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.

The Trump transition team has demanded that all politically-appointed ambassadors vacate the premises by noon on Inauguration Day:

The mandate — issued “without exceptions,” according to a terse State Department cable sent on Dec. 23, diplomats who saw it said — threatens to leave the United States without Senate-confirmed envoys for months in critical nations like Germany, Canada and Britain. In the past, administrations of both parties have often granted extensions on a case-by-case basis to allow a handful of ambassadors, particularly those with school-age children, to remain in place for weeks or months.

Mr. Trump, by contrast, has taken a hard line against leaving any of President Obama’s political appointees in place as he prepares to take office....The directive has...upended the personal lives of many ambassadors, who are scrambling to secure living arrangements and acquire visas allowing them to remain in their countries so their children can remain in school, the diplomats said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly on the matter.

I have to admit that I'm impressed with the creativity Trump has demonstrated to show he's a dick. It's all part of the plan, I suppose. Take every opportunity to demonstrate what a dick you are, and people will think twice before crossing you.

Donald Trump spent the morning tweeting about the passion of his supporters; Arnold Schwarzenegger's lousy ratings on Celebrity Apprentice compared to "ratings machine DJT"; his meeting with Anna Wintour and an upcoming meeting with the Condé Nast editors; and the fact that Mexico won't be paying for the wall after all.

Wait. What's this about the wall? Well, Trump may have said "Mexico will pay for it" about a million times, but it turns out that if you look carefully at the back side of his "Contract With the American Voter," he promises to introduce the End Illegal Immigration Act during his first hundred days. Here it is:

Fully-funds the construction of a wall on our southern border with the full understanding that the country Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such wall.

So you see, he was perfectly clear about this all along. You just had to read the fine print. Congress will pay for the wall and then we'll send Mexico a bill, payable on net 30 terms. This fits well with the Republican plan to "repeal and delay" on Obamacare. Apparently we're going to delay everything except those tax cuts for the rich. Those will be passed post-haste. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if they're made retroactive to redress the rich for the suffering they've endured during Obama's term in office.

The American economy added 156,000 new jobs last month, 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at a ho-hum 66,000 jobs—nearly all of it in the private sector. The headline unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 4.7 percent. Overall, it was sort of a blah showing, with 60,000 people finding new jobs and 120,000 people added to the unemployment rolls. The labor force participation rate stayed steady.

But there was also some good news: hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees went up at an annual rate of slightly more than 4 percent. That's excellent, and suggests that the labor market is starting to firm up. If the Fed doesn't get too antsy about this, it could mean that 2017 will see some pretty decent wage growth.

The Washington Post passes along the juiciest bit of the CIA's classified report on Russian hacking:

Senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow, according to U.S. officials who said that American intelligence agencies intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election in which Russian officials congratulated themselves on the outcome.

The ebullient reaction among high-ranking Russian officials — including some who U.S. officials believe had knowledge of the country’s cyber campaign to interfere in the U.S. election — contributed to the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow’s efforts were aimed at least in part at helping Trump win the White House.

Then NBC News got into the act:

The official agreed to talk to NBC News after the Post published leaked details of the review because the official felt that the details the paper chose focused too much on the Russian celebration and not enough on the thrust of the report.

Two top intelligence officials with direct knowledge told NBC News that the report on Russian hacking also details Russian cyberattacks not just against the Democratic National Committee, but the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department and American corporations.

....The report, on which Obama was also orally briefed, explains what intelligence agencies believe are Moscow's motives, including, in part, a desire to disrupt the American democratic process. But the intelligence analysts who prepared the report also concluded that the hacks were payback for the Obama administration's questioning of Vladimir Putin's legitimacy as president.

Tomorrow Donald Trump will get his own briefing on the CIA report. That oughta be good. And in other Trump-related news, we got yet another outraged tweet about cars today:

It's true that Toyota is moving production of the Corolla to Mexico. But here's the thing: they're moving it from Canada. This is not exactly breaking news, either: the Canadian media reported all this nearly two years ago.

Right now, about half of the Corollas sold in the US are made in Mississippi and the other half in Canada. When the new plant is finished, about half will be made in Mississippi and the other half in Mexico. Nothing changes. We're still importing the same number of Corollas. And the Canadian plant will be reconfigured to build more profitable SUVs and mid-sized cars.

Unless it infuriates you that we're importing some Corollas from Mexico instead of Canada, this is a nothingburger. On the other hand, if you just want to demagogue Mexico, I guess it's tailor made.