Pro-choice protestors outside the University of Texas. (File Photo) Photograph: Getty Images
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What the hell actually happened in Texas last night?

Chaos and confusion in the Capitol.

If you don't know what's happening in Austin right now, then chances are you haven't opened Twitter in the last few hours. The internet practically exploded last night, as protesters in the public gallery of the Texas State Senate unleashed a pandemonium of screaming in support of the heroic Wendy Davis, a state senator who was on her feet speaking for ten hours. Davis had been working to filibuster a particularly horrific anti-abortion bill which would limit access to abortion-causing pills and reduce the number of clinics in the state effectively to just five.

After a chaotic few hours of waiting, it now looks certain that the bill, known as SB5, has indeed been killed – and by a matter of moments. The official record of the vote is that it took place at 12:03 – three minutes past the time when the special session closed. Under Texas law, that means it didn't pass.

If this sounds like a bit of a procedural drama, it was. But it was an extremely dramatic one, especially for the last fifteen minutes, and if there's anything the internet loves, it's a good melodrama – just look at the tweets-per-minute data of the event.

Republicans in the chamber at first claimed victory, and the Associated Press reported that the vote had passed. But the internet raised a hue and cry: when the result was first posted, the date-stamp was today's; it was quickly changed, but not fast enough that the internet missed it. The two screencaps are here.

The senators were recalled to the chamber for an emergency caucus, and the screen-caps above were shown in the  chamber. Moments ago, after an agonisingly long discussion, the Lt. Governor of Texas, David Dewhurst, announced that the vote had been out of time and invalid – the filibuster was successful. Few people have seen politics this electrifying in living memory. More than 170 thousand people were watching the live-stream of the chamber by midnight, despite the fact that it was the middle of the night on the east coast.

This is the moment when, with fifteen minutes to go before midnight, Davis' colleague, senator Leticia Van De Putte, struggling to be heard, asked what a female senator had to do to be heard over her male colleagues; causing the cheering to begin from the public gallery. The cheering continued, drowning out the attempts of the chamber to vote, until after midnight.

A filibuster is famous for being at the heart of some of the most exciting moments of US political history. It is when a politician attempts to run out the clock on a debate, by speaking for a prolonged amount of time in order to prevent a vote on a particular topic. In Washington today, however, moments these are rare. Just the threat of a filibuster – like that of a Presidential veto – is usually enough to upset the course of a bill these days, though earlier this year libertarian Senator Rand Paul filibustered for thirteen hours to protest about the President's drone policies.

So what happens next? Once the confusion calms down – this was the scene inside the Senate chamber just a few moments before the emergency session announced that the bill had not passed – Republicans may try to mount a legal challenge. Some supporters of SB5 are already saying that they will try to re-introduce the bill at the next special senate. The democratic body of Texas was overruled last night not by debate or campaigning, or even, in the end, by the heroic Senator Davis, but by a grass-roots of people in the public gallery. It was not politics by the books; it was politics at its most raw, and the Republicans will respond.

The exciting part is probably over. But it has been an unforgettable night.

Nicky Woolf is a freelance writer based in the US who has formerly worked for the Guardian and the New Statesman. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.