You are no longer allowed to look at Mount Rushmore.

Dirty political tricks are finally starting to affect normal people, and I couldn't be more excited about it.

Because Republicans won't pass a bill to fund the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration decided to "make life as difficult for people as we can" and has barricaded public monuments, national parks, views of Mount Rushmore (you can't even pull over to the side of the road to take a picture of it - see picture below), and more recently attempted to block access to the ocean in Florida. That doesn't much sound like the "hope and change" we were sold on. To me, it sounds like politics as usual - maybe worse than we've ever seen before.

For years, the American people have lost more and more freedom and prosperity to a type of tyrannistic government that looks very similar to the government that America was founded to escape from in the first place, but it hasn't really affected the average, every day person... until now.

Now, the Obama administration has even decided to block access to public property that isn't actually funded by the government.

"You do have to wonder about the wisdom of an organization that would use staff they don't have the money to pay to evict visitors from a park site that operates without costing them any money."

This week we also saw the Affordable Care Act exchanges launch. Americans finally began to see first-hand that government healthcare plans are costing 2-4x more than their existing plans with less coverage, and people are pissed.

The government is starting to interfere with people's daily lives, and Americans are finally starting to wake up. I just hope we do something about it before it's too late.

Eliminating the need for politics through the church

I tend to stay away from religion and politics here, but this is something that's been on my mind lately and I wanted to share it.

Recently I ran into my former (now-retired) voice teacher from high school, Bob, at a coffee shop. I was unaware in high school, but as we chatted, it became clear to me that he is a hardcore democrat. We began talking politics, as I was curious as to why he felt the way he does. He explained that Republicans are out-of-touch rich people who don't know how hard the less-fortunate have it (he lumped himself into that category).

I can't totally disagree with that.

I clarified that the main reason for his beliefs is that he feels we should take care of the less-fortunate in our country.

I don't disagree with that either.

But I see a solution that lives outside the realm of politics. Unfortunately, I think that only a small fraction of people agree with me, and pessimistically I realize that my solution is quite unrealistic in the world in which we live. But it doesn't hurt to be an idealist, does it?

For this post, we'll assume the main idealogical difference that people have is the method in which we as a society ensure that everyone has "enough" and that no one slips through the cracks.

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A couple months ago, my church decided to raise $500,000 in one weekend. They felt called to raise the money to give it away (100% would go to 50 partners, both locally and globally, with not a penny kept by the church). We blew well past the $500,000 mark, raising over $800,000 in just a few weeks. Among other things, this money went to keep after school programs for kids open during the summer, to assist a women's shelter, and to the Orange County Food Bank whose stock levels were running at 40%. (You can find the full list of partners here.) And this campaign was above and beyond the normal outreach program at my church.

Say what you will about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but no one can argue that this is such an amazing display of what the church was intended to be for the world - a beacon of light, and a community of people who love and serve the world around them.

Of course my church is blessed with the resources to be able to pull off a major campaign like this, but the reality is that far too many churches don't even try to impact their world in the same way. And this is just one of the many reasons the church gets a bad rap today.

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In a perfect world where the church serves those in need around them in the same way my church strives to do, I can't say we'd have less poverty, but I do know that the government wouldn't be forced to step in. Everyone wants to help those in need; it's just the method over which we tend to argue. I think that people should be responsible for themselves, and that it isn't the government's job to take care of anyone. But this doesn't mean I don't think we shouldn't take care of the less fortunate - I do! But I believe that this is the role of the church, private organizations, and the individual.

Of course, we live in a world where people are too focused on themselves and many churches barely have enough money to keep the lights on, let alone help those around them. But when charity is run through private organizations and on a local level, there is far less waste, misuse and fraud, because people tend to make a dollar go further when there is a limited amount of money, as opposed to a national government who has seemingly unlimited coffers (thanks to ever-increasing taxes).

Unfortunately, my ideal world will never be a reality. All I can do is continue to serve and give through my church, a place where I voluntarily give because I see the impact they're making locally and globally, and hope that other churches and organizations will take notice and follow suit - and hope that people will begin to see the church as a community of people that makes a real impact for good in this world.

Relationships: No regrets

This post is about failed relationships, and it's something that is atypical for me to write about for a couple reasons:

  1. I'm a guy and guys don't typically talk about relationships, especially in a public forum.
  2. It highlights one of my failures/vulnerabilities and the internet is typically a place where people only put their best foot forward (myself included).

I've been through a couple relationships over the past year, neither one of them easy for me to get over when they ended. I tend to romanticize over relationships more than most guys, partially because my motives in relationships differ. I don't date much (nor casually), and when I decide to pursue a relationship, it's only after I know I could see a future with that person. Shortsighted relationship vision is a huge emotional draw and quite frankly, I think my time is better spent elsewhere.

Recently I was able to get together with an ex for a casual dinner to catch up and see what we've learned from both our relationship together and the relationships we've had since. It stinks when a relationship ends, but if you can look back and largely remember the positives about what you learned from your interactions and from dealing with the other person, I'd chalk that up to a win. I learned so much about how to understand and deal with emotions (especially the ones that don't make sense and where the desired response is completely opposite of my fix-it nature) and just really how to be a man.

We both agreed that our relationship together helped us "grow up" in a sense and prepared us for our ultimate relationships in the future. Even though there are a lot of painful memories, especially after the relationship ended, I have no regrets from taking a chance. Ideally heartbreaks don't happen, but the reality is that that's not possible. For one reason or another, somebody is likely to get hurt. It's impossible to get close to someone without finding out that you might not be good together - even if you have the foundation of a friendship, and there's no fool-proof way to eliminate that risk.

I post this partially as a motivation to myself that making yourself vulnerable is a risky business, but one that is totally worth it. It doesn't feel good to get your heart broken but if you don't take the risk, you're missing out on something potentially beautiful. And I would know about missing out, because I was void a relationship for a solid 4 years, largely because I was too scared to take any risk (all while blaming it on being "too busy").

I'm also thankful this ex and I are able to be friends following a long term relationship. One of the worst parts about a break up is the fact that it can destroy a friendship, and the risk of that is inevitable. The reality is that following a breakup, it's painful to even think about the other person because of the memories that it stirs. But I'm glad I was willing to risk a friendship for the chance of it blossoming into something greater.

Stepping out and taking the risk of vulnerability is something that doesn't come easy for me, but now I know I won't look back years from now and always wonder "What if?". Relationships are tough, especially when you set your expectations as high as I do. I have no idea what's in my future; I'm just thankful that this year, I finally risked my emotions and the feelings I guard the closest to give love a chance.

Traditional car dealerships are a thing of the past

Car dealerships.

What comes to mind when you hear that phrase? To me, I think of pesky salesmen, cheap linoleum flooring, fluorescent lighting, and the smell of rubber. And everybody has a story about the painful process of buying a car. I can't imagine being the only person to have the same feelings to the typical car dealerships as I do. That's part of the reason why I was so confused when Chevrolet came out with an ad campaign last year that was shot entirely inside a dealership.

In fact, several of the commercials in this campaign began with a faint loudspeaker of the receptionist calling in a salesperson from outside. The campaign did a great job of making you feel like you were there, including the throngs of lonely salespeople standing around. But is that really a good thing?

Even Toyota got in on the action recently, running their own campaign of commercials shot on the set of a car dealership.

I might be more attuned to the subpar experience of the stereotypical car dealership than most (since I seem to complain about more things than most), but there's something about a dealership that defies these norms that flips the typical visit to the car dealership around from being a dreaded experience to one that is looked forward to.

Tesla is one example of a company trying something different. Rather than building dealerships in normal places like auto centers, they've focused on being where you already go. Here in Orange County, Tesla has a store in Fashion Island, one of our upscale, outdoor shopping malls. They've got another dealership a few miles away on Pacific Coast Highway amidst other boutique shops. But even when you visit one of their locations, it doesn't feel like a car dealership. They've got one or two cars out on display, and you can't take them for a test drive. The purpose of these stores is to inform you about their vehicles and show you what's coming.

Of course, this model doesn't work for all car companies. Tesla (currently) offers two models and sells to a high end market. Car makers like Chevy have quite a few more cars than that.

But still, not all dealership experiences have to suck in the way that we are used to. The pictures below are of Newport Lexus in Newport Beach, CA.

Newport Lexus is my dealership of choice after I bought my Lexus. It feels nothing like a car dealership, despite having rows and rows of cars out front. When you walk inside, it feels like you're walking into the lobby of a 5-star hotel. The rest of the experience isn't far off from that. The retail areas and coffee shop and lounge make it a place you want to visit on a regular basis. The free car washes are nice, and I try to make it in at least once a week to enjoy this perk of getting my car serviced there.

But the beauty of Newport Lexus is more than just the nice building and the perks; it's the people. I have never met such friendly people who really get to know you. Because I visit once a week for my car wash, I've built up friendly relationships with many of the staff members who greet me by name when I arrive. And when it's time to get my car serviced, I look forward to the day I get to drive in and see everybody. And now I can't picture myself buying a car from anywhere else. They've succeeded because they've built a relationship with me and won my loyalty.

Everything about the experience at Newport Lexus is fantastic. When I go through my list of things I hate about the typical car dealership, I realize I find none of them at Newport Lexus, which makes me wonder, why do so many other dealerships not care about the experience of their customers? I think we are slowly seeing a trend toward offering perks at particular dealerships. Some now advertise free washes on weekends or free coffee when you stop by. But are these perks the tipping point to get people to come back?

As we see in nearly every industry, monumental improvements in the norm typically come from the top down. It makes sense why Tesla (as a company) and some other high end dealerships have radically changed the way they sell cars. I'm just looking forward to the day where linoleum floors, endless options packages and packs of salesmen with bad ties are a thing of the past.

How Cory is tired of the media demonizing success: Phil Mickelson edition

It disgusts me how much the media demonizes the wealth of successful people.

Phil Mickelson got flak this week for saying new federal and state tax rates would prevent him from joining in on a deal to be part of the San Diego Padres new ownership group. He explained the new tax code would force him to make "drastic changes".

On Sunday, Mickelson explained, "If you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and the state, my tax rate is 62, 63 percent."

His comments were perceived "insensitive", so he apologized.

"I think that it was insensitive to talk about it publicly to those people who are not able to find a job, that are struggling paycheck to paycheck," Mickelson said. "I think that was insensitive to discuss it in that forum."

Do you mean to tell me that the average golf fan was offended by Mickelson's comments? I find that hard to believe.

It's likely he wouldn't have apologized for his comments if he weren't so demonized by the media. This post written by golf writer Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press is written with an extreme left slant, riddled with sensationalism that I wouldn't even call journalism. (If I gave him a press badge at an event, I'd make sure his badge labeled him a "Blogger".)

The same day, Tami Luhby of CNN published a post titled The truth behind Mickelson's taxes. She leads with the title, "There's no doubt that Phil Mickelson pays a lot in income taxes as a California resident, but it's not as much as he thinks." Her article breaks down what he pays in taxes and guesses he pays a mere 51% instead of Mickelson's quoted "62, 63 percent". Whoop-de-do, Tami.

I think people in the media (not to be confused with journalists) fail to remember what successful people do with their money. Mickelson runs a foundation with his wife called The Phil and Amy Mickelson Foundation that focuses on education and family issues. They partnered with ExxonMobil to develop a curriculum for teachers to help motivate students in math and science. He has also contributed to many other charitable groups, several of which benefit wounded veterans. And yes, he'll get a tax break for that. As he should.

But for the media to demonize Phil Mickelson's success personal opinions on taxes in golf is short-sighted and pathetic. It's disappointing that legitimate news publications feel it's okay to report in such a way where their posts contain a subtext of intentionally derogatory language against someone who voices an opinion contrary to their own, while labeling it as reporting.

Sure, Mickelson has a great job and we're all jealous. I just wish the media would keep in mind that the wealthy don't leach.