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Silicon Valley News Notes

Fox Hunt

What prompted former Mexican President Vicente Fox to accuse a political rival of ties to the drug trade at, of all places, a San Jose Chamber of Commerce banquet? Noting that press was present during his speech to the annual Legends and Leaders event, he seized the moment to accuse PRI party leader Manlio Fabio Beltrones Rivera of orchestrating a smear campaign linking his wife to the deaths of 18 Pemex oil company workers in an oil rig accident. Beltrones, he added, "has been accused of drug trafficking. ... He has a DEA record." What provoked the unearthing of charges that were reported in the New York Times a decade ago? Fox pointed Fly to the website of Mexico City's Reforma newspaper, whose lead story that day talked about the failure of life boats at the maritime disaster that were allegedly supplied by a company linked to his wife's children. Chilling in the Fairmont Hotel lobby with his wife Marta Sahagún, Fox assured Fly that Beltrones "is behind this campaign. I want him to prove his calumny." Switching to español, he added, "Es un acuso muy seria. Muy estupida y muy mentirosa," which is a polite way of calling Beltrones a liar. During his speech, Fox took on xenophobia and urged Americans to build bridges, not fences, and move toward a European Union–style region. On the drug problem, he asked "who moves the drugs" from the border to U.S. cities, launders the money and sends it south to bribe Mexican officials? "Are there no cartels here?" Despite his frank comments and current scrutiny at home for driving a Hummer and living large on a ranch with an artificial lake and exotic animals, Fox received a hero's welcome in Silicon Valley with an articulate case for trade and free markets that played well with the business audience. He also saluted the working class, cheek-kissing and shaking hands with more than 30 uniformed servers and cooks from the Fairmont Hotel's catering staff, who were lined up stageside by Chamber of Commerce CEO Pat Dando. Fox, who was spotted earlier in the day walking around Santana Row, says he plans to stay active in Mexican politics. "I am not going to be a [former] president who is sitting hard on his — how do you say? — ass. Culo."

Elections—Not Just for 2008!

Election Day won't get the big headlines on Nov. 6 that it did last year, but there's plenty simmering in South Bay cities, as evidenced by our story this week on creative campaign financing in Gilroy. Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and Los Altos are also electing city councilmembers. With regard to the latter, an alert reader notified Fly that Paul Nyberg, publisher of the Los Altos Town Crier, contributed $200 to a Los Altos City Council member hoping to get re-elected next week. It's not a lot of money, but is it okay for the head of a local newspaper to contribute to a candidate's fiscal fortune? It's a question media watchdogs are asking since MSNBC recently reported on media makers across the country writing checks to political parties and candidates. Merc sports editor Rachel Wilner and Andreas Kluth, the Economist's technology correspondent covering the Silicon Valley, both gave money ($250 and $500) to John Kerry in 2004. Some donors don't cover political news directly, but the appearance of a conflict of interest has led many major publications to simply forbid their employees from contributing to campaigns. As a publisher, Nyberg's job is more business than journalism, but his political generosity sparked a round of nervous babble on media industry blogs. He and his wife Elizabeth have also given nearly $11,000 since 2000 to various Republican candidates and committees. "You have raised a valid question," Nyberg wrote to us in a curt email replying to our inquiry about his donations. "I suggest you read the Los Altos Town Crier issues published weekly for the last 14 years to get the answer for yourself. Good reporters do their homework." Wow, 14 years' worth of homework! It's a good stall tactic, if nothing else. Metro, by the way, doesn't allow political contributions by editorial employees.

Palms Down

Pink Rot. That's what's killing off the palm trees that are supposed to adorn downtown San Jose. But the city can't seem to get under control the infectious fungus that's plaguing our palm trees. Over the last decade, we've lost 16 of the trees out of the 400 planted throughout downtown. "It's frustrating for us," said Bill Ekern, director of project management for San Jose's Redevelopment Agency. "It's an important part of the downtown." The California Fan Palm is a native of the hot southern desert areas of Southern California, and the cooler temperature and higher rainfall here ares making the trees more susceptible to the fungal disease. At the same time, the city has only budgeted about $25,000 annually, which isn't enough money to keep up with such high-maintenance trees. The city is working out a solution, Ekern said. "The trees will do OK here if they get planted at the right time of year and that just plain doesn't happen for whatever reason," Ekern said.

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