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Unorthodox foreign policy gambit fits pattern
Trump's allies laud bold, tough diplomacy; critics see a 'high-wire' failure, as with Iran, N. Korea, China


WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's weekend tweet canceling secret meetings at Camp David with the Taliban and Afghan leaders just days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is the latest example of him willing to take a big risk in pursuit of a foreign policy victory only to see it dashed.

Trump's allies say his approach signals that he's a tough negotiator willing to take chances to gain a U.S. advantage.

Meanwhile, his quest to withdraw the remaining 14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan amid America's longest war remains unfulfilled — so far.

What had seemed like an imminent deal to end the Afghan war unraveled Saturday, with Trump and the Taliban blaming each other for the collapse of nearly a year of U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha, Qatar.

The insurgents, who hosted al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as he masterminded the 9/11 attacks, are now promising more bloodshed. The Afghan government remains mostly on the sidelines of the U.S. effort to end the war.

Trump said Monday that the peace talks are "dead."

His secret plan for high-level meetings on U.S. soil resembled other bold, unorthodox foreign policy initiatives — with North Korea, China and Iran — that the president has pursued that have yet to bear fruit.

"When the Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country, President Trump made the right decision to say that's not going to work," said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday.

Trump's three high-profile meetings with North Korea's Kim Jong Un — including the president's recent brief footsteps onto North Korean soil — have yet to produce progress in getting the North to abandon its nuclear weapons. Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled for months with no tangible progress.

Trump's offers to hold talks with the Iranian leadership have similarly met with no result and Iran has moved ahead with actions that violate the 2015 nuclear deal, which the president withdrew from last year.

With China, Trump has vigorously pursued a trade war, imposing billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese imports that have yet to force a retreat by Beijing.

Pompeo defended Trump's foreign policy, depicting it as tough diplomacy.

"He walked away in Hanoi from the North Koreans where they wouldn't do a deal that made sense for America," Pompeo said. "He'll do that with the Iranians. When the Chinese moved away from the trade agreement that they had promised us they would make, he broke up those conversations, too."

Trump said he axed the Camp David meetings and called off negotiations because of a recent Taliban bombing near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that killed a U.S. service member. He has not indicated why that death was the tipping point; nine other Americans have died since June 25 in Taliban-orchestrated violence.

The deal started unraveling days earlier, however, after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani postponed his trip to Washington and the Taliban refused to travel to the U.S. before a deal was actually signed, according to a former senior Afghan official.

Democrats said Trump's decision to nix a deal with the Taliban was evidence that he was moving too quickly to get one. Far from guaranteeing a cease-fire, the deal only included Taliban commitments to reduce violence in Kabul and neighboring Parwan province, where the U.S. has a military base.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the talks were ill-conceived from the start because they haven't yet involved the Afghan government.

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the government, which it sees as illegitimate, so the Trump administration tried another approach, negotiating with the Taliban first to get a deal that would lead to Taliban talks with Afghans inside and outside the government.

"It's another example of the Trump administration's foreign policy, which is a high-wire act that ultimately is focused on Trump as a persona but not in the strategic, methodical effort of creating peace," Menendez said.

Criticism of the Camp David plan was not limited to Democrats. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said the Taliban should never be allowed at the presidential retreat in Maryland. "Camp David is where America's leaders met to plan our response after al Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, killed 3000 Americans on 9/11," she tweeted.

Some administration officials, including national security adviser John Bolton, did not back the agreement with the Taliban because they don't think the Taliban can be trusted.

Pompeo said he didn't know whether Trump will still follow through on his pledge to reduce the number of U.S. troops there from 14,000 to 8,600.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had recently announced that he had reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban. Under the deal, the U.S. would withdraw about 5,000 U.S. troops within 135 days of signing. In exchange, the insurgents agreed to reduce violence and prevent Afghanistan from being used as a launch pad for global terrorism attacks, including from local Islamic State affiliate and al-Qaida.

Pompeo said the Taliban agreed to break with al-Qaida. After the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. ousted the Taliban from control in Afghanistan, where it had ruled with a harsh version of Islamic law from 1996 to 2000.

But problems quickly emerged after the tentative accord was announced. Among them: The Taliban kept launching car bombs.

It's unclear if the talks will resume because the Taliban won't trust future deals they negotiate with the U.S. if they think Trump might abruptly change course, according to the former senior Afghan official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Trump's suspension of the negotiations "will harm America more than anyone else," the Taliban said in a statement. "It will damage its reputation, unmask its anti-peace policy to the world evenmore, increase its loss of life and treasure and present its political interactions as erratic."

The former official said the deal fell apart for two main reasons.

First, the Taliban refused to sign an agreement that didn't state the end date for a complete withdrawal of American forces.

Secondly, the U.S. was unsuccessful in persuading Ghani to postpone the Afghan presidential election set for Sept. 28, the official said. The U.S. argued that if Ghani won, his opponents would protest the results, creating a political crisis that would make the all-Afghan talks untenable.

9/11 memorial now recognizes a growing toll of victims

NEW YORK (AP) — When the names of nearly 3,000 Sept. 11 victims are read aloud Wednesday at the new World Trade Center, a half-dozen stacks of stone will quietly salute an untold number of people who aren't on the list.

The granite slabs were installed on the memorial plaza this spring. They recognize an initially unseen toll of the 2001 terrorist attacks: firefighters, police and others who died or fell ill after exposure to toxins unleashed in the wreckage.

The unusual addition reflects a memorial that is evolving as the aftermath of 9/11 does. And for families like Joanna Reisman's, the new 9/11Memorial Glade gives their loved ones a place in the landscape of remembrance at Ground Zero.

A firefighter's widow, she emphasizes that the losses thousands of families suffered on Sept. 11 were horrific. "We just have to recognize that there were others, too," said Reisman, whose 54-year-old husband, Lt. Steven Reisman, searched through the World Trade Center debris for remains, and then died in 2014 of brain cancer. He was 54.

Subtle and sculptural, the memorial glade features six stone pieces inlaid with steel salvaged Trade Center steel. They jut from the ground along a tree-lined pathway.

Unlike the plaza's massive waterfall pools memorializing people killed on 9/11 - those whose names are read at anniversary ceremonies - the boulders are not inscribed with the names of those they honor. There is no finite list of them, at least not yet.

Instead, nearby signs dedicate the glade "to those whose actions in our time of need led to their injury, sickness, and death," including first responders, recovery workers, survivors and community members at the attack sites at the Trade Center, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The collapse of the Trade Center's twin towers produced thick dust clouds, and fires burned for months in the rubble.

Many rescue and recovery workers later developed respiratory and digestive system ailments potentially linked to inhaled and swallowed dust. Some were diagnosed with other illnesses, including cancer.

Research continues into whether those illnesses are tied to 9/11 toxins. A 2018 study did not find higher-than-normal death rates overall among people exposed to the dust and smoke. But researchers have noted more deaths than expected from brain cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and certain other diseases; and an unusual number of suicides among rescue and recovery workers. Studies also have suggested that highly exposed workers may face more problems, including somewhat higher death rates and a modestly higher risk of heart trouble, than less-exposed colleagues.

More than 51,000 people have applied to a victims compensation fund that makes payments to people with illnesses potentially related to 9/11; it has awarded over $5.5 billion so far. After impassioned advocacy, lawmakers this summer ensured that it won't run out of money.

None of that was foreseen when the memorial design was chosen in January 2004. But the selection jury "knew that we'd be picking something that allowed for an evolution of the site," said member James E. Young, a retired University of Massachusetts Amherst professor.

As attention grew to the deaths of ailing 9/11 rescue, recovery and cleanup workers, some memorials elsewhere began adding their names. A remembrance wall focused on them was dedicated in 2011 in Nesconset on Long Island.

But the Trade Center memorial has a "responsibility - especially where it's located, on sacred ground - to continue to tell the story," said John Feal, who lost part of a foot while working as a demolition supervisor there and later founded a charity that maintains the Nesconset memorial.

Ground Zero memorial leaders had misgivings at first, memorial CEO Alice Greenwald said. They noted that the health problems were documented in the below-ground Sept. 11 museum, though it gets far fewer visitors than the memorial plaza. And the leaders felt protective of the memory of people killed on 9/11.

Responders and health advocates "could see what we couldn't see right away ... that this was really something that needed to be commemorated, as much as documented," Greenwald said.

Plans for the $5 million glade, designed by memorial plaza architects Michael Arad and Peter Walker, were ultimately announced in 2017.

The traditional image of a memorial is an immutable tribute, literally written in stone - if also potentially susceptible to shifting views of its subject, as demonstrated by ongoing debate over Confederate statues around the American South.

But sometimes monuments adapt to take on more meanings.

Some memorials built after one war get expanded or rededicated to include veterans of other wars. A memorial to victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was destroyed on 9/11, and their names were included in the current memorial.

After the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was built in Washington, additions nearby recognized nurses and other women who served, and veterans who died years later from lasting effects of the defoliant Agent Orange, post-traumatic stress disorder or other injuries that initially weren't recognized.

Such memorials speak to a change over time in how, and whom, monuments commemorate, said Kirk Savage, a University of Pittsburgh art and architecture history professor and memorials expert.

Rather than a 19th century leader on a pedestal, newer memorials often acknowledge everyday people's involvement in historic events and shift focus "from recognizing people that we emulate to people that we grieve for," he said.

Caryn Pfeifer has had many people to grieve for over the past 18 years.

First there were the colleagues and friends whom her husband, firefighter Ray Pfeifer, lost on 9/11 and whose remains he sought in the debris. Then there were those who got sick and died over the years, as he fought for health care for first responders while battling his own kidney cancer.

Now she also mourns her husband. He died in 2017, at 59.

With the new memorial glade, she said, "now we have a place to go and sit, think about everybody, and just pray for the next poor guy."

Grace: Nebraska — not sexy. But happy. So we've got that going for us

My fellow Nebraskans, I’ve got some good news and some, well, unfortunate news. Embarrassing, you might say. And it has nothing to do with football.

This news is based on that source of gospel truth: national rankings.

Within a 24-hour period, two list outfits — WalletHub and Big 7 Travel — ranked us, the stalwart Cornhusker State, No. 9 and No. Dead Last in categories of happiness and sexiness, respectively. Takeaways: We’re happy! Ish. (Ninth place is not first, but out of 50, it’s respectable).

But we’re not sexy! Not in the least! Not even remotely desirable! And way, way, less attractive than Iowa (No. 23 on the sexy-meter but No. 11 on the happy one).

This means we’ve got rock-solid self-esteem: We’re Nebraska and not the least bit attractive to outsiders. But hey, we’re not depressed about it.

We Americans are People of the List. That’s either because of our collective short attention span, or the fact that lists are just fun. Top 10 this. Bottom 10 that. And in the era where we measure worth by likes and clicks, why wouldn’t we pin down exactly where some attribute of ours, derived scientifically or by Internet voodoo, puts us on the map? Data-driven, amirite? Can I get an amen on clickbait?

But more about us. Nebraska is, unofficially, the Good Life State. That is why a No. 9 ranking on a happiness scale developed by WalletHub makes so much sense. Nebraska is not the Great Life State or the Best Life out of 50 States. Good Life means good-enough. Which is Top 10 in my book any day.

We in Nebraska are not the happiest, a distinction that goes to Hawaii because, duh. Unhappiest on the WalletHub scale, released Monday, is West Virginia. “Almost heaven,” sang John Denver about the Mountain State, but no one polled him.

WalletHub says its rankings came from 31 metrics that place value not on sandy beaches or John Denver songs but on actual measures like rates of long-term unemployment (Nebraska, fourth-best), volunteerism (Nebraska, sixth-best) and separation and divorce rate (Nebraska, sixth-best, meaning lowest). Another ranking is how much sleep people get a night.

Football notwithstanding, Nebraskans by and large are getting enough Z’s. Hawaii, on the other hand, recorded the least amount of adequate sleep. But sleeping would be a waste of time in paradise.

We Nebraskans are proud of our good life, and we know it’s not for everyone. But not for anyone seems a little harsh.

“Sorry!” said the press release from a group called Big 7 Travel that put Nebraska in the unenviable ranking of 50th. Out of 50 states.

Fortunately, this sexy ranking is not based on anything concrete (obvs). But it is based on perception (yikes). Big 7 Travel, a subset of Big 7 Media, describes itself on its website as a “mobile-first, millennial audience” kind of outfit that creates “original content” for travel, food and hotels. It conducted this oh-so-scientific ranking by polling some of its 1.5 million audience members.

The timing of this particular ranking should be noted. Members were asked in the unsexy month of December, when Nebraska puts on all its clothes and sits under blankets with no makeup and sneezes.

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It should be noted that Big 7 purposefully left out any definition of “sexy,” letting people draw their own conclusions. Points were not given for having a good personality.

Another flaw? The sexiest award went to ... Illinois. The Land of Lincoln has never been accused of being a hotbed of attraction. It’s just like Nebraska but with a bigger lake, an American Girl doll store and worse weather. OK, Chicago, my kind of town and city of big shoulders. But still. No. 1?

The four Most Sexy runners-up make sense: Colorado (2), Florida (3), California (4) and Hawaii (5). But there are some head-scratchers in the Top 10 like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

The runner-up for Least Sexy State in the Union was Alaska.

When the survey news hit Monday, one World-Herald editor astutely pointed out some psychology: The first (happiness) is based somewhat on how we see ourselves. The second (sexiness) is how others see us.

And again, in fairness to us, this is coming from a group that has a travel category of “Instagrammable Spots.” The message is pretty clear: It’s not WHERE you go that matters; it’s how good your destination looks on social media. And again, in fairness to us, Illinois???

Numbers, whether derived from real science or based on opinion, only tell us so much, of course.

Can you really put a figure on matters of the heart?

Take Nebraska football, which was not a consideration in either the happiness or sexiness measures. For better or for worse.

To start the season, the Huskers made an important ranking in college football, the Associated Press Top 25. But after Saturday’s loss to Colorado, they fell off the list. The team, right now, is unranked.

But ask any die-hard Nebraska fan if that really matters. To those happy, unsexy fans, Nebraska is always perpetually ranked No. 1.

Check out nearly 100 stunning photos of Nebraska

Enrollment slips at 3 of 4 of the main schools in University of Nebraska system

A decline in international students chipped away at enrollment this semester at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Although the University of Nebraska at Omaha and two of Nebraska’s state colleges reported an uptick in international students, many colleges across the country have found it harder to attract students from China, India and other nations.

Of UNL’s total decline of 488 students, more than half of those are attributable to international students. There are 259 fewer than last year at this time, and much of that decline is in Chinese students, UNL said. UNL has the most international students of Nebraska colleges.

A slump in international students “is being felt in a lot of places,” said Mike Baumgartner, head of the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education. Baumgartner said he couldn’t address UNL’s declines in international students, but “it doesn’t surprise me.”

“I know there’s lots of reasons,” said Ruoyu Dong, a senior economics student at UNL. Dong, of Beijing, cited the trade conflict between the United States and China and the fact that more Chinese students seeking an English-language institution are finding cheaper tuition in Canada and Australia.

Chinese and other international students typically pay full tuition in the U.S.

Dong said it’s also his understanding that it’s somewhat harder to get a visa to study in the U.S. than it was three years ago. He came four years ago.

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Total enrollment slipped this semester at three of four of the University of Nebraska system’s main institutions. Enrollment and tuition provide a crucial source of revenue for universities. In the NU system, state appropriations have been somewhat unpredictable over the past few years. The NU system received a 3% boost from the state this year after midyear cuts the preceding couple of years.

Figures released Monday showed that in the NU system, only the University of Nebraska Medical Center increased its enrollment over the same time last year, a 2.1% rise, to 4,055. That’s the 19th straight record high for UNMC, the NU system reported.

UNL, UNO and UNK showed small declines in total headcount from last fall to this semester.

UNL’s enrollment dropped 1.9%, from 25,820 to 25,332. UNO’s fell 1.8% to 15,153. UNK’s declined 0.8% to 6,279.

Creighton University also said it had a slight decline, from last year’s enrollment record of 8,910 to 8,821, a 1% drop.

In the state-college system, Wayne State showed a gain of 5.5% to 3,689, while the two other state colleges had decreases. Chadron State enrollment dropped 3% to 2,387 and Peru State’s fell 0.4% to 1,800.

The institutions generally emphasized their positive numbers in press releases and interviews. UNL said its freshman class “is the most racially diverse and academically talented” ever. About 18% of the freshman class are minorities, UNL said, and UNL’s 2019-20 freshmen “have an average ACT score of 25.5, the highest in university history.”

UNL also said it increased its number of freshmen from in state and received a boost in transfer students from within the state, too.

Peru State said it had its largest freshman class, 290, in at least 30 years. Wayne State had a big bump of students overall, from 3,498 to 3,689.

And while Creighton’s enrollment is down, it’s still the second-largest total in university history, Creighton said.

UNO said that 36% of its first-year students are underrepresented, or nonwhite. Its total number of international students, a 10.6% increase to 875, shows that UNO is “bucking national trends” in that regard, UNO said.

Wayne State also had a jump in international students, from 38 to 82. Peru State had a very small decline, while Chadron State had a slight increase in that category.

Nationwide, the number of international students fell 6.6% in 2017-18, and that trend “appears to be continuing,” the publication Inside Higher Ed reported last November.

Besides the tariff battle between the U.S. and China, some Confucius Institutes on American campuses have encountered scrutiny. A U.S. Senate subcommittee report early this year said that, among other things, Confucius Institute programs nationwide give the Chinese access to American higher education but that China doesn’t reciprocate.

Some Confucius Institutes across the country have closed as criticism of them has ramped up. Confucius Institutes are cultural and language exchange programs between China and the U.S. The UNL Confucius Institute’s main role is to teach Chinese to Americans.

Chris Heselton, associate director of UNL’s Confucius Institute, said some Chinese have faced “a general atmosphere of hostility” recently in the U.S.

Heselton said some Chinese teachers have struggled to obtain visas in the U.S. “We’ve been lucky that we’ve managed to avoid that,” he said. The UNL institute has 11 teachers from China, one Chinese-American and two Caucasian-Americans.

The overall declines in general enrollment at many institutions also reflect how competitive recruitment is among colleges. The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education said the Midwest produced about 776,800 high school graduates in 2010 and estimated that there would be only 735,300 this year.

This means many colleges in the region are competing for a smaller pool of students. In Nebraska, UNO’s Center for Public Affairs Research reports that the number of 18-year-old whites will decline between 2010 and 2028, while the number of 18-year-old minorities will rise over the same time.

Omaha-area high schools ranked by 2018 ACT scores