Bill Powell

Stories by Bill Powell

  • 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." ...