Bill Powell

Stories by Bill Powell

  • Moscow On The Make

    IT'S 3 A.M. ON A WARM SUMMER night, and scores of young revelers pour onto a riverbank from a clutch of neighboring nightclubs. Some of the kids are drunk; some are stoned; some flirt; some just lie back and look at the night sky. They are relaxed, casual. The setting could be any European capital. But this is a riverbank called Raushskaya, just across from Red Square, the center and soul of the city of Moscow. ...
  • Moscow, We Have A Problem

    THE THREE MEN FELT THE crash the instant it happened. ""When you get hit by 7i tons, you feel it,'' said one official at mission control - the one in Korolyov, outside Moscow. And then the crew heard it: the hiss of air escaping through a hole in the hull. Three hundred and sixty-five cubic meters of air, held under pressure in a taut aluminum skin, was seeking equilibrium with the infinite vacuum of space. The American, Michael Foale, felt the first twinges of decompression in his ears. Two hundred thirty miles from Earth, Foale and his two Russian crew mates were in a race for their lives against the laws of entropy. ...
  • Giving Up The Fight

    THERE HAD BEEN NO PAYCHECK for five months. The heat and the hot water in his army apartment outside St. Petersburg were working only a few hours a day. As October wore on, the thought that his two boys faced a cold winter infuriated Lt. Col. Yuri Khorkov. Then there was the issue of his own 42d birthday. Times for him and his fellow commanders in the St. Petersburg garrison had never been tougher, and he wanted them to forget their troubles, if only for a night. He asked his commanding officer if the army could front him 300,000 rubles--about $50--to cover expenses. The immediate reply: not a chance.The night after his birthday, Khorkov came home depressed and irritable. His wife, Natalya, told him something--a bit of news--that angered him; what exactly it was she will not say. But she will never forget his response. "I'll take care of all these problems once and for all!" And with that, Lt. Col. Yuri Khorkov walked into a bedroom, grabbed his army pistol and fired a single shot...
  • Not Just A Pretty Face

    AT THE END OF 1995 Aleksandr Lebed was a recently retired general who had decided he wanted to be president of Russia--and the sooner the better. A year later he was in precisely the same position. But Lebed didn't spend 1996 running in place. By the end of the year, he had emerged as the most popular politician in Russia, the one with the best shot at succeeding Boris Yeltsin when his current term--or his surgically repaired heart--expires. (The former will not happen until the year 2000.) Lebed's dramatic rise speaks both to his own raw political skills and to the unease that pervades Russia in the wake of the summer's tumultuous election. ...
  • Murder In Moscow

    THE HOTEL SITS ON A RIVERBANK IN Moscow about 10 minutes from the spot where Boris Yeltsin once stood defiantly upon a tank, setting in train the second Russian revolution. What that revolution has wrought is now on display, in surreal fashion, every day in the hotel's lobby. The Radisson-Slavyanskaya is a place where Wall Street financiers, Texas oilmen and Silicon Valley geeks trip over one another trying to do business in the new Russia. Bill Clinton and Al Gore, when they come to Moscow, stay there, too. There's an American-style steakhouse, a gallery of wildly expensive designer boutiques and a Western-style health club. ...
  • How To Survive In The Sour Cream Economy

    LAST WEEK IT WAS CIVILIAN DEFENSE workers and energy workers. The week before that, teachers and doctors. This week it will be pensioners and trade-union workers from across the country. They gather in front of the houses of the Russian government, carrying their signs, chanting their slogans, and then they disperse. Their cause is about as straightforward and as legitimate as it gets: they all just want to be paid. Not paid more; just paid. But the dispirited, going-through-the-motions quality to these demonstrations is unmistakable--the triumph of cynicism over outrage. This is Russia, after all. ...
  • Too Weak For Surgery?

    JUST THREE WEEKS AGO, BORIS Yeltsin and his doctors had made it sound like the arterial equivalent of a teeth cleaning. Heart-bypass operations are routine these days; men of Yeltsin's age have them all the time and come back strong. Barely acknowledged was the role of the patient's medical history in determining the surgery's outcome, and even in deciding whether to have it at all. Late last week Yeltsin's physicians admitted that their patient is a fragile specimen--and that there are great risks in the bypass surgery he needs. So great, in fact, that Yeltsin's lead surgeon conceded on Friday that surgery might not happen at all. ...
  • Germany's Disease

    THINK U.S. EXECUTIVES ARE CORPORATE "executioners" because of all the jobs they lopped off in the past year? Try Heinrich von Pierer at German giant Siemens, where 40,000 jobs have been slashed in the last decade. Or Jurgen Schrempp, the new CEO at Daimler-Benz, who's in the process of massively "downsizing" the most famous of all German companies. These days, in fact, blue-chip Germany looks like Murderers' Row: Volkswagen, Bayer, Hoescht--all have slashed tens of thousands o_GCP_jobs in recent years, and they aren't done yet. A survey re]eased last week showed that nearly every major industry in Germany expects more job losses this year. ...
  • Trouble In Another Court

    Steffi Graf has never felt pressure like this. Not at Wimbledon, where this year she won again, for the sixth time; nor at the U.S. Open, where a month ago she grittily held off the comeback of rival Monica Seles. That, after all, is tennis-court pressure. This is real-life pressure: last August, German authorities arrested her father, Peter, on suspicion of helping his daughter evade millions of Deutsche marks in taxes. A month later the family tax adviser was in jail too. Then, two weeks ago, Graf herself was questioned for eight hours in her home state of Baden-Wurttemberg, as authorities tried to determine what role, if any, she played in the alleged scheme. ...
  • Goodbye, 'Great Customer'

    You'd think that To-shihide Iguchi--whose portrait is the latest to go up in the billion-dollar wing of the rogues' gallery-wouldn't be missed on Wall Street. But you'd be wrong. Why? Because Iguchi was, as a bond trader told The Washington Post last week, "a great customer." For years he bought huge chunks of U.S. Treasury bonds on behalf of Japan's Daiwa Bank, "but he was always on the wrong side of those trades." That is the definition of a "great customer": you keep paying too much for whatever it is you're buying-and you keep returning. And Iguchi's 11-year shopping binge, and others like it, is why Japan won't be coming back for more. ...
  • Cops On The Take

    Like So Many "Businessmen" IN POST-communist Russia, Yevgeny Roitman had things going his way-for a while. At $8, police say, he had become the de facto head of organized crime in the provincial center of Tver, two hours northwest of Moscow. He allegedly ran the local rackets, extorted money from legitimate business-men-and eliminated those who wouldn't cooperate. Roitman lived in a splashy new apartment, drove an Audi sports sedan and had given his wife a gaudy gift: a brand-new red Dodge. She cruised the dreary streets of Tver as if she owned the place. And why not? Her husband seemed to have all the bases covered. Everyone in town feared him, his alleged mob ties were lucrative and he had a stable, full-time job: Roitman headed the organized-crime-fighting team of the Tver Police Department.If crime has become Russia's pre-eminent problem, its most ominous component may be the extraordinary corruption among Russian law-enforcement agencies. Outrageous tales like Yevgeny Roitman's...
  • The Innocents Of Wwii?

    You lick it, you stick it and you forget it. In most cases, a stamp is a stamp is a stamp. But when it bears the following inscription: ""Atomic bombs hasten war's end,'' under the image of a billowing mushroom cloud . . . well, that is no ordinary stamp. ...
  • A Case Of The Berlin Blues

    By the fifth anniversary of the fall of the wall -- this week, in other words -- Berlin was to be on the cusp of becoming the vibrant, rebuilt capital of an economic juggernaut. Chancellor Helmut Kohl vowed that Berlin would be the seat of government, headquarters of some of Germany's biggest corporations and a magnet for foreign companies seeking markets to the east. But in the city today there is no euphoria, and no anniversary celebration. Berlin is far from ready for prime time. ...
  • Japan: 'Alice In Wonderland.'

    No one in Japan who turned on the television could quite believe what was happening. There, live and in color, stood Tomiichi Murayama, the avuncular, heretofore irrelevant leader of the country's socialist party, accepting congratulations as the new head of government. And leading the cheers were his once and future political enemies in the Liberal Democratic Party, whose votes had just made him only the second socialist leader since World War II. It was a measure of how unhinged Japanese politics have become in the year since the LDP lost its 38-year grip on power. The head of the party that less than a year ago formally opposed the U.S.-Japan security pact and tilted openly toward North Korea is now the prime minister of Japan. "It's "Alice in Wonderland' time," said one U.S. official. ...
  • Will The World Buy Another Korean Car?

    AT ANY BUSINESS SCHOOL IN THE UNITED STATES worth its tuition payment, it would be a no-brainer. The case: a powerful international conglomerate is looking to start a new business. It's strong in electronics but not much else, and now it's thinking hard about a move into a high-profile industry. The problems: there are way too many players in the industry. (In B-school that's called a ""barrier to entry,'' and that's bad.) It's also a business that chews up capital, and it's going to cost $5 billion to get started. Worse, the home market doesn't even guarantee you a strategic base, because there are already five companies in the business. In short, the nifty new strategy seems to be the economic equivalent of jumping headfirst into a buzz saw. ...
  • Tokyo Shock: Sayonara, 'Mr. Clean'

    IN THE END, HIS GOVERNMENT LASTED just eight months. but when the time came for him Lo go, Morihiro Hosokawa showed that he was a different kind of Japanese politician after all. There were no tears in his eyes as he faced Tokyo's press corps last Friday afternoon. Unlike so many of his predecessors, Hosokawa, 56, had not spent his entire adult life clambering up the slimy pole of Japanese politics, desperate to become prime minister some day. And when financial shenanigans landed him in trouble, he did not insist, as others had before him, that he become a shadow kingmaker as the price of a ritual resignation. Pledged to reform Japan's deeply entrenched political corruption, but dogged finally by his own financial sleight of hand, Hosokawa said simply that he would live up to his public rhetoric. "The point of political reform," he said after announcing his resignation, "is that you frankly recognize your problems and disclose them. That's what will lead to public trust. It's...
  • America's Bad Example

    THE MOTIVE, APPARENTLY, WAS "carjacking"-a word that doesn't translate into Japanese because there is no such thing in Japan. Two Japanese students were shot and killed in the parking lot of a convenience store in a Los Angeles suburb. Last week police arrested two suspects, members of an L.A. gang. "It is nothing but regrettable," said Mieko Hattori. Her son Yoshihiro, a teenage Japanese exchange student, was shot to death by a homeowner in Baton Rouge, La., in 1992. ...
  • Rattling Kim's Cage

    THE GAME OF NUCLEAR CHICKEN ON the Korean peninsula seemed to go about as far as it could-and still stay just this side of war. "We may be," said one Western diplomat, "about one-and-a-half steps from disaster." Even for Korea, where hostile rhetoric and hair-trigger military standoffs have become almost routine over the past 40 years, last week's clash was unnerving. On Saturday a meeting of diplomats from North and South broke up just 45 minutes after it began, with the North's delegate threatening to turn Seoul into "a sea of fire." Seoul's response: any North Korean attack would be used as "an opportunity to reunify the Korean peninsula." ...
  • I Didn't Really Say That, Did I?

    WHEN HIROSHI KUME, JAPAN'S TOP-RATED newscaster, went on the air last Thursday night, it didn't matter that only 20,000 Japanese citizens could watch him on high-definition television sets. The picture was crystal clear. As Kume reported, a senior government bureaucrat had announced that Japan might have to abandon its version of HDTV and I adopt what will be. in less than a decade, the standard that will prevail in the rest of the world. ...
  • Is It Just Western Arrogance?

    THE CHINESE KNOW HOW TO TWIST the political knife. When China's President Jiang Zemin arrived in Seattle for the Asian-Pacific economic summit, he went straight to a reception at the Boeing Co. "This year," he told his hosts, as if they needed reminding, China "will be the company's biggest overseas customer." But China will remain a splendid source of profits for American firms only if a wrangle between America and China can be settled, soon. For the two countries are heading for a collision on the issue of Chinese human rights, and if anyone in Seattle knew a way of avoiding a wreck, they were keeping it closely guarded. ...
  • Looking Like A Leader At Last

    Summit: The Tokyo trade talks didn't break any big logjams-but Clinton impressed his hosts, set the G-7 on a new course and gained global stature ...
  • Nuclear Brinkmanship

    The leaders of North Korea provided a chilling reminder last week that nuclear brinkmanship did not disappear with the cold war. Nor, apparently, did Pyongyang's desire to be anything other than an international pariah. On March 12 the isolated Communist government in North Korea announced that instead of allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to examine two highly suspicious nuclear processing sites 56 miles north of the capital city, it would abandon the treaty on nuclear nonproliferation that it and 154 other nations have signed. In Washington and in Seoul, officials drew only one conclusion. The move was confirmation of what has long been suspected: the North is determined to cobble together a crude-but deadly-nuclear weapon. "We see [the pullout) as a smoking gun," concluded a Beijing-based U.S. diplomat. "It is a tacit admission of the weapons orientation of their nuclear program." ...
  • Prosperity First

    I'm going to focus on the economy like a laser. Foreign policy in large measure will come into play as it affects the economy. ...
  • JAPAN: THE FALL OF 'THE DON'

    In Tokyo they called him "the Don," and for good reason. No one in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, including the sitting prime minister, wielded more influence than Shin Kanemaru. But the same system that created Kanemaru last week ruined him. He was forced to resign from his seat in the country's national legislature, the central figure in Tokyo's latest political scandal--one that features the yakuza (Japan's notorious organized-crime gangs) and trunks full of cold, hard cash. Like so many other Japanese scandals recently, this one threatens finally to force reform of a systemically corrupt political culture. Threatens to, but in the end probably won't. ...
  • The Bad News Billionaire

    A few years ago, the narrow building housing Kichinosuke Sasaki's office in central Tokyo was probably worth something on the order of the state of Delaware. Step into the real-estate billionaire's penthouse lair today-shoes off first, please-and it's easy to imagine, in fact, that it's still 1987. Back then, Japan was in the midst of a rip-roaring "bubble" economy lifting real-estate prices to ludicrous levels. Sasaki's office is all chic Italian furniture, marble conference tables and a splashy art deco bar. If the producers turning Michael Crichton's best-selling thriller "Rising Sun" into a movie need a location that says Japan in the '80s, this is it. ...
  • Take A Hike, Hiroshi

    Makiko Saito had another fight with her mother last week, and the subject was the same as always. Why--at 34 for God's sake!--was she still not married, her mother wanted to know? Makiko, a Tokyo schoolteacher, is weary of such nagging. "When the crown prince gets married," she told her mother coldly, "then I'll think about my own marriage." ...
  • Is The Game Rigged?

    The game is Name That Scandal, and the clues are as follows: powerful securities firms rig one of the world's largest and most important markets; they play the game the way they want to, rules be damned. Government officials are either ignorant of it all or purposefully look the other way. Executives of the firms involved remain defiant in their denials--embarrassingly so, in fact: they have to be muscled from office. And when the dirt finally does come out, it reveals an unfettered flexing of pure market power-the sort that evokes the era of the robber baron in American history. Is the correct answer Japan and Nomura Securities Co., the giant stockbroker? Or is it the United States and Salomon Brothers Inc., the huge investment bank that acknowledged it had bought virtually all the U.S. government bonds sold in a recent auction? ...
  • 'The Deal Of The Decade'

    The two announcements were not unexpected, but still they had the effect of thunderbolts from on high, forever changing the landscape of one of the world's most important industries. Last week archrivals IBM and Apple Computer revealed they were joining forces. For the industry this was "the deal of the decade," said analyst Charles R. Wolf of First Boston Corp. "I don't think anything stranger has happened." ...
  • Japan: All In The Family

    Since the early 1950s, the presidents of the vast group of Mitsubishi companies in Japan have met once a month. They gather in a central Tokyo office building (owned by the group's real-estate company), have a light lunch and, occasionally, sip a beer or two (Kirin is the group's brewer). They call it kinyo-kai--the Friday meeting. And whoever first came up with the idea probably never thought that, almost 40 years later, these bull sessions would figure prominently in the nightmares of United States trade negotiators. ...
  • Gorbachev Goes To Tokyo: No Deal

    The trip to Tokyo, Mikhail Gorbachev said at the end, came down to 12 hours of "political detention in the Akasaka Palace." Hisjoke conceded the obvious: the first visit by a Soviet leader to Japan showcased Gorbachev's growing impotence. The Japanese had hoped he would match his epochal opening to Europe by relinquishing four islands in the Kuril chain seized by Joseph Stalin in the days immediately following World War II. They were reportedly ready to offer $25 billion in badly needed grants and credits. No deal. Gorbachev and Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu finally smiled for the cameras, clinked champagne glasses, linked pinkies in a traditional Japanese gesture of agreement--and promised to talk again. "A year ago, the feeling was, 'With Gorbachev, anything was possible'," said one Japanese Soviet specialist. "But by the time he came, nothing was possible." ...