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. Loan companies charge students for services available for free

By John Hechinger, Bloomberg News

In this Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011 file picture, students attend graduation ceremonies at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) (Butch Dill)

BOSTON - Polly Williams, a single mother who had recently lost her job, was desperate to lower the payments on her $23,000 in student loans. So last June, she called one of the many companies advertising debt relief online.

For a $250 fee, the University of One, now known as Student Consulting Group, offered to help. To come up with the money, Williams skipped an electric bill and lost power, forcing her to throw out $150 of food in her refrigerator, she said.


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Williams could have avoided the fee because the government offers borrower assistance programs for free. Still, a growing student-loan debt-relief industry is profiting from consumers' confusion and desperation, charging as much as $1,600 to sign them up for these repayment plans, according to a report to be released Wednesday by the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy and research group.

"It's disgusting, it really is," said Williams, 54, who earns $26,000 a year as an executive assistant for a Cleveland nonprofit helping the terminally ill. "I can only imagine how many other people they are taking advantage of."

Such companies are proliferating because borrowers are buckling under the weight of student loans, which now total $1 trillion, exceeding all other consumer debt aside from mortgages. Former students are also struggling to navigate the government's often complicated assistance programs. Student loans are among the most onerous forms of debt because they can rarely be canceled through bankruptcy.

After the housing bubble burst, similar outfits targeted consumers facing foreclosure and those behind on their credit cards, leading state and federal regulators to crack down on abuses.

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2. Sodomy hazing leaves 13-year-old victim outcast in Colorado town

By Chris Staiti and Barry Bortnick, Bloomberg News

Norwood School Superintendent David Crews said experts were brought in to talk about hazing and bullying in the wake of an incident in which a 13-year-old boy was sodomized by upperclassmen. Crews imposed a one-day, in-school suspension on the three boys accused of the assault. (Barry Bortnick/Bloomberg News)

NORWOOD, Colo. - At the state high-school wrestling tournament in Denver last year, three upperclassmen cornered a 13-year-old boy on an empty school bus, bound him with duct tape and sodomized him with a pencil.

For the boy and his family, that was only the beginning.

The students were from Norwood, Colo., a ranching town of about 500 people near the Telluride ski resort. Two of the attackers were sons of Robert Harris, the wrestling coach, who was president of the school board. The victim's father was the K-12 principal.

"Nobody would help us," said the victim's father, who asked not to be named to protect his son's privacy. Bloomberg News doesn't identify victims of sexual assault. "We contacted everybody and nobody would help us," he said.

High-school hazing and bullying used to involve name- calling, towel-snapping and stuffing boys into lockers. Now, boys sexually abusing other boys is part of the ritual. More than 40 high school boys were sodomized with foreign objects by their teammates in over a dozen alleged incidents reported in the past year, compared with about three incidents a decade ago, according to a Bloomberg review of court documents and news accounts.

Among them, boys were raped with a broken flagpole outside Los Angeles; a metal concrete-reinforcing bar in Fontana, Calif.; a jump-rope handle in Greenfield, Iowa; and a water bottle in Hardin, Mo., according to court rulings and prosecutors.

At New York's elite Bronx High School of Science, three teenage track-team members were arrested after a freshman teammate alleged they repeatedly hazed him between December and February, including holding the boy down and sodomizing him with their fingers. They pleaded not guilty in New York state criminal court in the Bronx, according to Melvin Hernandez, a spokesman for the Bronx District Attorney's office. A lawyer for one of the boys was unavailable for comment; the other two declined to comment.

While little research has been done on boy-on-boy sexual hazing, almost 10 percent of high school males reported being victims of rape, forced oral sex or other forms of sexual assault by their peers, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

"This is right out of 'Lord of the Flies,"' said Susan Stuart, a professor of education law at Valparaiso University Law School in Indiana, who has studied an increase in federal lawsuits brought by male victims of sexual hazing. "And nobody knows about it."

Hazing in high school is fueling college hazing, experts say, as a new generation of players on middle- and high-school sports teams learn ways to haze through social media, said Susan Lipkins, a psychologist in Port Washington, N.Y., who has studied the subject for 25 years. The practice has been increasing in frequency over the past decade, becoming more brutal and sexually violent, she said.

"Each time a hazing occurs, the perpetrators add their own mark to it by increasing the pain or humiliation," Lipkins said.

High school boys are trying to prove their masculinity to each other by humiliating younger boys because that's what they think manliness is all about, said William Pollack, associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.

"We keep saying to the boy: 'Be a man,' and a boy is not a man, so that's not possible," said Pollack, who is also director of the Centers for Men and Young Men at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.

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4. Judges tell California to cut prisoner count by 10,000

By Alex Dobuzinskis, Reuters

LOS ANGELES - A panel of federal judges ordered California on Thursday to ease overcrowding in state prisons by reducing the number of inmates by about 10,000 this year, and criticized in harsh terms what they described as foot-dragging in dealing with the matter.

The three-judge panel also repeated an earlier warning to potentially hold California Governor Jerry Brown in contempt if a reduction plan is not implemented. The governor said he would seek a stay of the ruling.

California, the nation's most populous state, has been under court orders to reduce inmate numbers in its 33-prison system since 2009, when the same three-judge panel ordered it to relieve overcrowding that has caused inadequate medical and mental healthcare.

The issue has become a political football for Brown, partly because reducing the population in state prisons has meant that local jurisdictions have to host some convicts in county jails who previously would have been sent to state prisons.

Earlier this year, the judges rebuffed a request by Brown to vacate the 2009 order. Brown had contended the state had fixed the crowding problem and that further prisoner releases would harm public safety.

"The history of this litigation is of defendants' repeated failure to take the necessary steps to remedy the constitutional violations in its prison system," the judges said in Thursday's ruling.

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5. Macomber to replace Schneck on Brattleboro Selectboard

By HOWARD WEISS-TISMAN / Reformer Staff

Donna Macomber (Howard Weiss-Tisman/Reformer)

BRATTLEBORO - The Brattleboro Selectboard has appointed Donna Macomber to replace Ken Schneck, who resigned from the board Tuesday because he is moving out of state.

The board made the decision at a special meeting Thursday night.

Macomber is the co-director of the Brattleboro Women's Freedom Center.

She ran for a one-year seat on the board during the last election and lost by only 46 votes, coming in fourth in a two-seat race.

Macomber was appointed from a field of four candidates who put in their letters of intention with the board. The other candidates included Michael Bosworth, Ian Kiehle and Steve Cormier.

Each of the four candidates were at Thursday's meeting, and were interviewed by the board for about 10 minutes. After the interviews the Selectboard members nominated Bosworth and Macomber for consideration.

Macomber received four votes and was named the new member. She will serve on the board until the next election

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