Excellent post MrSavage.
This is just one more step in google's push to make organic an unworkable solution. If you want to play, you have to pay.
Yes, it has been around for some time, but the intensity of the anti-organic push has intensified with recent development such as +1.
I think there is an even more alarming aspect to this trend. It's one thing to destroy tons of businesses and individual webmasters. It's a whole new level of evil to systematically destroy anonymity and privacy of users.
Now with more and more people logged into google, more and more people completely lose any privacy they had before. They are no longer a shared IP address, they are specific individuals and each and every query is being tracked and saved for eternity. What they will do with this data, is unknown.
I think the best chance of combating this is education. Make sure people understand that when they are logged into any google service that they are being tracked and that google never deletes data.
These days even a top ranking will not guarantee targeted traffic. Your top ranking will only be for a subset of the total users and even then it will be buried under places,news,videos,etc....
Panda was minor when compared to all the other changes we are seeing. You can beat panda. You can still get a #1 ranking. But, now even that is of limited value.
It's ok though. The arrogance and evil will eventually go too far. There has never been a better opportunity for another search engine to gain traction. Competition is good for everyone, the monopoly is only good for google.