Not quite sure why the focus is so much on prior art. Sure an idea that has prior art can serve as proof of the obviousness of something, but at some point in time someone is, in fact, the first to propose some blend of existing ideas and call it new. Do we really need to permit that person a patent? For most low lying fruit this is basically the equivalent of a land grab.
The way I see it patents need to be granted in proportion to the amount of work required to explore the possible parameter space to find that new unique useful combination. It shouldn't just be about being first to something, it should be about expending a lot of effort to get there. And the reward for that should be temporary and in proportion to that amount of work. Shouldn't it be fairly easy to offer up objective proof of spending that effort (and have it peer reviewed)?