Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 3, 2014

Hope, fear, and prospect theory

CBP and 8 year old

Photograph by Jennifer Whitney  for the New York Times

Chris Bellavita hopes the QHSR  will advance homeland security.  I fear too few will engage the QHSR to produce a sufficient effect. (Chris, btw bases his hope on evidence from the first QHSR while I deploy mostly worry and cynicism.)

Parents in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and elsewhere hope their children will find a better life in the United States. Others in Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District, Murietta, California, and elsewhere fear these children will unravel the rule of law.

Some Sunni Salafist fighters hope they are creating the foundations of a just and righteous society across what is now Northern Syria and Iraq, eventually the whole world.  Many Shia faithful and others fear they are numbered among the unrighteous to be converted or killed.

Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and many geeks still unknown, hope to bring the whole world into our hand-helds, opening exciting opportunities for meaningful relationships and untold riches.  Some of us fear our credit-scores — and more substantive identities — are being delivered into the hands of criminals, terrorists, con-artists, corporate voyeurs, NSA spooks and more.

The current Executive hopes to establish and consistently apply a rigorous set of principles and due process by which evil can be prevented and sacred values preserved (while sources and methods are protected).  Senators Paul and Wyden among others fear that any hidden act claimed as lawful is a hot-house of hubris where the very best intentions will be incrementally reversed.

They want to retire to the beauty of the shore or mountainside or river or forest or such.  The prospect of hurricane, flood, earthquake, and fire prompt some second-thoughts.

We are tempted — especially those of us in homeland security — to treat risk as something that might be measured as accurately as an average shoe-size… if only we can gather enough shoes.  Imelda where art thou?

But the risk that matters most may be imagined more than measured.  Big hirsute Hobbit feet may be the common heuristic, no matter how many ballerinas bounce about us.

Over thirty years ago Tversky and Kahneman showed us, “Decision making under risk can be viewed as a choice between prospects or gambles.”  It is how we frame our expectations that decide our perspective on risk and thereby determine what choices seem rational.

For most our frame-on-reality is decided by a reference point: typically an expectation of the status quo persisting.  If we are more-or-less satisfied (or psychologically risk-averse) we worry more over the prospect of losing than embrace an opportunity to gain.  This can apply even if we have little to lose.  We  tend  to over-weight the downside and under-estimate positive likelihood.

Unless we are risk-seeking. As is typical with criminals, terrorists, and teenage boys. By the early 1990s Tversky and Kahneman had found, “Risk-seeking choices are consistently observed in two classes of decision problems. First, people often prefer a small probability of winning a large prize over the expected value of that prospect. Second, risk seeking is prevalent when people must choose between a sure loss and a substantial probability of a larger loss.”

There are other variations of human rationality that do not square with “expected utility” (rationality according to economists).  But risk-seeking has particular relevance for homeland security.

When my great-grandfather returned to England from another colonial war and had the audacity to marry a Scots seamstress of another (Christian) faith, they faced the disdain of family and very constrained prospects. Perceiving only losses to lose, he and she set out for Philadelphia.  The risk was real, but seemed less to them than remaining in Newcastle.

Nineteenth century Newcastle had a murder-rate considerably less than today’s Tegucigalpa (10 per million versus 1690 per million).  Who says the parent of the eight-year-old in the picture above has not made a reasonable calculation?

Today I will purchase a lottery ticket with a small probability of winning a large prize.  Early this week a new Caliphate was proclaimed.  Was the self-styled Caliph’s reasoning all that different than mine?

There are too many whose reference point is a land-of-loss, especially loss of hope.  The risks they are willing to take — heroic or demonic depending on taste — are worth our notice, a touch of fear, and some courageous creativity.  If reduction of risk-seeking is a goal, our target is their prospective imagination.

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2 Comments »

Comment by Christopher Tingus

July 6, 2014 @ 7:31 am

Happy 4th of July to all law abiding citizens and to our nation and its Constitution!

To the obvious lawbreakers….

How dare this administration be allowed by any member of Congress to transgress the law – enough is enough and when I call for the House arrest of Barry Obama and his top cop, the illustrious AG as well as their cohort standing shoulder to shoulder in blatant lies at the “Benghazi attack” – I am not kidding. This lawlessness among those we elect with precious vote who take oath and solemn pledge to fulfill the duties and responsibilities and to enforce the laws of this nation and this breach of faith, treason, I (we) shout from the pews MUST be dealt with by House arrest and nothing less….

Really…40% of Fairfax County VA’s kindergarden class cannot speak English? Let’s get a fact check – really….60% of our southern border guards are making P&J sandwiches for kids illegally entering this country and being supported by this administration and the Mexican government while a brave US marine sits in jail and you the US Marines do not hop the fence or in fact just walk over the border like all else coming the other way and grabbing our Marine out of prison….”We never leave anyone behind” give us a break – the “Benghazi Massacre” but heck no, we can give up five terrorists to the enemy, enemy combatants, senior ops folks for a reported traitor…com’on now and You truly believe this nation is not besieged from within and from the top down….

There are tens and tens of thousands of foreigners who desire to come to this nation, get medically certified,m fill out and application form, wait for hours in from of embassies and for two or more years to even have an opportunity to gain entrance to this country and you allow these law breakers much like those who give us the finger and their visas have expired some five and ten years ago, still cannot grasp English, dice w/o license and in unregistered vehicles and could give a damn about US history…

From what I can see, You are at fault and you are allowing this “Chicago-Washington-Hollywood” charade to continue and You are allowing our nation’s laws to be broken and You will Not even demand that those elected to office and who have taken sworn oath to uphold our laws, law breakers themselves…be subjected to arrest and a court appearance so don’t complain when your kids are in overcrowded classrooms with kids whose parents are not even around or they are not citizens, yet the 62% of you funding everyone else and this nearly $18 trillion in outright deficit…well, no wonder we see China, Russia and India forging Agreements and we have become so dysfunctional and are no longer the beacon of hope, but the distressed who are so broke that folks can no longer afford the soaring property taxes which are required to service the lawlessness we see in every community and those in government telling Congress that they don’t care to answer their questions, government employees…

An America this 4th of July, never so corrupt as it is today…War looms head and we are so, so unprepared and our borders so open to everyone while those seeking legal entry are being dismissed for outright lawbreakers whether kids or our elected officials who could give a damn about law enforcement and our Constitution!

God help these once United States of America so increasingly dysfunctional in every way….

Health care workers muzzled by the federal government for talking out about the health and well being concerns of kids which have been allowed to cross the southern Mexican border and then the border to the US in busloads obviously with the assistance of Barry Obama et al and You allow this when You, too are obligated as citizen to protect this nation against law breakers and by the way to all US Marines, another reminder, your buddy sits in a Mexican jail while busloads of illegals pass his cell door daily on the way to being allowed illegal entry and while the US and Mexican officials have their dirty hands on all this…isn’t it strange how a US Marine, a brave warrior of our continues to be imprisoned for making a wrong turn…

Arrest Barry Obama, the AG and Ms. Hillary and if this nation’s military must intervene in operating this nation while trials are held to determine if any breach of faith, treason has indeed committed by these “elected” folks, then given how much our laws are being permitted to be overlooked and the checks and balances our insightful forefathers afforded us and cautioned us about the possibility of tyranny from within, maybe it is time for our military to enforce our nation for a period of time until our laws can be restored and adhered to by all, even those who wish to overwhelm us in every way with a deficit to reach $20+trillion federal reserve notes in another year or two!

The charade must be reigned in and if this self-serving Congress cannot reestablish law and order, then hop the fence, grab our fellow Marine and let’s begin to prepare and file criminal cases against any and all politicians so obviously take the laws of our nation and use them to harm our well being….

Enough is enough….Whether Putin is shirtless or not, he and others see the weakness and the divisiveness within and the lack of any real intent from Barry Obama et al to enforce our own laws, thus it is obvious to so many globally that those from tope down in the US could give a damn about foreign policy and the empty rhetoric spewed and with such a weakened US power, time for all those seeking our demise to take advantage…

This nation has become a hoax and with interest rates to rise just a point and the global reserve currency to replace the federal reserve note, just wait to see how poor you will be….these illegals being bused into the US, they will be returning gladly some day to their own countries where Life will be much better than here in such a corrupt USA!

Christopher Tingus
“Main Street USA”

Harwich (cape Cod), MA 02645 USA
chris.tingus@gmail.com

Christopher Tingus
“Main Street USA”

Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645 USA

Comment by Christopher Tingus

July 9, 2014 @ 9:34 pm

BTW, six times DHS Sec has visited Texas and not once with the Governor! Com’on fellas….enough is enough! If you cannot fulfill your pledge to your office and to your responsibilities, resign and this includes Barry Obama and his illustrious top cop, the AG!

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