The Brattleboro Reformer has many colleagues around the country producing news for our "sister" papers. The Daily DFM is a "top picks" of today's national news. Consider it a collection of "things you should know, today."

1. Many soldiers fail to grasp Army sex assault problem: U.S. general

By David Alexander, Reuters

U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno (C) greets new Army recruits after leading them in their oath during an on-field induction ceremony during the second half of the 112th Army-Navy football game in Landover, Maryland, December 10, 2011. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters) (JONATHAN ERNST)

The U.S. Army is failing to deal with sexual assault in its ranks because too many soldiers in positions of authority do not think there is a problem, the Army chief of staff told a summit of leaders called to address the issue.

General Ray Odierno told a gathering of officials in the Army's Sexual Harassment, Assault Response and Prevention program that when he travels to different bases and speaks to smaller units, he finds too many sergeants, lieutenants and captains who say they do not have a sex assault problem.

"That's baloney," he said. "That's the problem. We're not seeing ourselves."

Some think because they are in an all-male unit, they don't have a sexual assault problem, Odierno said.

"That's not right," he said. "In fact, you probably have some perpetrators, probably have some predators and you probably have some males who have probably been sexually assaulted or sexually harassed."

"We have not been successful in solving this problem," Odierno said. "We have a huge issue. And the main thing I want everybody to understand is that this is not just a passing issue. For whatever reason, this is one that we've had for a very long time. And we have not been able to defeat it."

Odierno's remarks come as the Pentagon is struggling to deal with a big jump in estimated cases of unwanted sexual contact, as well as a spate of high-profile cases of sexual assault, including some involving personnel charged with combating the crime.

An annual Pentagon study released recently estimated that unwanted sexual contact, from groping to rape, jumped by 37 percent in 2012 to 26,000 cases from 19,000 the previous year.

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2. Massive dust storms hit Colorado, evoking 'Dirty Thirties'

By Colleen O'Connor, The Denver Post

Dave Tzilkowski and his wife, Jillane Hixson, look out over their farm from their backyard. Their crop of wheat was damaged by the recent dust storm. (Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post) (Hyoung Chang)

LAMAR, Colo. - Jillane Hixson stopped dusting her home about noon on a clear Friday and looked out the window to a storm roiling in the distance.

Small dust devils kicked up, and within moments, a punishing dust storm slammed into Hixson Farms at full force, trapping Hixson and her husband, Dave Tzilkowski, in their home for 15 hours to kick off the Memorial Day weekend.

"You hear sand and dirt pounding against the window," said Hixson, a fifth-generation farmer whose land and home are 4 miles south of Lamar. "You know that it's your crop that's hitting the windows and blowing away, and it's not just affecting you, but also everyone else."

They raced to close the blinds and curtains - to minimize the thick fog of dirt seeping inside and to block the grim vision.

"You can't stand to look at it," she said. "It's like a train wreck, looking a disaster full in the face."

They paced and they prayed as 60 mph winds kept coming.

"At one point, the sand was pounding on the glass so hard, I didn't know if it was hail or dirt," she said.

By late evening, so much dirt was floating inside the house, they had to cover their faces with handkerchiefs.

"It was in your nose, on your tongue, in your eyes," she said.

Hixson showered late that night but soon was covered with another layer of grime. They went to bed at 11 p.m., putting their heads under the blankets to shield them from the noise and the dirt, but they couldn't really sleep. They moved from bedroom to bedroom trying to find some peace.

By the time they woke at 6 a.m. Saturday, the storm had passed.

They opened the front door and saw 3-foot drifts of dirt everywhere.

"We were shellshocked, almost immobilized by depression," she said. "We were overwhelmed by the huge financial loss, and by the physical and emotional stress."

Their spirits lifted when family from Denver arrived for the holiday weekend.

The storm was the worst of seven that have scoured the farm since November, Hixson said.

"We had periods of blowing soils in the 1970s that required tractor work," Tzilkowski said. "But this is ridiculous. I've never seen anything like it."

Dirt is almost all that people can talk about these days in communities along U.S. 50 and 287.

Photos of fierce dust storms rolling across the state's Eastern Plains are showing up on Facebook and local TV news, harking to the Dust Bowl years that devastated southeastern Colorado in the 1930s. Farmers and ranchers are tolling their losses. People are praying for rain.

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3. Even with new rules, some consumers face steep overdraft fees

By Danielle Douglas, The Washington Post

In this Oct. 16, 2009 file photo, customers use ATMs at a Bank of America branch office, Friday, Oct 16, 2009 in Boston. Despite new rules enacted since 2009, some customers still are facing high fees for overdrafts on their checking accounts, according to a new study from the government's consumer financial protection watchdog. (Lisa Poole)

Some consumers opting for overdraft protection from their banks could find themselves facing steep fees and an increased likelihood of their checking accounts getting shut down, according to a new study from the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In a report released Tuesday, the bureau said Americans are encountering a wide variation of overdraft charges on debit card purchases and ATM withdrawals because of a patchwork of policies at the nation's biggest banks.

Some banks limit the number of times customers can overdraw on their accounts to twice a day, others allow as many as 12 overdrafts that can trigger hundreds of dollars in fees. Some banks waive penalties for purchases under $5 that overdraw an account, but others charge fees for every one, regardless of size.

"What is marketed as overdraft protection can, in some instances, put consumers at greater risk of harm," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said Monday on a call with reporters. "Consumers need to be able to control their costs and expenses, and they deserve clarity on those issues."

The report comes three years after the Federal Reserve banned banks from allowing customers to automatically overdraft their checking accounts and charging them high fees in the process. As advocates noted at the time, the ban aimed to put an end to customers unwittingly incurring a $35 overdraft fee for a $3 latte.

As the economy sputtered, some banks raised a variety of fees charged to consumers. Lawmakers and advocacy groups bemoaned institutions raising fees and pinching consumers while receiving taxpayer bailouts, and the backlash set the stage for changes in the way banks handle overdrafts.

Banks must now give consumers the option of signing up for the service or having their debit cards declined. But consumer groups say banks are doing a poor job of explaining the rules.

In some cases, consumers with overdraft protection are more vulnerable to high fees and having their accounts involuntarily closed, according to the report.

Account holders with overdraft protection incurred $196 in overdraft fees on average in 2011 and had their accounts closed at a rate 2.5 times higher than those without the service. The consumer bureau also found that annual overdraft charges ranged from an average of $147 at some banks to as much as $298 at others.

The CFPB noted that overdraft and insufficient-funds charges account for 60 percent or more of the fee income on consumer checking accounts.

But Richard Hunt, president and chief executive of the industry trade group the Consumer Bankers Association said overdraft is not exactly a windfall for banks.

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4. Brattleboro green lights traffic plan

By HOWARD WEISS-TISMAN / Reformer Staff

Downtown Brattleboro (Reformer file photo)

BRATTLEBORO -- The town has released a draft traffic calming plan to help residents get more involved in addressing dangerous road conditions around town.

David Gartenstein, the Selectboard representative on the Traffic Safety Committee, said the committee has been putting the document together for about five months to give residents a better tool for reporting areas of town that deserve more attention.

"The Traffic Safety Committee wanted to establish a mechanism for how concerned citizens can present issues about traffic hazards to the town rather than just have them come in ad hoc," said Gartenstein. "The plan is based on models that have been successful in other municipalities."

Brattleboro had three deaths attributed to vehicle-pedestrian collisions between November 2011 and March 2012, as well as a number of injury related incidents, and Gartenstein said the committee has been taking a number of steps to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety around town.

The plan has been posted on the town's website, and the committee is asking for comments on the draft plan before the Selectboard formally votes to approve the plan.

The plan gives citizens more information on how they can make reports, but it also formalizes the way the town will respond to those reports in the future.

All requests for traffic calming measures will go through the Department of Public Works, and then the town manager will forward requests on to the Traffic Safety Committee for consideration.

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