The unfolding scandal of financier, liberal philanthropist, and convicted sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein is interesting from a political standpoint but it is also revealing as a cultural marker.

The baseline of the story is that a billionaire liberal Democrat named Jeffrey Epstein was sentence to a short prison term in Florida after receiving the red carpet treatment after his arrest rather than a perp walk. Via The Daily Beast, which, to their credit, have been on Epstein for a while:

So when State Attorney Barry Krischer, who also ran Florida’s Crimes Against Children Unit, proved reluctant to mount a vigorous prosecution of Epstein, saying the local victims were not credible witnesses, Chief Reiter wrote the attorney a letter complaining of the state’s “highly unusual” conduct and asking him to remove himself from the case. He did not, and the evidence his office presented to a state grand jury produced only a single count of soliciting prostitution. (Krischer has since retired and would not comment for this article.) The day after that indictment was returned, Reiter was relieved to have the FBI step in and take over the investigation.

The details that eventually emerged were often shocking and occasionally bizarre. For Epstein’s birthday one year, according to allegations in a civil suit, he was presented with three 12-year-old girls from France, who were molested then flown back to Europe the next day. These same civil complaints allege that young girls from South America, Europe, and the former Soviet republics, few of whom spoke English, were recruited for Esptein’s sexual pleasure. According to a former bookkeeper, a number of the girls worked for MC2, the modeling agency owned by Jean Luc Brunel, a longtime acquaintance and frequent guest of Epstein’s. Brunel received $1 million from the billionaire around the time he started the agency.

The non-prosecution agreement executed between Epstein and the Department of Justice states that Epstein and four members of his staff were investigated for “knowingly, in affecting interstate and foreign commerce, recruiting enticing and obtaining by any means a person, knowing that person has not yet obtained the age of 18 years and would be caused to engage in commercial sex act”—that is, child sex trafficking. Yet the agreement allowed Epstein to plead guilty to only two lower-level state crimes, soliciting prostitution and soliciting a minor child for prostitution.

This story threatens the presidential bid of Hillary Clinton because Bill Clinton was a frequent guest of Epstein. If past is prologue, then inevitably Bill Clinton is going to end up as a principal in a story similar to the one that now alleges that Britain’s Prince Andrew used the services of underage women procured by Epstein and distributed by him like party favors. I beggars the imagination, given Bill Clinton’s record as an omnivore when it comes to women (“8 to 80, blind, crippled or crazy” was the way his standard was described when I was growing up in the South), to think that if young girls were being handed out that he wasn’t in line.

What is more astonishing is the way that Epstein has been welcomed back into society after his release from prison. It is one thing for a prosecutor to plea bargain charges down it is quite another for people who know the facts and circumstances of Epstein’s activities to want to be seen in his company.

Again from the Daily Beast:

On the evening of December 2nd, 2010, a handful of America’s media and entertainment elite—including TV anchors Katie Couric and George Stephanopoulos, comedienne Chelsea Handler, and director Woody Allen—convened around the dinner table of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. It wasn’t just any dining room, but part of a sprawling nine-story townhouse that once housed an entire preparatory school. And it wasn’t just any sex offender, but an enigmatic billionaire who had once flown the likes of former President Bill Clinton and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak around the world on his own Boeing 727. Last spring, Epstein completed a 13-month sentence for soliciting prostitution from a minor in Palm Beach. Now he was hosting a party for his close friend, Britain’s Prince Andrew, fourth in line to the throne.

Sure enough, that December night no one mentioned that their handsome host, a gray-haired 58-year-old financier with tanned skin and a joker smile, had just doled out millions of dollars in civil settlements to seven girls who allege that he paid them to perform erotic massages and demeaning sexual acts when they were underage. They are among the 40 victims turned up by an FBI investigation. But at the time, this particular swath of Epstein’s elite Rolodex had no idea that the feted royal would soon renounce Epstein as a friend, nor that the royal’s ex-wife, Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, would hysterically apologize for letting Epsteinpay off some of her debts.

No, back then Epstein was mid-makeover. He had monarchy in-house and famous faces at his table. Former Bear Stearns CEO James Cayne had just endorsed Epstein on his science foundation’s website (which has been since removed). It seemed Epstein had joined the ranks of former President Clinton, director Roman Polanski,  and former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, whose sex scandals faded in comparison with their celebrity. The conventional wisdom among his friends was that Epstein has been victimized by greedy, morally dubious teenage girls and unscrupulous lawyers. “I’ve never condoned paying for sex, but if the young lady lied about her age it’s her own fault,” explained one socialite, who along with hedge-fund manager Wilbur Ross and real-estate magnate Leon Black hobnobbed with Epstein at a Southampton movie screening just two months after his release from “community control” in Florida.

If this sounds familiar it should.

On March 11, 1977 a 43-year old film director named Roman Polanski was arrested on charges that he had raped a 13-year old model named Samantha Geimer. The film community closed ranks about Polanski then and it continues to this day. A sampling from Whoopi Goldberg:

“I know it wasn’t rape-rape. It was something else but I don’t believe it was rape-rape. He went to jail and and when they let him out he was like “You know what this guy’s going to give me a hundred years in jail I’m not staying, so that’s why he left.”

Based on the grand jury findings, one wonders exactly what Goldberg would call “rape-rape.”

Let’s keep in mind that Roman Polanski gave a 13-year-old girl a Quaalude and champagne, then raped her… Before we discuss how awesome his movies are or what the now-deceased judge did wrong at his trial, let’s take a moment to recall that according to the victim’s grand jury testimony, Roman Polanski instructed her to get into a jacuzzi naked, refused to take her home when she begged to go, began kissing her even though she said no and asked him to stop; performed cunnilingus on her as she said no and asked him to stop; put his penis in her vagina as she said no and asked him to stop; asked if he could penetrate her anally, to which she replied, “No,” then went ahead and did it anyway, until he had an orgasm.

Can you imagine the outcry if someone said this in defense of a college student, like “Barry” of Oberlin College?

When he was detained by Swiss police in 2009, the international film industry closed ranks behind this convicted child rapist

Polanski’s friend, Swiss filmmaker Otto Weisser, was among the first to publicly run to his defense.

“This is for me a shock. I am ashamed to be Swiss, that the Swiss is doing such a thing to brilliant fantastic genius, that millions and millions of people love his work,” Weisser said upon learning the director had been detained by Swiss authorities. “He’s a brilliant guy, and he made a little mistake 32 years ago. What a shame for Switzerland.”

By Tuesday, more than 130 heavyweights in the movie industry had taken up Polanski’s cause.

An online petition has been signed by directors such as Marin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Pedro Almodovar, as well as actors.

Studio chief Harvey Weinstein told CNN in a statement: “We are calling every filmmaker we can to help fix this terrible situation.”

The irony of finding the aptly named Woody Allen at ground zero of both Epstein and Polanski is nothing short of delicious. He is the man who, at age 56, began a sexual relationship with the 19-year old adopted daughter of his live-in girlfriend. Which led to this epic tweet:

ronan farrow

Circling back to Epstein

“From a cerebral and business side he’s worshipped,” says socialite Debbie Bancroft. “He’s incredibly charming and handsome. He’s an extraordinary package so I can see why people don’t want to believe what they hear. If people come out of jail and are still successful, people are very forgiving, shockingly so.”

Renowned scientists whose research Epstein has generously funded through the years also stand by him. Professor Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and author of Quantum Man, has planned scientific conferences with Epstein in St. Thomas and remained close with him throughout his incarceration. “If anything, the unfortunate period he suffered has caused him to really think about what he wants to do with his money and his time, and support knowledge,” says Krauss. “Jeffrey has surrounded himself with beautiful women and young women but they’re not as young as the ones that were claimed. As a scientist I always judge things on empirical evidence and he always has women ages 19 to 23 around him, but I’ve never seen anything else, so as a scientist, my presumption is that whatever the problems were I would believe him over other people.” Though colleagues have criticized him over his relationship with Epstein, Krauss insists, “I don’t feel tarnished in any way by my relationship with Jeffrey; I feel raised by it.”

Quite honestly, I don’t really know what to make of a scientist that denies as empirical what Epstein has admitted to and served prison time for. I shudder at the thought of someone who would feel “raised” by associating with a sex offender who used young girls as the equivalent of a high-end swag-bag. But the most telling statement is this:

“A jail sentence doesn’t matter anymore,” says David Patrick Columbia, founder of New York Social Diary. “The only thing that gets you shunned in New York society is poverty.”

“In the Midwest, where I am from, he would be a social pariah,” says Lorna Brett Howard, a political activist and wife of Irving Post Capital CEO and Aeropostale director John Howard. “What I see here is if you have big money or are famous then you get a pass.”

While most are familiar with the novelist George R. R. Martin from his “Game of Thrones” novels and the television series based on them, while reading about Epstein I was reminded of a novel he wrote in 1982 titled “Fevre Dream.” Set along the Mississippi River in the age of steamboats it is a horror tale that focuses on a vampire subculture that refers to humans as “cattle,” and parties are held where young women are torn drained of blood and torn apart as entertainment. These people that constitute the cultural 1%, much more than the financial 1% that the Occupy Wall Street movement railed against, are predators and we are prey. We are the cattle that they suck dry. Whether they are raiding your company’s pension fund or sodomizing your underage daughter and then selling her to some other member of their caste, they operate within their own society with their own norms.

As Andrew Breitbart famously said, “Politics is downstream from culture.” When you look at the cultural environment today you see what he meant. We are having political and legal battles over the acceptability of behaviors that were felonies within my memory. They have won because they have created a new Garden of Eden, as The Serpent would have envisioned it, where there is no shame and the fig leaves have been cast aside and where the only real crimes are being poor and out of style.