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Our national shame: a scarcity of basic office technology at the highest reaches of government

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    NEWSLETTERS

    White House Photo
    At least this guy gets a computer -- but it's in another room.

    Let's take a moment to say a prayer for all the unfortunate Obama staffers who had no idea what they were getting into when they decided to take White House jobs.

    This idealistic group of twentysomething youngsters spent the whole campaign plugged into their BlackBerrys and their Mac Books, devising clever social networking strategies that helped turn out the youth vote, and harnessing the special powers of advanced new robots to boost their candidate.

    The opposition struggled to keep up. First Hillary Clinton tried to make her Web site look like Obama's, and then John McCain tried the same thing, and eventually even Pepsi -- who wasn't even fielding a candidate this go-round! -- ended up with a logo that looked suspiciously Obaman. An assortment of political groups have tried mimicking Obama's use of these "message board" thingums and "user-generated content," with decidedly mixed results.

    In other words, Obama's people are far ahead of the pack when it comes to using communications technology in government.

    That's why it must be such a bummer for them to discover that the White House's idea of "high tech" is a working phone. It appears that the nerve center of our nation's government is about as cutting-edge as the receptionist's office at your local senior center. Here's the Washington Post's description:

    One member of the White House new-media team came to work on Tuesday, right after the swearing-in ceremony, only to discover that it was impossible to know which programs could be updated, or even which computers could be used for which purposes. The team members, accustomed to working on Macintoshes, found computers outfitted with six-year-old versions of Microsoft software. Laptops were scarce, assigned to only a few people in the West Wing. The team was left struggling to put closed captions on online videos.
    Apparently people's phones didn't work either -- those who were fortunate enough to even have phones. But wait, what's this? Fox News, issuing a much-needed "clarification":
    [F]ormer staffers said [...] the White House has everything a modern corporate office would — Windows XP, BlackBerrys, Outlook e-mail, plenty of laptops and lots of flatscreen monitors and TVs.

    "It's a shame if they're having problems moving in," said Theresa Payton, White House chief information officer from 2006 until this past November. "We began to prepare for the transition well ahead of the election cycle. Our aim was to leave it in better shape than we found it."

    Well, how absolutely weird! So are the halls of the White House overflowing with BlackBerrys and laptops or not? Did Cheney take them all, for sustenance?

    Most troubling, why is the leader of the free world talking on a massive grey phone from 1985?

    Future generations will look back on this moment as a turning point in American history, when we at last commenced our decline into well-deserved obscurity. A nation that cannot give its most dedicated public servant a decent hands-free headset is clearly too weak and stupid to survive anyway.

    Sara K. Smith writes for Wonkette and still prefers XP to Vista.