John Nance's ten outrageous problems in America

Communication is the key, according to John Nance, who was the guest speaker at City Club of Tacoma’s Aug. 20 luncheon program at the Sheraton.

Nance is the epitome of a jack-of-all-trades – a worldwide authority on the airline industry, network correspondent, pilot, best-selling author of non-fiction and techno-thriller novels, lawyer and former combat pilot.

The University Place resident spoke to an audience of 178 on the normalization of deviancy, a term referring to the human tendency over time to increasingly accept things that are clearly off course.

The Feb. 1 loss of the space shuttle Columbia – which disintegrated over Texas during its return to earth – is an example of this process.

The accident was, in large part, a result of NASA incrementally accepting greater and greater risks over time as they deviated from their basic safety philosophy. Tuesday’s scathing report by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board blamed the agency’s blunders and internal problems just as much as the piece of foam that struck the shuttle’s underside during liftoff for dooming the spacecraft.

“This is a methodology that leads to disaster,” Nance observed, noting that talking about what is wrong is the first step in affecting change to dysfunctional systems.

From a broken health care system to a collapsing airline infrastructure to the sorry state of public education, Nance tackled what he considered to be ten outrageous problems in America, offering his opinion on what needs to be done to turn things around:

1. Health Care: Describing the health care crisis in America, Nance said doctors are only getting to keep 42 cents out of every dollar they earn and that droves of physicians are leaving the field.

The problem, he said, is the insurance industry and a malpractice system that makes it cost ineffective for doctors to practice.

Nance recommended creating a big re-insurance organization that charges less than other insurance companies, so as to provide better control without mandating anyone go out of business.

He also suggested taking malpractice cases out of the hands of the law, because thanks to litigation over time, doctors have been scared into silence. Malpractice cases should be dealt with by medically-learned tribunals that aren’t litigants, he said.

“We must solve the medical problem,” Nance stated.

2. Criminal Justice: Nance said those who violate perjury laws must be vigorously prosecuted, or the nation’s criminal justice system will become a joke.

He pointed out that Pierce County’s November 2002 filing of perjury charges in connection with a 1998 murder trial were the first perjury charges in the county in 14 year. Five men were charged with changing their testimony in the trial for the 1997 killing of Ann Marie Harris.

“Folks, the system’s broke,” he said, predicting that if lying in court continues to be widely tolerated, the criminal justice system will be completely ineffective in 50 years.

3. Airline Industry: Nance, an aviation analyst with ABC News, said that commercial aviation is safe, despite the hard times that were exacerbated by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He said he worried that a culture of doing what’s most cost effective could return, and suggested there could be fewer American airlines in the future due to possible relaxed ownership rules having to do with the financial bottom line.

4. Ecology: The battle over the earth’s environment is being lost to hyperbole and hype, Nance said. Some people in the scientific community have trouble effectively communicating with politicians, the public and the press, he said.

The result is a polarizing message on ecology, with one side saying the problem is widely exaggerated and the other side taking a the-sky-is-falling approach.

“Global warming is real,” he cited as an example, noting there is no scientific doubt that the warmest temperature ever recorded have been done so in the the last decade or so.

“Where does it (the heat) go?” he asked, advocating a more even-handed approach to studying the environment. “That’s the controversy.”

5. America’s Public Corporations: Nance was critical of the heads of corporations who’s main motive is their own profit.

Corporations are made up of large numbers of people – and while the profit motive can’t be completely discounted – and they should be managed for the greater good, Nance said.

“We are the state,” he said of the American public corporation.

6. Hero Worship: Nance described the all-too-common fall of the American hero as “the wrong stuff.”

“We need to tell our young people you’re aiming at the wrong people to admire,” he said, a none-to-subtle reference to some of the morally questionable pop culture celebrities that young people often look up to.

This is providing the wrong image of America to the rest of the world, Nance complained.

7. Customer Service: “What do you want?” Nance asked, a mocking reference to the decline of customer service – or customer disservice, as he put it – in America.

These days, employees seem to be bothered by customers, he said, instead of doing their best to help or assist.

Nance joked that he wouldn’t be surprised to see a torch-bearing mob head toward McDonald’s one of these days.

8. Public Education: “We’ve been institutionalizing deviancy in education for 70 years,” Nance said of the declining state of public education in America.
“We must get back to quality teachers,” he said.

Teachers should be paid better, he said, and they should be dedicated to educating the nation’s young people so they can compete in the real world.

9. Foreign Policy: Describing what he called the myth of appeasement in foreign policy, Nance was critical of the Clinton administration in that it didn’t understand how to use military power. (Nance said he voted for Clinton in the 1996 presidential election.)

“We are in a dangerous world,” Nance said, noting that while some people may be against the war in Iraq, “sometimes the only thing respected is the hammer.”

Nearly two years after the terrorist attacks that claimed 3,000 lives, Americans seem to have forgotten we’re still at war, he pointed out.

“We’ve gotten too soft,” he said, “and we’ve got to look beyond our borders.”

10. Patriotism: Finally, Nance decried the political incorrectness of patriotism in America, where expressions of pride in the country are often met with snickering and eye-rolling.

“Our strength is our diversity. Such diversity must be under the auspices of a nation,” he said.

“I’m not talking about runaway nationalism, but patriotism.”