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February 13, 2018

Update 7:40 a.m. ET: South African President Jacob Zuma's ruling African National Congress party announed Tuesday afternoon in Johannesburg that it has ordered Zuma to step down. "We are giving him time and space to respond," ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule told reporters. "When we recall our deployee, we expect our deployee to do what the organization expects him to do. ... I don't know what will happen. Let's leave it to President Jacob Zuma." If Zuma steps down, party leader Cyril Ramaphosa will becoming acting president; if Parliament removes him and his Cabinet with a vote of no-confidence, the parliamentary speaker becomes acting president. Our original post appears below.

South Africa's ruling African National Congress party has decided to "recall" President Jacob Zuma, or remove him from office, a senior ANC official told Reuters and South African media on Tuesday. The ANC's executive committee reached its decision after 13 hours of tense discussions and a meeting between Zuma and his deputy and presumptive replacement, Cyril Ramaphosa. "Cyril went to speak with him," a senior ANC source told Reuters, and Zuma made clear he wouldn't resign within 48 hours, as demanded. "We decided to recall Zuma," the source said. "He hasn't been told yet."

The ANC will announce its decision at noon (5 a.m. EST), and if Zuma, 75, refuses the party's order that he step aside, he is expected to lose a vote of confidence in Parliament on Feb. 22, an embarrassment for both Zuma and the ANC. South African media is already calling the "Zexit" inevitable, BBC News says, and the only question is when and how Zuma leaves. Zuma's presidency, which began in 2009, has been marred by economic stagnation and widespread allegations of corruption. His fate was more or less sealed when Ramaphosa, a union leader, beat Zuma's ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to become head of the ANC in December. Peter Weber

12:47 p.m.

Saudi Arabia is doubling down on its claims that Iran was behind last weekend's attacks on two of the kingdom's major oil production facilities.

Saudi Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said Wednesday the kingdom's investigation revealed the strikes were "unquestionably" sponsored by Iran and came from the "north." Speaking at a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he displayed debris from the allegedly Iranian-made weapons and played surveillance video he said showed a drone coming in from the north. If that is indeed the case, it would challenge the claims of Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who took responsibility for the strikes; Yemen, for clarity, lies to the south of Saudi Arabia.

Al-Malki also said the cruise missiles alleged range of 435 miles is further evidence that the strikes were not launched from Yemen. Finally, he noted that the weapon is the same as those that have been used by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Aside from the apparent certainty that the strikes were not launched from Yemen, Saudi Arabia is reportedly still investigating where exactly the attacks originated. Read more at Al Jazeera and RTE. Tim O'Donnell

12:35 p.m.

The massage therapist who accused Kevin Spacey of sexual assault and had a lawsuit against him headed to trial in 2020 has died.

Spacey's anonymous accuser, who filed his lawsuit as John Doe in September 2018, "recently passed," the actor's legal team says they were informed by the plaintiff's attorney, The Hollywood Reporter writes.

The anonymous man was suing Spacey for battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false imprisonment, per the Reporter, alleging Spacey tried to kiss him, forced him to grab and rub his genitals, and blocked the exit during a 2016 massage in Malibu. Spacey has denied the allegation.

The accuser's legal team was planning to call two other massage therapists accusing Spacey of misconduct at the civil trial, which had been set for June 2020, Variety reports. The accuser's estate could potentially continue the lawsuit, Page Six notes.

Spacey had previously been facing indecent assault and battery charges after being accused of groping a busboy in a Nantucket bar, but those charges were dropped in July due to the "unavailability of the complaining witness." Spacey's accuser had pleaded his Fifth Amendment rights when questioned about the status of his cell phone, which he used during the encounter with Spacey. A civil lawsuit brought over this alleged assault was also dropped. More than a dozen men have accused Spacey of sexual misconduct.

Further information about the death of Spacey's anonymous accuser has not been released. Brendan Morrow

12:11 p.m.

Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy can result in pollution particles reaching the fetus through the placenta, a new study suggests.

This could negatively impact the baby's health throughout their lifespan, per the study, published this week in Nature Communications, as adult diseases may originate in the fetal stage as the result of in utero environmental exposures.

The placenta was previously thought to be impenetrable, reports CNN, and any miscarriages or premature births linked to pollution were thought to be the result of impacts on the health of the mother.

But researchers from the study detected black carbon particles from air pollution breathed in by the mother had made their way to the placenta. Black carbon pollution stems from diesel-powered cars and the burning of coal, CNN reports.

The study analyzed 25 non-smoking women in Belgium, and studied the fetus-facing side of their placentas after birth. More black carbon exposure during pregnancy led to more black carbon found in the placenta, which may be "at least partially responsible for detrimental health effects from early life onwards," per the study. Read more at CNN. Taylor Watson

12:06 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) unveiled a new plan to tackle America's affordable housing crisis Wednesday, just one day after President Trump made headlines when he criticized the problem of homelessness in California.

Sanders, who hopes to challenge Trump in 2020 as the Democratic presidential nominee, laid out a series of ideas to rehabilitate America's public housing, make rent more affordable, strengthen tenant rights, end homelessness, and make it easier for people to purchase a home. He also carved out a section dedicated to combating gentrification.

"While we expand and build new housing, we must ensure that current tenants and homeowners are not forced out of their homes or neighborhoods," the plan reads. "We must also ensure that wealthy and exclusionary neighborhoods do no not prevent new development, forcing gentrification and displacement in low-income and minority areas."

Some of the ways Sanders would go about this, if elected, include instilling new zoning ordinances that encourage "racial, economic, and disability integration that makes housing more affordable." But there are also more specific proposals aimed at speculators within the plan. That includes a 25 percent "House Flipping tax" that would be levied against people who sell a non-owner occupied property at a profit within five years of purchase, and a two percent "Empty Homes tax" on the property value of vacant, owned homes in the hopes of bringing more units into the market and discouraging speculative real estate investments. Read the full plan here. Tim O'Donnell

11:32 a.m.

President Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski went almost right from testifying that it's fine to lie to the media to doing an interview with the media, and you can probably imagine the result.

Lewandowski appeared on CNN's New Day Wednesday after speaking in a House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing Tuesday. During the hearing, after being confronted with an admittedly incorrect statement he made in an interview, he said he has "no obligation to be honest with the media."

CNN's Alisyn Camerota, naturally, confronted Lewandowski about this admission, although he mostly evaded her questions by repeatedly bringing up former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a CNN contributor, allegedly lying to federal investigators. What Lewandowski never said was that he does not, in fact, lie to the media on a regular basis, instead claiming that he is "as honest as I can be as often as I can be."

Even when Camerota directly asked Lewandowski whether he is currently lying in this very interview, Lewandowski dodged and offered the exact same answer, repeating, "I'm as honest as I can be with you, Alisyn." CNN faced criticism Wednesday for booking Lewandowski for this mostly unproductive interview immediately after his defense of being dishonest in interviews, with The Daily Beast's Sam Stein writing the decision "left me feeling intense despair." Brendan Morrow

10:59 a.m.

Most polls indicate South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is in the tier just below the frontrunners in the Democratic presidential primary race. But he's first in the hearts and minds of his fellow mayors.

In an open letter published by USA Today on Wednesday, more than 50 mayors across the country — including from cities like Austin, Texas; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Dayton, Ohio — threw their collective weight behind Buttigieg. "We endorse him from heartland towns, coastal cities, suburban communities, and every other corner of our great country," the mayors wrote.

But the mayoral cavalry is reportedly not just sitting at their desks, hacking away at their keyboards. "What's more, in the spirit of the community of mayors, we are already offering Pete our best ideas and helping engage grassroots supporters all across the country," the letter continues.

The mayors also laid out their argument for why their job is the perfect stepping stone for the presidency. They can't afford to deal with inaction and gridlock that result from partisan squabbles because their residents "expect electricity when they flip on the switch, clean water from their taps, and trash picked up regularly." It would be "unthinkable," they claim for a mayor like Buttigieg to shut down the government "because of a petty ideological disagreement." Mayors, in other words, just get things done.

Who knows if the endorsements will help rally voters for Buttigieg in the mayors' cities, but it's always nice to see some solidarity across a profession — though Buttigieg's fellow Democratic candidate New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio would probably disagree. Read the letter at USA Today. Tim O'Donnell

10:31 a.m.

Citing alarming U.S. data about the dangers of vaping, India is banning e-cigarettes.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the ban Wednesday, saying it covers "e-cigarette production, manufacturing, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage, and advertisement," reports CNN.

An emergency ordinance will be issued in a few days, and will be converted into law during the next Parliament session, per CNN. Those who violate the ban could face one year of prison time, a $1,400 fine, or both.

Sitharaman said the move was an effort to control the potential "epidemic". Vaping is slowly gaining popularity in India, NDTV reports.

Seven people in the U.S. have died from vaping-related illnesses, and hundreds are being treated for lung illnesses that may be linked to e-cigarettes, CNN reports. Sitharaman said the U.S. deaths had compounded local fears about the devices, contributing to the decision to ban them outright to reduce risk. Read more at CNN. Taylor Watson

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