Monday, 19 June 2017

REVIEW: "Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations" by Brandon L. Garrett

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations
by Brandon L. Garrett
Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press
Copyright November 2014
Hardcover, 384 Pages

An absolute legal delight. Greatly comprehensive and extraordinarily fascinating, this book nimbly surveys corporate prosecutions and white-collar crimes. With trained focus on dissecting deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements, the book engagingly addresses an eclectic range of legal issues pertaining to the world of corporate prosecutions. Apart from furnishing a plenitude of statistics and legal case citations, the author unobtrusively inserted his personal commentary and recommendations into the book. 

This book seems functionally versatile. It promisingly offers enjoyment and education for law students, legal academics and the general reader alike. The book’s skillful examination of the fascinating intersection between the legal and commercial spheres makes it a godsend for those captivated by the ins and outs of both law and business. Whilst the abundance of data and statistics provided in the book is certainly dazzling, it is the wealth of citations and references to relevant legal cases that truly serve as inspirational fodder for further independent legal research. 

The general reader would be kept engaged by the eclectic variety of legal cases and precedents introduced with lucid explanation and sans excessive technicality and depth. The data and trends on deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements are also considerably accessible to the average reader without any legal background. Most of all, the author’s overarching arguments as pertaining to corporate prosecutions tread the realm of universality—the issue of effectiveness. 

The author’s stance toward the subject matter of the book is unmistakable; he systematically built the case that “corporate convictions should be the norm.” Forefronting the theme of leniency, the author highlights potential shortcomings of deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements—inconsistencies in the imposition of corporate monitors and effectual structural reforms; oversights that in turn seemed to license “cosmetic” compliance, superficial adjustments to corporate culture, and insubstantial reforms; the distancing of judicial oversight, and more.

The international and extraterritorial legal cases are arguably the most fascinating in the book. The notable foreign bribery case of the German multinational firm Siemens Aktiengesellschaft is one such example, where the firm was prosecuted for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) through its multinational bribery operations. 

Whilst the legal case involving UBS—the largest bank in Switzerland—is especially fascinating due to the notion of incompatibility of certain aspects of US law with Swiss law in relation to the banking sector, the case where the recidivist Big Five accounting firm Arthur Andersen was prosecuted for obstruction of justice is particularly enthralling due to the vigorously intellectual series of legal issues and precedent raised. 

No less astounding are discussions of the HSBC money laundering case, the intriguing tax shelter case implicating the accounting firm KPMG—Arthur Andersen’s prior competitor—and the notorious Deepwater Horizon case involving the persistent recidivist, BP. One will be brought on an engrossing journey where one discovers potential incongruities between crimes committed and the corresponding legal consequences. HSBC for example was miraculously served with a mere deferred prosecution agreement after violating multiple federal laws pertaining to anti-money-laundering compliance and economic sanctions. The author similarly highlighted interesting tidbits with regards to the prosecution of BP for the Texas City refinery explosion, noting for example the mutual significance of BP to the “Bhopal Provisions” and vice versa. 

Whilst educational, this book is also amazingly delightful. It was an unexpectedly hilarious moment to learn that a subsidiary company could sometimes be perceived as having the sole function “to plead guilty,” as in the case of Pfizer and its subsidiary Pharmacia & Upjohn Co. Inc.. Fascinatingly, the reader could also supplement the book’s discussion of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s deferred prosecution agreement with the US attorney by locating the agreement online and thereby contemplate certain terms mentioned in the book within the context of the entire and actual agreement. With further exploration of cases involving companies the likes of JPMorgan, BAE Systems, Ford Motor Company and more, this book is indeed intellectually-stimulating at virtually every juncture.

A sampling of legal issues the author fittingly employed to beef up and enrich the discussion includes the strategic prosecutorial strategy of offering immunity and amnesty deals in tackling antitrust; the seemingly problematic lack of adherence to, and excessively lenient interpretation of, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines; the seeming insignificance of a company’s recidivist status in determining its sentencing; the puzzlingly disparate justice standards that apply to street criminals versus corporate criminals, as brazenly manifested through for example, the war on drugs; and the likes of the constitutional rights of corporations, the idea of judicial supervision, the applicability of whistle-blower statutes, relevant legislations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and of course, the notion of whether certain corporations are indeed “too big to jail.”

This book is a paradise for data geeks. Various configurations of data pertaining to deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements are exhibited in the book in numerous charts. The statistical comparison of the presence or lack thereof of certain clauses and terms that the author deemed essential in prosecution agreements is most pronouncedly fascinating, more so because comparisons of such data points seemed rather uncommon. With the book’s solidly stimulating legal inquiry further bolstered by the enclosure of additional charts in the appendix of the book, it would seem almost preposterous should any reader come away without learning at least a thing or two. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

BLOG TOUR: "The Art of Fear: Why Conquering Fear Won’t Work and What to Do Instead" by Kristen Ulmer

Book Review by Sapphire Ng 

The Art of Fear: Why Conquering Fear Won’t Work and What to Do Instead 
by Kristen Ulmer
Harper Wave
Copyright June 13, 2017
Hardcover, 320 Pages

An idiosyncratic exploration of Fear, with the occasional dabbling into themes of spirituality. This book offers an unmistakably distinctive frame of reference in which to regard the emotion of Fear, and is for the most part insightful. Depending on the individual reader, the book’s occasional plummet into debatable territory might potentially detract from a mostly pleasant reading experience. 

The inclusion of the author’s personal narratives on her journey and experiences with Fear, and the incorporation of a smattering of other illustrative anecdotes and tales to aid in conveying and furthering the author’s arguments constitute the more engaging contents in the book.

Ulmer’s philosophy of Fear and the unique analogies she has employed to help convey her thesis about Fear are highly intriguing. She paralleled a person to a corporation with 10,000 employees, or to a parent with 10,000 children. In perusing this book, the reader would almost inevitably garner the firm impression that the author possesses greater than average insight into the almost mystifying, and sometimes frustrating, phenomenon of human emotions. 

The nature of subjectivity of the contents in this book makes it susceptible to a variety of reader reactions. The author herself acknowledged traces of subjectivity in her writing stemming from her personal experience as a “pro extreme athlete” and a “Fear educator/facilitator.” The reader should not expect to agree readily and whole-heartedly with everything raised within the pages of this book. 

I personally am ambivalent regarding the merits of this book. Most ideas appeared practicable and potentially useful, but others seemed problematic. A handful of ideas prompted an intuitive reaction of skepticism to swell within me, and several other ideas appeared unworkable. 

In isolated instances where the author proclaimed the correctness of her perspective and the speciousness of that of others in irreverent and blunt language, these transpired as effective turnoffs. One might be able to imagine that the author’s quick dismissal of conventional therapeutic methods and wisdom utilized to address Fear in addition to overt references to the associated therapy industry and its professionals might not sit well with the practitioners in question. Such hasty repudiation of such an extensive body of existing work unfortunately only seemed to usurp the author’s own credibility as an authority on the subject matter. 

This book nevertheless qualifies overall as a decently inspirational read for the community of readers open to renegotiating their relationship with the emotion of Fear to that which is proposed by the author. The conversational and highly accessible writing along with the intimate and articulate presentation of ideas make this book a satisfying read. This book is even a re-readable material in the hands of the right reader—the individual who earnestly relates to the alternately proposed mindset, is mentally and emotionally ready for change, and who is focused on assimilating the contrasting mindset into his or her life.

I greatly appreciate the countless shrewdly insightful points made in the book pertaining to Fear and the scope of other human emotions. The reading experience was not wholly enjoyable however. The writing and delivery felt rather dry at times and compelled me to put the book down. Other times, I found myself debating internally on whether I should persist in the tedium of the reading process just so I could learn an additional useful point or two. At more than one occasion especially in the first half of the book, I found myself skipping over certain rather wordy portions of the book. 

Nonetheless, I especially loved the author’s complementary use of language to support her thesis about Fear. I enjoyed the unconventional coupling of words with the universal and unavoidable emotion of Fear and other “sibling” emotions—phrases such as “the wisdom of Fear,” and being “a student” of Fear, the peculiar notions of “honoring Fear” and even “savor[ing]” Fear, or the refreshing perception of the emotions of “Fear, Anger, Sadness, Misery, Shame, Unworthiness, and more” as “wise assets and allies” to our lives. 

I surely appreciate a little anecdote in the book where the author recounted her experience in heeding the wisdom of her Fears which led to her abortion decision. I also value her reasonable and rather successful effort at supporting one of her premises, “Modern violence is repressed Fear, not Anger.” The highlighting of the presence of the act of Fear shaming is refreshing, and I absolutely loved the imagery the author conjured in further discussions about Fear, where she referenced the translation of the word “hell” and “heaven” in Japanese within the Zen tradition.  

The author’s distinctly flippant tone in conveying some of her clearly subjective opinions earlier in the book seemed inappropriate. In an attempt to communicate her perspective on the mutability of the Thinking Mind, she rather tactlessly went, “you can meditate all you want, but unless your skateboarding passion results in a traumatic brain injury, the Thinking Mind is not going to go away.” A minimal level of respect ought to have been accorded to readers, whether her readers included earnest meditation practitioners, or athletes who have suffered traumatic and debilitating forms of injuries. 

The author is certainly entitled to her judgments and criticisms of the extensive practice of therapy. Labelling the professional therapist who “specializes in ‘the mind’” and who graciously attempts to help a client use his or her “cognitive Intellect to solve an emotional problem” as a “waste [of] time” however might have been overstepping the boundaries. Additionally, the author’s declaration of “Western therapy” as an accomplice in keeping one “firmly stuck” behind emotional and mental “cage bars” would also probably not sit well with experienced industry practitioners, and existing and prior clients of therapy, especially those, including myself, who have experienced life-changing improvements from such sessions. 

Some claims the author made also seemed dubious, especially the instance where she placed two conditional statements related to Fear and Fearlessness immediately following a supposedly “control” and “indicative” conditional statement. The third conditional statement that went, “If you seek Fear, that means you don’t have [Fear]. Which means you are living in Fearlessness” supposedly led to the “logical” conclusion that one can thus attain fearlessness by seeking fear. That notion might have been true, but the process for which the supposed conclusion was derived seemed wrought with non sequiturs. 

Ulmer might not fit perfectly into the mold of the humble and even self-deprecating author. Considering however the requisite creativity for her to conjure intriguing equations such as “suffering = discomfort x resistance” where one’s level of suffering is said to be equal to one’s level of discomfort multiplied by one’s level of resistance, the strengths of this book might just be adequately redeeming of any perceived shortcomings of this book.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for this review.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

REVIEW: "Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial" by Alison Bass

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial
by Alison Bass
Algonquin Books
Copyright June 2008
Hardcover, 260 Pages

Greatly informative and factually useful. Set in the psychiatric drug industry, this book predominantly explores the theme of the ever consequential tension between the profit-oriented medical pharmaceutical establishment versus the issue of consumer safety. Culminating in the investigation and settlement of the symbolic People of New York v. GlaxoSmithKline case, a suit launched by the New York State attorney general against GlaxoSmithKline targeting the antidepressant Paxil, this is a compelling read for the psychiatric and medical community. 

This book would be of value to the American healthcare and mental health consumer, and the general public. The writing of the book is however rather dry and for the most part does not come across as particularly engaging or exciting, which aridity can be potentially accentuated for those mostly unacquainted or less enthusiastic with learning about details pertaining to the psychiatric and medical world.

The less than electrifying writing of the book does not negate its fact-based examination of the psychiatric drug industry, and particularly the intersection between research and drugs. This book might not be thrilling for some, but it humbly raises pertinent issues pertaining to academic medicine with potentially far-reaching implications. In highlighting issues and anecdotes that could nurture the average consumer’s healthy skepticism of drugs marketing and research, stimulate a more evaluative and less gullible approach toward publications of seemingly authoritative drugs studies and findings, and help cultivate a sharper eye in looking at data from clinical trials and the like, I daresay this book would have served its purpose.

The unostentatious and earnest look at the psychiatric drug industry from a legal perspective makes this book an interesting read for law students. The investigation of the GlaxoSmithKline case through the lens of the fiery and tenacious litigator Rose Firestein is fascinating; the reader would be privy to interesting details of the case through Firestein's legal thought process, discovery, investigation and negotiations. 

This book rather satisfactorily tackled the issue of the integrity of the spheres of academic medicine and drug research, and their practitioners and psychiatric researchers. Highlighting financial conflicts of interest as a pertinent issue, the book rightly explores the disproportionate influence of the pharmaceutical industry on supposedly non-biased medical and scientific research. By further highlighting the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), a legislation which seemed to facilitate the FDA’s financial dependence on the very industry “it was supposed to regulate,” the dual forces of academic researchers and institutions, and America’s federal health agency similarly beholden to the pharmaceutical industry—their sponsor—only seemed to impress upon the urgency of addressing such conflicts of interest, potential for bias, lack of transparency, and hidden agendas.

In further substantiation of the weighty matter, the author aptly highlighted certain norms in the academic publishing industry that would only unfortunately aid in perpetuating mispractices. Psychiatry journals were noted to singularly harbor “bias against negative findings” and that apparently “most medical journals were (and still are) not particularly interested in publishing negative findings.”

The point at issue of drug companies’s potential campaign against scientific truth fittingly culminated in the People of New York v. GlaxoSmithKline suit in the final third of the book. One of the three pediatric trials for the antidepressant Paxil, study 329—as authored by Dr. Martin Keller—was remarkably in the hot seat, and was an exemplification of GlaxoSmithKline’s seemingly deliberate attempts to “mislead” doctors. As the author recounted the seasoned litigator Firestein’s systematic journey in dismantling the contentious study 329 into its various allegedly misleading elements—flawed conclusion, underreporting of unfavorable results, use of misleading code words, and more—Firestein’s infectious excitement did not dwindle. 

It surely appears to the reader that the vivacious Firestein is a major contributor to the narrative’s inspirational touch. It is hard not to feel inspired in one way or another by the fiercely resilient lawyer who is also certified as legally blind. It is beyond amazing to learn of the ways Firestein bravely refused to let her disability hamper her legal and humanitarian ambitions. Her heartening characterization imbued the narrative with energy and vitality otherwise absent, definitively helped better engage the reader, and even appeared to serve a rather important function in the book—as indispensable glue holding various elements of the narrative together.

It is admittedly challenging for the author to weave together a narrative comprising multiple significant personalities and micro plots coalescing in a defining lawsuit nearing the last third of the book. The beginning of the book however with the various seemingly discrete anecdotes spotlighting different personalities engendered the impression of a lack of cohesion and integration in the overall narrative. The presence of a thematic relation between the separate set of circumstances at the start of the book does not obscure the author’s seeming oversight in failing to unite and communicate the relevance of the disparate narratives to the eventual GlaxoSmithKline case. 

With a variety of key characters in the narrative—namely Dr. Martin Keller, head of psychiatry at Brown University and a key opinion leader; Martin Teicher, psychiatrist, neuroscience researcher and co-inventor of R- fluoxetine for Sepracor; Donna Howard, an employee at Brown’s psychiatry department and whistleblower; the litigator Firestein as previously mentioned, and more—introduced and chronicled seemingly without explicit or implied indication and distinction of their relative importance, role and relevance to the overarching narrative and to the GlaxoSmithKline case, it seemed inevitable that it might sow confusion amongst readers and affect the overall enjoyability of the reading experience.

The resulting sense of disjointedness from such lack of narrative signposting to meaningfully bind and reconcile the separate anecdotes which feature different protagonists at the beginning of the book conveys a less than ideal first impression. It certainly felt rather unfortunate that it seemed to require at least making through the first two-thirds of the book before one could begin to realize fully how the various constituents of the book work together in the final big picture.

The title of the book, “Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial” also seemed to exude a certain ambiguity. Considering that the blurb of the book did not clarify nor explicitly state the presence or not of an actual court trial in the narrative, certain readers might be in for a surprise, positive or negative. Having personally interpreted the title of the book as implying the existence of a legal court trial, I felt somewhat disappointed by its subsequent lack thereof for the GlaxoSmithKline case in addition to the case’s rather abrupt settlement at the end of the book. The author certainly could not be faulted for such an ambiguity in the book’s title and blurb, but it surely is less than gratifying for the reader who might have persisted through the book in hopeful anticipation of an exciting court trial.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.