Kurds are America’s on-the-ground hope

Friday, Feb. 20

BuzzFeed News takes a close look at the on-the-ground Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIS. Oscar buzz is heating up as Sunday’s awards show approaches. And all eyes are on Texas’ same-sex marriage ban after a couple was granted a license.

Here are the top stories

An inside look: Kurdish forces show the strain of the ISIS fight. Six months into the war against ISIS, Kurdish forces in Iraq are America’s main ally on the ground. The Kurds, who inhabit a region straddling the border of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia, make up the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but don’t have a permanent state. The Kurds rely on U.S. strikes to hold back ISIS, but their forces are key to a U.S. strategy that promises no combat troops. They fight to protect their land, but also feel they’re doing the dirty work for the West. BuzzFeed News’ foreign correspondent Mike Giglio reports from Iraqi Kurdistan.

Police harassment at methadone clinics makes quitting heroin even harder. With heroin addiction skyrocketing, methadone remains the gold standard for narcotics dependence treatment. Yet cops nationwide target heavily regulated methadone clinics to turn vulnerable addicts into informants, with little public outcry, reaffirming the medicine’s enduring and deadly stigma, BuzzFeed News contributor John Knefel reports.

Methadone 10 mg Joe Amon / The Denver Post / Getty ImagesMethadone 10 mg Joe Amon / The Denver Post / Getty Images

The Oscars are this Sunday. The 87th Academy Awards live broadcast starts at 7 p.m. ET on ABC and Neil Patrick Harris is hosting. It’s his first time doing the Oscars, but he’s hosted the Emmys and the Tonys, and has won Emmys for his Tonys hosting. The full list of nominees is here.

A little extra

This year, who’s not nominated has been generating buzz. The five marquee categories in which people — not films — are nominated feature just one non-white nominee, director Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman. The Oscars nominee list is so lacking in diversity this year that #OscarsSoWhite started trending on Twitter.  

So who’s going to win? The Oscars “could teeter in several unpredictable directions,” BuzzFeed News’ Adam B. Vary and Alison Willmore write. It’s a tight race between Birdman and Boyhood for Best Picture. Expect Julianne Moore to win Best Actress. Best Actor might be the toughest race to call this year, but Eddie Redmayne is the favorite, Vary writes. But he picks Bradley Cooper for a surprise win.

Birdman, Fox Searchlight / Boyhood, IFC Films / American Sniper, Warner Bros.Birdman, Fox Searchlight / Boyhood, IFC Films / American Sniper, Warner Bros.

We're keeping an eye on

Six transgender women of color were killed in the U.S. in one month. Kristina Gomez Reinwald, 46, was found dead on Feb. 15 in her Miami-Dade County home. Police say her death was a homicide. Homicides of transgender women in 2015 are so far quickly outpacing 2014, when 13 transgender Americans were killed in homicides all year, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.

What’s next? LGBT and anti-violence leaders have been putting pressure on local governments to provide more information on these deaths, and to hold police officials accountable during ongoing investigations.

The mayor of Caracas, Venezuela, was arrested. Antonio Ledezma, an opposition leader and mayor of Venezuela’s largest city, was taken into custody by intelligence agents, who accused him of planning a coup.

What’s next? We’ll watch to see what charges might be brought against Ledezma. President Nicolas Maduro has promised he will be “held accountable for all his crimes.”

Did you hear about this?

Wal-Mart is increasing wages for 500,000 workers. America’s biggest private employer is raising its minimum wage to $9 an hour this year, and to $10 an hour in 2016. The move reflects what could finally be a strong economy paying off for low-income workers, BuzzFeed News’ Matthew Zeitlin writes.

One same-sex couple is now legally married in Texas. On Thursday morning, Texas state District Judge David Wahlberg ordered that a marriage license be issued to Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant in Austin.

Travis County Clerk issued the first same-sex marriage license in Texas.

Government spies can now eavesdrop on your cell phone and millions of others. Top-secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden and reported by The Intercept detail how British and American spy agencies stole SIM card data.

Speaking of cell phones, are you still on your parents’ plan? … and HBO Go and Netflix accounts? It’s OK, Elizabeth Weingarten writes in Slate, defending the “digital umbilical cord.”

Pics or it didn’t happen. Parts of the U.S. are still freezing. BuzzFeed’s Jon Premosch rounds up photos to show how stunningly cold it’s been. Niagara Falls is frozen. While it doesn’t feel like it, this has been the sixth warmest winter on record.

Just in case you still didn’t think a frozen Niagara Falls was glorious enough, a rainbow showed up. Lindsay DeDario / ReutersIf a frozen Niagara Falls wasn't glorious enough, a rainbow showed up. Lindsay DeDario / Reuters

Happy Friday

A wearable tomato machine exists in the world. Forget Google Glass or Apple Watch — a Japanese company has introduced a robot hat-backpack that feeds you tomatoes while you jog. The Tomatan sits on a runner’s shoulders and can be loaded with six tomatoes.

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