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Color me terrified

Forget the green-through-red terrorism alerts; now it's ET or IT.

February 06, 2011|By Andrew Malcolm, Los Angeles Times

So how are you getting along so far with no knowledge of what color terrorism alert you are living under? Does it affect your choice of activities or wardrobe?

As you may have heard, Janet "Man Caused Disaster" Napolitano has announced the end of the color-coded alert system that many people did not know was still around, if they ever understood it in the first place.

Napolitano is secretary of Homeland Security and a former governor of Arizona who's done such an impressive job in recent years of securing that state's border with Mexico against illegal intruders.

Napolitano is also the Obama administration official who said the government's airline security system worked according to plan back around Christmas 2009, when the underwear bomber's plot was thwarted by an alert Dutch tourist in a nearby seat who saw smoke seeping from the guy's crotch. No one knew until that day how integral alert Dutch tourists had become in the workings of the U.S. airline security system.

The old color-code system was hurriedly invented in those scary first few weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, to make everyone feel like somebody was really in charge. But in practice, the colors were always meaningless to the average eye or ear.

Quick! Without looking, which is worse: blue alert or green alert?

Anyway, once the alerts got up into the red and orange zones, who in a government bureaucracy in this day and age would take the responsibility for giving an all-clear back down to blue or green?

As a result, whether you knew it or not, you've been living at the orange level for almost five straight years.

In the middle of 2009, Napolitano ordered a 60-day review of the color code. Now, 566 days later, she decided to phase out the colors and go with another system that's already been given a nifty government name: the National Terrorism Advisory System, or NTAS (pronounced "NTAS").

Because of the administration's policy of opacity, Napolitano didn't really provide too many specifics.

But she did say, "Under the new, two-tiered system, DHS will coordinate with other federal entities to issue formal, detailed alerts regarding information about a specific or credible terrorist threat. These alerts will include a clear statement that there is an 'imminent threat' or 'elevated threat.'"

However, because a government acronym for IT or ET can so very easily be confused with information technology and the "ET" television show, it seems likely the two new threat levels will be called "OMG" and "RFI" (Run for It).

The old color system will be phased out over the next 90 to 566 days. Meanwhile, everyone should continue living orange.

Lining up behind the president

Who said vice presidents rarely do much useful or important?

Even Democratic Vice President Joe Biden was allowed into the Oval Office on Wednesday to help witness President Obama signing the New START missile warhead reduction treaty with Russia. This is a really big deal until the next one.

The nation's economy is obviously now in full-swing recovery mode because, as everyone knows, for this crowd creating jobs has been Job One from Day One.

So, there's plenty of free time now for nine other Washington types to help witness the presidential signing by uselessly standing around. (If a president signs something and nobody's officially watching, is it still really, really signed?)

In attendance were a handful of senators who always seem to show up for these things to get a free pen.

But also on hand were people who do actual work, such as Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael G. Mullen and Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Chu has a Nobel Prize, in case you forgot, just like the president. That makes two Nobel medals in one cabinet, Obama's Cabinet.

As veteran campaigners who know in their hearts that they should be the one sitting behind that presidential desk, John F. Kerry and Hillary Rodham Clinton instinctively staked out positions directly behind the signer to ensure they didn't get cut out of most news photos.

Top of the Ticket, The Times' blog on national politics (, is a blend of commentary, analysis and news. These are selections from the last week.

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