Jared Kushner, son-in-law of of President-elect Donald Trump, walks from Trump Tower on November 14, 2016, in New York. As Trump and President Barack Obama met privately at the White House, Kushner strolled the mansion's South Lawn, deep in conversation with Obama's chief of staff.

In November, Kevin Drum warned that liberals needed to start paying more attention to Jared Kushner.

Looks like he was right:

There's a law that Congress passed after RFK was Attorney General that forbids family from serving in the Executive, but lawyers for Trump are expected to argue that as long as the President-Elect's son-in-law doesn't take a paycheck for his work in the White House his appointment would not run afoul of the prohibition.

Buckle up.

Who really lives in a bubble? The cosmopolitan residents of big cities or the tradition-minded residents of small towns and rural areas?

I don't know, and I'm not going to try to answer this question. I just want to remind everyone what the actual theory here is. The theory is that although country mice might not personally experience much diversity in their lives, they are saturated with it in the media. They know all about us city mice and how we live because they watch TV and movies, listen to music, and read magazines that relentlessly portray our lives and our beliefs. Nearly all of this media is produced by urban folks, and for the most part it presents cosmopolitan urban lives sympathetically and accurately. Even TV news gets in the act. The three network evening news broadcasts pull an audience massively greater than anything Fox News gets.

Most urban residents, by contrast, don't know much about small-town life because it's almost never portrayed in the media except comedically or satirically. They may think of themselves as open-minded and tolerant, but in fact they have little idea of how rural Americans really behave and are openly disdainful of most of their beliefs.

I'm not especially taking sides on this, just pointing out the actual argument that conservatives make. The "bubble" here isn't a question of whether you have a Somali family living down the street or have never traveled outside the US. The bubble is whether you have some genuine understanding of both American rural life and American city life. Conservatives argue that the country mice do much better on this score than the city mice.

Recently, the go-to argument from the anti-Obamacare forces has been about deductibles. Sure, 20 million people have insurance. Sure, most of them can afford the premiums. But what's the point if all it buys you is crappy insurance with a $6,000 deductible? As Nathan Nascimento put in National Review a few months ago, "what good is health-insurance coverage for middle- and low-income families if they can’t afford to use it?"

These crocodile tears would be amusing if they weren't so infuriating. Nobody on the right has ever been willing to support higher funding so that deductibles can come down. In fact, folks on the right love high deductibles. It puts "skin in the game." A combination of HSAs and high-deductible health policies is one of the standard bits of smoke-and-mirrors offered up by conservatives when you ask them what kind of national health care plan they'd like to see replace Obamacare.

But let's put that aside for a moment and ask another question: what are the deductibles under Obamacare really like, anyway?1 Here's the answer:

The average deductible decreased from $900 to $850 in 2016. And as you can see if we extrapolate from the figures in the table, it looks like nearly two-thirds of all enrollees had deductibles under $1,000. Only about a fifth had the horror-story $6,000+ deductibles that we hear so much about.

But that's not all. We don't have figures for how this breaks down, but my guess is that the majority of the people with high deductibles are the famous "young invincibles" who are single, don't qualify for subsidies because they're fairly well off, and don't think they're going to get sick. So they buy the cheapest plan they can, take advantage of the preventive care stuff they're allowed before the deductible kicks in, and go about their lives. No one in their right mind who had any kind of real health issues would ever buy a plan like this.

There are undoubtedly exceptions to this. There always are in a country the size of ours. I'm all for helping these folks out, but one way or another, that calls for more money, not less. Anybody who says otherwise is just playing with you.

1Hat tip to Andrew Sprung, who drew my attention to this table today.

Did Russian hacking during the 2016 campaign tip the election to Donald Trump? In the LA Times today, Noah Bierman and Brian Bennett have this to say:

The truth is no one knows for sure because the election was so close in so many states that no one factor can be credited or blamed, especially in last year’s highly combustible campaign.

This is exactly backward. The fact that the election was so close means that lots of things might have tipped the election all by themselves. The Russian hacking is one of them. Consider Bierman and Bennett's own case:

Extensive news coverage of the how the leaked emails showed political machinations by Democratic Party operatives often drowned out Clinton’s agenda....English-language news channel Russia Today...posted a video on YouTube in early November, for example. Called “Trump Will Not Be Permitted to Win,” it featured Julian Assange, the fugitive founder of WikiLeaks, and was watched 2.2 million times....U.S. intelligence officials say anti-Clinton stories and posts flooded social media from the Internet Research Agency near St. Petersburg, which the report described as a network of “professional trolls” led by a Putin ally.

Putin’s most tangible victory may have come last summer. On the eve of the Democratic National Convention in July, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) was forced to quit her post as Democratic National Committee chairwoman after emails posted on Wikileaks showed that supposedly neutral DNC officials had backed Clinton over her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in the primaries.

....In October, Trump similarly seized on leaked emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. They showed that Donna Brazile, a former CNN commentator who replaced Wasserman Schultz at the DNC, had shared a pair of questions with Clinton’s team before a televised candidates’ forum and debate....The leak showed nothing illegal. But it bolstered the idea that Clinton was a Washington insider who benefited from fellow elites.

....The most damaging leaks for Clinton may have been transcripts of excerpts of her highly paid speeches to Wall Street bankers, released in October....There were no smoking guns in the leaks. But they included her admission that her growing wealth since she and Bill Clinton left the White House in 2001 had made her “kind of far removed” from the anger and frustration many Americans felt after the 2008 recession. She also called for "a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future, with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it."

That's a lot of stuff! Does it seem likely that all of this, plus the fact that it kept Clinton's email woes front and center, made a difference of 1 percent in a few swing states? Sure, I'd say so. Did other things make a difference too? Yes indeed. But given how close the election was, there's a pretty good chance that Putin's campaign of cyber-chaos had enough oomph to swing things all by itself.

I'm a little surprised this hasn't produced more panic. In the United States I understand why it hasn't: Democrats don't want to sound like sore losers and Republicans don't care as long as their guy won. But what about the rest of the world? It's been common knowledge for a while that Russia does this kind of stuff, but their actions in the US election represent a quantum leap in how far they're willing to go. And there's not much doubt that Putin will keep at it.

After all, it worked a treat. And thanks to a gullible press and normal partisan politics, it'll keep working. The next leak will get as much attention as these did, and the one after that too. We have no societal defense against this stuff.

Yesterday I noted that the intelligence report on Russian hacking devoted an awful lot of space to RT America, the Kremlin-funded cable TV network. That struck me as odd since I don't think RT had much influence on the election. Shortly after I wrote that, I got this tweet:

And this email:

I think you underestimate the influence of RT on the Jill Stein and "Never Hillary" crowd among Bernie supporters. This is only one aspect of delegitimizing the center. A leftist progressive friend who works on Syrian refugee issues was really disturbed by how many on that part of the spectrum think Putin is just dandy.

And this from Vox's Zack Beauchamp:

The ODNI report focuses, to an almost surprising degree, on RT — the Kremlin’s international, English-language propaganda media outlet. The report contains several striking observations about RT’s reach, message, and proximity to the Russian government.

....According to the report, RT — as well as Sputnik, another Russian government–funded English-language propaganda outlet — began aggressively producing pro-Trump and anti-Clinton content starting in March 2016. That just so happens to be the exact same time the Russian hacking campaign targeting Democrats began.

....During the 2016 campaign, RT aired a number of weird, conspiratorial segments — some starring WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange — that cast Clinton as corrupt and funded by ISIS and portrayed the US electoral system as rigged.

Put this all together and you have a portrait of a sometimes Alex Jones-esque "alternative channel" that appeals to fringe elements on both the left and right and successfully hides its identity from them. As the charts from the ODNI report show, it's also one with a growing social media presence, even if the precise numbers in the report aren't wholly reliable. I still don't know whether this translated into more than a negligible impact on the race, but I thought it was worth passing along. It may be that RT is more important than I give it credit for.

The intelligence community released its unclassified assessment of Russian hacking activity today. However, anyone who was hoping to learn more about how they collected their information will be sorely disappointed. There's none of that at all. It's just a series of assessments, and you either believe them or you don't.

If you want to read the whole report, we have it here. Oddly, it includes a lengthy annex about the actions of the RT television network, which is a public organ of Russian influence. But RT probably played virtually no role in the 2016 election. The real damage was done via email hacking, and helped along by anonymous twitter trolls who spread ugly anti-Hillary memes. Placing that much weight on RT really makes no sense, and I don't know why they did it.

In any case, if you don't want to read the whole thing, the executive summary is below. The intelligence community seems pretty sure that (a) Putin directed the influence campaign, (b) he did it to discredit Hillary Clinton, (c) Russian military intelligence carried out the hacking and relayed information to WikiLeaks, (d) they also hacked Republican sites but didn't make any of it public, and (e) this all worked really well, so Russia will probably do it again.

Donald Trump, of course, brushed it all off. Minutes after meeting with the intelligence chiefs and hearing the classified version of all this, he released an obviously prewritten statement saying that lots of countries try to hack us; it had absolutely no effect on the election—zilch, Zero, NADA, NOTHING!; and from now on we shouldn't talk about any of this publicly because we don't want to give anything away to our enemies.

Seriously. That's what he said.

Hopper has become entranced with climbing lately. She loves the tree right near the patio, which gives her an easy onramp to the patio cover. She moves fast, though, and my camera is too slow to catch her most of the time. Clearly I need a new one.

The Washington Post reports today on the latest harangue from those hardline, deficit-hating, no-compromise, tea-party Republicans:

In a dramatic reversal, many members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus said Thursday they are prepared later this month to support a budget measure that would explode the deficit and increase the public debt to more than $29.1 trillion by 2026, figures contained in the budget resolution itself.

....“I just came to understand all the different ideas about where we go next,” said Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus that typically opposes massive spending increases. Schweikert now says he will probably vote for the budget resolution.

Here's the text of the budget resolution:

As always, Republicans only care about deficits when a Democrat is president. This time around they didn't waste even two days before they made that crystal clear. I wonder how many times they can pull this bait-and-switch before the public and the press stops taking them seriously on their alleged horror of the spiraling national debt?

Republicans want to cut spending on the poor and cut taxes on the rich. That's it. Deficits haven't bothered them since the Reagan era. But I have to admit that this latest U-turn is pretty brazen even for them. It was only a few short months ago that they were swearing on a stack of Bibles that debt was eating our nation alive and they would never, ever vote for a budget that increased the deficit.

But it turns out there was an asterisk. If the deficit is produced by cutting Obamacare taxes on the rich and repealing Obamacare benefits for the poor, then it's OK.

A little while back I mentioned that Google Translate had gotten a lot better overnight when they switched to a new machine-learning algorithm. Their voice recognition got better too. And so did its question-answering capability.

I was chatting about this at Christmas with my family, and we all decided we should test it. But not with anything boring. We know that Siri and Google and other digital assistants can find nearby coffee shops or tell us the weather in Berlin. How about something harder? The conversation then morphed into something about pencils, and my mother said she only trusted erasers that are pink. But why are they pink, we wondered? Why indeed?

So there you have it? Not only did Google understand me, even with a cold, but it also understood the question and provided a brief and precisely on-point answer, which it read off very nicely. Impressive!

Anyway, this strikes me as close to Watson-esque. The thing is, this is not as simple a question as it seems. It requires a fairly sophisticated understanding of context and meaning. And finding a source that matches the question perfectly is also pretty amazing. If my phone can do that, how long before it can drive a car too?

Hmmm. Congressional Republicans might have a problem on their hands. Here's one of the findings of the latest Kaiser Family poll on health care:

That little orange pie slice at the bottom—the one that says 20 percent—represents the number of people who support the idea of repeal and delay. About half the respondents don't want to repeal Obamacare at all, and another 28 percent, showing the common sense that heartland Americans are famous for, don't want to buy a pig in a poke. They may not be thrilled with Obamacare, but they sure want to see what's going to replace it before it's ripped apart.

This is the mantra Democrats should be hawking every second of every day. We don't want a white paper, we want to see the real replacement. Does it really protect people with pre-existing conditions? Does it really keep premium costs down? Does it really reduce deductibles? Is it really a better deal for most working-class folks than Obamacare? Does it really keep the Medicaid expansion in place? Does it really guarantee that no one will be worse off than they are under Obamacare? And will it really cost less than Obamacare?

Every single person in America deserves an opportunity to look at the Republican plan, compare it to Obamacare, and figure out which one is a better deal for them personally. No one should support any kind of repeal plan until they're allowed to see this.