Editor's Page: Dependence Day

The IRS scandal reached even Hawaii. But why worry when the IRS asks for a list of everyone who ever attended your events?

Honolulu Magazine's editor A. Kam Napier.

Photo: Adam Jung

The scandals have been piling up pretty deep this year, and its been strange to see Hawaii appear in two of them.

The whole world now knows that Edward Snowden, leaker of the information that the NSA has been tracking all our phone calls, was living in Waipahu before he dug out for Hong Kong. It was right here, in some unidentified government building, that he stuck a thumb drive into some computer and copied the files he released to the media.

But in that saga, Hawaii was just the setting. In the IRS scandal, some people who live here have starring roles as victims of government excess.

It all began with a sudden apology from the Internal Revenue Service for targeting the Tea Party and other conservative groups. Two of those groups are in Hawaii, making us one of 18 states where people seeking nonprofit status were harassed by endless IRS requests for documents and grilled with bizarre, if not illegal, questions.

How invasive did this get? One Mainland Christian group was asked to detail the contents of its prayers in its application for non-profit status. I guess this group has now learned that the solitary track of footprints in the sand is where the IRS left its side to leap onto its back.

The Honolulu Tea Party was asked to name every speaker it hosted, hand over copies of their speeches and even provide the names of people who just attended any rally it had held. Oh, and had anybody associated with the group—even members of their families—ever planned, or is now planning, to run for office?

Serious Big Brother stuff.

Naturally, by the end of May, the local Tea Party groups had joined two dozen similar Mainland groups in a lawsuit against the Treasury secretary and the IRS.

I hesitate to sum up events any further, because the revelations of wrongdoinghave been getting bigger, and going higher up the chain of command, each day. By the time you read this, we may have learned that IRS investigators danced in midnight circles around bonfires of Bastiat’s The Law and the Bill of Rights.

One anecdote that stuck with me: ABC News tried to interview people for an IRS story in the Cincinnati federal building where the targeting occurred, only to be followed by an armed guard the whole time. The reporters gave up, not wanting to freak out the source they had come to interview. Why the armed escort? No one on-site would tell them, but ABC was later assured by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that the officer hadn’t done anything wrong.

Yes, the same Department of Homeland Security we created a decade ago to keep jihadists from flying planes into our high-rises is now apparently keeping the homeland safe from reporters asking pesky questions. This gives “mission creep” a whole new meaning.

If the IRS scandal doesn’t bother you because you’re no fan of the Tea Party, enterprising agents of the state can always find something they don’t like about you. Remember the “The Human Torpedo?” That was the nickname given to Hawaii’s first tax-fraud investigator, Stephen Hironaka. I interviewed him for an April 1999 Afterthoughts in this magazine, not because of his legitimate success in squelching real tax fraud, but because of the way he’d spy on—his term was “spot check”—private citizens, profiling them by the cars they drove. If the driver and the car didn’t match in a way that made him suspicious, he wouldn’t hesitate to run their license plates to see if the driver had been paying his or her taxes.

And they would never even know they’d been “spot checked.”

So this Fourth, as you celebrate Independence Day, give some thought to the IRS, the NSA, the Benghazi cover-up, the Department of Justice targeting of reporters for phone taps. Can’t you just feel the freedom washing over you?

Did you know? According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, in D.C., Hawaii is one of the 10 worst states for high taxes on the poor.