1. Kim Jong who? Meet the cabal that really runs North Korea

By Geoffrey Cain - Global Post

Kim Jong Un leans over a balcony and waves to Korean War veterans cheering below. (David Guttenfelder/AP)

Kim Jong Un leans over a balcony and waves to Korean War veterans cheering below. (David Guttenfelder/AP)

There's more to North Korea than its pudgy and easily parodied dictator, Kim Jong Un.

Since the 1940s, the Kim dynasty has survived three generations, largely by cultivating a bizarre cult of worship among its long-suffering citizens.

But within this apparatus of near-total control, a pantheon of power players works quietly to run the country.

In a nation known for sudden swings and vicious purges, these elites know how to work the system. Of course, power is always a game of push and pull. To stay on top, the Supreme Leader needs the loyalty of his lieutenants, which gives them more clout than you might imagine.

Michael Madden, who runs North Korea Leadership Watch, the most exhaustive blog tracking the whereabouts of North Korean leaders, explained these inner workings to GlobalPost.

Here are five leading figures to watch:

The man behind the throne


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As vice president of the National Defense Commission, General Jang Sung-taek heads the all-powerful body that controls the military. That makes him nation's second most influential leader. Predictably, Kim Jong Un is his immediate supervisor, holding the post of chairman.

The four-star general is among the most experienced faces in Kim Jong Un's circle. He rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s by cultivating close ties with Kim Jong Un's father, deceased despot Kim Jong Il; he may have even taken control behind the scenes when the Dear Leader fell into poor health.

Under the previous autocrat, Jang was so influential that one top-ranking North Korean official, who fled to Seoul, predicted that he would succeed Kim Jong Il.

Jang's status is aided by his marriage to Kim Jong Un's aunt.

The power aunt

General Jang's wife is North Korea's most powerful woman, General Kim Kyong-hui. She is the Moscow-educated daughter of founding father Kim Il Sung. An ardent but pragmatic revolutionary, Kim is known for wielding sway within the ruling family and for being a principle regime supporter. In the 1980s, she oversaw the office that trafficked narcotics and weapons overseas.

Kim Kyong-Hui (C).Youtube.

She serves as a top secretary in the ruling Korean Workers' Party, giving her a hand in state policy.

Politics aside, Kim has one eclectic item on her resume. She opened the nation's first hamburger joint in 2010. North Korea has renamed the classic Western dish "minced meat and bread."

Reportedly a heavy drinker, the 67-year-old has survived repeated rumors of her imminent death.

The protege

Liu Yunshan, right, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, meets with North Korean envoy Choe Ryong Hae in May 2013. (Xie Huanchi/AP)

Liu Yunshan, right, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, meets with North Korean envoy Choe Ryong Hae in May 2013. (Xie Huanchi/AP)

The Clintons may have Huma Abedin as their favored up-and-comer. Likewise, North Korea's celebrity political couple, Jang and Kim, are mentoring a rising official, Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae. Choe holds two key posts in the ruling party that give him sway over ideology and defense issues.

Some analysts doubt whether Choe has the spine to survive the ruling scrum, and point to his supposed lack of army experience as a dire liability. A track record of noble revolutionary valor is pretty much a prerequisite for success in North Korea (although experts debate whether it's becoming less important under Kim Jong Un).

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2. Stretch your body a little every day

By Lenny Bernstein, The Washington Post

Raju Mantina (www.seemtechnique.com) practices a stretching technique he learned from its creator, Aaron L. Mattes (www.stretchingusa.com). Pictured are three stretches; on the left are the starting positions and on the right, the finish positions. Mattes says the positions need to be held for only two seconds to achieve maximum benefit. (Photos by Aaron L. Mattes/Stretching USA)

Don't tell Raju Mantina you can't find the time to stretch every day. I tried, and he would have none of it.

Fifteen to 60 minutes every night before you go to bed, he says in a tone that leaves no room for argument. "People tell me, 'I don't have time to exercise and to stretch,' " he tells me in an accent still heavy with the tones of his native India. "I am not one who will listen to this. It's a total lie."

There are a lot of massage therapists and trainers out there. I've met quite a few in the more than four years that I've written this column. Not many approach their work with Mantina's missionary zeal.

"Movement is an opportunity, not an inconvenience," he tells me. "That [should be] the mentality of our entire life."

Stretching and massage are not part of my fitness routine, but I went to see Mantina, 57, last week at the practice he maintains in his Rockville, Md., home. I was just back from a vacation that included four days of strenuous hiking in southern Utah, and my legs, which are always tight, were particularly stiff. A friend at The Post whom Mantina has stretched and massaged for years recommended him.

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4. Government's secret order to Verizon released as skepticism grows

By Ellen Nakashima, The Washington Post

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., center, leans over the dais to speak with Chris Inglis, left, deputy director of the National Security Agency, after he and other national security officials testified about the NSA's surveillance programs. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON - Obama administration officials on Wednesday faced deepening political skepticism over a far-reaching counterterrorism program that collects millions of Americans' phone records, even as they released newly declassified documents in an attempt to spotlight privacy safeguards.

The previously secret material - a court order and reports to Congress - was released by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing opened Wednesday morning in which lawmakers sharply questioned the efficacy of the collection of bulk phone records. A senior National Security Agency official conceded that the surveillance effort was the primary tool in thwarting only one plot - not the dozens that officials had previously suggested.

In recent weeks, political support for such broad collection has sagged, and the House last week narrowly defeated a bipartisan bid to end the program, at least in its current form. On Wednesday, senior Democratic senators voiced equally strong doubts .

"This bulk-collection program has massive privacy implications," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont. "The phone records of all of us in this room - all of us in this room - reside in an NSA database. I've said repeatedly, just because we have the ability to collect huge amounts of data does not mean that we should be doing so. . . . If this program is not effective, it has to end. So far, I'm not convinced by what I've seen."

Administration officials defended the collection effort and a separate program targeting foreigners' communication as essential and operating under stringent guidelines.

"With these programs and other intelligence activities, we are constantly seeking to achieve the right balance between the protection of national security and the protection of privacy and civil liberties," Deputy Attorney General James Cole said. "We believe these two programs have achieved the right balance."

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5. Vermont's largest electric utility seeks rate increase

MONTPELIER (AP) - Vermont's largest is electric utility wants to increase its rates by 2.46 percent on Oct. 1 and as much as 2.5 percent on Oct. 1 of 2015.

Green Mountain Power on Thursday asked the Public Service Board to approve a two-year rate increase package that utility officials say will stabilize costs.

The extra money is needed to offset $24 million in increased electric transmission costs.

This is the first rate increase sought by GMP since the utility merged with the former Central Vermont Public Service Corp.

While GMP is seeking a 2.46 percent rate increase to take effect in October, the size of the 2014 increase would not be decided until after the Public Service Board studies the utility's operations. It would be capped at no more than 2.5 percent.