Out of interest, why are high PR backlinks still a major factor in your opinion Tedster? The days when a link acted as a reliable indicator of a "vote" are long gone, in commercial niches at least. I'm not saying no links are reliable, just that a high proportion of links are there purely as ways to increase ranking and there is no doubt that Google is aware of this. Paid links are only a part of the overall equation - exchanges, contra-deals and network linking is far more common. In one of my niches, you would probably find 90% of all links are there to help rankings and yet many of the top sites are there almost solely through link power.
Sure, there are some sites where a link is almost always going to be genuine (news sites, government portals etc) but is it not logical that Google would look at linking as one of the main ways webmasters can manipulate rankings and take steps to seriously devalue linking as a ranking factor, if not ultimately remove it altogether?
Of course there is a lot of "nuance" in Google's executing of their link juice algo. But a nice fat content link from a high PageRank NPR page or the like will still help your ranking a whole lot. The original intent behind the PageRank algo is far from dead, just tweaked a good bit to include trust factors.