What Does Howard Schultz Want?

PHOTO: Starbucks Corp. CEO Howard Schultz
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"We are better than this." That's the message Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wants Congress and America to hear, according to full page ads in the New York Times and USA Today, where Schultz invites "concerned Americans" to take part in a teleconference tonight, to address what he calls the "pervasive failure of leadership in Washington."

What's got him so hot under the collar? Schultz has made no secret lately of his disgust with what he deems an unacceptable level of partisanship and political wrangling in Congress.

"For every day they perpetuate partisan conflict and put ideology over country, America and Americans suffer," Schultz said. "We cannot let this stand."

Last month, Schultz asked fellow business leaders to boycott campaign contributions until both parties reached a bipartisan deal on debt. He also urged them to invest in projects that will create jobs, and help kick start the sluggish economy.

In his ad, which comprises an open letter, Schultz claims that more than 100 CEOs have answered his call and have pledged support on both fronts.

Schultz's call to action hasn't stopped with business leaders. He claims in the past weeks he's been inundated with letters from ordinary Americans expressing their frustration with the lack of improvement in their circumstances.

"Some feel they have no voice," he writes. "Others feel they no longer matter. And many feel they have been left behind."

Their stories spurred Schultz to this latest endeavor, outlined in the letter: a national 'call-in conversation', scheduled for today.

The conversation, detailed on www.upwardspiral.org, will be led by Schultz and hosted by the non-partisan group No Labels. Their goal, as outlined on the website, is to combat what they say is hyper-partisanship in politics, and to make the movement "a powerful voice and counterweight to ideological extremes."

Schultz invites "concerned Americans" to join the teleconference, which will be streamed online, and is scheduled to last 90 minutes starting at 7.30 p.m. ET. Schultz will sit on a panel with founders of Nolabels, as well as economic experts and political strategists from both ends of the spectrum -- and callers will be allowed to ask questions.

The goal, according to Schultz's letter, is to "send a message to today's elected officials. ... That the time to put citizenship ahead of bipartisanship is now."

Jim Olson, vice president of corporate communications at Starbucks, says they expect as many as 50,000 callers to join the teleconference. He says Schultz hopes a groundswell of support will help shift Congressional focus from bipartisanship, to citizenship.

The timing of the forum is notable -- it comes ahead of a crucial Republican presidential debate Wednesday, and the president's address on job creation Thursday to a joint session of Congress.

"I love our country," Schultz writes. "But I am very concerned that at times I do not recognize the America that I love."

Schultz's high profile campaign against partisanship is not without detractors. Some pointed to Starbucks 17 percent price increase on packaged coffee earlier this year, as sign that Schultz's concern for Americans' economic woes does not extend to compromising his own corporate profits.

But Schultz defended his position at the time to the Telegraph, blaming record high commodities prices.

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