by Alexander Osipovich*
Moscow's top annual luxury fair was extravagant as always on opening night: champagne flowed freely, sexy models showed off the new Hummer and hardly anyone seemed worried about the global financial crisis.
Yachts, private islands and even an Irish castle are on offer this weekend at Millionaire Fair Moscow, Russia's most heavily attended exposition of luxury goods and services, which kicked off with a big opening bash on Thursday.
Vendors painted a rosy picture and insisted that their wealthy customers would always pay for quality, crisis or no crisis.
"We are optimistic and we are sure everything will be normal," said Yevgeny Kochman, the head of Nordmarine, a yacht distributor whose stand was dominated by a hulking 17-metre (55-foot) yacht containing three bedrooms.
Asked how much it cost, Kochman laughed and said: "It is totally cheap. Two million euros."
Russia is likely to be a bright spot for yacht-makers as the global luxury goods market enters a recession in 2009, according to a report released last month by US research consultancy Bain and Company.
While more mature markets weaken, in countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China there will be "a surge in spending" on luxury goods of between 20 and 35 percent over the next five years, the report said.
That has led luxury goods makers to turn their attention to places like Russia — a trend that was clearly playing out at Millionaire Fair Moscow.
On Thursday evening, a pair of models dressed in camouflage shorts with fake handguns strapped to their thighs posed in front of a Hummer, the jeep based on a US military vehicle that has become a status symbol among Moscow's elite.
"In Russia the road for the Hummer is bright," said Artyom Frolov, a sales manager with a Hummer dealership in Moscow.
Frolov did not anticipate a drop-off in sales due to the global credit crunch. Many of his customers pay in cash and do not need loans, he said.
And for some wealthy Russians the Hummer is not just a status symbol, but practical too: "Some use them as a schoolbus, to take their kids to school," Frolov said.
On more special occasions, a rich Russian might want to order entertainment, which is where General Entertainment Associates, or GEA, comes in.
The company has brought world-famous pop stars like Pink and Christina Aguilera to Russia for private parties, GEA manager Anya Kolesnikova said at the company's stand on Thursday.
She added that Moscow's elite are mainly attracted to big names: "You have to be famous…. Pick any Russian oligarch and they're the type of person who would like to bring Christina Aguilera. While she's hot."
High-end real estate from around the world was also on offer at Millionaire Fair Moscow, which attracted 40,000 people last year and is part of a network of Millionaire Fairs, with the others in Amsterdam, Munich and Istanbul.
One real estate firm, Intermark Savills, was selling an Irish castle for 55 million British pounds (83 million dollars, 65 million euros).
Meanwhile, Dubai-based realtor James Lamonde was touting a development called Pangkor Laut located on several artificial islands off the coast of the Persian Gulf emirate.
"It's ultra, ultra, ultra luxury," Lamonde said, adding that he saw no risk that the property would go unsold.
"Obviously there is a global financial crisis going on," he said. "But the kind of people who are meant to live there will always live there. They don't see things like that."
by Virginie Montet*
When he steps into the White House, US president-elect Barack Obama will have to make significant lifestyle changes, among them abandoning his avid use of email and the Blackberry.
"Presidents typically have to change their lifestyle a great deal the minute they enter the White House because they do have to deal with security issues and particularly with their communications," said Diane Owen, political sciences professor at Georgetown University.
"Life is kind of not your own for at least the next four, if not eight years," she adds.
The Blackberry, one of Obama's last remaining channels to the outside world as his security detail has progressively grown and his circle of advisers has tightened, rarely left his side in the two years he spent on the campaign trail — most often attached to his belt or held in his hand.
His campaign also organized unprecedented levels of grassroots support and fundraising through the Internet and online communication.
But law and ordinary practice rob Obama of some of the tools indispensable to most chief decision-makers as Blackberrys and other wireless handheld devices have become increasingly pervasive.
The Presidential Records Act (PRA), enacted in 1978 after President Richard Nixon destroyed documents in the Watergate scandal, requires all presidential and vice-presidential records to be placed into public archives.
Written, recorded and electronic correspondence by the country's chief leaders is supposed to be released to the public 12 years after the conclusion of a presidential administration.
Vice President Dick Cheney currently faces a lawsuit in Washington to ensure that no presidential records are destroyed or made unavailable to the public. In 2003, Cheney asserted that his office was not part of the executive branch and is not subject to the PRA.
In mid-2007, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales turned emails over to Congress showing that he was involved in what Democrats said were politically motivated firings of US attorneys, a scandal that led to his resignation.
Obama will be the second president to face up to the prospect of no longer using email and his Blackberry in the digital age. Rather than confront such scrutiny or intrusion into his personal communications, President George W. Bush chose to limit his use of email, setting a likely precedent for Obama.
Bush "sent a message out the day before he took office saying: 'Bye. See you in a few years because I'm not going to be on this,'" reminded Owen, a specialist in White House technology.
Experts claim that electronic communication can be secured but worries remain over hacking the presidential Blackberry server. Blackberry declined to respond to questions about the security of communications provided by the manufacturer.
But in a sign of the problem, US telephone operator Verizon Wireless Thursday acknowledged some employees had accessed records from an inactive Obama cell phone account without authorization.
"All employees who have accessed the account — whether authorized or not — have been put on immediate leave, with pay," Verizon said, as it apologized to Obama and launched an investigation.
Although the Blackberry may be indispensable on the campaign trail to quickly organize logistics, it is a different affair for a president, whose schedule is tightly managed by aides.
"He has to abandon his freedom. That's what you have to drop. You can't go any place without a security detail, you don't get to drive a car, you don't get to go to the grocery store. You basically get to drop most of the things that you do routinely in your daily life," she added.