first fact was no fact at all, even if, that is, the rationalist is correct and principles subsist, in all of their nakedness, independently of conduct, this would not in the least alter the reality that we become acquainted with these principles only through our traditions.  To return to the language analogy, we never learn grammatical rules and principles as rules and principles; we learn a living language and, as a result, the rules and principles constitutive of it.  This, too, is how we become familiar with moral principles: by acting morally.  But the specifics of “acting morally,” like the specifics of speaking a language, is determined by the particular moral tradition in question.

Both of these facts are mutually distinct.  They are also, however, mutually supportive, for severally and collectively they inescapably lead us to a conclusion that it is painfully obvious has been utterly lost upon the “Wall Street Occupiers” as well as those libertarian rationalists who support them: 

The moral traditions to which we owe our civilization, our life blood, as it were, are deserving of respect and nurturance.

On the other hand, movements like “Occupy Wall Street” that imperil that civilization invite our unequivocal contempt.              

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

originally published at The New America

The Real Reason Republicans Dislike Ron Paul

posted by Jack Kerwick

Although his commitment to “limited government” is unsurpassed, establishment Republicans in both politics and the so-called “conservative media” labor incessantly to discredit Texan Congressman and GOP presidential contender, Ron Paul.  On its face, who couldn’t judge this phenomenon, the phenomenon of the most vocal champions of liberty ridiculing and trivializing the most vocal champion of liberty, as anything other than bizarre?  Any remotely curious observer couldn’t resist the impulse to inquire into the roots of this enigma.

We needn’t dig too deeply to discover that the establishment Republican’s apparently irrational conduct toward Paul stems from his angst regarding Paul’s foreign policy vision.  Paul, you see, rejects in no uncertain terms the notion that Big Government is not only permissible, but desirable, as long as it is non-American citizens abroad upon whom our government’s designs would be brought to bear.  Loudly and unapologetically, he rejects the idea that “social engineering” is a good thing as long as it is other societies that our government seeks to “engineer.”  Paul makes no secret of his utter contempt, a contempt born of his passion for liberty and individuality, for the belief that policies rooted in utopian fantasy are worthy of pursuit as long as it is not America, but the world, that our government seeks to perfect. 

Ron Paul is persona non grata as far as “the leadership” as well as much of the rank and file of the Republican Party is concerned.  How could he not be?  After all, this shameless defender of the United States Constitution is relentless in his quest to expose the assumptions underlying their foreign policy prescriptions as members of the same species of folly as those informing the left’s vision of domestic policy.

To put it more specifically, Paul strives to remind Americans of the legacy bequeathed to them by their ancestors, an invaluable inheritance of individual liberty that those of past generations, through incalculable quantities of their blood, sweat, and tears, forged for their posterity.  Our Fathers and Mothers, like our fathers and mothers, Paul beckons us to remember, worked long and hard so that we, their children, would eventually be able to stand on our own two feet.  They longed for us to not just appreciate their gift of liberty, but to enthusiastically embrace it.  Paul urges us to be forever mindful that it is this enthusiasm, and only this enthusiasm, that stands between our liberty and the totalitarianism that always threatens to consume it.

Big Government, whether it is invoked for purposes of imposing designs upon foreign countries or our own, is intrinsically antithetical to the liberty for which our Fathers lived and died.  This any disciple of liberty knows.  This Ron Paul knows.  And it is the forgotten knowledge of this truth of which he tirelessly seeks to arouse within his countrymen and women. 

I still believe that it is Paul’s position on American foreign policy that elicits most of the disdain with which his fellow Republicans greet him.  But I am starting to believe that there is more to the matter than just this.      

It isn’t just Paul’s approach to foreign policy with which Republicans take issue; they are displeased as well with his disposition toward domestic policy. 

Note, it isn’t just Paul’s position on this or that domestic issue to which they object.  It is his entire understanding of which these positions are a function that they find unpalatable. More precisely, Republicans, for all of their talk of liberty, find repugnant Paul’s view on the proper relationship between the government and the citizen, politics and culture. 

Ron Paul is an apostle of traditional American liberty.  The vast majority of us are our Founding Fathers’ prodigal sons (and daughters) who, at 76 years old, Paul continues to call home.  From early on in Christian history, some of its brightest minds have sought to address “the problem of evil,” the problem of reconciling belief in an omnipotent and all loving God with the presence of evil in the world.  Usually, a resolution has been found in some variation or other of “the free will defense.”  According to this line of reasoning, God could have created human beings so that they never did evil, but He preferred a creation in which humans were free, for only with free agents could He have a genuine relationship.  However, the freedom to accept God’s offer of friendship inescapably entails the freedom to reject that offer.  To put it another way, the freedom to do good is also the freedom to do evil. 

God recognizes that there can be no virtue without freedom.  Ron Paul does too.

It is precisely because of his recognition of this fact that Paul opposes all attempts to diminish individuals’ liberty for the sake of some amorphous “common good,” some supposedly moral state that the government is entrusted with bringing to fruition.  More simply put, he staunchly opposes attempts to impute to the federal government the role of a parent, for if the government is a parent, then the citizen is its child. 

While it isn’t obvious to many, the plain fact of the matter is that most of Paul’s fellow Republicans are no less committed to what we may, for purposes of convenience, refer to as “the Welfare State.”  The “compassionate conservatism” championed by President George W. Bush and legions of other self-described “conservative” politicians and media personalities in the previous decade was just another term for “welfarism.”  And though “compassionate conservatism” has fallen on hard times—no current Republican presidential aspirant would dare to characterize him or herself in these terms—there is no denying that Republicans have and continue to abet the growth of government vis-à-vis their approach to domestic policy.

There isn’t a single redistributive scheme that Republicans have sought to revoke, and plenty that they have actually initiated.  But beyond the matter of “economic redistribution,” Republicans want to use the government as an agent of “character formation.”  Rick Santorum is as pure an illustration of this propensity as any.  From this perspective, the government must inculcate virtue in its citizens.   The notion, common to Democrats and Republicans alike, that politicians generally and the president in particular are “leaders” is a function of this belief. 

The pieces of this puzzle of Republicans’ reaction to Ron Paul’s advocacy of liberty and individuality are finally in place.  They support a philosophy of Big Government and he does not.  It is his stances on foreign and domestic policy that renders Ron Paul the object of their scorn.       

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D

originally published at The New American

Liberty from an Intergalactic Perspective

posted by Jack Kerwick

Some readers of this column may very well remember the old ‘70’s sitcom, Mork and Mindy.  Mork, played by Robin Williams, was an alien from the planet “Ork” who had been deployed to Earth in order to discover more about the ways of its inhabitants.  At the end of each week’s episode, audiences would watch as Mork relayed his findings to “Orson,” his superior. 

Now, imagine if a Mork-like being were to visit our planet for the sake of acquiring knowledge regardingAmerica’s politics.  What would he discover?

Well, within minutes of his spacecraft landing he would determine that those beings who call themselves “Americans” have something bordering on an obsession with what they call “liberty.”  At virtually every turn, it is impossible to go for long without hearing the language of “liberty” and “freedom” spring from their lips.  

Being the inquisitive sort that he is, it is only natural that this alien should want to probe more deeply into the character of this “liberty.”  So he does.  Our sociologist from another planet, so as to keep himself from becoming conspicuous, would first try to discern its meaning by listening carefully to the inflection and intonations of the voices of those speaking of liberty.  In doing so, he would become hopeful that he would before long get to the bottom of it all, for what he would detect is that talk of liberty is almost invariably accompanied by excitement and enthusiasm—as sure a sign as any that this “liberty” is something to which these Americans attach no small measure of importance.  Liberty, that is, isn’t just a good, as far as the Americans are concerned; it is quite possibly the greatest of all goods.

Our alien would now really be curious to find out more about liberty.  And though he would hate to admit it to himself, he would find the impulse to jettison his disinterestedness by interjecting himself into his study increasingly difficult to resist.  But no, his self-discipline would prevail and he would continue with his inquiry.

In his quest to find out what it is that makes liberty the greatest of all goods, our alien investigator might resolve to interrogate its apparent devotees.  What exactly is liberty? he would ask them.  And why wouldn’t he?  This is such a straightforward question.  Surely, he would assume, it invites a comparably straightforward answer.

Within no time, though, to his chagrin, he would discover that for all of the assuredness with which these Americans proclaim the blessings of their liberty, they couldn’t come remotely close to achieving a consensus as to what liberty is.  While any given person would waste no time in articulating his definition of liberty, in vain would our alien search for an account of liberty that was to everyone’s satisfaction.    In fact, among a relatively small group of randomly selected Americans, distinct and even conflicting statements of liberty would emerge. 

Lesser spirits would have been tempted at this juncture to throw in the towel.  A less facile inquirer would have seized upon this seemingly bizarre phenomenon as compelling evidence for the futility of the search for the meaning of liberty.  But our alien, being made of steelier stuff than this, would resolve to change tactics.  Rather than approach Americans at random, he would instead devote his attention to only those Americans who sounded most enamored with liberty. 

In his studies, our alien would realize that American politics is, for the most part, a perpetual power contest between two major organizations or “parties,” as Americans call them.  Though the members of both parties tirelessly declare their love for liberty, the members of what is referred to as “the Democratic Party” have a predilection to supplement their invocations of liberty with similarly impassioned allusions to something they’ve labeled “equality.”  In contrast, those who belong to what is called “the Republican Party” speak almost exclusively of liberty.  Thus, our alien would reason, those who speak most confidently and consistently of liberty are those who are likely to know best as to what it entails.  So, it is to these creatures called “Republicans” that he would gravitate. 

Initially, this observer of American politics couldn’t help but to feel encouraged by his decision to narrow his focus.  Finally, it would appear, he is getting somewhere as to determining the nature of this ever elusive thing called “liberty.”  Republicans, though far from being able to supply him with the degree of precision for which he longed, would nevertheless be able to provide him with some idea as to which direction he should turn in furthering his analysis of liberty. 

Liberty, he would find out, requires what is called “limited government.”  What this implies is that neither the authority to rule nor the power by which authority rules can be concentrated in few hands.  Liberty, then, is inseparable—indeed, indistinguishable—from an affirmation of “individuality.  It is individual beings, “citizens,” who should be, well, at liberty to pursue their own purposes; liberty, that is, forbids that individuals should be compelled or coerced to pursue the purposes of others.  This is what our alien would discover as the concept of liberty, through slow and gradual steps, began to emerge from the darkness of ambiguity to assume some measure of distinctness.

But no sooner than his hopes would begin to rise than they would be dashed.  Once he achieved familiarity with the concept of “government,” on the one hand, and that of “the individual” or “the citizen,” on the other, it would take our alien no time to recognize why the liberty of the individual presupposes or entails a diminution in the size and scope of his government. 

Or so our alien would think.

Upon observing the conduct of those called “Republicans,” including and especially their conduct throughout what they refer to as their “presidential primary race,” he would observe a glaring incongruence between what he had heard them say at some times and places and their utterances at other times and places.

Just when he would think that he had taken hold of the crux of liberty, he would become convinced that it had once again eluded his grasp.  After all, the very same people upon whom our alien researcher had chosen to set his sights, those Republicans who indefatigably sang hosannas to “liberty,” “limited government,” and “individualism,” he would witness falling all over themselves giving praise to “leaders” and prospective party “leaders” who were busy trying to outdo one another via their promises to actually expand government.  Of course, he wouldn’t hear anyone ever explicitly make any such promises; but by now, our alien would know his subject well enough to know that the positions of the Republican presidential candidates on the issues beckoned for a consolidation of authority and power—not its dispersal. 

Those individuals who aspired to become the titular head of the party of “liberty” were almost unanimous in their support of their nation’s central bank, what the Americans referred to as “the Federal Reserve.”  Insofar as the Federal Reserve places a virtually unlimited amount of power to manipulate the nation’s currency in just a few hands, our alien would have to judge it to be positively inimical to liberty—if, that is, liberty is what he initially suspected it to be.

The Republican presidential contenders were almost unanimous as well in their support of waging an intrinsically interminable war—what they characterized as “the War on Terror.”  Alternatively, they spoke of this enterprise in more euphemistic terms, as a “Freedom Agenda.”  Either way, our alien would discern the apparent contradiction in simultaneously affirming “limited government” and endless war, for the latter requires the expansion and strengthening of government and—again, assuming that his first glimpse of “liberty” was accurate—a corresponding diminution of liberty.

Domestically, the Republican presidential candidates argue for “privatizing” this or that program, presumably for the sake of maximizing liberty.  Yet such “privatization” is still subject to government oversight, for one, and, secondly, it is a supplement to and not a substitute for the government programs that already exist and that will continue to be financed by taxpayers.

Granted, there was one self-identified Republican presidential contender who always spoke consistently with what our alien had expected to hear given his first impressions of liberty.  This candidate passionately opposed growing the government for the sake of prosecuting wars with other lands.  He called for an end toAmerica’s “Welfare State” and its central bank.  But since this Republican was ignored, ridiculed, mocked, and even demonized by his fellow partisans—just those Americans who he supposed knew best about liberty—the alien would have to judge, even if only provisionally, that they were on to something.  Still, he was at a complete lost to determine what that was.  So, by this juncture, he would have concluded that this “liberty” thing promised to forever escape his understanding. 

As this exhausted explorer from another world sailed out of our orbit, never to look to Earth again, he would be consumed with both disappointment and pity.  He would be disappointed not just by the fact that he had to abort his mission before he could determine the nature of liberty, but by the fact that this phenomenon was more of a mystery to him now than before he launched his operation.  He would as well be filled with pity for Americans, particularly Republicans, for while humility would caution him against equating his ignorance of liberty with their alleged ignorance of the same, it would be hard for him not think that these poor people knew not of what they spoke.  And as long as this suspicion gnawed at him, he couldn’t help to think that the hour was rapidly approaching when these folks would find themselves in far more dire straights than those in which they currently dwelled.  After all, the one person who sounded the most sensible they derided as a “nut.”    

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. 

     

 

 

 

 

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