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Man who spent his life helping young people is now donating a kidney

By Allison Klein
Man who spent his life helping young people is now donating a kidney
David Simpson, left, and Madeleine Hernandez, 20, share a high five during the weekly dinner for young men and women in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Astrid Riecken. For use only with DC-KIDNEY

WASHINGTON - David Simpson is donating his kidney to a young woman today in Washington, D.C., because his tissue is a perfect match, and her kidneys are failing and slowly poisoning her.

Simpson didn't have to do it; he had an out. "They told me they'd write me a letter saying they rejected me if I wanted," Simpson said of his doctor.

But Simpson, 57, and his wife, Kathy Fletcher, 56, never take the easy way out. Their life's work has become pushing the boundaries of what it means to give to young people, many with dire life stories, who are just entering adulthood and are hungry or don't have a place to live or enough money for college or countless other needs.

It started around 2010 when they began helping friends of Fletcher's son, Santiago, while he was in middle and high school. But years later they had become so engrossed in helping young people that Simpson decided to quit his job working for a nonprofit that advocates for campaign finance reform to dedicate himself to it full time.

"We said yes - step by step by step - until we had eight kids living in our house," said Simpson, referring to last year, when all their beds were full. They convinced neighbors to take in another few young people they didn't have room to house.

In fact, the 20-year-old woman who is getting Simpson's kidney, Madeline Hernandez, lives with Simpson and Fletcher, one of four young people in their 20s, most of them artists, who are ​now part of their make-shift family.

But the couple also helps an extended family about 40 other young people through a nonprofit they created two years ago named, appropriately, All Our Kids, or AOK. And the world of people who assist and support the effort - with donated funds or tickets, time, an extra bed or a few dozen cookies - include friends, family and famous musicians like Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell.

"What we're doing is insane," jokes Simpson, as he tries to explain the tribe of young people he and his wife have informally adopted.

For Simpson, giving his kidney to one of his "kids" was a simple decision once he realized he was a match - an almost miraculous coincidence given the odds of about one in 10,000.

"Of course I'm going to do it," he said.

The couple's mission started when Santiago, then a student at Alice Deal Middle School in the District of Columbia, brought home a friend who needed a meal. One friend in need led to another and another, until Santiago's house became the go-to hangout spot in high school.

"We started establishing relationships with these kids and we realized there were things they weren't getting, not because of love but because their family didn't have it - clothes, bikes, lots of things," Simpson said.

As Simpson and Fletcher listened to their life stories, they figured out they could help here and there.

If someone needed a shirt, they'd buy one or give one of their own. If someone needed help filling out financial aid forms, or finding a lawyer or counselor, they could depend on Simpson and Fletcher. The couple also tried to give them undivided attention and guidance, and regular family dinners, which many had never had before.

A few kids started spending the night. One didn't have a home after his mother lost her job and she went to stay with a sibling. Another had lived with his grandmother who passed away. Yet another wasn't getting along with her parents and was living on friends' couches after her parents kicked her out.

Simpson and Fletcher are financially comfortable but not wealthy; as her day job, Fletcher runs an arts educational program through the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Their three-bedroom home in the Crestwood neighborhood of D.C. is warm but not fancy. But compared to the young people they were helping launch into adulthood - kids who had been without a safety net as they coped with the fallout of sexual assaults, violence, homelessness and other trauma - they had more than enough to share.

Plus, Fletcher grew up with nine siblings, 14 aunts and uncles and 74 first cousins in an Irish Catholic family on Long Island. So a house is not a home for her without some foot stomping, singing and laughter. She also has a deep commitment to civil justice and looking out for those who are vulnerable.

"I feel like we all have a shared responsibility in this world to take care of people," she said.

As word got out in the friend group and D.C. artists community, more kids started showing up - and hanging out, and staying over in a spare room. In the summer of 2016, Fletcher and Simpson encouraged several of their "kids" to apply to college, and they all got in.

"We were like, 'We don't have any money,' " Simpson said. "They have some financial aid but that doesn't cover costs of college."

Fletcher and Simpson talked to a bunch of friends who committed to giving money if they formalized what they were doing. So the couple created a nonprofit and Simpson left his job. They held some local fundraisers and some in New York. Fletcher was able to get cellist Yo-Yo Ma to donate VIP tickets to an AOK auction, and violinist Joshua Bell has performed at three benefit concerts for them.

Generosity such as that is the financial backbone of AOK, as Simpson and Fletcher are now helping to support 15 kids in college with either tuition assistance, a monthly stipend or both - and they give various other young people things as needs become apparent: computers, toiletries, shoes, advice. They also have started an arts collective with donated space where the young artists can get together and show their work.

The four young people who reside with them now mostly live in a converted garage and partially finished basement. The house rules include respect, kindness and honesty. They rarely have problems. Once their car was stolen by a guy who was living with them - but he left it four blocks away and never came back.

"The peer component is the most important thing," Simpson said. "They challenge each other to make good choices."

While Fletcher and Simpson have opened their home and hearts to kids for years, a kidney donation is a new level of giving.

Fletcher loves Hernandez as a daughter, too, she said, but she was hoping somebody on the list of potential donors other than her husband would be a match because she was concerned about the medical risk.

But when the news came back, and Simpson was medically cleared to be a donor, she felt like it was meant to be. She didn't want to fight fate.

"When it turned out to be him, it was like grace," Fletcher said.

For years, the family has been hosting Thursday night dinners at their home for anywhere from 20 to 30 guests, mostly AOK kids, as well as a group of Simpson and Fletcher's neighbors and friends who both support them and enjoy their energy.

This time, they hosted a big, tearful pre-kidney donation dinner Tuesday night as a send-off before Simpson and Fletcher went to back-to-back five-hour surgeries at Georgetown University Hospital.

Sara Pratt, a civil rights attorney who regularly comes to weekly dinners to offer guidance and support, was among those who showed up.

"I feel like I'm an aunt," said Pratt.

Pratt was joined at the table by a few neighbors and about 15 AOK kids ranging in age from 17 to 24. Dinner rules are to put your napkin on your lap and take seconds of the food. They generally go around the table and talk about things they're thankful for, or anything that's on their mind. Emotions are often laid bare.

One by one, the guests each told a story of how a friend brought them to this home for dinner either years or months ago, and they've been coming back since. Several choked up about how much AOK means to them.

"Sometimes I feel like I don't deserve this," said Chynajah Lewis, 20, a student at Howard University as tears streamed down her face. She explained how she met James Drosin, 21, who is a part of AOK, and how he brought her for dinner. After that, Simpson and Fletcher started helping to pay for her college when her mother could no longer afford it.

Many said they were initially confused about what AOK is. One of the first things they noticed was that Fletcher and Simpson are white and that everyone they are helping is a person of color. Simpson is upfront about this, and says he does not purposely seek out people of color, but he also does not shy away from using his "white privilege" to help others.

One of the women at the table said the first time she showed up for dinner the racial differences made an impression on her. "I'm not going to lie, I was like, 'Is this a cult?' she said, getting big laughs. Lewis added she felt the same way, but thought: "' Okay, I've got this, I've been to summer camp.' "

Lewis said her mother wound up in a domestic violence shelter with her younger sister, unable to continue paying her college tuition.

A woman who would identify herself only as Tahrook, 24, shared how she grew up in the slums of the Philippines. "I know how it feels to have nothing," she said.

Shaughn Cooper, 23, said a friend brought him to dinner for the first time at Christmas and Simpson and Fletcher gave him a present ​ to unwrap. "I hadn't gotten a Christmas present in years," said Cooper, who is now a freelance photographer.

Hernandez's turn to talk

When it was Hernandez's turn to talk at the dinner, she said she was "having a weird day." She had just come back from dialysis.

Her medical problems started in 2016, when a few months after she moved in, Simpson took her to the dentist, who tested her blood pressure and told her to go right to the emergency room. At Children's National Medical Center, she was diagnosed with kidney disease, and was told at some point she'd need a new kidney.

Things got worse over time. "She was getting sicker and sicker in front of our eyes," Fletcher said.

Over the summer, her kidney function dropped so much that doctors said it was time for a transplant.

Simpson started working the phones to find possible donors. He had a list of eight people, including some of her family members. Also on the list was his neighbor Paul Budde, husband of Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese at the National Cathedral.

The Buddes are close friends of theirs who have taken in several AOK kids who Fletcher and Simpson did not have room for, including two who are currently living at the Budde home.

But Simpson got the call instead, and now he and the young woman he thinks of as a daughter were waiting for one of his vital organs to become hers.

Hernandez shared her own story of meeting Simpson and Fletcher.

She had been fighting with her parents and sleeping on friends' couches when she met the couple through friends, she said, and they gave her a room in their house.

"I was having a hard time, I wasn't fitting in anywhere," she said.

She had problems trusting, and at first stayed in her room, begging off from dinner often. As time went on, she started to come to dinner and open up. She would not have imagined she'd still be in their lives three years later, she said.

"If you invest a little of yourself into people, you can get that back," said Hernandez, a student at the University of the District of Columbia.

Now she said they're like her second family. And despite her anxieties, Hernandez told the group, she was ready for go time.

"I'm taking David's kidney with me," she said with a wide smile.

Democratic candidates for Congress have raised a record-shattering $1 billion this election

By Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narayanswamy
Democratic candidates for Congress have raised a record-shattering $1 billion this election
Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, arrives on Capitol Hill on Oct. 5. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Aaron P. Bernstein

Democratic candidates running for Congress this year collectively raised more than $1 billion for their campaigns - a record-shattering sum that highlights the party's zeal to retake the House and Senate and underscores the enormous amount of money flowing into the midterm races.

The $1.06 billion raised through the end of September surpasses the nearly $900 million collected by Republican candidates for Congress in 2012 - previously the largest haul registered by a single party by this point in the election cycle, according to a Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission records.

And it is the first time since 2008 - when Democrats swept the White House and both chambers of Congress - that Democratic candidates for House and Senate have outraised Republicans in direct contributions to candidates' committees.

Republican candidates for Congress raised $709 million through September, FEC records show.

While the fundraising shows remarkable strength on the part of Democrats, it remains to be seen whether the financial advantage can translate to electoral success, said Brendan Glavin, researcher at the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, which analyzes historical campaign finance records.

"Money provided the platform and provided the ability to get out in front of the voter," he said. "We'll see what happens in the final step."

The figures do not include candidates who are no longer on the ballot or fundraising by outside groups that raise and spend unlimited amounts to support or oppose candidates. Candidates will continue to raise money until, and beyond, the Nov. 6 election.

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said in a statement Wednesday that this year's midterm election is on track to becoming the costliest congressional election cycle in U.S. history.

"We expected to see the numbers climb, as they typically do, but the astonishing spike in campaign donations is a solid indicator of the intensity driving this year's campaigns," she said.

Democrats are also raising more money than Republicans in donations of less than $200 typically viewed as a sign of grass-roots support. Democrats on the November ballot raised $205 million in such donations - more than three times the amount Republican campaigns pulled in, The Washington Post's analysis shows.

ActBlue, a fundraising platform for Democratic candidates and causes, has been key to the infusion of cash coming in smaller, recurring amounts this year. ActBlue allows donors to give on their smartphones, with the money transferred to the campaign committee the next day.

In the third quarter alone, Democratic candidates and liberal organizations raised more than $385 million from 8.2 million unique contributions through ActBlue, which is more than the amount of money donors gave through the platform in the entire 2014 midterms, the group said.

Since 2017, 4.6 million people have donated through ActBlue, and 60 percent of those donors were first-time contributors, most of whom then went on to give repeatedly, said Erin Hill, executive director of ActBlue. She said giving to political campaigns has become a way for people to express their displeasure over President Donald Trump.

"We're in this time of historic civic engagement," Hill said. "People are marching and taking all sorts of action - protesting, calling their representatives and making small-dollar donations."

Some of those who amassed the most were self-funded, meaning they gave a large amount of money to their own campaign.

The two Democratic candidates for Senate who have raised the most money so far this election are Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who raised a record-setting $61.7 million in his quest to unseat Texas incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who raised $28.6 million.

The two GOP Senate candidates who have amassed the most money are Gov. Rick Scott of Florida and Robert Hugin of New Jersey, who are both largely self-funding their campaigns.

On the House side, the candidates who have amassed the largest war chests so far are Democrat David Trone, in Maryland's 6th Congressional District - who gave himself most of the $16.5 million he raised - and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chairman of the House intelligence committee, who has raised $10.6 million so far for his reelection.

Democratic candidates who survived tough primary battles have received an infusion of cash in the third quarter as they stocked up for their general election fight.

This was especially the case in the most competitive House seats, where first-time challengers raised $3 million or more from July through September.

It is unusual for first-time House candidates to raise $3 million or more in one quarter, Glavin said. House candidates who raise such sums tend to be in House leadership, incumbents who are prolific in raising large amounts of money through mail solicitations, and those who self-funded their campaigns, according to a CFI analysis.

Yet in the third quarter of 2018 alone, several Democratic challengers in the most competitive House races posted remarkable hauls. Among them were $4.4 million from Scott Wallace in Pennsylvania's 1st Congressional District, $3.8 million by Katie Hill in California's 25th District, $3.8 million by Antonio Delgado in New York's 19th District and $3.7 million by Amy McGrath in Kentucky's 6th District.

The FEC data analyzed by The Post for this story included fundraising figures from some Democratic challengers to Democratic incumbents, mainly in a handful of congressional races in California and Louisiana. The Post's analysis focused on candidate committees' fundraising data as of Sept. 30 for those running for the House and Senate in the Nov. 6 general election.

Witness to a killing: Virginia man becomes target after testifying

By Wesley Lowery and Dalton Bennett
Witness to a killing: Virginia man becomes target after testifying
Kenneth Moore looks out the front door of his home in Virginia in September, 2018. He moved after witnessing a deadly crime. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges

RICHMOND, Va. - As his wife began taking the groceries into their apartment, Kenneth Moore stayed planted in the driver's seat of his car, turned up the music and lit a blunt.

Moore, 34, liked to imagine his dented, gray Ford Focus as an escape from everything he hated about Gilpin Court, the sprawling public housing complex where he'd lived for about two years, where gunfire often sent his family down onto their stomachs in fear, cheeks pressed against the cold linoleum floor.

As he relaxed this Sunday afternoon in October 2016, Moore noticed two men on bicycles roll up the street, passing his car. Then he heard a gunshot - glancing up in time to see one of the men fire four or five more times toward the high-rise about a block away.

Moore ran for the apartment, followed closely by his wife, who had been returning to the car for another armful of groceries when the shooting started. Later, they watched from behind a window shade as police put up yellow crime scene tape, and they wondered whether anyone was hurt.

Although he didn't know it at the time, Moore had just become a witness - possibly the only witness - to a homicide. Just up the street, a single bullet had shattered the front windshield of a Nissan Altima parked outside the high-rise. Carmella Winston, 52 - who went by her middle name, Diane - was struck in the head as she sat in the passenger seat. She died later that day.

Winston is one of more than 50,000 homicide victims in major American cities since 2007. The majority of those killings - more than 26,000 - have never resulted in an arrest, according to an ongoing Washington Post examination. In many, if not most, of the unsolved cases, police said investigators believe they know the killer's identity but can't persuade potential witnesses to cooperate.

While most of the departments surveyed by The Washington Post have struggled with low homicide arrest rates, Richmond police are one of the few exceptions.

Officers there have the highest homicide arrest rate of 50 major American cities surveyed, having made an arrest in 351 of 495 homicides - more than 70 percent of cases - since 2007. That outcome, police officials said, is the result of persistent community outreach that has helped encourage witnesses to cooperate.

"If I'm in the city, I'm at every scene," said Chief Alfred Durham, a former District of Columbia police officer who has led Richmond's department since early 2015. "People in the community need to see members of our command staff engaging and doing everything possible to close each case. . . . We're out there building relationships."

Detectives said they have worked hard to gain the confidence of potential witnesses by assuring that police will do all they can to protect them if they come forward.

The high homicide arrest rate is a marked turnaround from just 12 years ago, when Richmond was briefly considered the nation's murder capital because of its high rate of killings per capita. In the years since, current officials said, successive chiefs have overhauled the department, violence has fallen, and arrest rates have soared.

Richmond police acknowledge that they do not face the same challenges as their counterparts in other cities: Even in the mid-2000s, the amount of violent crime in Richmond was far below that in the nation's deadliest cities. For example, while detectives in Baltimore, Detroit and Philadelphia field about a homicide a day, Richmond police have one per week. Unlike their counterparts in Chicago or New Orleans, Richmond police grapple with almost no gang violence.

Still, police here have had success solving cases even in the city's most violent and impoverished neighborhoods, including Gilpin Court - the 780-unit public housing project named after Charles Sidney Gilpin, a Richmond native and famed black actor from the 1920s. There were 22 homicides in Gilpin and the surrounding blocks between 2007 and 2017. All but one of the victims were black. Police made an arrest in 18 of the cases.

Yet Diane Winston's death appeared to be the kind of killing police consider among the most difficult to solve: a bystander killed by an unknown stranger, the bullet most likely intended for someone else.

What the Richmond police needed to bring Winston's killer to justice was a willing witness. They needed Moore.

- - -

In a recent interview, Jean Redwood recalled that her family had just finished their Sunday dinner, about 3 p.m. that afternoon, and were en route to take a plate of food to Redwood's brother, who lived in the Gilpin high-rise. They'd parked on the street - Redwood, now 77, was in the driver's seat, and Winston, her daughter, was seated next to her. Three young grandchildren were in the back.

As Redwood began to pull out of the parking spot, she heard the gunfire.

She quickly ducked low in her seat, screaming for the children to get down. Looking up, she saw shattered glass inside the car. Then she glanced right and saw Winston slumped motionless against the passenger door. A single bullet had pierced the windshield and struck her in the left eye.

In a panic, Redwood jumped out of the car, hollering and crying in the middle of the street as two of her grandchildren, 4- and 6-year-old girls, hid horrified on the floor of the back seat.

"Nana, get back in the car!" her 8-year-old grandson screamed as he chased her into the roadway.

"Let's go to Ms. Debbie's house," the boy urged, as he guided his grandmother back to the driver's seat and directed her to a family friend's home around the corner, where they dialed 911.

Detective Jeff Crewell's shift wasn't supposed to start for another hour when he got the call at home and made his way to Gilpin.

A tall detective with black hair and sea-green eyes, Crewell joined the department in April 1999 after a stint in the Marines. He used to patrol neighborhoods like Gilpin and said assignments in the public housing projects are the most important part of his job. Out in the suburbs, policing often means breaking up high school parties and investigating car break-ins, he said. But in the public housing units of a big city, policing means saving lives and securing justice for victims of serious crimes.

Crewell recalled that by the time he arrived at Gilpin, a crowd had begun to gather around Redwood, who was still disheveled and distraught.

Crewell whisked Redwood away from the crowd and back to the police station, where he gave her a bottle of water and sat her in a conference room to be interviewed.

"I've got some news," Crewell told her after about two hours.

Redwood hung her head. She already knew what was coming. Her daughter hadn't made it.

Back at Gilpin, detectives had begun their canvass for clues and witnesses.

Richmond police had received multiple 911 calls about the shooting. Most were frantic requests for an ambulance - one with the desperate screams of Winston's mother audible in the background. But others offered crucial information.

"The dude that shot her, his name is Rabbit, his nickname is Rabbit," an anonymous caller told police minutes after the shooting. "Somebody is hiding him in one of them apartments."

Minutes later, the same tipster called with another lead: "His last name is Scott."

Within moments, detectives connected with the patrol officers whose beats include Gilpin. They knew Rabbit - George Trevon Watson Scott, 23, the middle of three children in a family well known in Gilpin. Court records show Watson Scott had prior drug-related convictions, but his family said he had no history of violence.

Now that police had a name, they needed to find a witness.

In Richmond, detectives' strategy when canvassing is to walk up to each home and ask whoever answers the door what, if anything, they saw. Because detectives go to every residence, they can assure anyone willing to provide information that their neighbors won't know it was them.

Sometimes the knocks elicit reluctant leads - a name whispered in a detective's ear or scribbled on a piece of paper. More often, they end with a simple insistence: "I don't know anything about that."

Then there are the times when a detective can tell that the person behind the door knows something, but isn't ready to talk.

That was Kenneth Moore the first time police approached his home on the night of the shooting. He and his wife told the detectives they hadn't really seen much. They were still relatively new in the neighborhood, and they wanted to avoid trouble - not insert themselves into the middle of it. Still, Moore made a suggestion.

Much of the initial search had been focused near the high-rise, where police suspected the shots had originated.

But Moore directed detectives to an alleyway. There, they found four shell casings, from a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun.

Moore, the detectives realized, knew more than he was letting on.

One night after the shooting, detectives returned to his apartment. This time, Crewell told Moore and his wife that the victim, an innocent bystander, had died. Was there anything else they could tell him?

Shameek Massey, Moore's wife, had answered the door. When Crewell was done speaking, she glanced back at her husband, who was standing behind her on the apartment stairs. If he was going to say something, they both knew now was the time.

For a decision that would change his life, Moore said he doesn't recall much of a complicated debate. His gut told him not to talk, to stay out of it and to mind his own business. But his conscience tugged at him. Talking to the police could put him in danger - especially if anyone in the neighborhood found out - but it was the right thing to do.

Yeah, he had seen the shooter, Moore reluctantly admitted. It was a man on a bike, in a black hoodie with a big white symbol on the back. He said he didn't know the guy but would recognize him if he saw him again.

It was a major breakthrough for Crewell, who said each case is like a set of building blocks. The tips and whispers are the first block, and finding and winning over a witness is the second. Now, he asked Moore to give him the third - come down to the station and look at a lineup.

Unlike some who lived in Gilpin, Moore said he didn't particularly dislike the police. Sure, there were bad cops, he said, and the department seemed to rally around their own anytime an officer was accused of wrongdoing. But was that really so different from the mind-set in the projects?

"They have their code, and we have ours," Moore explained.

Still, Moore said, he wasn't eager to visit the police station.

In the early 2000s, he was arrested after he helped his manager steal $5,000 from the McDonald's where they worked. Moore, who was a cook, said his manager had told him she needed the money because she was about to be evicted, so he had his brother pretend to rob the restaurant as the manager closed up for the night. It was a half-baked plan that Moore's brother confessed to as soon as police took him into custody.

All three were prosecuted and sent to prison, where Moore spent eight months behind bars. The felony "theft by an employee" conviction on his record has kept him out of work for the decade since. After five years on probation, Moore said, he took pride in no longer having to submit himself to the monthly check-ins.

Still, as Crewell stood in the doorway, Moore thought to himself: He hated all of these shootings. How would they ever stop if no one was willing to snitch on the shooters?

"I've got a mother; that could have been my mom. Or anyone I know," Moore said. "If something like this hit home, I would want somebody to talk."

Sure, Moore told Crewell, he'd come down to the station.

- - -

When asking a witness to identify a suspect from a photo lineup, Richmond police employ a "double blind" strategy - the detective showing the photos doesn't know which person in the photo lineup is under suspicion. Crewell said this is to ensure that witnesses truly identify the people they believe committed the crimes without any help, intentional or inadvertent, from the officers conducting the lineups.

At Richmond police headquarters, a detective showed Moore eight photos. Immediately, he narrowed it down to two who could have been the shooter.

"All of the dudes they were showing me were chubby, but (the shooter's) face wasn't fat," Moore recalled. "It was an oval shape."

He looked again, closer this time. The shooter was the man in photo No. 5, Moore told the police. The man he had identified was George Trevon Watson Scott.

The identification, from a direct witness, was what police needed to make an arrest. Watson Scott was taken into custody and charged with second-degree murder.

Although the high-rise apartments had security cameras, none captured the shooting itself, and investigators never recovered the murder weapon.

Police said they do not believe Winston was the intended target, but they have never publicly stated who was. Winston's family members said the rumors around Gilpin are that Watson Scott was shooting at another man - possibly the other man riding a bicycle - after an argument.

Watson Scott pleaded not guilty - he hadn't done it, his attorneys argued. Without the murder weapon or video of the shooting, how could prosecutors prove he did?

"In certain neighborhoods, everybody knows the people who are involved in criminal activity," said Capt. James Laino, who oversees the major crimes unit in Richmond. "The challenging part is taking that information, building a case and then having that witness be willing to testify in court."

Although Richmond police officials said they tightly safeguard the identities of witnesses who come forward before trial, if a case goes to court, any testimony becomes a matter of public record.

Moore and Massey were both asked by police to testify. And no, police told them, they couldn't do so anonymously. They would be in open court, sworn in under their real names, sitting across from the man they were accusing of murder.

They began to think about all of the ways their lives could change. Moore said he wondered, as he walked home from a nearby convenience store, whether the neighbors knew he was the witness. Massey said she spent late nights on the phone with her mother debating the pros and cons - what if they were threatened and had to move? They'd have to pull the kids out of school. Was it worth it?

"It wasn't that I didn't want to do the right thing," Massey said. "It was what could come afterward - having to move, my kids having to move."

Still, they found Crewell humble and attentive. They said they felt like his questions showed he truly wanted to solve the case. He always made sure their meetings were away from their home so they wouldn't be seen talking with police. And the department had agreed to cover Moore's phone bill, $60 a month, to make sure they could stay in touch with him until the trial.

When the case finally made it to court eight months later, Moore and Massey showed up.

- - -

On the morning of the bench trial, Redwood worried about the witnesses.

Redwood had felt joy when she got the call from Crewell two weeks after the shooting, telling her that he had found witnesses. But now she was scared for Moore and Massey - they had kids, too, didn't they? Would testifying put them at risk? Would it shatter their family the way the shooting had hers?

Winston had been the center of their universe, practically a mother to her 17 nieces and nephews and a best friend to her own mother. Born and raised in Gilpin, Winston had been living with Redwood in Henrico County, about 10 miles south.

She brought in modest wages as a nurse's assistant and a cook at McDonald's, but family members said Winston had fine tastes - her first love was her pearl white Thunderbird with red interior. She rarely drank, but when she did, it was sips of coffee-flavored brandy, never beer.

Outspoken and confident, she could be mean as a snake, her family members said. Her boyfriend recalls that most of their courtship consisted of him carefully calibrating each word to avoid a sharp, biting response.

In the days after the shooting, family members had gotten phone calls, texts and Facebook messages from people they had long known. It seemed everyone in Gilpin had heard gossip about the shooting and the suspect, but no one was willing to speak with police.

Now, settled into a seat near the front of the courtroom, Redwood eagerly waited to hear from the only people willing to cooperate with police.

Moore was the second person to take the stand. He told the judge he'd been sitting in his car, smoking marijuana, when he saw two men bike past him. When he heard gunfire, he looked up - there was only one man there now, the one in the black hoodie, and he was shooting toward the high-rise.

"Do you see the person that you saw firing those four or five shots down St. James Street in the courtroom today?" the prosecutor asked.

"Yes," Moore replied, before raising his hand and pointing to Watson Scott, who sat in a blue prison jumpsuit, sandwiched between his attorneys, just a few feet away.

Watson Scott's defense attorneys tore into Moore's credibility on cross examination. Could he really be sure of whom he saw? Wasn't he high at the time? And hadn't he hesitated during the photo lineup?

"He was definitely trying to play with my brain," Moore recalled of the defense attorney's questioning. "I did get upset but didn't want to show it."

Both legal teams recognized that the case rested solely on Moore. Massey testified, too, taking the stand right after her husband. But she hadn't actually seen the gunman's face - Moore was the only person who placed Watson Scott at the scene of the shooting, firing the gun.

Watson Scott's defense team insisted that Moore's view of the shooter had been obstructed and that he had identified the wrong person.

In court filings, they argued that eyewitness testimony is "the leading cause of wrongful convictions" and cited data showing that at least 602 people were later exonerated because witnesses were mistaken in their identification.

"We wholeheartedly believe that Mr. Watson is innocent, and it's a case of mistaken identity," Catherine Lawler, one of Watson Scott's defense attorneys, said in an interview with The Washington Post. She also said that she believes police pressured Moore to identify someone from the photo lineup and that he may have previously seen Watson Scott in Gilpin.

"They got the wrong guy," she said.

Watson Scott never testified, and his attorneys offered no alibi that would prove he was not the shooter.

"The entire case hinges upon this one witness, a convicted felon who's smoking marijuana, who's making an identification across the street with another person in between them, and that person has their hoodie drawn," Ali Amirshahi, Watson Scott's lead public defender, said in his closing argument. "That in and of itself is reasonable doubt to convict somebody of murder."

The judge ruled almost immediately, concluding that Moore's testimony was credible and that the prosecution had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Watson Scott had been the shooter. Finding Watson Scott guilty of second-degree murder, the judge sentenced him to 40 years in prison, with 16 suspended. An appeal is pending, and Watson Scott's family and attorneys still insist he is innocent.

Moore said he felt proud of himself as he gazed over to Winston's family, who had been present for the entire trial wearing T-shirts with her face printed on them.

Then he felt the fear rise up from his stomach. How would things change now that everyone knew he was the witness?

- - -

Moore's first impulse was to run - for his family to pack up and drive back to New York, where he'd grown up, where he knew he'd be safe.

He spent hours replaying the short trial in his head, scanning the faces of each person he remembered from the courtroom. As he walked the cracked sidewalks of Gilpin, he kept his head low, hoping to avoid eye contact with the people he passed.

But he had moved here to be closer to his mother, who lived in Richmond. Moving back to New York would mean abandoning her. And besides, he thought to himself, there was time to make up his mind. If someone was going to retaliate, it probably wouldn't be for at least a few months, right?

It took just two weeks.

That afternoon, Moore had driven to Tiger Market, a convenience store with a kitchen that fries takeout chicken and where many Gilpin residents paid their rent.

He had just gotten back into his car, a bottle of Dr Pepper and a bag of salt and vinegar chips in his hands, when a brick smashed into his driver's side window.

Moore looked up and saw three men approaching his car with more bricks and sticks.

He threw it in reverse and sped away.

"You didn't run them over?!" Massey exclaimed minutes later, as her husband relayed what happened.

"We've got to get out of here," Moore replied.

They called Crewell that day to tell him what happened and began the process of applying for housing elsewhere. They pulled their four kids out of school and started packing. By the next month, they had left Gilpin for good.

Today, Moore and Massey live elsewhere in Virginia, in a nondescript, sparsely furnished apartment with no air conditioning, no longer near his mother in Richmond.

The Richmond Police Department helped pay for their moving costs, but uprooting and relocating so quickly set them back financially. Several of the bedrooms lack dressers, and for the past few months, Moore has struggled to pay his phone bill.

He is still convinced that he did the right thing, even if he's frustrated with having to start over in a new city. But at least, he notes, his new neighborhood is quiet. He doesn't have to sit in his car anymore because there is nothing to escape - there are rarely any shootings.

- - -

The Washington Post's Kimbriell Kelly, Steven Rich and Ted Mellnik contributed to this report.

---

Video Embed Code

Video: Diane Winston was struck and killed by a stray bullet meant for someone else in Richmond One man witnessed the shooting and helped lead police to her killer.(Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)

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We know the GOP has at least one pre-existing condition

By dana milbank
We know the GOP has at least one pre-existing condition

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Milbank clients only)

By DANA MILBANK

WASHINGTON -- Is selective memory loss a pre-existing condition?

Embattled incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, stands accused of voting against health care for more than 100,000 Mainers. "To clarify," a reporter for the local ABC affiliate asked Poliquin recently, "did you vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act?"

"No," Poliquin said. "I voted for a replacement plan." He went on to claim he was "one of three Republicans in the country" against repealing Obamacare without a replacement.

Alas for Poliquin, the image on screen switched to the House floor, with a voice-over: "Poliquin did vote for the ACA repeal bill."

Indeed, Poliquin helped the American Health Care Act, the repeal bill even President Trump later described as "mean," clear the House by four votes. It would have weakened protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

It wasn't Poliquin's first attempt at airbrushing his past. His website, which in 2016 promised to "end Obamacare," has now struck that language in favor of "protecting our hospitals and health care access."

Poliquin is part of an elaborate attempt at a midterm hoax: Republicans convincing the public that they did not try to repeal Obamacare and its pre-existing-conditions protections, and that they would again not do so if re-elected.

With the Affordable Care Act hitting record support in a recent Fox News poll, and pre-existing-conditions protections remaining overwhelmingly popular, congressional Republicans have recently sought inoculation by introducing various proposals they say would protect people with pre-existing conditions. And they are vigorously scrubbing their records, according to archived versions of their websites reviewed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The website of Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., vowed last year: "Tom will work to repeal Obamacare, but won't stop there." Now "Tom opposed his own party's efforts at a speedy Obamacare repeal."

Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., in 2016, had a pledge: "I will do everything I can to repeal every word of Obamacare." That passage is now repealed from his website.

Their problem: Of the 73 incumbent House Republicans in competitive races, 67 voted at least once to eliminate Obamacare's protections for those with pre-existing conditions, according to an analysis by the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund.

This Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., revived the prospect of repealing Obamacare after next month's midterm elections, telling Reuters: "If we had the votes to completely start over, we'd do it. But that depends on what happens in a couple weeks."

Republicans and the Trump administration have done everything short of full repeal to sabotage Obamacare. Last week, the administration tapped to run the Medicaid program Mary Mayhew, a former Maine health commissioner who fought Obamacare's Medicaid expansion -- even defying a voter referendum.

The former hospital lobbyist boasted that Medicaid enrollment fell 24 percent on her watch. A federal investigation found that Mayhew's department didn't investigate 133 deaths of Medicaid beneficiaries with developmental disabilities.

Yet, embattled Republicans now ask voters to ignore the past. Attorneys General Josh Hawley of Missouri and Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia both joined a lawsuit that would eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions but now, as Senate candidates, they both claim to support such protections.

In Arizona, Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally said, "I voted to protect people with pre-existing conditions."

But on the eve of the big repeal vote last year, McSally reportedly urged her House GOP colleagues to get this "f---ing thing done."

Gone from the website of Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., is his boast that he "secured full congressional passage for the first time of legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare." In its place: "member of the House bipartisan task force to combat the heroin epidemic."

Struck from the website of Rep. John Carter, R-Tex., is his announcement that "I will not apologize for continually voting to delay, defund, and dismantle Obamacare."

In lieu of the promise from Rep. John Faso, R-N.Y., that "I will seek to repeal and replace Obamacare" is a claim that "John is working to reform our health care system with commonsense solutions."

Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, before: "Dave Joyce has fought to defund, repeal or delay 'Obamacare' every chance he's had, 30+ times." Joyce, now: "Dave has been a strong advocate in the fight against the opioid epidemic."

Similar cases have been reported in California, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Montana and North Dakota. This raises a frightening epidemiological possibility: Selective memory loss is spreading, and it has become a necessary pre-condition to run as a Republican this year.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

This column is CBD infused

By kathleen parker
This column is CBD infused

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Parker clients only)

By KATHLEEN PARKER

WASHINGTON -- As a new-product junkie, it was foregone that I'd swap a C-note for something called CBD, a cannabis extract promising relief from pain and anxiety, the twin banes of baby boomers recently awakened to the realization that, though their spirits be forever young, their joints definitively are not.

Lately limping, thanks to an old injury, and a few days shy of my next cortisone injection, I nearly leapt (or would have if I could have) toward the small spa table featuring CBD roll-ons and other attractively packaged potions. Call me a sucker, but I immediately embraced the sales pitch that this relatively new and wildly popular product could ease not only the ache in my ankle but make me feel a little breezier about life among headlines and deadlines.

Perhaps you've fallen under the CBD spell as well.

CBD, or cannabidiol (pronounced canna-bid-EYE-ol), is a non-intoxicating derivative of both marijuana and hemp. Marijuana has a much higher level of the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana that gets you high. Hemp has much greater levels of CBD, which doesn't have the mind-altering effects of pot.

In the past couple of years, CBD has become all the rage for non-stoners who want to feel better, too, sprouting a sudden industry of faddish-sounding supplements and CBD-infused products. Although CBD is technically a federally "scheduled" substance, several states allow access to CBD oil and/or high-CBD strains of marijuana. To date, marijuana is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia for recreational use; CBD is legal with varying restrictions in 46 states.

In other words, CBD may be the new gold rush. Stock forecasters such as the Motley Fool suggest that there could be a $75 billion U.S. hemp market by 2030. Canada is already well on its way.

Meanwhile, a goldmine of CBD products is available online, in grocery stores, and even perhaps from your local latte vendor. In a market where you can buy vodka-infused ice cream, why not a cuppa java to warm your bones and chill your mind? Other products include CBD-infused gummies, mints, mascara, vape pens, bath bombs and even a tincture for pets.

But CBD isn't just a fad. It's also medicine with the potential for multiple therapeutic uses.

In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first CBD-derived pharmaceutical drug -- Epidiolex -- to treat seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome in patients 2 and older.

This could be a breakthrough not only for patients suffering such conditions but also for CBD generally. The arrival of additional pharmaceuticals is challenged, however, by obstacles to large-scale hemp production needed for clinical trials.

Also standing in the way is the federal government's classification of hemp as a controlled substance.

This could soon change. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., inserted a provision in the farm bill to declassify hemp so that farmers can start growing it for CBD production.

In the meantime, everything else on the CBD market is pretty much a pricey game of roulette. There's no way of knowing what you're getting -- in what quantities or with what additives. A 2017 University of Pennsylvania study found "a lack of regulation and oversight" on CBD extracts and reported that 70 percent of CBD products sold online were mislabeled.

(BEG ITAL)Step right up!(END ITAL)

For now, CBD is treated the same way dietary supplements are. Whereas drugs have to be proved "safe and effective" before they can be marketed, dietary supplements can go to market without any such evidence. The burden of proof falls on the FDA to prove that something is (BEG ITAL)not(END ITAL) safe and effective.

CBD has been gladly received despite its having avoided serious scientific scrutiny. Most will tell you that "it's fine," and I hope it is. But the truth is, we don't know what quantities are appropriate or what other effects CBD might produce. The Army recently banned all CBD oils.

In essence, the public is serving as the guinea pig for a substance that hasn't been comprehensively tested, while enriching not a few entrepreneurs who saw consumers like me coming. Skeptics, meanwhile, wonder whether it makes sense to make public health policy through an agriculture bill.

I can't report yet whether my investment has paid off in pain relief. Before my CBD had a chance to act, I headed to the orthopedist's office for a drug that is both safe and effective. Cortisone may be a serious pain -- (BEG ITAL)ouch!(END ITAL) -- but it seriously works.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Time to revive antitrust?

By robert j. samuelson
Time to revive antitrust?

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON COLUMN

(Advance for Monday, Oct. 22, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Samuelson clients only)

By ROBERT J. SAMUELSON

WASHINGTON -- Competition is dying. That's the latest complaint against American business. We have too many super-sized firms, excessively large and unnaturally profitable. Dubious mergers, permitted by toothless antitrust laws, boost companies' market power and squash rivals. The lifeblood of a dynamic economy is competition; its erosion -- if true -- would be a momentous event.

But is it true? Let's see.

Superficially, there's ample corroborating evidence. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple and some other tech firms are massive and have dominant market positions in their chosen fields. Google -- to take one obvious example -- has about 90 percent of the internet search market.

Mergers and acquisitions among large firms are also common, with antitrust laws providing only limited restraint. Just recently, the Justice Department (which shares antitrust enforcement with the Federal Trade Commission) approved the $69 billion healthcare merger between CVS and Aetna. Earlier, Justice challenged the $85 billion merger between Time Warner and AT&T, but a federal court backed the companies.

A number of studies indicate that economic consolidation -- fewer firms providing goods and services -- is occurring in many industries. The best-known report came in 2016 from President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). It found that all U.S. corporate mergers and acquisitions totaled about $2.5 trillion in 2015, "the highest amount in a year on record." At the same time, rates of business startups have dropped by almost 50 percent from 1977 to 2012, the CEA noted.

So, it seems, the economy is increasingly ruled by older and more mature firms. Just what has caused this is an unsettled question, but some entrepreneurs may be deterred by the growing market power of established companies. Barriers to entry may have risen. "Antitrust policy and practice ... have been too permissive," writes economist John Kwoka of Northeastern University, a critic of present policy.

The Obama CEA reached a similar conclusion. "Competition may be decreasing in many economic sectors," it said. "When there is little or no competition, consumers are made worse off if a firm uses its market power to raise prices, lower quality for consumers, or block entry by entrepreneurs."

But you should be skeptical. The explanation is a bit too pat. For example, economic consolidation may reflect superior firms squeezing out inferior rivals. If surviving firms have so much market power, why didn't they raise prices more often? From 1990 to 2017, consumer price increases averaged only 2.4 percent annually; since 2013, the average was even lower, 1.4 percent. Other forces seem to determine inflation.

The economy may -- or may not -- have become less competitive in recent decades, but it's clearly more competitive over a longer period -- say 1970 to the present. During these years, the economy experienced three huge competitive jolts from: (a) foreign competition; (b) deregulation -- air travel, oil and gas production, television (the rise of cable), telephone service; and (c) personal computers and the internet.

Competition's benefits were enormous. As late as 1980, the Big Three (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) dominated car sales. Now, 15 or more vehicle manufacturers compete on quality and price. In the 1960s, NBC, CBS and ABC owned the airwaves; cable customers today can view dozens of channels. Consumer choice has expanded dramatically.

Similarly, before airline deregulation, the Civil Aeronautics Board set fares and limited airlines' flights between various cities. Abolishing the CAB in 1978 reduced fares and increased flights. The average domestic fare was $344 in 2016, about half the comparable figure of $616 in 1979 (both in inflation-adjusted 2016 dollars), writes Robert W. Poole Jr. in Reason magazine. Over the same period, the number of annual domestic passengers rose from 317 million to 849 million.

As for cyber companies, they merit special treatment. The major problems involve the effects of technology on society more than the industry's competitive structure. Can we protect the country from disruptive cyberattacks? What privacy rules should we adopt? Can we monitor the internet to prevent lies without crippling free speech? These are all very hard questions.

None of this justifies all mergers and acquisitions. Many don't make sense. Wasteful and inefficient, they reflect executive overconfidence, ambition or self-interest (bigger companies usually mean bigger executive pay packages). But government is ill-equipped to make these judgments. In its clumsy way, the market is a better disciplinarian. If companies become too big or diversified, investor pressures will push for changes. Antitrust policy should remain modest, concentrating on "horizontal" transactions where a company buys a direct competitor.

What this debate is ultimately about is politics, not economics. The object is to lay blame for the economy's ills at the doorstep of corporate America, justifying tougher antitrust and competitive regulations. In practice, this would amount to an "industrial policy" favoring and disfavoring different companies and industries. It's a path best not taken.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

The Trump administration is also punishing legal immigrants. Here's how.

By catherine rampell
The Trump administration is also punishing legal immigrants. Here's how.

THE MILLENNIAL VIEW

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Rampell clients only)

By CATHERINE RAMPELL

Many people assume that the Trump administration's immigration agenda is about punishing the undocumented. But for a taste of how it is punishing (BEG ITAL)legal(END ITAL) immigrants -- and their U.S.-citizen families -- consider the case of Maria, a doctor who came to California legally from Mexico.

The first thing you need to know is that when her first child was born, five years ago, Maria had trouble breastfeeding.

Her medical training had taught her how important good nutrition is for newborns. But reading textbooks and treating patients didn't help her when her (BEG ITAL)own(END ITAL) baby wouldn't latch, or when breastfeeding was painful, or she couldn't produce enough milk.

Maria was far from home. She didn't have anyone nearby she could turn to for advice. Worse, her marriage was deteriorating. She worried how she'd support a child on her own since her Mexican credentials didn't authorize her to practice medicine in the United States.

"I was here alone," said Maria, who spoke to me (both for this column and a PBS "NewsHour" segment) on the condition that I not disclose her last name because she fears retaliation from immigration authorities. "No family, no friends."

Salvation came from the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which offered lactation support and, later, nutritional and parenting guidance.

"To receive that call every week and [have them] tell me, 'Oh, just keep trying. You can do this. If you have another question you can call us' -- it was a lot of help," she recalled.

Maria eventually divorced. Two years ago, she married a native-born U.S. citizen who sponsored her for a green card. This past summer the family welcomed a baby girl.

Within days, though, the newborn lost a frightening amount of weight. Maria was again having trouble producing enough milk. Her pediatrician recommended enrolling in WIC, which would provide free formula.

But this time, Maria didn't apply.

"We decided we didn't want to try," she said, "because it will be a problem for my residency."

She'd heard -- from friends, from the news -- that the Trump administration might kick her out of the country if her family used any anti-poverty benefits. It didn't matter that her baby (like her older daughter, and her husband) is a U.S. citizen, legally entitled to such services. Maria feared that any help she sought for her children might threaten her own ability to stay here.

And she had reason to worry.

From his earliest days in office, President Trump has sought to reinterpret -- that is, massively expand -- something called the "public charge" rule. It's a relatively vague part of federal law used to screen whether an immigrant is likely to be financially self-sufficient or end up on the dole.

Under long-standing federal policy, this rule primarily meant seeing whether more than half of an immigrant's income came from cash welfare assistance.

But based on multiple, confusing, ever-changing, leaked proposals, the Trump administration has long wanted to multiply the list of red flags. Sometimes Head Start and the Children's Health Insurance Program were listed in a draft; sometimes not. Sometimes if a U.S.-citizen child was on Medicaid, that could disqualify the immigrant parent; sometimes not.

By the time the administration published its official proposal for public comment last week, the rule -- although still harsher than current policy -- had narrowed significantly. Meanwhile, fear and confusion have already infiltrated immigrant communities.

The current proposal, for instance, no longer treats WIC as potentially disqualifying for immigrants. But Maria is still unwilling to enroll her infant. "Everything is changing and this year is OK, but maybe next year is not OK," she said.

Over recent months, health-care providers and social workers around the country have told me similar stories about immigrants asking to remove themselves or their U.S.-citizen children from food stamps, health records, and other safety-net programs that they're legally eligible for, and that won't actually threaten anyone's immigration status.

The Trump administration declined a request for an interview, but it's hard not to wonder whether this chilling effect was deliberate. At the very least, it was predictable.

This is not just a bleeding-heart story. For all the Trump administration's rhetoric about saving public dollars, it's also likely fiscally backward. Families are pulling their kids out of safety-net programs that we know turn children into better-educated, more productive taxpayers, who are less likely to need public services in adulthood.

Not to mention the risks these children face if an expanded public charge rule results in more families fractured across borders.

"Who," Maria asked, "is going to raise my kids?"

Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

The hidden costs of the GOP's deficit two-step

By e.j. dionne jr.
The hidden costs of the GOP's deficit two-step

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

(Advance for Monday, Oct. 22, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Dionne clients only)

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

WASHINGTON -- A truly gifted con artist is someone who pulls off the same scam again and again and keeps getting away with it.

Say what you will about Republicans and conservatives: Their audacity when it comes to deficits and tax cuts is something to behold, and they have been running the same play since the passage of the Reagan tax cuts in 1981.

Republicans shout loudly about how terrible deficits are when Democrats are in power -- even in cases when deficits are essential to pulling the nation out of economic catastrophe, as was the case at the beginning of President Obama's first term.

But when the GOP takes control, its legions cheerfully embrace Dick Cheney's law and send deficits soaring. Recall what President George W. Bush's vice president said in 2002 justifying the 2003 tax cuts: "Reagan proved deficits don't matter."

Deficits don't matter if they would impede handing out tax benefits to corporations and the affluent. But they put us "on the brink of national bankruptcy" and threaten "a debt crisis," as House Speaker Paul Ryan put it in 2011, when Democrats want to finance programs for the middle class or the poor.

Republicans know one other thing: Their deception will work as long as neutral arbiters -- in the media and think tanks along with those who genuinely care about deficits -- fail to call it out.

Sure, there has been some tut-tutting about last week's announcement that the deficit had risen to $779 billion in 2018, up from $666 billion in 2017. This is not the sort of thing that unified Republican government was supposed to produce, especially at a moment of sustained economic growth.

And for now, the Republicans' absurd claim that their $1.5 trillion corporate tax cut last year had nothing to do with this has encountered considerable derision.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., even gave Democrats the gift of saying that the problem -- "the real drivers of the debt" -- lay in spending for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Democrats always say the Republican game plan is to use deficits to cut the heart out of our social insurance system. There it was in black and white.

But the real test will come when Republicans lose power. Does anyone doubt that with Democrats in charge, the promiscuous tax cutters will be reborn yet again as fiscal scolds? They'll dust off those old Ryan speeches and call for steep spending cuts. Will voices from the policy and financial establishments fall in line, as so many did during the Obama years, and say, yes, let's be fair here, the Republicans have a point about the deficit?

If this were just about politics and had no serious consequences to the country, we might write off the trickery as part of our now normal dysfunction. But the underlying effect of the GOP's deficit two-step poses an even greater hazard than the deficits themselves.

Earlier this month, Moody's Investors Services issued a remarkable report warning that rising economic inequality will "impact the U.S.'s credit profile through multiple rating factors, including economic, institutional and fiscal strength." They add that "income inequality could negatively affect economic growth and its sustainability."

The dry language lacks the drama of, say, "Workers of the World, Unite," but that is the point: Here is a capitalist rating service with an interest in capitalism's success warning that economic inequality is bad for the system itself.

According to the report, the GOP's 2017 tax cut will "contribute to the widening of the U.S.'s inequality by exacerbating income and wealth concentration."

Inequality "lowers GDP growth by depriving lower-income households of the ability to stay healthy and accumulate both physical and human capital, including underinvestment in education, which results in lower labor productivity in the economy," according to the report.

Inequality is also self-reinforcing. As the report observes, "politically empowered high-income earners will likely resist higher, more progressive taxation."

And you can't say that this is a global thing. "The U.S.," the report notes, offering a pile of persuasive data, "stands out for particularly high inequality." As for the debt, Moody's concludes that inequality "coincides with a deteriorating fiscal outlook."

So here is my plea to the honest deficit hawks out there: Please face up to how right-wing policies are doubly damaging to national solvency. They raise deficits by reducing revenues. But they also endanger us by aggravating inequalities that themselves imperil sustainable budgets and a growing economy. This is worse than a swindle. It's a dangerous mistake.

E.J. Dionne's email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

If Trump never fails to infuriate, Clinton consistently disappoints

By ruth marcus
If Trump never fails to infuriate, Clinton consistently disappoints

RUTH MARCUS COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Normally advance for Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018.)

(For Marcus clients only)

WRITETHRU: Tweaking quotes from Clinton's CBS interview in 8th-13th grafs.

By RUTH MARCUS

WASHINGTON -- Between the man who is president and the woman who ran against him, there is, for me, no contest; Hillary Clinton would have been a far better president than Donald Trump. But both Trump and Clinton, in their own trademark ways, stepped in it again this week when it comes to women.

Trump's comments -- describing Stormy Daniels as "Horseface" -- are the more offensive if for no other reason than that he is the president, and presidential words carry extra weight. Yet Clinton's comments -- insisting that her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky did not constitute an abuse of power because Lewinsky, then 22, "was an adult" -- are the more painful because she could have, should have done better.

Trump played to piggish type with his comment about Daniels, the porn actress who was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump. This was not a spur-of-the-moment utterance, it was a tweet about a judge's ruling in Trump's favor in a defamation suit filed by Daniels: "Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer," Trump wrote.

"Horseface" now joins the panoply of Trump's greatest sexist hits: "Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?" (Carly Fiorina). "Face of a pig" (Gail Collins). "Fat ugly face" (Rosie O'Donnell). "Blood coming out of her wherever" (Megyn Kelly). That this is not anywhere near the complete list tells you everything you need to know about Trump's unrelenting offensiveness.

This far into the administration, it is folly to expect some version of presidential Trump to emerge. Indeed, just two days before "Horseface," there was Trump on "60 Minutes," behaving in a way that is more subtle but also more chilling. At one point in the interview, Leslie Stahl recounts Christine Blasey Ford's searing testimony about the indelible laughter of Brett Kavanaugh and his friend. Trump shrugs it off, literally. His shoulders rise. He tilts his head in one direction, then another. "OK fine," he says. Whatever.

"I watched you mimic her and thousands of people were laughing at her," Stahl told Trump. She invited regret; the president responded with unadulterated callousness. "The way now-Justice Kavanaugh was treated has become a big factor in the midterms. Have you seen what's gone on with the polls?" And, the ultimate in Trumpian instrumentalism: "It doesn't matter. We won."

Once we scoffed at Bill Clinton for being the feel-your-pain president. Now we have a president who is only capable of feeling the pain of those who are similarly aggrieved.

Speaking of Bill Clinton, there was his wife on CBS' "Sunday Morning," being asked about workplace conduct in the clarifying light of the #MeToo movement. "In retrospect, do you think Bill should've resigned in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal?" asked correspondent Tony Dokoupil.

Clinton, without hesitation: "Absolutely not."

Dokoupil: "It wasn't an abuse of power?"

Clinton: "No, no."

Dokoupil: "There are people who look at the incidents of the '90s and they say, a president of the United States cannot have a consensual relationship with an intern, the power imbalance is too great."

Clinton, interjecting mid-sentence: "Who was an adult. But let me ask you this, where's the investigation of the current incumbent against whom numerous allegations have been made and which he dismisses denies and ridicules?"

(BEG ITAL)Who was an adult(END ITAL). How can she say that, as if that is relevant in any way? Lewinsky's technical adulthood is no defense for Bill Clinton's behavior -- in the workplace, as her superior (not to mention president), as a man old enough to be her father. And whatever the reasons for Hillary Clinton's instinctive defense of her husband's behavior then, her summary dismissal of it now diminishes her claim to feminism.

Would it not be possible for her to choke out something like: "We've all had some time to think about this and, yes, this was unacceptable workplace behavior. I don't think a president who was elected by the country should have resigned over it, but I also think this conduct was seriously wrong."

But this is not, it never has been, in Hillary Clinton's emotional repertoire. She does not cede a millimeter; like Trump, she is allergic to apology. Like Trump, she is prone to whataboutism. If what Bill Clinton did was wrong, why does it matter if what Trump has done is wronger, if indeed it was? Whataboutism is an argument for losers, whichever side deploys it.

And so we are left with this depressing juxtaposition: A president who never hesitates to stoop in demeaning women. And a should've-been-president who is a champion for women except those mistreated by her husband. If Trump never fails to infuriate, Clinton consistently disappoints.

Ruth Marcus' email address is ruthmarcus@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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