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Middle class misses the boom 

These are the best of times -- all the politicians, media sparklies and Wall Street analysts tell us so. Stock prices are soaring, jobs are being created by the zillions, people are buying fabulous new homes, and there's caviar in every pot!

Unless, of course, you live in the real world. Out here, you can literally hear the drip ... drip ... drip of the lifeblood of the middle class bleeding away. British Petroleum-Amoco announces there will be 1,600 more U.S. job losses than the original 6,000 predicted when the two firms merged last year; Avery Dennison, the maker of labels and office equipment, will cut 1,500 jobs in order to jack up its profits and make its stock price more attractive to wealthy investors; Universal-PolyGram, the hip record company, says it will punt 500 employees; Integrated Device Technology Inc., one of the hot computer-chip stocks, kills 300 jobs; Frito Lay, the edible chip-maker, shuts down four plants employing 850 people; Burlington Industries, the clothing and textile giant, slashes 2,900 U.S. jobs. All this in only two days in January, two weeks after Bill Clinton crowed in his State of the Union speech that America was prospering like never before.

Of course, Clinton's policies help to create this disconnect between the powerful and the rest of us. Burlington, for example, cut 2,900 families from its payroll because it shut down seven factories in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia -- not because the company is cutting back production; it's just moving it. Thanks to Clinton's NAFTA deal, Burlington can get its stuff made on the cheap by exploited labor in Mexico, then ship it back here to sell without paying any tariffs or reducing its prices. Sure enough, as Burlington closed seven U.S. factories, it opened seven Mexican factories.

This is all done in the name of "global competition," but to the American middle class, it's just another way of saying "gotcha!"

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