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Now: Votes for Sale?

(KCET Los Angeles) 9 p.m. Friday

Votes for sale? Of course they are. We hear and read about multimillion-dollar donations from businesses and unions and rich people all the time. We are no longer surprised or — more appropriately — disgusted at how candidates and legislation go to the highest bidder. We accept that money is the mother's milk of politics with a resignation similar to that reserved for death and taxes.

But just maybe there is another way. "Now" host David Brancaccio looks at a new idea, one that has gained traction in Arizona and Maine and will be implemented in Connecticut in 2008. It is the Clean Election movement, and it lets candidates, if they get enough signatures and modest ($5) donations, pay for their campaigns with public funds. In exchange, they agree not to take contributions from the traditional fat cats and special interests.

A good idea? Maybe. Interestingly, it is opposed by groups on both sides of the political spectrum. At the same time, liberals and conservatives have won elections by "campaigning clean." It's on the California ballot as Proposition 89 but, according to polls, is unlikely to pass.

It's an idea worth exploring, and "Now" does it well — almost too well. Brancaccio does such a great job of presenting persuasive arguments for and against that you might find yourself switching sides several times. Not since "The West Wing" left the air has civics been this absorbing.

The Monastery

(TLC) 10 p.m. Sunday

Reality television has a habit of making a contest of most things. Who will get to their destination first? Who will become top model of the year? Who will win the cooking competition and get their name on another broadcast? Now TLC comes up with another competition, and in the most unlikely of places. In the new series "The Monastery," five men agree to give up for a time their mostly unsatisfying lives and enter a monastery. The goal: Who will find grace, repentance (implied, of course) and spiritual fulfillment first? Who will cross the line before the others? The series will be watchable for most and especially fascinating for those who already have faith (or would like more).

The five men in question are, among other things, a former Satanist, a fireman, a recovering alcoholic and an ex-con. They travel to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in northern New Mexico and undergo the challenge of their lives. From the installments so far, the pace of the series is rather slow-going and painstaking. The men let the camera in close and offer plenty of narrative about their difficulties. This is not to everyone's taste but will no doubt find more than a viewer or two.
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