Who’s Cheating America? The Highly Profitable Nonprofit!

Ah yes, here we are, in the week of one of our great secular holidays. Maybe the great secular holiday in America. Except that the NFL is, perhaps, closer to a religion than we care to admit. Don’t we worship our teams? Aren’t these gods we scream for? Isn’t this sweaty, feverish feeling something akin to devotion? The agony and ecstasy?

Let’s set that aside and look at some cheaters. In particular, a nonprofit organization that is doing rather well for itself:

[The organization’s] most recent Form 990 filed with the IRS ended on March 31, 2012. They claimed revenue of $255 million, up from $240 million in 2011. So, if you were concerned, things are good. [The organization] has assets of over $822 million.

Does it pay taxes on that money? Well, of course not. As a charitable, nonprofit organization, there’s no need.

Which nonprofit would we like to see bring in all that revenue? UNICEF? American Cancer Society? The Red Cross?

How about… the NFL!!!

The NFL, if you didn’t realize it, exists as a 501 c 6 organization. It’s not for profit!

Aha, you say. This is a trick. The NFL is fairly run as a nonprofit organization. They’re basically a shell, a collection of thirty or so for-profit entities (the teams). All the NFL does is look out for their interests, conduct their joint marketing efforts, hire referees, put in place some rules… this is probably how all the professional sports leagues, do it. Right?

And if you’re wondering, neither Major League Baseball nor the National Basketball Association is registered as a charity, foundation or trade organization. They each gave up their tax-free status years ago.

Okay, okay. So they have a lot of money. They probably need to spend it on things – like healthcare and pensions for former players. Right?

[I]n 2012, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was paid $29.5 million to run the organization.

Wait, what? How can Gooddell earn that much? Is that comparable to the heads of other nonprofit organizations? Well… not really.

So this guy, this fatcat, earns $29.5 million per year? And the organization who pays it to him doesn’t have to pay any taxes on its earnings? What can possibly justify this?

In order to have that status, the NFL must be run as a charitable foundation.

Maybe I spoke too soon! They’re probably giving it all away. Back to the kids, the kids in hospitals, the ones with leukemia, the many, many kids who idolize them. The selflessness of the NFL brings a tear to the eye…

Charitable Organization Head Roger Goodell (Image Credit: si.com)

In 2012, they gave away a meager $2.3 million.

That’s it? That would barely cover Gooddell’s parking space. What did they spend the two point three million on? (Please say the kids, please say the kids…)

Almost all of it–$2.1 million– went to the NFL Hall of Fame.

For running their own damn hall of fame? That’s it? No taxes because of one of their marketing tools… I do have a tear in my eye. I weep for America. The Greatest Cheated Country in the History of the World.

Previously in Who’s Cheating America:

Small Press Shoutout: Other Press!

Back again with another small press shoutout! This week we look at Other Press, which focuses on authors with a “passion to discover the limits of knowledge and the imagination.” Oh boy! The editors of Other Press come with some gilded resumes indeed. Here’s an excerpt from Publisher Judith Gurewitch’s bio:

Born in Canada and raised in Belgium, she holds a law degree from Brussels University as well as a master’s of law from Columbia University and a PhD in sociology from Brandeis University. She now resides in Cambridge, MA. Judith is also a Lacanian trained psychoanalyst, practicing part time. She loves to edit, pitch, cook, walk, and swim.

Pitch? As in pitch books? Baseballs? With a Lacanian trained psychoanalyst, one never knows.

Associate publisher Paul Kozlowski is a bit more unassuming:

Bookman, birdman, living under blue skies on borrowed time.

Madame Knowledge, meet Mr. Imagination. Now let’s go find some limits.

Okay, okay, this is all heady stuff – but do they deliver? Indeed they do! Putting out about 25 titles a year, Other Press has a growing list of incredible authors, including Olga Grjasnawa, Jan-Phillip Sendker, and Minae Mizumura. This is the real deal, folks. And one need only read Helen Richard’s blogged tour of independent bookstores to get a sense of their love for books. Bravo, Other Press!

Previous Small Press Shoutouts:

Welcome, Nook Readers!

Fans of Barnes & Noble, your days of waiting are OVER. The Race: A Novella is ready and available for sampling and purchases on your favorite Nook product.

Race_12_28_final (1)

My thanks again to Mark Coker and the folks at Smashwords for the distribution platform. It’s great to be able to reach all my readers, on whatever their preferred device. (And printed copies are on the way, readers!)

Onward and upward!

Thoughts on France’s Menage a Trois


I’ve done some thinking about love triangles and politics. In fact, I’ve set a book in that world.

The Race takes place in Wisconsin. One of its recurring themes is the loneliness and solitude of strivers trapped in out-of-the-way places. Although they live – and thrive – in a flyover state, both the Governor and his wife have national aspirations. The Governor has a transatlantic affair. His wife goes to the national media to get her side of the story out. The center does not hold.

It’s a story that appeals to me, for the sex and intrigue but also the struggle to overcome  provincial origins. I was told once that living in the Midwest means learning to live within limits. These people did not learn.

What happened in France – recounted by Evgenia Peretz in a fascinating Vanity Fair article from December 2012 – is different. These were sophisticated people, living in a sophisticated city, living sophisticated lives.

And yet… things are recognizably the same.

Politics, like parenting and death, is a great leveler of differences. You could travel across time, continents, political systems and find the same basic elements: power, ambition, and human frailty. It seems that no matter what the particular landscape is, the political roads are all alike.

And they all lead to disaster.

The Celebrated Yarn Spinner of Whatagenius County

Image Credit: thisismarktwain.com

Ben Tarnoff takes an insightful look at Mark Twain’s push to employ his humor for something deeper than mere entertainment.

Mark Twain loved frontier humor, the impish wit and yeasty vernacular, its fondness for the gargantuan and the grotesque. He also understood its deeper value: not merely as entertainment but as a survival tactic. Twain once defined humor as the “kindly veil” that makes life endurable. “The hard and sordid things of life are too hard and too sordid and too cruel for us to know and touch them year after year without some mitigating influence,” he said, and he spoke from experience. In his early thirties, he put a gun to his head and almost pulled the trigger; in his seventies, he was still wondering whether he’d made the right choice.

Twain found it easy to tap into the rich vein of frontier humor, which offered both a content and a style perfect for him:

The dark comedy of the frontier fit his temperament and his talent. Tall talk showed him how to make language more expressive, by embracing a vernacular that reflected the regional varieties of American speech and gave words a more imaginative relationship to the things they described. One famous frontier humorist put it this way: you could ladle out “words at randum, like a calf kickin’ at yaller-jackids,” or you could roll “em out tu the pint, like a feller a-layin bricks—every one fits.” The point was to avoid being a mere bricklayer of language, to break free from the patterns prescribed by tradition and congealed by cliché and to find more original ways to build sentences. What distinguished Twain was his willingness to do so, and by so doing to turn frontier humor into literature.

Literature? Anyone who’s read Huckleberry Finn knows where Twain wound up. Tarnoff’s essay shines light on how he got there. And

It wasn’t easy. The notion that literature could emerge from the frontier’s barbaric yawp encountered violent resistance from America’s literary establishment. It didn’t help that tall tales abounded in vulgarity, drunkenness, and depravity, not to mention perversions of proper English that would make a schoolteacher gasp. Proving the literary power of the frontier would be a central part of Twain’s legacy, and a pie in the face of the New England dons who had dominated the country’s high culture for much of the nineteenth century. He wasn’t immune to wanting their approval, but he came from a very different tradition. His ear hadn’t been trained at Harvard or Yale; it was tuned to the myriad voices of slaves and scoundrels, boatmen and gamblers.

While this is interesting, it seems fairly intuitive to me. I would enjoy the essay because I like reading about Mark Twain, but it’s not something I’d necessarily highlight for you, my loyal blog readers.

It’s this part that made me sit up in my chair:

His anxiety about humor’s lowness worked to his advantage, pushing him to improve on the more buffoonish antics of predecessors like Ward and find a more literary key for his work. Since he couldn’t renounce humor, he enriched it.

How did he pull that off? I’ll send you to Tarnoff’s essay to read the full story. But let me just say: there’s something instructive in turning expectations upside down. Humor may rely on surprise and inversion – but so does good literature. When you combine the two, you can achieve a special kind of greatness. Popular in your own time, admired forever after.

Terrible Poem Breakdown: Another Apologia (of Sorts)

Some thoughts on the Terrible Poem Breakdown series, which continues to be one of our more popular sets of posts here on the blog.

Even though I try to make it clear that the poets have expressly consented, it seems I risk being viewed as too negative. Readers, I get it: poets deserve our empathy, not our scorn. I’m not here trying to tear anyone down! I believe the impulse to write poems – even terrible ones – is a praiseworthy endeavour.

In our last installment, which was a poem about fatherhood, I had some special empathy. I’m a father myself and know whereof the poet speaks. I spoke of sentiment. I may have used the word “goopiness.” I stand by my critique.

And for anyone who objects that either a) I was too harsh on poets for writing about Death, and b) I was not sufficiently sensitive to the idea of a father’s epiphany about parenting, let me just point out that this was essentially a poem in which a father celebrates as a sign of growth his child’s realization that we will all die.

The critic rests his case.

The Failure of the Unpublished Author: Dead or Dying?

We’re fans of failure on this blog (as we are in life). And of course, The Race: A Novella has a failed lawyer as one of its pole stars. Now Tim Parks brings things full circle with a look at failed writers, which of course we’re HUGE fans of as well, when we’re not self-hating them. (Oh boy – are we back in the artists as narcissists tangle? Let’s move on.)

While Parks is very good at describing the burning desire of struggling authors to receive some kind of validation, and the intense, all-consuming focus on publication that young writers feel. His post takes an interesting direction with a look at the other side: how quickly a published author closes the door behind him or her: Continue reading

Who’s Cheating America?: Murky Waters

image credit: tallahasseegrapevine.com

I try to avoid politics here on the blog as much as possible. (Except when I’m writing books about it.) But if there’s one viewpoint I expect all thoughtful Americans to share it’s the old 90s slogan: Work Hard And Play By The Rules.

We can all agree on this, surely! We want hardworking people who play by the rules to do well. We can disagree with what this means for governmental policy, but I don’t really think anyone can disagree with the idea that working hard and playing by the rules should be valued by our society. (If you prefer instead laziness and/or cheating, you’re in a different political universe.)

With that in mind, I’m introducing a new series. Who’s taking shortcuts? Who’s not playing by the rules? I’m not focusing on the big scandals, whether they be financial institutions or the well-covered trials and tribulations of the politicelebrity class.

Rather, I’m focusing on the little guys. The next-door neighbors who bend the rules, who cross the lines. The get-rich-quick schemers. The ones who aren’t working hard. The ones who aren’t playing by the rules.

America, who’s cheating?

Here’s a story about a man named Waters who lived in Massachusetts. He opened a rare coin business – oh, you know those kind of guys! Passionate about their hobbies. A little nerdy. You see them in the mall, standing behind their counter, and you think: well, god bless him, he’s probably been collecting coins since he was a kid. Now he ekes out a living at it.

And you also think:

That store will be closed in six months.

Right? Coin collecting? Why not just open a juice bar or a bookstore? Doomed, doomed, doomed. Well, this man also decided to open up a couple of other entities: a broker-dealership (i.e. seller of stocks) and an investment adviser (i.e. someone who handles other people’s money).

So far, so good. That shy little coin collector has a real job on the side. Nothing dishonest about that.

Except… maybe there was.

The U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts charged Waters with an array of securities fraud and other violations on October 17, 2012. On November 29, 2012, Waters pleaded guilty to sixteen counts of securities fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, and obstruction of justice arising out of both the conduct that is the subject of the Commission’s civil action and a criminal scheme through which Waters defrauded clients of his rare coin business out of as much as $7.8 million.

Oh no! What was happening? Ripping off other collectors? Maybe he was just smarter than they were? Knew more about the coins? Maybe he was just very good at buying and selling?

Under this scheme, Waters defrauded coin customers out of as much as $7.8 million by selling coins at prices inflated, on average, by 600% and by inducing coin purchasers to return coins to him, on the false representation that he would sell those coins on the customers’ behalf, when, in fact, he sold most or all of the coins and kept the proceeds for himself.

Ouch. Anything else?

The criminal information further alleges that Waters engaged in money laundering through two transactions totaling $77,000.

Well, what’s a little money laundering among friends? And anyway, it’s not like he lied about it when he was caught. He fessed up right away, didn’t he?

Finally, the criminal information alleges that Waters made multiple misrepresentations to Commission staff, including that there were no investors in his investment-related partnerships, in order to conceal the fact that investor money was misappropriated in a fraudulent scheme. Waters is charged with obstruction of justice related to this conduct.

D’oh! But apart from the coin issues, what about the investment advisory business? Surely he helped people there, right? Made money for their pensions? Exercised prudence?

According to the criminal information, from at least 2007 through 2012, Waters used fictitious investment-related partnerships to draw in investors, misappropriate their investment money, and spend the vast majority of it on personal and business expenses and debts.

They were sophisticated investors, I trust? Pension funds? Investment banks?

Waters is alleged to have raised at least $839,000 from at least thirteen investors, including $500,000 from his church in March 2012.

His church??? So depressing.

So what happens to this cheater? Does crime pay in America? Not always!

As a result of his guilty plea to this criminal conduct, Waters was sentenced on April 26, 2013 to 17 years in federal prison and three years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay $9,025,691 in restitution and forfeiture.

And final judgment was entered by a Massachusetts federal court on December 4, 2013.

Remember, everyone! Beware the Comic Book Guy, the Coin Collector Guy, the Baseball Card Guy, and the Smiling Philatelist. Particularly when they’re also offering to invest your money in fictitious investment-related partnerships.

The Race: New Formats Available

The Race: A Novella is expanding its reach to new territories and now… new formats! I’ve chosen Smashwords as the distributor for all non-Amazon stores.

Smashwords will eventually distribute The Race into online stores like Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple, and several others, including libraries and subscription services. I’ll post all those links when they’re available. For now, you can choose your format from the book’s Smashwords page. Epub, mobi (Kindle), pdf, rtf, lrf, pdb and txt are all available. You can also elect to download samples of the book in various formats or read the book online. 

Many thanks to Mark Coker and the people at Smashwords for helping to get The Race: A Novella into as many readers’ hands as possible. As an author once said to me, “I hope my book makes us both a lot of money.” (Of course, the author was Michael Lewis, and the book did make him a lot of money, though it didn’t do much for me.)

Onward and upward!

Welcome, International Readers!

I’ve been very pleased by how many international readers have visited me here at jackewilson.com. And in fact, I’ve been a little remiss in focusing only on links here in the U.S. So for your convenience, I thought I’d share the international links to The Race(Or at least to the Kindle versions – the epub versions are coming soon, I promise.)

Although The Race is set in Wisconsin, I’d like to think it has some universal appeal. In fact, I think anyone, anywhere who has to live with politics and politicians will find something recognizable in the narrator’s attempts to understand the former governor he’s tasked with following around. What do campaigns do to politicians? What kind of people are they? Who do we elect to govern us, and why? You don’t need to know Madison from Milwaukee to find those questions compelling.

So without further ado, here is the international lineup. Many thanks to all readers in all countries – and I hope you enjoy the novella!

And of course, the U.S.:

Free excerpts available at Amazon or here on the website. (And also here.)