Just when you think Wall Street couldn't possibly produce a baser benchmark for catastrophic incompetence and unmitigated arrogance than Bernie Madoff, along comes American International Group Inc.

AIG is the faux financial giant that rang up losses of $62 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008 (an all-time record), even while running to the government ... for $170 billion in rescue funds. It's the kind of thing that produces a blush of embarrassment, maybe even a touch of shame, in mere mortals.

Not those sturdy fellows at AIG, however. They're going to tough it out ... and dole out over $165 million in retention payments and bonuses. Since money is fungible, in effect this bonanza will come from the public till.

To make matters worse, much of it is bound for those high rollers in the Financial Products unit who drove AIG over the cliff with lousy bets on credit default swaps, maybe the most disastrous investment caper Wall Street has ever concocted for mismanaging other peoples' [sic] money.

... Thanks to taxpayer generosity, the federal government today owns roughly 80 percent of AIG, which prompted this from U.S. Rep Barney Frank [D-Mass.], chairman of the House Financial Services Committee: If the government can't keep AIG's market misfits from this bonus boodle, he said, "Maybe it's time to fire some people."

Now there's an idea.