Stossel's "Myths, Lies and Nasty Behavior"

ByABC News
January 27, 2005, 6:20 PM

— -- Here's my latest list of things you may have been led to believe are true -- but aren't. I'm also including some nasty behaviors that are more than just annoying, they cost us all money.

I hope this will give you a different perspective about your money, your neighbors and your politicians.

People don't like what littering does to their neighborhoods, but they keep doing it. And it's not only annoying. It costs taxpayers money.

One county put hidden cameras in the woods to capture litterers. We looked at some of the tape and saw people dumping all sorts of trash -- an old television, a VCR, a kid's bike, a lawnmower.

One man threw out what looked like a bag of garbage. It turned out to be a bag filled with puppies. We don't know what happened to the puppies. The surveillance camera never captured that.

The camera's purpose, of course, is to catch the litterers. If the camera records the license plate, prosecutors summon them to court. The man who abandoned the puppies pleaded guilty to animal neglect and littering -- his sentence? Just probation, because he's ill.

A dad and daughter who dumped garbage more than 20 times at a creek were ordered to pay $500 and pick up six tons of garbage. But lots of other litterers are never identified and go unpunished.

The prosecutions are a small step in the endless battle against these inconsiderate people. One look at the beautiful Saluda River in Columbia, S.C, will give you an idea of how many battles remain to be fought.

The river is used by fishermen, kayakers and swimmers. But litter is everywhere.

"It drives me crazy 'cause this is a beautiful place, and these are class four and five rapids. And it's just gorgeous," said Dudlen Britt of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Sometimes the officers watch and catch people. They caught jerks throwing beer cans toward their friends on an island in the river. Once it's clear they've left the beer cans behind and swum back to meet their friends, the officers move in.

Britt told them to go back and pick up the cans and appear in court.

In court, they told the judge they were going to go back and pick up everything that they had left behind.

Sure they were. They were amateurs. But there are professional litterers too. People who dump for a living -- for businesses looking to cut their disposal costs.

It costs real money to dump commercial garbage at a licensed dump. And you need permits to dispose of tires and other hazardous stuff. So, some people just pour sewage into ravines or dump carpet cleaning fluid into storm sewers.

In Columbus, Ohio, cops ran a sting to catch some professional dumpers. They advertised for haulers to take away a pile of garbage. Two men agreed to cart it off for $80.

Instead of driving to the local landfill, the litterers just stopped at a low-income apartment complex and put the garbage in and around the project's trash bin. "The illegal dumpers, they're here constantly, almost everyday," said James Youngblood an apartment manager at the complex.

This time, however, the sheriffs were watching. They made the dumpers load all the garbage back into their truck, and take it to a licensed landfill. One of the men was fined $360 and sentenced to community service. They're still searching for his partner.

So watch out, you might be caught. But the sad truth is that most people get away with it.

The cost of a phone call has actually been coming down. Through the miracle of new technology and heated competition, a three-minute cross-country call that once cost two bucks now costs 20 cents. But what's all that other stuff on your bill -- surcharges, regulatory fees, state gross receipts tax? A lot of people are upset about these extra charges.

But Steve Largent, president of CTIA -- The Wireless Association, says it's not the cell phone companies' fault.

Most of the charges are fees that government, not the phone company, adds to your bill.

It's a way to raise taxes without people seeing it because phone bills are so long and contain so many extra charges. Also, putting more taxes on your phone bill is not as politically painful as, say, raising income or property taxes. In Baltimore, where phone users were already paying heavy state and federal taxes, the city decided it wanted some of the action.

"They were charging every resident who used wireless services in the city of Baltimore $3.50. They said, 'Hey, this is a good thing. Let's double it,' " Largent said.

With the new "Baltimore City Surcharge" of $3.50, the average cell phone user there must now pay about $7 extra in taxes per phone line. Taxes on cell phone service nationwide now average 14.5 percent -- more than double an average sales tax.

It would be nice if the wireless providers who advertise a plan for $39.99 a month said you'll really have to pay closer to $50. But the companies are just passing on taxes and surcharges that government mandates. So instead of screaming at the guy behind the counter, maybe you should scream at city hall.

People don't just foul public places with litter. They pollute it with noise. And we just tolerate it.

We asked actors to stage loud phone conversations and found that people are so used to being intruded upon, they just take it. Only one woman reacted -- and she only got mad because the actor kicked her bag.

The intrusions are everywhere. Try to enjoy a quiet lake and the jet skis show up. Want to take a winter's walk in the woods? You'll get an earful of snowmobile motors.

And the noise isn't just annoying, it can hurt us. It can damage hearing, cause high blood pressure and fatigue.

That's why sometimes, at least, police enforce noise rules. Cops sometimes give tickets, but that doesn't stop the intrusions.

And how about car alarms? They make so much noise and yet almost no one pays any attention. Neighbors don't call the police when the alarms are set off. They just ignore them. Drivers could save money and do their neighbors a favor if they bought less expensive, silent, antitheft devices like kill switches or computerized smart keys. Some come as standard equipment on cars.

They say New York's the city that never sleeps. Well, how could you sleep if you live near one of its nightclubs? We met people on a Saturday night who were being made miserable because of the street noise outside a club on their street.

"It is like something out of the Day of the Locusts. There is noise, there is cars, there are people screaming," one woman who lived near the club said. What did the clubgoers have to say?

They were unapologetic. "You gotta expect it. You live in the city, deal with this," one man said.