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U.S. Sen. Bob Corker officially becomes chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week. He says one of his first acts will be to hold hearings on the Obama administration’s decision to soften the country’s stance toward Cuba.

The Tennessee Republican said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning that the Cuban government hasn’t yet lived up to its end of the bargain — which includes releasing 53 political prisoners. But he added, he’s keeping an open mind.

Upupa4me via Flickr

Lawmakers in Nashville and Washington, including Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker, have been talking about raising the gas taxes on both the state and federal levels.

A double whammy might not sit well with drivers, but Commissioner John Schroer, the state’s top transportation official, says the need for more money cannot be ignored.

He says the approximately $650 million that Tennessee brings in annually soon will be enough only to keep the state’s roads patched up — without any new construction projects. With that in mind, Tennessee leaders shouldn’t let talk in Congress of raising the federal gas tax keep them from considering a state hike as well.

Bill McChesney via Flickr

The Tennessee Highway Patrol has some unanswered questions about a proposed law requiring seat belts on school buses. After two buses collided in Knoxville last month, killing two students and a teacher’s aide, legislators immediately began calling for lap restraints.

There’s a whole debate over whether children are safer strapped to their seats in a bus. Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons says he’s not convinced seat belts would have saved lives or prevented injuries in the Knoxville tragedy.

Jumpstart Foundry

For the past five years, Tennessee entrepreneurs who wanted to launch a new business idea might have tried to catch the eye of Jumpstart Foundry.

Jumpstart is what’s called an accelerator in the tech world. It’s a company that helps other companies grow — playing the roles of mentor, shareholder and money matchmaker. Since its inception, it’s put about 40 fledgling tech companies through a sort of how-to-run-a-business boot camp, setting them up with seasoned advisors and showing them off to potential investors. And it’s been successful. Last year, an MIT business professor ranked Jumpstart the 14th best accelerator in the country.

TN Photo Services

Tennessee teachers are starting 2015 curious to know if it will be a second year without a pay raise. So far, state officials haven’t made any more promises.

WPLN pressed outgoing education commissioner Kevin Huffman when he didn’t even mention teacher salaries in his annual budget presentation.

“All the salary stuff – state employee salary and teacher salary – will be done through the governor’s budget release,” Huffman said.

Nissan

For the largest automakers in the U.S., 2014 got them back up to pre-recession levels. For Franklin-based Nissan North America, the year set a sales record.

A string of record months resulted in nearly 1.4 million vehicles sold – an all-time high. The Nissan brand drove most of the gains. The company’s luxury line – Infiniti – just barely broke even on the year.

greeblie via Flickr

Tennessee drivers received 102,000 seat belt citations in 2014 — 30,000 more than the year before. According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the increasing enforcement of seat belt laws is part of its effort to bring down the number traffic deaths.

By the end of 2014, 952 people died in Tennessee as part of vehicle crashes, compared to 986 in 2013. It’s still too many, says Sgt. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

“They’re not numbers to us,” he says. “They’re friends. They’re family.”

Courtesy Father Ryan High School

The year 1965 was a strange one for black high school sports in Tennessee. The association governing black teams had folded into the white one, but African-American schools weren’t full members yet. They couldn’t play for the state championship for another year. The games were still segregated, but two coaches weren’t interested in waiting.

Grand Ole Opry

Since 1948, Little Jimmy Dickens was a mainstay at the Grand Ole Opry, including a show he played Dec. 20 to celebrate his 94th birthday.

The 4-foot-11 singer was known for his sense of humor, even in songs, often cracking jokes about his stature.

“I’m puny, short and little but I’m loud,” he sang in one of his oldest hits.

Other tunes had lines like “may the bird of paradise fly up your nose.” A song called “Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait” won him the nickname “Tater.”

Blake Farmer / WPLN (File photo)

The happy new year was also a happy birthday for hundreds of refugees who now call Nashville home. Many asylum seekers are assigned January 1st when they can’t prove their date of birth.

Hussien Mohamud had more friends than he could possibly handle celebrating birthdays this week. “On my Facebook, 1,056 friends of mine get their birthday on that particular day, so it’s ridiculous,” he says.

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The Promise, Bonus Episode: The Big Man Interview

If you've listened to WPLN's special series about life in the James Cayce Homes, you know Big Man, aka Dexter Turner. Meribah Knight interviews him live on stage.

The Latest from 91Classical

Duo Sudeste warmed up Studio C on a cold, rainy November day.

The Violins of Hope took residence in Nashville in early 2018. For months, they were displayed, discussed, and even played.

Wikimedia Commons

Eighty years ago today, thousands of Jewish synagogues, businesses and homes all over Germany were vandalized and set on fire as firefighters, under orders from Gestapo leaders, stood by. The violent anti-Semitic demonstrations that would leave 91 Jews dead and approximately 30,000 arrested and sent to concentration camps is known as Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night” or “The Night of Broken Glass”), after the shards of broken glass that littered the streets afterwards.

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