Trump’s Belated Jones Act Waiver for PR Is A Sham, Here’s Why

Finally, after eight days of delay, and after Trump noting how powerful lobby groups were opposed, which he was clearly paying attention to, the Trump Administration this morning issued a Jones Act waiver.

But that waiver is a complete sham, and a stiff thumb in the eye of a crumbling and dying Puerto Rico. First, the official DHS announcement, then an explanation of the sham:

WASHINGTON – Early this morning, in recognition of the severe impacts on Puerto Rico from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke approved a waiver of the federal Jones Act. The decision follows yesterday’s request from the governor of Puerto Rico and the Secretary of Defense’s determination that a waiver is in the interest of national defense. The waiver will be in effect for 10 days after signature and covers all products being shipped to Puerto Rico.

“This waiver will ensure that over the next ten days, all options are available to move and distribute goods to the people of Puerto Rico. It is intended to ensure we have enough fuel and commodities to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure operations in the wake of these devastating storms,” said Acting Secretary Duke.

The Jones Act prohibits the transportation of cargo between points in the U.S., either directly or via a foreign port, or for any part of the transportation, in any vessel other than a vessel that has a coastwise endorsement (e.g. a vessel that is built in and owned by persons who are citizens of the United States). The last Jones Act waiver was issued earlier this month, for petroleum products to be delivered for relief assistance in anticipation of the effects of Hurricane Irma.

Now, as to the sham. The waiver is only for ten days, and that time starts immediately.

How long do you think it will take foreign ships to get loaded and travel to Puerto Rico from their point of origination? It will be days, if not weeks.

As a comparison, the US Navy ship USNS Comfort, leaving from Norfolk Virginia will take at least five, if not more, days to reach Puerto Rico. At a speed of 17 knots, the Comfort travels at about the speed of an average container or fuel ship.

Even if a foreign fuel or container ship was already loaded and ready to go this morning, it is clear that very few, if any, could arrive and unload in less that 5-7 days.

This means, at the very best, Trump’s “waiver” has maybe five days of use to Puerto Rico, an island of devastated American citizens that will be rebuilding and recovering for years.

Trump’s “waiver” is a public relations fueled sham.

27 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    this law firm document is not the most user friendly source, but it gives a wide-angle view of how the jones act may be waived by three major orananizational entities – the dod (automatic), the dhs (requires a legal process), and the presidency.

    and VOX, an excellent on line journal, has more history:

    the short, sad story of the p. r. tragedy unfolding is of a president sitting on his ass in an emergency. why?

    as the the extraordinaryily short time line bmaz mentions, there is guaranteed to be political shenanigans behind that decision.

  2. der says:

    AMY GOODMAN: As Puerto Rico faces six months before its power grid is restored, Ricardo Ramos, the director of the government-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority told CNN people would need to change the way they cool off. He said, quote, “It’s a good time for dads to buy a ball and a glove and change the way you entertain your children.” Professor Bonilla?

    YARIMAR BONILLA: It’s offensive. It’s completely offensive, because this is not a matter of watching iPads and playing Nintendo. This is a matter of people needing to have their insulin chilled, people needing to have their asthma respirator therapy attended to. It’s a dire medical, critical human rights crisis. And so, to say that—to pretend that this is about people wanting to just entertain themselves and entertain their kids, I can’t imagine anything more offensive than that.

    AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, there is Donald Trump’s quote. And if you could respond to what he said about Puerto Rico having to deal with their crumbling infrastructure and their debt, what they owe to banks?


    Beyond shame, stupid and evil. Ibram X. Kendi: The term “personal responsibility” had been playing minor roles for some time. In 1994, Georgia representative Newt Gingrich and Texas representative Richard Armey, the main authors of the “Contract with America,” brought the term to prime time-to the lexicon of millions of American racists-targeting not just Black welfare recipients. The mandate was simple enough: Black people, especially poor Black people, needed to take “personal responsibility” for their socioeconomic plight and for racial disparities, and stop blaming racial discrimination for their problems, and depending on government to fix them. The racist mandate of “personal responsibility” convinced a new generation of Americans that irresponsible Black people caused the racial inequities, not discrimination- thereby convincing a new generation of racist Americans to fight against irresponsible Black people. (Stamped From The Beginning, New Republicans)


    After 20 years of this kind of propaganda by replacing “Black” with “Puerto Rican” it isn’t hard to understand why, as a nation, we have a cold heart. Compassionate Conservative…..damn. We’ve lost our soul.

    • Bardi says:

      I realize this may seem somewhat “confusing” to some but, why not pay off P.R. debt with buying solar/wind infrastructure to be installed in P.R., both on a commercial level as well as residential?

      Survival of the infrastructure, in this case, might be problematic but, assuming local infrastructure survives, power should come with the sun/wind.  Batteries would seem to help recovery and, at least, provide more options.

      • bmaz says:

        Interesting idea. Guess first question is, how does it pay off the current vultures? That is something any Puerto Rico answer has to account for. If the answer is the bondholder vultures need to be seriously crammed down, I am very good with that.

        Beyond that, do they have the “space” to deploy enough solar and wind generation given the current output effectiveness of the same? I honestly have no idea in the world, but hope your response is YES! and how.

        As to batteries, think for now, better answer is to get more and better generators on the island, and insure they have fuel.

        • Rugger9 says:

          What’s also interesting is how they got into debt hell in the first place:

          Section 936 of the IR Code made a special tax exemption in Puerto Rico  in 1976, but this was taken away by Newt in 1994 with a second whammy of NAFTA removing tariffs on Mexico.  Combine that with the 12-15% cost differential due solely to the Jones Act and that made Puerto Rico no longer competitive and as a commonwealth in the USA, limited in what could be done about it (minimum wage laws, etc., still apply there).

          Eventually those that could leave found their way out when they could.

          Much of these debt obligations are owned by the various vulture capitalists that bought debt (say, from Brazil) on speculation but want full payment.  I’ll agree with bmaz, the debt forgiveness would be the right thing to do, so long as it doesn’t mean we set the precedent covering, for example, Kansas’ self inflicted debt crisis due to ideological tightwads.  In the one-size-fits-all requirement for the laws here (think the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment) that may be a hard concept to define properly.

        • bmaz says:

          Fucking GREAT comment. Yes.

          I am not (maybe “we””) saying it is not complicated, but this has been a long festering sore. It NEVER needed to get to this point. And never should have.

          If Puerto Ricans are citizens, and they are, they deserved better than all this

        • Bardi says:

          Thank you!

          I have not lived in P.R., but, for many years spent a couple of nights per week there for quite a while.

          I am not an accountant or a lawyer, but I do like to talk with people.  The Feds and states do have programs to help pay for alternative energy sources.  A deal with the debt holders that would include alternative energy sources might be the deal of the century.

          I once took some 35 FEMA generators to San Juan the night before George.  Our plans changed on arrival and we left (literally the last flight out of San Juan), heartbreaking to leave people behind.  I can only imagine the horror prior to Irma.

          The people there do not deserve the lies put out by Trump.

          I am a student of diversity and welcome not just batteries but alternative sources of energy, including generators.(always have a backup plan is my mantra)  There are a lot of clouds there, but, there is a lot of progress in solar panels that focus on infrared, an energy source which are less negatively affected by clouds.

          P.R. could be a trial to work out the details to make the US into independence from fossil fuels.  Had we a non-insane government.

  3. der says:

    The first question that came to my mind was can the turbines withstand a category 5 wind? Apparently they can:

    Wind turbines aren’t perfect. Perhaps one of the most widely shared pictures in December of 2011 and early 2012 was this one from the Ardrossan wind farm in Scotland during a wind storm where the wind velocity reached 161 mph (260 kph). One of the thirteen wind turbines had a problem with its hurricane mode and failed spectacularly. The rest were online shortly after the wind died…
    Second question – Would the Trump Administration support this? Apparently he won’t:
    “Wind turbines are not only killing millions of birds, they are killing the finances & environment of many countries & communities.”

    • Rugger9 says:

      Solar has better prospects and can be better hardened against hurricane winds.  Unfortunately, the lanthanide elements needed to make many of the solar cell designs are supplied mostly from China (the PRC, not Taiwan).

  4. Rugger9 says:

    Typical GOP behavior, what is actually done is not the plan that was trumpeted to the world. It might be interesting to see how the length of the waiver compares to the ones issued for Houston and Florida.

    PR as it turns out is a favored place to make pharmaceuticals, I would suspect for the “made in the USA” label like the Northern Marianas and textiles. It’s kind of an impressive list, including Viagra (that’ll make the GOP get right on it (ahem)) and 100% of Crestor. Also, the key subcomponents for others (API’s as these are known) are also out until things are restored. The link has the list of brand name drugs (but not API-affected ones) for those who are on these prescriptions.

  5. der says:

    One more thing (this was yesterday’s news):

    “Thank you @pitbull for lending your private plane to move cancer patients from PR to USA so that they can get chemo,” she wrote.

    “Thank God we’re blessed to help,” The Cuban-American rapper, whose real name is Armando Christian Perez, told the New York Daily News on Tuesday. “Just doing my part.”

    Someone should tell the President he’s being shown a fool by a Cuban-American…rapper.

  6. orionATL says:

    here’s another view on the jones act controversy:

    .- i think it is irrelevant to consider the viewpoint that trump did not really help the relief efforts by waiving the act. the presidential act of waiving is a psychologically important part of a leader’s message that “we care and we are going to make the maximum efgort to help you (p. r.) in this crisis.”

    – i am deeply sceptical of jones act supporters’ claim that shipping costs don’t have any serious impact on the price a customer pays in the store.

    – the argument about the need to retain the jones act in order to retain a trained american shipping work force may or may not be true, but it brings to mind the sweetheart deal american sugar cane growers in florida have gotten for decades. in other words, a very small part of the economy gets protected by law from competition.

  7. jo6pac says:

    Sad state of affairs

    Rugger9 Agree and add in a few others states. Then people can’t have solar on their homes because the power brokers receive ZZZZip in $$$$$ and that would work for me I’m not a fan of the brokers.

    I do hope this doesn’t turn into another Haiti. The thought of the military being in charge reminds me of that. The group Dr. without Boarders weren’t allowed in Haiti for few weeks and also no other aircraft were allowed to land except for X-potus.

  8. Evangelista says:

    Dammit, bmaz, I was not going to criticize you on this one, but you went and left out that in the continental U.S storm situations, most recently in Florida and Texas, the Jones Act suspensions were decided, and announced, apriori, the suspension emplacements being announced before the storm landfalls, so that supplies shipper could prep and load, and from distances get under weigh (or way if not ship-shipping) before the suspension windows (seven and eight days in those cases where no defined sea-transit time constant existed for U.S. coaster vessels). The after-the-fact announcement, with the apriori rejection, so no ships started loading, or starting before, and the eight day delay after the storm passage before any appreciable action, except political talk and Trump blowing his own horn about how “fantastic” his response was (the word can mean “unbelievable”), slammed Puerto Povero with an American Politics-produced triple-whammy, on top of the natural disaster storm whammy and “austerity” product neglected and corruption-permitted gouging-gutted infrastructure and economic situation whammies.

    Two silver-linings I can see potential are that the nearest aid provider, and so most likely first and foremost suspension-permitted responder will most likely be Cuba, who may there through enjoy something of a propaganda coup, and that the international propaganda effect of the Trump Administration’s response will be to show in practical terms how the USA ‘takes care of its own’ while it is pretending concern for all sorts everywhere else (The infamous imagery of the self-inflated head of the family throwing money down at the bar while blowing bombast and disparagement at all of the ‘thems’ out around for doing everything wrong, and pronouncing how they should be doing, instead, while his family sits shivering and starving at home).

    Oh, yeah, and there will be also all them folks of the gulf states who have been grousing through the years about George Bush and his administration’s half-assed response to Katrina… “Man,” they’ll be saying, “was we ever lucky to be blowed away then, instead of bein’ blowed away today! I mean, we thought Ol’ George was incompetent then…”

    On a serious note, there is need for subsidization of national infrastructures, shipping, agriculture, energy infrastructure, basic manufacturing, mining, industrial materials processing and so forth, to maintain the capabilities against potential case of need, but the need needs administration for common national, social benefit, for the native peoples and native economy, which means controlling and disciplining owners and investors, to prevent them imbalancing the whole system, economy, domestic tranquility and national and social security through exploiting and advantage-taking. Without that those and corruption will topple the whole system. System toppling sorta moots all maintenance and safeguard and fallback plans…

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    This is indeed complicated, but the 10-day Jones Act exemption is needlessly cruel and vicious. It is an attempt to gain a temporary PR gain, but with no commitment of resources or political capital. A supposed political freebie while people are dying for want of an adequate response. Sounds like the GOP’s notion of health care policy, its tax “reform” policy, etc.

    As for Trump, apart from West Side Story, he knows of Puerto Rico because some staffer repeated her briefing often enough that a few things briefly stuck. It is an island, like Long Island but unlike Rhode Island. It’s surrounded by the ocean, in this case, the Caribbean.

    What Trump would remember without prompting is that American vulture funds hold substantial PR debt and want every dime repaid, and more if they can get it, such as by forcing the costly privatization of key infrastructure. Resource extraction is paramount.

    Other issues would be in play. For a long time, Puerto Rico was useful as an American tax haven. It was also useful as a location to outsource manufacturing and the nominal ownership of intellectual property owned by large multinationals, again as tax avoidance schemes. But as with Lichtenstein and Luxembourg, Jersey, Ireland and the BVI, none of that requires knowing anything about Puerto Rico.

    As for the Jones Act, I haven’t a tear for the owners of US ships. I do have concerns for American seafarers who might lose work because of the exemptions for hurricane-stricken states. Why is labor the first to lose in state responses to disaster? (Katrina comes to mind, such as the exemptions for prevailing wage laws.)

    • bmaz says:

      Earl, your first paragraph is spot on. And exactly what I was trying to convey,

      I do not know perfect answers as to the other questions, but what I can pretty easily say is that a waiver is necessary, and if you are going to do it, it seriously needs to be meaningful.

      Ten days is a fucking joke. I tried to allow that such a period might allow 3-5 days of coverage. Honestly, I am pretty dubious that it will even result in that. My best guess is literally zero days of coverage by the time ships get loaded, travel to, and could possibly queue up for port access and downloading (when the ridiculous Jones tariffs kick in).

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As the recent NYT editorial pointed out, Puerto Rico has long suffered from Jones Act restrictions, while neighboring US VI do not.  Alaska and Hawaii also pay extra billions owing to Jones Act restrictions.

    At the very least, the Jones Act exemption should extend for 12 to 24 months, covering not just initial relief but mid-term recovery and rebuilding.  Trump can tell himself that the exemption will help PR pay off its exorbitant debt to the vulture funds (see below).

    Just as America needs a manufacturing base for its long term viability, it needs mariners and a marine industry.  But valid exemptions to an avowedly protectionist statute have already been made and should be extended to Puerto Rico with immediate effect.

    Congress should also consider immediate debt relief for Puerto Rico.  That won’t happen in this Congress, which is obsessed with imposing cruel and damaging neoliberal policies.  But as with legitimate health care and tax reform, the Dems must take stands if they want to lead this country again.  What America desperately needs is not less government, or more private taking of government assets and tasks.  It needs better government.

    • orionATL says:

      earl of huntingdon:

      “… Just as America needs a manufacturing base for its long term viability, it needs mariners and a marine industry.  But valid exemptions to an avowedly protectionist statute have already been made and should be extended to Puerto Rico with immediate effect… ”

      earlier it occurred to me that if the u. s. really needs or just wants its own maritime labor pool, and it very well may, than the nation as a whole should pay the difference between worldwide shipping wages and american sbipping wages. that would be just another government subsidy of the many we now give to both organizations and individuals, e. g., tax subsidies like the grotesque and long standing tax favoritism shown to real estate developers (just as an example :). in this case though, it would seem to relieve an unfair economic burden from p. r., hawaii., and alaska.

      personally, i view many government subsidies, such as for health care, community devopment projects, and some business projects as very positive for the economy as a whole due to their multiplier effects.

      on another tact, i have another argument to make against corporate businesses and republican politicians who shed public crocadile tears about workers’ job losses or loss of an opportunity for job gains as a public cover for their entirely self-entered, self-serving plans to meet their corporation’s or business’s needs. but later for that one.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    One of the lame excuses the administration is trumpeting is that Puerto Rico’s harbors are too damaged to permit them to handle more shipping.

    Where should we put that on the cynicism scale, I wonder.   Has the American Navy no modern mulberry harbors, used to such effect in WWII?  We orchestrated the Berlin airlift for nearly a year in 1948-49 to keep one city from falling to the Ruskies.  Not to mention that we have navy personnel expert at repairing harbors and their peers who are expert at repairing runways and installing emergency ones.  And reports from PR have focused on inadequacies in trucks, drivers and fuel as causes for failures in distributing aid and clearing ports.

    We apparently have plenty of working generals, however, because one with three stars has been appointed czar over PR recovery efforts.  Has Puerto Rico no political or management talent of its own?  And why a general?  Maintenance of order is only one of many issues PR’s government has to contend with for an extended time.  Has the Beltway never given up on its imperial mindset?  Or are neoliberals intent on allowing extended pain to convince Puerto Ricans that only the private sector can properly provide them sufficient aid and comfort?


  12. earlofhuntingdon says:


    Trump’s ego must not have been satisfied after his acting administrator at DHS fantasized that Puerto Rico was a “good news story”.  Called out on his ignorance, cruelty and incompetence, Trump salves his ego, as always, by attacking the weakest party.  In this case, 3.5 million Americans, victims of two cat. 5 hurricanes that have blasted Puerto Rico within two weeks.  For good measure, Trump throws in his standard racist jibes as if they were a spoonful of pique.

    Trump’s only consistent thought about the ongoing disaster in Puerto Rico is how to turn a profit on it.  This from a man who has gone bankrupt and stiffed his creditors, workers and customers nearly as often as he imagines having had the greatest sex in the history of biology.

  13. orionATL says:


    if trump continues to fail to lead effectively on the extraordinary puerto rico disaster, he is going to set up the largest hispanic migration into the u. s. since the early 2000’s.

    incompetence has its ironies.

    there was a large migrstion of put new orleans after katrina

  14. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The MSM has yet to focus on how short is Trump’s waiver of the Jones Act. Much of the reporting simply says that he waived it, but not for only ten days.

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